Lack of Environment

A blog on the politics and psychology underlying the denial of all our environmental problems

BBC Panorama on the Energy Crisis in the UK

with 13 comments

The BBC have very helpfully posted the recent Panorama programme ‘Energy Bills: Power Failure’ on YouTube (as embedded below). Presented by Tom Heap (who regularly does spots on CountryFile), it is very fair-minded and includes contributions from a wide range of people. Therefore, even if you do not live in the UK, I would recommend watching the programme because: it is very good at describing the problems that we all face; and makes it crystal clear that we must find a solution (but does so in a way that somehow avoids being dogmatic).

Some questions I would like help in answering are as follows:
1. What is the instrumental music used in the opening night-time sequence in Blackpool?
2. Why do so many poor people use the most expensive (pay-as-you-go) way to heat their homes?
3. Can we give Angel Gurria (Secretary-General of OECD) a Nobel Prize for plain-speaking?
4. How can anyone avoid concluding that Ed Milliband is an opportunist and a con-man?
5. Why did the CEO of RWE nPower not admit profit margin on generation (as opposed to sales)?
6. Is the need for decarbonisation actually incompatible with power generation being privatised?
7. Why has carbon capture and storage not been made a priority in order to continue burning coal?
8. Is it realistic to think that (in a post-carbon era) energy will ever be cheaper than it is now?
9. When will the UK government admit that fracking is not actually low-carbon and (thus) not the answer?
10. Has Michael Fallon not read the BGS report that says only 10% of shale gas is probably recoverable?


UPDATE (23/12/2013): I think the answer to Q1 is “Burn”  by Ellie Goulding (see comments below).

13 Responses

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  1. UK fracking has nothing to do with keeping consumer bills down but about plumbs for the boys with their fingers in the pies, which I tried to highlight in my most recent comment on your June 20 post entitled ‘My final word on Fracking…’

    Lionel A

    10 December 2013 at 17:54

    • Indeed, Lionel, it is very wise of you to highlight your recent comments on an old post (which I should have done myself but failed to think laterally). Thank you.

      Martin Lack

      10 December 2013 at 18:24

  2. 1/ don’t know- tried tuneatic but too much voice over.

    2/ often companies make you go on pay as you go or demand an upfront payment because of debt defaults- rented accommodation will often have the pay as you go meters installed and you can’t have them replaced. You also need a bank account and direct debit to get the best savings.

    3/ perhaps they could have a literacy section for special spoken word events.

    4/Ed a con man? All politicians are opportunist. Ed sensibly did not come up with policies for the 2015 election, instead looked to be thoughtful on policy- the press were not happy and it is likely the Govt poor ratings were considered were not being fully taken advantage of with labour on the offensive. Labour’s policy is mixed- on the one hand a low wage means families can spend 10% of income on energy- energy companies are effectively monopolies- but no political party excluding the Greens will tell the simple truth that cheap energy is over- if Labour stepped out they would be trashed by the press. On a deeper level the political landscape has always been offering more- hence Osbourne offering frack tax breaks- they suggest the Govt is on board and prices will fall- the reality is it won’t happen.

    5/Why? because they all want to pretend they only make 5% profit and don’t try to profiteer.

    6/ If you were a wise investor you would probably see old fossil tech as a dead end. A recent report predicts gas electricity generation currently £50 [at cheapest rate] MWH will double by 2020- where as wind is likely to fall substantially- and solar is getting cheaper each year. Where would you invest?

    7/ too expensive- not fully tested- also at current rates of extraction and the lower energy value of what is mined could be a preluded to peak coal. The figures don’t look encouraging for long term coal use – 2025 perhaps for effectively global traded peak coal.

    8/ yes- but with caveats- the green build I’m currently engaged in will mean significantly lower energy bills. The unit cost may go up but the amount will reduce. So it is how the question is phrased for short term costs. Longer term – yes, eventually. But the current cost is high if you include ACC.

    Interesting real conspiracy – US car manufacturers wanted to sell cars in the 20/30s- but people didn’t want them, trams were better and cheaper, the notion of ‘freedom’ in the car sense was outweighed by the freedom of low cost transport. So the car manufacturers bought the tram companies and ran them into the ground putting up the price as they did.

    In the time of abundance you can process all water to be drinking water and pump it across the country- in the time of abundance you can drive a tonne of steel to pick up a bag of shopping. These are not efficient ways to spend your energy or money.

    9/ they don’t have to- all the positive moves by the Govt towards fracking is to keep UKip supporters happy- the gesture that cheap energy will return- etc – but we do not have the US countryside, land laws. infrastructure, oil workers, rigs, nor do we know if the gas is there.

    10/ He probably has- but frack in the uk is gesture politics- I will bet money on it! which leads me to believe it could turn into a distraction of environmental protest.


    10 December 2013 at 20:26

    • Thanks Jules. I will not attempt to respond to each and every answer offered (although I am grateful for them all). However, I would like to respond to a few:
      4. Even the Renewable Energy Association questions the sincerity and sensibility of Labour’s temporary price freeze.
      5. Ignoring inflation, energy prices have more than doubled in the last 10 years. This implies that the £/MWHr deal EDF has for new nuclear is not unreasonable. In the meantime, Solar PV has only become cheap thanks to China producing panels at less than cost price. Having said that, of course, fossil fuel companies have been producing oil and gas at less-than-cost price (and selling it to consumers at above-cost price) for decades.
      9/10. Let’s be blunt about this: Since we now know that only 10% of shale gas (in-situ) is probably recoverable, fracking will never be economically viable in the UK (e.g. lower recovery rates means more wells per drilling site and more drilling sites per unit area). As such, all investors will only gain if taxpayers lose (i.e. Robin Hood in reverse once again). Widespread protests are therefore warranted (and definitely not a distraction).

      Martin Lack

      11 December 2013 at 12:17

      • 4/ I’m disappointed that Ed who is an intellectual [all power to the geeks] has either thought up or caved in to popular politics of cheap energy- I think the original message of- freeze prices whilst they investigate profits sounded good it also got lost with the freeze prices. Not helpful but what are poor politicians to do when home produced energy dries up? We as a nation have been luck- first coal- then gas- then oil. I understand natural gas was considered a stop gap at the time. Other nations who have gone into energy imbalance have faired far worse- Egypt, Syria !

        5/ Ironic that new nuclear may be the cheapest option. Solar despite China has still come down in price- the German solar I am looking at were £10k and now £6k and as good if not slightly better.

        9/10- very good point- the only winners will be a few money men who will try and get as much out of the 2000 or so wells that I predict will be the grand contribution over a decade or so. So whilst I think too much energy should not be wasted on fracking the bastards should be hounded.

        Just off to install my German made 5w LED lights- Euro fitting is a pain but they fit IKEA- 5w is 60w equivalent- and will last a gazilion hours and they cost £3 yes not a typo, from Aldi. So double the savings from CFL bulbs and 1/10th of old skool bulbs- also the last 35,000 hours as opposed to 10,000 for energy saving light bulbs- so worth it if they were three times the cost of CFLs and 35 times more expensive than incandescent.

        Electricity saving means half cost lighting- so about a 1/3rd halved or half if you use gas for heating.

        Aldi [and Lidl] are cool! and there is no Waitrose in these parts.


        11 December 2013 at 15:37

        • Thanks for continuing the conversation, Jules.

          With regard to solar, my understanding is that the EU is trying to force China to stop subsidising production (which is artificially depressing prices). However, given that the IEA, IMF and OECD all agree that further delay in decarbonisation will not be cost-effective, all governments everywhere should be doing what the Chinese are doing. The only problem with all of that is that, even if you are a solar PV generator, you still have to be connected to the national grid and (for safety reasons) you cannot produce your own power when it fails. Therefore, people cannot genuinely live off-grid unless they actively choose to do so by embracing an alternative lifestyle (and we definitely do not have the space for 65 million people to do that).

          You pose the question as to what should be done when our home-produced energy runs out? But home-produced energy will only run out if it remains non-renewable. The UK is blessed with seven thousand miles of coastline and no-one is ever more than 70 miles from the sea. Even allowing for low energy density, this is a huge potential source of renewable energy (that we have barely begun to use). Therefore, although our only long-term problem is power distribution, however the power is generated, people will have accept the construction of more national grid power lines.

          I really am going to have to get out of this 1st floor flat (which I bought before waking up to the reality of our energy/environmental crisis). I am not allowed to install solar PV (because I share the roof with the freehold owner who lives on the ground floor) and my flat was fitted-out by the previous owners with loads of fancy halogen light fittings (e.g. 9 spotlights in the kitchen and 6 more in the bathroom; and 2 G9 wall lights in each of the lounge and dining room). I am also stuck with gas-fired central heating (although I have done everything I can to minimise my heating bills).

          Martin Lack

          12 December 2013 at 13:26

        • Martin, just to mention I do not live an alternative lifestyle and that I live off grid, producing electricity for my house by solar panels. The power generated is stored in batteries and then is converted from 24v DC to 230v AC by an inverter. I use a mixture of low energy bulbs and LED bulbs, the former being replaced by the latter as they slowly wear out/get too dim. Other than that I have all the usual domestic appliances – computer, TV, HiFi washing machine etc. And by the way I also have spotlights in my kitchen which are LED powered. I agree that as a general solution this is not available to everybody, due to space restrictions and I dare say that those who live in the north of Scotland might not find solar the perfect solution.(I live in Catalunya where we do have a good sunshine record, but even on cloudy days my panels generate most of my electricity requirements)

          I would also mention that I believe the key to future energy supply problems is the minimising of power usage. Too much is wasted and I have learned from my own experience that minimising usage is essential. If I use too much the power simply goes off which means either an early night or a visit to the shed to start my generator, neither option appealing very much! Education in minimising power usage would be a wise investment as if people were to cut their usage then we would be able to invest less capital new generating capacity.


          12 December 2013 at 15:57

        • It is nice to hear from you again, Brian. Truly, that sounds like an excellent set-up you have there in Catalunya. The Solar PV people I know have told me that panels made for European markets (unlike those sold to customers in tropical climates) actually work best in bright light (as opposed to direct sunlight) because their energy-conversion-efficiency drops if they get too hot.

          Notwithstanding what you say about the limitations of domestic systems, energy consumption ceases to be important if the the source of supply is renewable (hence my advocacy for high speed trains on that basis). However, unless or until we reach that point, I agree that minimisation of consumption must be the primary objective. Clearly, this is a fundamental problem for any country (like the UK) where power generation is in the hands of private companies. Sadly, Mrs Thatcher privatised the energy business before realising that climate change was such an imminent threat (a science-based position she was later persuaded by non-scientists to disavow).

          Martin Lack

          12 December 2013 at 16:32

        • Yes I think you are right about the panels being more efficient in bright light, Mind you at the moment, having had four days of fog they are not doing a very good job and are ensuring a run of early nights!


          12 December 2013 at 16:45

        • yes- you need to sell up- but Tesco has a special online for daylight led GU [240volt] spot lights LED 5w £5 each. £90 well spent and you should get your money back on them next summer.


          12 December 2013 at 16:54

    • Hi Jules. Having just watched the ‘John Bishop Christmas Show’ on BBC1, I think the answer to Q1 is “Burn” by Ellie Goulding.

      As ever, the BBC were being very predictable (playing with words).

      Martin Lack

      23 December 2013 at 22:17

  3. Please note that CCS has shown itself to be unworkable. Clean coal is just a dream.

    Tenney Naumer

    13 December 2013 at 15:18

    • Thanks Tenney. If you look at my history of posting items about CCS, you will see that I am very sceptical. Since CCS has historically been used as an excuse for policy inaction, my question was in fact somewhat rhetorical. However, even if clean coal is a dream, I think human extinction and ecocide are now inevitable unless we can get CCS to work in the long run.

      Martin Lack

      13 December 2013 at 16:15

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