This is Robert Llewellyn's personal blog. The views contained in here are mine alone and do not reflect the views or opinions of anyone else I work with or for. Just thought I ought to make that clear.

Friday
Jun192015

Level Playing Field

The first thing I want to say is, ‘Level playing field my ass.’

The UK government recently passed legislation on two related topics, both of them discreetly late at night so as not to cause too much upset.

They made the further development of onshore wind much harder. Onshore wind is now internationally acknowledged as being the cheapest method to produce electricity.

They made the rapid expansion of ‘unconventional onshore oil and gas exploration’ (fracking) through massive tax breaks (subsidy) as easy as possible.

Gas produces the next cheapest form of electricity and is just about arguably, not as bad as coal.

Here’s an argument I’m trying out because obviously the day the Tories won the election anyone with any knowledge of the energy industry knew this was going to happen, so it’s anything but a surprise.

My argument goes like this:

 

“I’m fine with cutting subsidies to onshore wind as long as we also cut subsidies, or as they are often referred to ‘tax breaks’ or ‘special tax concessions’ to onshore coal, onshore nuclear (who get bowel distressing mega subsidies and we then pay to clean up after they’ve done) and onshore gas.

We should still give subsidies to offshore wind and if people want to, let them build new offshore coal burning power plants, or new offshore nuclear plants, offshore gas plants, sweet, go ahead, here’s the subsidies, knock yourself out.

But I don’t want those ugly, dangerous, out-dated onshore coal plants anywhere near me, I don’t want to see them in the countryside, massive smoke stacks and ugly cooling towers.

They are a barnacle from a bygone age.

I don’t want to see 100 meter tall drilling rigs on fracking sites surrounded by security fences because the companies that run them know the local population hate what they’re doing. But it’s okay because at the same time they are shovelling backhanders at the authorities that allow this debacle to take place.”

 

That’s my argument, in a fairly chunky nutshell, maybe a coconut shell.

However, even though the current situation is truly depressing, even though the people currently in power are corrupt and cynical beyond human endurance, their knob headed aims are ultimately doomed.

Fracking is a last ditch, short sighted attempt to eek out the final remaining jissom of fossil fuel stupidity.

America has witnessed the downsides and they are sealing fracking wells now as fast as they drilled them. Fracking only makes sense when the cost of gas and oil is unsustainably high so it’s folly on a gargantuan scale.

It’s a temporary stopgap measure to keep a few dunderhead rich blokes rich and the rest of us numpties stumbling about in confusion

Level playing field my ass.

Wednesday
May272015

‘Why don’t you bring Scrapheap back?’

The popularity of the re-runs of Scrapheap Challenge on the Quest and Dave Channels has been very pleasant to experience.

At a rough guess I’d say I get 20 tweets a day mentioning the series, how much people love it and the perennial question ‘Why don’t you bring it back?’

At this point I need to sit back, sigh a little and try and explain why I don’t make a decision so far above my pay grade I can’t even imagine, and just make more scrapheap.

I know, I’m being factious and a media luvvie living in a bubble, I understand what people are saying, they love the show and want more of them.

However I have less than zero influence over any possibilities of new series.

I worked on Scrapheap Challenge for 10 years, I loved it, it was inspirational for a generation.

I’ve met many fully employed, highly skilled engineers who watched the series with their parents; it almost brings a tear to my jaded eyes.

I don’t think I should front a new series of Scrapheap if it ever did make a return to the telly, someone younger and full of energy should do it, and if you really want to see more you should tell Channel 4.

 

http://www.channel4.com/4viewers/contact-us

Friday
May012015

Why is the Domestic Battery so Important?

Earlier this year I saw an all in one inverter and domestic battery unit on display at the Bosch stand at CES.

2 years ago I stayed with my friend Simon Hackett in Adelaide, Australia and saw his line up of domestic batteries in sturdy cabinets outside his home. Simon's house is covered in solar panels, he makes more electricity than he can use and he runs three electric cars from this power source.

Yesterday Tesla announced its domestic battery range.

So, is this yet further ‘playthings for the rich’ as so many suggest to me on the Twitters?

What role can a domestic battery have for the ordinary Joe/Joanne?

With the advent of ever cheaper and more effective lithium ion battery technology, something government supported scientists have been working on for the last 40 years, a new paradigm is beginning to emerge.

On a personal level, if you have a few solar panels and a battery in your home, this doesn’t mean you can ‘live off the grid’ but it does mean you can reduce your electricity bill by a much larger amount that you can at the moment. You can obviously store the electricity coming from your panels during the day when you are not home and use it in the evening when you return.

But that really isn’t the story.

If a thousand homes had solar panels and domestic batteries fitted, it wouldn’t make any difference to the national picture.

Those homeowners would benefit from greatly reduced bills and maybe feel smug, but that’s about it.

If ten thousand houses had them, it might be possible to register the reduction in peak demand at the National Grid control room I visited for a Fully Charged episode.

If a million homes had them, solar panels or not, it would make a very profound difference.

If 10 million homes had them, well, everything would change.

But why?

This is a graph of the daily demand in the UK over 1 week.

As you can see it is not a steady line, it veers up and down as demand increases and decreases, imagine reducing that peak demand by half. At 5 to 6 pm in the evening take ten million homes off that demand peak and what does that mean?
It means we need less power generation, much less. Whole power stations less.

Running the national grid would be much cheaper, the demand spikes would be reduced. The ‘bath tub effect’ overnight would smooth out. 10 million batteries would be charging at night using mainly wind and a bit of nuclear.

We could, some claim, stop burning coal.

We could also continue with our current energy consumption, no one would notice anything on a day to day.

We wouldn’t need to spend billions building a new nuclear power station with all the resulting increases in cost for all of us, not to mention the massive bill we will be leaving our grandchildren to ‘make it safe’ in 50 or 60 years time.

We would also be able to utilise the ever-growing supply of renewable energy in a far more effective way.

We would, as consumers, be in a position to challenge the ‘big six’ energy companies to change their policies. Their profits would take a right hammering which of course they won’t be happy about, the existing energy matrix (or stranglehold, depending on your view) would change dramatically.

We could actually choose when we took power from the grid and clearly people are going to choose the cheapest time, the time when the least carbon is released and we use the most of our own energy generation.

Now, add to this the steady increase in community owned renewable energy systems springing up all over the country and you are looking at a widely distributed, community owned energy infrastructure which will alter the entire countries bank balance. It will make us far more energy independent, less at the mercy of the likes of lovely President Putin and the delightfully liberal Saudi regime.

It will also mean much cheaper electricity, and, when the electric car becomes normal much cheaper travel.

This isn’t a sci-fi pipe dream, it’s happening right now.

The changes are, I would suggest, going to be disruptive and controversial. There will be powerful lobbies that will try and hold this technology back and maintain the status quo.

However history has shown us that when a better technology arrives, regardless of the resistance of the old guard, the technology is rapidly adopted.

VHS tapes anyone?

The arguments about the cost of batteries, the environmental impact and the ‘short life’ have already withered on the vine.

10 years ago, a battery like the one Tesla has just announced would have cost over $25,000.

The Tesla indoor or outdoor unit costs just over $3,000 and they will rapidly get cheaper.

I haven’t dared say it before but I’ve known it for a long time. It’s taken 150 years, it’s been a slow development but now it’s reached a historic tipping point.

The battery will change the world.

 

Monday
Apr132015

Dad is So Mean!

I’ve had an interesting couple of discussions recently, one via Twitter with a miner’s son from Yorkshire and one with an actual, bona fide hedge fund manager at my kitchen table in Gloucestershire.

Two people, you would imagine, from very opposite ends of a socio-economic spectrum, and yet on one topic they were in total agreement.

I posted a rather immature tweet in response to one of the latest Tory party tax-break-please-vote-for-us-for-God’s-sake proposals.

It said:

So happy Cameron has saved my massive family legacy from tax… oh wait, I haven’t got one. Oh right, it’s for really rich people. Get it.

Silly and reactionary, but some people found it amusing.

Not the miner’s son and hedge fund manager, they argued that their main aim was to make sure their children were as wealthy as possible after their passing.

As lovely Dave Cameron said, That wish to pass something on is about the most basic, human and natural instinct there is.”

Indeed, it seems almost churlish to disagree, what finer and higher motive could there be, it’s human and natural.

Well yes, if you just look at the world from the point of view of your immediate family and you own a house that’s worth a million quid or more and you utterly ignore the rest of the society you live in.

If you live in the South East and have a well-paid job it’s quite likely you do own a house worth a million or more quid. Okay, not the majority of the country, but certainly a lot of voters who live in the South East.

But away from party politics, the result of this change in tax law would also mean there is less income for the government and to be fair, they are not going to stop tax breaks to their mates in the extraction industry or big pharmaceutical companies or the banks, or Trident. There, I’ve said it. £100 billion over the next 30 years. Great investment, go team Trident.

No, they are going to get it by cutting benefits and services to poor and disabled people, people who live up north, out west or deep south who’s houses are worth nowhere near a million quid.

So, they are adjusting things to make the minority of rich people even richer. That’s their job.

Okay, you can swear at me for being a ridiculous old lefty, head in the clouds, not dealing with the real world, but strangely I do have a bit of support from a mad bunch of lefties called the Institute for Fiscal Studies, (the IFS was founded by a conservative MP, Will Hopper back in the 1960’s.)

On hearing this proposal they said; “It is rather odd to give this special treatment to housing given that owner-occupied housing is already extremely tax privileged. This will only increase the bias we have towards putting your money in a house, to inflating potentially the value of housing, without dealing with the lack of housing, which is driving up the value of private residences.”

Even more unfortunately for the government, a leaked Treasury memo stated the changes would “most likely benefit high income and wealthier households”.

It is a profound moral and ethical problem, as members of a society that is much larger than our immediate family, do we just build our own castle and let everything outside those stout walls go to rack and ruin, or do we work together, collectively, to hopefully build a better and fairer society.

That’s where the fault line is. It’s all about me and mine, or it’s all about all of us.

My attitude could be seen as equally selfish. I don’t give a tuppeny fart what happens to my money after I’m dead, I can’t do anything with it.

I have two children who I love very dearly but having grown up with people who were set to inherit substantial amounts from their parents I’m in a quandary.

If I die and they get very little I don’t think that’s going to worry me. I would be very anxious to leave them with debts to clear up but hopefully that won’t happen.

But I know from long-term observation that it’s not always a great help for people to inherit large sums. If anything it often hindered and hobbled their ambition, their drive and focus. It didn’t really matter what they did because ‘when dad dies, I’ll get a shit ton of money.’

I am hoping my children will find a way to support themselves and anything they inherit is just an added benefit. I don’t want them to rely on it and wait around for me to cark it so they can go on a spending binge.

Anyway, as I have often told them, I intend to spend every last penny before I shuffle off.

‘You are so mean dad, I hate you, I’m adopted.’ Was the response from both of them.

Oh, the joy they bring.

Saturday
Mar142015

We don't know what happened.

Try as I might, the Clarkson story keeps seeping back into my world even though I have repeatedly tried to throw it in my already bulging ‘pointless celebrity gossip’ bin.

I once again wish to repeat, although I disagree with everything he has ever said he still makes me laugh sometimes and I vehemently defend his right to be casually racist, slightly homophobic, generally misogynistic and a comically cyclist baiting bully.

If you make the mistake of reading any of the recent newspaper reports about this fracas the comments below, no, don’t even look, but the comments are very divided.

There is a sizeable group that loath him, they just want him gone and are jumping at the chance to hasten his fall from grace. There is also a sizeable group that worship his every move, hate the BBC who pay for and broadcast Top Gear, hate wet liberal tossers like me and want real men to drive real cars in the real world 

These old school proper men are very angry, before anyone knows what actually took place in that hotel, they’ve all rushed to sign a bloody petition to save Clarkson.

It’s easy to see both sides in this nonsense have overreacted, but I am going to stick my limp wristed, namby-pamby, save the Polar bears lefty neck out and say the Clarksonites have overreacted more.

They want their Sunday night entertainment and some member of the ‘PC brigade’ at the BBC has spoilt it for them. They don’t care what happened, Clarkson is God, everyone else is a nanny state control freak who won’t let them say the words they all say to each other all the time, like normal blokes having a normal conversation. Normal racist slurs, normal misogynist references, normal, run of the mill homophobic banter.

I’ve been the recipient of this normal male anger many times. If I write or say something about electric cars, wind turbines, solar panels or the fact that’s it’s time we ditched the tired old internal combustion engine, I get abuse from this same, small minority. 

I’ll be accused of being a do-gooder, a lefty moron, a tree hugging pouf, a vegetarian cyclist, not a real man, an eco Nazi or most confusingly a member of the ‘PC brigade.’

What the hell is the ‘PC brigade?’ The politically correct brigade I assume.  Do you know anyone, seriously, anyone who is politically correct? I don’t. Do you know anyone who has ever used that term seriously? I don’t. If someone said ‘you are not being politically correct’ I’d call them a tosser.

But then when I think about this, I wouldn’t casually use racist terms, I wouldn’t try and belittle a man because he was gay, or a woman because she was a woman. Not because I don’t want to offend anyone but because I don’t have those feelings. I don’t think I am better than a woman, a black person, a gay person or a Muslim.

The only people who ever use the term ‘PC brigade’ are people who are desperate to shout racist, sexist or homophobic abuse in the street.

Clarksonite men cannot understand how the world has changed around them, how they are not, as they feel they should be, still the most powerful, most respected people in the world. They don’t see themselves as a minority, they see themselves as normal and everyone else is weird, foreign, female, gay or has skin the wrong colour.

But Clarksonites are a minority, if you look at global population data a very small minority who clearly feel they don’t have a voice. Hence the rise of the abhorrent UKIP.

In Clarkson’s particular case he is not a powerless member of a powerless minority, he’s very well connected. I saw him last year at Cornbury Festival having a fag with Rebekah Brooks, the ex editor of the News of the World. They are pals. I say no more.

He’s pals with our current Prime Minister. I say no more.

He has a column in the Sun newspaper where he vents his ‘world is unfair to white men who want to drive fast’ spleen. He’s very rich and powerful and having met him a couple of times, he definitely is a big and imposing figure who is clearly very used to getting his own way.

Who knows what will happen to Top Gear. For all these criticisms I’d be very sad to see it disappear. Or go on Sky because I don’t have Sky for all the obvious namby-pamby liberal reasons.

For the many on Twitter who have suggested I put my name forward as his replacement, I’m flattered at the consideration but I would rather extract my own teeth with rusty pliers than step into that hornet’s nest. For a start I'm just another old white bloke on the telly, there's enough of them already

However, if the BBC was to dare to re-launch a totally different show about cars, the impact they have on our world, the wonders of new technology emerging, the idea of not owning cars but still having access to them, the true impact their construction and use, the true impact our demand for fossil fuels has, and it was presented by 3, funny, politically incorrect women. Now that's worth considering