Sunday, March 06, 2022

Some thoughts on the UK's current energy predicament

I tried to post a thread on Twitter but due to my general incompetence with social media it didn't work properly. So I've put it here (slightly revised and expanded) instead: 

I’m old enough to remember the days when the UK Govt (& thus the taxpayer) owned the Central Electricity Generating Board, & their Scottish equivalents, & British Gas (which was merged from regional gas boards). A thought experiment…(1/..)

In the 1980s the Thatcher government privatised all the utilities - power, water(except in Scotland), gas (British Gas had been merged from regional gas boards in the 1970s), plus telecoms & rail, and the outlines of the current privatised energy system were introduced.

Proponents of privatisation argued the private sector would be more ‘efficient’, that shareholders would bring fresh investment that the taxpayer wouldn’t have to pick up, and that competition between companies for households’ business would keep prices down.

Small investors were encouraged to pick up shares in the new utility companies and the intervening years have been something of a bonanza for shareholders, although the ownership structure of UK utilities is now insanely complex, with many international entities including foreign governments, funds and other energy firms having stakes in them, with a complex regulatory regime (Ofgem etc) that appears to have been asleep at the wheel.

I haven’t done the maths (perhaps someone at @ft can help) but the total revenues and profits of our biggest utility firms must now be hundreds of billions of pounds a year: dividend payouts from energy firms are amongst the highest in the stock market.

We are now facing a full blown economic crisis particularly around energy costs which will drive up household/business bills to unaffordable levels and add huge inflationary pressure across the economy - with resultant hardship, job losses, erosion of wages/savings, stress etc.

The case for either a BIG government windfall tax on utilities this year (or an ongoing levy on profits) is thus absolutely solid. A way of getting some help to households/businesses struggling to pay bills and making the utility shareholders share the pain of this shock.

Looking further ahead one wonders what might have happened even if the utilities had been just part-privatised, with the govt retaining a stake in them (kind of the EDF model, although EDF is basically the French state )-- & also how the UK has run nuclear energy. 

Investors didn’t want to shoulder the risks around nuclear - look what happened to British Energy. BNFL publically owned. So we CAN run nationalized utilities when we want to: look at the rail companies! When they're not making giant profits, the private sector doesn't want to know.

I don't claim to be any kind of expert in energy policy but it seems to me that the wave of privatisations now looks like a colossal mistake, involving massive risk taking with energy security, and loss of revenue to the exchequer, which the public is now having to suck up and pay for, as usual.

Of course advocates of privatization will say that it's brought inward investment, created dividends for pension funds, ordinary investors and the like and that the utilities pay millions in corporation tax every year (except when they don't). And that they (and their very well paid directors) should be rewarded for their outstanding leadership and risk taking, la la la, etc etc etc.

With greater public ownership we could have shared in the profits (cf. Norway's Sovereign Wealth Fund) and also insured ourselves against potential price shocks. We export energy to the highest bidder (free markets, baby) and our energy security is thus shot to bits.

Massive over-reliance on hydrocarbons and a systematic refusal to invest in renewables/insulation/energy efficiency/ or lower demand and build green infrastructure over decades, has left the whole population (except the super rich) extremely vulnerable to market shocks. Even without taking into account the climate impacts this seems like a dangerously stupid policy, and makes our economies hostage to hydrocarbon producing states whose human rights records are highly dubious, to say the least. So this is a security issue as well as a climate and social justice issue.

We need a total rethink of our energy system to deal with climate change - it is absolutely intertwined with the current geopolitical turbulence. Energy storage technologies are also absolutely critical - batteries, fuel cells etc...but these batteries are also reliant on raw materials/manufacturing processes that come from parts of the world that often get labelled as ‘unstable’ - again showing how intertwined energy systems are and how energy security is a global issue.

Local renewable generation schemes? Combined heat and power? Micro generation? Solar? Tidal? Home insulation schemes? Radical energy efficiency? I remember all of this was debated heavily in the 1970s after the oil price shock of 1973.



President Carter argued heavily for investment in alternative energy, particularly solar, and here he is addressing the nation about it in 1977. We've hardly heard any talk like that from any American president since...


But then Thatcher and Reagan, (Thatcher on the back of soaring North Sea Oil revenues) went hell for leather on the hydrocarbons and slashed R&D funding for renewables - heavily lobbied by the multinational oil lobby.

And what about a bit of nationalisation? We always seem to manage to do it when the private sector blows up shareholder cash (see RBS, HBOS, Railtrack etc) but not when it’s profitable for shareholders. Why is that? See here for more arguments.





















Friday, December 31, 2021

Things I noticed right at the end of 2021 (31 Dec 2021)

Levelling Down: First Past the Post's Impact on Regional Inequality

Treasury Shelves £30bln Plan to Electrify UK Railways

27 Courses, Very Little Edible

Matt Johnson: Five Keyboard Tricks I Use All The Time!

Man Accused of Chris Whitty Assault Contests Charges in Dressing Gown

Norway to stump up a third of each home's power bills to help deal with energy crisis

Belgian Artist Creates COVID Free Bubble


Monday, December 20, 2021

Things I noticed this week (20 Dec 2021):

Why Championship Chess Sets are So Expensive

'A trash heap for our children': How Norilsk became of the most polluted places on Earth

'Back to the bad old days': swingeing rail cuts set alarm bells ringing

Treasury Shelves £30bln Plan to Electrify UK Railways

Climate Change has destabilized the Earth's Poles, putting the rest of the planet in peril

The Least Used Paris Metro Station

He Voted to Impeach. Can He Survive in the G.O.P.? 

Who's watching? How governments used the pandemic to normalise surveillance

Peter Thiel's 'Free Speech for Race Science' Crusade at Cambridge University Revealed

Despite the Focus on Russell Group Institutions as drivers of social mobility, it is actually universities outside this group that are contributing most to social mobility

All That Sugar: The West India Docks

UbuWeb Sound: Sound Sculptures (1985)

Soft Machine: Moon in June (Bilzen Festival, Aug 22 1969)

Mozart: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 17, live from Teatro La Fenice

Chicken Madras being cooked at Bhaji Fresh, Warrington













Saturday, December 11, 2021

Things I noticed this week (11th Dec 2021)

Winter cab view from two of the most scenic railways in the world

Jonathan Karl: Betrayal with Peter Baker

Counting the neurological cost of COVID-19

Hackers are Spamming Businesses' Receipt Printers with 'Antiwork' Manifestos

Seven Egyptian Breakfast Dishes

Hold the tree planting: Protect ecosystems first for maximum carbon storage, study says

Reliving the New York Subway Map Debate

'Listening to Kenny G' is an Ironic Masterpiece

Glasgow's High Rise Flat Baggers

Monty meets Sly & Robbie: People Make the World Go Round











Sunday, December 05, 2021

Things I noticed this week (5th Dec 2021)


Ralph Humphrey/Chester Thompson - Zappa's More Trouble Every Day Drum Groove Analysis: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z8Hxsqr9DGE

Tehran 2021: Autumn Walk in Mellat Park
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FFNuiKvqJr0

Coffee or Chai? At 2 Kolkata Cafes, ‘Adda’ Is What’s Really on the Menu
https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/26/world/asia/india-kolkata-cafe-culture.html

Who can still afford to live in the city? 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NPloUxLWfB8

QAnon Hero Michael Flynn Secretly Said QAnon is 'Total Nonsense'
https://www.thedailybeast.com/qanon-hero-michael-flynn-secretly-said-qanon-is-total-nonsense

Howard Jones: Hide and Seek, Live at Siyan
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=15-61RSFejc

The endless woes of Ferguson Marine
https://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/politics/the-endless-woes-of-ferguson-marine

A stroll along the Dollis Valley Greenwalk
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4olHz0QSa0I

Jonathan Pie at COP 26: The World's End
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=23nDxPSIoAw

Cooking Campfire Pizza on the Sadj Grill
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jpfYDzOm6us








Sunday, November 28, 2021

Things I noticed over the last two weeks (28th November 2021)

After a brief hiatus, a bumper edition:


The Isle of Secrets: Orford Ness
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hg0ZIfM8tJU


What makes for the best villains in drama? Brian Cox/Economist podcast
https://www.economist.com/podcasts/2021/11/04/what-makes-for-the-best-villains-in-drama?


Highest Railway Station in Europe: Jungfraujoch, Switzerland
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCiCO8YNuAw


Greenland's government bans oil drilling, leads indigenous resistance to extractive capitalism
https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/oureconomy/greenlands-government-bans-oil-drilling-leads-indigenous-resistance-to-extractive-capitalism/


At the End of the World. it's Hyperobjects all the way down
https://www.wired.com/story/timothy-morton-hyperobjects-all-the-way-down/


Embarassing tank gaffe turns Cheshire remembrance into 'Dad's Army'
https://www.cheshire-live.co.uk/news/chester-cheshire-news/dads-army-gaffe-cheshire-idea-22184994


A look at what sewage is doing to a beach in England
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n9IpOcJqgX0

Support for populist sentiment falls all over Europe, survey finds
https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2021/nov/18/support-for-populist-sentiment-falls-across-europe-survey-finds



Home Office covering up its own study of why refugees come to the UK


AOC: What's so hard about saying this is wrong? 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AxiK3tGpHuE


Living in Poverty as Politicians Argue over Huge Salaries
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KibJsTOOvsI


James Garner as Marlowe: Grey Tweed Jacket
https://bamfstyle.com/2018/09/12/marlowe-garner-tweed/


Paisley Sunset, 27th November
https://youtu.be/diiX1wG7W6k


Jaques Pepin: Onion Soup
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yV9gLR1reGU










Sunday, November 14, 2021

Sunday, November 07, 2021

Things I noticed this week, 7th Nov 2021

These Climate Science Deniers are attending the COP26 climate summit

https://www.desmog.com/2021/11/03/heartland-cfact-cei-gwpf-climate-science-deniers-are-attending-the-cop26-climate-summit/


You want to see a modern country commit suicide? Take a hard look at Britain

https://eand.co/want-to-see-a-modern-country-commit-suicide-take-a-hard-look-at-britain-fdeb3ad4bd3c


Foreign Office secretly targeted British news outlets

https://www.thecanary.co/investigations/2021/11/03/exclusive-foreign-office-secretly-targeted-leading-british-news-outlets/


Mark Zuckerberg and Nick Clegg

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lWqa70DvD3s


Peter Millray - Time Machine (1976)

https://youtu.be/lHAXax4BDdUI


A castle for sale in North Ayrshire: probably some of the cheapest property (per square foot/acre) available in the UK...

https://www.rightmove.co.uk/properties/81354984#/


David Lammy: the Tories think rules are for little people, not them

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/nov/06/the-tories-reveal-yet-again-their-belief-that-the-rules-are-for-little-people-not-for-them


Transparency over emissions remains a sticking point at COP 26

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/nov/06/transparency-over-emissions-remains-a-sticking-point-at-cop26


The Ahr Valley Flood

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w3ct1gy6


The Filmmakers’ Hut, Salo, Finland

https://www.dezeen.com/2021/11/06/the-filmmakers-hut-pirinen-salo-finland/


Ibrahim Maalouf - Live in Istanbul

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=le-e37ZMck8


A Ramen Cart

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JqCz5u4U9M4


November mushroom foraging

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o7AN7j_STeE

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Things I noticed this week, 30th October 2021


Hey Facebook, I Made a Metaverse 27 years ago: it was terrible then, and it’s terrible now https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2021/10/facebook-metaverse-was-always-terrible/620546/

Brexit chaos: the crisis that shouldn’t be

https://www-blaetter-de.translate.goog/ausgabe/2021/november/brexit-chaos-die-krise-die-keine-sein-darf?_x_tr_sl=de&_x_tr_tl=en&_x_tr_hl=en-GB&_x_tr_pto=nui#_ftn1


‘We’ve been hammered’: on the breadline in Burnley

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2021/oct/24/weve-been-hammered-on-the-breadline-in-burnley-covid-universal-credit


The BAM: Russia’s Unknown Trans-Siberian Train

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f2d7kJPimyE


Glasgow imagines its post-covid future

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-10-28/glasgow-imagines-its-future-after-covid-and-cop26


Hey Facebook, I Made a Metaverse 27 years ago: it was terrible then, and it’s terrible now 

https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2021/10/facebook-metaverse-was-always-terrible/620546/


An Energy System Fit for the Future? a report on the ownership structure of the Big Six energy companies

https://www.common-wealth.co.uk/reports/power-ahead-an-energy-system-fit-for-the-future


Russia strengthens its internet censorship powers     https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/22/technology/russia-internet-censorship-putin.html


Parliamentary Committee on Standards: Mr Owen Paterson

https://committees.parliament.uk/publications/7644/documents/79907/default/


An overlooked London walk - Erith to Dartford Creek

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uhOD5-lzc2s


Dreamlands: stories of enchantment and excess in a search for lost sensations

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/14744740211053613#.YXkXaN98j60.twitter


End of the Line for Uber? Accounting tricks and tech gimmickry… |

https://marker.medium.com/end-of-the-line-for-uber-901e3077bbbc