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Monday, 24 July 2017

Spinning Batteries

Stalin called it 'agitation and propaganda', Goebbels was 'Minister of Propaganda and Public Enlightenment', the post-war democracies developed 'spin' and David Cameron was enamoured of 'nudge'. The present shoddy government does not really 'do' spin or nudge: they simply issue press releases or advance copies of ministerial speeches and leave it to the media to make the rest of the story.

A lead item for the BBC on the early News today was the story that Britain was to experience a 'revolution' in how electricity is generated and stored. It is well known to the nation, and deeply embarrassing to the political class - especially Tories and LibDems who have been in power for the past seven years - that there is no viable energy policy in the UK. The government [of any party] is compelled by law to get rid of 'polluting' coal-fired power stations by 2025, unless they are converted to burning wood-chip that has to be imported at vast expense [and may be depleting forests in less-developed countries]. One attempt to address the resultant shortage of energy is the madcap scheme from the Osborne era, whereby the Hinckley point scheme is supposed to construct an unproven type of French reactor [with Chinese funding] for which British taxpayers and/or electricity users will be charged a ridiculous amount over and above the predicted world price for power for the next two generations. A massive amount of money has been spent on windmills, afloat, settled on the seabed and ashore; all of which have the intrinsic disadvantage that they don't work when there is no wind, and they may produce more power than is needed at other times. The firms who have constructed the majority of windmills have been promised a price for the resultant power that involves a heavy subsidy of the provider by the consumers.

British firms, including Rolls-Royce, have been providing the power units for nuclear submarines for half a century, and could offer land-based mini nuclear power plant virtually ad lib; but the politicians are scared on the anti-nuclear lobby. Also, the politicians are scared of the responsibility for guaranteeing the costs of the construction and insurance of the potential nuclear solution; especially in the light of the row about Hinckley Point.

So they have spun the idea of diffused electricity supply, of individual owners of homes and small businesses installing solar panels and batteries. Solar panels are efficient and are becoming cost-effective, up to a point. But they only respond to the sun: so that they can make no direct contribution to the national grid in the dark. Householders can only sell power into the grid from their solar array when the grid wants it. Somebody in government has at long length realised that in the universities and in many firms high-quality brains have been working for years on improving battery technologies. In the USA Mr Musk has marketed his Tesla battery-powered cars very effectively, but worldwide motor manufacturers have been investing in battery powered engines and in battery technology. As a graduate of two universities I am battered with booklets boasting of their research achievements [and asking me for money] and it is clear that very significant steps have been taken over a long period, and that several of them are showing success. So the government has decided to present as a brilliant plan for the future a shabby little scheme to persuade the population themselves to buy and install panels and batteries from which the households can derive some of their electricity, and sell the surplus to the grid. The mass of the population would pay directly for this 'solution', with the stimulus of government-backed loans [probably provided by the commercial banks]; so that none of the cost would add to the statistics of direct government spending or borrowing.

If you believe that this is "the answer", you'll believe anything!

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