Discussing Energy Economics on the Internet

Greens Weigh In On Severn

Posted in Renewables,UK by Cheryl Morgan on the May 8th, 2009

As I expected, environmental groups are not happy with the British government’s plans for an 8GW tidal barrage across the Severn Estuary. In theory the government has whittled a long list of 10 tidal power projects down to a short list of 5, and will eventually choose the best project. In practice no one expects them to opt for anything other than the massive 8GW scheme because that’s the one that will deliver the most generating capacity. Unfortunately it may also be the project that causes most environmental damage.

Britain’s environmentalists are not taking this lying down. A coalition formed by the National Trust, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the WWF and the Anglers’ Trust has commissioned a report from the engineering consultancy, W.S. Atkins. That report has now been published, and it casts significant doubt on the process that produced the short list from the long list. In particular Atkins alleges that the government report:

  • Assumed that two-way generation would produce similar or less power to ebb-only generation; and
  • Used 30-year-old calculations that seriously underestimate the potential output of some schemes

The two-way generation issue is particularly important as such schemes are believed to be less environmentally damaging than ebb-only generation. The government short list eliminated the “tidal reef” project based on this technology that was the preferred candidate of the environmental groups.

You have to have a certain amount of sympathy for the government bureaucrats for wanting to avoid a scheme that bills itself as a, “Totally new concept in tidal power generation”. On the other hand, this debate isn’t going to go away, and trying to eliminate a major rival candidate early on was perhaps not a good idea.

More coverage in The Guardian.

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A Salesman Calls

Posted in Retail,UK by Cheryl Morgan on the May 7th, 2009

I had a visitor today. He claimed to be from Scottish Power and he needed to read the electricity meter. Although he very carefully didn’t say so, it was pretty clear that what he wanted was to get information about my usage levels so that he could give me a quote with a view to luring me away from my current supplier. I sent him packing, and thought no more about it until I saw a blog post by a friend who had experienced a similar visit.

The difference here is that the meter here is on the wall outside the house, whereas Juliet’s meter is inside the house. Consequently the Scottish Power salesman was keen to get entry to her home. Once again he wasn’t admitting to being a salesman, but instead spouted the nonsense about needing to do a “tariff check”. Because this involved someone trying to get into the house, Juliet not only sent the fellow away, she reported him to the police.

Is this reasonable? Actually I think it is. It is one thing for an electricity salesman to come to the door. It is quite another for him to try to trick his way into someone’s house. Juliet can look after herself (she’s a black belt at something dangerous), but older people could easily be quite frightened by this. That’s particularly so because the British media keep warning us against “distraction burglaries”, where one man distracts the householder with some fancy tale while the other sneaks into the house to rob it.

Given the scale of the operation (Juliet lives quite a long way from where I am), I have no doubt that this was a legitimate Scottish Power sales campaign, though I note that such things are often outsourced to specialist doorstep sales companies so the staff involved, and even the choice of tactics, may not have much connection with Scottish Power. It is, however, a rather stupid campaign, and one that is likely to backfire on the company. I’m writing this post in part in the hope that someone from Scottish Power will see it and ask some hard questions of their subcontractors.

More generally, however, I wonder about a retail market in which these things happen. The intention in opening up residential supply to competition was always to introduce healthy competition to the market. But experience has shown that customers are not interested in switching supplier for any reason other than price, and the savings available are often so small that no one can be bothered – hence the high pressure sales techniques. This new “tariff check” scam is quite mild compared to what used to go on before Ofgem got a grip on proceedings. We might have competition, but whether it is healthy or not appears to be open to debate.

The irony of the whole affair is that I’m currently staying with a friend, and when she got home she informed me that she’s already with Scottish Power, so clearly whoever is running the campaign isn’t bothering to check which households are already sold.