The Full English – Envirobubble

What’s piqued my interest this week?

I’m returning to a couple of last weeks news ‘events’, because they’re rant worthy. First, there was this piece from the Beeb, “Why you have (probably) already bought your last car(1). What a piece of London-centric horse tripe.

The author accepts our incredulity, but goes on to state (1):
“A growing number of tech analysts are predicting that in less than 20 years we’ll all have stopped owning cars, and, what’s more, the internal combustion engine will have been consigned to the dustbin of history.”
So a group of industry-focused early adopters, who likely live in major urban centres, are suggesting that we should all do away with our regular transport. There are some valid points in the article. Electric cars are being widely adopted, are more efficient, simpler mechanically and will change the way people travel. Autonomous self-driving cars are also a great move, they’re safer in theory (watch out insurance services) and the idea of being able to work (or sleep, read etc) while commuting is amazing. I look forward to writing blogpieces at 60/mph on the M5.
The article falls down because it demonstrates a spectacular lack of understanding of anyone who lives outside a place with regular public transport, or who doesn’t work in one place. If you drive for work are you going to use a taxi everywhere? What about couriers, farmers, electricians, plumbers, gas line workers, etc. All of whom are going to multiple sites every day and rely on a vehicle to get them to where they need to be.
The following line grates:
Don’t worry that rural areas will be left out. A vehicle could be parked in every village waiting for your order to come.
Oh, so in my village of 300 people we’re going to only be able to have three or four people travelling at a time? I grew up in a village that size. We had four bus services a day, a 20 minute ride to the nearest town of a few thousand people. How are autonomous taxi services going to be cost-effective in that scenario? If I need to get somewhere I don’t want to wait 20 minutes for the next available taxi to travel over from the nearest town before starting my journey. Uber and public transport may be ubiquitous in the urban centres, but for rural areas the community-minibus remains a lifeline where market forces run out.
The second article I’m returning to is also environmentally focused. Quite a few outlets picked up the story about meat’s huge climate impact (2). Undoubtedly climate change is the biggest global threat currently, outweighing even Trump’s ego. The effect of meat is something we’ve known about for a while, but is rarely brought to the surface or acknowledged by politicians (3). The scare numbers in this story are simple, western meat consumption needs to fall massively, 90% for beef, to prevent a ‘climate breakdown’ (2). The meat produced to fill western diets is resource intensive, wasteful, and with intensive farming is hugely damaging to the environment.
Most of the articles point people towards becoming vegetarian the majority of the time, with meat reserved for special occasions. This is much more the diet that has been eaten historically up to the C19th, when greater wealth and the growth of middle class along with cheap transported or imported meat meant that the treat could become everyday. Since then the ‘meat and two veg’ has become ingrained in western culture. A culture we are exporting worldwide. Just look at how John on GBBO struggled with vegan food to see how deep that culture runs. Practically therefore changing our culture so everyone only eats meat once a week is going to be bloody hard. Try being the politician selling that song to your community hall.
Thankfully, I think market forces will come into play. Meat is expensive to produce. We recently started getting monthly boxes from a butcher, where they track all of our meat from their farm to my fridge. They upload monthly video updates from the farms on the animals. I pay for this premium. I know I’m getting meat from well-cared for animals, produced in a sustainable(ish) manner. The meat going into your McNuggets is not going to be grown to that standard. As the demand for a western diet rich in meat spreads, and supply struggles to meet (groan) demand, prices will go up.
Companies working to exploit this rise in price are already positioning themselves. Lab-grown meat is coming. Many of the start-ups have big backers, and are positioning themselves for high end consumers (4). It is effective proof-of-concept to those who will set trends (5). Theoretically lab-grown meat should have lower overheads and be cheaper to produce. It will lack the subtlety of the 28-day hung Aberdeen Angus, but it’ll do for your 99p McNuggets. I look forward to my ChickieNobs and conversations with MaddAddam.
Have a great weekend,
The Shrink
N.B. I’m off grid and on holiday for the next three weeks, so no more updates until Mid-November. Happy Halloween all!
Side Orders

Other News

Opinion/ blogs:

The kitchen garden:

What I’m reading:

The Book of Dust – Philip Pullman

Religio Medici by Sir Thomas Browne – the theological and psychological reflections of a C17th doctor.

Enchiridion by Epictetus – Bedside reading for a bad day

References:

  1. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-45786690
  2. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/10/huge-reduction-in-meat-eating-essential-to-avoid-climate-breakdown
  3. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-45838997
  4. https://www.wsj.com/articles/is-lab-grown-meat-ready-for-dinner-1539701100
  5. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/lab-grown-meat/
  6. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-45859722
  7. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-45860769
  8. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-45858107
  9. https://edition.cnn.com/2018/10/11/tech/facebook-stock-dip/index.html
  10. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-45875599
  11. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-45886791
  12. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/oct/14/dont-believe-world-bank-robots-inequality-growth
  13. http://www.thefrugalcottage.com/dividend-income-september-2018/
  14. https://tuppennysfireplace.com/living-a-simple-life-inspiration/
  15. https://tuppennysfireplace.com/things-we-cut-food-shopping-list/
  16. https://simplelivingsomerset.wordpress.com/2018/10/16/what-colour-is-your-parachute/
  17. https://drfire.co.uk/million-pound-question/
  18. https://inspiringlifedesign.com/posts/what-would-you-do-if-you-were-given-1-million.html
  19. https://earlyretirementplanning.wordpress.com/2018/10/12/what-would-you-do-if-you-got-given-1-million/
  20. https://mydebtdiary.info/2018/10/17/my-goals-update-for-october-2018/
  21. http://www.msziyou.com/my-anti-monetisation-manifesto/
  22. http://www.msziyou.com/quietly-saving/
  23. http://quietlysaving.co.uk/2018/10/19/i-just-got-paid/
  24. https://indeedably.com/asset-allocation/
  25. https://indeedably.com/cashless-payments-disrupted-busking/
  26. https://indeedably.com/emergency/
  27. https://gentlemansfamilyfinances.wordpress.com/2018/10/11/pay-less-into-your-pension-to-retire-early/
  28. https://www.theguardian.com/business/nils-pratley-on-finance/2018/oct/18/the-fed-is-ignoring-trump-it-knows-this-is-a-fight-he-cannot-win
  29. https://youngfiguy.com/mr-yfgs-backstory/
  30. http://diyinvestoruk.blogspot.com/2018/10/inflation-and-state-pension-increase.html
  31. http://diyinvestoruk.blogspot.com/2018/10/impax-environmental-markets-new-purchase.html
  32. http://monevator.com/an-ethical-quandary/
  33. http://monevator.com/what-did-low-us-treasury-yields-ever-do-for-us-anyway/
  34. https://ofdollarsanddata.com/what-is-your-financial-tipping-point/
  35. https://www.ukvalueinvestor.com/2018/10/portfolio-review-2018-q3.html/
  36. https://agentsoffield.com/2018/10/14/jobs-to-do-this-month/
  37. https://twothirstygardeners.co.uk/2018/10/how-to-make-beetroot-chutney/

 

 

 

 

 

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Musing on… the future’s bright, the future’s green

A recent Grauniad article got me musing on energy futures (1).

MrsShrink works in sustainable energy and has had various roles from industrial purchasing to consultancy in the last 10 years. It’s probably the only thing she’d blog about on here, but for now I’ll lay some opinions on you with a big statement. Offshore power could be Britain’s next north sea oil. However, currently it is mainly overseas company investing, creating jobs and getting stuff done on the ground. See the massive investment by Siemens in the Humber region, which has made it ‘the envy of the world’ (2, 3). MrsShrink finds it barmy that as an island nation we can’t be energy independent using the resources around us. For a nice AV update, here’s a recent episode of Fully Charged News that covers some of the current investment:

I’m a great fan of Fully Charged, and plan to become a Patreon for all the hard work Jonny and Robert are doing (4).

The nuclear conundrum

This makes the recent decision by the government to invest massively in new nuclear power stations a bit bizarre. The new Wylfa power station on Anglesey will be built by Hitachi for >£15billion, requiring at least £5billion, but more like £9billion, of UK government money (5, 6). This is on top of the recent strike price of £92.50/MWh and investment in Hinkley Point C, run by EDF, which has been dubbed “the dreadful deal” (7, 8). This is not an argument against nuclear, per se. There is a defence argument for maintaining a number of active nuclear reactors to have the ability to produce military grade munitions (don’t let MrsShrink here me saying that). Hot off the press is commendable investment into new nuclear technology, to the tune of £200m (9). This includes £86m into a UK fusion programme (probably to replace our investment in the EU ITER, ejits), £32m for advance R&D for construction, £30m for supply chain, and commitment to clean up ‘legacy’ sites (10). Intriguingly, it will also see £56m for R&D into ‘advanced modular reactors’, seen by many as a move toward U-batteries; small reactors designed to operate intermittently or independently to decentralise supply (11, 12)

MrsFIREShrink deals with plenty of civil servants who are aware of and pushing for a decentralised grid. She was involved in recent R&D funding pushing the current decrease seen in wind cost /kwh to the grid, with a strike price of £50/MWh achieved (13). While this is likely a temporary artificial low, it follows a decreasing curve in renewable energy prices /kwh and cost for installation. International R&D is driving this. The losers here are UK based ‘big-6’ energy companies, who are mainly invested in traditional power supply methods and only now coming round to renewable sources. Interestingly ‘the city’ is fairly evenly split, probably due to the split of UK-based and world-based investment. The disconnect at a political level is between the current politicians in power and the civil servants. I wonder why…

The issue of baseload is often touted as reasons for energy not to be fully renewable. Hydro and pumped storage are one element of the reply. Building pumped storage plants like Dinorwig will provide robust, large-scale storage back-up (13). More of these are being built in abandoned industrial quarries and workings (14, 15). However this continues to follow a traditional power supply train of thought working with a centralised grid. The energy infrastructure and supply field is changing tremendously quickly, and so 10 year old articles don’t cut the mustard.

The current focus of R&D and rapid development is battery storage to solve the cyclic demand for power. Tesla have opened a massive powerbank in Aus (16), however Tesla gets lots of fanboi hype despite being considered the world leader in energy density for batteries. This work is also going on in California, and with more energy dense Li-ion and potentially solid state batteries in the pipeline, the technology is moving as fast as it can be installed (17). The grid and suppliers are struggling to keep up.

Bring the system down

The wider move to decentralise the grid, utilising the smart grid and home/ industrial supply makes sense from cost to the consumer/ company, and from a strategic point of view. Hard to blow up the power supply to an area if every home and factory is contributing. The top end consumer market is moving to home PV and wind coupled to battery storage. Again the excellent Fully Charged show covers this (18):

It’s difficult to find a clear graph to demonstrate just how fast PV costs have reduced. Most data is based on US, Asian or Australian costs, which says something about uptake. These graphs are taken from submissions made by Friends of the Earth to the old Department of Energy and Climate Change (19). Biased, but the data they’re based on is factually correct:

1605vw06.gif

1605vw07.gif

Wind:

REW_Chart3.png

What’s the picture on the ground?

The actual amount in use is again difficult to calculate. The graphs below run to 2016, and since then the Government has been playing around with the feed-in tariff, reducing and dis-incentivising (20). Capacity can be assessed on the amount of feed-in tariff being utilised and the supply being provided to the grid (21, 22):

As prices come down it will make increasing sense to have a bit of solar PV on your roof and a battery in your house to decrease your energy cost from the grid. This is limited but not prevented somewhat by our old house stock. Industrial energy use is changing more rapidly. To briefly summarise it is currently cheaper for many offices to retrofit solar PV and wind, with a hookup to the grid for peak demand, than to just buy from the grid at standard rates. For larger consumers, Combined Heat and Power (CHP) and microCHP plants running off natural gas with grid electricity sell-back is cheaper and more efficient.

The future?

So to get back to the original point, we are reaching a crossroads where either the ‘big 6’ or others recognise that offshore wind coupled to onshore solar PV and battery storage are most cost effective over lifetime of installation than traditional power plants for supplying grid baseload. The cost cross-over is nicely demonstrated when looking at long-term solar PV changes (23):

To date experts have been astonishingly bad at predicting the uptake and use of renewable energy (24):

IEA Solar Predictions for Global Installations

I like graphs

What we find interesting is who is going to invest in this and when; is it the ‘big 6’ (E.On are starting to), is it foreign energy companies, or will it be a smaller network of UK based suppliers (25). The government can’t seem to decide, but is erring on the big companies side; vis Hinkley C’s strike cost of £92.50/MWh for EDF vs solar PVs £50/MWh strike cost and offshore winds £57.50/MWh (8, 12, 26). Big oil companies like Shell are starting to clue up and get in as a way of surviving the death of fossil fuels (27). We’re looking at using a small renewable-only energy supplier for our home. It’s a time of huge change and potential for the energy industry, with lots of great opportunities for investors and new companies. We just hope the UK can find a way to lead the change again.

Have a great week,

The Shrink

References

  1. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jun/19/huge-mistake-britain-throwing-away-lead-in-tidal-energy-say-developers
  2. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-humber-43808806
  3. https://www.hulldailymail.co.uk/news/business/siemens-boss-says-humber-become-1513169
  4. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HYr7aGf0-wA
  5. https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/taxpayer-bankrolls-15bn-nuclear-plant-at-wylfa-in-wales-0p7dnxfhq
  6. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jun/04/uk-takes-5bn-stake-in-welsh-nuclear-power-station-in-policy-u-turn
  7. https://www.ft.com/content/00be1bc4-64c2-11e8-90c2-9563a0613e56
  8. https://www.theguardian.com/news/2017/dec/21/hinkley-point-c-dreadful-deal-behind-worlds-most-expensive-power-plant
  9. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-deal-with-industry-to-secure-uk-civil-nuclear-future-and-drive-down-cost-of-energy-for-customers
  10. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-politics-44634580
  11. https://www.theengineer.co.uk/nuclear-industry-sector-deal/
  12. https://renewablesnow.com/news/solar-pv-gets-lowest-strike-prices-in-uks-cfd-auction-465462/
  13. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dinorwig_Power_Station
  14. https://www.theengineer.co.uk/first-new-uk-pumped-hydro-scheme-for-30-years-given-go-ahead/
  15. https://www.theengineer.co.uk/pumped-hydro-storage/
  16. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-australia-42190358
  17. https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2017/sep/15/californias-big-battery-experiment-a-turning-point-for-energy-storage
  18. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ym8emBsYdMs
  19. https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201012/cmselect/cmenergy/1605/1605vw34.htm
  20. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jun/27/uk-home-solar-power-subsidies-costs-battery-technology
  21. https://www.r-e-a.net/member/uk-solar/feed-in-tariff
  22. https://www.solarpowerportal.co.uk/news/exclusive_uk_installed_1.553gw_in_q1_2016
  23. http://ramblingsdc.net/Australia/SolarPower2.html
  24. http://www.visualcapitalist.com/experts-bad-forecasting-solar/
  25. https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-rwe-renewables/rwe-ceo-eyes-15-billion-euros-annual-investment-in-green-energy-idUKKBN1JJ00R
  26. https://utilityweek.co.uk/orsted-orders-turbines-record-breaking-offshore-wind-project/
  27. https://www.edie.net/news/10/Shell-collaborates-with-Carbon-Trust-to-drive-lower-offshore-wind-costs/