// because I'm trying very hard to get the final image out of my mind
// old guy here, my coworkers are younger than my kids...
Feeling old? Clapped out? Weary of the cut and thrust of everyday work? Looking for a role that pays shitloads of dosh while demanding no relevant experience or demonstrable skill, but chairmanship of the Co-Op bank remains tantalisingly out of your league due to your clean living and good character? Tough. Get back to work …
And the dark skies we have here in Sussex. Hang on, aren't they even darker than usual? Why yes, we seem to have another power cut. The fifth this year in fact.
On another note, the problem in the UK is not generating capacity as such. We actually have several mothballed power stations, some of which could be switched on within days. The real problem is the balls up of an electricity market where the incentives dictate that, for instance, gas powered stations can't be economically run (because one needs them to be running for at least 10 hours per day to make some money) whilst, at the same time, fields full of containerised diesel generators are being planted to cope when the wind doesn't blow.
In the meantime the DRAX power station is "converting to biomass". I can't imagine that is going to last when someone realises that, within a very few years, it will consume every burnable stick currently being grown in the UK (and probably Scandinavia as well) . It make a mockery of all that effort now being made to put back the forests that once covered the UK.
The biomass for Drax* is mainly wood chip from North America (by product of their timber industry, I hope trees aren't felled specifically for this purpose), transported by rail to the coast and then across the Atlantic in bulk carriers. How 'green' this really is I have no idea, but it ticks the right boxes.
* It's the name of the nearest village not, possibly surprisingly, the acronym of an evil organisation bent on world domination.
It's quite common for trees to be felled just to create wood chips, usually smaller trees or those severely twisted. I used to cut down trees for chip board during holidays form uni. The demand for cheaper furniture often means that the demand for wood chip is greater than can be supplied as a by product, however usually they use fast growing soft woods or young trees when thinning out forests.
Why shouldn't trees be felled for power generation? We're not talking immemorial elms and Amazon rainforests, but trees that are grown as a crop. It makes as much sense to deplore the use of potatoes for food.
On my drive to work I pass fields full of trees that are clearly being grown as biomass. I don't know what species they are, but they're spindly and close-packed. As far as I know they're harvested long before they grow into big trees. It's the modern equivalent to coppicing.
If you're UK-based then I'd say you're describing coppiced willow plantations. Willow has been coppiced for various uses, including firewood, for thousands of years and there's no reason why it shouldn't be used for power generation. So if the land area for 3 miles around Drax was planted with willow, that would be great.
I'm less certain about how much sense (other than financial due to the barmy EU carbon credit system) it makes to cut down trees 4,000 miles away on the other side of the Atlantic and then chip them and transport them to the UK. But what do I know?
"It's quite common for trees to be felled just to create wood chips, usually smaller trees or those severely twisted."
In the UK and Sweden, at least, its also quite common for such trees to have been grown specifically for this purpose. It's worth googling 'short rotation coppice' for specifics on the process...
Re: Welcome to the pretty countryside
...and by rail again from port to power station.
"Consultation on a freight specific charge for biomass"
"In the light of these arguments we consider that if we were to impose a freight specific charge on biomass there would be a significant risk that it could result in exclusion of the use of the infrastructure by biomass."
So, for now, the transport cost this side of the pond is not getting hiked up. Only a matter of time.
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@ Frederic Bloggs
I too find it amazing that our shortage of power is based on policy instead of capability. It is funny that developing countries want to produce electricity and struggle to do so while developed countries seem to be trying to not produce electricity. Its almost like people dont realise that electricity saves lives as well as makes our lives more comfortable.
Have you ever thought about what stuff stops working when the nimble amps go away?
no leccy and within a couple of weeks the few hundred thousand humans left alive will be living in caves and eating raw meat.
In the 70's the electricians 'worked to rule' as part of a pay dispute, after 1 day the govt. shat itself and caved. imagine how much more dependent we are these days.
"Caved in"? Not in the UK, the Ted Heath gov't royally shafted the electricians by removing the legal difference between a qualified Electrician who had completed a five year apprenticeship and an Electricians Mate who had only three years of basic training.
The result was that the qualification was debased and the quality of sparkies dropped like a stone.
Just to give you an idea of the volume of wood that DRAX might consume: I have a 25KW (nominal) gasifying wood log boiler that is 92% efficient. During the heating season I put through about 1m3 of dry waste wood every week (it depends a bit on how much hardwood there is in the waste). A m3 of dry wood weighs about 350-500Kg (again depending). Double->triple that for freshly felled logs. Fresh (> 20% moisture content) wood will reduce efficiency by up to 80% (depending on species and water content).
Each of DRAX biomass sets will burn about 2.4 millon tonnes rising to 7.5 million tonnes in 2017 when they all convert. It is claimed that they will need 1.2 million hectares of forest on a continuous basis to supply this. I think that they are using optimistic growth factors for their forest regeneration to get something as low as this and, in any case, the US (unlike the UK and Europe) is not noted for restocking and managing their forests. They are still mining virgin forest there. And that 7.5 millions tonnes will be mainly wood pellets and thus dry. That implies at least double the weight per year of actual trees.
Alistair, thank you for this start to the weekend!
The same happened to me, except for the being spotted crawling pants down part. I simply finished my business in the dark and used to light of the mobile to locate the paper and navigate out of the bog cubicle after getting fully dressed.
It may be the product of growing up in places where the power was flakey* but I don't get the panic.
Its not rocket surgery: finish task at hand, find paper dispenser by feel, wipe nether regions, raise strides and secure. You really should have done these tasks enough times by to be able to do them without visual clues. The next bit can be tricky but there are only so many ways a cubicle door catch can operate. Think of if as a test: if I can't escape a toilet cubicle in the dark should I really be playing with other people's expensive equipment?
Number ones are actually more of a challenge as you must remain calm and steady when the lights go out if you are to avoid splashback and/or ruined shoes. The upside is you don't cut the back of your hand open groping for the paper dispenser leaving an unseen trail of blood that causes a panic when the lights come back on.
Once free and with everything stowed for transit, my experience is there are plenty of clues as to the way out. If all else fails, listen for distant swearing. The biggest danger are those double door systems with you trying to open the inside one at the same time some over eager twat with a torch comes barging in the outside...
* Darwin at the end of 1970s was particularly memorable: local folklore had it that Dr Who was a major cause of blackouts. When the season started a large portion of the populace would turn on the goggle box at 6PM, the resulting extra load would cause the little mouse running in a wheel at the power plant just out of town to go on strike.
The distinct lack of urinals should also be be a key indicator of being in the wrong area altogether.
I, too, have been caught out by out toilet lights off system, but managed to wipe, flush, and escape without injury or embarrassment. I think they lengthened the time after pretty much everyone taking dump got caught out in the first couple of weeks.
I remember them well. (Along with the Big Freeze of '62 / '63)
Generally, we just put up with it and got on with life. Nowadays, people seem to expect "someone" to "do something" and then sit on their arses whining until normality is resumed.
A shame we can't harness the energy of all the bitching; that seems to be inexhaustible.
We had a box of candles, and the front room had a car battery and a couple of headlamp bulbs. What did we do when there was a power cut? Listened to the radio and read a book.
(It was curious that there was never a power cut while Star Trek was on - the Seeboard men must have watched it too!)
We got out the ornate toasting fork, took the safety grill off the living room gas fire, pressed a few rounds up against the fire blocks and marvelled in eating an almost warmed-through piece of bread that tasted of unburnt gas and was faintly back-woods style (crispy on the outside but uncooked in the middle - but at least the grid of burnt rectangles was different)...
I was a 70's baby, and my mum was washing me in one of those baby-bath-on-a-stand things when the lights went out. Being a well prepared mum she had a candle and box of matches on the bathroom shelf, being a sleep-deprived mum she accidentally knocked my bath stand over while reaching for the candle & matches. She immediately got down on hands and knees to find me as quickly as possible, the candle already forgotten in her haste. Apparently it took her ages to locate me in the spare room at the other end of the house, as I'd surfed the entire length of the corridor on a wave of bathwater.
"Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling IT journalism, editorial training and digital publishing. He wonders whether gravity – not the Sandra Bullock film, the big mass planety attracty thing – could be the future of free power generation"
If there is any possibility of sending mass upwards on a laser after reducing its' mass temporarily (not sure if it's actually possible, but I can imagine it so it might be) you could then let it drop and run the dynamo.
Rinse and repeat as long as the energy in vs. out match up.
Far, far back in the mists of time, when I was a PhD student working at a very respectable research establishment in Hertfordshire (hint: used to belong to John Lawes), I suffered an unfortunate accident involving a door that ought to have been cordoned off, a lack of lighting and an open manhole. To add insult to injury, falsified security records got me a bollocking off my head of department afterwards.
Subsequently I obtained a pocket-sized torch and ever since have made a strict habit of always carrying some form of small light source with me wherever I go. Fenix make some very nice ones these days, tiny but durable to survive in a pocket together with one's small change. Such devices are also useful for drawing attention when walking down unlit roads by night.
"Fenix make excellent torches."
And the Chinese, not to be outdone, make excellent copies of them, for a fraction of the cost. I have several, and on e in the glove compartment of each vehicle. The ones that run on CR123 Lithium cells will be fresh and ready to use when you need them, unlike those that use AA cells.
I bought 3 Cree 9W GUI10s for the bathroom to when one of the halogens blew after about 4 years of use. The first bulb failed after about 10 minutes, the second 5 minutes later tripping the breaker. They looked naff anyway, so back in went a sub £1 halogen rather than a £7 LED. Luckily Amazon gave a full refund.
compared to the author ( being born at the end of the 70's) I do not remember rolling blackouts, however we have been in a few situations where the power was out for a number of hours ( one time was when an exceptionally smart individual wanted to chop down the local power pole, with an electric chainsaw) Back in the day, for us poor kids, there was no such thing as computers and such, so we whiled away the hours, reading, playing some sort of game, that never seemed to have all of the pieces, or something else as inane sometimes just seeing what will burn in the candle flame, it was not really a big deal, aside from the lack of being able to put on the kettle, and the stove being electric ( though I can imagine after a few more hours the lack of something to dunk digestives in would have started a small war)
So fast forward to the new millennia, I have family of my own, we live in an apartment somewhere in Chicago, and the power goes click ( it always seems to go 'click' and there is always a REAL silence, the same sort of deathly silence you get when the power drops in a server room, the sound of silence, or more accurately it seems like the extraction of sound) anyway after the initial "oh crap" the adults bump around the place trying to remember where we put torches and candles and the kids think it is all exciting.
Candles are lit, some dusty tome is recovered and life continues, for us at least.
However, now, the sudden realization that NOTHING is working has infiltrated the younglings brains, as they attempt with futility to get the TV and VCR to work, the computer does not turn on, not even the bedroom light will obey their constant switching! ( they obviously thought we were just strange reading by candle light, you know that thing OLD people do).
So now a new game starts... find the batteries!, the frantic digging in drawers and under beds, the cursing because the torch has D sized and the tape/cd player needs C or AA.
Then the submission, submission to the fact there is no hope of being entertained by anything other than 'legacy' devices, unfortunately the inability to find any games to play, or even a book to read, or pencils to colour with ( thanks to the previous mad search for portable power devices) so they give up and go to bed early.
win-win for the old people
my latest ploy is to ensure the remaining homebound childs laptop only has a battery capable of sustaining power for approximately 5 minutes,.
VCR - are you serious?
Why not? I still have a couple of VCRs. I have quite a few videotapes with content I occasionally like to view, and there's no pressing reason to seek it out in some other form.
One of my VCRs is a Panasonic unit I bought in 1990. Found the receipt for it a couple of months ago. Still works fine for the most part, though a non-Y2K-compliant UI means I can no longer set the date correctly (and indeed haven't been able to do so for most of its life).
@Nifty "which is about how long your DAB radio will run for as you listen for new about when the power returns"
@monkeyfish "Then get a different DAB radio"
I have a Pure Move 400D. Portable with built in Li-Ion battery which needs charging about once every three months (yes it does get used a lot - always on DAB - as a bedside radio/alarm). Charger is std mini-USB so can charge from a USB socket or the myriad USB phone/gadget chargers out there.
I suppose the only problem is that the battery isn't really user replaceable (it probably is, but not in the way AAs are replacable). I hope there is no one on the Register forums that objects to gadgets with batteries that aren't user replaceable?
I live in Northern Ireland, where a long tradition of putting fuckwits in charge of utilities because they're members of the right golf club ensures that we get loads of power cuts. Couple of years ago, after some workmen had been out to do some maintenance on the cabling, everyone in the street went outside to watch the exciting sparks as it started to explode in the rain. Have to say, I enjoyed that: if you're going to have total and utter incompetence, make it entertaining.
The way to reduce demand is to put prices up - it's working. People are looking at their power usage - both commercially and privately and looking at ways of reducing consumption. In our IT firm we have done lots of power and cooling reductions - containment, free air cooling, virtualisation of legacy and net new - all of this has reduced power demands and their associated costs.
In personal usage this is less easy - tablets take less power than traditional PCs. You still need your washer and driers which consume lots of power but even there, people are making choices around eco-friendly versions. Insulation helps. Personal solar helps. But much of this requires investment up front, and can only go so far in reducing necessary consumption.
So we also need additional and spare capacity - forget wind, water, solar - a minor drop in the ocean in terms of contribution. We should invest heavily in new Nuclear and get it on line quickly.
> But much of this requires investment up front
Yes, so it screws the poor. Which is unfortunate when rising prices are a result of market forces, but downright nasty when the prices are deliberately engineered upwards by our lords & masters for our own good.
Am I the only one who finds the whole thing about "Motion" sensors in toilets a deeply disturbing concept?
How do they work? A covert camera in the pan, aimed at the sitter's posterior, continually monitoring for the required defecatory action and plunging you into Stygian darkness if the required turds do not manifest themselves in a timely fashion?
As to electricity, well - if there _are_ power-cuts in future I just happen to have a little 3.5Kw Diesel genset and 1000 litres of fuel on standby. Meantime, the annual dividends from my investment in electricity-companies a couple of decades back easily cover their charges, leaving enough over for the obligatory bottle or two of Château d'Yquem for New Year.
The company I used to work for used, ahem, moving people detectors in the loo - but again, not in the cubicles, though the timeout was long enough not to cause embarrassment.
Strangely, the loos were the only places where people-detecting lights were used; the staffing level was high enough that the lights turning themselves off was very rare. On the other hand, the rest of the building - which had large windows and was brightly lit by sunlight for much of the time - had the lights manually controlled and they were left on all day every day, even in areas that saw little use.
Once, they asked for ideas on how to enonomise. All responses were completely ignored.
Every so often, we got notes round telling us to remember to turn our PCs off when we went home at night and turn the light off in the kitchen (just an alcove off the main office area). The general reaction: "Why the hell should we?"
Sounds unsafe to me.
The washroom where I work has a couple of LED lights that stay on (also have battery backup) when the main lights go off, only 2-3 watts. Not enough to read by but enough to see what you are doing.
Having all the lights go out sounds like something the BOFH would think up.
Being a certified 'old fart', one of the things I learned some years back was to always carry a keychain flashlight. With the current LED technology, it's small, bright and useful in many ways, not the least of which is searching out that connection on the back of the PC under the desk. Also has in the past been useful in just the situation you found yourself in.
Want a workable (virtually)perpetual motion machine?
Open a an entrance to wormhole in a gravity well, pointing upwards, place the exit some distance further away on the z-axis pointing towards the entrance.
Now drop a mass into the entrance...
Now I say virtually, as eventually the gravity well will be destroyed.
We just need stable wormholess that don't take require power to remain open now, see you in the 49th century ;)
I got one of those things we used to joke about years ago, a solar-powered torch, from a hundred-yen store in Akihabara. Small calculator-sized solar panel, a tiny rechargeable battery and three white LEDs on the front. Runs for several minutes and charges on the desk -- wirelessly! -- when the lights are on. Only thing better would be a RTG-powered torch.
I've got one of those tritium-capsule thingies hanging on a desklamp in my bedroom so I know where the lightswitch is. I got it mail-order from some bunch of shysters on the Web somewhere, I forget their name but their website's logo had a vulture's head on it, now who could they have been...
I've been thinking about RTG torches, too. The constant heat is an issue, so you wouldn't want more than a gram or so Pu238 (0.5 watts thermal) in there and would want to use the whole aluminum (presumably) frame as a heat spreader. You'd be lucky to get 0.05 watts of electricity out of it, which would directly power a rather sad LED or would nicely top-off a rechargeable battery in the hours it wittled away in your pocket.
Alas, a lot of places get twitchy about handing out even gram fractions of plutonium.
Performing as a comedy piano song duo.
Richard Stilgoe - I think it was this way around - launches into a parody of a big hit of Skellern's.
"This is the Ladies' - I'm a man,
Where am I - supposed to stand"
Skellern, judging by the sound, slams the piano lid on Stilgoe's fingers.
I'm a bit late chipping in but here are two comments.....
1) About 15 years back, the company I was working for took on a new recruit. A networking guy in his early 30's, who had come from the power industry, and work on "safety critical" systems. During the first few weeks/months whilst fitting in with the team, he would chat about his previous employment. Even back then he was commenting that the power industry was heading into a huge black hole (which the power companies were all aware of), and that by 2015-2020 the UK would be in a major power crisis: - old power stations (30-40 years old) were being or were scheduled for shutdown, coal was coming to an end, "green pressure" was starting to bite on all fossil fuels, the UK had not researched or kept up with nuclear development since the 60's, etc, etc, etc, and meanwhile our appetite for electricity was forever growing - not just at home, but our business in those days of the mid/late 90's was data centres and PoP's which were starting to appear and munch through kilowatt hours at an alarming rate.
2) At around the same time, give or take 5 years or so I was driving one morning up the M6. I was stabbing the buttons on the car radio and ended up on some local station somewhere. There was an article on the news about a power cut the night before which had left umpteen thousands of homes in the area with no power all night. After the news the DJ stepped in to have a little "backchat" with the newsreader and commented that he was one of the homes that had been blacked out. He and his wife had to fumble around in the dark to find if they had some candles and matches somewhere, whilst his kids thought it was really exciting and spooky with no power, and thought that candles were only for birthday cakes and couldn't actually be used to produce "real" light. He then went on to say, that after five - ten minutes the kids started to realise there was no TV, no DVD, no computer, no cordless phone, no microwave, no warm food, no light in the fridge, no heating, no light to see anything by anywhere except a couple of solitary candles, and then started to get really stressed about the lack of electrcity. The DJ/newsreader then went on to comment about how reliant we were now on electricity compared to when they were youngsters (aka in the 70's) when such things were relatively frequent and how we are not prepared for it, and how his kids had never ever experienced a power cut or had any concept that such things happened.
I'm not sure why I remember both anecdotes so clearly after all this time, but there was obviously a connection between them, and I guess it started to make me think about what to do if the power is off for more than 15 minutes every five years, or whatever we take for granted these days.
I'd be happy if it were only once per year (well, less annoyed anyway), but we've had 6 so far this year (town outside Newcastle Upon Tyne), and a friend down in Dover has had several in the last few months alone.
Wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the fact it also caused spikes that fried several servers, a couple of hubs and a couple of test machines (got kit for protection against surges, but not spikes (yep, completely my fault)), requiring a lot of kit be replaced.
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