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It’s More Than A Game – Two games into the FIFA World Cup and England have already scored eight, yes eight,  goals. Even though this is already old news for millions, Grandads supporting England just had to register it here. It might never happen again in a life time!

Model Solution – After our posting about hydrogen powered trains comes the news that Cadent have speculative plans to build a hydrogen gas plant somewhere on Merseyside. Cadent have floated the £900m HyNet project – with claims it could reduce environmentally-harmful emissions and could create or secure thousands of jobs over 30 years.

However this scheme does not produce hydrogen cleanly from water and electricity but rather through breaking down natural gas into, mainly, carbon dioxide (CO2) and hydrogen. Essentially producing much the same quantity of harmful CO2 as would burning gas in the conventional way. It is a scheme totally dependent on a method of safely storing all the CO2 produced. Cadent claim that this can be done by pumping it into the gas fields under the Irish Sea that are due to be decommissioned soon.

Many doubt that this scheme will get tax-payer funding since domestic gas heating is scheduled to be culled by 2030 – and that’s just twelve years away. However Merseyside industry may see this as a way to get around their own restrictions on burning natural gas – especially if funded by the tax-payer.

Electric Avenue

On Friday the man behind electric vehicle maker Tesla, Elon Musk, launched the long-awaited Model 3 – the zero-carbon economy car for the masses. Tesla-3A-300And it looks good from the publicity shots even if the stark dashboard – just a single screen – may not appeal to all the target buyers. With a starting price of $35,000 it should sell well in states like California especially since Tesla claim to have over 500,000 advance orders already.

Meanwhile in the UK the Government announced that they intend to stop the sales of diesel and petrol motor cars by 2040. So giving the UK’s motorists 23 years to change the habits of several lifetimes. This story made the headlines in the news bulletins yet few in the media (or the Government) seem to thought through what such a change would mean in reality.

When the issue was raised of where all the electricity would come from to power the vehicles the studio expert said it was not such a big problem as most people would want to recharge their cars overnight when other demand was low. Then the issue of where to plug-in was raised and the suggestion was that lamp posts could be equipped as charging points.

Now both of these answers are totally impractical yet they are just a couple of superficial issues. The bigger issues include – what tax will replace the millions-per-day in duty and VAT on petrol and diesel that funds so much Government spending? Who will fund the upgrading of the power distribution network that runs to every street sub-station and home? With at least forty cars just in Grandad’s short street the overnight charging load would be too great for the existing cabling to handle. Digging up roads and erecting more pylons seems unavoidable.

Renault-TwizyOf course the Government will attempt to use legislation to make the ill-considered plan work – with their usual limited effectiveness. They may, for example, limit the size of the electric vehicle we can own according to perceived need – with singles being limited a micro-car and four-seaters being reserved for families of four, etc. Anyone with unused seats in their vehicle will be surcharged.

Even our public services will not be exempt with police, fire and ambulance vehicles included in the fossil-fuel ban.

Renault-Twizy17And some enterprising car makers are already on the case … as you can see in this shot of a Renault ambulance [This is a real vehicle – not a Photoshop creation!]

The only bright spot for anyone who believes that switching to a more economical petrol car now would be just as effective, cheaper and quicker to implement is knowledge of politicians’ previous track records. Take, for example the Government plan to make all new homes zero-carbon by 2016. It turned out to be totally ineffective .. like the various carbon-trading schemes and misguided incentives in Northern Ireland.

Best to leave engineering to engineers and for politicians to stick to politics …

Are We There Yet?

This year was going to be the year of the smart meter for energy suppliers. And as Grandad reported in August the Smart Data Communications network was due to be declared live last Friday. However no announcement has appeared on the company’s website and Which? are exclusively reporting that the live date has slipped again.

Newsman1_160Now Grandad is not recommending that anyone opts for a smart meter anytime soon. So this delay should not cause any direct concerns. In fact each delay gives the top level policy makers that extra bit of time to reconsider the scope of the EU-directed grand plan.

But the network will surely go live soon and then the energy companies will renew their efforts to convince us that smart meters are good for us. Even if the current Mark 1 meters do not allow you to switch suppliers later. But one thing that the Which? report did not say is that this network live date is only for Version 1.2 of the network. It really needs to have the extra functionality of Version 1.3 and that is not promised until the end of November 2016. Or rather it was promised for then before the latest slippage. So it looks like 2016 will slip away before the network is actually fully functional .. no surprises there I guess.

Monster Vac

Spotted on Smart Energy GB website – Case study: Ian Roberts, Crook, County Durham … We had our smart meter fitted in August 2015. It was really straightforward – done within an hour. Since we both work from home, we saw that our kettle, which we used to boil up to 20 times a day, caused a clear spike on our usage graph.
I did a bit of research and invested in a thermal hot water boiler, which insulates your water once it’s hot. It uses a fraction of the wattage, so there are no more spikes, and we have hot water waiting for us when we get up!
The vacuum cleaner was next. We discovered that our old one used 22,000 watts and would have been banned under EU regulations. So we replaced it with a new hoover that uses just 485 watts – it barely makes a mark on our graph …

Cunning_Plan_160Dear Smart Energy Marketing Team – Are really sure about that 22 kilowatt figure? Domestic power points normally have no higher than 30 amp rating – so have an absolute maximum of 7.2 kilowatt (or 7,200 watts) for powering anything. But then being energy experts you would know that already.
Now if that old vac really did consume 22,000 watts then the house wiring must have been glowing red hot and the meter would be off the scale. More likely your blurb has exaggerated Mr Roberts’ usage by a factor of 10. Or was that just a part in some cunning plan?

Progress But No Improvement

Back in February Grandad posted that 2016 could be the year of the smart meter for the UK. It all depended upon some new technology due mid-year.

Gaz_Leccy2Well mid-year as come and gone but there are signs that next month could actually see the delivery of the essential glue for this massive project – the data network. This is the means by which energy companies link to each other and their customers. The latest prediction is that the network will be operational by the end of September. However the men from the ministry were still predicting a mid-August start right up to … mid-August.

So progress is promised real soon – but sadly there are no signs of any improvement to what the entire scheme will actually achieve. Crucially it will still add over £11,000 million to the UK’s energy administration overheads. Making it a nice little earner for the company getting the implementation contract but for no one else. This massive additional cost is predicted to save just 2% on an average household’s bills – and increase the costs for the others in order to pay for it.

What seems like ages ago the Institute of Directors issued a report suggesting changes to Whitehall’s grand plan that would achieve the same result but for much less expense. In summary these were –

* Exclude gas meters from the deployment – since almost all future green energy will come as electricity not gas. Leaving working gas meters unchanged will save billions.

* Send the meter readings to customers’ existing phones, tablets or PCs – rather than requiring additional, and relatively expensive, dedicated displays.

* Exclude tower block customers from the scheme – since the proposed system will struggle to cope with dense high-rise dwellings.

* Limit the smart meter roll-out to homes with high energy usage since they could reduce their consumption the most – as is planned for smart meters in Germany.

* Make smart meters available at cost to those customers that want them – rather than being subsidised by everyone through increased energy charges. The current plans will hit the poorest / most careful customers the hardest.

Whether the new faces in Government will take their brief window of opportunity to re-evaluate smart meters (or at least check their basic financial assumptions) is unclear. But it does seem that there are too many expensive projects around and too few sources of taxation to come anywhere close to paying for them – even before Brexit entered the equation.

Zero Achieved

Back in April 2015  – and before that in March 2013 –  Grandad highlighted the lack of an obvious results or steps towards a Government commitment of all homes being zero carbon by 2016. A lack of progress and watering down of targets that none of the major UK parties sought to correct in their 2015 election manifestos.

Nearertozero_180Then during the recent Easter break came a low-key press release headed – Zero Carbon Hub has today announced it will cease operations on 31 March 2016. So finally putting this fading quango out of its misery.

Given that the news did not come out until 30 March and that parliament was on holiday, cynics might suggest that the closure was timed to slip by as quietly as possible. But the real issue is that a useful and practical objective – providing homes with little or no external energy demands – has been set-back by ineffective, or even misguided, government involvement. A lack of achievement that must also be put at the door of the major UK house builders.

So Grandad will just have to try to reduce heat losses from his present home instead … and another hippie ideal fades away.

A Great Leap Forward?

Being that day in the calendar that only comes around every four years did raise the question – how will things have changed for Grandads in Britain by 29 Feb 2020?

DBR_MerkelHere is one correspondent’s view. In politics the 2016 EU Referendum will be long since passed and Britain will have been a regional province of Europa for over a year. However the target of complete financial union of all the former countries will have slipped out to 2028. But at least the German Europa Projekt will, by 2020, have achieved some of its objectives. Certainly the expansion further east will have progressed to include Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and, the big one, Turkey. Thus completing another cultural objective by incorporating the former Constantinople within the EU; thus recreating its position within the Roman Empire. However this will be tragically ironic as it will be in Turkey that President Merkel is assassinated. An act carried out by refugees from the on-going fighting in Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. And one which will lead to a tense face-off between the EU Army and Russia on the Eastern Front. It also means that the EU Army does not respond to a second Argentine invasion of the Falklands. An attack which is followed by all the surviving islanders being removed to camps in Argentina and two thousand Argentine nationals being shipped in to take over. Just three months later a referendum is called on the islands with the predictable result. A move that will gain UN approval since Britain’s place on the Security Council will have been assigned to Europa.

Grandadz_OldMan2Domestically Prime Minister Corbyn will be setting out his government’s plans to terminate the reign of the House of Windsor before the next coronation. However the 94 year old Queen Elizabeth is showing no signs of ill-health and has already won her case in the European Supreme Court for protection against unfair dismissal. Also the Palace of Westminster will be no longer be the home of Parliament. The building being in the middle of conversion into a tourist attraction funded by China. Instead the English regional parliament meetings will be held at the Great Dragon Building; constructed by the Shanghai Development Corp on what was Victoria Tower Gardens.

But the big issues affecting Grandads will be the massive failures in infrastructure – as everything from power supplies to health care become overloaded by the population boom. The pressure on housing becoming so acute that all retirees will, by 2022, have to either sell their homes and move to state-funded dormitories or loose their pensions. Domestic gas will have become unaffordable for most as the provincial government struggles to meet its carbon targets. And electricity tariffs that vary hour by hour will mean that pensioners have resorted to cooking and washing over night to save money. However the newly created Europarl Ministry of Plenty will declare that all provinces will achieve the desired standards of living within just four years – in 2024.

In sport the big event of the year will be Olympic Games in Tokyo where Europa will field a combined team for the first time. And even though Europa will have extra places in many events the total number of athletes will be much reduced compared to Rio. The merger of over thirty countries into just one meaning that many former nations have no representatives which in turn leads to a big drop in public interest and cutbacks by advertisers in Europe. Only the continued growth of China saves the day for the organisers.

But that’s enough of 2020 when we still have to get through the rest of 2016. And with the Daily Express predicting terrible weather for Easter, then summer, then autumn, etc it’s going to be an uninspiring year.

The Year of the Smart Meter?

The government expects that smart meter installations will rise sharply in 2016, when all the final common standards come into force, and that 20 million meters being fitted between 2016 and 2018. So goes the prediction on the official promotional website for the planned gas and electricity monitoring network. A project to scrap all conventional meters for an estimated £11,000 million by 2020. One promoted as a free service but where the costs are being actually added to your gas and electricity charges. See our earlier post ..

Man1Now organisations like British Gas have been promoting the switch to smart meters for three years or more – and have had some takers. However the smaller energy suppliers have not been so active. And a quick check around the UK suppliers shows that most have installed very few. Some saying that they are waiting for some new technology promised for later this year. Which seems to tie in with the Government statement about final common standards. So clearly something is pending in the world of smart metering technology – but none of energy suppliers spell out exactly what that will be. So time for Grandad to do some checking.

As any careful electricity user will know, monitors showing current consumption and even costs have been around for years. One is sitting next to this PC. But what more is possible?

Take just one system – the Loop Energy Saver. This is a subscription service made up of an electricity and gas monitoring kit and access to your personal energy data through your own online account. Now this is not the only product on the market but Loop has been awarded a best in class by Which? Magazine and has got some good feedback from Amazon purchasers.

LoopEnergy1The system consists of two tiny Loop readers that are easily installed – no tools or batteries are required. The Electricity Monitor simply clips around your meter cable and the Gas Monitor sticks on to your meter. [Grandad’s current electricity monitor needs a total of six batteries that have to swapped out for recharging all too frequently].

Once the readers are in place the system makes use of your existing broadband connection. It can then show the energy you use straight to your PC, tablet and smartphone. It can also show you how much your actual electricity and gas consumption costs since it knows your current supplier’s tariffs. It can also send you details of any better deals from your current supplier or competitors; using your usage stats. So how does all of this cost? Well the dual fuel option costs either £50 one-off or a £3 per month direct debit. With a 45 day free trial as part of a current promotion.

LoopEnergy2So is the Loop offer worth taking up – when the energy suppliers are planning a big smart meter push in 2016? Yes it probably is. Why? Because Government IT projects rarely come in on time (or on budget) and the official smart meters need a new, untested infrastructure before they can work. And even if this grand plan comes together then its aims are very different. The Government’s objectives include enabling the energy companies to monitor and control your energy usage. This means the smart meters need to be much more than clever meter readers. They need to be permanent, tamper-proof  units that the supplier can use to both bill you and, if required, turn off your power remotely – for any reason from national emergency to late payment of a bill.

Clearly the Government scheme is going to be much more expensive – since systems like Loop are self-fitted, make use of your existing Internet connection and your tablet, smartphone or PC. Plus they don’t need expensive replacements for your existing meters. However the information provided by the Loop service is just as helpful as a smart meter for saving energy – and money. In fact you could find that its comparison service enables you to switch suppliers when and if there are savings to be made. An option and a source of savings that meters fitted by suppliers are unlikely to offer ..

So be warned – just doing nothing and letting your energy supplier give you a free smart meter might turn out to be a very costly mistake.

Greener Homes

Nearertozero_180In 2007 the Labour Government introduced a policy that all new homes would be constructed to meet zero carbon standards from 2016. And this was more than just a policy with a new organisation being established the following year with operational responsibility for achieving this key government target.

Given the high priorities for new housing and carbon emission reductions you would expect that all the manifestos would be highlighting this critical change to UK building requirements. And certainly anyone wanting to cut their energy bills long term would be hoping that their first, or next, home would provide the maximum in modern energy saving measures.

But zero carbon homes do not seem to appear in the 2015 manifestos. However the civil servants at the Zero Carbon Hub are still working away in their central London office. Not employed to actually supervise the construction of compliant homes but instead organising meetings hoping that builders will play ball. Encouragement that has had little observable effect on any of the housing developments in Grandad’s area. Perhaps that will all change next year – it is, after all, the agreed target for compliance to start. But given the lack of support for zero carbon homes in the current manifestos that seems unlikely. Instead we will be sold smart meters and told to ration our own energy consumption – or pay the price.

Back Again

With all our correspondents in winter hibernation nothing has appeared here for weeks. But now the first signs of Spring mean there is some renewed activity.

Heckerslyke_160First up the benefits of last year’s reduction in petrol prices have worked through to the national inflation figures – providing headlines such as UK inflation rate falls to record low of 0.3% in January. That’s good news – but perhaps not quite as good as it could have been. Take our cousins in Australia. They have seen a similar reduction in pump prices. And they buy their oil on the world market just like the UK. However today the typical Australian unleaded fill-up costs around $1.20/litre (62.8p/litre). And this is a big increase over the sub $1 prices they had in January. Just imagine how similar prices here in the Uk would boost the local economy. And give the rest of the world one less reason to think we’re all stupid to pay so much ..

Man1Sticking with fuel costs it seems strange that we are still paying high prices for domestic gas despite cost reductions at source. But these continued high prices may make switching away from gas into a viable choice – even for cooking and central heating. Now it’s doubtful that serious foodies would volunteer to stop using gas for cooking but all fans of burning hydrocarbons do face trouble ahead.

As you may have noticed the massive amounts being spent on green energy are almost exclusively aimed at producing electricity. Few, if any, are trying to provide gas for the domestic grid. The obvious conclusion is that one day our domestic gas supply will cease – either to meet green energy targets or when there are too few gas consumers to cover the costs of supporting the grid. With the government being keen to promote their green credentials, and signing up to some difficult targets, the writing is on the wall for CO2 creators like fossil fuels. In other words the question has become when rather than if. You have been warned.

ps The slow-witted politicians and public service will, most likely, press ahead with replacing all our working gas meters with smart meters even if domestic gas supplies are to be phased out before the project is complete.