Thursday, February 04, 2010

Power hungry

After all the suffering and hardship endured by Britons during World War Two, it was a cruel twist of fate that the winters that followed the end of that conflict were amongst the harshest and coldest on record and, with a national shortage of fuel, even relatively wealthy people, such as George Orwell, resorted to burning furniture to keep themselves warm.

However, at least the government of the time had a perfectly reasonable excuse for failing to meet the needs of the people for power - we'd just come out of a hugely expensive and incredibly destructive war. The government of today has no such excuse.

Ofgem are warning that "families face "unaffordable" energy bills and power cut" in a few years time unless £200 billion - yes, billion - is spent now to improve power supply and storage. You don't have to be George Osborne to work out that this puts Britain in something of a financial pickle.

Our energy suppliers are mostly foreign. They really don't give a damn if fuel bills are "unaffordable" - it just means they make more profit. They don't give a damn if British industry is crippled by power cuts - it just means they make more profit. These companies are not going to spend billions of pounds on our energy infrastructure unless there is something in it for them - and making less profit is hardly an incentive.

The "dash for gas" might have seemed like a good idea at the time. Hey, anything that meant we didn't have to rely on bolshy British coal miners has got to be a good thing, right? Wrong - particularly if it means we have to rely on unstable Russian gas oligarchs, mad Middle East mullahs and dodgy French engineering.

We need to take back control of our energy supply and generation. We need to make sure that we can provide for our energy needs without relying on foreign support or favour. We need to realise that wind farms are never ever going to be able to provide this even if we carpet the whole of the United Kingdom in the ugly monstrosities.

We need to take back control of energy supply, generation and distribution. We need to make ourselves as independent in meeting our energy needs as it is possible to be. To do this we need four things.

First we need to re nationalise our energy industry entirely. Secondly, we need to give up this ridiculous pursuit of "renewable" supply which is currently incapable of providing us with the energy we need. Thirdly, we need to modernise our existing coal fired power stations and build lots more. Fourth, we need to make long term investment in skills and technology that will enable us to build our own nuclear power plants for the future.

Two of those we can do quickly. We can take back control of our energy industry relatively easily and we can withdraw from the pursuit of renewable nirvana in no time. The coal fired power stations will take a little longer as we not only need to build them, but we have to restore our coal industry as well. However, it will buy us enough time to do what is necessary for the fourth requirement.

Because that is the really long term goal. Those people who want us to go nuclear now are not living in the real world. The problem with that is that there isn't enough nuclear expertise to go around - and Britain is virtually devoid of it. Furthermore, such is the dire state of our education system that we are unlikely to be able to produce people with the skills and brains to do it ourselves - and reliance on foreign skill is not what I want because it is not good for Britain.

So, in the interim we keep what coal fired plants we have going. We build new ones. We re-open coal mines and dig new ones. That will give us the energy we are going to need for the next 20-50 years - because it will take at least that long to restore our education system to the extent that we are able to start, once more, producing the best of the best in engineering, design and technology.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Agreed in the main. Renewables could have their place however as a supplement to the main power supply, some micro-generation on each house (small wind turbine and solar panels).
Nuclear, traditionally has supplied approx 30% of our energy needs. In all this talk of nuclear power as the panacea to our problems no-one has yet solved the nuclear waste disposal issue.
Last I heard the UK had 200yrs worth of coal deposits. Normally I am against nationalistation, but energy supply is far too important not to be. Embarking on a big national push for energy self sufficency would provide jobs and national security.
The only problem is the water melons! They don't seem to work anyway!

Stan said...

In theory, I don't have an issue with micro-generation - but in practice I think it would present a lot of problems (noise, planning, inspection, regulation, etc.). I have to be honest that I'm sceptical of their practical use anyway.

As far as renewable energy is concerned, Britain has the perfect solution in the form of wave or tidal generation - constant, reliable, plentiful and we don't have to desecrate our glorious countryside to obtain it.

Unfortunately, at the moment, it is not feasible technology - but it could be if we put our resources into that instead of stupid, ugly, useless (and mostly foreign) wind farms. In the long term - 100 years or so - our energy will be generated from the waves and tides, but right now it ain't.

As far as coal is concerned, we have 200 years worth of coal that can be easily reached - but a 1000 years worth in total. That's a lot of coal. Nuclear waste is always going to be a problem and, to be honest, if I had a say in the matter we'd just stick with coal and concentrate on getting a working wave/tide generation capability.

Water melons won't be a problem in 10-20 years time. Once AGW has been exposed as the total fraud it is (maybe even sooner the way things are going) nobody will listen to them.

The unfortunate side effect of that is that nobody will trust the scientists for a long long time either - making it very hard to get funding for truly worthwhile projects such as the wave/tidal technology.

Pat said...

If prices rise to cover production costs including the cost of plant, then there is no increase in profit. If the increased price leads to a reduction in demand, whether from the closure of industry or otherwise, that would reduce profits. So long as the owners of power companies are indeed motivated by profit (rather than say acting as a fifth column) then their ownership does not present a problem.
If politicians had kept their greedy hands off of industry in the first place, then industry, including the coal and electricity supply industry would have developed to provide what the customers wanted, rather than what politicians wanted- so the customers would have been better off- and we are the customers. Of course keeping their hands off would need to include resisting the temptation to impose unnecessary regulation, which has curtailed and distorted energy investment all my life- and yes that does include the regulations and subsidies promoting all those useless windmills.
The shape of the current power industry is largely determined by the policies of government, enforced through regulation rather than ownership. Re-nationalisation will result in the same policy being promoted by the same politicians- but we'll have to come up with the capital to buy out the present owners- so the only effect would be to raise taxes.

English Pensioner said...

I think we were very lucky to get through the recent cold spell without power cuts, our generators were working at maximum capacity.
During the summer I'm going to look for a small petrol/diesel generator to keep the boiler, fridge and lights going next winter. I think that it will be a worthwhile investment.

I blame the Greens!

Weekend Yachtsman said...

Renationalise?

I'm sorry, you have may have put in some good arguments after that, but that is where I stopped reading.

You see, I can remember what it was like to wait three months to hire (not buy) a telephone handset designed in the thirties, in any colour you wanted as long as it was black.

I can remember when the nationalised Gas Showrooms had unlisted telephone numbers so that they wouldn't be bothered by customers.

I remember sitting in my office not far from British Steel's Hartlepool factory, reflecting on the fact that every second passing on the clock meant another £19 taxpayers were forking out to "save" jobs there.

And I know how wonderful the Royal Mail is right here and now.

If nationalisation is the answer, I'm afraid you're asking the wrong question.

Stan said...

That's a sham argument, WY - you could hire more or less exactly the same handsets as they bought in the USA where the service wasn't nationalised - and it took just as long to get connected.

The gas showrooms may have had unlisted numbers, but you could go there and talk to someone - now you get a phone number where you have to choose option 1-4 three or four times before you are put in a queue before you get through to someone who then puts you on hold and then transfers your call to the "right" department where you get cut off - and then have to start the whole process again.

That £19 a second is cheap compared to what the British taxpayer had to fork out to save the (private) banks and I remember when the Royal Mail delivered my post before breakfast and were cheap and reliable - before they were ravaged by cheap competition who benefit by doing the profitable part of the business while leaving the unprofitable bit (the universal service) to the Royal Mail.

The fact is that most of the things you cite are down to technological progress and improvements to supply side economics - which is nothing to do with whether the business is private or nationalised.

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