Are we at a collision point between socialism and capitalism, and is the global energy business driving this collision?


Are we at a collision point between socialism and capitalism, and is the global energy business driving this collision?

Two events have occurred over the past few weeks which appear to encapsulate an observation that I have been considering for some time, i.e. whether or not capitalism has moved to the extremes of greed, and socialism has no answer to counterbalance this behaviour. Politicians and the media would have you believe that banks are the ultimate in capitalist greed. Whereas I have serious reservations about the activities in certain banks, I feel that the major energy companies from oil & gas production through to energy generation consider their power above that of politicians at the highest level, and that of the major trade unions. If my observation bears credible scrutiny then who are the winners, and who are the losers.

The two events that I would like to use in this debate, because they encapsulate the major drivers in this debate, albeit not the only events of concern, are the Grangemouth Refinery & Petrochemical plant debacle in Scotland, and the UK Parliamentary Committee meeting with the major UK energy companies this past week.

Perhaps a little background on the energy footprint in the UK will assist readers not familiar with the situation here.

According to Ofgen, the energy regulator, the UK has installed capacity for electricity of some 73GW of conventional generation and 9GW of renewable with ACS peak demand expectations around 60GW. Uncertainty around government policy (UK and EU) and future prices continues to limit investment in conventional generation and no new plant is expected before 2016. In the UK it is  estimate that around 1GW of new gas plant will come online before the end of the decade and the installed capacity of wind power will possibly more than double over the same period albeit that this must surely now be in question. In any event, given the variability of wind speeds, they estimate that only 17% of this capacity can be counted as firm (i.e. always available) for security of supply purposes by 2018/19.

More than 2GW of LCPD opted-in plant have also closed or converted to biomass since October 2012, resulting in less pollutant plant but with significantly reduced capacity. Around 0.5GW of nuclear capacity is reaching the end of its technical life and is expected to close by 2014/15, though extensions now have to be considered. Around 2GW of CCGT plant should be retired by 2018/19 for the same reasons, but will this happen?

As installed capacity falls in the next few years, all else being equal, prices can be expected to rise and it is possible that this will lead plant, especially coal fired, that is currently mothballed to come back online to keep prices affordable.

According to National Grid, the expected drop in peak demand is mostly due to increased energy efficiency in the domestic sector and increased Demand-Side Response (DSR) insulation of buildings, etc. I consider this to be a convenient explanation politically where the truth may be more damning.

For completeness the interconnection capacity between the UK and mainland Europe and Ireland is currently 3.8GW. Assumptions about the likely direction and size of interconnector flows therefore have a significant impact on the calculation of the risks to the UK security of supply.

Ofgen expect that, in a situation of tight margins (please), ahead of mitigation actions being implemented, prices would rise resulting in higher interconnector flows into GB. However, GB is not the only European country expecting de-rated margins to fall in the next six winters. France, Ireland, Germany and Belgium are also facing security of supply challenges, and have very similar patterns of demand and supply availability.

As for gas, DECC reports suggest that gas consumption reached a record high in 2004 of 1,125 TWh. Since then, consumption has seen an overall decline, and in 2012 total gas consumption was 845.6 TWh, around 25% below its 2004 peak. These longer term trends are driven by commodity prices, energy efficiency and, for domestic use in particular, temperature. However domestic demand in 2012 was high, up almost 16 per cent on 2011, reflecting the colder, protracted winter, but gas demand for electricity generation fell by almost a third to 214 TWh largely as a result of coal replacing gas use due to high gas prices.

UK gas production peaked in 2000 and has since been declining. With declining production the UK has become increasingly reliant on gas imports to meet demand. Since 2000 net imports have steadily increased year on year, with the exception of 2011 which saw a 3 per cent decrease on the previous year’s level. The recent fall in imports can be attributed to the reduced gas demand from electricity generators, being replaced by coal.

Imports of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) through the two terminals at Milford Haven remain substantial, but their shares of total imports have dropped from 46% in 2011 to 27% in 2012. Demand for LNG on the global market remains strong but the UK has a diverse pipeline infrastructure (from Norway, the Netherland and Belgium) and the proportion delivered through each route will depend on global market conditions.

It is probably also worth noting that Europe, as a whole, has over capacity in crude oil refineries. The UK has 7 refineries. According to HIS Purvin & Getz Research Group the UK imports 47% of its diesel fuel, and 50% of its aviation fuel. However the UK has a 20% surplus of petrol which it exports.

Now let us look at the politics. In March 2007, the European Council agreed to a common strategy for energy security and tackling climate change. An element of this was establishing a target of 20% of the EU’s energy to come from renewable sources. In 2009 a new Renewable Energy Directive was implemented on this basis and resulted in agreement of country “shares” of this target. For the UK, by 2020, 15% of final energy consumption – calculated on a net calorific basis, and with a cap on fuel used for air transport – should be accounted for by energy from renewable sources. There was much grandstanding by the politicians at the time, especially directed towards the USA, indicating that Europe was a good citizen of the world, and would be a leader in the climate change revolution, setting targets that many reasonably minded people thought optimistic. However there followed much uncertainty surrounding the implementation of this and and other market reforms thus having as much impact on plant investment and retirement decisions as the expectations of the impact of evolving energy prices. This uncertainty means energy companies suffer much frustration of their long-term strategy through muddled energy policy, or indeed the lack of any definitive energy policy by various governments.

On the other hand the USA refused to sign up to Kyoto and, other than a little dancing at the edges, ignored the grandstanding of Europe and other countries and allowed the market to determine the future. The USA gets many things wrong, especially much of its foreign policy, but when it comes to protecting its own market it invariably gets it right. Developing new technologies and techniques such as fracking, the USA is now energy independent, energy prices are around 20% less than Europe, and they can export enough cheap fuel to disturb the markets in Europe.

In the UK the previous Labour government blindly signed up to all of the EU energy initiatives, could not fund these initiatives through already excessive taxation, so the current leader of the Labour Party, then Energy Secretary, came up with stealth taxes in the form of environmental and social levies to be collected by the energy companies from the domestic consumer, currently £117 per household, to fund these initiatives making a number of people in the renewable energy market very rich without delivering any tangible value today, or tomorrow. We now have a coalition government where the predominant Conservative Party want to repeal these stealth taxes and no longer subsidise renewable initiatives from public money but find themselves frustrated by the minority Liberal Democratic Party who see some value (to them) of continuing to wave the environmental flag. In addition the Labour Party, who created these woes for the consumer now wants to go to the dark ages of socialism and freeze energy prices. Maybe a good soundbite for the uninformed, but ridiculous in the world of global energy markets.

So let us review the Grangemouth debacle. As I said refining capacity in Europe exceed demand. Furthermore cheaper energy supplies are being imported from the USA. The management of Grangemouth, owned by INEOS, (the refinery can process some 210,000 barrels of oil per day) claimed that they are losing some USD 8 million per month fuelled partly by US imports where USA refineries pay some USD 15 per barrel less than UK refineries. The management, knowing that they need to invest some £300 million in the plant, decided that they could no longer afford to run the plant with the then operating costs. They put a package of pay and pension reforms to the 800 or so workers. In essence the UNITE union, one of the largest remaining trade unions in the UK (Margaret Thatcher saw off most of the trade union power in the 1980’s) applied its usual socialist dinosaur approach threatening strike action. The refinery management refused to accept revised terms from, or to spend 3 months negotiating with UNITE (giving the Government 3 months to find an alternative buyer) so INEOS, who had already safely closed the plant facing the threat of a strike then announced that they were going to close it. Both the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, and First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmon, quickly came into play to rescue this situation. We can only speculate on what happened behind closed doors but the UNITE union completely caved in and announced that they would recommend acceptance of the INEOS terms for its members, and it was clear that INEOS had been offered some government deal towards the required investment in the plant.

What we saw during the Grangemouth debacle is an example of how commercial reality surpasses political and trade union power. It was suggested that the loss of this facility would have been devastating for the Scottish economy, and they complain about banks being too big to fail.

Then we look at the Parliamentary Select Committee interrogation of the ‘big 6’ energy companies bosses, having raised energy tariffs by some 10% average to domestic consumers against wholesale price increases of just some 1.8%. The only reasonable summary of this session is too much grandstanding by the political panel, and total indifference by the energy bosses suggesting that the high price of energy was down to the stealth taxes mentioned above. I understand that the UK domestic consumers pay the highest energy costs in the European Union. One interesting analysis on a news broadcast was that British Gas had increased their profit from £45 per customer just 5 years ago to £95 per customer today. Apparently they need these profits to satisfy investment returns for their shareholders.

So who are the winners, and who are the losers.


  • The capitalist (foreign) owners of Grangemouth
  • The capitalist owners of the major energy companies
  • The capitalist owners of the renewable energy companies who will be long gone with their accumulated wealth before the reality of this folly is known
  • It will be interesting to know who claims the victory of Grangemouth, especially with the up-coming Scottish Independence vote: David Cameron claiming a victory for a United Kingdom, or Alex Salmon who wants Scottish Independence.
  • The environmental lobby thanks to the short-sighted view of the Liberal Democrat coalition leader


  • The domestic consumer who has to bear the cost of the bailout of Grangemouth because of a dinosaur socialist union leader.
  • The domestic consumer who has to pay the cost of the increased energy tariffs, which could be indirectly attributed to the lack of energy policy by governments
  • The domestic consumer who has to bear the socialist imposed stealth taxes for renewable energy policies that are far too optimistic, expensive, and will prove to be a waste of resources. It should be noted that the socialist principal of payment according to what you earn was ignored thus betraying their core socialist vote.
  • The domestic consumer who has to pay for price increases to corporate energy users as they will pass their increases on to the consumer in the price of their goods/services.
  • The domestic consumer who will have to bear the cost of frantic, last minute efforts to maintain supply because of the lack of any firm energy policy.
  • It is claimed that reduction in demand is mostly due to the energy efficiency in the domestic consumer market. To some extent new technology and insulation will have an impact, but I fear that cost means that many domestic consumers cannot afford to heat their homes, and thus go cold. Thus the losers, again, are low income and pensioner domestic consumers – a direct reflection of capitalist greed.

I think that it was Socrates who observed that intelligent people discussed ideas, moderately intelligent people discussed events, and the vast majority, the uninformed, share gossip. Our largest selling newspapers, and to a degree some news channels, and political hype thrive on sensationalised gossip including important issues of energy policy – apocalyptic climate change gossip spread by brainwashed environmental campaigners sell more copies and buy more uninformed votes than mundane realities. There is a flaw in democracy if the noisy uninformed minority can unreasonably influence the uninformed, the impact of which is a substantial negative impact to the silent majority. It is an unquestionable fact that people united can make change happen. Therefore the people need to be properly and honestly informed.

Ironically all of this dithering means that the future is a return to non-other than the fuel which started the industrial revolution –Coal – because it is plentiful, and it is cheap, – look at Germany’s preferred fuel.

I would be very interested to hear how the above events in the UK would have played out in other countries, not least Germany and France.


Ofgen Electricity Capacity Assessment Report 2013

Various DECC reports

HIS Purvin & Getz Research Group


IPCC Fifth Assessment Report on Climate Change 2013: Does the lack of media interest indicate that this group have cried ‘wolf’ once too often?


  IPCC Fifth Assessment Report on Climate Change 2013: Does the lack of media interest indicate that this group have cried ‘wolf’ once too often?

The 5th Assessment Report on Climate Change was published last week, but did anyone notice? Where were the media? Scant reference in the visual and radio media, and very little in the printed press – the London Evening Standard, having the lead over the daily newspapers, had all of 2 column inches on page 4. Have these climate change disciples cried ‘wolf’ once too often, and no-one believes them anymore?

Intrigued by this lack of obvious interest, even by the serious news stations, I waded through the 36 page report summary, and the press release, over the weekend to see what it had to say – the full report is a real tome. The striking feature throughout this report is the obvious desperation to convince the reader that this time they have it right. They have better observation techniques, better data, blah, blah, blah. However, without boring the pants of one and all, the essence is that mankind is a major contributor to global warming (around 50% – compared with the 99%+ stated in 1999) with a 90% degree of confidence. It also indicates that some 9,000 scientists around the World agree with the findings of this report. So what does this really tell us?

Many moons ago in another life, when I started my training as a scientist at the Atomic Energy Research Establishment, we were given a number of books that we should treat as lifelong companions in our pursuit of truth. One of these was called ‘The Use and Abuse of Statistics’ and was intended as a constant reminder that the data must paint the picture, and not used or abused to create the picture that one would like the data to paint (e.g. in order to receive continued funding). I still have this somewhat battered book as I found it very useful when studying the data presented by the ultimate protagonists of such abuse – Politicians. Obviously this book defines how data can be presented to fit the required message, and the difference between relative levels of ‘confidence’ and ‘certainty’ as there is a big difference between confidence and certainty. You need to have a very clear idea of these classifications in order to make any sense of this IPCC report. I also know how frustrating it is when there is an unexplained hole in the data when you are under pressure to present your findings. Do you mention the hole, or assume it of little relevance and ignore it.

Let us consider a typical statement in this report: “The atmospheric concentrations of the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O) have all increased since 1750 due to human activity.” The first part of this statement is probably a true and accurate – even an objective statement. But then the integrity is shattered by the second part of the statement i.e. “due to human activity” which indicates a level of certainty which can only be interpreted as desperate arrogance – it needed a qualification such as ‘probably, primarily, likely’ to be acceptable without absolute proof to the contrary. The remainder of this paragraph does not support the indicated certainty.

Just as a comparison on a Universe basis (as in climate change) I asked an astrophysics friend who had worked on the Mars Voyager mission if they would have launched Voyager with only a 90% degree of confidence in their calculations that Voyager would reach Mars – absolutely not. They needed to be better than 99% degree of certainty subject only to cosmic collisions that could destroy Voyager.

Let me be clear in that I fully accept climate change. Indeed the climate is constantly changing, and we are familiar with the climate change over the past 10,000 years since the last ice-age since when we are told that sea levels have risen some 110m and thus cities that were once on dry land are now beneath the sea. We are also told that there is evidence that sea levels have been some 10m higher than they are today in past history so our climate is a continually evolving system. My reservations are to what extent mankind influences changes in climate versus natural change as the earth continues to evolve. Leaving mankind to one side for a moment we are told that changes in the activity of the sun will render earth uninhabitable by humans in some 140,000 years’ time in any event. If science revealed with substantial levels of certainty that the behaviour of mankind was impacting climate change by, say 30%, then I think that mankind needs to be creative and resolve this influence. What I do not accept is that the arrogance of mankind can suggest that the full force of mother nature is a known and fully understood process, and that man has the capacity to change it, even unwittingly – something akin to King Canute standing before a tsunami.

Why did this report need to state that some 9,000 scientists agree with the content of this report? Do we know how many scientists disagree with this report, or even if some 9,000 scientists is a representative group in the global scientific community. Do we remember that when Copernicus (1473 – 1543) developed his treatise on a heliocentric model of the universe with the sun at its centre he was so afraid to publish that the first copy was placed into his hands on his death bed. When Galileo (1564 – 1642) assumed the mantle on behalf of Copernicus, and added description of the orbits of other planets such as Venus and Neptune he was branded a heretic and committed to house arrest for the remaining 9 years of his life. In the 15th century Christopher Columbus found it difficult to find a crew for his historic voyage of discovery because the general belief was that the earth was flat and thus he would sail over the edge into iniquity. History shows that the view of mankind, based on lack of real knowledge over arrogance, can lead to serious misunderstandings. This is where I see the claims of mankind’s influence over climate change today.

What this IPCC report really indicates is that, since their first report in 1999, there has been a number of step changes in thinking and understanding of the complexity of the problem – but without enough understanding to define a universally accepted solution. This is progress, but the contra argument is that we are still in an embryonic stage at the front-end of the curve of discovery. But the frenzy caused from the imposition of such imperfect science has reaped havoc in energy policy throughout the World, and thus my reference to crying wolf.

Using the UN to put their weight behind emotive propaganda regarding climate change has provoked responses from the environmental lobby that has delayed political decisions regarding replacement of current energy generation stock. Surely the UN has enough problems dealing with the issues relating to the essence of its being. Furthermore the people are being taxed to fund clean energy policies for which, to date, there is no proven argument as to the urgency. Blue skies science has traditionally been funded by benefactors, philanthropists, etc and so should climate change science until such time as the evidence is irrefutable. Public funds should not be invested in such embryonic science or technology. I have absolutely no problem with development of new energy technologies as this would be against my fundamental scientist instinct. However, as shown by our wind power investment, there is no payback in any respect to the people whose taxes, in whatever form, are used to develop such technologies so they get a double whammy with also trying to manage their lives in this period of austerity.

As for the IPCC report predicting what will be in 100 years from now I can only comment that had we asked the most eminent progressive thinkers of their time 100 years ago (before World War I) what the World would look like today, how wrong would they have been? My concern, and should be the concern of every one of these 9,000 scientists, is what do we need to do today in whatever reliable form to ensure that we can provide the required energy capacity needed in 10 years’ time to safeguard the momentum of mankind. What we do not need is energy starvation with the ensuing likely chaos and anarchy – even from those banging the drum about clean energy today. And please let us stop kidding ourselves that wind and solar can play any primary part in such delivery.

The irony of energy policy delay in much needed high capacity base load energy generation (as I will argue in a blog already in progress) is that the beneficiaries of these delays will be none other than the fossil fuel production companies – home goal for the environmental lobby.

Perhaps a glowing example from history from which we should learn is the story of the Mayan civilisation from around 2000BC – AD250. The mathematical and astronomy skills of this ancient civilisation are well known, and form part of our calendar today. There are many theories as to how this highly advanced civilisation suddenly collapsed. Their scholars spent most of their time observing the universe, and even lived high in the trees or on platforms never really taking much notice of life on the ground. The popular view to their demise is that their population exceeded the carry capacity of their environment, exhausting agricultural capacity, over-hunting, and converting their forests into cropland thus reducing evapotranspiration and thus rainfall leading to a lack of water. Are we focussing on the wrong end of the universe? Should we take our heads out of the clouds and look to how we manage the fundamentals of life such as food, water, energy, etc. Certainly the research needs a watching brief on the impact of human activity but do we really need to continue with the massive costs of this climate change circus when there are more pressing matters right under our noses?


ENERGY – What does the future hold?


ENERGY – What does the future hold?

There is much debate today about energy, whether it be renewables versus fossil fuels, nuclear, or the Armageddon view that by 2020 the lights will go out. I find these debates emotionally charged, and far from any form of reality.

Having been invited to express my views on the future for energy as someone engaged in energy in one form or another all of my working life I would like to expand these arguments and attempt to present a more sober and objective view of the energy requirements of the future, and how mankind, in its perpetual thirst for discovery, will most certainly overcome, and indeed it will be our contempt of the forces of ‘mother earth’ that are likely to prove the more formidable than anything that the consumptive excesses of mankind can create. So let me move away from the typical discussion about energy and take a more controversial, or as someone remarked, a ‘Clarkson approach’ to the future of energy.

Let us start with a short trip back into the 18th century to the start of the industrial revolution. Prior to this time wood had been the main source of energy in Britain, used for fuel in homes and small industries. But as the population grew, so did the demand for timber. As forests were cut down, wood had to be carried further to reach the towns. It was bulky and difficult to transport and therefore expensive.

Coal was the fuel which kick-started the Industrial Revolution – and Britain was very fortunate to have plenty that could be easily mined. Coal is a much more potent form of power, providing up to three times more energy than wood. Political, economic and intellectual conditions would all contribute, but at the heart of the industrial revolution was our use of this new and abundant energy source. Throw in the thoughts of Isaac Newton for good measure and we have the transformation to make the world in which we live today. Indeed coal is still in use today, some 250 years later, and there are still vast reserves throughout the world.

Since then we have developed oil and gas as energy sources, and yet again, and contrary to the view of the doomsayers, there are still substantial reserves of both. Experts in the USA are now stating that fracking for oil and gas in the USA will make the USA self-sufficient for at least another 100 years, and energy prices in the USA are already reduced by some 20%. It would appear that fracking will realise substantial supplies of oil & gas in the United Kingdom and many other countries.

So what are the issues that will determine the energy requirements of the future?

  • The impact of the continued use of fossil fuels
  • The development of renewable/clean energy generation
  • The (increasing) demand for energy
  • The Malthusian controversy (population increase)
  • New technologies

We are told that carbon emissions resulting from the use of fossil fuels are causing global warming and/or adverse climate change. As a nuclear physicist by training at the Atomic Energy Authority at Harwell, and working on such projects as fission control in fuel element tubes in nuclear reactors, flow dynamics of oil and gas throw pipelines in different climatic conditions, and nuclear geophysics techniques for the in-field analysis of boreholes in the search for minerals, oil and gas I am used to public outcry at new technologies – my first University degree course had to be renamed Physical Electronics to avoid the onslaught from Michael Foot and his ‘Ban the Bomb’ movement.

One project that I was aware of in those days, and still persists in the shadows, is the attempts by scientists to alter our weather. We are all aware of the use of cloud seeding by the Russians in the Communist era to prevent rain on their May Day parades, and even by the Chinese during the 2008 Olympics. The story is far bigger. The first such experiments were an attempt to change the fierce weather patterns in the Bay of Biscay because of the continued loss of shipping – indeed I vaguely remember that Lloyds of London may have been a sponsor. Later the computer simulations moved to a reliable irrigation of sub-Sahara – the common view of recent heavy snowfall in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia is that it is not the result of climate change from greenhouse gasses. Then we have the urgent desire in Australia to irrigate the mineral rich outback of Australia so that these massive reserves can be exploited – could this explain the recent severe flooding in regions of Australia.

The earth’s climate has been significantly affected by the planet’s magnetic field that could challenge the notion that human emissions are responsible for global warming. “Our results show a strong correlation between the strength of the earth’s magnetic field and the amount of precipitation in the tropics,” claim the two Danish geophysicists behind the study, Mads Faurschou Knudsen and his colleague Peter Riisager of the geology department at Aarhus University in western Denmark.

Actually changing weather conditions is well within the power of man as this involves disturbing the earth’s magnetic field in the depths of the oceans where weather patterns are determined. However the vast array of variables in the equations have to be reduced to a manageable level of primary, secondary and tertiary impact, discounting the lesser impact variables, as decided by man, to facilitate ‘solutions’ that should work – or maybe not. All of this experimentation is undertaken with good intention, but……………..

Then we have the problem of the ‘eminent’ climate change scientific community, and one particular group who I refuse to give them editorial credit because of their celebrity over fact status, who wrote a critically acclaimed book in 1999 stating that the earth’s contribution (volcanic activity, etc.) was only around 1% of current greenhouse gas emissions, and have since had to revise this significant upwards over 3 subsequent revisions, and I now hear that there has been a gross miscalculation of deep sea geothermal activity contribution plus the release of once frozen methane gases from the ocean bed (as was witnessed during the recent BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico). I often wonder if the climate change scientific community are aware of the experiments described above, or even alive to the reality of the impacts due to the natural progression of ‘mother earth’.

Whilst I am prepared to accept that man is playing a part in so-called global warming I consider it disingenuous to ‘mother earth’ to think that mankind has control of their destiny on this planet. For example lurking beneath Yellowstone National Park in the USA is a massive underground reservoir of magma, capped by the park’s famous caldera, a huge reservoir of superhot liquid rock and poison which could blow at any time. USGS geologist Jake Lowenstern, scientist-in-charge of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, suggests that most damage would come from “cold ash” and pumice borne on the wind, and considers it “disasterous” when enough ash rains down that it creates a layer of 10cm or more on the ground poisoning land and waterways – and this would happen in a radius of 500 miles or so. The gasses released would have a global effect on temperatures. “Any big eruption causes a cooling of the atmosphere, especially with that much ash” claims Lowenstern. In 1812 the Mount Tambora super volcano eruption in Indonesia lowered global temperatures, and a caldera-forming eruption in Yellowstone Park would be bigger, so climate change would almost certainly follow, albeit would possibly only last for a few years.

The so-called Thera eruption of Santorini in the Aegean Sea, circa 1630 BC, left a large caldera surrounded by volcanic ash deposits tens of metres deep (compare depth of ash with the above view of Lowerstern) and may have led indirectly to the collapse of the Minoan civilization on the island of Crete, 110 km (68 mi) to the south, as a result of a gigantic tsunami. A popular theory holds that the Thera eruption was such a devastating event felt thousands of miles away that is the source of the legend of the demise of Atlantis. Plato quotes Critias’ account of the legend, as told to Solon by one of the Egyptian priests:

 “Now in this island of Atlantis there was a great and wonderful empire which had rule over the whole island and several others, and over parts of the continent . . . But, there occurred violent earthquakes and floods, and in a single day and night of misfortune. . . the island of Atlantis . . .disappeared in the depths of the sea.”

The effect on the climate of the Northern hemisphere of the Thera eruption is being detected in tree rings as far north as the UK. Although the eruption of Santorini is recognized as one of the most explosive volcanic eruptions in historic times, the event is only a single eruption in a continuum of eruptive activity associated with subduction. The island group exhibits on-going seismic activity, and both fumaroles and hydrothermal springs are common features around these islands. It seems clear that we can expect another eruption, and we cannot rule out the possibility of another catastrophic eruption reminiscent of ~1630 BC.

Do the Earth’s volcanoes emit more CO2 than human activities? Probably not, but when a large eruption occurs the results are instant and devastating. The ecologists are speaking of a 2oC rise in temperature by 2100 from man-made global warming, but a major eruption can reduce the earth’s temperature by this much in a few weeks.

Another aspect of greenhouse gas emissions I feel worthy of note is the current debate about all automotive vehicles being compelled to use headlights during the day. If we take an average light wattage of 180 watts per car, with an average population of 4 million cars on the road throughout the day the consumption is equivalent to 720MW – a fairly large power station. Where does this energy come from – the car’s engine (burning fossil fuels). I have occasion to make trips to Switzerland and Italy by car. My preferred travel time is through the night, but returns are typically through the day. My fuel consumption increase through the night versus the day has been measured on a number of occasions and ranges between 5% – 8% of additional fuel to travel through the night. This is the additional energy requirement to power my lights. So this proposed policy not only will increase consumed fuel costs by between 5% – 8%, it also creates additional CO2 emissions equivalent to a large power station burning fossil fuels. Truly a contradictory policy.

Thus I have a cynical view of the man-made greenhouse gas/climate change argument. Indeed had I written this essay some 10,500 years ago I would have been sitting on some 30m of ice which has been melting ever since, mainly as a result of natural climate change.

Of course we must not forget the Malthusian controversy, especially if we reach the estimated planet population of some 10 billion people by 2050. Ironically I do not see this as an energy problem as far greater impacts will be the need for potable water, and the devastation to the animal kingdom.

What of future demands for energy? Propaganda suggests that energy demand will triple by 2050. I have attempted to rationalise where this multiple comes from. 20 years ago we had 100w incandescent lamps to provide lighting. This was replaced by 50w halogen lamps. Today the equivalent is an 8w LED. Think of the old cathode ray tube TV sets consuming around 400w now replaced with 60w LED TVs. When computers were first used in commercial applications in the 1970’s they required many kiloWatts to run them. Today you can have the same computer power using milliwatts of power. Thus the trend is far more function for significantly less power.

Of course there are people whose consumption of energy can only be described as blatant excess, but behaviour change is not possible with these people so ‘save energy’ propaganda or taxation will not achieve anything with such people. I know people from the most ignorant to very intelligent, but all having the common denominator of financially comfortable, and to whom there is no price/elasticity for energy. If you tripled the cost they may moan for 10 minutes, and then continue as before. But their consumption is a microcosm against total energy requirement.

What annoys me is that, in pursuit of political favour from noisy eco-voters, our politicians have allowed energy companies to extract essentially a duty from all people for so-called ‘new energy’ development. The payment of this duty includes the people struggling to pay for the energy they actually need to support their families. Instead of the Government using a more reasonable proportional taxation process they cause unnecessary hardship to many to win votes by satisfying the eco-lobby and claiming that they are not raising taxes.

So what of the future? We see a major political push in the development of so-called renewables such as wind power and solar with people seriously believing that these can be anything more than secondary or more likely tertiary energy sources. In 2012 I was asked to analyse 4 such projects for financing purposes; in the USA a 100MW solar thermal, a 60MW vertical axis wind, and a biomass still in development, and in Italy a 18MW biomass plant that had already been built, but was now for sale.

In the case of the 100MW solar thermal proposal operating cost was $56 per MWh including State ‘green’ grants, with then base load off-takes around $72 per MWh (they expected to achieve a PPA at $98 per MWh). Fracking results bought base load off-takes below $50 so no possibility of finance.

The vertical axis turbine project was interesting because it offered substantial advantages over conventional propeller-style wind turbines.  Functionality, ease of maintenance and operation, lack of electronic interference, no ground resonance, a more acceptable profile, capable of tolerating a wider range of wind speeds, quieter in operation than propeller-style turbines, and no bird or bat kills in over 12 years of turbine operations. But again this project relied on State ‘green’ grants to make it commercially viable (I am reliably informed that there are no Federal grants for ‘green’ energy in the USA). Again fracking results caused cessation of the State grants.

The biomass plant relied on an energy conversion process that had only been proven on a small scale in a university laboratory thus needed technology transfer finance. However it was clear that this technique relied on so many cost variables that no-one was interested to engage. It is also worth mentioning that I came across a number of bankrupt ethanol plants during this process.

I was invited to analyse the biomass plant in Italy as due diligence just as the investor was about to purchase it. It was already working having received grants from both the EU and the local Municipality. However the operator had taken all of the capital value out of the project, including the carbon credits, and was trying to unload the project on some unsuspecting pension fund at around an 8% yield – but only achievable if the energy subsidies on the feed-in tariffs from the Government were maintained – very unlikely. The owner realised that there was no commercial future for this plant, especially if energy prices stagnated, or reduced. The investor walked away as a result of my analysis.

I have yet to examine any such projects that are commercially viable without subsidies. The exception is waste to energy plants which, if the dioxins and heavy metal issues are properly addressed, can be a very effective use of waste.

Obviously there are a number of other fuels and technologies in the process of research and development, and I am aware of at least one energy source that has been suppressed because it provided direct competition to the majors in that it would be a cheaper fuel than petrol or diesel. This is a fuel developed by the Germans during the war, but they could not stabilise it. A group of scientists found the notes relating to this fuel in a bunker and developed a way to stabilise it such that they could use it in a conventional car engine. The waste product is water, so completely clean, and can be produced in most countries. Unfortunately all 3 of the scientist mysteriously died within 3 months of each other.

If the ecologists can win the argument then nuclear, (and hydro where possible), are the only existing sources of reliable base load clean energy. But why have we not built the reactors that we so desperately need? The anti-nuclear lobby have jumped on the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster as an argument to delay the development of new generation reactors. This argument is invalid because the Japanese Government was informed by the IAEA over 10 years ago that these reactors should be de-commissioned. The Japanese economy was in dire straits so the various politicians, since the warning, criminally gambled with the lives of many through wanton negligence. Even when the tsunami triggered the incident they failed to raise the alarm in the international community to seek help that could have avoided many of the problems that subsequently occurred. Don’t blame the reactors, look to the politicians who abused the technology constraints. Those reactors worked well for years fuelling the Japanese economy. Until we have new reactors fossil fuels will reign, regardless of the environmental lobby.

The real future is in fusion. The international nuclear fusion project – known as ‘Iter’, meaning “the way” in Latin – is designed to demonstrate a new kind of nuclear reactor capable of producing unlimited supplies of cheap, clean, safe and sustainable electricity from atomic fusion. The claims are that if Iter demonstrates that it is possible to build commercially-viable fusion reactors then it could become the experiment that saves the world in a century threatened by climate change and an estimated three-fold increase in global energy demand. Of course this statement assumes much in terms of global warming and demand, but there is no doubt that this technology, once perfected, will open completely new horizons in wholesale clean energy generation.

On a final note I consider it an insult to the intelligence of our successors that people of today think that future generations will not find solutions to the problems that we face, or think we face. I appreciate that the loud retort will be ‘sustainability’ but the progress of mankind over the past 100 years has seen incredible exponential advances, and this will continue. Who is to say that some brilliant chemist will not find a digester to extract the CO2 out of the atmosphere if this proves to be a real problem. But let us first check that it is mankind who are causing the real problems, or is ‘mother nature’ relentlessly progressing through her life, and we just have to adapt.