Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Fiddling the numbers

The Coalition inherited a scheme under which energy companies were obliged to pay a 'feed-in tariff' (FIT) to anyone who installed solar photovoltaic panels (PV). For most of 2011 it was paid at 43.2p/kWh provided they didn't have more than 4kW of panels installed. However, and this made the scheme really attractive, the rate is indexed so it will rise each year in line with inflation. The money to pay the FIT is raised from energy consumers generally. It is not paid by government.

Last year the government started a consultation on reducing the FIT but cut the FIT before the consultation period had ended. This produced a great rush to install solar panels with 30,000 installations in the last week of the old tariff. That's six times as many as the previous rate.

The Court of Appeal held this hastiness to be wrong in law. The government appealed to the Supreme Court. It said it had made the appeal because delay would have cost energy consumers £1.5 billion over 25 years.

The first nonsense
£1.5 billion over 25 years is £60 million per year. That's a small sum by government standards. It's also only £1 per person per year - which is clearly trivial. So this cannot be the reason for cutting the FIT - particularly with such unseemly haste.

The second nonsense
Because the FIT is both paid by and paid to energy consumers this cannot be the net cost to consumers. There are administration costs which are a net burden on consumers but these should not be more than a few percent of the money that is collected and paid out.

Current episode
In February Caroline Lucas asked the government to state the assumptions used to create that figure. She got a reply from Gregory Barker, minister for climate change in the Department for Energy and Climate Change, on February 20th.

I wrote immediately to Barker challenging his figures and pointing out the second nonsense. In replying the Department for Energy and Climate Change addressed the detail inadequately but ignored the second point.

A further challenge by me under the Freedom of Information Act (the date was now April 13th) produced the reply that they would have to “extend the time limit for responding by 10 days because of the complexity of the request”. So, a calculation that was sufficiently solid to justify a ministerial reply to Caroline Lucas in February was not fit to show me in May.

Why am I not surprised?

Watch this space for more.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Good News 1: Green clouds!

In Information Technology 'cloud' is the coming thing. With cloud services an individual or business can use IT services without having to buy, manage and support the necessary hardware and software (other than your PC or smartphone). The hardware and software is the responsibility of a service company - users just use the service (and pay a fee). Just like Hotmail or Facebook in fact.

I'm mentioning this because it looks like a win for the climate according to Ian Bitterlin, whose company runs large computer centres, blogging for the British Computer Society here. Bitterlin starts from the fact that many existing corporate computer centres are rather inefficient in energy terms; it's not unusual for them to consume two kilowatt-hours of electricity for every one kilowatt-hour used by the computers, etc., in the facility. Higher ratios are not unknown.

New data centres run by specialist companies offering cloud services tend to be more efficient in both their use of electricity, wasting only 10-20%, and in getting useful work from that power. Bitterlin puts the likely savings at 74% which I find over-optimistic. But 60% seems plausible.

But that's 60% of the energy use for IT services that transfer to the cloud. That's an entirely speculative fraction of the 7.5 gigawatts used by IT. It might be 2%, or 40%, or some other number.

But whatever the proportion we can expect energy savings as it happens. 

But not, let's note, for wholly new cloud services such as Google and Facebook were not so many years ago. Qualified good news then.