UK Corona Virus Deaths in Context

April 3, 2020

Yesterday, April 2nd 2020, 684 people died from COVID-19 in UK hospitals.

But when we look back at 2020, we will see that the number of people dying in the UK was not significantly different from any other year. 


Yes Really. The graph below shows the number of recorded deaths in the UK from 1890 to 2018.

Slide2I was surprised by this number being so relatively constant (around 600,000) over this long period despite the doubling of the UK population (shown against the right-hand axis).

A reasonable estimate of the worst-case outcome of the pandemic, is that 20,000 people will die from COVID-19 in the UK this year.  I have shown the effect of this on the graph above. The detail shown in the green box is re-drawn below.


The year-to-year variability over the period 2018 to 1990 is approximately ±11,000 deaths, and year-to-year variations in annual deaths of between 20,000 and 30,000 are common. See for example the 32,000 “extra deaths” in 2015 compared with 2014.

Fitting a trend line to the data from 2011 to 2018 we can estimate what would have been the likely number of deaths in 2020, and then see the effect of an additional 20,000 deaths. These are shown as two filled red dots.

So as I said at the start, when we look back at 2020, we will see that the number of people dying in the UK was not significantly different from any other year. 

But if that’s the case why all the fuss?

I am writing this because according to many media, the death of 20,000 people from COVID-19 represents a national failure. I disagree.

The actions we have already taken, and the tens of billions of pounds we have collectively spent, have already saved the lives of thousands – and probably tens of thousands – of people.

If we had not acted, then we would be looking at excess deaths on the order of hundreds of thousands of people –  as seen in the 1919 ‘Spanish Flu’ – or even more.

What next?

Based on my crude analysis, and assuming the “lock-down” has been very effective, then I expect the number of deaths per day to rise until approximately 11th April 2020.

The New York Times Tracker below shows that the UK’s ‘death curve’ is similar to Italy’s and so the final toll – which will not be reached until the end of April – looks like being close to, but slightly less than 20,000. Better outcomes are still possible.

Until then, I urge you to Keep Calm and Carry On.

CV Deaths in context

Data Sources




Life beyond lock-down: Masks for all?

April 3, 2020

Michael in a mask

Will we all be wearing masks in public for the next year or two?

A good friend sent me a link to a video which advocated the wearing of masks in public as a successful strategy for combating the transmission of corona virus.

I have no idea if this is true or not.

One thing of which I have been reminded by the current pandemic is that my intuition gained by experience as ‘an expert’ in one area, is not transferable. This pandemic has left me in a permanent state of bewilderment.

One of the key pieces of evidence offered in the video is the effectiveness of even primitive masks in inhibiting virus transmission in Czechia. Apparently,  mask-wearing in public has become de rigeur in Czechia, and there is – apparently – a low incidence of COVID-19 in Czechia.

I decided to look at the data

The table at the end of this article is compiled by data from Wikipedia’s list of the countries of Europe and their population, and the number of deaths recorded on Worldometer on the evening of 2nd April 2020.

The map below shows the results with the numbers expressing the numbers of deaths per million of the population.

[Note: Many European countries have small populations – less than the size of London – and many may not have good reporting of the deaths, which are in any case small in number. But the data is what it is.]

Number of deaths per million of population of countries in Europe on 2nd April 2020. See text for details. Data Table at the end of the article.

Number of deaths per million of population of countries in Europe on 2nd April 2020. See text for details. Data Table at the end of the article. Czechia is highlighted in yellow.

Does this data provide evidence that Czechia is a special case?


To me it looks like Eastern Europe is generally less affected than Western Europe, and Czechia is in the middle. On the West it is bordered Germany and Austria, both of which have a low incidence (for Western Europe) per million of their population.

The 4 deaths per million of its population of its 10.7 million does not stand out as being anomalously low compared with, say, Poland (2 deaths per million of its population of 38 million) or Greece (5 deaths per million of its population of 10.4 million).

One further piece of evidence to look for would be the rate of growth of the virus within Czechia.

NYT Tracker for Czechia

The New York Times death tracker shows that the doubling-time for deaths in Czechia is similar to other countries in Western Europe – around 3 days.

The number of deaths are small and so the trend is uncertain, but it does not look like it is in the same group as Japan or South Korea which have only slow growth of virus-related deaths – a doubling time of more than 7 days.

In short, even though the idea of wearing a mask in public is not unreasonable, the data themselves do not seem to speak to the effectiveness of the habit.


After the lock-down has ended, we all will need to be able to get out and about again and earn the money to pay for this hiatus. But the virus will still be out there and will still be exactly as lethal as it has been for these last few months.

So it might easily be that wearing a mask in public – proven in effectiveness or not –  may become a sign of respect for one’s fellow citizens.

One of the attractive features of the policy in Czechia is that the masks are not considered as being defensive i.e. protecting the wearer. Instead they are considered as a sign of pro-social behaviour i.e. a sign of one’s consideration of others.

Masks are unlikely to do any harm, and they may even do some good. But whichever is the case, it seems that in the US – the leader for many trends for both good and ill – their adoption may become mandatory.

NYT Tracker for Czechia

Headlines from papers on 2nd April 2020

So perhaps we will all be wearing masks in public for the for next year or two. I certainly didn’t see that coming!

UPDATE on 04/04/2020 ARTICLE ON ARS TECHNICA referencing new US CDC recommendations.


Country Population Deaths @2/4/2020 Deaths/million
Germany 83,783,942 1,107 13
United Kingdom 67,886,011 2,921 43
France 65,273,511 5,387 83
Italy 60,461,826 13,915 230
Spain 46,754,778 10,348 221
Ukraine 43,733,762 22 1
Poland 37,846,611 57 2
Romania 19,237,691 115 6
Netherlands 17,134,872 1,339 78
Belgium 11,589,623 1,011 87
Czech Republic (Czechia) 10,708,981 44 4
Greece 10,423,054 53 5
Portugal 10,196,709 209 20
Sweden 10,099,265 308 30
Hungary 9,660,351 21 2
Belarus 9,449,323 4 0
Austria 9,006,398 158 18
Serbia 8,737,371 31 4
Switzerland 8,654,622 536 62
Bulgaria 6,948,445 10 1
Denmark 5,792,202 123 21
Finland 5,540,720 19 3
Slovakia 5,459,642 1 0
Norway 5,421,241 50 9
Ireland 4,937,786 98 20
Croatia 4,105,267 7 2
Moldova 4,033,963 6 1
Bosnia and Herzegovina 3,280,819 16 5
Albania 2,877,797 16 6
Lithuania 2,722,289 9 3
North Macedonia 2,083,374 11 5
Slovenia 2,078,938 17 8
Latvia 1,886,198 0 0
Estonia 1,326,535 11 8
Montenegro 628,066 2 3
Luxembourg 625,978 30 48


Keep Calm and Carry On

March 28, 2020


Here is a piece of complete nonsense for you to contemplate during your self-isolation.

Best wishes


Keep Calm and Carry On
Apparently, it’s how the war was won.
Well, I will agree to…,
… carry on with you
If you’ll agree to carry on with me

We all know the plain facts of the case.
Corona virus wants one per-cent of our race.
But we’ve collectively refused,
To be virally abused.
So, wash your hands and just carry on!

It’s all been so quick, it’s quite beyond belief.
And there’s little prospect of immediate relief.
But there’ll be toilet roll for all.
By the summer or the fall.
If you keep your distance and just carry on!


After a month or two of isolation
We’ll be ready for Vcv celebrations
Some will have died to get us free
And we’ll drink to their memory
But now keep to yourselves and just carry on!

In the end we all see who the key workers are.
In factories and fields, and hospitals and bars.
They make life worth living for
Perhaps we’ll pay them more!
If we keep to ourselves and just carry on!


Keep Calm and Carry on... with me

Keep Calm and Carry on… with me

Thoughts on UK corona virus

March 27, 2020

Well I didn’t see this coming!

And even now – as we all hunker down – I can scarcely believe it.

I struggled like many to make sense of the magnitude of what was happening, oscillating between a “this isn’t really very serious” and concern that “this really might be catastrophic“.

Eventually I understood that this was in fact very serious. I am writing this to try to express clearly my own understanding and explain why, slightly to my surprise, I am feeling positive about the UK’s response.

My sources of information have been:

In looking at the data I have ignored statistics about ‘cases’ or ‘hospitalisations’ because these terms are not clearly defined – and the true scale of the epidemic is still unknown. I have – grimly – only concentrated on deaths.

7000 UK lives saved so far

Deaths in the UK from Corona virus are shown below. The data were complete today 27th March 2020 and the national ‘lock down’ began on 22nd March, day 81 of the year. The deaths reported here would have been from people who were ill before the ‘lock down’.

UK CV deaths in contextThe vertical scale on the graph is logarithmic and can be tricky to read, but this type of graph allows one to  see the trends in data more clearly.

In particular – the rapid so-called exponential – growth typical of the early stages of an epidemic appears as a straight line, and the slope of the line tells us the time for the number of deaths to double.

If we extrapolate from data around day 74 – just two weeks ago – we might have plausibly expected many thousands of deaths by now. But looking at current data (day 85) we see the trend has significantly changed. So whatever we did – social distancing etc – has saved by my estimate around 7000 lives already.

I emphasise this because media coverage speaks only of failure and death. They make it seem like we are paying a great economic cost pointlessly. In fact, the price we are paying is high – but unless my understanding is flawed, we have already saved many lives.

I expect the initial three weeks of this current ‘lock down’ (out to day 102 in the year) will achieve more, but I think it will be extended, and there may a ‘super strict’ phase. The international lesson (see below) is that it takes around 6 weeks of the strictest measures to control the spread of the virus.

The above graphic is from the New York Times and is updated daily. It charts the number of deaths versus the time since the 25th death in that particular country.

(Link to New York Times Tracker)

What happens next?

Nobody knows. It’s the future and it is notoriously unpredictable, even guided by the experience of other countries (above).

But using the epidemic modeler we can make some guesses.

UK Epidemic Model

I took the basic numbers describing the spread of the virus from the internet (R0 = 2.4 etc.) and assumed there were 10 initial ‘seeds’ in the UK population of 66 million. I then chose the date of ‘lock down’ (Day 67 in the model but day 81 in the year) such that the death rate matched the observed death rate – about 50 deaths per day.

For a wide range of parameters, the model predicts that the peak in hospitalisations will occur in two to three weeks time – and there will be about 5 times as many patients as there are now.

It looks like the field hospital being built in the ExCel centre is likely to be required. Also around 10,000 intensive care beds may be required – more than twice those currently available (New Scientist Article) but this number is being increased rapidly.

  • So the model tells me to expect it to all get worse for about another two weeks. 

Of course a model is just a model, and people are not uniformly distributed around the country. In fact London, with about one eighth the population of the UK has about a third of cases. So the situation is likely to be worst in London.

So I expect that things will get worse. And the death toll will rise to probably between 10,000 and 20,000. But I feel it is important to bear in mind the actions we have taken will have saved hundreds of thousands of people from a premature death in the most appalling of circumstances.

Each year in the UK roughly 500,000 people die, and so – while each death is a loss – the likely death toll is … I can’t find the right word. But it is typical of the number of excess deaths from flu in a bad year.

Could we have acted sooner?

Technically, Yes. But – and I am not an apologist for this government – I think nobody could quite believe the scale of what was required, or the rate at which things were changing around the world.

By the time of the ‘lock down’, public opinion was overwhelmingly in favour of it, but even one week earlier that might not have been the case. If such an epidemic happens again, then I think our collective memory of the crisis will allow for much earlier action. This seems to be the case in countries in the Far East that successfully battled SARS and prevented it becoming a pandemic.

By the end of the year, our collective actions will have saved hundreds of thousands of lives. The epidemic modeler predicts that if the government had acted:

  • one week earlier, the death toll would have been ~5,000 rather than ~10,000.
  • one week later, the death toll would have been ~25,000 rather than ~10,000

In the longer term…

It is important to realise that even when the epidemic subsides – the corona virus will still be out there. When the social restrictions are lifted, the epidemic will grow again, until a vaccine is distributed.

Our experience of the crisis is likely to affect us collectively in too many ways to comment on here, but I am hopeful that this will have a positive effect both socially, and in our response to the climate crisis.

  • Air travel: This may never be the same. Ongoing quarantine regulations may yet mean that we might have already experienced peak-air. Wow!
  • Teleworking: Working from home and collaboratively across sites – organisations on the edge of adopting the technology will have been forced to do it. Vast numbers of commutes and business trips could be saved.
  • Cars: I am really enjoying quieter streets and I feel it will be hard to return the noise of even two weeks ago. Could the tide have turned against ‘excessive’ car use?
  • What government can do: We have seen that our government can act in dramatic ways with broad social support and – if we want it too – it can spend unbelievably large amounts of money on policies that people want, but which are not popular with many strong lobby groups.


I wish you all well wherever you are.

I am thinking in particular of colleagues in Italy and Spain where matters seem to be worse than in the UK, and of colleagues from China who have reached out to me with moving kindness.

Why no blog?

March 27, 2020

In case anyone cared or noticed

Sorry I haven’t been touch lately. I have been having a miserable time at work and found it hard to settle to other tasks requiring concentration. Like writing coherently.

I had hoped to work on for another year or two, but in the end, I just couldn’t bear the thought of it and I will now be leaving NPL at the end of April. With just 15 working days left I can feel my spirits rising.

And then hopefully my enthusiasm for writing will return.




Research into Nuclear Fusion is REALLY a waste of money.

December 4, 2019

In the previous post I argued that…

Research into Nuclear Fusion is a waste of money

I felt pleased with this article – writing it helped to clarify my thoughts.

In particular (although I didn’t  express this as clearly as I wanted to) I realised that it wasn’t just the specific overwhelming technological problems that made Fusion Research a bad idea. Any power generation scheme that is that complex and expensive will inevitably never be built. I illustrated this with a quote I heard some time ago.

I don’t want to live in a world with
nuclear fusion reactors, because
I don’t want to live in a world
where electricity is that expensive.
Unknown author

It was only after I had written the article that a colleague at work pointed out another article that said the same thing.

Why fusion will never happen

Distressingly, this article is much more clearly written.

It was published by Maury Markowitz in 2012, and amusingly illustrates Fusion Power with a picture of a unicorn jumping over a rainbow. 


Fusion Power (from Matter 2 Energy)

Since then the fundamental truth has only become truer.

I feel a certain sadness in acknowledging that this long-hoped-for technology will never materialise.

But once understood, there is only one rational path of action: we should stop throwing good money after bad and stop funding fusion research right now. 



Research into Nuclear Fusion is a waste of money

November 24, 2019

I used to be a Technological Utopian, and there has been no greater vision for a Technical Utopia than the prospect of limitless energy at low cost promised by Nuclear Fusion researchers.

But glowing descriptions of the Utopia which awaits us all, and statements by fusion Utopians such as:

Once harnessed, fusion has the potential to be nearly unlimited, safe and CO2-free energy source.

are deceptive. And I no longer believe this is just the self-interested optimism characteristic of all institutions.

It is a damaging deception, because money spent on nuclear fusion research could be spent on actual solutions to the problem of climate change. Solutions which exist right now and which could be implemented inside in a decade in the UK.

Reader: Michael? Are you OK? You seem to have come over a little over-rhetorical?

Me: Thanks. Just let me catch my breath8 and I’ll be fine. Ahhhhhh. Breathe…..

What’s the problem?

Well let’s just suppose that the current generation of experiments at JET and ITER are ‘successful’. If so, then having started building in 2013:

  • By 2025 the plant should be ready for initial plasma experiments.
  • Unbelievably, full deuteriumtritium fusion experiments will not start until 2035!
    • I could not believe this so I checked. Here’s the link.
    • I can’t find a source for it, but I have been told that the running lifetime of ITER with deuterium and tritium is just 4000 hours.
  • The cost of this experiment is hard to find written down – ITER has its own system of accounting! – but will probably be around 20 billion dollars.

And at this point, without having ever generated a single kilowatt of electricity, ITER will be decommissioned and its intensely radioactive core will be allowed to cool down until it can be buried.

The ‘fusion community’ would then ask for another 20 billion dollars or so to fund a DEMO power station which might be operational around 2050. At which point after a few years of DEMO operation, commercial designs would become available.

So the overall proposal is to spend about 40 billion dollars over the next 30 years to find out if a ‘commercial’ fusion power station is viable.

This plan is the embodiment of madness that could only be advocated by Technological Utopians who have lost track of the reason that fusion might once have been a good idea.

Let’s look at the problems in the most general terms.

1. Cost

Fusion will not be cheap. If we look at the current generation of nuclear fission stations, such as Hinkley C, then these will cost around £20 billion each.

Despite the fact the technology for building nuclear fission reactors is now half a century old, previous versions of the Hinkley C reactor being built at Olkiluoto and Flamanville are many years late, massively over-budget and in fact may never be allowed to operate.

Assuming Hinkley C does eventually become operational, the cost of the electricity it produces will be barely affected by the fuel it uses. More than 90% of the cost of the electricity is paying back the debt used to finance the reactor. It will produce the most expensive electricity ever supplied in the UK.

Nuclear fusion reactors designed to produce a gigawatt of electricity would definitely be engineering behemoths in the same category of engineering challenge as Hinkley C, but with much greater complexity and many more unknown failure modes. 

ITER Project. Picture produced by Oak Ridge National Laboratory [CC BY 2.0 (]Even in the most optimistic case – an optimism which we will see is not easy to justify – it is inconceivable that fusion technology could ever produce low cost electricity.

I don’t want to live in a world with
nuclear fusion reactors, because
I don’t want to live in a world
where electricity is that expensive.
Unknown author

2. Sustainable

One of the components of the fuel for a nuclear fusion reactor – deuterium – is readily available on Earth. It can be separated from sea water at modest cost.

The other componenttritium – is extraordinarily rare and expensive. It is radioactive with a half-life of about 10 years.

To  become <irony>sustainable<\irony>, a major task of a fusion reactor is to manufacture tritium.

The ‘plan’ is to do this by bombarding lithium-6 with neutrons causing a reaction yielding tritium and helium.

Ideally, every single neutron produced in the fusion reaction would be captured, but in fact most of them will not be lost. Instead, a ‘neutron multiplication’ process is conceived of, despite the intense radioactive waste this will produce.

3. Technical Practicality

I have written enough here and so I will just refer you to this article published on the web site of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.

This article considers:

  • The embedded carbon and costs
  • Optimistic statements of energy balance that fail to recognise the difference between:
    • The thermal energy of particles in the plasma
    • The thermal energy extracted – or extractable.
    • The electrical energy supplied for operation
  • Other aspects of the tritium problem I mentioned above.
  • Radiation and radioactive waste
  • The materials problems caused by – putatively – decades of neutron irradiation.
  • The cooling water required.

I could add my own concerns about neutron damage to the immense superconducting magnets that are just a metre or so away from the hottest place in the solar system.

In short, there are really serious problems that have no obvious solution.

4. Alternatives

If there were no alternative, then I would think it worthwhile to face down all these challenges and struggle on.

But there are really good alternatives based on that fusion reactor in the sky – the Sun.

We can extract energy directly from sunlight, and from the winds that the Sun drives around the Earth.

We need to capture only 0.02% of the energy in the sunlight reaching Earth to power our entire civilisation!

The complexity and cost of fusion reactors even makes fission reactors look good!

And all the technology that we require to address what is acknowledged as a climate emergency exists here and now.

By 2050, when (optimistically?) the first generation of fusion reactors might be ready to be built – carbon-free electricity production could be a solved problem.

Nuclear fusion research is, at its best, a distraction from the problem at hand. At worst, it sucks money and energy away from genuinely renewable energy technologies which need it.

We should just stop it all right now.

Hazards of Flying

November 17, 2019

Radiation Dose

Radeye in Cabin

RadEye Geiger Counter on my lap in the plane.

It is well-known that by flying in commercial airliners, one exposes oneself to increased intensity of ionising radiation.

But it is one thing to know something in the abstract, and another to watch it in front of you.

Thus on a recent flight from Zurich I was fascinated to use a Radeye B20-ER survey meter to watch the intensity of radiation rise with altitude as I flew home.


Graph showing the dose rate in microsieverts per hour as a function of time before and after take off. The dose rate at cruising altitude was around 25 times on the ground.


During the flight from Zurich, the accumulated radiation dose was almost equal to my entire daily dose in the UK.

The absolute doses are not very great (Some typical doses). The dose on flight from Zurich (about 2.2 microsieverts) was roughly equivalent to the dose from a dental X-ray, or one whole day’s dose in the UK.

But for people who fly regularly the effects mount up.

Given how skittish people are about exposing themselves to any hazard I am surprised that more is not made of this – it is certainly one more reason to travel by train!

CO2 Exposure

Although I knew that by flying I was exposing myself to higher levels of radiation – I was not aware of how high the levels of carbon dioxide can become in the cabin.

I have been using a portable detector for several months. I was sceptical that it really worked well, and needed to re-assure myself that it reads correctly. I am now more or less convinced and the insights it has given have been very helpful.

In fresh air the meter reads around 400 parts per million (ppm) – but in the house, levels can exceed this by a factor of two – especially if I have been cooking using gas.

One colleague plotted levels of CO2 in the office as a function of the number of people using the office. We were then able to make a simple airflow model based on standard breathing rates and the specified number of air changes per hour.


However I was surprised at just how high the levels became in the cabin of an airliner.

The picture below shows CO2 levels in the bridge leading to the plane in Zurich Airport. Levels around 1500 ppm are indicative very poor air quality.


Carbon dioxide concentration on the bridge leading to the plane – notice the rapid rise.

The picture below shows that things were even worse in the aeroplane cabin as we taxied on the tarmac.


Carbon dioxide concentration measured in the cabin while we taxied on the ground in Zurich.

Once airborne, levels quickly fell to around 1000 ppm – still a high level – but much more comfortable.

I have often felt preternaturally sleepy on aircraft and now I think I know why – the spike in carbon dioxide concentrations at this level can easily induce drowsiness.

One more reason not to fly!




Getting there…

November 14, 2019

Life is a journey to a well-known destination. It’s the ‘getting there’ that is interesting.

The journey has been difficult these last few weeks. But I feel like I am ‘getting there

Work and non-work

At the start of 2019 I moved to a 3-day working week, and at first I managed to actually work around 3-days a week, and felt much better for it.

But as the year wore on, I have found it more difficult to limit my time at work. This has been particularity intense these last few weeks.

My lack of free time has been making me miserable. It has limited my ability to focus on things I want to do for personal, non-work reasons.

Any attention I pay to a personal project – such as writing this blog – feels like a luxurious indulgence. In contrast, work activities acquire a sense of all-pervading numinous importance.

But despite this difficulty – I feel like I am better off than last year – and making progress towards the mythical goal of work-life balance on the way to a meaningful retirement.

I am getting there!


Mainly as a result of working too much, I am still travelling too much by air. But on some recent trips to Europe I was able to travel in part by train, and it was surprisingly easy and enjoyable.

I am getting there! By train.

My House

The last of the triple-glazing has been installed in the house. Nine windows and a door (around £7200 since you asked) have been replaced.

Many people have knowingly askedWhat’s the payback time?

  • Using financial analysis the answer is many years.
  • Using moral and emotional analysis, the payback has been instantaneous.

It would be shameful to have a house which spilt raw sewage onto the street. I feel the same way about the 2.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide my house currently emits every winter.

This triple-glazing represents the first steps in bringing my home up to 21st Century Standards and it is such a relief to have begun this journey.

I will monitor the performance over the winter to see if it coincides with my expectations, and then proceed to take the next steps in the spring of 2020.

I am getting there! And emitting less carbon dioxide in the process

Talking… and listening

Physics in Action 3

Yesterday I spoke about the SI to more than 800 A level students at the Emmanuel Centre in London. I found the occasion deeply moving.

  • Firstly, the positivity and curiosity of this group of group of young people was palpable.
  • Secondly, their interest in the basics of metrology was heartwarming.
  • Thirdly, I heard Andrea Sella talk about ‘ice’.

Andrea’s talked linked the extraordinary physical properties of water ice to the properties of ice on Earth: the dwindling glaciers and the retreat of sea-ice.

He made the connection between our surprise that water ice was in any way unusual with the journalism of climate change denial perpetrated by ‘newspapers’ such as the Daily Mail.

This link between the academic and the political was shocking to hear in this educational context – but essential as we all begin our journey to a new world in which we acknowledge what we have done to Earth’s climate.

We have a long way to go. But hearing Andrea clearly and truthfully denounce the lies to which we are being exposed was personally inspiring.

We really really are getting there. 

The OTHER front in the fight against climate change

September 22, 2019

Well done to everyone who took to the streets last week to demand that our leaders face up to the challenges of climate change.

I too was fighting the good fight, but on another front, one which was frankly duller, less fun, and much more expensive.

I was arranging to have triple-glazing installed.

Triple Glazing

Ultralux Triple Glazing

All quiet on the insulation front

Imagine for a moment that the political battle to achieve immediate and drastic action on climate change has been won!

Imagine the glorious scene when the climate sceptics cower in humiliation and Prime Minister Corbyn/Johnson/Lucas/Swinson(*) declares that we will achieve zero carbon by 202X!


But then what? Just declaring a goal does not make it happen. The most important steps the government will take will not be about cool, high-tech projects such as electricity storage or solar cells or fuel cells or carbon capture or wind energy or electric transport.

They will be about thermal insulation of domestic houses

Overwhelmingly, the most important thing people will be compelled to do will be to insulate their houses.

The troopers on the front line of the battle against climate change won’t be radical vegans, activists or scientists. They will be builders and double-glazing triple-glazing salespeople.

The de Podesta plan

Just like the putative National Plan, our domestic plan is constrained by the amount of cash my wife and I have available.

Just like the putative National Plan, our plans need to be negotiated between interested parties and our actions prioritised against other goals.

We can’t do everything at once. So this year we will:

  • Replace the last of the single-glazed windows and all the first-generation (30 year old) double-glazing in the house with triple-glazed windows.
  • We have bought a chimney blocker for our open fireplace – kind of obvious I know.
  • We will replace an old gas fire (which requires a chimney) with an electric fire (which doesn’t).

I will then monitor the effect these steps have over the winter and consider the steps we can take for next winter.

Currently I estimate that to keep my house at 20 °C when the external temperature falls below 20 °C requires about 280 watts per °C that the temperature falls below 20 °C. My estimate is that about 25% of that is due to the windows and I hope to reduce that component by more than half.

Overall I am hoping for a 15% improvement in the thermal performance of the house to about 240 watts per °C. This looks like a pitifully small improvement to me, but at the moment, its all I can manage.

Unlike the Political Front in the battle against climate change, the Thermal Insulation Front is dull and undramatic. And every gain comes at a price and has be hard fought for. But it is a battle that has to fought.

Hasta La Victoria Siempre!


* delete as appropriate

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