Yet More Random Thoughts

Not had time to blog much over the last week but some stories that caught my eye…

The Mandela media frenzy
The former South African leader of course died this week (I’m assuming anyone not living on Mars heard the news). However, what I found strange was how the news media when into its sort of usual 24 hr wall-to-wall coverage which involved repeatedly asking a journalists in Seweto the same questions over and over again. This despite the fact that the very same day there was a massive storm bearing down on the UK and Scrooge Mac-Bullingdon was issuing his autumn statement, to name a few other stories. However all of these events, including mass evacuations of parts of Holland and the South coast of the UK were pushed aside as a result of the Mandela story.

While not denying that this was a newsworthy event, indeed I’d always been impressed with how modestly Mandela had lived and conducted himself, but clearly him dying has been on the cards for sometime and the media have been preparing for it and they weren’t going to let any pesky storm get in the way of such coverage. After all, nobody remembers the story of the journalist who reported from a flood barrier during a storm (unless it failed! Or they got the forecast wrong…like Michael Fish!), but a journalist could build his career on the story of reporting on Nelson Mandela’s death. All very morbid I’m afraid.

Of course the reflections on Mandela’s life inevitably produced a few awkward moments for the Tories, seeing as their hero, Thatcher once described Mandela as a terrorist and refused to support sanctions against South Africa.

Storm warning
Indeed the story of this storm surge was of particular interest to many. Since the catastrophic floods of 1953, many billions has been spent on studying the problem and building flood defences. While there have been floods since then, this was the biggest ever test of these defences.

There has been for several decades considerable debate about whether we could defend the coastline against such storm surges and what was the best way of doing it. A simple wall for example, doesn’t stop the sea, it just deflects the water somewhere else, which gets flooded even worse than otherwise. This is why recently efforts have been moving towards defence in depth. In some cases this has meant breaching barriers to allow flooding of wetlands, which then act as a sponge to absorb the water in a flood.

All in all, while there was inevitably some flooding and fatalities as a result of this storm, the flood defences more or less worked as specified, the impact of the storm was nowhere near that of 1953, despite higher water levels.

What this shows to me is the benefits of listening to the science and acting accordingly. Which is what we should be doing as regards climate change, listen to the 97% of climate scientists who think we have a problem, and we should thus take appropriate measures to do something about it.

Renewable energy cuts
And of course, this is what my main beef was with the slimy wee git in Number 11. The government is now contemplating cutting the subsidies to renewables for what will be at least the 3rd time since coming to office. One would be forgiven for thinking that they have something against all this renewables…or “green crap” as the PM described it. An irony indeed that he promised the “greenest government ever”.

Indeed the major problem here isn’t so much the cut in subsidy (the costs of renewables have been falling rather a lot recently, indeed I think the renewable industry recognises the need to go beyond subsidies eventually) but the chilling effect as such regular and repeated cutting of subsidies with little or no warning to the energy industry is sending a very clear message to the renewables industry that they are not welcome in the UK and they should give all those low carbon jobs to somebody else.

While they did offer a fig leaf to offshore wind energy, this seems to me more an element of bait and switch. The fact is that large chucks of the UK’s energy grid is ageing and need replacement. For example, all but 1 of the UK’s nuclear plants will be shutdown by 2026, the same time as Hinkley Point C is expected to go into operation (and recall nuclear plants have a habit of coming in late and over budget). Even if we were to see all the nuclear capacity planned built by the 2030’s (earliest possible) we’re looking at barely enough new reactors to replace half the capacity due to shutdown between now and then.

Similarly, many of the UK’s coal fired plants are due to shut down soon also and building new ones would present the problems of climate change (coal being the dirtiest of all fuels), costs (coal isn’t so cheap anymore once you factor in all the post and pre-combustion treatment you have to do to mean air pollution standards) and security of supply (the UK is now a large net importer of coal).

Basically the only energy source options that can match future demand and have any chance of being built quickly enough to prevent the risk of major power shortages are renewables, which are growing at fairly healthy rates worldwide (29 GW’s solar PV added in 2012 alone and 45 GW’s of wind energy in one year), energy efficiency (i.e. use less energy and thus cut consumption to match supply) and natural gas. However these subsidy cuts risk undermining the low carbon options, more or less forcing the UK into a route towards natural gas.

But where is the gas going to come from? Shale gas, as I’ve discussed before, is seriously overhyped. It is improbable it can supply the gas we need long term, meaning the UK will be committing itself to being a major net importer of gas into the future. And recall that it is largely rises in wholesale gas prices (as well as shameless profiteering by the energy companies) that is behind recent rises in energy bills.

While indeed energy prices have traditionally been higher in countries like Germany, Denmark, Portugal and France (which have adopted more low-carbon friendly tactics), in these states now, energy prices are stabilising if not falling at the same time that they are soaring in the UK.
And all I can say is, you ain’t seen nothing yet! If the government goes ahead with its plans the result is likely to be a certain element of “lock in” whereby we’ll be committed to gas and stuck with that decision for decades, which will inevitably mean much higher bills in future.

We’re Sorry
Indeed, I had a letter this week from the boss of Npower saying sorry for the company being a total bunch of mental cases over the last few months. As with most Npower customers, I had more than a few issues including them getting my bills badly wrong, owning me a refund, then sending me a letter from a debt collector (after getting the incorrect bill only a few days earlier!) then realising the mistake and giving the proper bill and crediting my account.

But is he forgoing his bonus this year? Are Npower going to delay the usual rise in prices? Well obviously not! There’s being sorry and actually being sorry. I’ll let you consider which is the case for Npower.

Christmas is comin!
Christmas is comin and the beer belly is getting fat! I wandered around the city centre to see the spectacle of Christmas shopping (I do my serious shopping online or early in the morning when nobody else is around) and already the novelty factor has worn off. What I don’t understand is how people will go into town and join horrendously long queues, when if you go to the quieter parts (e.g. down the back streets, farmers market or local book store) you can avoid all complications. Granted you save a bit of money, but when you consider the costs of getting into town, the time wasted queuing, is it worth it?

I mean I was passing a Nando’s (not that I’m a fan of the place, never been in one, probably never will be) and a number of jewelers in town the other day and there these massive queues to get in. Now think about it, there’s more than one Nando’s in the world, if you took a ten minute public transport ride you’d be at another one with no queue…or indeed do what I did go to the local café round the corner. I mean do people have a lobotomy before going out on the Christmas shop?

Santa Sacked by the Tories
Another story that made the news was that Birmingham city council, in an effort to match Tory imposed spending limits have taken the step of sacking Santa claus. It reminds me of this Thatcher era song from spitting image “Santa Claus is on the dole”.

Of course, as this web page discusses the scientific analysis of the theory of Santa doesn’t bode well anyway.

Christmas beer’s
Indeed speaking of elves, one think I have been shopping for is Christmas beers. Many craft breweries bring out special Christmas beers, with names like Red Nosey, Santa’s Paw (Brewdog), Twelve days (Hook Norton), Cheerless (Red willow) and one of my more favourite Ridgeway’s “Bad elf” series…which goes from bad elf, very bad elf, seriously bad elf, criminally bad elf and insanely bad elf (11.5%…one or two of these would not be in keeping with “elf n safety”!). Personally I find them a bit hit and miss, Seriously bad, Insanely bad and another related beer “winter warmer” are good but the rest ain’t great. Although this goes for a lot of the Christmas beers, but still it helps take the edge off the whole Christmas rush.


4 thoughts on “Yet More Random Thoughts

  1. There’s an enormous amount of gas locked up in Gas-Hydrate deposits along the edge of the continental shelf, but it will need very careful research if it is to be safely exploited. Trouble is it’s very unstable and might just flash into gas and generate enough global warming to fry us all. It might, in fact do that anyway, if there’s an earthquake in the wrong place, so it should be researched, if only to avoid that! However, if it could be tapped, there’s enough energy there to last Europe several centuries.


  2. I discuss Methane-Hydrate deposits and their potential on my energy blog here:

    In short the problem is that only a fraction of the deposits might be economic to extract and they aren’t necessarily the ones at risk of being destablised due to climate change.

    Also we cannot extract from such a resource at any arbitary rate of our choosing. large reserves do not automatically mean a high rate of production.


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