26 Oct 2011, 12:48pm
peak oil:
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  • The odious energy minister Chris Huhne calling people names again

    Students of irony don’t need to pull me up on the reflexive irony in the title :) The reason it’s okay for me to call Chris names is because this is my blog and my opinon, and Chris isn’t one of the people whose wishes I represent as a politician. So I get away with being an opinionated twat. Whereas he doesn’t, and gets to take flack for it. Apparently all those NIMBYs who don’t like onshore wind farms need to sort themselves out, an in the immortal words of Nicholas Sarkozy to David Cameron, “you have lost the opportunity to STFU”:

    “I want to take aim at the curmudgeons and faultfinders who hold forth on the impossibility of renewables. The climate sceptics and armchair engineers who are selling Britain’s ingenuity short.”

    Now our Chris has got previous, as they’d say in the East End of London, after all even his mates counsel discretion before defending him.

    I’m not actually a million miles away from Chris – we are going to have shocking problems with energy supply. The big boost of North Sea oil that allowed Thatcher to do her privatisations of the power industry has run out. However, I note that even such armchair engineers and curmudgeons such as David “sustainable energy without the hot air” McKay doesn’t have wind as a major part of most of his future UK wind scenarios, and the one that does, Plan G, is probably best described as ‘rabid Green Party scenario’. David McKay described the rationale as “I call this “plan
    G,”  because I guess the Green Party don’t want nuclear or coal, though I
    think not all Greens would like the rest of the plan. Greenpeace, I know,
    love wind, so plan G is dedicated to them too, because it has lots of wind.”

    There doesn’t seem to be significant political support for that approach otherwise it would be the Green Party, not the Liberal Democrats who would be in coalition with somebody and the odious Mr Huhne would be out of a job.

    McKay also raised several serious technical issues to do with the high peak to mean ratio of having a lot of wind, and unlike most of Huhne’s curmudgeons and the usual wing-nuts he cites the issues, sources, and possible solutions. Oh and he knows what he’s talking about, probably more than our Chris does…

    The big PR trouble with wind is that it’s big, it’s tall, it sticks out for miles, and it moves, all of which draw attention, in the “What the heck is THAT doing there” sort of way. It’s got some place in the mix, but what I want the Government to do with it’s power strategy is to have a vision of which, if any, of David McKay’s scenarios it thinks is right for the UK, and make a reasoned case for that on a cost-benefit basis. I don’t currently see that, we seem to have a emotive “we need a load of Wind, now, to be seen to be doing something”.

    Wind is a great way to be seen to be doing something precisely because it’s not shy and retiring on the PR front. I know that being seen to be doing something is often considered almost as good as doing it properly, but when you are up against physics you actually have to do it, faking it doesn’t work :(

    It’s possible I’ve missed that analysis, but it doesn’t seem to be promoted much. After all, the UK government isn’t unaware of Peak Oil , with the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Peak Oil and Gas.

    So, Chris, can we have less of the name-calling and adverse briefing, and more about what the wind target is, how much of the total mix it is going to represent, and how it will work with all the other future energy sources your department is promoting as well as wind? Even in scenario G it isn’t a one-horse race. Other stuff has to happen too, indeed the Other Stuff is needed to smooth the peak-to-mean ratio of the wind component.

    21 Oct 2011, 1:13pm
    rant:
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  • China Investment Corporation to Europe: Too much welfare has made you slothful and indolent, but you can turn it round

    Straight talking from Jin Liqun, head honcho of the Chinese Investment Corporation (China’s sovereign wealth fund). He hits us straight between the eyes speaking to Channel 4

    The root cause of trouble is the overburdened welfare system, built up since the second World War in Europe – the sloth inducing, indolence inducing labour laws.

    It has to be said, I warmed to the old boy, both for his refreshing directness, and also for his manner. He seemed genuinely puzzled how a region like Europe which has achived much in the past could persistently screw up in the way it is doing. Jin Liqun speaks from 4:31 in the video below, and he really did say sloth inducing :)

     

    I was reminded of his words when I read this curious article in the DT on “Teenagers failing to study tough subjects”  What counts as a tough subject, I wondered – they are

    English, maths, science, languages and either history or geography

    So what the heck are they studying? I can’t think of any subject I could have taken at 16 that isn’t covered there, with the exception of art and music. At school these “tough subjects” were the only subjects available to me! Okay, so they broke out science into Physics, Chemistry and Biology then, and English into English Language and English Literature which is how I got to do 10 O levels. Sadly the DT didn’t enlighten me what people are taking at 16 instead, I have the feeling that this may have something to do with Jin Liqun’s wry observations.

     

    18 Oct 2011, 10:10pm
    peak oil rant:
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    5 comments

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  • We need Energy price transparency, don’t just tell us to switch, Dave

    Not content to let the odious Chris “need for speed” Huhne to tell the proletariat to switch suppliers, Cameron weighs in on the same theme too.

    The trouble with the UK energy market is that the Big Six do their damnedest to make their pricing conditional, obscure and impenetrable, they’ve also put in perverse misincentives to save energy.

    Forget switching. You want to know the cheapest way to save on the electricity bill? It would be to join forces with your adjacent contiguous neighbours and have two drop service and share the remaining connection. No I haven’t told you how to implement it because though it’s easy enough to do this sort of information is highly dangerous in the wrong hands. And do bear in mind that adjacent houses are often fed from alternate phases, which might give you concern on maintaining earth integrity with PME installs, among all the other things that could go wrong ;) The energy companies Ts & Cs usually disallow this sort of thing explicitly, by the way.

    The reason this would work is that you are charged a standing charge per connection, either explicitly or obfuscated as a higher cost for the first few hundred units you use. Not only is that ripping you off, it is a major disincentive to reducing energy costs. I get charged a standing charge of over one unit of electricity a day – my usage is about three a day so a quarter of my bill is standing charge.

    There are other perversities in the energy market. For no good reason suppliers churn the rates every year, with the aim of shifting their customers onto the expensive standard rate while being able to offer new customers incentives. Combining the two fuels gives them more freedom to hike prices without being too obvious. Sometime they will tell you they have heroically held one fuel price, in which case you can be pretty damn sure the other fuel has been jacked up to compensate. And check the standing charge, or the usage breakpoints, all good places to hide bad news.

    I have used EDF for a year. They wrote me they are going to hike charges, so I entered my usage into uswitch, and lo and behold I could save £80 relative to the new cost with a bunch of suppliers. One of which was EDF, surprise. So I rang them up, lost half an hour of my life to get through to switch to the quoted tariff. Punks. It’s like with insurance, every damn year you have to go to something like confused.com just to get the price back to what it was last year.

    Sharing services across households would work with broadband service, and Sky (using the second box option, though both have to be connected to the same phone line) which are easier to share with your neighbours ;)

    Anyway, back to Mr Need for Speed, who tells use we should switch more. Well, yes, maybe, but perhaps it is the job of Government to regulate so that all providers have to couch their offers in comparable language, and not churn their prices? You have to give an equivalent APR for loans, so how about all firms having to give an equivalent annual cost for electricity and gas for low, average and high usages, as defined by Ofgem?

    While we’re on the subject of transparency, Mr Huhne, it is disingenuous to say

    No government can control volatile world energy prices

    without adding

    But the government has decided to add 7% to your bill in green energy taxes

    Now green energy may well be a good thing, after all Peak Oil may make that 7% a worthwhile investment. However, blaming the price rises on the devaluation of the pound and world energy prices without acknowledging that a fair amount of the hike was the result of deliberate government policy is disingenuous. Our Chris then goes for the cuddle factor to soften the blow, telling us

    We have also increased the electricity bill discounts available for the fuel poor by two-thirds, guaranteeing £120 off their bills to more than 600,000 of our most vulnerable pensioners.

    Well, yes, Chris, but since you were part of making some of these guys fuel poor by adding to their bills, and these discounts don’t come from your back pocket or the Fairness Fairy, I get to take a second shafting as my bills go up proportionally more to pay for the discounts, and for other people’s solar panels and feed in tariffs. Cheers, Chris, have one on me, mate.

    multifuel log burner

    Now energy is going to be a major pain in future, and I’m happy to tell Chris that I am not paying proportionally anywhere near my fair share for his impoverished pensioners, feed in tariffs and damned wind turbines because I have attacked my power usage and I am in the process of reducing my heating bill by using the low-tech alternative of wood, so he can take his renewables tax and stick it where the sun doesn’t shine. Energy costs are going to keep an awful lot of people in wage slavery in the years to come, and reducing costs by gaining control of the means of production is my preferred approach to independence, from rapacious energy suppliers, misguided Liberal Democrats with a disdain for the proletariat and Russian gas disputes.

    I might as well save some of my ire for Dave CamerHuhne, who delivers himself of this priceless quote

    We can’t control volatile world energy prices. But we can still help people get their bills down.

    No you can’t mate. The best they can do is keep the bills about the same. Not only has your buddy Mervyn King devalued the currency with extreme prejudice and intent to do more, which makes imports dearer, but gas and electricity have more than doubled in unit cost in recent times. I have dropped my usage by a third, but I can’t reduce my gas bills of late. All that is happening is mine goes up by less than most people’s. I’ve managed to press my case a lot better with electricity, but there is more you can change there.

    Lazy day in Southwold

    Southwold is one of our favourite local haunts, and today it was the pier that called us. The pier strikes a good balance between child-centric amusements and places for a wider clientele. The Clockhouse tea shop does an excellent tea and cakes; in my case coffee and cakes because I don’t do tea before 5pm…

    Southwold from the pier

    Looks like today is the last day of sunshine before a cold spell, just the sort of bright sunshine with the hint of a nip in the air that Southwold pier is made for. Lunch was local Blythburgh sausages for me, we had passed the pigs on the way up from Ipswich, and Mrs Ermine went for the more adventurous option. I was kind of relieved that you don’t get to eat the heads…

    Prawns and white wine

    The amusements are at the start of the pier and the rest of it is dedicated to a classier, if somewhat twee and rinky-dink retail therapy. There are the quirky madcap Tim Hunkin’s Under the Pier Show  amusements halfway along that seem to work for adults and school-age kids alike. Halfway along the pier his water clock draws a decent crowd on the hour and half hour, as the repressed British middle-class psyche gets to idulge in a little toilet humour while watching Hunkin’s figurines pissing in the pots to start the mechanical action ringing in the hours and half-hours.

    Crowd assembling to watch Tim Hunkin's water clock strike the hour

    We normally manage to get out of the crafts and knick-knack shop without getting tapped but today was our day to be big spenders and get a wine bottle stopper for £4.25. It’s a dirty job supporting the British economy but somebody has to do it :)

    Crafts and knick-knack shop at the end of the pier

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    11 Oct 2011, 10:59pm
    personal finance simple living:
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  • How much do Mr and Mrs Ermine need to live on?

    Commenter TNT was intrigued to know what The Number is – how much do Mr and Mrs Ermine need to run their Nest.

    We’re anomalous in many ways, so you can’t extrapolate from this a general ‘what does it cost to live in an average paid off three bed semi in Suffolk’. There is a wider and more consensual summary in the post What is your Number. For instance we don’t have any children. That is obviously a big difference from most folks, and from a financial POV it is probably to our advantage. We also, unusually for Westerners, have control of some of the means of production of our everyday needs, in the form of The Oak Tree Low-Carbon Farm. This massively distorts our food bill, most people buy their veg from Tesco, we get most of ours from the ground.

    Chris with the squash harvest. There are no Clubcard points on this lot...

    We also get firewood, both directly from the farm, from wood that is given us which we have enough land to air dry, and in a year or so from some biomass willow planted nearby. This distorts our heating bill, though not so much as yet. The plan is to nuke that gas usage in winter.

    So here it is – the running costs for our household. Two things of note are excluded – I’ve only shown my car. Mrs Ermine’s car is a lot younger than mine so the servicing costs are probably less, and her mileage is probably about the same as mine. Depreciation (original capital cost/years of ownership) is higher. There again we save up for our cars and pay cash, so I could take the line we eat the depreciation upfront in one hit.

    The second is some sort of sinking fund for depreciation/house repair, which is somewhere between £500 and £1000 p.a. for an average semi. I have a general emergency fund allocation to that, for instance there’s a flat roof that is past its service life and I have a fund allocated to replace it. Since DIY repairs every couple of years seem to work well I leave well be, knowing that I could replace it at any time should the need arise.

    So, given all those caveats and hedges, what gives? What does it cost to run the basics for an Ermine’s nest?

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    6 Oct 2011, 12:54pm
    economy
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  • Cameron says Britons should pay down debt, then flubs it

    Dodgy Dave, trying to scrape the barrel in searching for the last vestiges of grit in the British collective psyche, started off well by suggesting we “man up and pay down your credit card, suckas”. Well, he put it with an Eton twang in different words, but that’s what he meant. Apparently we have run up a collective credit card bill of £57Bn.

    So far so good, but he backtracked when he was warmed up to the paradox of thrift and the British Retail Consortium suggested this was incompatible with growth. That’s always the trouble with debt, it never looks like a good time to pay it down, because the original good time you had running up the debt is now a distant memory, and you get to miss out on new good times.

    The trouble is, that debt means that somebody owns you. Some of the time you can run away from the debt, with a bankruptcy or an IVA. In a modern capitalist society you need to either have no assets, in which case you can do that. I can’t do that, because I have assets and I presume I’d get cleaned out of assets before I could walk away from the rest. So I avoid buying stuff I can’t afford.

    Even if you don’t walk away from it, debt limits your options. Owe a mortgage on a house and you can’t afford to take time out from your job or shift your work:life balance to less work and more life. You have to pay high rates of tax if you need to spend the money you are left with on the debt you incurred servicing your lifestyle. One of the other paradoxes of thrift is that once you have reduced your outgoings by eliminating debt (and a mortgage is still a debt) you can save at a much higher rate, because you can save in tax-efficient ways.

    I happen to think Dave is right. Pay down your debts, suckas. Debt incurred to buy consumer goods is never good debt. I can’t afford 1 a Maserati GT to go to work. So guess what? I don’t buy one. It’s not hard, is it ;)

    Consumer debt traps people is miserable lives doing miserable jobs so they can buy crap that they see on TV. Britain has been doing too much of this over the last 20 years. It’s time to take the red pill and wise up, because it can’t go on for ever. If you really have no assets, then sure, carry on, play the system for all it’s worth. You will never be free of the threat of the repo-man, but you may have a decent hedonistic lifestyle for a while.

    It’s the middle classes that I don’t get – those that acquire debts and assets at the same time.It seems to be a curious version of the iron cage where people trap themselves into debt slavery for the TV dream. It can’t go on for ever, and you have to opt out or lose out. At least the guys that know they have nothing and find mugs enough to lend them money know they have nothing. That’s better than thinking you have something only to find out you don’t when the repo-man comes. You only have assets when you have no debts that could force you to liquidate what you have.

    Not all debt is bad, borrow for productive assets like machinery and you can grow your business faster than you could otherwise. But pretty much all of what the British consumer is offered is bad, from credit cards to student loans to >80% mortgages. People managed without credit cards before the 1970s, and in the hard times to come there’s a good case to be made to discourage all unsecured consumer debt. It’s just too dangerous an economic weapon in people that believe the TV ads telling them

    “you can have it all, now. Because you’re worth it”.

    The reality is that you generally aren’t worth it and you can’t have it all now without shafting your future self, because that’s who you’re borrowing from, not the bank.

    I’m with the original Dave. Sooner or later we have to live within our means. And since we borrowed for the party from our future selves a while back, we’ve now become those future selves. We can’t build an economy on endlessly ratcheting real debt values, because at some point we will run out of mugs to lend us more money.

    1 Okay, so it appears I could afford to buy one secondhand if I stick to the lower part of the price range. But I’d have to do without a lot of other things or capabilities that mean more to me than being a ponce and driving into work in a Maserati GT.