Who Likes Beer ?

First, Christian Figueres speaks at St Paul’s Cathedral, and then there’s a debate, and questions, and somebody says Capitalism needs to be reformed or we’re not going to get any proper change. Half the people in the room sigh. “The last thing we need now is an obsessive compulsive revolutionary Marxist”, I hear somebody thinking.

Then, no surprise, Prince Charles comes out in favour of compassionate capitalism. That’s kind of like asking people to be nice to puppies, and about as realistic call for change as wanting the Moon to be actually made of cheese. As if focusing all our efforts and energy on repairing an already-breaking machine of trade with its destructive exploitation of resources and labour is going to stop climate change. Really. What actually needs to happen is that we address carbon emissions. If we cannot measure a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, or count new trees, we are getting nowhere, fast. The Holy Economy can go hang if we don’t address Climate Change, and it will, because Climate Change is already sucking the lifeblood out of production and trade.

The non-governmental organisations – the charities, aid and development agencies and the like, do not know how to deal with climate change. They cannot simply utilise their tools of guilt to prise coins from peoples’ clenched hands and put the money towards something helpful. Well, they can, and they do, and you better watch out for more poor, starving African type campaigning, because programmes for adaptation to climate change are important, and I’ve never said they’re not, but they don’t address mitigation – the preventing of climate change. Well, some can, such as the project for smokeless, efficient ovens, but that’s not the point here. The point is that Christian Aid, for example, calling on us all to be “Hungry for Justice” isn’t addressing the central problem – the mass use of fossil fuels and deforestation in the name of economic development.

People are talking in hushed, reverential tones about Make Climate History. The way that Make Poverty History worked was a bunch of parliamentary people, and government people, sat down together and worked out how to get shows of public support for the government’s calls to the G8. The appeal to the masses was principally divided into two kinds – messages calling for people to support the government, and messages calling for people to urge, shout, rail, demonstrate to the government that they wanted these things. So, if you were in the first group you were showing support for what you thought was a good thing, and if you were in the second group, you were using all your righteous anger to force the government to take up the cause of the poor. The NGOs merely repeated these messages out on the wires. People spent a lot of time and energy on taking these messages out to various communities, who then spent a lot of time and energy on public meetings, letter writing, postcard signing, rallying, marching, talking to their democratic representatives. But all of that activity was actually useless. The relationships that counted were the relationships between the governments, not between the governments and their NGOs. The NGOs were used to propagate a government initiative.

And now, they’re doing it again with climate change. Various parts of government, who have actually understood the science, and the economics, can see how it is in the best interests of the United Kingdom, and the European Union, of which we are a closely-connected part, to adopt strong carbon control policies. But they’re not content just to get on with it. No, they want all the politically active types to make a show of support. And so the communications begin. Apparently open consultative meetings are convened, but the agenda is already decided, and the messaging already written for you.

It reminds me of what happened with the Climate Marches. A truly independent strongly critical movement centred around the Campaign against Climate Change organised a demonstration of protest every year in London, leading people either from or to the American Embassy, as the USA was the most recalcitrant on taking action to control greenhouse gas emissions. This was an effective display of public feeling, as it irritated and scratched and annoyed. So it had to go. So, I Count was born, a project of Stop Climate Chaos. They organised events sometimes on the very same day as the Campaign against Climate Change, and their inclusive hippy message was all lovehearts and flowers and we wouldn’t hurt a fly type calls for change. In the run up to the Copenhagen Conference of the Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Kyoto Protocol in late 2009, all the NGOs were pushing for energy to be concentrated on its outcome, but nobody who joined in the vigils, the pilgrimages or the marches had any chance to make a real input. We were just the feather boa on the cake. We were even ejected from the building.

All this energy expended was a complete waste of time. With climate change, the relationships that count are between the governments and the energy industry. The NGOs may rant and rail in their toothless, fangless, clawless way about energy industry infelicity, ignominy, ignorance and inflexibility, but the energy industry only cares about NGOs if they show any sign of rebellious insubordination, which might upset their shareholders.

The governments know what they need to do – they need to improve their relationships with their energy industries to come to an agreement about decarbonising the energy supply – ask them in the most non-nonsense, unavoidable, sisterly/brotherly way to diversify out of fossil fuels. It really doesn’t matter what the NGOs say or do.

Current climate change campaigning to the masses is analagous to walking into a student party and shouting above the noise, sorry, music, “Hands up, who likes beer ?” You might get some token drunken waves out of that, but nothing more.

People, I predict, are less likely to join in with a hunger strike than they are to like beer. And even if I did join the Climate Fast, it wouldn’t make a blind bit of difference to energy company behaviour or government policy.

Look, I’ve done my share of climate change actions. I’ve cut my personal energy use, I’ve given up ironing and vacuuming, for example. I’ve installed solar panels. I use the bus. I’ve taken part in the Great Scheme of Voluntary Behaviour Change – I, the energy consumer have shown my willingness to consume less and produce less greenhouse gas emissions. Now it’s time for other people to act.

Given half a chance, most of the British people would vote for climate – a decent, hardworking, sunshine-and-rain and rather moderate climate – and none of this extremist storms, floods and droughts scenario we’ve been suffering recently.

Yes, and more British people want renewable energy than voted in their Local Elections.

So why doesn’t the UK Government just get on with it – institute the proper Carbon Budget at home, continue to ask for decent decarbonisation targets abroad, and leave all the compassionate caring people to devote themselves to causes that they stand a chance of impacting ?

Economic Ecology

Managing the balance between, on the one hand, extraction of natural resources from the environment, and on the other hand, economic production, shouldn’t have to be either, or. We shouldn’t value higher throughput and consumption at the expense of exhausting what the Earth can supply. We shouldn’t be “economic” in our ecology, we shouldn’t be penny-pinching and miserly and short-change the Earth. The Earth, after all, is the biosystem that nourishes us. What we should be aiming for is an ecology of economy – a balance in the systems of manufacture, agriculture, industry, mining and trade that doesn’t empty the Earth’s store cupboard. This, at its root, is a conservation strategy, maintaining humanity through a conservative economy. Political conservatives have lost their way. These days they espouse the profligate use of the Earth’s resources by preaching the pursuit of “economic growth”, by sponsoring and promoting free trade, and reversing environmental protection. Some in a neoliberal or capitalist economy may get rich, but they do so at the expense of everybody and everything else. It is time for an ecology in economics.

Over the course of the next couple of years, in between doing other things, I shall be taking part in a new project called “Joy in Enough”, which seeks to promote economic ecology. One of the key texts of this multi-workstream group is “Enough is Enough”, a book written by Rob Dietz and Dan O’Neill. In their Preface they write :-

“But how do we share this one planet and provide a high quality of life for all ? The economic orthodoxy in use around the world is not up to the challenge. […] That strategy, the pursuit of never-ending economic growth has become dysfunctional. With each passing day, we are witnessing more and more uneconomic growth – growth that costs more than it is worth. An economy that chases perpetually increasing production and consumption, always in search of more, stands no chance of achieving a lasting prosperity. […] Now is the time to change the goal from the madness of more to the ethic of enough, to accept the limits to growth and build an economy that meets our needs without undermining the life-support systems of the planet.”

One of the outcomes of global capitalism is huge disparities, inequalities between rich and poor, between haves and have-nots. Concern about this is not just esoteric morality – it has consequences on the whole system. Take, for example, a field of grass. No pastoral herder with a flock of goats is going to permit the animals to graze in just one corner of this field, for if they do, part of the grassland will over-grow, and part will become dust or mud, and this will destroy the value of the field for the purposes of grazing. And take another example – wealth distribution in the United Kingdom. Since most people do not have enough capital to live on the proceeds of investment, most people need to earn money for their wealth through working. The recent economic contraction has persuaded companies and the public sector to squeeze more productivity out of a smaller number of employees, or abandon services along with their employees. A simple map of unemployment shows how parts of the British population have been over-grazed to prop up the economic order. This is already having impacts – increasing levels of poverty, and the consequent social breakdown that accompanies it. Poverty and the consequent worsening social environment make people less able to look after themselves, their families, and their communities, and this has a direct impact on the national economy. We are all poorer because some of our fellow citizens need to use food banks, or have to make the choice in winter to Heat or Eat.

And let’s look more closely at energy. Whilst the large energy producers and energy suppliers continue to make significant profits – or put their prices up to make sure they do so – families in the lower income brackets are experiencing unffordability issues with energy. Yes, of course, the energy companies would fail if they cannot keep their shareholders and investors happy. Private concerns need to make a profit to survive. But in the grand scheme of things, the economic temperature is low, so they should not expect major returns. The energy companies are complaining that they fear for their abilities to invest in new resources and infrastructure, but many of their customers cannot afford their products. What have we come to, when a “trophy project” such as the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station gets signed off, with billions in concomitant subsidy support, and yet people in Scotland and the North East and North West of England are failing to keep their homes at a comfortable temperature ?

There is a basic conflict at the centre of all of this – energy companies make money by selling energy. Their strategy for survival is to make profit. This means they either have to sell more energy, or they have to charge more for the same amount of energy. Purchasing energy for most people is not a choice – it is a mandatory part of their spending. You could say that charging people for energy is akin to charging people for air to breathe. Energy is a essential utility, not an option. Some of the energy services we all need could be provided without purchasing the products of the energy companies. From the point of view of government budgets, it would be better to insulate the homes of lower income families than to offer them social benefit payments to pay their energy bills, but this would reduce the profits to the energy companies. Insulation is not a priority activity, because it lowers economic production – unless insulation itself is counted somehow as productivity. The ECO, the Energy Company Obligation – an obligation on energy companies to provide insulation for lower income family homes, could well become part of UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s “Bonfire of the Green Tax Vanities”. The ECO was set up as a subsidy payment, since energy companies will not provide energy services without charging somebody for them. The model of an ESCO – an Energy Services Company – an energy company that sells both energy and energy efficiency services is what is needed – but this means that energy companies need to diversify. They need to sell energy, and also sell people the means to avoid having to buy energy.

Selling energy demand reduction services alongside energy is the only way that privatised energy companies can evolve – or the energy sector could have to be taken back into public ownership because the energy companies are not being socially responsible. A combination of economic adjustment measures, essential climate change policy and wholesale price rises for fossil fuel energy mean that energy demand reduction is essential to keep the economy stable. This cannot be achieved by merely increasing end consumer bills, in an effort to change behaviour. There is only so much reduction in energy use that a family can make, and it is a one-time change, it cannot be repeated. You can nudge people to turn their lights off and their thermostats down by one degree, but they won’t do it again. The people need to be provided with energy control. Smart meters may or may not provide an extra tranche of energy demand reduction. Smart fridges and freezers will almost certainly offer the potential for further domestic energy reduction. Mandatory energy efficiency in all electrical appliances sold is essential. But so is insulation. If we don’t get higher rates of insulation in buildings, we cannot win the energy challenge. In the UK, one style of Government policies for insulation were dropped – and their replacements are simply not working. The mistake was to assume that the energy companies would play the energy conservation game without proper incentives – and by incentive, I don’t mean subsidy.

An obligation on energy companies to deploy insulation as well as other energy control measures shouldn’t need to be subsidised. What ? An obligation without a subsidy ? How refreshing ! If it is made the responsibility of the energy companies to provide energy services, and they are rated, and major energy procurement contracts are based on how well the energy companies perform on providing energy reduction services, then this could have an influence. If shareholders begin to understand the value of energy conservation and energy efficiency and begin to value their energy company holdings by their energy services portfolio, this could have an influence. If an energy utility’s licence to operate is based on their ESCO performance, this could have an influence : an energy utility could face being disbarred through the National Grid’s management of the electricity and gas networks – if an energy company does not provide policy-compliant levels of insulation and other demand control measures, it will not get preferential access for its products to supply the grids. If this sounds like the socialising of free trade, that’s not the case. Responsible companies are already beginning to respond to the unfolding crisis in energy. Companies that use large amounts of energy are seeking ways to cut their consumption – for reasons related to economic contraction, carbon emissions control and energy price rises – their bottom line – their profits – rely on energy management.

It’s flawed reasoning to claim that taxing bad behaviour promotes good behaviour. It’s unlikely that the UK’s Carbon Floor Price will do much apart from making energy more unaffordable for consumers – it’s not going to make energy companies change the resources that they use. To really beat carbon emissions, low carbon energy needs to be mandated. Mandated, but not subsidised. The only reason subsidies are required for renewable electricity is because the initial investment is entirely new development – the subsidies don’t need to remain in place forever. Insulation is another one-off cost, so short-term subsidies should be in place to promote it. As Nick Clegg MP proposes, subsidies for energy conservation should come from the Treasury, through a progressive tax, not via energy companies, who will pass costs on to energy consumers, where it stands a chance of penalising lower-income households. Wind power and solar power, after their initial investment costs, provide almost free electricity – wind turbines and solar panels are in effect providing energy services. Energy companies should be mandated to provide more renewable electricity as part of their commitment to energy services.

In a carbon-constrained world, we must use less carbon dioxide emitting fossil fuel energy. Since the industrialised economies use fossil fuels for more than abut 80% of their energy, lowering carbon emissions means using less energy, and having less building comfort, unless renewables and insulation can be rapidly increased. This is one part of the economy that should be growing, even as the rest is shrinking.

Energy companies can claim that they don’t want to provide insulation as an energy service, because insulation is a one-off cost, it’s not a continuing source of profit. Well, when the Big Six have finished insulating all the roofs, walls and windows, they can move on to building all the wind turbines and solar farms we need. They’ll make a margin on that.

Birdcage Walk : Cheesestick Rationing


Yesterday…no, it’s later than I think…two days ago, I attended the 2013 Conference of PRASEG, the Parliamentary Renewable and Sustainable Energy Group, at the invitation of Rhys Williams, the long-suffering Coordinator. “…Sorry…Are you upset ?” “No, look at my face. Is there any emotion displayed there ?” “No, you look rather dead fish, actually”, etc.

At the prestigious seat of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE), One Birdcage Walk, we were invited down into the basement for a “drinks reception”, after hearing some stirring speeches and intriguing panel discussions. Despite being promised “refreshments” on the invitation, there had only been beverages and a couple of bikkies up until now, and I think several of the people in the room were starting to get quite hypoglycemic, so were grateful to see actual food being offered.

A market economy immediately sprang up, as there was a definite scarcity in the resources of cheesesticks, and people jostled amiably, but intentionally, so they could cluster closest to the long, crispy cow-based snacks. The trading medium of exchange was conversation. “Jo, meet Mat Hope from Carbon Brief, no Maf Smith from Renewable UK. You’ve both been eviscerated by Delingpole online”, and so on.

“Welcome to our own private pedestal”, I said to somebody, who it turned out had built, probably in the capacity of developer, a sugarcane bagasse Combined Heat and Power plant. The little table in the corner had only got room around it for three or at most four people, and yet had a full complement of snack bowls. Bonus. I didn’t insist on memorising what this fellow told me his name was. OK, I didn’t actually hear it above the hubbub. And he was wearing no discernible badge, apart from what appeared to be the tinge of wealth. He had what looked like a trailing truculent teenager with him, but that could have been a figment of my imagination, because the dark ghost child spoke not one word. But that sullenness, and general anonymity, and the talkative gentleman’s lack of a necktie, and his slightly artificial, orange skin tone, didn’t prevent us from engaging wholeheartedly in a discussion about energy futures – in particular the default options for the UK, since there is a capacity crunch coming very soon in electricity generation, and new nuclear power reactors won’t be ready in time, and neither will Carbon Capture and Storage-fitted coal-fired power plants.

Of course, the default options are basically Natural Gas and wind power, because large amounts can be made functional within a five year timeframe. My correspondent moaned that gas plants are closing down in the UK. We agreed that we thought that new Combined Cycle Gas Turbine plant urgently needs to be built as soon as possible – but he despaired of seeing it happen. He seemed to think it was essential that the Energy Bill should be completed as soon as possible, with built-in incentives to make Gas Futures a reality.

I said, “Don’t wait for the Energy Bill”. I said, “Intelligent people have forecast what could happen to Natural Gas prices within a few years from high European demand and UK dependence, and are going to build gas plant for themselves. We simply cannot have extensions on coal-fired power plants…” He agreed that the Large Combustion Plant Directive would be closing the coal. I said that there was still something like 20 gigawatts of permissioned gas plant ready to build – and with conditions shaping up like they are, they could easily get financed.

Earlier, Nigel Cornwall, of Cornwall Energy had put it like this :-

“Deliverability and the trilemma [meeting all three of climate change, energy security and end-consumer affordability concerns] [are key]. Needs to be some joined-up thinking. […] There is clearly a deteriorating capacity in output – 2% to 5% reduction. As long as I’ve worked in the sector it’s been five minutes to midnight, [only assuaged by] creative thinking from National Grid.”

However, the current situation is far from bog standard. As Paul Dickson of Glennmont Partners said :-

“£110 billion [is needed] to meet the [electricity generation] gap. We are looking for new sources of capital. Some of the strategic institutional capital – pension funds [for example] – that’s who policy needs to be directed towards. We need to look at sources of capital.”

Alistair Buchanan, formerly of Ofgem, the power sector regulator, and now going to KPMG, spent the last year or so of his Ofgem tenure presenting the “Crunch Winter” problem to as many people as he could find. His projections were based on a number of factors, including Natural Gas supply questions, and his conclusion was that in the winter of 2015/2016 (or 2016/2017) power supply could get thin in terms of expansion capacity – for moments of peak demand. Could spell crisis.

The Government might be cutting it all a bit fine. As Jenny Holland of the Association for the Conservation of Energy said :-

“[Having Demand Reduction in the Capacity Mechanism] Not our tip-top favourite policy outcome […] No point to wait for “capacity crunch” to start [Energy Demand Reduction] market.”

It does seem that people are bypassing the policy waiting queue and getting on with drawing capital into the frame. And it is becoming more and more clear the scale of what is required. Earlier in the afternoon, Caroline Flint MP had said :-

“In around ten years time, a quarter of our power supply will be shut down. Decisions made in the next few years. Consequences will last for decades. Keeping the lights on, and [ensuring reasonably priced] energy bills, and preventing dangerous climate change.”

It could come to pass that scarcity, not only in cheesesticks, but in electricity generation capacity, becomes a reality. What would policy achieve then ? And how should Government react ? Even though Lord Deben (John Gummer) decried in the early afternoon a suggestion implying carbon rationing, proposed to him by Professor Mayer Hillman of the Policy Studies Institute, it could yet turn out that electricity demand reduction becomes a measure that is imposed in a crisis of scarcity.

As I put it to my sugarcane fellow discussionee, people could get their gas for heating cut off at home in order to guarantee the lights and banks and industry stay on, because UK generation is so dependent on Natural Gas-fired power.

Think about it – the uptake of hyper-efficient home appliances has turned down owing to the contracting economy, and people are continuing to buy and use electronics, computers, TVs and other power-sucking gadgets. Despite all sizes of business having made inroads into energy management, electricity consumption is not shifting downwards significantly overall.

We could beef up the interconnectors between the UK and mainland Europe, but who can say that in a Crunch Winter, the French and Germans will have any spare juice for us ?

If new, efficient gas-fired power plants are not built starting now, and wind farms roll out is not accelerated, the Generation Gap could mean top-down Energy Demand Reduction measures.

It would certainly be a great social equaliser – Fuel Poverty for all !

A Referendum for Energy

As I dodged the perfunctory little spots of snow yesterday, on my way down to Highbury and Islington underground train station, I passed a man who appeared to have jerky muscle control attempting to punch numbers on the keypad of a cash machine in the wall. He was missing, but he was grinning. A personal joke, perhaps. The only way he could get his money out of the bank to buy a pint of milk and a sliced loaf for his tea was to accurately tap his PIN number. But he wasn’t certain his body would let him. I threw him an enquiring glance, but he seemed too involved in trying to get control of his arms and legs to think of accepting help.

This, I felt, was a metaphor for the state of energy policy and planning in the United Kingdom – everybody in the industry and public sector has focus, but nobody appears to have much in the way of overall control – or even, sometimes, direction. I attended two meetings today setting out to address very different parts of the energy agenda : the social provision of energy services to the fuel-poor, and the impact that administrative devolution may have on reaching Britain’s Renewable Energy targets.

At St Luke’s Centre in Central Street in Islington, I heard from the SHINE team on the progress they are making in providing integrated social interventions to improve the quality of life for those who suffer fuel poverty in winter, where they need to spend more than 10% of their income on energy, and are vulnerable to extreme temperatures in both summer heatwaves and winter cold snaps. The Seasonal Health Interventions Network was winning a Community Footprint award from the National Energy Action charity for success in their ability to reach at-risk people through referrals for a basket of social needs, including fuel poverty. It was pointed out that people who struggle to pay energy bills are more likely to suffer a range of poverty problems, and that by linking up the social services and other agencies, one referral could lead to multiple problem-solving.

In an economy that is suffering signs of contraction, and with austerity measures being imposed, and increasing unemployment, it is clear that social services are being stretched, and yet need is still great, and statutory responsibility for handling poverty is still mostly a publicly-funded matter. By offering a “one-stop shop”, SHINE is able to offer people a range of energy conservation and efficiency services alongside fire safety and benefits checks and other help to make sure those in need are protected at home and get what they are entitled to. With 1 in 5 households meeting the fuel poverty criteria, there is clearly a lot of work to do. Hackney and Islington feel that the SHINE model could be useful to other London Boroughs, particularly as the Local Authority borders are porous.

We had a presentation on the Cold Weather Plan from Carl Petrokovsky working for the Department of Health, explaining how national action on cold weather planning is being organised, using Met Office weather forecasts to generate appropriate alert levels, in a similar way to heatwave alerts in summer – warnings that I understand could become much more important in future owing to the possible range of outcomes from climate change.

By way of some explanation – more global warming could mean significant warming for the UK. More UK warming could mean longer and, or, more frequent heated periods in summer weather, perhaps with higher temperatures. More UK warming could also mean more disturbances in an effect known as “blocking” where weather systems lock into place, in any season, potentially pinning the UK under a very hot or very cold mass of air for weeks on end. In addition, more UK warming could mean more precipitation – which would mean more rain in summer and more snow in winter.

Essentially, extremes in weather are public health issues, and particularly in winter, more people are likely to suffer hospitalisation from the extreme cold, or falls, or poor air quality from boiler fumes – and maybe end up in residential care. Much of this expensive change of life is preventable, as are many of the excess winter deaths due to cold. The risks of increasing severity in adverse conditions due to climate change are appropriately dealt with by addressing the waste of energy at home – targeting social goals can in effect contribute to meeting wider adaptational goals in overall energy consumption.

If the UK were to be treated as a single system, and the exports and imports of the most significant value analysed, the increasing net import of energy – the yawning gap in the balance of trade – would be seen in its true light – the country is becoming impoverished. Domestic, indigenously produced sources of energy urgently need to be developed. Policy instruments and measured designed to reinvigorate oil and gas exploration in the North Sea and over the whole UKCS – UK Continental Shelf – are not showing signs of improving production significantly. European-level policy on biofuels did not revolutionise European agriculture as regards energy cropping – although it did contribute to decimating Indonesian and Malaysian rainforest. The obvious logical end point of this kind of thought process is that we need vast amounts of new Renewable Energy to retain a functioning economy, given global financial, and therefore, trade capacity, weakness.

Many groups, both with the remit for public service and private enterprise oppose the deployment of wind and solar power, and even energy conservation measures such as building wall cladding. Commentators with access to major media platforms spread disinformation about the ability of Renewable Energy technologies to add value. In England, in particular, debates rage, and many hurdles are encountered. Yet within the United Kingdom as a whole, there are real indicators of progressive change, particularly in Scotland and Wales.

I picked up the threads of some of these advances by attending a PRASEG meeting on “Delivering Renewable Energy Under Devolution”, held at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in Westminster, London; a tour to back up the launch of a new academic report that analyses performance of the devolved administrations and their counterpart in the English Government in Westminster. The conclusions pointed to something that I think could be very useful – if Scotland takes the referendum decision for independence, and continues to show strong leadership and business and community engagement in Renewable Energy deployment, the original UK Renewable Energy targets could be surpassed.

I ended the afternoon exchanging some perceptions with an academic from Northern Ireland. We shared that Eire and Northern Ireland could become virtually energy-independent – what with the Renewable Electricity it is possible to generate on the West Coast, and the Renewable Gas it is possible to produce from the island’s grass (amongst other things). We also discussed the tendency of England to suck energy out of its neighbour territories. I suggested that England had appropriated Scottish hydrocarbon resources, literally draining the Scottish North Sea dry of fossil fuels in exchange for token payments to the Western Isles, and suchlike. If Scotland leads on Renewable Energy and becomes independent, I suggested, the country could finally make back the wealth it lost to England. We also shared our views about the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland being asked to wire all their new Renewable Electricity to England, an announcement that has been waiting to happen for some time. England could also bleed Wales of green power with the same lines being installed to import green juice from across the Irish Sea.

I doubt that politics will completely nix progress on Renewable Energy deployment – the economics are rapidly becoming clear that clean, green power and gas are essential for the future. However, I would suggest we could expect some turbulence in the political sphere, as the English have to learn the hard way that they have a responsibility to rapidly increase their production of low carbon energy.

Asking the English if they want to break ties with the European Union, as David Cameron has suggested with this week’s news on a Referendum, is the most unworkable idea, I think. England, and in fact, all the individual countries of the United Kingdom, need close participation in Europe, to join in with the development of new European energy networks, in order to overcome the risks of economic collapse. It may happen that Scotland, and perhaps Wales, even, separate themselves from any increasing English isolation and join the great pan-Europe energy projects in their own right. Their economies may stabilise and improve, while the fortunes of England may tumble, as those with decision-making powers, crony influence and web logs in the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail, resist the net benefits of the low carbon energy revolution.

[ Many thanks to Simon and all at the Unity Kitchen at St Luke’s Centre, and the handsomely reviving Unity Latte, and a big hi to all the lunching ladies and gents with whom I shared opinions on the chunkiness of the soup of the day and the correct identification of the vegetables in it. ]

Other Snapshots of Yesterday #1 : Approached by short woman with a notebook in Parliament Square, pointing out to me a handwritten list that included the line “Big Ben”. I pointed at the clock tower and started to explain. The titchy tourist apologised for non-comprehension by saying, “French”, so then I explained the feature attraction to her in French, which I think quite surprised her. We are all European.

Other Snapshots of Yesterday #2 : Spoke with an Austrian academic by the fire for coffee at IMechE, One Birdcage Walk, about the odd attitudes as regards gun ownership in the United States, and the American tendency to collective, cohort behaviour. I suggested that this tendency could be useful, as the levels of progressive political thinking, for instance about drone warfare, could put an end to the practice. When aerial bombardment was first conducted, it should have been challenged in law at that point. We are all Europeans.

Other Snapshots of Yesterday #3 : Met a very creative Belgian from Gent, living in London. We are all European.

Other Snapshots of Yesterday #4 : We Europeans, we are all so civilised. We think that we need to heat venues for meetings, so that people feel comfortable. Levels of comfort are different for different people, but the lack of informed agreement means that the default setting for temperature always ends up being too high. The St Luke’s Centre meeting room was at roughly 23.5 degrees C when I arrived, and roughly 25 degrees C with all the visitors in the room. I shared with a co-attendee that my personal maximum operating temperature is around 19 degrees C. She thought that was fine for night-time. The IMechE venue on the 2nd floor was roughly 19 – 20 degrees C, but the basement was roughly 24 degrees C. Since one degree Celsius of temperature reduction can knock about 10% of the winter heating bill, why are public meetings about energy not more conscious of adjusting their surroundings ?

Enron, Fudging and the Magic Flute

Allegedly, the United Kingdom is about to break free from the Dark Ages of subsidies, and enter the glorious light of a free and light-touch regulated, competitive electricity market.

The Electricity Market Reform is being sold to us as the way to create a level playing field between low carbon electricity generation technologies, whether they be established or new, baseload or variable, costly-up-front or cheap-and-quick-to-grid.


Personally, I do not accept the mythology of the Free Market. I do not accept that a fully competitive, privatised energy sector can be delivered, regardless of the mechanisms proposed. The Electricity Market Reform is less Englightenment and more Obscurantism, in my view – the call of the Magic Flute is going to fall on deaf ears.

Who will play the pipe ? Who will call the tune ? Who will be the Counterparty ?
At the National Grid’s Future Energy Scenarios day conference-seminar on Thursday 27th September 2012, I listened carefully to several spokesmen from the companies, quangos and agencies deny that they would have anything to do with determining, underwriting or administering deals for the EMR’s proposed “Contracts for Difference” (CfD) – essentially setting a guaranteed lowest price for selling electricity to the grid, regardless of market movement. Mark Ripley of the EMR team at National Grid was very clear “National Grid will not be the contractual counterparty for the CfD”. I asked Jonathan Brearley of the UK Government Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) at a break who would be independent enough to set the “strike price” – the minimum price for which electricity generators could expect to sell electricity ? He suggested that perhaps the UK Government would set up an independent governing body – gesturing at arm’s length. I asked him rhetorically who could reasonably be expected to be seconded to this new quango – how could they be truly independent…I did not get an opportunity to ask how the CfD revenues and payouts would be administered. I didn’t know at that time about the rumours that Ofgem – the current electricity generation quango regulator – could be closed down under a new Labour Government.

The shadow cast by the nuclear industry
During the presentation by Jonathan Brearley of DECC, he indicated that back room discussions are going on between large potential electricity generation investors and the UK Government. Even before the ink has hit the paper on the EMR draft, it seems the UK Government is inviting large investors to come and talk to them about deals for guaranteed generation sales prices. As far as my notes indicate, he said “The first nuclear project has already approached us for a contract.” I asked him directly in the break if this kind of pre-legislation arrangement was going to allow the nuclear industry to cream off subsidies. He denied that Contracts for Difference would be allocated for current nuclear power plants. He did not admit that there are strong indications that the so-called Capacity Mechanism of the EMR could be applied, propping up the profits of the nuclear power plants already running, and encouraging them to apply for extension licences for their cracked reactors to keep running after they should have been shut down for safety reasons.

After the National Grid meeting, I went to an EcoConnect meeting, where Eric Machiels of Infinis said, in reference to the strong influence of EdF (Electricite de France) in proposing new nuclear reactors in the UK, “The EMR was set up to meet two requirements. [First] to justify incredibly high investments. [And] nuclear – if you need to invest £10 billion or more, 10 years away, you need regulatory certainty…[But you have to know, decisions on nuclear development] will rely on decisions made in the Elysee Palace and not in Number 10.”

Well, it seems clear that the steer is still towards the UK taxpayers and billpayers stumping up to support the ailing French atomic power fleet.

A bit of a big fudge
There is no reason to believe that the Curse of Enron will not haunt the UK energy trading halls if the EMR goes ahead with its various microeconomic policies. Everybody will play for profits, and the strength of over-competitive behaviour between the current market actors will not encourage or permit new market entrants.

At the EcoConnect meeting, Diane Dowdell of Tradelink Solutions warned of the risks of going back to the kind of electricity markets of former decades, “Unless you worked under the Pool, you wouldn’t know how it works. It is a derivative…DECC need to look at Ireland – their Pool system has been utterly destroyed. Please don’t follow in the footsteps of Ireland – get the balancing right.”

The big issue is the macroeconomic need to incentivise investment in new electricity generation plant and infrastructure – something that will not be achieved by flipping microeconomic market trading conditions to benefit low carbon generators. How can new low carbon generators come onto the grid ? By placing focus on investment decisions. New generation has to clear a higher hurdle than how much it can sell green power for on the half-hourly market. Funds and financing are not going to be directed to choose low carbon investment just because marginal costs (the Carbon Floor Price and the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme) are applied to high carbon players already in the market. The guarantees of profits into the future from the institution of Contracts for Difference (Feed in Tariff) and the Capacity Mechanism will maybe trigger a slice of investment in new nuclear power, but it won’t ensure that new gas-fired power plants are built with Carbon Capture and Storage.

At the EcoConnect meeting later on, another DECC man reported back on the UK Government’s call for evidence on the EMR. DECC’s Matt Coyne said that amongst the conclusions from the consultation with industry there were concerns about the conditions for Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) under the EMR. (Securing a PPA is the guarantee that investors need to be able to commit to backing new electricity generation capacity). He said that developers are finding it hard to secure finance for new generation investment and that it was a widely-held view that the EMR would not improve that, although he said that “it is our view that the Contracts for Difference will improve things.” Other people at the meeting were not so sure. Diane Dowdell said, “I desperately hope the EMR works. It’s got to work. [Conditions] seem to be edging out the small- and mid-sized players.” Eric Machiels said, “The Big Six vertically integrated energy suppliers are in the best position to retain their position.”

In my notes, I scribbled that Michael Ware, a dealmaking matchmaker for renewable energy projects, offered the view that “Government does resemble toddlers driving a steam train – there are lots of buttons to push…[The UK is] just a rainy little island at the edge of Europe. Capital is truly international. It all feels much easier to do business elsewhere. [The EMR looks] almost designed to turn off investors.”

There were several calls to retain the Renewables Obligation – to oblige energy suppliers to keep signing up new clean power from smaller players if they couldn’t make it themselves.

Energy Independence : Scheer Truth

Image Credit : Carl-A. Fechner, fechnerMedia

Renewable energy pessimists are everywhere.

Some commentators, government leaders, energy companies and representatives of international institutions are keen to show that not only is the renewable energy deployment glass half empty, the water hasn’t even wet the bottom of the glass yet.

Yet there are renewable energy architects – developers, promoters, politicians, scientists, engineers and academics – who document the evidence of the rapid growth in zero carbon energy – who show us that the sustainable energy glass could be brimming over.

What do experts say ? Here’s the belated Hermann Scheer from the film “The 4th Revolution : Energy Autonomy” :-

Continue reading Energy Independence : Scheer Truth

Open Letter to Renewable Energy Deniers

To all Renewable Energy Deniers,

Things are getting so much better with renewable energy engineering and deployment – why do you continue to think it’s useless ?

We admit that, at the start, energy conversion efficiencies were low, wind turbine noise was significant, kit was expensive. Not now. Wind and solar farms have been built, data collected and research published. Design modifications have improved performance.

Modelling has helped integrate renewable energy into the grids. As renewable energy technologies have been deployed at scale, and improvements and adjustments have been made, and electricity grid networks have adapted to respond to the variable nature of the wind and the sunshine, we know, and we can show you, that renewable energy is working.

It’s not really clear what motivates you to dismiss renewable energy. Maybe it’s because you’re instinctively opposed to anything that looks like it comes from an “envionmentalist” perspective.

Maybe because renewable energy is mandated to mitigate against climate change, and you have a persistent view that climate change is a hoax. Why you mistrust the science on global warming when you accept the science on everything else is a continuing mystery to me.

But if that’s where you’re coming from when you scorn developments in renewable energy, you’re making a vital mistake. You see, renewable energy is sustainable energy. Despite any collapse in the globalised economy, or disruption to fossil fuel production, wind turbines will keep spinning, and solar panels will keep glowing.

Climate change has been hard to communicate effectively – it’s a huge volume of research, it frequently appears esoteric, or vague, or written by boffins with their heads in the clouds. Some very intelligent people are still not sure about the finer points of the effects of global warming, and so you’re keeping good company if you reserve judgement on some of the more fringe research.

But attacking renewable energy is your final stand. With evidence from the engineering, it is rapidly becoming clear that renewable energy works. The facts are proving you wrong.

And when people realise you’re wrong about renewable energy, they’ll never believe you again. They won’t listen to you when you express doubts about climate change, because you deny the facts of renewable energy.

Those poor fools who have been duped into thinking they are acting on behalf of the environment to campaign against wind farms ! Wind energy will be part of the backbone of the energy grids of the future.

We don’t want and we can’t afford the concrete bunkers of deadly radioactive kettles and their nasty waste. We don’t want and we can’t afford the slag heaps, dirty air and melting Arctic that comes from burning coal for power. We don’t want and we can’t afford to keep oil and Natural Gas producing countries sweet – or wage war against them to keep the taps open.

Instead we want tall and graceful spinners, their gentle arms waving electricity from the breeze. We want silent and dark photovoltaic cladding on every roof.

Burning things should only be done to cover for intermittency in wind and sunshine. Combustion is very inefficient, yet you support combustion when you oppose renewable energy.

We must fight waste in energy, and the rising cost of energy, and yet you don’t support the energy resources where there is no charge for fuel. Some would say that’s curmudgeonly.

When you oppose renewable energy, what is it you’re fighting for ? The old, inefficient and poisonous behemoths of coal hell ? We who support renewable, sustainable energy, we exchange clunky for sleek, toxic for clean. We provide light and comfort to all, rich and poor.

When you oppose renewable energy, you are being unbelievably gullible – you have swallowed an argument that can ruin our economy, by locking us into dependency on energy imports. You are passing up the chance to break our political obedience to other countries, all because wind turbines clutter up your panoramic view when you’re on holiday.

You can question the net energy gain from wind power, but the evidence shows you to be incorrect.

If you criticise the amount of investment and subsidy going into renewable energy, you clearly haven’t understood the net effect of incentivisation in new technology deployment.

Renewable energy has a positive Net Present Value. Wind turbines and solar panels are genuine assets, unlike the liabilities that are coal-fired power stations and nuclear reactors.

Renewable energy deployment will create meaningful, sustainable employment and is already creating wealth, not only in financial terms, but in social welfare terms too.

Renewable energy will save this country, so why do you knock it ?

Quizzically yours,

Eco-Socialism #1 : Public Service, Private Profit

Public infrastructure and utilities are the skeleton of the national economy; the spokes of the wheel; the walls of the house.

Private corporations can in many cases put muscle on the body, a tyre on the bike, and furnish the rooms, but without the basic public provision, private enterprise cannot thrive.

Without taxes being raised – asking everybody for their appropriate contribution – there would be no guaranteed health service, education system, roads, water supplies, power networks.

Federal or central government spending is essential, and often goes without question or inspection – including subsidies, cheap government loans, tax breaks and even rule-bending and regulatory exemption for specific sectors of the economy. This policy lenience also applies to private companies that take on the provision of public utilities.

This explicit, but often glossed-over, support for public services means that private business can rely on this national infrastructure. Small businesses can rely on a power supply and waste disposal services, for example. Large businesses can rely on a functioning postal service and road network.

It is questionable whether for-profit enterprise would be able to survive without the basic taxation-funded provision of public services and utilities.

I can understand why governments feel the need to get public spending off the balance sheet, and outsource public utilities to the private sector.

There is a lingering belief that private enterprise makes public services more efficient; makes manufacturing more reliable; makes construction better quality.

In some cases, this belief in privatisation is justified. Where companies can genuinely compete with each other, there can be efficiencies at scale. However, the success of privatisation is not universal.

Many parts of a developed economy are monolithic – there is no real competition possible. You get electricity through your power socket from a variety of production companies – you cannot choose. The road between your house and your office is always the same road – you don’t choose between different tarmac suppliers. Your local hospital is your local hospital, regardless of who owns and runs it – you have no choice about who that is – and the government contract tendering process is not something open to a public vote.

Added to this lack of competition, in some cases, it is impossible to make a profit by operating a public service by a private concern.

There should be no rock under which private business can hide when it claims to be operating profitable train and bus services – without public subsidies, public transport cannot be run at a profit.

Liability for daily operations may have been outsourced to the British private train companies, but not the full cost of the services. Costs for locally-sourced services cannot be driven down because they cannot be made fully open to global competition.

By contrast, the globalisation of labour has been making manufacturing industry significantly cheaper for decades.

In order for globalised trade to work, finance has to be liberated from its nation-bound shackles, and so along with the globalisation of labour to nations where it’s cheapest, there has been the globalisation of finance, to the tax regimes less punitive.

The globalisation of trade is a two-way bargain between those that want to see the development of primitive economies and those who want to create wealth for their companies and their shareholders.

Globalisation has created a booming China, for example, and filled the pockets of any Western company that imports from China.

However, the tide of globalisation has reached the shore, and the power of the waves is being stilled by solid earth realities. Labour costs in previously under-developed economies are starting to rise significantly, as those economies start to operate internal markets as well as maintain export-led growth.

It could soon be cheaper to have manufacturing labour in the United States of America than China. But when that happens a curious problem will arise. Manufacturing industry has been closed down in the so-called industrialised countries – as companies have taken their factories to the places with the cheapest labour and the most lax tax.

Wealth creation potential in developed countries has been destroyed. And it is for this reason that Western governments feel the urgent need to privatise everything, because their economies are collapsing internally, and public budgets may no longer be able to sustain current government spending.

However, privatisation doesn’t work for everything. It doesn’t work for health, education, water, public transport. The European Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is a vehicle to compensate for agricultural sectors than cannot make a profit. I would contend privatisation doesn’t work for the energy supply and distribution sector either – but for a special reason.

Normally, it is possible to run energy stations at a profit. The privatised sector inherited power stations and grid networks that were fully functioning, and the sales of power and Natural Gas were almost pure profit.

However, much energy plant needs to be lifecycled after decades of use – replacements are in order, and this demands heavy public investment, in the form of subsidies, or pricing controls, or tax breaks or some such financial aid, in order to avoid crippling the private companies.

Like the rail network, there is direct public investment in the power grids. This is to support new access for new energy plant. However, I think this doesn’t go far enough. I would argue that much more public tax-and-spend is required in the energy sector.

In future, most electricity generation needs to become low carbon and indigenous. The primary reason for this is the volatility of the globalised economy – it will no longer be possible to assume that imports of coal, Natural Gas and oil for power station combustion can be afforded – especially in economies like the United Kingdom, where much wealth creation has been destroyed by de-industrialisation.

It used to be easy to ignore this – as the North Sea was so productive in oil and Natural Gas that the UK was a net energy exporter. This is no longer the case.

To avoid the risk of national impoverishment, energy independence is dictated, spelled out by a deflating British economy and by the depleting North Sea reserves.

The easiest and fastest way to a power supply that is low carbon is by healthy investment in wind power and solar power. Yet with the turbulence in the global economy, spending on renewable energy has also been rocky.

Now is the time for the UK Government to stop tickling corporate underbellies to get them to invest in British energy, and to start collected tax revenues to spend explicitly on the energy revival.

It can be “matched” funding – the Renewables Obligation, for example, has drawn in massive levels of private investment into wind power. And the feed-in tariff scheme for solar photovoltaics had, until recently, been pulling in high levels of personal individual and private company investment.

This is the kind of public-private financing that works – create a slightly tilted playing field to tip the flow of money towards new energy investment, and watch the river flow.

Without public money ploughed into public infrastructure in non-profitable areas such as public transport and energy, private enterprise will not be able to make a contribution – they would quickly bankrupt themselves.

The result of capping public subsidies for renewable energy is a halt to renewable energy deployment. Those who resist wind farms are in effect destroying the country. Those who cap public subsidies for solar power want to break the nation.

We need socalist financing of new energy technology deployment, for the future wealth of our country.

The Revolution Is Here

Sorry to say, but I think the people camping on the streets at @OccupyLSX and other places are not the real revolution. The real revolution is in energy. Democratisation of energy is the future – distributed, multi-level production systems, integrated pan-continental networks.

What ? Power to the people ? This is why the energy companies don’t like it so much, and why the corporate masters of the developed countries, and their shareholders, don’t want to have people believe in renewable and sustainable energy.

This is why the newspapers are full of people disparaging renewable energy – journalists and commentators who know nothing about energy, who are not engineers and who don’t know who thought their ideas for them first. Wake up, media people, the future of energy will be zero carbon and fully of the people.

A little unauthrorised translation of what I could pick up from the trailer of a 2010 film (sorry, my German listening comprehension is very rusty) : “We are awash in energy. We are dependent on energy. How much energy is left for us ? Have we enough energy for a revolution ? How much must we pay for power ? Why must California nearly use as much electrical power as Africa ? (French) “We have this enormous potential – with the youth, the riches of Nature, the trees, the biomass, agriculture…but there is no progress…the catalyst is not there. And that’s electricity”. Do we need the big energy companies ? (German) “…energy concerns will become democratic…” The fourth revolution. Energy Autonomy.”


Ed Miliband : Squeezed Middle

Ed Miliband, leader of the British Labour Party, addressed the pre-party conference cameras in uncustomary casual attire, shelving his favourite suit, dazzlingly shiny tie and white shirt, you know, the one with the fat turned-over cuffs.

He sought to assure the nation that his one man mission is to relieve the financial pressure on the hardworking “squeezed middle” – fighting their corner against the profiteering railway companies and the moneygrabbing energy companies.

The little snippet of BBC TV News 24 that I saw cut to the correspondent raising doubts about whether this cost-of-living protection strategy would have any impact on the wider economy – whether measures to control transport fares and energy bills would create economic growth.

What does this little word “growth” mean to the BBC TV reporter, I asked myself. Does he think it means increasing employment, increasing incomes ? And how could employment be increased ? By increasing the “consumption” of goods, energy, water, transportation and knowledge economy services ? And how can this “aggregate demand” consumption be increased, if unemployment remains high and incomes remain stagnant ?

Allowing the utility and transportation companies to raise their prices allows them to remain profitable and build their businesses, presumably creating employment as well as giving a return to investors – those who have their savings in pension funds – where the fund managers invest in energy and transport. Why not allow energy and transport prices to rise ? People can learn to spend more on these valuable services, surely ? Pensioners will have their funds protected, and energy and transport businesses will stay profitable, paying tax into the state.
Continue reading Ed Miliband : Squeezed Middle

China Launches : Space Republic

China has launched Tiangong-1, the “Heavenly Palace“, and demonstrated an international co-operative republic of space in the making. Many technologists, scientists, engineers and military personnel in the major economies will have taken part in the coordination of this project.

Three things come to mind. First of all, China are going to experience a massive drain on domestic economic and social development in pursuit of its programme to set up a space station. Some could say this is deliberate, and that China has been convinced to spend on space to keep them from world economic dominance.

Next, the Chinese are obviously going to set up Earth monitoring systems, and are going to find out that everything the Americans have said about environment and climate, based on the data from the NASA, NOAA and UAH satellites and space occupation, is accurate; and wonder why they were convinced of the possibility of the alternative, and the necessity of going up there to find out for themselves.

And thirdly, the Chinese are going to find that they are drawn into the American and United Nations economic and military security programmes, monitoring common “enemies” – such as those breaking carbon treaties and constructing disallowed nuclear power stations.

So, not a space republic – not even a space race. More, a space replication, repeating what’s already been done before. A giant public works project that should keep the hardworking Chinese people proud for a moment.

Happy Birthday, China !

What I Do, I Do For My Country

Recently, pro-nuclear, anti-wind power climate change-sceptic and early publisher of Resurgence magazine, Hugh Sharman, announced to the Claverton Energy Research Group forum that he had been published in European Energy Review. “The clock is ticking”, reads the headline, “Energy policy has become a hotly debated topic in the UK. No country in Europe has more ambitious climate change goals. But the UK has taken few concrete steps yet. It is estimated that £200 billion is required until 2020 to start the UK on the its energy transformation. […] Energy Secretary Chris Huhne is expected to come out with a White Paper setting out the framework that should persuade utilities and investors to sign on to the government’s vision. Will it work? Energy consultant Hugh Sharman has grave doubts. With some like-minded specialists, he has started a website bringing together people who are alarmed at the UK’s energy situation. He […] sketches a sombre perspective…”

Continue reading What I Do, I Do For My Country

Energy for Democracy

Dropping The Campaign Wrecking Ball

Intelligent commentators, authors and policy people are often suspicious of campaign groups. At the back of their minds they are drawing on a cultural discourse, primarily conducted in the media, that equates campaigners with mini-Hitlers – spreading disinformation and cult behaviour.

It is true that – as Mein Kampf reveals – the National Socialists in Germany used the latest communications tools to coerce and channel the energy of democracy towards their goals.

Some of the Nazi ambition was for democratic engagement, involvement in the process of rebuilding the country. Yet some of the methods were perverse, and caused an inexorable descent into the abuse of power.


When people like Mark Lynas accuse Greenpeace and other green campaign organisations of failings, there is any underlying theme – accusations of manipulation – both of facts and people. The sub-text harks back to the combat against fascism and Nazism in Europe.

We’re never going to make any progress on climate change if those advocating for energy change are equated to early 20th Century dictators and totalitarians.

Energy is a Social Good

I recently wrote an essay called “Energy for Democracy” making a first attempt at connecting the dots on grassroots democratic mobilisation and energy change. The subject set was in the field of “Environmental Communication”, and so I went back and looked at the development of mass media, advertising and public persuasion. I then went on to think about how propaganda and governance are interrelated. And I also looked at philosophy, and politics. I looked at the early 20th Century ideological splits in Europe, and the part that industrial development played. I looked at how democratic and other forms of socialism dealt with the problem of energy.

I posited that, since energy is produced for the Common Good, it should be subject to democratic management. I found myself “channelling” the spirit of Ramsay Macdonald, and going back to the questions of society and the integration of new industries that were pervasive before the two so-called “World Wars”.

Energy Of A Similar Wavelength

And today I find this very theme picked up by Ulrich Beck in The Guardian newspaper, along with the expression “energy change”, which is a term I am using increasingly to encapsulate the pivotal and essential response to climate change :-

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jun/20/germany-nuclear-power-renewable-energy

“Germany is right to opt out of nuclear”, he headlines, “The rejection of nuclear power is a result not of German angst but of economic thinking. We must invest in renewable energy”.

I was gladdened when he stepped from economics to democratics :-

“…Ultimately, the rejection of nuclear is not a result of German angst but of economic thinking. In the long run, nuclear power will become more expensive, while renewable energy will become cheaper. But the key point is that those who continue to leave all options open will not invest…People everywhere are proclaiming and mourning the death of politics. Paradoxically, the cultural perception of the danger may well usher in the very opposite: the end of the end of politics…what is denounced by many as a hysterical over-reaction to the “risks” of nuclear energy is in fact a vital step towards ensuring that a turning point in energy generation becomes a step towards greater democracy…The novel coalition between the state and social movements of the kind we currently see at work in Germany now has a historic opportunity. Even in terms of power politics, this change of policy makes sense…”

The British are stumbling towards democracy, too, but they keep tripping over old divisiveness, and create new divisions too, just to complicate matters.

People Power – Not Potty Nor Puny

The Climate Camp has just been a baby step on the pathway to democratic movement on energy. Camping in coal trucks and dropping banners from power station cooling stacks has been a sign that democracy has been ailing – if there were genuine engagement between the governments, private enterprises and “campaign” groups over the future scenarios for energy, then people wouldn’t need to camp outside banks and coal-fired power plants.

As a consumer of mainstream media, all you see is the blockade of a Biofuel refinery, or people gluing themselves to the entrance of the Royal Bank of Scotland, or the occupation of a plant nursery at the site of a proposed runway. If you think “what a ramshackle bunch of unwashed hippies, straining the last of their voices, railing at the State, in a vain attempt to roll back the tide of industry, progress and Thorium reactors”, then you haven’t understood the bigger picture.

People want to be engaged in the decisions made about energy in this country – properly engaged. People want to use their knowledge to influence decisions. If the only means they have of expressing their democratic will and their opposition to hydraulic fracturing is to D-lock themselves to Shale Gas drilling equipment, then perhaps they might just do that. This might happen in Poland too. The alternative would be a proper discussion between the people groups and the governments. Where’s the European Union environmental legislature while all of this is happening ? Shale Gas could destroy Poland.

Energy Collectives – Expressing Collective Democratic Will

Groups like Fair Pensions are building momentum between people groups and investing institutions – raising the flag for clean energy. This isn’t about fighting – let’s drop the battlefield language, including that word “campaign”, which is so often used in a derogatory, dismissive, belittling way. This is about getting people working together on a new, sustainable future, and it requires all the righteous anger rising up to be channelled into a positive, productive movement, fully expressing the will of the people.

Consultations and placard-waving demonstration protests are not the way forward – we need energy change, and that’s going to require a whole lot more democratic energy. People don’t want dirty energy, and they don’t want nuclear power. Dirty energy should be asked to leave the building, nicely, politely. Firm but fair.

Group Thinking – Democratic Intelligence

Investment in renewable and sustainable energy is creating long-lasting assets for the UK and other countries. We don’t need and we don’t want dirty, radioactive energy any more. A thousand cheers for German democracy !

Cool poverty

They’ve never had it so cold. The British have just shivered through another long, centrally heated winter, and people are receiving enormous gas bills. Social campaigners and parliamentarians are rightly concerned that a clutch of harsher winters and rising energy costs could reverse gains made in tackling fuel poverty. The UK Government’s recent Budget announcement to reduce fuel poverty assistance payments is another blow to maintaining decent and warm homes for the vulnerable, the elderly and children. Proposals to cap the amount that energy companies can charge people in their bills is welcomed by some, but feared by others – as it could jeopardise energy company funding for the Green Deal – a free-to-the-consumer loan scheme for insulation and renewable energy installation. And there’s another problem waiting in the wings. Unlike the United States and Australia, the average British home doesn’t have air conditioning, and it costs real money to install it. If outsized summer heatwaves continue to pop up more frequently in Europe, UK households will face “cool poverty” in summer – a lack of cooling.

Continue reading Cool poverty

The “red tape” challenge

So, I’m sitting in my local cafe at lunchtime talking to my local property developer-landlord. So, I ask him, do you think there will be worsening economic conditions this year ? And will there be more unemployment ?

He takes a pretty dismal line – things are becoming more and more squeezed – landlords are finding that their properties are unoccupied, or the rents are being forced downwards, and there is no spare finance capacity to do renovations, the banks won’t lend, and there’s no certainty of being able to sell properties if the business becomes uneconomic. He’s had to sack people he was formerly able to employ.

Continue reading The “red tape” challenge