Emeutes à Lloret de Mar
LONDON PANIC ON THE STREETS OF LONDON EN 2011 AOUT
I’m huddled in the front room with some shell-shocked friends, watching my city burn.
The BBC is interchanging footage of blazing cars and running street battles in Hackney, of police horses lining up in Lewisham, of roiling infernos that were once shops and houses in Croydon and in Peckham.
Last night, Enfield, Walthamstow,
Brixton and Wood Green were looted;
there have been hundreds of arrests and dozens of serious injuries, and it will be a miracle if nobody dies tonight.
This is the third consecutive night of rioting in London, and the disorder has now spread to
Bristol and Birmingham.
Politicians and police officers who only hours ago were making stony-faced statements about criminality are now simply begging the young people of Britain’s inner cities to go home.
Britain is a tinderbox, and on Friday, somebody lit a match.
How the hell did this happen?
And what are we going to do now?
In the scramble to comprehend the riots, every single commentator has opened with a ritual condemnation of the violence, as if it were in any doubt that arson, muggings and lootings are ugly occurrences.
That much should be obvious to anyone who is watching Croydon burn down on the BBC right now.
David Lammy, MP for Tottenham, called the disorder 'mindless, mindless'. Nick Clegg denounced it as 'needless, opportunistic theft and violence'.
Speaking from his Tuscan holiday villa,
Prime Minister David Cameron – who has finally decided to return home to take charge - declared simply that the social unrest searing through the poorest boroughs in the country was "utterly unacceptable."
The violence on the streets is being dismissed as ‘pure criminality,’ as the work of a ‘violent minority’, as ‘opportunism.’
This is madly insufficient. It is no way to talk about viral civil unrest. Angry young people with nothing to do and little to lose are turning on their own communities, and they cannot be stopped, and they know it. Tonight, in one of the greatest cities in the world, society is ripping itself apart.
Violence is rarely mindless. The politics of a burning building, a smashed-in shop or a young man shot by police may be obscured even to those who lit the rags or fired the gun, but the politics are there.
Unquestionably there is far, far more to these riots than the death of Mark Duggan, whose shooting sparked off the unrest on Saturday, when two police cars were set alight after a five-hour vigil at Tottenham police station.
A peaceful protest over the death of a man at police hands, in a community where locals have been given every reason to mistrust the forces of law and order, is one sort of political statement.
Raiding shops for technology and trainers that cost ten times as much as the benefits you’re no longer entitled to is another.
A co-ordinated, viral wave of civil unrest across the poorest boroughs of Britain, with young people coming from across the capital and the country to battle the police, is another.
Months of conjecture will follow these riots. Already, the internet is teeming with racist vitriol and wild speculation. The truth is that very few people know why this is happening.
They don’t know, because they were not watching these communities.
Nobody has been watching Tottenham since the television cameras drifted away after the Broadwater Farm riots of 1985.
Most of the people who will be writing, speaking and pontificating about the disorder this weekend have absolutely no idea what it is like to grow up in a community where there are no jobs, no space to live or move, and the police are on the streets stopping-and-searching you as you come home from school. The people who do will be waking up this week in the sure and certain knowledge that after decades of being ignored and marginalised and harassed by the police, after months of seeing any conceivable hope of a better future confiscated, they are finally on the news.
In one NBC report, a young man in Tottenham was asked if rioting really achieved anything:
"Yes," said the young man. "You wouldn't be talking to me now if we didn't riot, would you?"
"Two months ago we marched to Scotland Yard, more than 2,000 of us, all blacks, and it was peaceful and calm and you know what?
Not a word in the press. Last night a bit of rioting and looting and look around you."
Eavesdropping from among the onlookers, I looked around.
A dozen TV crews and newspaper reporters interviewing the young men everywhere.
There are communities all over the country that nobody paid attention to unless there had recently been a riot or a murdered child.
Well, they’re paying attention now.
Tonight in London, social order and the rule of law have broken down entirely. The city has been brought to a standstill; it is not safe to go out onto the streets, and where I am in Holloway, the violence is coming closer.
As I write, the looting and arson attacks have spread to at least fifty different areas across the UK, including dozens in London, and communities are now turning on each other, with the Guardian reporting on rival gangs forming battle lines
It has become clear to the disenfranchised young people of Britain, who feel that they have no stake in society and nothing to lose, that they can do what they like tonight, and the police are utterly unable to stop them.
That is what riots are all about.
Riots are about power, and they are about catharsis. They are not about poor parenting, or youth services being cut, or any of the other snap explanations that media pundits have been trotting out: structural inequalities, as a friend of mine remarked today, are not solved by a few pool tables.
People riot because it makes them feel powerful, even if only for a night.
People riot because they have spent their whole lives being told that they are good for nothing, and they realise that together they can do anything –
literally, anything at all. People to whom respect has never been shown riot because they feel they have little reason to show respect themselves, and it spreads like fire on a warm summer night.
And now people have lost their homes, and the country is tearing itself apart.
Noone expected this.
The so-called leaders who have taken three solid days to return from their foreign holidays to a country in flames did not anticipate this.
The people running Britain had absolutely no clue how desperate things had become.
They thought that after thirty years of soaring inequality, in the middle of a recession, they could take away the last little things that gave people hope, the benefits, the jobs, the possibility of higher education, the support structures, and nothing would happen.
They were wrong. And now my city is burning, and it will continue to burn until we stop the blanket condemnations and blind conjecture and try to understand just what has brought viral civil unrest to Britain.
Let me give you a hint: it ain’t Twitter.
I’m stuck in the house, now, with rioting going on just down the road in
Dalston are being trashed. Journalists are being mugged and beaten in the streets, and the riot cops are in retreat where they have appeared at all. Police stations are being set alight all over the country.
This morning, as the smoke begins to clear, those of us who can sleep will wake up to a country in chaos. We will wake up to fear, and to racism, and to condemnation on left and right, none of which will stop this happening again, as the prospect of a second stock market clash teeters terrifyingly at the bottom of the news reports.
Now is the time when we make our choices. Now is the time when we decide whether to descend into hate, or to put prejudice aside and work together. Now is the time when we decide what sort of country it is that we want to live in. Follow the #riotcleanup hashtag on Twitter. And take care of one another.
Cross posted from PennyRed.
MOTS 13 août 2011
discours incendiaire ( dire la réalité )
RIVERS OF BLOOD
J'ai l'impression de regarder toute une nation dresser son propre bûcher funéraire
Powell dit tout haut ce que tout le monde pense
Partie 1 :
Partie 2 :
Partie 3 :
Partie 4 :
“J’ai l’impression de regarder ce pays construire frénétiquement son propre bûcher funéraire.” Enoch POWELL
député britannique, 20 avril 1968
Nous devons être fous à lier , en tant que nation ^pour
permettre chaque anée l'arrivée de 50 000 personnes à charge qui seront à l'origine du futur accroissement de la
population d'origine immigrée
eckham est située dans le district londonien de Southwark. Promenade dans la rue principale…
Life has been very hard for scientists during the last few years. Already, the life of an active scientist was a rat race in which you had to run in circles, trying to get grants that would allow you to pay students and postdocs and they would help you write more papers that then would be used to support proposal that would provide you grants that would allow you to pay students..... It has always been like that, but in the last few years it has become hell. More and more bureaucracy, tight controls, guidelines to follow, time schedules to keep and less and less money. And, of course, any attempt to do something creative and a little outside the known schemes seems to be becoming impossible to finance.
I think that the situation is like that everywhere in Europe and the US, at least from what I hear from my colleagues: reduced budgets, more paperwork, and the sensation to be running a rat race. I couldn't find data about the worldwide situation, but these data from the US do suggest that we may have peaked in terms of resources available for scientific research or, at least, we are plateauing. (source: Task Force in American Innovation)
But the question of resources may not be the most important one. What I perceive is, rather, a declining quality of the research being performed. I may be wrong, because it is hard to quantify an entity such as "quality of research". But my impression is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to perform original and innovative research within a system that provides resources for doing that only if researchers submit to a series of tight constraints. Not long ago, I was hearing a talk by a well intentioned presenter who endeavoured to teach to young scientists how to successfully apply for research grants. I don't know what the young scientists thought of that. My impression was that the presenter could have been described the rituals of an esoteric cult dedicated to adoring the God Quetzalcoatl; human sacrifices were not requested, but almost.
Don't get me wrong: I am not saying that I don't like to do research any more. I love doing research and I wanted to be a scientist from the time I read my first science fiction novel; I think that was when I was about six. And I am not saying that science is not progressing any more. Absolutely not. I am amazed by the progress being done in many fields, for instance, in climate science. And that is done despite climate scientists being threatened, harassed and insulted for what they are doing.
What I am saying is that the state of scientific research in the world seems to be a nice example of Tainter's interpretation of the diminishing returns of complexity. Tainter had devised his model to explain the fall of civilizations - he had mostly in mind the Roman Empire. His idea is that when civilizations face diminishing resources, they react by building up more and more complex structure to cope with the problem. But there is a diminishing return to complexity; these structures become burdens rather than solutions and help bringing down the whole system (a discussion of mine on Tainter's model can be found here).
Tainter's model has a certain "fractal" quality; that is it applies to subsystems just as it does to the whole system. If you look at the Roman Empire, you see that all its subsectors where declining together. Can you cite a Roman poet after Virgil? Most likely, you can't. Not that there were no poets after Virgil, but Roman literature declined with the decline of the Empire and we found little or no interest in refined but shallow poems such as those written by Claudian in the 5th century AD.
Something similar seems to be happening in our times with scientific research (and possibly also with literature). It seems that, facing a declining supply of resources, the structures that manage scientific research try to compensate by building up a new layer of bureaucracy aimed at "optimizing" research - just as they are trying to optimize teaching. It means that, when you obtain a research grant, you are told in exquisite detail exactly what you are to do, how, for how long and that any departure from the plan must be justified. It seems that the very concept of "research," intended as looking for something new, is not allowed any more in these plans. You can't get funded unless you already know what you are going to find.
That's the perfect recipe for that "excellent mediocrity" which is the bane of scientific research. It was already a problem with the phenomenon known as "publish or perish", but with the bureaucratization of research it has gotten much worse. I could give you a series of funny (or tragic) examples from my own experience, but let me skip that. It just seems to me the system is becoming innovation-averse; it is like if "research" had become an oxymoron all by itself. The point is, could we do something about that? Don't get me wrong, I am not saying that scientists should be like Dr. Zarkov in the first episode of "Flash Gordon," where he builds an interplanetary spaceship in his basement. Science is a collective task that requires coordination, planning and some degree of control. But how to turn research into something that can change the world for real? Something that may help us to attain sustainability and stop destroying the ecosystem?
That's difficult of course. Bureaucracy is a tool to keep the world as it is, not to change it. So, in perfect Tainter-style, the system works hard to avoid innovation, not to promote it. It is almost impossible to be financed to study resource depletion; that would highlight problems that would require changes and that's a no-no. Instead, it is still possible to obtain research grants as long as there is no risk that the results will threaten the status quo. Hydrogen as a fuel is a good example. It is high-tech, fashionable, sophisticated, popular, environmentally friendly, and it doesn't work. This last characteristic makes sure that its development will bring no changes whatsoever. Absolutely perfect for the bureaucrats who manage the research grant system.
Thinking about that, I feel like the centurion of Kipling's story, the one who dedicated his life to the defense of Hadrian's wall in Northern England. The Romans could not reform their Empire to survive decline; they fell in the trap of diminishing returns described by Tainter. And if the Romans failed in reforming their empire, who are we to think that we can reform research? Tainter's law is harsh.
But, if the idea is to make research more creative, we should think creatively. About the problems of the Roman empire, I said that there was only one solution and that was called "Middle Ages". The only way to save the Empire, intended as its culture, art, laws and all what goes under the name of "civilization", was to break it apart. In a way the solution to keep the Empire alive was to kill it. As the Zen Masters say, "when you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him!"
Could we think of something just as drastic for scientific research? Yes, it would mean to leave the tight world of the research grants and find new ways to perform better research - more independent, more creative. Moving, in a way, to an equivalent of "Middle Ages" intended as the break-up of the old, tight structure. And, think about that a moment, maybe there are already examples of this approach. Think of Wikipedia - it was not created by bureaucrats; it is a free sharing of information done by people who work for free. Think of "free and open source software," that has generated the Ubuntu operating system which I am using to write this post. Probably there are more examples of good work that can be performed not because you are paid to do it. It is said, after all, that "things done illegally are done most efficiently."
That doesn't mean that it is illegal to do scientific research without being told to do it by some bureaucrat, at least so far. But I think that some of the best scientific work I've done in my life (or perhaps the least bad work I did) has been done outside the boundaries of the granting system. A couple of examples are the papers on resource depletion that I and my coworkers recently published (here and here). All done on a strictly zero budget - but so what? Scientific research is about sharing, after all. I think we should at least try this approach.
With the gradual collapse of the Roman Empire, Roman poets such as Claudian could only write elaborate and shallow praises of those who paid them. That wasn't the end of poetry in Europe: at the same time, the great sagas of King Arthur and of Sigfried were being written outside the Empire's borders by unknown poets who knew nothing of the elaborate rules of Latin poetry. So great was their creative energy that their stories were told for millennia after them and are still known today. So, creative energies can survive declining times and that is perhaps true also for scientific research in our times.
Note: you may wonder why I am citing so much the Roman poet Claudian in this post about scientific research. Well, it is because I am preparing a post on the figure of Galla Placidia, the last Roman Empress who lived in the 5th century A.D. The historical sources from that period are scant and, therefore, even the poet Claudian may be used as a source of data. And perhaps I have been too harsh in my judgement; his poems have some charm.... ahem.... occasionally.
PART 3 ET FIN
In 2009, OFGEM belatedly realized that the “energy-only” electricity trading system that it set up in 2002, was no longer fit for purpose. This trading arrangement, called NETA, replaced the “energy + capacity” trading system put into place at privatization. Under NETA, generators have no incentive to invest in spare capacity. Now OFGEM and the Government have become aware that a completely new tariff structure will be needed to fund a properly diversified mix of privately owned, dispatchable generating capacity needed to meet the ambitious targets of the Climate Change Bill and the 20-20-20 targets, while also delivering energy security. Far too late, they are realizing that dispatchable “low carbon” capacity does not come cheap.
In fact, according to a recent news report, generators are now discussing with the government massive subsidies (to the tune of £10 billion) to build back-up gas-fired power plants that will stand idle for most of the time.
In all, it is estimated that between £100 and £200 billion of investments in offshore wind, transmission lines and back-up capacity are needed to realize the green dreams of the UK government. At this moment, the new Coalition government is studying a proposed Electricity Market Reform (ERM) that will determine the new tariff structure. This is merely the latest round in an endless series of “public consultations” and energy and global-warming related “white papers” that have been produced by the government in the last 14 years since liberalisation. (This included an announcement in 2003 that no new nuclear build was needed to achieve the UK’s climate targets followed by one in 2006 that said that nuclear energy is vital.)
The effect of all these U-turns and consultations has been to make the market extremely wary of committing money into the generation sector. The “money men” have not forgotten the introduction of the NETA energy trading system when many billions were lost by private generators who had invested in the UK generating sector under the old rules. The nuclear industry was bankrupted and had to be nationalized. Europe’s largest generator, Drax Power, was only saved by its bankers taking a longer view but at a huge cost to its then owner, AES.
The new trading rules that the Coalition is preparing come at a sensitive time, when the media are full of horror stories about price rises while millions per month are being spent by National Grid for compensating wind turbine owners whose output is being curtailed because of network congestion. OFGEM has said the investment required to ensure UK energy security and to decarbonise the power industry to 2020 could see consumer bills increase by anything between 23 and 52 per cent - equivalent to adding between £250 and £600 to today's average annual bill. There is a real risk that consumers “can’t pay and won’t pay”. Under these circumstances, the chances of separating £200 billion of private capital from its owners to be invested in the UK’s long-term “low carbon” vision must be slim indeed.
The challenges described in this paper cannot be fixed as long as they remain unrecognized by the people that we elect to write and abolish legislation. Elaborate roadmaps to 2050 and lofty-sounding calls for emission targets in the mid-2020s will be as pointless and useless to future generations as any such “road map” for the nation would have been if written in (say) 1910 or 1934.
Among the chief dangers that the UK faces in 2011 is the critical obsolescence of its electricity infrastructure, its essential bankruptcy and the absolutely unrealistic aspirations of almost its entire political class, although not its population, for a new, low-carbon, high-growth, job-creating, tax-paying economy.
The imminent closure of 16 GW of coal, oil and nuclear power plants and the realization that these simply cannot be replaced by the equivalent - or even much greater - wind power capacity, (even if it could be built, which is doubtful) is widely recognized in most senior echelons of the UK’s financial, manufacturing and engineering companies. Speaking at the recent Economist Energy Summit in London, Sam Laidlaw, CEO of Centrica, said: "We are rapidly approaching a tipping point in the energy story of this country and there is a risk that society is not being realistic about the path ahead. (…) Over this next decade three forces are coming together - our growing dependence on increasingly volatile world energy markets; our commitment to make serious cuts in carbon emissions; and our obligation as a society to ensure that energy remains affordable at a time of huge pressure on household incomes."
The problem is not unique to the UK. Major energy and concomitant trade deficits and even national bankruptcy are facing countries all over Europe. Europe cannot afford much more of the same.
It is probably pointless to try and get this message through to the EU’s present energy establishment, fixated as it is on perpetuating Kyoto and writing endless “2050 road-maps”. But given the extreme fragility of the UK’s economy, and the imminence of an electricity supply failure, it may still be possible to bring to the attention of the UK’s financially embattled Coalition, the extreme danger of its chosen policies, before the financial plug is pulled and its emission-related targets are exceeded by industrial ruin.
There can be no doubt that the UK must evolve an energy strategy that will liberate the economy from hydrocarbons as fast as possible. But its resources and financial circumstances are increasingly modest. The energy aspirations of its politicians are incoherent and technically illiterate. All this is about to come to a head with the transparent reluctance of international financiers to invest in the “green” economy. A huge U-turn lies ahead when it will have to plead with its EU partners for a derogation on the closure of the coal capacity and with EdF to keep the old nuclear fleet on the road, while developing a more realistic energy plan. This must almost certainly require the electrification of almost everything and the speeding up of nuclear capacity build, wherever possible innovating technically and reducing the costs by depending more on South Korea and China than our partners across the Channel in France.
Hugh Sharman is editor and co-founder of the Energy Blog DimWatt, a ‘campaigning web site dedicated to keeping the lights on affordably, maintaining mobility and the UK’s position as a manufacturing power in a fast-changing world’. DimWatt aims to bring together utility management personnel, academics, politicians, civil servants, professionals and concerned citizens ‘who are committed to rational discussion and debate on the challenges facing UK's energy infrastructure today’.
Sharman is also owner and managing director of the Denmark-based technical energy consultancy Incoteco, which he founded in 1986. He has over thirty years’ experience of expertise in providing consultancy services to industries and governments in the fields of energy and the environment. Recently he was the main author for the report “Wind Energy – The Case of Denmark”, published by the Danish think tank CEPOS. His current commercial focus is on the use of stationary electricity storage for integrating intermittent energy sources into grid systems. Most of his work in this area is on behalf of PD Energy which is developing the vanadium redox battery. He can be reached at email@example.com.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
PART 2 SUITE
Unfortunately, such “happy talk” is not justified by the facts. Firstly, many pure (dry) shale gas plays in the US are losing money at the low prices that cause such a high level of consumer optimism in the US.
Because of this, shale gas drilling in the US has more or less halved since 2008 and new drilling this year is focused on areas where the gas comes up with lots of much more profitable, associated hydrocarbon liquids.
Given the looming energy shortages, it is of course important to look for and where feasible extract shale gas. This would be worth doing at almost any cost so as to reduce Europe’s increasing and potentially crippling reliance on large and near-monopolistic gas exporters like Russia, Qatar and Algeria. These suppliers have no rational interest in reducing the price of their gas and every reason to pursue and maintain their target of price parity with oil.
But Europe must remain clear-eyed. The shale gas technology is not cheap when all its external (in particular, environmental) costs are fully taken into account. So the future of shale gas as a world and UK source of primary energy must, for planning purposes, be regarded as marginal at best, until its full costs of extraction and use are better understood
Any idea of a gas surplus is premature, to say the least. Note that the US remains a net importer of natural gas and is likely to be for many years to come. Also noteworthy, in the chart below, is how fast its truly cheap, conventional natural gas resource is depleting.
Over-optimism over the future availability and price of fossil fuels has characterized UK energy policy since the discovery of North Sea oil and gas. Optimism reached a peak under the Thatcher Government in the early 1980s which set the UK on the path of deregulating almost all activities concerned with energy production and use. An excellent paper by Oxford energy economist, Dieter Helm can be recommended for those interested in the history of “light touch” UK energy regulation during the years since.
Nevertheless, Thatcher’s government, made wary by the risk of further coal-mine strikes during the 1980s, at least did pursue the construction of another nuclear power plant at Sizewell on the south-east English coast that was commissioned in 1993. This was the last major power plant built in the UK that does not rely, more or less entirely, on burning natural gas.
The composition of the fuels used by the UK’s fleet of power plants has been revolutionized during the past 40 years, particularly by the arrival of “cheap” North Sea gas and its use in power generation from the early 1990s, as illustrated in the following chart.
Beside the massive reduction in coal use, note how rapidly the contribution from nuclear power has been diminishing of late.
The direct consequence of the UK’s hydrocarbon extraction policy, sometimes but inaccurately spun by politicians of all stripes as a positive contribution by the UK to CO2 reduction, is the loss of almost an entire, world-class hydrocarbon basin within the lifetime of a normal adult. The UK was never obliged to do this. Both the Netherlands and Norway have regulated the rate at which their oil and gas fields have been emptied more rigorously - and so will remain in the extraction business considerably longer, and will most likely obtain a higher extraction rate from their reservoirs than the UK.
Net hydrocarbon exports peaked at over 60 million tons per year in 2000, ironically at the bottom of the market. Since 2005, the UK has become a net hydrocarbon importer. Import dependency has grown by an average of 10 million tones of oil equivalent (toe) per year over the past decade, so by 2015, net imports are likely to be roughly the same as they were in 1970, around 100 million toe per year.
If the price of gas once more converges with the price of oil, the addition to the trade deficit, with oil at $750/t ($100/b) will be an additional $75 billion per year. If the oil price rises further, it is hard to see how the cost of the hydrocarbon trade deficit can possibly be covered by increased exports in goods and services.
The UK has become one of the largest gas consumers in the world. Only the US, Russia, Iran, China and Japan consume more gas. Most city-dwellers use gas for heating and the country’s electricity infrastructure has seen a huge increase in gas-fired power plants since 1990, now totaling 29 GW.
This is bad enough. Worse is to follow.
By or before the 1st January, 2016, under a treaty with its EU partners, the UK will lose 8 GW (Gigawatt) of ancient, polluting and inefficient, if well-functioning coal capacity and 3 GW of 1980s era oil capacity that is routinely used to cover peak demand. These power stations must close because in 2008 their owners chose not to add flue gas desulfurization equipment that is demanded of all EU power plants that burn coal or sulfur-containing oil.
In addition, by 2018, the roughly 10 GW of nuclear power capacity that was available in 2010 will shrink through obsolescence to 3.6 GW with further closures taking place in 2023.
The financial crisis of 2007 – 2009 resulted in a relatively small overall reduction in energy use, much of it in manufacturing. By 2010, with a weak financial recovery taking hold, energy demand picked up more or less to normal while peak electricity demand during the third cold December in a row, returned to levels last seen during the boom years prior to 2007.
Figure 10 UK electricity supply in MW for the 6th and 7th December 2010. Peak demand is around 6 pm daily.
It can be seen from the foregoing chart and from many similar instances all over North Western Europe, that winter peak power often coincides with very large, slow-moving anti-cyclones that bring extreme cold weather and almost no wind, and therefore little or no wind power output.
Further south, similar events in summer coincide with peak air-conditioning loads.
The chart shows that all the “doomed” nuclear, oil and coal-fired plants played a major role in keeping the lights on during the winter of 2010 – 2011. Total “firm” generating capacity stands today at around 72 GW. Clearly, no matter how much wind power is built, if the wind does not blow during periods of peak power demand, its capacity is worth more or less nothing.
The loss of 11 GW of reliable capacity during the next four years, along with 3.4 GW nuclear, almost 15 GW in all, risks precipitating a real capacity (keeping the lights on) crisis by the middle of this decade.
In a “free market”, with such obvious signs of coming, extreme stress in the system, one would expect generators to be lining up to deliver the obviously needed new capacity. There are, indeed, an impressive number of planned power stations, nearly all of them gas-fired. The major generators claim to be ready to build new nuclear power and “clean coal” power plants to replace obsolete capacity. A bright new future beckons during which the figure of £200 billion is regularly cited as the amount of money that “must” be spent to make the UK’s tatty energy infrastructure fit for the 21st century. In reality, however, we see that very few new power stations are actually being built. To understand why this is so, we have to look at the recent history of UK energy policies.
The idea behind the liberalisation of the UK energy market started under Margaret Thatcher was to have a free market in generation and sales and a government-regulated transmission and distribution system. Then Energy Minister, later Chancellor (Economics Minister) Nigel Lawson famously said at the time that “energy (should be) a traded good like any other commodity and its supply was to be settled in the market place”.
This has more or less come to pass. We have a regulated (privately owned) transmission company, National Grid, that owns the country’s high voltage transmission system (as well as the high-pressure gas transmission system). Almost all the major thermal power stations, fossil-fueled and nuclear, are now owned by six large energy corporations, EdF, Centrica, Eon, RWE, Iberdrola and Scottish & Southern Energy (SSE). Consumers are free to switch energy supplier and energy switching rates in Britain are among the highest in the world. Energy prices are not (yet) particularly high compared to the rest of the EU.
Yet all this is irrelevant if in the long term not enough investment is made in power generation while the UK at the same time is becoming dependent on outside suppliers. This will lead to an energy crisis no matter how “the market” is organised. And this is the reality we are headed for. Why is this so?
It should be noted that, rather than leaving the energy market “free”, the UK government has embarked on a hugely ambitious climate change program that has far-reaching impacts on the power generation market. In 2008 the UK Parliament voted through the Climate Change Bill and thus made CO2 emission reduction a legal requirement for the Nation, and not just for its own remaining tenure but all the way through to 2050. During the same year the UK Government agreed to implement the EU’s 20-20-20 targets, which require that the country will deliver 20% of its energy demand from renewable energy and reduce CO2 emissions by 20% by 2020, just eight years from now.
In addition, the Labour Government introduced an expensive subsidy, called the Renewable Energy Obligation. This obliges electricity companies to purchase an ever increasing fraction of their power from OFGEM-approved renewable energy resources. A Renewable Obligation Certificate (or ROC) rewards the wind turbine or biofuel generator with an agreed number of ROCs (between 0.5 and 2) per MWh, over a pre-agreed number of years, depending on which renewable resource the Government wishes to incentivize. The cost is met by the consumer to whose electricity account all of this is charged. The typical value of an ROC to any renewable energy generator since it was launched has been between £30 and £50; it is the subsidy the generator receives on top of the market price. So far, this subsidy has cost consumers £5 billion, with £1 billion in 2010 alone.
This is set to rise to £7 billion per year by 2020, representing an accumulated transfer from consumers to (mostly) wind developers of roughly £40 billion – enough money to pay for a respectably sized nuclear capacity.
So far this incentive is delivering only 6.5% of the UK’s electricity whereas the target for 2010 was 10%. The transparent failure of this incentivization programme to achieve its targets should have given the in-coming Government some warning. Instead, it ploughs on regardless, introducing continental–style feed-in tariff (FITs) for roof top PV (annual capacity factor about 6%) costing consumers anything up to 40p/kWh. This is a great way to further transfer funds from poor consumers to rich house owners. None of these renewable energy sources will deliver any firm capacity.