Clean energy technology that could be made even more sustainable

Financial Times, 22 November 2015:

Sir, Matt Ridley, rather surprisingly, proposes that kerosene has proved beneficial to health (Letters, November 18). According to the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, kerosene is flammable and explosive above 37 degrees. It is an irritant to skin and eyes, and accidental ingestion is a common cause of fatalities in children. In India and Africa it is widely used as a fuel for heating and illumination in villages that lack electricity, but it is a major cause of indoor air pollution and won’t run an electrical appliance.

A far better solution is to charge a battery using solar power during the day, which will provide sufficient power to run LED lighting and a computer during the hours of darkness. Earlier this year, Jeremy Leggett, founder of two such companies, SolarAid and Solarcentury, won the Gothenburg award for bringing this type of clean energy to more than 9m people.

The technology could be made even more sustainable if compressed air were used instead of a battery, but this requires a major research effort to improve the efficiency of the systems currently available. Three years ago I funded a pilot project in the engineering department at the University of Southampton, but our subsequent application to the Department of Energy & Climate Change was rejected. This epitomises society’s dilemma.

There is no shortage of ideas and initiatives that could solve the problem of climate change, but as long as dissident scientists like Lord Ridley insist that the burning of fossil fuels is good for health, the harder it will be to persuade politicians to commit the necessary resources.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire