Monday, 24 October 2011

Energy Market Reform

There has been a lot of discussion recently about rising domestic energy prices and competition failures in the market, most recently the figures published by Ofgem on the profit made per customer by the big six energy suppliers. While these snapshot figures may not be particularly helpful in telling the whole story, they certainly reveal enough to raise the issue to the top of the agenda.

The market is poorly functioning and there is too much complexity, lengthy tie-ins on the best deals and better deals for new customers.  This is an inevitable consequence of different suppliers selling essentially an identical product, with price being the only comparison.  The lights aren't brighter with electricity from one supplier compared with another, only cheaper or dearer.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Along Came a Spider

It is that time of year where spiders start migrating indoors, getting themselves stuck in the bath, climbing the wall or running across the bedroom ceiling. Do they creep you out or do you like them? They are one of nature's helpers fulfilling a valuable role in managing the population of common pests in the garden during the summer so lets not be too hard on them when the seek sanctuary.

Legend has it that a spider was the unlikely inspiration for Robert the Bruce seven centuries ago while hiding in a cave in exile.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Coal plan legal challenge fails

Coal plan legal challenge fails
A legal challenge to plans for a new coal fired power station in the Ayrshire coast has been rejected. The challenge regarded the national planning framework that defined a need for a power station, which effectively means that planning permission can not be rejected by the local planning department. In reality, all that the local planners can do is attach conditions to that permission.

There are other, better ways of reducing our emissions such that we wouldn't need this power station but it is hard to make profit from them and our politicians don't want to be on duty when the lights go out.

The proposal does talk of carbon capture and storage as part of the scheme but, unfortunately, it is surrounded by weasel words - "if that technology can be proven". Given the burden of proof for climate change and the fact that CCS has not been attempted at full scale, and recent developments at Longannet cast doubt on whether it can be proven in the necessary timescale. I'm not a huge fan of carbon capture and storage as a solution to the problem of discharging climate changing gases as a lot of energy is likely to be used to develop the storage solutions and to transport the gases to appropriate storage locations. More on this later.

From a logistical perspective, the site is not too bad for a power station - located between the coal terminal and a nuclear power station it is well placed for fuel delivery and electricity export infrastructure. The coal won't need to be hauled across the country as is currently done for Longannet.

If the development does go ahead, I believe that the following requirements are essential:

  • carbon sequestration is integral to the scheme - despite my misgivings, it is better than nothing;
  • the power station should be capable of taking waste organic material as part of the fuel mix, e.g. forestry waste, non-recyclable domestic waste, etc;
  • the emissions are clean and safe - no sulphur, dioxins etc, especially when mixed fuels are used;
  • it is designed to the highest achievable efficiency standards and that fuel consumption can be reduced when oputput is reduced;
  • serious consideration is given to exporting waste heat to the local town of Fairlie;
  • cooling waters are not allowed to cause thermal pollution of the sea; 
  • waste materials are managed on site or re-used
  • there is no increase in road traffic as a result of operating the power station.
I'm sure there are many other issues, but that's enough to get started.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Banish the Plastic Bags

The following has been taken in its entirety from the government e-petition site:

Banish the Plastic Bags

Responsible department: Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

17 billion plastic bags a year are given to British consumers. The average Briton accepts 5 times a weeks. 200 million tonnes of plastic is produced worldwide and 10 % ends up in the ocean. When plastic bags get into the ocean they can entangle, suffocate and even kill marine animals. Plastic doesn't biodegrade, it just breaks up into smaller pieces . The number of plastic bags issued by UK supermarkets in the past year has risen by 333 million. Plastic bags are becoming a big problem and there are better solutions! Instead we should have reusable cotton bags/ recyclable paper bags/biodegradable starch based bags. Banish the bags and go with reusable/ biodegradable ones instead! If we want to cut the amount of waste sent to landfill this is the big step forward.. .

If you are a UK citizen or resident, please sign this petition to the British Government. 100,000 signatures required to get it debated in parliament.

Please sign and share as widely as possible on twitter, facebook, google+ and in real life. Thanks.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Weekly Refuse Collections

Despite the austerity measures we currently face, the government has miraculously found £250 million to encourage local authorities to reinstate weekly refuse collections in England.

There is, apparently, a huge public outcry about the change to fortnightly collections. Certain parts of the press have been stirring up scare stories about rubbish piling up on our streets for weeks, giving off bad smells and attracting vermin. Not only is a concern, it is also an election issue according to the Daily Mail.

Many years ago, our council changed from twice weekly collections to weekly collections and similar stories were spun but were never realised. At that time the bins were changed from small metal bins that the bin men carried to the truck and emptied to larger bins with single use removable liners, starting a trend of producing plastic bags with a single use-putting it in the bin.

I don't know the details of individual fortnightly bin collections around England, but the new fortnightly system in Glasgow gives people a greater awareness of the amount of waste that they generate. Combine this with the greater variety of material that can now be recycled and people are forced to be more careful about maximising their recycling. And so far I haven't noticed a pong nor seen any rats (of the four legged variety at least).This can only be a good thing.

Some people may find this heightened awareness uncomfortable - forced to accept that they are part of the problem and that it isn't just other people to blame. Then there is the extra effort required to separate their waste. Why, when it can just be buried and forgotten about? Is this the real story, uncomfortable truths that readers of the newspapers wouldn't pay to read? Or are people happy to do their bit and it is only the papers looking for something easy to fill column inches?

There is as very real concern that returning to weekly collections will be a step backwards, leading to more waste to landfill and less recycling, combined with increase fuel use for the extra collections. There is also the issue of where the money will come from, or what else it could be spent on to better effect.

If the government did have a spare £250 million lying around to spend on the environment, it could spend it on cavity wall and loft insulation for half a million homes (based on Energy Saving Trust cost estimates) lifting them out of fuel poverty and reducing carbon emissions.  If part of the associated energy saving is then used to insulate further homes then a significant reduction could be made to the estimated seven million households in fuel poverty in the UK.

Unfortunately, the reality is that those in most need of help to escape fuel poverty are those least likely to vote Conservative, while those that grumble about having to sort the recycling could be persuaded.