Why post-brexit immigration policy is doomed to failure

daryanblog

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We’ve had two reports come out over the last week regarding the post-brexit impact on immigration. One warns that already skill shortages are creeping in and that these will inevitably impact on the economy. Another report predicts that the brexit bigots are in for a nasty surprise, as its likely that brexit won’t produce any meaningful cuts in UK immigration. It will make little difference overall and simply mean trading EU migrants who come in for shorter periods (which we want, as it means they pay taxes and leave before they become a burden on the state in later life). While in return we’ll be getting more older UK citizens moving back home, or longer term migrants from beyond the EU (both of whom are generally looking to settle permanently).

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Surely both of these reports can’t be correct? Well yes they can be. Its just that both of them are feeling…

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The sound of silence

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Trump’s (racist, illegal, unconstitutional and utterly pointless) ban on Muslims entering the US is facing much international criticism. However the criticism from Muslim countries has been somewhat muted. Certainly some Muslim countries are responding, notably Iran and Iraq are considering reciprocal bans (and Iran and Iraq teaming up on anything should be setting off red warning lights in the US state department that this was a very bad idea). But you’d expect the Muslim world to be uniting and threatening sanctions against the US.

Keep in mind that OPEC still controls 60% of the world’s oil supply. Contrary to popular myth, fracking has not led to the US becoming independent of OPEC. Its still tied into the global oil supply system, so if OPEC embargoed the US, pump prices in America would skyrocket and the Dow would fall off a cliff. And Middle Eastern oil is a type preferred for applications such as petrol and gasoline for cars.

But for the many autocratic regimes of the Muslim world, Trump is the gift that keeps on giving. He is the poster child for everything that is wrong with Western democracy. This helps them domestically by getting pro-democracy types off their back. And who knows, maybe Trump will destroy American democracy altogether, eliminating the main threat to many Middle Eastern regimes.

Of course for the sake of appearances Muslim leaders have to pretend to be angry and make a show of it, but otherwise do nothing. That’s pretty much Theresa May’s plan (funny how the UK is now in lock step with so many authoritarian regimes). After all this Muslim ban applies to “the little people” not the elites of the Arab world. Saudi princes can still take their shopping trips to NY on their private jets. Why none of them would ever commit an act of terrorism! I mean can you ever imagine a family member of a wealthy Saudi construction firm, who’d been brought up in a westernised setting, going away and becoming a terrorist?

Egyptians, the UAE and Turkey are also exempt, which is is just as well given how none of those 9/11 hijackers were from any of those countries…..on no wait, all but one of them were from Saudi Arabia, Egypt & the UAE! I would note that Trump has business interests in all those countries exempt, not that this is influencing his decision making in any way! And of course any terrorist will have the good sense and civic duty to tell the passport control people he’s a Muslim and not enter on a false passport, or lie and tell them he’s a Christian or something like that.

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The case against article 50 and the hard brexit that will follow

daryanblog

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So MP’s are finally voting on article 50. Tory eurosceptic labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is calling on his MP’s to back the bill. After all we had a referendum and a majority backed leave. However I would argue, no, both labour and Tory rebels should not back article 50 and here’s why.

Well no firstly they didn’t get a majority. As I’ve pointed out before multiply the turnout of the referendum (70%) by the 52% and you come up with 37%. Now excuse my elementary maths, but isn’t 37% less than 50%? By definition a majority requires +50%. In most European countries a decision on something as important as this this requires a majority decision, not a simple plurality. And this ignores the millions who were excluded from the ballot (EU citizens, UK citizens leaving abroad).

The idea that the UK can make such a momentous…

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Northern Ireland and its RHI scheme controversy

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RHI (Renewable Heat Incentive) schemes are something I’ve long supported. In many countries the winter heating load can represent a significant proportion of carbon emissions. Recall only 20% of the UK’s final energy consumption is electricity, while 36% is heating. So such schemes can go a long way towards reducing carbon emissions.

So its a little worrying how such a scheme is causing major political problems in Northern Ireland. First Minster Martin Mc Guinness has resigned over the crisis, in an effort to unseat DUP leader Arlene Foster (who set up the flawed scheme). Early elections have now been called. This could potentially lead to the situation where the unionists lose their majority, meaning a breakdown of powersharing. While Sinn Fein would still need the support of smaller parties to rule, it could lead to a border poll in Northern Ireland. And post-brexit, its very difficult to predict the outcome of such a poll, nor the consequences regardless of who wins.

So, how can a scheme to encourage renewable energy run that far out of control? Stories abound of people being paid to heat an empty shed. Of subsides that paid out more than the cost of the wood that they burn, cash for ash the papers call it. Of whistleblowers who warned of the dangers being silenced.

Well firstly there’s nothing unusual about an RHI subsidy that pays more than the cost of the wood. Keep in mind a householder has to pay for the boiler in the first place. Most RHI schemes, the English or Scottish systems being good examples, stipulate that a building must be brought up to a good environmental standard. If you’ve got an EPC certificate, that means the building has to meet the recommendations it stipulates. As some RHI applicants will have been using electricity to heat their home prior to switching to biomass (the RHI is primarily targeted at rural dwelling off the gas grid who often have to pay through the nose for winter heating), they might have had to have had new radiators and plumbing fitted. All of this could add up to a bill in the tens of thousands of pounds. The point of the subsidy paying out more than the cost of wood, is that over the 20 years that the subsidy lasts for, all of those costs have to be paid off. So the point of the scheme is to give a useful payback period for the householder.

Also wood prices can vary depending on who you are. If you can your own fuel from your own land then it will be cheap (it will have some cost in terms of your labour thought). If you can buy it in locally it won’t be that expensive. But if it has to be delivered over a long distance, or you can only burn certain types of fuel (smokeless zone and all that), or you’ve limited storage capacity for fuel (so more frequent deliveries) all of these factors will push up fuel costs. Thus the subsidy has to account for the fact that some will be paying a lot more than others.

It’s also been generally assumed that wood prices would go up as these schemes became more popular, but this hasn’t quite transpired. This of course contradicts one of the arguments against biomass fuel, that there’s a limited supply. Instead, necessity being the mother of invention, some enterprising types have gone off and developed new wood supplies. For example, I’ve heard of some going around and collecting all of those discarded Christmas trees and chopping them up for fuel.

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Also most RHI schemes include a tier break (the Northern Ireland system doesn’t seem to include this). This means that the subsidy rate drops if the boiler is run for more than a certain period of time, typically 1,314 hrs at full boiler rating (about the average winter heating load in this part of the world). After this the subsidy paid is a lot lower, generally a good deal less (I seem to remember the old UK system used to drop from 8p/kWh to 2p/kWh). The idea of this is to encourage energy conservation. I would note that the Tories recently dropped the tier break from the domestic UK scheme, although they kept it for the non-domestic scheme. I think this was a bad idea and the reports from NI prove why. I’m all for subsidies, but not for wasting energy.

As for a shed, well if these media reports are true that’s a major flaw in the system. Out buildings are generally exempt from a domestic RHI scheme (the usual practice in Ireland and the UK is to leave these buildings unheated). They might be eligible in some regions for the non-domestic scheme, but would in any event need an EPC and be brought up to the appropriate standards and would be subject to the aforementioned tier break. If the NI scheme ignores this obvious loopholes then it is seriously flawed.

Also there are recommended indoor temperatures for buildings. I don’t have a copy of the NI building codes to hand, but I’m guessing about 12 Celsius for an outhouse in active use, probably 5 degrees for an empty building (frost protection). Now you calculate the annual heating demand for any such building on either of those two figures and the number you come up with should be fairly low. This is important because in most RHI schemes you have to declare how much heat you expect the building to use as part of the application. The sorts of figures being talked, even if we consider a shed or an outhouse as eligible (which is dubious) should have raised red flags straight away. Which does lead one to wonder what the DUP were up too….or indeed whether they were running the whole thing as a scam from day one.

Overall I do feel the media are making hay out of this one without fully understanding how these schemes work or what the objective of these schemes is. But certainly there are dangerous flaws in the Northern Irish system. Properly monitored these should have been spotted and corrected. But this is always the problem with Northern Ireland. It’s a province run by ideologues and populists of the Trump variety who simply don’t understand how a government is supposed to work. They want to simplify things, failing to understand often government red tape is complicated for a reason. Namely to keep things fair and stop some cute hoor pulling a fast one.

In short, if you think regular politicians are bad, the populist types in Stormont have been consistently worse (and to be clear, I include both Sinn Fein & the unionist in that statement). Voting for populists is like someone who complaints that their doctor isn’t very good, but rather than going to a different doctor, they instead go to some woo pedalling quack.

There’s also an ideological issue when it comes to conservatives trying to implement a renewable energy scheme. Their heart just isn’t in it. Inevitably you leave people who think renewable energy subsidies are just a scam (which is not true btw, I debunked that in prior post, although I am worried about the UK government’s CfD scheme) in charge of such a system, they’ll come up with something that is a scam.

If anything this whole sorry saga says more about the failings of NI politics and populism than it does about RHI schemes. One hopes that such schemes won’t now be cancelled as that would be throwing out the baby with the bath water.

Posted in Biomass, CHP, clean energy, economics, efficiency, energy, politics, power, renewables, subsidy, sustainability, sustainable | 1 Comment

Tories favour diesel farms over wind farms

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There are no sliver bullet solutions to the UK’s current energy problems. Wind power can certainly help, its led to big drops in the UK’s carbon footprint already, but only as part of a balanced energy diet within a grander overall energy strategy. However the Tories are hostile to wind power, preferring instead foreign owned nuclear and fracking, even thought neither is in a position to deliver any significant quantities of energy for some time to come.

This raises the risk of black outs if something isn’t done to plug the gap. So what is the Tory solution to this looming energy gap? Well instead of wind farms they favour diesel farms, clusters of diesel generators in fields up and down the country, subsidised by taxpayers I might add. If you ever want an illustration of everything that’s wrong with UK energy policy this is it, where to start with this one.

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Well for starters, diesel generators, while cheap to install are expensive to run. That’s why they are only ever used for generating electricity where there’s no other alternative (e.g. off grid power generation or backup generators). And with oil prices now on the way back up, those costs will start rising. They aren’t very efficient either. Yes a diesel engine in a car is more efficient than a petrol engine. But for power generation CCGT or IGCC plants have significantly greater efficiency. Potentially up to 55% efficient v’s at best 35-40% for diesel (once the BoP is accounted for).

This also means that diesel generators are far more polluting, both in terms of carbon emissions and in terms of all the other gunk that comes out of a fossil fuel plant. It beggars belief that someone can object to a wind turbine, yet look the other way to a bunch of these noisy beasts belching out carcinogenic fumes morning, noon and night. And again, if you are a UK resident, your paying for em. Carbon capture and storage is also a lot harder to implement with diesel farms than with the aforementioned gas cycle plants. So we lose that option too.

The irony is that I’ve long favoured the idea of distributed power generation, over centralised power stations. However, my preference is for CHP systems. They can run on a variety of fuels, including biomass or hydrogen (as a long term replacement for natural gas). And as we make use of the heat to meet winter heating demand (which represents a greater proportion of the UK’s energy demand than electricity remember), they are much more energy efficient, up to 85% efficiency is possible (so even running on fossil fuels, they’re 2.5 times better than diesel farms and nearly twice as efficient as a gas turbine plant).

So it would be all too easy to alter this policy slightly and achieve a similar result, just one that promotes renewable energy, cuts emissions, lower energy costs and helps keep homes warm in winter. So why is the government opting for diesel farms over CHP? Because CHP plant would be based in cities were the plebs live. You think home county toffs what money spent on keeping the great unwashed warm in winter! When instead they can earn a nice pot of cash putting a few diesels in some idle corner of their estate. Furthermore CHP might actually work (up to 40% of some European countries installed capacity is CHP), hence they’re will be no need for fracked gas or new nuclear plants. They are picking the worst possible energy option not despite it being so awful, but because it is so awful.

Any semblance of sensible energy policy has long been abandoned by the Tories. I think the UK’s post-brexit motto has to be go sell crazy some place else, we’re all stocked up here!

Posted in energy, fossil fuels, politics, power, renewables, Shale Gas, Shale oil, subsidy | 4 Comments

The populist authoritarian tribe of the demagogue

daryanblog

I came across a piece by the Guardian encouraging its readers to break out of their bubbles and go read the views of those on distinctly republican websites, such as Reason or the American Conservative. While I appreciate the intent, the fact is there’s not much point. Regular readers of this blog will probably notice I occasionally reference these websites myself. The problem is that conservative voters don’t believe in conservatism anymore, Trump proves that.

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One could characterise republicanism as founded on four pillars – religious conservatism, a belief in small government, fiscal conservatism and strong on security. Trump breaks all of these rules. He’s a thrice married sex feint who thinks married women are fair game, fantasises about his own daughter and may have raped multiple women (or so they allege). There’s a big question mark over his religious beliefs, he is certainly not a…

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What worries me about UK energy policy

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Figure 1: Thanks to the roaring Forties South Australia is installing increasing amounts of wind energy [Source: energyaustralia.com.au, ND]

There was a serious black out incident in South Australia last month due to high winds. Inevitably the anti-wind farm brigade were quick to blame wind farms and inevitably the media (who don’t know any better) were soon parrotting these claims. Is any of this true? No, not in the least. South Australia has seen a significant rise in renewables, in particular wind power over the last few years. They are now supplying 27% of the state’s electricity. However the fact is that the wind farms stayed up and running through the high winds and that it was the collapse of several powerlines that actually caused the black outs.

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Figure 2: Wind power has at times met a significant proportion of SA’s electricity demand []Source: The covnversation, 2015]

This is what worries me about UK energy policy. On the one hand there would be a silver lining to any possible power cut, as it would allow experts like me to rub it in the government’s face how they’d screwed up royal by failing to adopt a long term energy plan. I mean one of the first things Theresa May did in office was to close down the DECC! The UK should be prioritising energy efficiency in the first instance along side a strong push to roll out as much renewable energy as we can. Other countries have shown the way. At the same time there’s a need to build in more energy storage and distributed on demand generation (i.e. more CHP, ideally biomass powered at the expense of large fossil fuel power stations) to reinforce the grid against any possible interruptions to supply. However my fear is that the tabloids will inevitably blame wind energy and renewables, regardless of the evidence to the contrary.

And it almost happened a few years ago. In the middle of a powerful storm in October 2013, several power lines came down which connected one of the UK’s nuclear plants to the grid. This forced the plant’s two reactors offline. To make matters worse another nuclear station was also offline for repairs (this is the problem with the UK’s ageing fleet, they are much more fault prone) so the UK suddenly was left with a short fall of several GW’s of power. Fortunately, there was enough spare capacity between gas , hydroelectric and wind power to plug the gap. Although a number of the UK’s wind farms did have to derate as the winds peaked (although this didn’t happen to all of them and not all at the same time), given the high winds the UK’s wind turbines were doing quite well through that night.

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Figure 3: UK grid mix during the St Jude’s day storm [Source: climateandstuff.blogspot.co.uk, 2013]

However, the headlines in the newspapers next day wasn’t “wind & hydro power helps saves the UK from nuclear power black out”. Instead they focused on how one small wind turbine (the sort which a farmer might use to go off grid, not the big multi megawatt units) had fallen down in the high winds. They focused on how some of the wind farms went down for an hour or two (again not all of them and not all at the same time). Very few even mentioned the fact that a nuclear plant had gone offline and indeed was still offline a week later. Fewer still mentioned the reason why it was shut down (nuclear powerplants need electricity from the grid to power cooling pumps and control systems, they are forced to shut down and switch to backup generators if there is any interruption to their power supply, Fukushima was caused by the failure of those generators due to a Tsunami).

My fear is that regardless of the facts (we after all in the post-truth era), if there is any sort of a power cut in the UK, instead of accepting they need to change policy, instead the Tories will use it as a battering ram to implement the changes they want. They’ll probably try to stop power companies installing wind farms, ban solar panels, etc.. Keeping in mind there’s still some construction ongoing despite the subsidy cuts because energy companies see wind energy as a hedge against future high gas prices. They’ll throw yet more money at the nuclear lobby and shale gas drillers. And of course they’ll renege on the Paris climate treaty. Will this solve anything? Of course not, Hinkley C has taken ten years to plan and will take at least another ten to build (assuming its not delayed again) and produce some of the most heavily subsidized and expensive electricity in UK history. How in blue blazes will more of them solve a power shortage this winter or the next?

So there is a need to confront this reality in advance, the UK energy policy is a recipe for disaster. It is going to lead to less reliable and more expensive energy in future. It is going to make meeting the obligations placed on the country by the Paris accords impossible. This is a known fact, it has been pointed out to the government on numerous occasions. If there’s a power cut this winter, or anytime over the next few winters, it is the not the consequence of adding more renewables to the grid (not sure if the Tories have noticed but renewables “generate” energy, how can having more of something that generates power cause power cuts?), but the failure of the government to come up with a coherent policy, as well as their constant pandering to the climate denial brigade.

Posted in clean energy, climate change, efficiency, energy, Global warming denial, politics, power, renewables, sustainability, sustainable | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments