Friday, March 18, 2016

Who’s having kittens?

This episode was published as a podcast on 11th March at

Kittens? Kittens?
Could this be an unscrupulous attempt to boost internet hits for the Sustainable Futures Report - even to start it trending by talking about kittens? Perish the thought. Although the photo
is really cute. Mind you, the news about the Hinkley C nuclear power station just gets worse and worse so somebody’s having kittens. I’ll examine who that’s likely to be. It’s all part of the global energy infrastructure. We spoke about that this week at the local branch of the United Nations Association. There’s been a lot about energy in the news. I hear David Cameron has fallen out of love with Swansea Bay and apparently npower has fallen out of love with about 2,500 employees who will shortly be out of a job. 
Who gives a stuff? What? Well it’s funny you should mention that. Steve Howard of furniture retailer IKEA recently suggested that we’re close to peak stuff. We’ve got more stuff than we know what to do with. This trend is borne out by a report from the Office of National Statistics. In this episode I look at the Restart Project and do you know where all the civil servants are who manage the Northern Powerhouse? Where do you think they are based? Guess again.

Yes, I’m Anthony Day with your weekly Sustainable Futures Report for Friday 11th March. As usual, it’s brought to you without advertising, subsidy or sponsorship, so this time I’m going to take a moment to tell you about my Sustainable Best Practice Exchange which takes place in Harrogate on 14th April. I’m delighted to report that our opening keynote speaker is confirmed as Wouter Van Tol, Director of Sustainability and Citizenship at Samsung Electronics Europe. Taking as his theme One Step at a Time: Moving Towards a More Sustainable Business Wouter will draw on his experiences at Samsung, and share his knowledge on what organisations need to be doing in order to move towards a more sustainable business, across areas including energy, supply chain, and skills.

Joining Wouter is a whole host of expert panellists, including Gareth Williams, Energy and Environment Manager for Northern Rail; Shaun McCarthy OBE, chair of the Supply Chain Sustainability School; Dexter Galvin, head of CDP’s Supply Chain Programme and Tim Balcon, CEO of the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment.  In addition to the panel sessions, experts will lead 50-minute roundtable discussions where you can both learn and share your own experience and expertise.

The smart scheduling system will let you book your own panel sessions and roundtable places in advance, and set up one-to-one meetings with other delegates.

Tailor the event to your own skills and interests for a value-packed day. You’ll be sorry to miss it!

All the information is at 
Now listen carefully - here’s the deal. Contact me at mentioning the exclusive codeword, which is kitten (it’s different for everyone, really) and I’ll sort you out a really good price. Even better if you bring a friend.

OK, down to business. The energy business. I’ve spoken about the planned new nuclear power station, Hinkley C, in a lot of episodes recently, but this week it’s hit the headlines again. The main news is that Thomas Piquemal, finance director of EDF the company planning to build the station, has resigned. He was concerned that the £18bn project would be just too big for EDF and threaten the company’s survival. His departure follows fellow director Chris Bakken who left EDF last month. It’s been suggested that Piquemal’s departure is likely to make it easier for the project to go ahead as his opposition is removed. Certainly both the British and French governments have re-iterated their support for the project. There are many commentators expressing serious doubts about it. You’ll remember that similar stations are under construction in Finland and northern France, both seriously over budget and years behind schedule. There are doubts about the safety of the pressure vessel at the French site. If it is condemned by the nuclear inspectorate the building will have to be partially demolished to remove and replace the rejected component. With that still unknown, it is little wonder that EDF is still struggling to raise the finance to go ahead, even though the Chinese have been persuaded to invest £6 billion.

Across the Bristol Channel there are plans to build the 
Swansea Bay tidal lagoon. This will produce electricity for 14 hours per day for 120 years. It’s only a tenth of the size of Hinkley C in output terms at 320MW, but at £1billion it costs around half as much per MW. It’s expected to take 5 years to build, so could come on stream 5 years earlier than Hinkley C. Of course, if it’s only one tenth the size, Swansea Bay is no alternative to Hinkley C, but it’s surely worth doing. The government doesn’t seem to think so. Last month David Cameron said he was losing his enthusiasm for the project because of the cost. Energy minister Andrea Leadsom followed up by saying that the interests of bill-payers had to be taken into account and the strike price for energy from the lagoon would be too high. The strike price for energy from Hinkley C will be £92.50, index-linked for 35 years, and has been criticised as extortionate since it is about twice the current average price for electricity. To be fair it is still less than some guaranteed rates for offshore wind, but Swansea Bay is expected to come in at £96.50, which is not vastly more than £92.50. There are indications that this could be reduced if the guarantee period is based on 90 years rather than 35.  I can’t immediately see why the strike price for Swansea should be higher than Hinkley if the construction cost is significantly lower pro-rata. If you’re an expert perhaps you could let me know! According to, the design life of Hinkley C of 60 years is half that of Swansea Bay. It is not clear whether decommissioning costs for Hinkley C have been taken into account in these prices, but these costs will be considerable and will be underwritten by the government. (That’s you and me, as taxpayers, or probably our grandchildren.)

Ministers have announced a wide-ranging review into the untested technology to be used. No, not at Hinkley C, but at Swansea Bay.  A decision on crucial subsidies for the lagoon will not be taken until after the conclusion of the review, expected in the autumn, says the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). Long grass, anyone?

The European Pressurised Reactor to be used at Hinkley is of course untested technology, but there are no reports at present of any wide-ranging review of that.

Well, while we’re waiting, what about a neighbourhood nuclear powerplant? The Guardian reports:
“Nuclear power plants smaller than a garden shed and able to power 20,000 homes will be on sale within five years, say scientists at Los Alamos, the US government laboratory which developed the first atomic bomb.
The miniature reactors will be factory-sealed, contain no weapons-grade material, have no moving parts and will be nearly impossible to steal because they will be encased in concrete and buried underground.”

That report is dated November 2008. I don’t think any deliveries have yet been made. But wouldn't there be a terrorist threat with all that nuclear material in every community?
Ah, but we’ll be able to sort that out with Trident, won’t we? Won’t we?

Seriously, we didn’t have an energy crisis over the winter because we had the warmest winter on record. During this year older power stations will be retired. Unless something is done to fill the capacity gap the risk of outages next winter will rise. It will take 10 years from the start date of Hinkley C construction for it to start producing power, but there is no start date. There is no start date for Swansea Bay. The government must surely be concerned. It’s going to be extremely difficult to plug the supply gap soon enough - even with renewables, which are generally quite quick to build. Time, surely, for a national initiative to manage demand. A replacement for the Green Deal which works, to make the housing stock warmer for less. Taxes on energy for business to encourage more efficient use of energy. We must look very hard at climate change agreements which give many industries tax breaks for competitive reasons. Has that gone too far? Support for renewables at the domestic and industrial level will also help to cut demand on the central generators. I’m not advocating increased FIT levels, but the levels should be set and fixed. FITs should probably fall to zero in little more than 5 years, but the timeline should be known and respected so that businesses can plan and prosper. All of this would create jobs, which in turn would create tax revenues. Energy prices might rise, but the lights are more likely to stay on. Am I missing something?

Also in this week’s energy news is the announcement from npower that it is to cut 2,400 jobs. Not all of these are in the UK and they do not relate to power generation. They will affect staff in the administration and billing areas. npower lost 424,000 customers last year, or about 7% of its business. In December, it was fined £26m for sending out late and often inaccurate bills and failing to handle customer complaints effectively. Ofgem, the energy regulator, said more than 500,000 customers had been affected and npower’s parent, RWE, said the mistakes were embarrassing.

A quick look at the oil price in passing. It’s around $40, well up from the sub-$30 price at the turn of the year. The reason is apparently rising demand for gasoline. Is this more than a blip? With Iran increasing production now that sanctions are off and Saudi showing no signs of reducing production, I think that’s all it can be.

Energy is a global issue. At a meeting United Nations Association in Harrogate this week we looked at Global Goal No.7 - Sustainable Energy for All. The United Nations Global Goals for Sustainable Development are targets for completion by 2030.

The Objectives of Global Goal No. 7 are to:

  1. Provide universal access to electricity
  2. Increase the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix. (Double by 2030)
  3. Increase energy efficiency of buildings, industry, agriculture and transport
  4. Phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption

In the developed world our priority must be to phase out fossil fuels and eliminate the harmful emissions they produce.

In the developing world there is a range of challenges to overcome.

  • 20% of the global population (1.5bn) has no access to electricity
  • 40% of the world’s population (3.0bn) uses biomass, charcoal or coal for cooking, often burning it indoors.
  • In many communities kerosene lanterns are the only source of light where there is no electricity

This leads to:

  • The fumes from cooking fires cause 1.5-2 million premature deaths each year: twice as many as malaria.
  • Women spend many hours collecting firewood
  • Kerosene lanterns create carbon black (soot), which has been identified as a contributor to global warming.
  • Families with no electricity and no money for kerosene have no light after dark and so cannot study in the evenings.

Achievement of this goal - and the others - requires action by the world community. That can be governments or that can be us as individuals. That can involve lobbying the government on our national energy policy or supporting charities to bring renewable and sustainable energy to developing countries. It’s a global issue. It affects us all. We can all do something about it.

I mentioned Stuff.
At a recent Guardian Sustainable Business debate Steve Howard, Sustainability Director at furniture retailer IKEA said that in the West we have probably reached “peak stuff”, the point at which we want to buy fewer and fewer things.

But Howard said his comments did not contradict Ikea’s target of almost doubling sales by 2020, and that changes in consumption were an opportunity for companies to rethink the way they did business. Ikea was trying to help customers live in a more environmentally friendly way, he added.
“We will be increasingly building a circular Ikea where you can repair and recycle products.”

The circular economy in practice.

The slow-down in consumption of stuff is borne out by a new report from the Office of National Statistics: UK Environmental Accounts: How much material is the UK consuming?

It tells us that:
  • The amount of material consumed in the UK has fallen from a peak in 2001 of 15.1 tonnes per person to 10.3 tonnes per person in 2013. 
  • Although the weight of imported products has generally increased since 2000, the quantity of raw material required to manufacture the imported products has decreased, suggesting improved resource efficiency.
  • Over the 2000 to 2013 period, resource productivity (the relationship between economic activity and material consumption), in the UK has positively increased, rising 59.4% from £1.87 per kilogram in 2000 to £2.98 per kilogram in 2013.

Looking at it another way, this means that for every £1 that consumers spend they are spending more of it on services rather than goods. Consumers are buying digital downloads instead of CDs or DVDs. They are buying experiences - travel, holidays, sport and leisure activities - rather than furniture and gadgets. The gadgets they do buy are far smaller and compact than they were and hence need less material. White goods now use less material in manufacture, avoiding the costs of scrap and reducing the weight of goods to be transported. Any trend towards reducing the use of raw materials in this world of rising population and rising demand must be good news.

I’ve come across The Restart Project, which is concerned with a different aspect of the material cycle. Here’s what it says on their website:
“Electronic waste is one of the fastest growing waste streams in many countries including the UK. While recycling is important, we intervene before disposal – inspiring people to buy for longevity and to divert electronics from waste.
The Restart Project is a London-based social enterprise that encourages and empowers people to use their electronics longer, by sharing repair and maintenance skills.
Through community and workplace events we create engaging opportunities to extend the lifespan of electronics and electrical equipment. At our events 2,477 participants aided by 3,171 hours of volunteered time worked on 1,655 devices. We also spread our message through public speaking and our weekly podcast.” (I’ll have to check that out.)

Sounds like a good idea. Maybe someone should set one up outside London. Find out more at 

Department of Misleading Statistics
Headlines this week claim that 97.6% of the civil servants that are responsible for the Northern Powerhouse are based in London. What actually happened was that Louise Haigh, Labour MP for Sheffield Heeley, asked what proportion of senior civil servants in the Department for Communities and Local Government was based in London. Not a word about the Northern Powerhouse. Back came the answer: 97.6%. The Department is responsible for all communities and all local government throughout the country. There is no story. At least, not on the basis of that question.

And that’s all we’ve got time for, as they say on Radio 4. Sorry Tom, you’ll just have to run faster. I’m off to the North West Sustainable Business Quarterly meeting and on the way I’m going to call in at the Queen Street Mill in Burnley. It’s the last operating steam-powered textile mill in the world, and I hear there are plans to close it at the end of the month. I’ll tell you more next week. In fact I hope I’ll tell you more next week. I’ve been called for jury service, so for the next two weeks I will either be sitting around with time on my hands or I’ll be locked in a courtroom away from the world. Either way, there will be another Sustainable Futures Report. Eventually. (I haven’t missed a week since November 2014.) The full archive is at

I’m Anthony Day. Thanks for listening. I’ll be back!

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