Enter The Dragon

UK supermarkets are in the front line when it comes to environmental matters. Food miles , Fair Trade, packaging, GM v organic, none of these issues make their lives any easier, and they still have to turn a profit on behalf of their shareholders.

It’s good to see that Sainsbury’s is making a decent effort to reduce its environmental footprint. This month, the Supermarket Formerly Known As Everyone’s Favourite Grocer announced a trial of an innovative energy generation system at its new Northampton depot. The Dragon Power System (DPS) uses the kinetic energy of vehicles passing over pressurized road plates that depress under the vehicle’s weight to generate electricity.

The DPS is the brainchild of US company Alternative Energy Source Technologies, Inc. A single lorry running over a DPS can produce approximately 3.3Kwh, and based on the number of vehicles entering and leaving the Northampton depot, this will help generate enough power to boil 5.7 million kettles or light 10,000 light bulbs a year.

Imagine the potential. Nearly 150,000 vehicles use the Dartford River Crossing every day. How many power stations could we close down if we started using this traffic flow to generate electricity? Sounds great. But how long before people wise up to the fact that the ‘free’ electricity is actually paid for by the tiny extra amount of fuel each truck uses to get over the DPS?

Actually, the DPS would make a damn fine sleeping policeman.

Sainsbury’s press release

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15 Responses to Enter The Dragon

  1. Dave On Fire says:

    It’s a very good idea. I think Virgin (and maybe other companies) now do something similar with their trains, putting the kinetic energy lost when braking back into the grid, instead of pissing it away as light or sound. Probably wouldn’t be practical to put in cars, maybe even buses are too light, but planes go really fast and are really massive – that makes for a lot of kinetic energy to be recaptured at landing.

    However I’m not sure it’s fair to call this electricity generation, it only recaptures energy wasted by lorries going over a bridge. It’s energy reclamation really, it can reduce energy wastage. That’s still good, but if I’m not allowed to split hairs then where’s the fun in that ? 😉

    Also, I’m really not sure about this statement:

    UK supermarkets are in the front line when it comes to environmental matters.

    Supermarkets are the intermediary between suppliers and consumers, and the supermarkets are few and enormous while consumers and suppliers are divided and few. As well as being middlemen, then, they’re disproportionately powerful middlemen. As long as they keep this influence the supermarkets can keep making a tidy profit, those who bear the cost of environmental regulations are the suppliers (higher costs) and the consumers (higher prices).

    The difficulty in turning a decent profit lies mainly in getting and keeping customers; the “greening” of the supermarkets was marketing-driven rather than regulation-driven. Fine, you may say, as long as it happens one way or another, but marketing is nothing if it’s not fickle. We’ve already seen a reversal in Tesco’s tactics from outgreening its rivals back to old-fashioned price wars.

  2. Pete Smith says:

    ” I’m really not sure about this statement: UK supermarkets are in the front line when it comes to environmental matters.”

    That’s front line, as in firing line, taking flak from everybody. If I’m not allowed to be tongue in cheek once in a while then where’s the fun in that? 🙂 I could bash supermarkets and their distortion of the retail economy till the cows come home, but it wasn’t the main focus of this post.

    “I’m not sure it’s fair to call this electricity generation”

    Well, electricity does get generated, but I know what you mean. Energy’s transferred from the vehicle to the DPS, slowing the vehicle which has to accelerate again, using more fuel than it would have done otherwise. I think Sainsbury’s will find this is a real swings/roundabouts project.

  3. Pete Smith says:

    “planes go really fast and are really massive – that makes for a lot of kinetic energy to be recaptured at landing.”

    Planes landing on aircraft carriers used to hook onto a braking system cable. I guess they still do, otherwise the carriers would have to be a mile long. I don’t know if they use the energy for anything useful though.

    “Probably wouldn’t be practical to put in cars”

    The FIA has allowed the use of 60 kW “Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems” for the 2009 Formula One season

    http://www.evworld.com/syndicated/evworld_article_1160.cfm

  4. the Grit says:

    Hi y’all,

    As I understand it, hybrid cars use the electric motors to brake by running them in reverse and passing the electricity generated back to the batteries. Oh, I saw somewhere that a line of hybrid powered trucks is about to be introduced, which should be interesting.

    As to “green” grocery stores, it ticks off liberals over here to no end that the much hated Wal*Mart chain (Tasco over there?) is one of the best. Not only does their efficient distribution system cut down on their carbon footprint, but they also account for savings in reducing short trips, the worst from a fuel efficiency basis, by allowing one stop shopping. They are also in embarking on a project to install solar panels on the roofs of all their stores. Of course, one has to over look that importing from China thing, but that would happen anyway 🙂

    As to the road bump power generator, it makes me wonder if my local Government road agency would notice a slight modification in front of my house.

    the Grit

  5. matt says:

    Hi Pete,

    Is this new technology, new application or, both?

    Hi Grit,

    Walmart = Asda

    Yes, hybrid cars such as the Prius use regenerative breaking systems I believe.

    It is a great time for inventors, engineers and venture capitalists. Although I hear tonight there maybe the first signs of a nervous market, led by nervous lenders, caused by a shakey US housing market. Damn!

  6. Pete Smith says:

    Hi Grit,
    “As I understand it, hybrid cars use the electric motors to brake by running them in reverse and passing the electricity generated back to the batteries.”
    Up to a point 🙂
    “the much hated Wal*Mart chain (Tasco over there?)”
    Asda. Tesco’s much bigger. And more hated.
    Pete

  7. Pete Smith says:

    Matt,
    As it says on the AEST site “The concept behind AEST’s DPS is derived from an adaptation of an old means of generating electricity from rivers and streams. In those proven applications, a fluid (water) turns a turbine, which drives a generator. AEST’s innovative adaptation utilizes the movement of cars and trucks crossing over pressurized road plates that depress under the vehicle’s weight to generate electricity.”
    So, a new application of traditional technology.

    Technically, any car can use regenerative braking.

    “I hear tonight there maybe the first signs of a nervous market, led by nervous lenders, caused by a shakey US housing market.”

    Always first with the news Matt! The subprime lending disaster in the US has been causing ripples for a while, and the signs aren’t good.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/6455529.stm
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/6288738.stm

    Pete

  8. matt says:

    The news isn’t about the subprime market, rather that there are the first signs that this is affecting the merger market (reported on Radio 4 last night), with the affects that this may have on world share markets. Tick, tock … boom!

  9. Pete Smith says:

    The M&A market is just one of the global financial bubbles that’s waiting to blow. Economies and stock prices have been sustained by low interest rates. Now that rates are going up, it’s time for a consolidation. Investors are looking for steady, predictable income streams, so are getting out of stocks and into safe assets such as short-term Treasuries.

  10. matt says:

    Well, the DJ is playing an unlucky number (13,300).

  11. Pete Smith says:

    Better than ‘The Lady In Red’. Or to give it it’s full title, ‘The [Old] Lady [Of Threadneedle Street] In [The] Red’ 🙂

  12. the Grit says:

    Hi Matt,

    Good times for sure. As to the market, we did just hit a record high, and it shouldn’t be a surprise that a bit of profit taking would cause a fall after.

    Hi Pete,

    Surely nothing is greater than Wal*Mart, our country’s largest employer!

    the Grit

  13. Pete Smith says:

    Hi Grit,

    You misunderstand I think. Tesco is the UK’s largest supermarket, much larger, and hence more unpopular, than Asda, the Wal-Mart subsidiary.
    I wouldn’t dream of comparing Tesco with Wal-Mart.

  14. Nickoli says:

    Wal-Mart owns Asda, but they are quite different types of stores. Similarly, Tesco is the dominant retailer here, much as Wal-Mart is in the US, prompting some comparisons, but they are quite different in trading style, product range and corporate culture.

    Wal-Mart was a general store (kind of similar to Woolworths, I suppose) that expanded and now sells food.

    Tesco was a grocer, then supermarket, that expanded into selling non-food.

    Back to the point, though: as you point out, the energy’s got to come from somewhere, and it’s actually just making the vehicles run over them slightly less efficiently, and saves nothing in overall fuel costs.

  15. Pete Smith says:

    Thanks Nickoli, I thought I was the only one who spotted the flaw in the DPS. Otherwise, it would be the old perpetual motion scam.

    Accept your comments re Tesco/Asda, it probably means less than nothing to an American 🙂

    Good old Woolies, though. What a shop! On virtually any high street you could buy, for example, a tin of shoe polish, a hammer, a reel of cotton, a pair of socks and a Betamax video cassette of ‘Looking for Mr Goodbar’. Paradise.

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