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The European Union Question

David Cameron was on one screen, and CBeebies was on another. I was on the treadmill at the gym, interval training, pacing at the same rhythm as the blaring RnB, and reading the teletext translation of the Parliamentary debate.

I smiled at Ed Miliband’s nasally-charged bluster. I rolled my eyes at the interventions from the Conservative dinosaurs.

The Tories are the living example of the Bad Apple Theory, I thought to myself. One bad apple, or in their case, a clutch of Eurosceptics, spoils the crop.

The Conservative Party of the United Kingdom harbours a number of corporatists and the stooge friends of corporatists, and this is their basic argument – deregulate and private companies will be more productive and save the economy from implosion. It’s the same argument that nursed the financial services market that went ahead and created derivatives of risk, and produced toxic credit progeny in abundance and caused the collapse of the banks which caused the current economic doldrums. Great job !

We’ve got the Coalition Government’s Red Tape (Cutting Of) initiative in full-swing, as well as the Eurosceptics. Their argument is – the European Union is a hyperquagmire and over-regulates and stifles business and innovation, so the United Kingdom should secede. What they fail to acknowledge is that European Union legislation and regulation have created excellent conditions for trade, unifying the standards of production across the Common Market, and drawing on skillsets and technologies from across the region, has advanced productivity and standards of living for all.

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The Problem of Powerlessness #2

On Wednesday, I received a telephone call from an Information Technology recruitment consultancy. They wanted to know if I would be prepared to provide computer systems programming services for NATO.

Detecting that I was speaking with a native French-speaker, I slipped into my rather unpracticed second language to explain that I could not countenance working with the militaries, because I disagree with their strategy of repeated aggression.

I explained I was critical of the possibility that the air strikes in Libya were being conducted in order to establish an occupation of North Africa by Western forces, to protect oil and gas interests in the region. The recruitment agent agreed with me that the Americans were the driving force behind NATO, and that they were being too warlike.

Whoops, there goes another great opportunity to make a huge pile of cash, contracting for warmongers ! Sometimes you just have to kiss a career goodbye. IT consultancy has many ethical pitfalls. Time to reinvent myself.

I’ve been “back to school” for the second university degree, and now I’m supposed to submit myself to the “third degree” – go out and get me a job. The paucity of available positions due to the poor economic climate notwithstanding, the possibility of ending up in an unsuitable role fills me with dread. One of these days I might try to write about my experiences of having to endure several kinds of abuse whilst engaged in paid employment : suffice it to say, workplace inhumanity can be unbearable, some people don’t know what ethical behaviour means, and Human Resources departments always take sides, especially with vindictive, manipulative, micro-managers. I know what it’s like to be powerless.

Efficiency is King Green Investment Green Power

Occupy your mind #6

Evie, a true East End trooper, asks the whole cafe “Are those campers still there ? The ones in the City ? They say they’re there for all of us. But what have they done about fuel bills ? The gas has just gone up 18% – and the electricity 11%…” She’s having trouble with her joints and she complains about not feeling free to put the heating on at home. “I get cold in the loins”, she says, not sparing her fellow clientele any awkward detail, even euphemistically.
Remarkably it seems that the political equivalent of a tectonic faultline is opening up right there – the price of energy.

Of course, the Conservative component of the Coalition Government of the UK concerns itself with the cost of power and fuel for trade and industry. The Daily Mail stirs the murky river bed : “George Osborne is preparing to offer tax breaks to firms hit by Britain’s ‘absurd’ climate change policies after being warned they threaten to drive business abroad. In a major U-turn, the Chancellor will try to help companies that use large amounts of energy. His move comes amid growing concern that companies and households are being hit heavily by Britain’s commitment to cut carbon emissions faster than other countries […] Mr Osborne’s plans are sure to set him on collision course with his Liberal Democrat coalition colleagues. Last night Whitehall sources told the Mail the Chancellor is working on radical proposals to mitigate the effects on companies that use large amounts of energy, such as cement, aluminium and steel makers. Tax breaks and exemptions from new carbon levies are expected to be included in a mini-Budget due next month […]”

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George Osborne : Quantitative Greasing

Image Credit : So Fiyah

On the first day of October, The Times of London newspaper ran an editorial urging investment in Britain’s infrastructure as a way to turn the economy around. Under the heading “Re-engineering the Economy”, they wrote “…What Britain needs now is thus not merely recovery from recession: it is a comprehensive re-engineering of the economy. At the heart of this process should be a more ambitious approach to infrastructure investment and more activism in industrial policy…”
The writer continued, “…Stepping up investment in infrastructure will not only stimulate the economy in the short-term, but will also increase the potential for future growth…” They did not speculate extensively on where the money for investment was to come from, but it was clear that they were supporting the UK Government’s new planning legislation, in which the presumption for development will apparently always take precedence over objections to development. The Times writer did not make a very clear distinction between sustainable and unsustainable development, and considered building a gargantuan new airport in the Thames Estuary as valid a project as new wind power research in Aberdeen.

The Times appears to have understood that Britain’s energy infrastructure needs some concentrated attention : “Renewing Britain’s energy infrastructure is one of the biggest challenges that the country faces but it also presents a huge opportunity.” Part of the Coalition Conservative-Liberal Democrat Government’s Electricity Market Reform seeks to apply state subsidies to low carbon generation, although rewarding power generated from existing nuclear power stations cannot possibly stimulate the new nuclear builds that the Government are keen on.

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You cannot pay for carbon


from: Jo Abbess
to: Andrew Pendleton

Hi Andrew,

…I don’t like being told that carbon should be priced to solve climate change, because I simply don’t think it will work. All attempts so far haven’t worked, and for one very simple reason – nobody wants to be forced to buy a negative, virtual commodity.

The history of environmental fines is poor. What makes anybody think that carbon can be cleaned up by pricing, when oil spills and air pollution cannot be cleaned up by pricing ?

What’s the name of your Harvard economist again ?

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Energy Poll #11 : Energy Conservation

Question 1    How frequently do you hear information about energy being wasted at home and in offices and public buildings ?

Question 2    Do you think that energy conservation will help with meeting carbon emissions targets ?

Question 3    Do you think that insulation, draught exclusion and efficient machines are desirable ways to save energy ?

Question 4    Have you or will you take energy conservation measures at home, such as adding roof insulation ?

Question 5    Do you think that energy conservation services can make a profit for energy companies ?

Background Information : please give a few brief details about what kind of person you are, to help us check that a representative sample of people have answered the survey.

What region are you living in ?
How old are you ?
What gender are you ?
How do you prefer to keep up to date with science ?

Is Climate Change really happening ?
Is Peak Oil really happening ?
Do you know a lot about energy  ?
Enter your e-mail address if you want the final results

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The Dearth of Sense

While everybody’s busy discussing ethics in the media, today’s been a great day to bury bad news – the shelving of the Energy Bill – and with it the Green Deal, the only hope Britain had left of economic recovery in the short-term.

And what of the Electricity Market Reform white paper and the National Policy Statements on energy ? Into the round wastepaper-bin-shaped recycling receptacle, possibly.

What next ? The revocation of the Climate Change Act and the dissolution of the Committee on Climate Change ?

I don’t know whether I should make overt political statements, but I think this news sugar ices the brioche, so I will : David Cameron’s “greenest government ever” has failed.

We need Van Jones, right here, right now.

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George Monbiot : New Clear

It is a newer, clearer tone that George Monbiot uses in his piece The nuclear industry stinks. But that is not a reason to ditch nuclear power. He seems to have lost his dirty annoyance with filthy anti-nuclear activists and moved onto a higher plane of moral certitude, where the air is cleaner and more refined.

He is pro-technology, but anti-industry. For him, the privately owned enterprises of atomic energy are the central problem that has led to accidents both of a radioactive and an accountancy nature. “Corporate power ?”, he asks, “No thanks.” The trouble is, you can’t really separate the failings of nuclear power from the failings of human power. It’s such a large, complex and dangerous enterprise that inevitably, human power systems compromise the use of the technology, regardless of whether they are publicly or privately owned. For a small amount of evidence, just look at the history of publicly-managed nuclear power in the United Kingdom. Not exactly peachy. And as for those who claimed that a “free” market approach to managing nuclear power would improve matters – how wrong they were. In my view, on the basis of the evidence so far, nobody can claim that nuclear power can be run as an efficient, safe, profit-making venture.

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The Waste of Power #2

Image Credit : Sun Sentinel


The production and supply of electricity can be very wasteful. In industrialised countries, electricity generation is usually done on a “centralised” model, using large power plants, often remote from urban populations.

The inefficiencies in this kind of network are such that it matters where new power stations are sited. For example, in the UK, because of the unequal grid load between Scotland and England, it is more efficient to put a new power station on the South Coast, rather than North of the Border :-

Making more, more locally

Developing new Renewable Energy technologies could actually increase the efficiency of the electricity grid – because they could be sited more locally to where electricity is used :-
“As [solar photovoltaics] PVs are installed predominantly locally, there is the possibility of reducing grid losses to the extent that the production coincides with demand (Wenger et al., 1994; Chowdhury and Sawab, 1996).”

Also, crucially, because they can bypass having to feed the main high voltage power grid, they can avoid losses from low-to-high and high-to-low voltage transformation. In which case, you don’t need heaps of new pylons ! Oh, let’s have a diagram :-
“In some locations, adding solar PV to the system near demand centres may avoid the need to expand the transmission network. Kahn et al. (2008) illustrates a case in California where adding PV near coastal load centres would negate the need for significant transmission investments when compared with other renewable sources, in particular the transmission built to access solar PV, CSP, and geothermal in the desert”

Not only can new local power plants reduce the loss of power from the grid and rationalise demand; because they are new, they are likely to be more efficient than the old, remote power plants we currently have.

It’s unlikely that people would accept new nuclear power stations close to home, nor traditional thermal coal combustion plants, but there are still a number of acceptable technologies for new local power stations. Besides the no-noise, no-waste solutions such as slowly rotating wind turbines and solar photovoltaics, there are also new efficient biomass solutions.

The golden rule about combustion technologies is – the cleaner the fuel going in, the safer the flue gases coming out – which is why gasification to pre-treat mixed wastes before combustion is likely to be a favourite for urban biomass plants. Too many people have rightly complained about plain vanilla “incineration” plants. With gasification, it is possible to trap contaminants and stop them from flying into the sky :-
“…In doing all these, the emissions – (a) gaseous – NOx, CO, HC, and SOx can be shown to meet international norms, (b) liquid effluents – can be treated by water treatment processes that are standard and the disposal of the sludge meeting international norms and (c) solid residues – like ash and char used for landfill after further treatment that would be not be necessary in most cases [except when one uses old wood (altholz)]… it is Clean Biomass Technology.”

There has been a lot of discussion about Combined Heat and Power (CHP), which makes better use of the energy that’s input to the plant by using the heat that would normally have been sent up a cooling stack chimney. The heat is delivered locally, with District Heating pipe grids. The main problem with deploying CHP/DH is that nobody is quite clear where money would come from to fund this kind of development, especially since CHP would probably have to be managed, and possibly owned and invested in, by local authorities, such as town councils, whose budgets are not always bulging. And then there’s the cost of digging the ground to lay the district heating pipe network.

Micro Combined Heat and Power – basically CHP stations you can run in your kitchen – are currently still being trialled and developed, but they are likely to be too expensive for most household budgets :-
“The commercialization of highly efficient, small-scale fuel-cell-based CHP systems (with 80 to 90% overall efficiency) could contribute to a more energy efficient and cost effective use of existing and new gas grids in the longer term (DeValve and Olsommer, 2006; Zabalza et al., 2007).”

More efficient “backbone” power plants

To improved the efficiency of the main spine of the centralised electricity supply grid, having more efficient power plants is a definite bonus. As the Large Combustion Plant Directive (LCPD) of the European Commission shuts down old coal-powered stations, companies see the economic sense in building new highly efficient technologies, some of the best advances coming from Combined Cycle Gas Turbine (CCGT) technology, burning Natural Gas.

They can also be built quickly, relative to options like new coal or new nuclear power plants, and can be more flexible in operation, which can contribute towards grid energy efficiency.

As another benefit, burning Natural Gas, Biogas (from digestion of Biomass) and Bioyngas (from gasification of Biomass) produces much less carbon dioxide than burning coal in the full lifecycle analysis (although there are questions still hanging over the total greenhouse gas impact of some Biomass supply chains).

Creating Syngas from Biomass to be used for electricity generation means that a range of Biomass feedstocks can be drawn into the supply line. Plus, making Syngas from Biomass reduces the energy demand of tranporting the energy from the source of the Biomass to the power plant – it’s virtually fuel-free to feed gas down a pipe – but it takes convoys of trucks to transport wood.

Building new efficient central power stations will have a real impact. Here’s an example of why – power consumption, as part of overall energy consumption in the United States is projected to rise by small percentages between now and 2030 – so demand will remain firm, and not highly variable – so swapping out coal plants for gas plants will really change things :-

At the level of the major transmission network, High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) cables have been proposed for parts of the new infrastructure being planned, which should improve efficiency, and there are plans for a better grid, with “smart” systems in play to load balance and manage demand, including having take-back contracts with large businesses running non-critical power applications.

Any Natural Gas that doesn’t need to be burned in power stations can be diverted to the gas grid, where it can be burned with 85% or higher efficiency to produce heat at home. The systems of electricity production and use would be made more efficient and for the UK this would also mean lower import levels of both Natural Gas and electricity.

Ending End User Waste

There is waste at the end user end of the electricity network too – partly due to poor infrastructure choices. The use of electricity as power for lighting, heating and cooling at public and business buildings, such as hospitals, schools, colleges, town halls, and offices is of concern, as there are often problems arising from architectural design and work space layout, and frequently not sufficient monitoring from facilities managers. Simple things can still change the situation – such as substituting lighting with low power LED options, and organising cooperatively in offices for the best ventilation and heating arrangements for all working there. Democracy can mean power savings. Democracy can mean power.

The problem is also partly due to the hyper-consumption of electrical and electronic goods – although in Europe, legislation in the form of a range of Directives are moving on this issue – regulating for greater efficiency and less waste in and from manufactured products.

The carbon dioxide content of the grid network – which represents the overall efficiency of the grid network – can be high, so it is useful to consider management options that take into account using power when demand is not so high :-

Heat pumps could also be a more efficient option than current electrical heating and cooling systems.

The Generation Gap

It is important to address electricity waste issues with a variety of low carbon means. In the UK, a “generation gap” is still a possibility :-

Economic interests

The drive for energy efficiency is not anti-growth. In the short term an efficiency drive stimulates the economy to new investment. In the longer term, it provides a greater energy resource at lower cost and with lower emissions.