Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Does FOE attack signal move towards authoritarianim in the UK?

Freedom of activity and expression for green causes is under attack in the UK. That's the message we get from the various laws being enacted about what NGOs can or cannot do, and what organisations can or cannot do if they are charities. The latest piece of right wing attack on our freedoms comes with the attempt by the fracking industry to curb opposition to its activities by mobilising the regulations on what charities can do. This was given a platform by the Times newspaper today. You can see some commentary at http://www.civilsociety.co.uk/governance/news/content/21264/friends_of_the_earth_criticises_times_after_front_page_attack
Since the 1980s the trade unions rights to strike have been curbed by a thousand cuts. Now the right wing are moving on to curb mere criticism by green groups. Bit by bit the laws are being strengthened to make it ever more difficult for people to express opposition to government policies if they offend commercial interests which the government favours. Fracking companies claim that Friends of the Earth and anti-fracking campaigners are 'lying'. Well, that is a matter of opinion, I think.
But some energy companies have been, er, a little wayward from the truth for years. How much was nuclear power supposed to cost? A lot more than was claimed! When would the nuclear power stations be built?  A lot sooner than was said! We don't expect regulations to emerge to clamp down on what such companies say in their press releases, but apparently excuses are to be found to stop NGOs arguing against government policies. Apparently in this new world of only-business-supported by government knows-the-truth other people's rights to give their version are being gradually curtailed.
The Government are failing miserably to support fracking through democratic means. People just don't like the idea. So they are resorting to clamping down on councils who object to fracking proposals. In future, it is suggested, Councils won't even get to take any decisions on them! See http://drillordrop.com/2016/02/01/reaction-to-leaked-government-letter-on-boosting-fracking-industry/
Of course we're not like Russia yet, and that's because we are evolving much more subtle means to curb opposition to the Government. But in the ultimate objective of silencing NGOs our Government and Vladimir have a lot in common! See http://www.wsj.com/articles/russias-putin-signs-new-law-against-undesirable-ngos-1432567550

Monday, 1 February 2016

Treasury ruling spells final end for Hinkley C....surely?

The Treasury has, in effect, ridiculed any notion that EDF could take a final investment decision on Hinkley C within the next three years - if ever. The announcement by the Treasury that their offer of loan guarantees for the EPR at Hinkley C is linked to successful functioning of the Flamanville EPR means that short of absolute lunacy reigning at EDF HQ the power plant could not possibly be given a final go-ahead until 2018 at the earliest, and most probably never.

The date of earliest completion of the Flamanville reactor is 2018, and even that assumes that things go a lot better than they have so far. To cap this, the Treasury have said that if the reactor hasn't demonstrated it is working properly by 2020 then there will be no loan guarantee for Hinkley C. (see Sunday Times piece, link below). There is no chance of Hinkley C being funded without this - EDF haven't got anywhere near the money needed and it would be financially crazy to pay for it without the guarantees - so EDF cannot take the chance of going ahead without a firm loan guarantee.

This leaves people wondering about the motives of  EDF in announcing that they are 'restarting' work on Hinkley C. They can't do this, or at least carry on with this indefinitely. EDF is in difficult financial straits as it is without this sort of action. It is no surprise that employees and shareholders of EDF are up in arms about the prospect of a 'final investment decision' being taken by the EDF Board. They are nowhere near being able to do this - as you can see from the European Commission documents, before such a decision can be taken they have to have a signed contract with the UK Government and the agreed funding in place for the company that develops the project. None of this has happened or seems likely to happen.
EDF may manage to convince some press reporters that the show is still on the road, but, as I said in my previous post, the only explanation, in effect for EDF's behaviour is that they are desperately clinging to the notion that their (failing) EPR technology can still carry on, knowing that the alternative is the end of their dream upon which they have based their careers.

EDF now seem to be hoping that the French Government will take responsibility for not only the mounting losses from the French and Finnish (and I presume Chinese) EPR disasters AND promise to underpin the British reactor (as if it is the role of the French state to pay for crushingly expensive nuclear power stations for the UK!).

It requires quite a big nudge on Douglas Adams' 'improbability drive' to swallow all this!

For some relevant coverage, see......


http://uk.reuters.com/article/edf-nuclear-flamanville-idUKL5N1190M820150903

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/4b3c1d9e-c506-11e5-808f-8231cd71622e.html#axzz3yF9bpFHv

http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/business/energy_and_environment/article1662807.ece

http://ec.europa.eu/competition/state_aid/cases/251157/251157_1507977_35_2.pdf (see page 9)

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jan/28/edf-hinckley-point-nuclear-reactor-contractors

Friday, 29 January 2016

How rational choice theory explains EDF's mad gamble on Hinkley C

The spectacle of the disastrous attempts to build a new generation of nuclear reactor - the European Pressurised Reactors (EPRs) - and EDF's apparent desire to carry on despite the increasing likelihood that the financial losses from this will destroy EDF as a going business (see my earlier blog posts on this) raise the question: If this is true, then why do they carry on with this apparent financial suicide? The answer can be analysed through something well known in political science: rational choice theory. This says that actors will pursue their self interest so that they can achieve the best outcome in a given set of circumstances that define their dilemmas. This can often lead to outcomes that are worse for everyone, despite people apparently pursuing their 'rational' self interest (eg see 'prisoners dilemma').

The set of choices facing the leaders of EDF appear to them as follows: a) abandon Hinkley C and effectively end EDF's visions as being leaders of a world (or even French) nuclear resurgence. Ok, why not? Well, the leaders believe they would have to resign! b) carry on spending money on Hinkley C and hope that not only the French Government will bail them out of any further difficulties (mounting up now, with the french and Finnish reactors going pear shaped) but that somehow the British project will come right. But what seems more likely is that the French Government will end up pouring billions into the project, as well as needing to salvage the Finnish and French EPRs still being built.

Now choice a) involves, to them, the certainty of loss of face and resignation.
choice b) involves a probability of disaster (and eventual resignation), but the faint hope that they still might win out (and regardless they remain in power for a while longer).
Of course the interests of the French state are clearly to avoid losing billions of euros, so rationally, of the two, option a) would be better.

But the French state is not independent. The problem with EDF is not that they are controlled by the state, but that they seem to control the state. Even to the extent that the French state is compelled to spend billions of euros providing the British with nuclear power stations! (which may or may not work very well). The French Ministry of Finance is currently holding out against attempts by EDF to ensure that the French Government 'immunise' EDF against losses from its project in France (and I assume the Finnish and projected UK projects), but EDF seems prepared to just go ahead and assume it will eventually cave in.

How do we get out of this? In option b) eventually the French state will have to draw a line somewhere - it will not be able to afford to carry on hurling countless billions down a bottomless pit. This will damn nuclear power even more severely than abandoning Hinkley C at this stage. But why do we have to suffer this trauma? After all it will waste so much resources.
Personally, I say to Vincent de Rivaz and Jean-Bernard Levy, the bosses of EDF, I've nothing against you, I wish you well, please carry on with your jobs, but please make an appeal to do so based on renunciation of the obviously bankrupt EPR path you are now following. Say how you are going to put investments into renewable energy and advanced energy efficiency technologies.

Help save electricity storage from its transgender problem



A campaign is being launched to get the UK Government to legislate to set up a special license for electricity storage facilities. - A license to store! At the moment the fast-developing battery storage industry, which can help power the renewable energy revolution, is being stymied by regulatory confusion. Establishing a license for storage would set up storage as a distinctive technology where that can be assigned its own place in the system alongside generation and consumption.

The problem is that storage sometimes supplies energy, but it also consumes energy to charge the batteries. As a result storage operators are double charged for taxes when they consume and supply the energy, and uncertainty reigns about how much they should be charged to connect to, and use, the electricity distribution network.

So please try and write to your MP to support efforts to license storage of electricity.

Of course the grid can 'balance' a lot more renewable energy than is being generated at the moment without much difficulty, but the point is that storage offers an increasingly cheap method of balancing the grid for whatever purpose (including managing variable renewables of course). But the system is regulated for generation or consumption, leaving storage in a sort of transgender 'limbo'.

Now, supporters of electricity storage, including the Electricity Storage Network, want the Government to solve the problem. Otherwise companies and investors will be put off investing in storage projects because of the higher charges and uncertainty that surrounds the 'gender' identity of storage.

The occasion for this particular policy debate is the issue of whether distribution network operators (DNOs) who run the local electricity systems can be allowed to install storage systems. That is whether they should be allowed licenses for storage projects over 10 MW (under 10 MW is not regulated). As the cost of storage declines so the number of circumstances where the storage could be positioned to avoid grid upgrades such as new transformers, increases. In fact storage can serve a number of functions - it is also being installed with some renewable energy projects to avoid grid upgrades and help balance the output of the projects.

Of course it is good to see schemes like Elon Musk's home battery systems getting coverage and people buying the batteries - but research indicates that setting up storage on the distribution system is more cost-effective. If storage is built on the local electricity systems ('feeders')then the storage units  can make use of electricity supplies on the local system as a whole, when they are in excess, to store for leaner times.  Home storage systems used in conjunction with solar pv sets are limited to storing the solar output from the homes themselves. Moreover storage based on the local system can also provide other services - in particular reduce the need for peak generating capacity by offering 'frequency response' services and also at peak times in the year (Triads). The storage facilities will earn money from these services.

So we need to give greater possibilities for DNOs and others to set up storage systems. Of course we don't want to give DNOs an unfair competitive advantage over the independent companies wanting to set up storage systems - the DNOs should compete on an even playing field with the rest - but the point of setting up a license is to force the issue of clearing the regulatory confusion surrounding storage.
See the text of an amendment put together by Alan Whitehead MP to the Govenrment's current Energy Bill to try and get a license for storage: https://gallery.mailchimp.com/b8d28f787986f6446a087b2db/files/Notices_of_Amendments_NC14_Electricity_Storage.pdf

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

EDF wants French Government to pay for British nuclear reactor at Hinkley C!

As if anything extra was needed to demonstrate the financial lunacy of the Hinkley C project to all parties concerned, EDF, according to French press reports, now wants the French Government to pay for it!
See http://www.lesechos.fr/industrie-services/energie-environnement/021648964646-epr-anglais-edf-peine-a-boucler-son-plan-de-financement-1195310.php

Quite why anyone would want to take responsibility for a project  whose potential lossmaking wildly exceeds even the over-generous offer made by the UK treasury and electricity consumers, beggars belief. Clearly EDF now do not want to. Under increasing pressure from company shareholders, unions, rating agencies, and others EDF has concluded that it just doesn't have the cash to fund this disaster-in-waiting.

Of course the subtext, is, as I have said for several years now, this project is unfinanceable in any rational way apart from being the receipt of a government blank cheque (if one accepts that as rational way!). Now, in effect EDF expects TWO governments to pay for it (UK and France)!

The EPR model to be used in Hinkley C has now failed to be built on time (indeed at all yet) in all of its three projects. Even in France, the nuclear regulators ASN have given the developers some scathing criticism. The model has been described as unconstructable - and this is before we come to discover whether it even works!

EDF was once held up as an example of how the nuclear industry is a success. But now the company is sinking into debts and potential losses as the prospect of paying large sums for not just dealing with nuclear waste but also repairing existing plant, as well as the failure of the EPR projects in Finland, france and China, comes to haunt the company. Funding Hinkley C could well be final death blow for EDF, as I commented not long ago. See http://realfeed-intariffs.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/more-daishan-epr-delays-as-edf-ponder.html
Of course, one has to see some humour in this. It is that the French Government - and this means French taxpayers are going, if EDF's requests are granted - to make more or less direct subsidies to British electricity (state aid by other, rather curious, means). And they could end up up paying through the nose for this project since it could end up a virtually bottomless pit, if as seems a racing certainty, the project overruns.

Of course, in the end it would probably end up being as just a big row between the two governments and both would end up paying - the British electricity consumer would end up paying way more than the £92.50 per MWh (2012 prices) for 35 years it is already scheduled to do, and the French Government a lot more too, if EDF get their way.
A lot of officials on both sides of the Channel are now thinking 'how do we get out of this without getting the blame'. This latest request for more support for the French Government is just one more excuse for delaying a project that needs to be formally killed off. It should just be stopped and the money spent instead on renewables and energy saving.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Wake up UKIP UK! renewables really are the cheapest option!

It often seems to me that UKIP represent a sort of extreme version of a back-to-the past conservative Britain, in energy as in other things, where the old stereotypes of unrealistic hippies and their ideas of renewable energy are obviously ridiculous. Except of course that reality suggests that renewables aren't the preserve of hippies any more and it is fossil fuels and nuclear that are out of date. In world markets renewables installation is now far outpacing the rest, yet in the UK you would struggle to hear this. Of course sensible people just KNOW this can't be true. I am constantly surprised to hear the almost contemptuous attitude from people who refuse believe that renewables are nothing but a peripheral novelty around the world. But the facts speak otherwise - and very loudly!

But her's just a few clippings to illustrate how things are going in the (real) world. One general:
http://www.ctvnews.ca/sci-tech/renewable-energy-growth-outpaces-fossil-fuels-1.2427639

Below I post some coverage about auction results in places like Chile Brazil, South Africa. Now auctions aren't the reason that renewables costs are going down - these auction results just reflect the fact that the costs are declining anyway, and they actually restrict the rate of renewable energy installation, as I say in  see http://realfeed-intariffs.blogspot.co.uk/2015/12/study-shows-that-renewable-energy.html
BUT, the auctions do give some transparency on the price contest between renewables and other fuels - a transparency that is very much lacking in the UK's rigged-against-renewables market for new power plant. Onshore wind and solar farms are not allowed to compete for contracts to supply energy with fossil or nuclear plans, even though there are several thousand megawatts of onshore renewable capacity with planning consent being effectively banned from the market. Meanwhile nuclear gets special deals and old and new fossil fuel plant get 'capacity payments', although even the capacity payments are not yet high enough to induce new CCGTs to get built.

The message from the UK is that if the truth hurts, hide it!

See some coverage of auction results in Chile, Brazil and South Africa:

http://www.businessspectator.com.au/news/2015/10/29/renewable-energy/chile-goes-100-renewables-power-procurement-auction

http://reneweconomy.com.au/2014/26-gw-wind-solar-power-capacity-offered-brazils-upcoming-auction-26113

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jun/01/how-renewable-energy-in-south-africa-is-quietly-stealing-a-march-on-coal

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

What a smart response! - wind cheaper than fossil fuels

In amongst the very partial comments you here about winds obvious variability, few point out that onshore wind also has great benefits which cannot be wished away. People frequently point out occasions when there isn't much wind power and say how we need other fuels. What they don't mention is the other half of the coin - how often wind power saves the day by stepping in when power plant break down and power would otherwise be very expensive.
There was a neat exchange on this point in the House of Commons on Jan 18th:

Nigel Adams: I am very grateful. I apologise to my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley), who is far more senior than I am.
The hon. Gentleman talks of how cheap onshore wind is as a renewable. Does he not accept that it must be backed up by fossil fuels, which are not so cheap? If the full system cost of onshore wind is taken into consideration, it is one of the least affordable renewable technologies that we have.
Callum McCaig: So we are backing up the cheap renewables with fossil fuels that are not so cheap, and the solution to that is to use the fossil fuels that are not so cheap all the time? That sum does not quite add up. I am not sure that I have worked out the equation.
See Jan 18th debate column 1170 http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201516/cmhansrd/cm160118/debtext/160118-0002.htm
Also see my earlier post at http://realfeed-intariffs.blogspot.co.uk/2015/11/the-untold-story-of-how-windfarms-help.html