With both the Climate Conference in Paris and winter due to arrive at the end of the month, it has finally dawned on the Government that keeping their lights on and the computers running is going to be more important to the British people than obeying EU directives on ‘green energy’.
So this week Amber Rudd, the Energy Secretary, announced that in spite of the EU Directive requiring the closure of perfectly good coal-fired power stations by 2015, they will remain open until 2025. She hopes that within that time, sufficient gas-fuelled plants will become available.
So many ifs and buts and no guarantees for the future.
We might have gas-fuelled power plants by the time the coal-fired ones close, or we might not. The planned ‘clean-coal ones’ aren’t ready yet. Our North Sea oil has been squandered over the years, so that we now have to import an increasing percentage of oil from other countries, meaning we are at their mercy. Fracking has stalled. The Chinese and French might get round to building some nuclear power plants here sometime in the future. And the green ‘renewable energy’ produced by windmills and solar panels is unreliable and produces little.
Meanwhile the National Grid’s winter review showed that peak demand from October to March this winter could mean a gap between the amount of energy we use and the amount produced of a mere 1.2 per cent, not enough to cover emergencies.
And it has to be remembered that the country — and, indeed, the world — runs on computers. They are now essential for our civilisation. The list of equipment which could not work without electricity is too long to mention, but it ranges from defence equipment down to the humble check-out machine: when there is an electricity cut at the supermarket, the place has to close.
So — how are we ordinary people going to cope when we’re powerless?
Just a few suggestions.
For most of us there is the possibility of a portable generator of electricity, which can be carried or pushed on wheels and connected to a home through a professionally installed transfer switch. They operate on a variety of fuels but can only run for a short time. Or there is a home generator which provides backup power to a home when commercial power fails but as a major appliance it is attached to the power input in the home and must be connected by a qualified electrician or contractor.
For those of us who live in a house, one partial answer is to cover the roof with solar panels which will provide some of the electricity we need. One objection to solar panels until is that you spend years recouping the cost incurred by installing them, but you won’t be worrying about that when you need the light on — it will have been worth every penny. However, one warning. In a sunny climate, you only get enough power from one square metre of solar panel to run a 100w light bulb. And Britain is not known for having a particularly sunny climate, especially in the winter.
On the other hand, solar power can produce light — if nothing else — by powering up an indoor solar lamp. Like the outdoor solar lights which have lined garden paths over the past few years, these lamps can be ‘charged’ by placing them where sunlight can fall on them and they then give out the stored light when brought into rooms after dark from gardens or window sills.
So to date, solar power will not be sufficient to operate our central heating, hot water supply, kitchen equipment, computer and allied gadgets or TV, but there is a way we can get the entertainment and, above all, the light and the news we shall need, and that is by clockwork.
Some years ago Trevor Baylis, and English ‘garden shed’ inventor, produced a wind-up radio with added solar panel, designed for operation in parts of under-developed countries that lacked a constant electricity supply. Twenty-five winds of the handle and it will produce 25 minutes of play. There are now a number of other wind-up and/or solar products, including lamps, lanterns, torches and battery chargers. Batteries will run such equipment on their own, of course, but batteries are now quite expensive and might well become more so in a case of supply and demand. Wind-up is free.
When it comes to heating and cooking, those of us with a gas supply will be in a better position than those whose homes are only equipped with electricity. It would be extremely difficult for gas companies to cut off supplies completely — each house would have to be visited for cut-off and re-start — so at least there would be the possibility of cooking, water-heating and central heating even if the price, due once again to supply and demand, became very high.
At least those of us with homes which have a working chimney will be able to provide warmth room by room, and even the possibility of boiling a kettle, with wood-burning and multi-fuel stoves or even a basic open fire. Coal and logs might be expensive, but since there are only a limited number of homes these days that are able to have such fires, these supplies should remain available. Another possibility is that of creating paper bricks, using a ‘paper log maker’ packed with shredded newspaper. Time-consuming but almost free.
Unfortunately, those of us with in apartments powered exclusively by electricity are going to be the worst off with no roof for solar panels and for whom generators would be too noisy for neighbours.
The most fortunate are those who have a choice of power supplies: gas, electricity, a working fireplace, and a large stock of candles — but don’t forget the matches!