“It is particularly ironic that the battle to save the world's remaining healthy ecosystems will be won or lost not in tropical forests or coral reefs that are threatened but on the streets of the most unnatural landscapes on the planet.”- Worldwatch Institute. 2007

Thursday, 22 September 2011


Published! At long last my report has gone up on the CIBSE website (although I'm not complaining as it didn't take them as long to put it up as I did to write it). If anyone still looks in here you can find it here:


But the blog is better reading I think.
I'm still getting mileage out of the whole trip - most recently this week at the IMechE where I gave a talk on district heating to a bunch of power engineers. It was pretty bad as I was up last and everything I wanted to say had already been covered by one or another speaker. But I got two questions so I didn't send everyone to sleep and got some positive feedback from my boss's boss, who was also there, afterwards so perhaps it went better than I thought. But it was a tough gig.
Greenbuild in Manchester, on the other hand, was a delight and I had standing room only - no mean feat when you're on the exhibition floor and so people can just get up and wander off when they're bored. I have got that on video and as soon as I work out Vimeo I'll be putting it on line.

Friday, 19 November 2010

How to Win the Ken Dale Travel Bursary

Step 1: Pick your Topic
Make it exciting and find an interesting place to research it. This will help your application stand out from the others and make it easier to be interesting when you get interviewed. Ask yourself if it is important to you (this is important because you’re going to be living it for a whole month), to your company (this is important because you’re going to be asking them to give you a month’s paid leave very soon – be prepared to be flexible with this – both in terms of timing and perhaps taking some holidays yourself), to your clients (see last point), to the industry (this is important because CIBSE are going to give you thousands of pounds to go on a free holiday) and to the world (this is important as it gives you a nice warm toast like glow inside, and allows you to be smug)

Step 2: Discuss your idea with your employers and colleagues, with your friends and with complete strangers. They will all have some input – some of it will even be useful. Google it and send emails to random strangers in other countries who might be interested in participating. Ask suppliers and manufacturers who have offices or factories in the countries you might be visiting. You never know where an amazing link might come up, or who will turn up trumps. Again – other people may not turn up trumps so ensure you have back up plans and alternative ideas. But don’t make your schedule so busy that you have no time to follow up leads when you’re on tour. Obviously you don’t want to do too much of this before you win but once you do win you need to do a LOT of it.

Step 3: Fill in the application form – this is very important. In it you need to explain your plan, give an idea of the route and places you’ll be visiting and lay out exactly why it’s important to all of the above people. Don’t worry about the detail at this point – there will be time to panic about that later.

Step 4: Forget about it until you get called for interview.

Step 5: Panic and throw together a presentation. It will be very informal so you don’t absolutely need to do power point but remember that they’ll be expecting a presentation from you at the end of it. So taking advantage of the opportunity to show off your presentation skills and drop in a mention of that performance you did recently at Ecobuild or Manchester Comedy Festival will not hurt. Avoid using the phrase ‘free holiday’.

Step 6: Forget about it until you get the email you’ve won.

Step 7: Get drunk or celebrate in another fashion – annoy your friends and housemates for weeks by going on about it. This way they will actually be glad when you do go, even if you haven’t got around to installing the central heating before departure. This would be the ideal time to locate your passport and any other travel essentials.

Step 8: Chose your transport (I would recommend folding bike and train, obviously) and book your tickets and some of your accommodation – this isn’t critical but I did it so that I wouldn’t have to worry too much en route and to make the most of the £1000 float which CIBSE let me have beforehand (sadly they don't just give you the cash in a big wad - you have to submit expense claims). So most of my trip was booked and paid for and claimed back before I set off meaning I didn’t end up out of pocket or not for very long and not by very much.

Step 9: Pack – bear in mind the weather and the places you’ll be visiting. Take a dedicated notebook with you to record interesting facts and observations – not an old diary. Make sure you have a good camera, with a case – and don’t leave it balanced precariously on top of your bike, especially if it’s your boss’s (trust me on this).

Step 10: Really really find your passport. Go. Have a lot of fun, write a blog, buy presents for your friends and send postcards - send one to me.

Good luck!

Saturday, 9 October 2010


I have a look round St. Paul’s Cathedral and take photos of the London skyline. I spot some green roofs and a PV array and some pretty good bike parking at Euston. As we spin northwards the sky gets bluer. It is a little known fact that we do have sun in Manchester, but we save it for special occasions and when I lift thebike off the train it feels pretty special to be back.
The sandbar is closed but Polomental is sitting outside eating onion bhajis. I give him his duty free which I managed to fit in by dangling carrier bags off each handle bars. Katface arrives, we get beers from the shop over the road and cut up the cycle chic stickers she got in Copenhagen so instead of reading ‘Hold my bicycle while I kiss your boyfriend’ so they say ‘Hold my friend while I kiss your bicycle’ and stick them on our bikes. The housemate arrives on the Pashley and we have another beer. There’s a lot of cars out, all getting wound up and angry with each other. It’s because the Mancunian way is shut, the big not-quite-a-motorway flyover route that generally stops this sort of scene. Katface suggests we ride it home so we cut past the barriers – easy on our bikes. There’s no roadworks going on yet – I think they’ve just put the bollards up and we fly along, four abreast with the sun shining overhead. This is home.

Kilometers 5030
Kilometers cycled 400
Countries visited 5
Transport carbon emissions 156 kgCO2

October 9th Presentations, Presidents and Lighthouses

So despite cobbling my presentation together on the train and not having a proper run through beforehand it went rather well. No one nodded off and I even got some laughs (and at the right places!) and had a few people come up and say well done afterwards which was very nice of them.
Then I had a crazy cycle back from London Bridge to the hostel. Before I was out of the station proper a taxi driver tried to kill me, and then shouted at me for it. I backed down and got out of his way (before he barged me out of it) and shouted ‘Oh I’ll be back in the UK then, welcome home’ after him. Even though I was up against the clock I stopped to take a series of photos of cyclists (and cars and buses and f**cking taxis and motorbikes) leaving the lights at the bottom of the bridge. It was pure chaos. The bikes were mostly at the front with a couple of motorbikes and everything else up against their back wheels like a great wall of metal death and when then pulled away I was amazed that no one died in the rush to barge past and overtake the cyclists. I know I know that they do it every day but you can’t just put a blue line on a map and call it a ‘cycling superhighway’ – you have to put the blue line on the actual physical ROAD as well.
As always in London, I spend more time pushing my bike than riding it but from St Pauls to Trinity House I do ride, with my camera phone in my pocket so I can take pics of everyone who tries to kill me.
Trinity house, where the presidents dinner is, is very posh but they are not at all sniffy about the newbike and happily let me chain it inside their railings. Inside is all sweeping staircases and chandeliers, a string quartet, huge paintings of famous royal types and ships - of course. It is the headquarters of the lighthouse association and we are treated to a potted history of the organisation and the building by a great speaker who tells it like he’s sharing gossip from last night about close friends as he namedrops monarchs and politicians, many long dead. Dinner is delicious, the wine is free and my dinner date is driving not drinking so I get to have his as well and by the time I have to get up to be given my award I’m on the port and brandy and look frankly wasted - on my photos at least. There is a professional photographer there who gets me to pose next to a ships bell with my certificate – I dread to think how badly they will come out.
At least by the time we leave the streets are empty. St Paul’s Youth Hostel don’t have a bikepark but they let me bring it inside. I’m woken by the bells and reminded of a hungover Katface in Copenhagen shouting ‘I don’t believe in your god, shut up and let me sleep’. But I quite like it, I have a lovely view and the breakfast is ace.

Friday, 8 October 2010

8th October Home Straight

I planned to have a final cycle ride through the Dutch countryside to the ferry but my nose starts streaming and my head aching and within the space of an hour I’m in the throes of a cold bad enough to make my nose red and sore from the tissues and something (air? mucus?) come out of my tear ducts when I blow my nose. So instead I get the train, via Rotterdam, paying an extra few euros to take the newbike on unfolded. At Hook of Holland I cycle round the quiet streets beside the ferry port. It has everything you’d expect in Dutch village – several bars, a coffee house and three massive cycling shops. I find a place that does mussels in a garlic sauce that tastes like all of the garlic in the world and hope this will cure my cold. I could cut through bank vaults with my breath by the time I’m done eating it. Despite this a guy on the ferry boldly strikes up a conversation with me – he’s a composer of operas and his friend’s dad worked out the solution to the travelling salesman math’s problem – I have heard of neither the operas or the maths problem and he doesn’t know what the solution was so I go back to putting my presentation together, trying to breathe away from the netbook in case I melt it.
Friday morning and I come off the ferry to be greeted by five wide lanes and ‘CARS ONLY’ written big beneath them. A sign tells me that Harwich ferry port wishes me a safe and pleasant journey’ which rings rather false as the road to the station is an A road with no cycle lanes (but plenty of trucks). The little road leading into a housing estate says beside it ‘No through road’ so I go down the big road grumbling and complaining under my (still smelly) breath. When I get there it turns out that the station which I need is back at the port but I’d missed the signs so I cycle back and chat to two other cyclists on the station (because we’re all riding bikes) – they’ve just returned from five months touring Europe. Without folding bikes they’ve struggled on trains, especially in France and Italy and tell me that the Czech Republic has amazing cycle tracks but crap roads – needs a mountain bike apparently but great apart from that and very cheap.
On the train to London I start trying to pick just a couple of case studies for the presentation but then start to just put them all in on the basis that I can always skip through them but will need more if I do a longer presentation at our office later. I start to realize just how much stuff I’ve got, how many places I’ve seen and how much I’ve learnt.
In London I get a City of London cycle map which shows me a special bicycle route to London Bridge. I fail to see what is special about it – there’s no segregated bike lanes and the traffic ignores me. Maybe Boris will be painting some on really soon.
But it’s not all bad – people are generally friendly, the bacon butty I get at Liverpool street is good. I don’t have to pay extra to put my bike on the train. At Balham it seems that Boris has been out with his paint can and they have have big blue cycle tracks, like Copenhagen.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

October 7th Rotterdam Climate Initiative

It’s easier to wake up than I expect, even after being up late, on the internet and then lying awake with my head buzzing. I’m up before my alarm for a short walk to Holland-Spoor station at the end of the road, past the bakery, the sex shop, the bong emporium and the abeya (the long black head to floor covering considered suitable by some muslims for ladies) fashion house.
In the world trade centre I meet with Paul, a colleague at a company we have professional links to and Nicole who works for the Rotterdam Climate Initiative. This came into existence in 2007 in the wake of the Clinton climate initiative. Media hype for the topic was high then and Rotterdam’s green mayor and government boldly decided on a reduction target for carbon emissions of 50% on 1990 levels by 2025. This was before any studies had been conducted into how feasible it would be – it was almost arbitrarily chosen as a suitably high target. The project and it’s sister scheme, Rotterdam Climate Proof have calculated that this represents a reduction of 46Megatons of Carbon emissions per year, and that 85-90% of this will have to come from the docks area. Currently the largest chunk of this (around 20MT) is expected to be a carbon capture and storage scheme being developed by E-on for a replacement power plant for which three gas fields in the North sea are being investigated for suitability – storage, as with nuclear is turning out to be the greatest challenge with this technology.
The latest elections have seen a shift to a more democrat/right wing coalition and so it is uncertain what funding will continue but they are confident that they have enough to continue the scoping studies that are underway. In four years time when the real work begins of ensuring that all the so-far voluntary commitment shown by various companies makes it into reality. The biggest problem they’ve faced, Nicole tells me, was an initial reluctance by companies – fears that their ‘level playing field’ was to be removed - but that over the course of the scheme they’ve come round to it and even started proposing initiatives of their own, or working in conjunction with competitors on areas outside of their area of competition (heat supply for example to industrial processes). The aftermath of the ‘climate hype’ has affected them too but they’ve learnt from this and are careful to present the scheme as a whole package that will see Rotterdam as a world leader on climate mitigation specialists, especially in the area of sea level rises. As I’ve been told by the people working in the domestic housing market government subsidies or support for low carbon initiatives is unreliable and no one can allow for it in payback calculations. The majority of the port companies look for paybacks times of less than two years on investment. This combination makes any sort of renewable energy take up almost impossible.
The Stadhaven, ‘city port’ area is the nearest bit of the part to the city and the target of a future large re-development scheme. After the meeting Paul drops me off there and I wander around taking photos of the architecture – there’s a few different styles from the ‘lets make it look like a spaceship’ and the ‘I went to Pisa for my holidays’ school.

Not because it looks particularly nice but because I want to put it on a card and send it to all my architect friends with the slogan ‘When engineers rule the world’