Sunday, 23 November 2014

UK Power: How Did We Get here?

One of our esteemed Anons asked the following a day or so back:
I'm doing a college essay on "are we in danger of the lights going out and if so, how did we get here?". Anyone know a non-Wiki source of info on annual change in UK generation capacity, ideally showing what's come on stream and what's gone off, for each year since, say, 1997? (My theory is that Blair's dash to close coal and nuclear, replacing with wind chimes and pixie dust, is the culprit, but the facts may not support what seems a likely thesis)
First of all, I don't do the leg-work for college essays.  If you don't like the Wiki page (which admittedly is only a starting-point, and not 100% accurate) you'll see a link to DECC there; and I suggest that Ofgem's security of supply reports, and also the Grid, will be useful sources.

But Old Drew's History Corner can give you a quick top-of-the-head tour of your theory. 
  • yes, we are in danger (well, mild peril) of the lights going out - but more likely they will flicker a bit, then some dirty diesels will swing into action at great cost in £££ and CO2, to save the day
  • how indeed did we get here ?  A question worth posing because it is an absolute bloody disgrace
  • some hark back to the dirigiste days of the CEGB, claiming all would be well if they were still in charge.  This is bollocks: the CEGB gold-plated everything and were inefficient at our expense (no different to British Gas or any other bloated monopoly - but wastrels nonetheless.)
  • the break-up of the CEGB / introduction of competition was a SUCCESS.  A qualified success, which needed much more adroit subsequent regulation in some aspects than it got, see below, but still a success.  Remember: no country had ever introduced competition at the residential level before, and many claimed it was outright impossible
  • it has to be recognised that for approx 15 years during the post-CEGB 1990's and early '00s, firstly under the 'Pool' regime and then 'NETA' (mandatory bilateral trade, much superior to Pool) from 2001, there was no shortage of private £££ pouring into the UK, building a large fleet of big new gas-fired power plants where none (0) (nil) existed before 1991, which effortlessly displaced coal from the #1 slot, materially reducing both electricity prices AND CO2 emissions.  Oh, and the lights stayed on.  Mark well.  (The precise way in which this happened is subtle - but it did not involve government diktat, 'picking winners', or dirigiste subsidies.)
  • unfortunately, in the second half of this period a creeping reintroduction of vertical integration took hold: could have been stopped by regulatory authorities here and in Brussels - but it wasn't, and now it's pretty bad
  • the rot really set in when it was decided (a) to impose a 'green' agenda atop the newly competitive market; and (b) not to rely on the Emissions Trading approach to achieve this (the ETS has its flaws but they could have been corrected, instead of the scheme simply being sidelined.  (To be fair, some say you'd need a carbon import levy as well, which is certainly an arguable point.)
  • don't blame Blair for closing coal.  The EU directive (LCPD) is generally fingered as the proximate cause - but even that's over-simplifying matters.  Only crap old coal plant couldn't make the grade under this directive and the rest will (or could) soldier on for ages (Germany would be dead in the water otherwise). 
  • Blair is a big fan of uranium (as are Brown and Camerosborne). He kept schtumm about this until after the 2005 election - he thought nukes were electoral suicide - after which he hurled us into EDF's arms for a promised "fleet of new nukes".  That was 2008.  Needless to say, EDF has committed to none (0) (nil) at the time of writing, despite bizarre sums of money being offerred to them
  • simplistically, I suggest you blame the subsidy-culture resulting from non-stop governmental meddling (Miliband a big early culprit) that has set in since the green agenda really kicked off.  Would-be developers of new PP's have been on investment strike since they noticed that only suckers (and the Irish, curiously) put their money on the table without demanding a bung
  • finally: why haven't politcians been told the truth about how infeasible the situation is (i.e. that you can't do modern society based on windfarms, or catch up on a decade of non-investment in proper power plants)?  One important answer is that the National Grid gets a guaranteed return on any investment it makes that is mandated by government / regulators.  Their engineers are clever fellows and can 'solve' most problems by, errr, throwing money at them.  So when ministers & civil servants ask: can this be done? the Grid has every incentive to say - yes.  
There are of course other ways of framing this state of affairs but that's my two-minute explanation ...

PS as I have often remarked hereabouts, for a fully-functioning example of a big and equally vital industry that has worked just fine after the introduction of competition & dismantling of monopoly - take natural gas (in the UK as elsewhere).  Excellent levels of competition; massive amounts of new investment without subsidy - in the UK, completely replacing the steeply-declining indigenous North Sea gas production with new import facilities, both pipeline and LNG. etc etc.    

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Guardian Nicely In Touch With Reality

Well this is nice to see: a Grauniad article - in the Money section - on how to save your hard-earned when buying an engagement ring.

The cheapest they mention in the article is £3,000; and one of the rings pictured weighs in at paltry £1,110.  Importantly, their expert advises: "Go for the very best you can afford ".

But they are not really trying, are they ? - because the most expensive mentioned is £11k.

We can imagine the editorial session when the journo was given the brief for this piece.  Now then, the diamond puff-piece: Emma, keep Ratners out of this, none of our people would dream of that would they darling.  Price range? yeah, tricky.  I'm thinking 4 figures min.  But we'll get letters if we go Liz Taylor on them. OK, you can mention Argos - but just a quick mench, yah, coz our readers don't want any of that cubic zirconia crap.  Aspreys?  No way!  Jeff says they wouldn't take an ad.  But there are a couple of online links you've got to work in.  And hey, you can give that Rupert of yours some ideas ...


Friday, 21 November 2014

Social media - pitchforks and torches.

Emily Thornberry parks outside her Islington home
Labour's Emily Thornberry has resigned from the Labour front bench over a tweet she sent during the Rochester and Strood by-election campaign. She tweeted a picture of a white van parked outside a terrace house that was flying England flags.

And that was it. No terrible comments. No questionable views. Just the subtext. Which was

'Look at this UKIP paradise of a place -White vans,the Sun newspaper and Footie flags.How ghastly."

But she never said that. She just tweeted the picture.


On the previous post I mentioned 'lucky Ed' being the first labour leader who would not have the Murdoch press as a serious problem to either hug, as Blair did, or suffer with, as Kinnock.
Ed has social media which is now taking on even TV as the accepted method of receiving news.

But the problem with it, is the positive direct access it gives for engagement is often offset by its angry, raging, mob mentality. Giving people a voice means they want to be heard.

Politicians find themselves in the ancient Forum world. Roman emperors had to constantly offer lavish spectacles and circuses. And show trials with executions.  Heroic Triumphs with chests filled with gold coins being tossed into the crowds. And the grain dole. And the odd senator who had upset the population too much losing his head.

So it is with social media. 8 hours after Thornberry tweets a picture, she has to resign from the shadcab. The now 'Unlucky' Ed Miliband was reported to never have been so furious. He knows this tweet will overshadow the Tory loss and UKIP gain. He knows that he needs to retain all his remaining Labour, working class voters, to win the election. So he quickly had Emily sewn into a sack with a jackal and thrown into the Tiber to appease the plebs.
Apparently she had a council house upbringing herself. So could probably have brazened this out. It would be forgotten by Saturday. But Ed didn't fancy the risk. So .. a thumbs down from him.


Britain's Home Secretary Theresa May banned entry for Julien Blanc after the techniques used by controversial 'pick up artist' were deemed "racist and sexist".
He had committed no crime.  Was not coming to the UK to commit any crime. He is just a controversial man who says he can teach other men how to bed women.
This is not acceptable to the Twitter. This is an outrage. The mob could have turned up to his show and made their displeasure known. But its a lot easier to send 140 characters on a tweet hashtag #ANGRYMOB.
Or to tweet a scientist to tears for wearing a shirt that is on general sale in shops without requiring some special permit. Not a banned shirt. Just a sexist shirt. Which is only sexist if you think it is. I don't.
APphoto_Germany Comet Landing Shirt 
I wouldn't wear it myself. But I've seen, and sold, far, far worse.
The old PORNSTAR label springs to mind. 

An attempt to hold a reasonable debate about abortion in Oxford was called off after students threatened to disrupt it. Tim Stanley tried to have a discussion, at a college in Oxford, but the guardians of free speech decided instead to call the whole thing off. The Facebookers were not tolerating 'men' discussing an issue they cannot understand! That's Oxford university giving way to the power of the mob.

So maybe this social media isn't such a good thing for Ed. Maybe having the Murdoch back would be better. At least Ed knows what Murdoch wants.

This FacetweetInstagram  - Its irrational. Its uncontrollable. Its very angry. And it demands sacrifice.