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Gossage: Gossip March 2016

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The base degrees by which she doth ascend
Energy minister Amber Rudd now seems to be seeking primarily to justify her proposed multi-billion subsidies for nuclear power on the grounds that it is a technology that provides reliable base-load power. One glance at the latest International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) tables on outages tell me employing this argument is – shall we say – distinctly economical with the truth.

In practice, existing British nuclear power reactors seem to spend more time off line and out of use than those to be found practically anywhere else in the world. According to the IAEA, in 2014 the 16 reactors based in Britain were failing to provide any useful power for no less than 15% of the time. Or to put it another way, there were on average no useful nuclear-based electrons being supplied anywhere in Britain for 3 hours in every 24-hour day.

Even more pertinent are the problems these closures cause to grid reliability. The vast majority of these outages were definitely not pre-planned for maintenance reasons. Instead they were out of use for what were essentially emergency concerns.

Such uncertainties provide the National Grid planners with real headaches. The excuse of  their being elderly doesn’t wash. In the USA, where no new nukes have been opened for even longer than here, its one hundred-strong fleet was out of action for just 1.4% of the time.

I am afraid that energy secretary “Forever” Amber will need to come up with rather better arguments than base-load reliability to justify her infatuation with the Great God Atom.


Drop, drop, slow tears
The European Union flagship programme to fight the threat of climate change has long been the emissions trading system (ETS). It has always been heavily championed by the European power generators association Eurelectric – even to the extent of actively opposing any other policies seeking to reduce emissions. For instance, Eurelectric is campaigning against strengthening directives designed to increase energy efficiency as having “negative impacts on the functioning of the ETS”, presumably because they seek to reduce overall consumption levels.

Of course Eurelectric ‘s continuing championing of the ETS may have nothing to do with the incredibly low prices at which its emission permits are now trading. Ironically the trading price continues to fall further and further, from its original €34 price per tonne of carbon dioxide, to €8.21/t at the time of December’s Paris Climate Change Agreement, now to the current derisory €5.64 price.

The complete ineffectiveness of this scheme regarding altering investment patterns is of course a matter of great distress to all European electricity generators. Their crocodile tears are indeed a wonder to behold.


Too much in the Sun?
The Sun newspaper’s revelation that EOn is paying Age-UK  £41, for each one of its pensioner members signed up to buy fuel from them, caused quite a stir.  Much of the indignation was focused around the undeniable fact that the relevant tariff rate, whilst at a discount, was no longer the very cheapest rate on offer from EOn.

That this arrangement added £6m each year into the coffers of Age-UK to help fund their good works, got rather lost in the kerfuffle. That was largely because, most unusually, the energy secretary Amber Rudd became instantly involved in hyping it into a scandal. She was quoted in the original Sun story, saying she was instructing the regulator OFGEM to investigate.
“People expect a fair deal when it comes to energy bills, not a rough deal,” the Sun reported the indignant “Forever” Amber fulminating. At maximum decibel, she continued: “ I take very seriously this allegation that Britain’s pensioners are being misled.”
By any standards, such condemnations are pretty strong stuff coming from any Cabinet member. So why was “Forever” quite so splenetic about the Age-UK deal, even though it was still providing pensioners with a far better price deal than most households are getting?
I suspect the primary reason could be that, just a few days beforehand, “Forever” had just created with great fanfare a new entity called the Committee on Fuel Poverty.  This is a statutory body charged with “challenging” the government to deliver on its commitments to remove all poorer, particularly elderly, people from suffering the scourge of fuel poverty.  The chair of the new committee is to be one Tom Wright. Whose daytime job also happens to be acting as the CEO of none other than Age-UK.

High-reaching Buckingham grows circumspect
The University of Buckingham prides itself on being the only tertiary education establishment in Britain independent from the official academic system.  Apparently this proud boast also permits its academic staff to operate independently of any facts.
The professor of economics at Buckingham is one Leonard (‘Len’) Shackleton. He was approached by the BBC website, concerning the energy policy implications of the precipitous drop in investment in residential sector energy saving measures, following the government abandonment of its flagship Green Deal programme.
Unlike others quoted by the BBC, all of whom expressed alarm that this would lead to more energy being imported into the UK causing security concerns, Professor Shackleton was utterly dismissive of lower rates of energy saving in homes proving any problems at all. In his best professorial style, he pronounced that: “Even quite big cuts in domestic energy would not make much of an impression on total energy use.”
Come again?  Around 32% of total UK energy consumption is in the home. Since 2005, overall energy use has fallen by 18%. Much of the fall has been due to changes in energy efficiency in our homes. Electricity usage has dropped by 13%, and the amount of gas burnt by a whopping 37% – both almost entirely due to government programmes designed to stimulate energy saving. Practically all have been recently abandoned. 
So, the good Professor’s statement seems to be absolutely inaccurate in every aspect. Not much of an advertisement for the rigours of economics as taught at the independent university of Buckingham, is it?

Elinore Mackay

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