2011-02-26

Electricity Market Reform

The UK government has published a consultation on Electricity Market Reform. Here's my response:

Hi, here's my personal response to the Electricity Market Reform consultation. Can I remark that I'm pleased that it's published under the excellent Open Government License. There are answers to the specific questions later on, but first I wrote some notes on the Executive Summary.
• even as we improve energy efficiency, demand for electricity may need to
double by 2050 –
This 'predict and provide' policy isn't optimal for electricity generation. It's the job of the government to make sure there's a competitive market for electricity, but it shouldn't have any kWh targets. The natural balance of supply and demand provides the optimal solution.
• as decarbonisation of the economy means that electricity provides more of our heating and transport needs;
True, the economy does need to decarbonise, but the government shouldn't impose the solution of using more low-carbon electricity. It can only increase the cost of emitting CO2 by taxing fossil fuel at source, and then Organizations and individuals will respond to those price signals. Some will save electricity, some will buy green electricity, some will use more electricity but less petrol or various other combinations, depending on what's optimal for them.
• to ensure security of supply, we will need to replace a quarter of our existing capacity by 2020, which are ageing and unlikely to meet environmental regulations. In the current system, maintaining the level of security of supply is left to market forces;
The most secure method *is* market forces. That's what I rely on to make sure there's a loaf of bread for me at the supermarket.
• the power sector needs to lead the decarbonisation of our economy,
Government should not be making this assertion.
but the current market has a bias towards fossil fuels. DECC’s 2050 analysis shows that the power sector emissions need to be largely decarbonised during the 2030s.The Committee on Climate Change has recently proposed that the power sector should be close to zero-carbon by 2030;
De-carbonisation of the electricity supply is just one of the solutions. Others include insulating homes properly, or using less electricity. The government shouldn't dictate any particular solution.
• around 30% of our electricity in 2020 needs to come from renewable sources (largely onshore and offshore wind), up from 7% today, to meet our legally binding EU target for renewable energy. The Government has asked the Committee on Climate Change to provide further advice in Spring 2011 about the longer-term potential for renewable energy;
The proportion of renewables isn't the important thing. The important thing is how much CO2 we're emitting per capita.
• Under the current market, gas-fired generation is currently the lowest cost and lowest risk investment. It will continue to play an important role in the electricity sector – providing vital flexibility to support an increasing amount of low-carbon generation and to maintain security of supply.
I don't think the government should be saying what will and what will not play a role in the electricity sector.
However, current arrangements need to be reformed to allow equal access to the electricity market for a wider range of technologies, such as:
Other technologies already have equal access to the market. In fact many of the technologies receive subsidies, which should be removed.

I'm pleased that the report accepts the importance of improving the technical functioning of the market eg. sharpening the buyout price and reducing barriers to competition. I don't thing it's right that these vertically integrated large energy companies can own DNOs, suppliers and generators.

I'm dubious about the levelized cost for nuclear power. Does it include the full cost of insurance?

Here are my responses to the specific questions. I haven't answered every question, since earlier questions already give the answer.
Current Market Arrangements
1. Do you agree with the Government’s assessment of the ability of the current market to support the investment in low-carbon generation needed to meet environmental targets?
No. With a carbon tax in place of the FiTs, ROCs, LECs, EU-ETS, CRC and REGOs the current market is able to properly play its part in reducing pollution.
2. Do you agree with the Government’s assessment of the future risks to the UK’s security of electricity supplies?
No. The current market is capable of delivering security of supply. The graph of capacity margin that shows EEUs escalating in the future is unrealistic. As the margin gets tighter, prices increase, which lessens demand and restores the margin.
3. Do you agree with the Government’s assessment of the pros and cons of each of the models of feed-in tariff (FIT)?
I disagree with FiTs because they support renewable generation rather than penalizing CO2 emissions. CO2 emission are the problem, not necessarily lack of renewable generation. Since I disagree with FiTs I haven't commented on the remaining FiT questions.
12. Do you agree with the Government’s assessment of the impact of an emission performance standard on the decarbonisation of the electricity sector and on security of supply risk?
Again, I disagree with the EPS. There shouldn't be separate arrangement for certain generators. A fossil fuel tax based on CO2 emissions when burnt would cover all circumstances.
19. Do you agree with our assessment of the pros and cons of introducing a capacity mechanism?
Broadly, but I think you have underplayed the cons.
20. Do you agree with the Government’s preferred policy of introducing a capacity mechanism in addition to the improvements to the current market?
No. A capacity mechanism would needlessly increase electricity prices, and would increase bureaucracy.

Shortlisted!

I'm psyched to have received this email about my short story:
We’re delighted to let you know that your literary genius has thus far ensured you’ve reached our final shortlist of four stories. Well done from us all at John’s Bikes!

2011-02-14

Candide

Bono admonishes his interlocutor with, 'don't say that later will be better', but later in the song goes on to contradict himself by stating that, 'it's just a moment, and a moment will pass'. If U2 doesn't hold the secret of happiness, who does?

Voltaire, that's who. But more on that later. First, our eponymous hero asks (Martin I think):
"Do you believe," said Candide, "that men have always massacred each other as they do today, that they have always been liars, cheats, traitors, ingrates, brigands, idiots, thieves, scoundrels, gluttons, drunkards, misers, envious, ambitions, bloody-minded, calumniators, debauchees, fanatics, hypocrites, and fools?"
I'd answer that yes, people have always done those things, but I'd argue that basically humans do whatever they can to improve their lot. In a well designed system, the cost of being a thief for example is too high and so instead it's in a thief's interest to abandon her life of crime and keep to the straight and narrow. What is a well designed system? Well, democracy helps, and an open and transparent and independent judicial system. Also, I think the aim of government should be to maximize individual freedom.



Philosophers tend to be better at asking questions than providing answers, so Voltaire surprised me at the end of the book. After the adventures of Candide and his companions had ended, they ended up at a bit of a loose end. They got bored, and rather directionless. Then a happy neighbour, a farmer, gave Candide the idea of having a garden for he and his friends to work on. Happiness ensued!

2011-02-13

Please Fine First Great Western For Their Poor Service

I was enraged enough to fire off an email to the Department For Transport yesterday:
This morning the First Great Western train from Trowbridge to Bath Spa was scheduled to stop at Trowbridge at 10:14. It didn't stop because it was too full to pick up any more passengers, so everyone had to wait for the 10:44.

My point is that this is entirely predictable because this train is *always* packed. First Great Western has been given a monopoly by the regulator, and so in the absence of competition, the regulator has a duty to step in and punish poor service. So please would you act on behalf of the passengers and fine First Great Western?

2011-02-05

Bath LitFest Short Story Competition

Bill told me about the short story competition run by John's Bikes as part of the Bath Literary Festival. The story must be 50 words or under. Here's my entry, it's called Retrochronophobia:
Cycling past Bath Abbey, Rufus looked up, and suddenly the stone changed from an ancient grey to a brand new yellow. His bike collided with a crowd of medieval peasants gathered where the taxi rank once was. Everything was different. Do you fear abruptly jumping back in time?
Interesting use of Google Docs for the form submission.

2011-02-03

Architecture

I was on the brink of doing architecture at uni, but I switched to physics at the last minute because I was more interested in it. A lot of the books I read were on physics, and almost none on architecture, so I realized that physics was where my true interest lay. I've not regretted my decision.

Buildings do have a big effect on me. I'm disappointed in architecture. I believe that the main function of a building is to inspire. It's terrible that the buildings I like best are medieval, and things have got steadily worse since then, reaching their nadir in the 60s and 70s. Things have improved a bit since then, but we're still bad at such an important thing. Why is that?

One theory, and one that I would have tried to put into architectural practice (pun ahoy) is that above a certain scale, beautiful things have to be fractal. Loosely speaking, if you look at a good building it looks similar at different scales. The eye can't comprehend the whole thing in one go.

I remember reading in a book on fractals somebody asking why the branches of a tree in front of the moon has an aesthetic quality, but a rectangular office block against the moon doesn't give the same effect.

There's the point about scale. Generally, new cars are progressing in design quality as time goes on, they look good. People talk of their 'clean lines'. The same with Apple hardware. Buildings have got worse though. I think that small things can get away with not having a fractal quality, but large things can't.


TL4410 : Multi-storey Car park Kitson Way Harlow by PAUL FARMER

Multi-storey Car park Kitson Way Harlow

  © Copyright PAUL FARMER and
licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.


What about the pyramids then? People flock to them, and they have a euclidean geometry, not fractal. Can you explain that?

2011-02-02

Paintballing

Toby at work is leaving to do aid work in Africa, so on Sunday we went paint-balling:

They said to wear old clothes, so I wore a maroon hoodie from 1989. I remember being in a club in Bath (The Tiergarten?) around that time and some geezer came up to me and said that his brother made the hoodie I was wearing. 'Passenger' was the label.