* Posts by Richard

8 posts • joined 27 Jul 2007

Wacky Jacqui defends Michael Savage ban


Gummer is right for once

The signs at Heathrow are high-handed and self-promoting. I don't want to read cant about UK Borders protecting me and to be challenged by people in nylon paramilitary uniforms. I want to be asked nicely to present the evidence of my right to enter by people in civilian clothing.

Century-old hydropower plant to run on fudge

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Bad habits

The Green bubble deserves pricking with the cold steel needle of Reason as often as possible(Oh dear, sounds a bit Jonathan Aitken), but watching Tim Worsthall and now Lewis stabbing themselves in the foot with it is getting tedious.

(a) the article was clearly talking about electric power, from context even if not explicitly

(b) yes, we know there are other components of energy use

(c) yes, we know that most media suggestions for energy saving are pure theatre and that the real problems are structural and significant reductions in use will require major rewiring of society (literally and figuratively)

(d) yes, small hydropower schemes are only economic when substituting very high energy costs - but "small" really does mean small: they can become sustainable at quite low kW. There is a lot of info on the web ifyou are interested in the optimal design types, typical cost per kWh etc. e.g. http://www.british-hydro.org/

(e) there is more to life than profit, i.e.reliability of supply. Make profit to live, not live to make profit. Also, current measures of profit neglect many externalities, so the threshold for profitability is likely to change in favour of smaller schemes than at present

(f) there are many hydro-resources that have been abandoned and could be easily rehabilitated (from mechanical to electrical power generation if necessary). Most of these are in the countryside and far from the grid, which gives them a transmission advantage for local supply

In summary, of all the kinds of schemes that get touted as being environmentally friendly, this one may have short-run drawbacks but it is exactly the kind of local micro-generation scheme that would flourish in the long-run, of lower emissions, higher energy prices, higher sensitivity to transmission costs, more decentralised generation and more emphasis on energy security.

Why waste your breath knocking this when charismatic mega-schemes for windpower and even wave power (Severn Barrage) threaten to waste capital and despoil the environment and nobody is protesting against them?

Mobile money - a helping hand for the poor?


Gold at the bottom of the pyramid....

I sat next to a very interesting chap from Sun at the Cambridge Ring annual dinner this year. He was in charge of getting 1 Bn Java SIM cards into the world, cheifly by riding the m-pesa and other mobile telephone payment systems wave. The stranglehold of Western Union is if anything stronger than portrayed, and the opportunity to build a banking and telephony system in tandem greater, particularly in the Middle East and Subcontinent.

We also got a keynote from Maurice Wilkes!

US dairyman inaugurates bovine biogas plant


Flatulence, not news

This is hardly newsworthy. Perhaps in California, but slurry digesters have been built and operated (and closed as uneconomic) in the UK (Holsworthy in Devon) several years ago. No doubt the Swiss/Germans/Scandiwegians got there even earlier.

There have also been chicken shit power plants, as it were.

New Ebola strain kills 16 Ugandans


mild is worse

One reason Ebola has not turned into a pandemic is because it is too virulent. It is a stupid virus that (a) lives in a under-populated jungle, (b) away from major transport links and (c) kills its hosts so fast when (d) it can only survive for short periods outside a live human.

Mild Ebola may be just what's needed to give Bird Flu a run for its money.

Nuclear accident messier than we thought


Windscale - 1957 inquiry

The most amazing thing about this - having just read it on the BBC website - is the live transcript of the original inquiry. It was completed in a handful of days, seemingly on site (given the repeated access to key staff and data) before the reactor had cooled.

Although it is common knowledge in an abstract way, it really brings one up short how, without computers, large amounts of the scientific data had to be calculated and plotted overnight by teams of scientists, to satisfy the demands for analysis from the inquiry board.

At one point, they say the calculation is impossible without a digital computer (which could probably be done on a scientific calculator twenty years ago) and offer an "analogue" instead. Not an analogue computer, an analogue system (using water - rather like the old economic model at the LSE) :-)

There is a real tension, as the physicists make bold approximations and the analyses are rushed to the board. It is masterful piece of scientific detection, and as gripping as a novel. Partly, this is our hindsight, making one hope that the inquiry do not follow blind alleys or grasp at the wrong data.

I accidentally clicked on it in the morning and could not put it down until I had read all 250 pages. The last hurrah of the Edwardian public service generation, a handful of experts calmly, gently, politely and magisterially question the various UKAEA staff and very quickly assemble a picture of what went wrong.

Read it and weep, for the hysteria, spin and ignorance with which it would be conducted today, by some grandstanding little shits.

Miserable Brits declare War on Comfort


Unintended consequences

Are patio heaters bad? Or rather, is their use of fuel and production of CO2 etc to take the chill out of a Northern European day/evening bad? Well, it is certainly worse than staying cold. However, staying cold is not the only choice people have:

1) They could choose to go on holiday somewhere warm for "winter sun", or move to Spain for the mild climate. If patio heaters enable the northern summer to be extended, reducing travel or emigration to hot countries, perhaps they are a good thing?

2) six couples around a table outside a pub nursing a pint under the patio heater vs three couples in their separate centrally heated houses, in teeshirts, watching widescreen televisions: which evening uses less energy?

It seems a great waste of energy (ha!) to debate the moral quality of patio heaters when they are an end-stage good of an entire economy built upon the dissipation of fossil fuel capital as income....

Reader succumbs to apostrophe apoplexy


Glibness v sophistry

Sophistry and glibness are synonymous. The original use of "sophisticated" was pejorative; sophists were silver-tongued liars, rhetoricians etc. The change in meaning might be considered an early harbinger of celebrity culture and pleb-dazzle. Maybe.


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