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.



There are days when I end up at some weird event that’s vaguely linked to renewable energy or electric cars or car sharing or battery innovation and I quietly question my sanity.

Today was not one of those days.

I got on an early morning train and dozed down to Plymouth,  got out, was met by a bunch of lovely folks from Energy Share.

Along with Hugh Fearnley Wittingstall and renewableUK they had organised todays ‘windmeal’ event. Yes, smutty giggle, windmeal. Fnaar fnaar.

It had been described to me a talk about wind in a posh house and a nice lunch supplied by Mr Fearnley Wittingstall’s delightful ‘River Cottage’ restaurant in an old Naval building on Plymouth docks.

Wind and posh nosh. Friday sorted.

Without wishing to be too star struck and sucky, the food was bloody amazing.

But back to wind.

Outside Plymouth station I got in a Nissan Leaf driven by local EV enthusiast Paul Churchly and was taken to the Plymouth Stonehouse Ferry Terminal where we all got on a small ferry and chugged over to Cornwall, well, to Mount Edgecombe House on the Cornish side of the Tamar which is a seriously posh gaff.

(A gaff in this context refers to a place of residence.)

There we listened to a very enlightening conversation from a panel of experts about the benefits of wind power particularly in relation to UK farmers.

Wind harvesting seems to be a better term for it, something most farmers could do and a few are doing already. I interviewed a wind-harvesting farmer in the Cotswolds near where I live for the last series of Fully Charged.

There are complications of course, some farms are too remote to push large amounts of electricity into the grid, they sometimes need to upgrade the local grid and that costs serious money. The farmer would have to pay for that which makes it impossible for some.

Interestingly in France this is not the case, no matter how remote a location, if there is serious renewable generation, wind or solar, then the French national grid will pay for the connection. Oh, and wait, there are more farmers producing more renewable low cost electricity in France that in the UK.

Quelle surprise.

A wonderful old school farmer from Bodmin Moor in Cornwall was a classic example, he has a wind turbine and solar array as well as an electric car.  He produces enough electricity each year for around 30 households, multiply that by say, 10,000 farms across the country and you’ve supplying vast amounts of homes. Zero CO2, zero fuel costs.

Anyhow, it was very refreshing to hear so many positive arguments for wind generation and it’s blindingly obvious benefits instead of the usual dirge of NIMBY nonsense so popular in the tired old behind the times British press.

Windmills (that is the common description for a wind generator for those of you itching to correct me) work, they generate electricity.

They are, in my most humble opinion, much less unsightly than a massive coal burning power plant, a huge gas terminal, or, dare I say it, a £700 billion nuclear power plant with 3 meter high security fences, 24 hour armed guards, security floodlighting and all the connected fuel transportation and storage issues.

Wind turbines can be situated anywhere, which means in the posh areas of the UK as well as the ones already blighted beyond redemption by 19th and 20th century centralised outdated, inefficient methods of power generation requiring endless supplies of increasingly expensive and harder to extract fuel.

Low density, widely distributed, locally owned sustainable, renewable power generation is a perfectly feasible solution to our current energy problems.

Sure there’s plenty of problems installing the required number of systems, solar PV, geothermal, wind, tidal. It’s a big investment that will take years to install.

Of course it’s not a patch on the size of investment or technological challenge of building and fueling any of the big centralised so called ‘solutions’ we are all going to have to pay for over the next 50-75 years.

Check Dale Vince’s blog for a quick rundown on the ‘green levy’ and the far less often referred to ‘nuclear levy.’

There are already a large number of local, community based power generating projects springing up all over the UK in villages, small communities and urban areas.

The Big Six UK energy giants have put up their prices recently causing all kinds of political ructions but one of the small energy firms, Ecotricity and yes, I’m biased and proud of it, have frozen their prices until next year.

I get my power from them because A, it’s cheaper and B, they are investing their profits in renewable energy.

So my experience today was very uplifting, the Southwest is clearly at the forefront of developing a lot of these schemes and if I wore one, I’d take my hat off to them.


This Sh!t is Gettin' Real

I attended a Google event today about creativity and science, marketing, brand integration and the future of connected computer technology.

What’s more I was one of the speakers. Yeah baby. I’m rocking that cutting edge thinking, in a manner that is mildly reminiscent of a village vicar having a go at using a ‘search engine.’

After the event a very kind Googler allowed me to have a go with her Google Glass.

I have to wear glasses, I’ve only had to for the last few years but I am of the unfortunate generation who used early computer screens that were specifically designed to totally mash up your eyesight.

However, without my glasses I was able to see the tiny screen over my right eye in startling clarity.

I was in a noisy room full of people and said in my normal speaking voice ‘Okay Glass, take a picture’ and it did so immediately, I mean instantly, I would guess it takes the picture when the back of your tongue is on the ‘C’ sound of the word picture.

Very responsive.

I sent a text message, again just by speaking it, I did end the message by saying ‘fuck me!’ not as in a request you understand, more in amazement.

Interestingly the system didn’t include that expletive in the message.

I then asked for directions (to Buckingham Palace) from my location on Piccadilly and that was truly impressive.

A kind of 3D rendition of the route instantly appeared just above my field of vision. If you were walking around a strange city, this would be of incredible benefit.

Now, Google would be the first to say that Google Glass is a first generation product.

Yes, it looks a bit weird, it’s still quite chunky although as a regular specs wearer I didn’t notice any excess weight, the screen is surprisingly non intrusive, I didn’t find it hard to look at someone I was talking to and then glance up at the screen.

I think you’d adapt to tolerable levels of use quite rapidly.

As for the issues this kind of technology brings up, well, plenty of people have come up with millions of negative reactions instantly without ever having seen or tried them.

In many ways, it’s a new, disruptive technology generating a similar knee jerk negative reaction that electric cars have done in the past.

The easiest response is ‘you wouldn’t see me dead in one of those poxy electric cars.’

In just the same way I’ve heard plenty of ‘you will never see me collecting data for Google wearing naff looking Robo-specs.’

Well, in my walk through London today I’ve seen 5 Nissan Leaf’s and 3 Renault Zoe’s in the wild, highest random count ever. Okay, so I saw 350 Range Rovers doing 20 mpg and paying the congestion charge without a second thought, but still…..




Tikka to Ride

50 years ago today I was 7 and a half years old.

My memories of childhood are hazy with one or two sharp points where I can recall events in startling detail.

One was when our dog Spot arrived from the dog’s home. Spot was a massive black Labrador who was so excited to meet us his wagging tail hitting our little legs was like being thrashed by a Dickensian schoolmaster.

The other very clear memory was coming home from school and witnessing my mum crying.

My mum didn’t cry very often. In fact I can only remember her crying three times.

November 22nd 1963, January 1965, the day Churchill died and once more in 1972 when my brother got back on a motorbike after recovering from a truly life threatening bike crash. (He rode very fast, got off and said ‘never again.’)

The reason she was crying 50 years ago today was because of the Kennedy assassination. Obviously I didn’t understand, I was just a kid concerned for his mum, but it made a mark on me.

Many, many years later and I’m covered in rubber and plastic making series 7 of Red Dwarf, specifically Tikka to Ride where the crew of the small rouge one use a matter paddle to transport themselves back to the 20th century to get Lister a really hot curry.

They accidentally land in Dallas in 1963, in the Book Depository and knock Lee Harvey Oswald out of the window, thus changing history.

While we were shooting this episode, the production crew had an amazing coffee table sized book that was released around that time.

I have no idea what it was called but it absorbed me for hours between takes.

The book contained all the conspiracy theories about the assassination, some truly gruesome photographs of the President’s corpse.

One of the spookier aspects were tales of people who were in the operating room where attempts were made to save Kennedy’s life.

Very many of them ‘died’ within a year of the assassination, car crashes, suicide, cancer. I haven’t used inverted commas on those reasons for death for the very simple reason that I’ve never been interested in conspiracy theories.

However, I’ll say this, if there’s been one event during my life where the official story stinks to high heaven, it’s what took place on Dealy Plaza.

I’ll never believe the lone gunmen theory.

Sadly, unless there are freaky medical breakthroughs, I won’t be around in another 50 years to finally find out who shot Kennedy.

The reports, films, photographs and recordings of the moment are being kept secret until 2063.

In many ways Red Dwarf’s Tikka to Ride was as good an explanation as any, the President travelled through time with a bunch of space bums looking for a curry, and shot himself from the grassy knoll




A Simple Message from Mr Frack

Last week I attended a conference in London called 'Energy Live.'
I was there as a guest speaker and felt out of depth the moment I entered the venue.
This was a gathering of leaders in the field of energy supply and distribution, massive gas and oil corporations, industrial scale solar and wind companies, the national grid, renewable investment funds, you name it, the big guns were there.
It was a day of seminars and panel discussions ranging across all manner of topics related to the future of energy, where it might come from and how we distribute and use it.
Just before I was due to appear a rather scowling but hugely enigmatic and entertaining man called Chris Faulkner took to the stage.
Mr Faulkner is the Founder and CEO of the Dallas-based Breitling Energy Company. They frack. They frack like hell, if there's one thing Mr Faulkner loves, it's fracking.
He was forceful, funny, dogmatic, dismissive and enormously entertaining.
His obvious dislike of environmental activists was exposed with charm and wit, this guy was a brilliant speaker, a fantastic figurehead for an industry with a fairly severe PR problem in the UK.
He argued the case for fracking as well as anyone possibly could, the enormous economic benefit the American economy has experienced since fracking was introduced on a truly massive scale.
The decrease in coal burning at power stations, the increase in manufacturing and jobs in all sectors. The vast amounts of tax the fracking companies have paid to the government both at a state and federal level.
Due to the success of the process the cost of gas has fallen through the floor, so much so that's it's currently not worth a company like Mr Faulkner's investing in new drilling sites in the USA.
So guess what folks, they want to do it here.
I was surrounded by a lot of people who work in the fossil fuel industry in one way or another, you would think he was preaching to the converted and although he got laughs, won rounds of applause it didn't seem like he'd fully convinced people.
He left the stage to tumultuous applause and he deserved it, he was a Texan showman bedecked in Cuban heeled boots and rhinestone cufflinks.

There is no denying it, Mr Faulkner is exactly what a Brit audience wants from an American oil man. No punches pulled, shoot from the hip, speak your mind, fracking is the future people, get used to it.
Then I was introduced, a bumbling wet liberal electric car driving, solar panel owning middle class English pillock.
As I said to the audience when I took the stage, 'back in '87 I had to follow Robbie Coltrane at a big benefit concert in Edinburgh where the audience was 99% Scottish, I thought that was a tough gig!'
Believe me, that was nothing compared to following Mr Fracker.
I did my best, he'd set the tone, he'd raised the bar.
It was all or nothing, instead of bumbling and being apologetic went in six shooters blazing.
I suggested that while the immediate economic benefits of drilling and burning were undeniable, we might be at a pivotal point in the great human story where we needed to stop burning stuff.
While it might be possible to safely drill through the water table and pump highly toxic fluids deep underground to desperately try and extract the last vestiges of hydrocarbons from the planet, there just might be a longer term downside.
While it is foolish not to consider all the options available to us after the chronic failures of all governments over the last 25-30 years to prepare for the energy gap we are now facing, maybe fracking should be put on the back burner for now.
Now I'm not going to pretend I can remember everything I said, I know at one point I talked about drilling in my garden and fracking the hell out of my home and shitting all over my grandchildren's lives, I now recall that moment with some shame.
Yes, it got a laugh but that kind of cheap reaction to the massive and powerful industry that Mr Faulkner represents is not constructive.
Thankfully I also suggested we concentrate instead on developing massively distributed, local, individual and community owned power generating networks, grid level storage and and a non drill and burn attitude to sustainable energy production.
I may have mentioned that 97% of new power generation capacity in Germany is not owned by  mainstream utilities, meaning quite simply that it's owned by the people who use the power.
A distributed system like this is more reliable, more robust, less vulnerable to attack or mass blackouts, more able to adapt to new technologies, the list goes on and on.
What was truly encouraging was the response my rather unfocused and over emotional tirade got from this very professional and well informed group.
It felt very positive.
Maybe they were just being polite to an old bloke but I think there is something bigger going on.
People in the industry and particularly engineers understand that we need to start doing something radically different to the old model.
I can only hope that they succeed.
But seriously, respect to Mr Faulkner, the simplicity of the model is undeniable.
Frack, extract gas, sell it cheap, make a shit ton of cash, screw Mr Putin, screw the Saudi's and experience an economic boom.
Hell, you only live once.
Drill and burn baby. Drill and burn.


News v Ideas

There are times when I hear directly one-to-one  or read Tweets or reports or blog posts from people who are slam, bang right up to date on the latest news stories and I feel right out of the loop.
I do occasionally read online versions of newspapers, I listen to radio news but it’s a bit like paddling in the incoming tide of a particularly polluted beach.
I feel obliged to know about all this stuff and a bit guilty when I realise I’m way behind.
Then suddenly you chance to hear something and it all clicks.
A man called Evan Williams recently said something along the lines of;

 “…we are addicted to news when we should be addicted to ideas.”

I’ve had a root around trying to find exactly when and where he said this, but then I remembered that’s not the point. That would be news, what I’m interested in is the idea. Maybe I should explain what Evan Williams has done in his life but that would be pointless as you'll all know far more than me. That Twitter bloke will suffice.

Evan Williams

It relieved me of, I admit, a fairly lightweight burden of anxiety. I felt some low level social guilt when I didn’t know Miley Cryus had danced in an apparently sexually provocative way in public, but at the end of the day that’s just news. Dull, uninformative, locking the human race into set patterns we should all be trying to shed like dry skin.
I am interested in ideas, in ways of thinking, in concepts that challenge my world view.
I know  I enjoy challenging other people’s world view, engaging in dialogue that could, in the very long term, start to improve on the human condition.
News doesn’t do that, sure, you need to know what’s going on but that is the starting point for ideas.
It’s the ideas that are important, not the news, news is the rubble, the waste material that needs to be crushed into aggregate to use as the firm building base for new ideas.
We tend to fiddle about with news as if that’s it, the beginning and the end. This obsession plays directly into the hands of the big power brokers.
The more they can keep us focused on the constant stream of events in the world, the wars, disasters, marriages, divorces, shaking bottoms, shocking crimes the less we think.
The less we question the status quo and accept that the way the world is now, with a miniscule collection of ultra rich people who just get richer and a huge mass of poor people who are just getting poorer, the longer we will think this is ‘normal.’
Nothing is normal, we need to think, have ideas, talk about ideas, argue about ideas, challenge the status quo with every breath, use news as base aggregate, distrust the source, question the accepted wisdom and rise out of the mire of the corporate, coma inducing 'news cycle.'