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27 April
The Streatham vigilante

With a turn of speed that surprised even myself, I rose from my desk, leapt down the stairs and ran down the street. And for why? Well, for no purpose, as it turns out. But it might have been.

My sudden activity is a consequence of a recent phenomenon in my area: the Streatham Shitter. There is no decorous way of describing what’s been going on. Some thing, some beast, some beast-owner, has been leaving very large dollops of semi-molten brown stuff over the pavements around us. It’s revolting, and yesterday it was inside our front garden just up towards the front door.

There aren’t many dogs around in this leafy bit of inner suburb and those that there are seem to be well-trained, as are their owners, who come armed with plastic bags and sometimes a small shovel. I don’t like dogs much anyway. It seems to me that you shove smelly brown stuff in the front end and get very similar stuff out the back-end, but I can see that the bit in-between the two ends affords some amusement to those people who like their devotion on the slavish side. But I couldn’t really object to any of the local pooches: you’d barely know they were around.

But all that changed a few weeks back with the arrival of the Streatham Shitter. Now, where we once walked proudly with our heads in the air, admiring the changing cloudscape or the passing architecture, now we scuttle furtively, heads cast down lest we stumble into the brown stuff. It’s a bit like living in Brussels, the dog-shit capital of the world. The dog, whoever it is, is prolific and indiscriminate. And no one knows who it is. Its dark deeds are often done at night or early morning, ready to trap the bleary-eyed. So far it’s got away with it.

So far. But, as my recent excursion testifies, I’m prepared. Alert, watching out the window, poised, like a coiled spring. Unrecognised dog-walker and dog just went past: I was after them like a shot, ensuring that they left our street in the state in which they found it.

Which they did.

But next time…

20 April
UK energy in default mode

There’s news in the FT this morning that the Korean owned energy equipment company Doosan has decided to back-pedal on its proposal to build a wind turbine manufacturing plant in the UK. In fact, the decision not to go ahead – yet, at any rate – was taken some months ago but has only just emerged. It’s not the first such decision to defer: GE did the same in February.

Making the wind turbines isn’t, of course, the same as installing the wind turbines and we can presumably continue, as we have had to do for much of the UK wind energy industry’s history so far, with importing more of the devices than we might ideally like. But put this together with other parts of the UK energy picture and you get the impression not so much of being blown off course as of a worrying lack of direction.

A month or so back, we had one of our nuclear options deciding that, no, it wouldn’t be pursuing its plans to revive the power industry in North Wales. Over the past year, we’ve had the solar industry, which at least has plenty of deployable small-scale and not-so-small-scale capacity, thrown into uncertainty by the to-ings and fro-ings of government tax and subsidy policy.

All of this matters because, just around the corner, in five years or less, large chunks of the UK’s current power infrastructure are due for retirement. These are older and bigger power stations, many of them nuclear, that have come to the end of their reasonable working lives. And when they go, what will replace them? Darkness? Silence?

I don’t hold any particular brief for windpower whose credentials to provide a baseload of energy supply have always seemed to be slightly overblown (sorry) without new storage technology. I’m not a particular supporter of nuclear, being in the rather soggy position of wishing it wasn’t necessary but realising that it probably is because of the lack of alternatives. Solar power is probably a local solution for individual properties, especially offices, factories and bigger buildings. Wave and tidal power options just ain’t there yet… maybe one day.

What it looks increasingly like we’re going to be thrown back on is the old standby of hydrocarbons. Rules on fracking of gas in the UK have just been relaxed; we’ve started to put serious money into carbon capture and storage research; in other parts of the world, shale reserves and Alaskan reserves are going to be developed, easing pressure on some of the supplies that can now come to us from Russia, Kazakhstan and the Middle East. We’re in danger, I think, of being back where we were in the 1980s, when a lot of the good work that was done in the 70s on alternative energy resources because of the-then oil crisis got shelved and forgotten, as we went for the expediency of boosting hydrocarbons to help solve global economic problems.

Maybe this is happening again. And maybe this is the right decision. But if it is happening, then it would be rather nice if it was a bit more out in the open. Because I think we know more now than we did in the 1980s about the long-term consequences of climbing back on the hydrocarbon cycle in terms of global warming and resource depletion. And while we need a short-term fix in the UK to stop the lights going out in a few years time, there are long-term considerations here that shouldn’t just be ignored or left to the markets.

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