Category Archives: Power Generation

Beastly Weather

Apparently we are braced for chilling temperatures and heavy snowfall … as the so-called Beast from the East batters the UK. Even though there were few signs today that any of the local supermarkets were experiencing a run on provisions. And few seemed to think anything special was needed to tide us through the possible travel disruptions and power cuts.

man8Being Britain there will of course be some extreme reactions in both directions; with shorts still being seen outside in tough areas and airlines being forced to cancel flights at airports with no snow. Meanwhile the media will be getting their reporters to the regular vantage points so that they can paint as black a picture as possible for their next edition.

For those Grandads that have seen all this – and worse – before the plan will be to be make the best of the situation – stay warm and have a nice cup of tea. Assuming that the country still has enough working power stations to keep the home fires burning

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 …

Battery Backup

Anyone involved in commercial computer systems will be familiar with the use of batteries to protect against power cuts. But today sees an agreement to provide stand-by battery power on a much bigger scale.

The city of Adelaide and indeed the whole state of South Australia is confirmed as going ahead with a scheme to install an array of lithium ion batteries linked to wind turbines.tesla_powerpack_2w

This 100MW Tesla system is the world’s largest battery backup installation to date and should provide the state with some much needed reliability of supply. The hope is that the system will add some stability to the state’s famously temperamental electricity supplies before the expected peak demands around Christmas and New Year.

South Australia has plenty of sunshine and millions of hectares of land with little commercial or residential value so wind and solar farms face few obstacles. Which are much needed given that the state’s coal-fuelled power station stopped generation last year and is now being demolished.

So what does that tell us in the UK? Well even a 100MW system would not cover much of the UK’s daily demand and its $A33 million cost would not have any obvious savings elsewhere. However our lack of new power sources plus an increasing population means that the UK is likely to face power cuts eventually – even allowing for the promised savings of smart meters. Consumers in Adelaide already know that smart meters do little to reduce demand but do add to the total cost of the service. But here planners seem to have a strategy based upon hopes rather than reliable forecasts. And if the French Government changes its mind about funding British nuclear power stations then it may well be lights out for all of us.

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?

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Trust me. Neither me nor my French and Chinese colleagues have ever considered putting personal gain before public service and Britain’s best strategic interests. TrustMeNuclear2These stories that our proposed nuclear power plant is unproved, vastly over-priced and will never reach its claimed capacity are just scare stories put out by aging hippies with scrambled brains.

These stupid people are making all sorts of ridiculous claims – such as the company is in a very precarious financial situation with €37 billion of debt. This figure may be correct but the company has the total support of the French Government. And, yes, the fall in energy prices has reduced our revenues – but luckily for our bonuses there are no falls in prices on this one. We got the naive customer to agree a high fixed price contract before the market tanked. Sure the company will be spending €50 billion upgrading its old reactors- but with Chinese cash and smart meters in UK homes the money will be rolling in.

In fact the biggest problem with UK government’s delay in signing the nuclear power deal is that I have had to put my yacht order on hold and may now miss that extended winter break in the Caribbean. It’s just so inconvenient …

Out Of Step

Today is Healthy Homes Day – according to EurActiv.com; who are reporting on a planned Energy Union that the EU are trying to move from an objective into practical reality.

man58_160Back in February 2015 the EU said that an interconnected Energy Union would make it possible for shortages in some nations to be made up by others and bolster energy security across the bloc. Since then regional and national governments have been asked to focus their climate change efforts on energy efficiency and especially in relation to the renovation of buildings. The EU is also aiming to make it easier for building renovation programmes to have access a multi-billion euro Juncker Investment Fund [is this the same as the EU fund that was announced in 2014 by JCJ?]

Existing EU directives already require that all new structures be nearly zero-energy buildings by 2021 but implementation by many countries has been poor or non-existent. And a year ago every EU country, except for Malta, was prosecuted for failing to fully translate the EU’s Energy Efficiency Directive into national laws. The EU Commission has since said that enforcement of energy efficiency legislation will be tougher in the future and that there will be revisions to the related directives this Autumn.

So just as the UK closes its Zero Carbon Hub our masters in Brussels decide to get tough on countries that are failing to legislate for and enforce their zero energy objectives … Plus ça change

Looking Back

The end of the year so time for a quick review of some earlier stories that kept on running ..

Blatter Splattered – Just days after our article FIFA announced an eight year ban for president Sepp Blatter and vice-president Michel Platini. Blatter claimed afterwards that he was still FIFA president until February 2016 but that must mean very little when he is banned from anything to do with football. And with so many suspect transfers of funds yet to be invested, some reaching back for decades, Mr Blatter may be best advised to head for somewhere safe and far, far away.

Donkeys-270Look At Me – a robotic weather presenter, powered by Microsoft’s Xiaoice, is now appearing live on Dragon TV in China; a channel that is part of the Shanghai Media Group. For its part Microsoft have been quoted as saying – As Xiaoice is gradually penetrating into human life, engaging herself in more jobs and playing more social roles, Microsoft expects her to bring more bliss to human beings. But perhaps that quote sounds less sinister in the original Chinese?

Unarmed Invasion – Frau Merkel’s open door policy on migration has backfired so badly that even she has had to backtrack to a more realistic position. But not before she was awarded the accolade Person of the Year by Time magazine – the sort of ironic gesture normally reserved for the Nobel Peace Prize. At least her actions gave the migration issue a boost up the eurocrat’s agendas – and lead to some EU countries taking a clearer stand on the practicalities of moving millions into unsuitable locations.

According to Save The Children2.1 million Syrian children are now refugees with 7.5 million affected by the conflict. More than 10 million people have been forced from their homes and 13.5 million need humanitarian aid. So there is still a long way to go if Europe is going to feed, clothe, house, educate and employ a significant number of them. But it could be a social and economic disaster for many smaller countries even if migration was limited to just Syrians. But many more from Africa and the Middle East also want to migrate to western democracies so the one million reaching Germany this year are just a drop in a human ocean.

Powerless UK – someone has pointed out to the UK politicians that closing Eggborough Power Station and losing its 4% contribution to the UK’s electricity capacity could be a step too far. To save a little face Eggborough will now be kept on standby instead.

Missed Gear? – back in June Grandad suggested that the BBC would have been better served by selling the Top Gear franchise while it was still highly rated. Instead the Beeb opted to spend £3 million (more by now?) on a high-risk, new format show with Chris Evans as both its presenter and producer. There is still over four months until the first episode is due to air but already the press has plenty of bad news. The relaunch of ‘Top Gear’ is in disarray after the executive producer, personally brought in by Chris Evans, quits the BBC motoring show … Losing the knowledgeable production team behind the show has also caused teething troublesThey’ve brought in a production team that doesn’t know anything about cars. Writers from Top Gear magazine have had to be called on for .. ideas and advice. If the BBC was stock market listed then its shares would be falling rapidly.

History Repeats Itself – last Christmas Grandad moaned about the quality of the festive TV schedules. This year we could re-hash the same story as even Chas & Dave’s Christmas Special from 1982 is wheeled out again. But you know the story by now so no point in adding to the repeats count ourselves. No wonder sales of DVDs, Blu-rays and download subscriptions are so popular.

Powerless UK

In a classic piece of bad timing last week saw several announcements that were not intended to be connected. First came the announcement that Eggborough Power Station would close – due to the effects of the UK’s carbon tax. You may not have heard of Eggborough but it produces around 4% of the UK’s electricity. This is not the first power station to close, of course. Blowing up power station cooling towers has been a popular attraction in Britain for decades. But Eggborough does come very soon after the closures of Longannet in Fife and Ferrybridge C in Yorkshire. [And the closure of the last deep coal mine due to a lack of UK contracts.]

Powerless1Then, just one day later, came the announcement that the planned nuclear power station at Hinkley Point would not meet its 2023 target start date. The fact that no other nuclear power stations will come on stream this decade makes the UK look very vulnerable for years ahead.

Also last week Drax and Infinis Energy announced they had initiated judicial review proceedings against the Treasury over its decision to end certain subsidies to renewable energy firms. Since these are worth around £5 million per month to Drax that could become a critical case. Drax is another major generator providing around 7% of the UK capacity. Making it uneconomical to run would be a big loss.

But further checking around reveals that our lack of electricity is not just a longer-term problem.  There is a real prospect that the winter of 2016-17 will see UK demand exceed the total available supply. And not just the normal daily supply but our maximum generating capacity with all power stations running at their peak output. Parts of Britain would then become, quite literally, powerless.

So the prospect of Grandads moving somewhere warm for the winter may switch from a nice-to-have to essential for survival … in just over one year’s time!

Not So Smart

TSomeMothers1his month has seen a renewed media prominence for the UK Government’s smart energy metering plans – for example the BBC giving another news slot for the body charged with its introduction. And so far these plans seem to be taking the normal route of a poor analysis of the costs / benefits followed by a total blanking of anyone that does accept the Ministry’s conclusions.

But where did this mad scheme to scrap millions of working gas and electricity meters for no guaranteed benefit come from? It would be easy to blame Ed Miliband – since it was he that produced the UK plans in 2010 when Energy Secretary.

However it was not entirely his own idea. It actually came from the EU. Under their Third Energy Package (2009) member states (we prefer to call them countries) were required to undertake a cost benefit analysis of smart meter roll-out and submit the results to the EU Commission by 2012.

Countries that have actually done this analysis found insufficient benefits in around one third of the studies covering electricity metering and two-thirds of those covering gas metering. The big undecided was Germany. However they have now given a maybe response with Germany officials stating that the EU proposal would be inadvisable. Because installation costs would be greater than achievable energy savings for those users with low power consumption – in other words the typical Grandad. And this is exactly the same conclusion reached by many in Britain who are already very careful with their energy usage.

No amount of tariff searching and supplier swapping will avoid the fact that the cost of smart meters will be added to everyones’ bills. The careful user – who probably already has an electricity usage monitor and submits regular readings online – will see their efforts to reduce bills reversed by tariff increases they did not want, need or deserve.

There are, of course, plenty of opponents of the scheme – for example Stopsmartmeters.org.uk – but there is a danger that their arguments will drift away from the failures in the cost / benefit analysis onto less certain issues such as the possible health effects of wi-fi radiation.

So does the muddled mind of Frank Spencer live on in our esteemed Government and its civil servants? Yes, Minister.

For a more see the 2013 article at The Register.