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Monday, May 1, 2017

Election time again in France and the UK, More Terror, The Day Renewables surpassed Coal

Election time again in my two favourite countries.
I can’t tell you how relieved I felt after the results of the first round of the French presidential elections were released. The recent anti-establishment success for Trump and Brexit made foul tasting results in France more likely, particularly given the absurd election process. The French public had eleven candidates to choose from. However, if you remove the fascists, the communists and trotskyites, the complete nutters and the criminals, then you are only left with one viable candidate. The name of that candidate is Emmanuel Macron of the newly created En Marche centre party. He will be facing Marine Le Pen of the Front National in the second round on May 7th and he is widely expected to win by a large margin and become the new President. Either way it will be the first time in 60 years that a candidate from one of the two main parties (The Socialists and the Républicans) has failed to win. So in that sense, the new wave of rebellion and change from the public will have won again. Of course, even if Macron does win, 30% to 40% of the country support an odious nationalist party whose founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen denies the Holocaust remains a huge worry for the future.

Emmanuel Macron
Marine Le Pen

Then, to most people’s surprise, Theresa May has called a UK election on June 8th. She and her government had another 3 years in power but she decided to call an early election. Insiders who I believe have said the real reason for this is that over the coming months as the Brexit negotiations really start to get underway, the public will start to feel uneasy and the Prime Minister will struggle with a Commons marjority of only a dozen or so. The first EU negotiation will be on how many tens of billions the UK pays as a leaving penalty and the public won’t like this when they were led to believe brexiting would save loads of money. Secondly, rising inflation and stagnant wages is already starting to make people feel poorer and this feeling will accelerate as the economy slows (as predicted). May will need a decent majority if she is to have a chance to weather these storms. Why else would you call an election when you have a majority and the most pathetic opposition party in living memory? One of the consequences of the election and the almost certain terrible performance of the Labour party will be a new, more effective Labour leader before the end of the year. This will be good for democracy, although perhaps not so good for the Tories.

First time since 2008 that inflation is higher than wage growth

More Terror

Westminster, St Petersburg, Stockholm, Egypt, and then Paris again. It seems it is so prevalent and so much a part of our daily lives now that we are getting used to the insane, unprovoked, random terror attacks that are designed to change our way of life. I think they are having the opposite impact of what is intended. Initially the public reaction was a resolution to carry on business as usual and not let the bastards affect us. But now, we have got so used to these attacks on our way of life that they have little effect on our day-to-day lives at all. Our shock, disgust, fear and horror have morphed into a feeling of almost business as usual, a little like all those pictures we are shown of starving children in Africa. When the recent Westminster attack took place I was in central London and relying on the tube to take me on my journey home. In the past there would have been significant disruption on the transport systems (this is what the terrorists want) but now the only change was that Westminster station was closed for passengers wishing to access or exit the station itself but all the trains were running normally underneath. My journey across London was not slowed in any way.

I was saddened to see that the massive attack in Egypt killing dozens of Coptic Christians in Tanta and Alexandria was only covered very lightly in the Western press. This gives the impression it is less important than the attacks closer to home. On the other hand, it is re-assuring to see that the last couple of attempted attacks in London have been foiled by our intelligence services and the intended terrorists arrested just before they struck.
We will always live with some form of terror. My parents were born into World War 2. I grew us with the IRA planting random bombs in London and elsewhere in the UK, designed to cause as much disruption as possible. The latest wave of Islamic terrorism is worse in some ways because they are just trying to kill us  and don’t have any form of lucid policy changes they are trying to attract attention to. But democracies are resilient; their people look after each other and show tremendous compassion in the wake of these events to the wounded and the families of those murdered. In some ways it actually brings out the good and brings us together, making us stronger.

The day renewables surpassed coal

Friday April 21st was a defining moment and hopefully we will see many more: “Engineers in the National Grid control room watched the share of electricity from the country’s shrinking number of coal power plants sink to zero at about 11pm on Thursday night. It stayed that way until midnight on Friday, making it the first working day in which no electricity came from the fossil fuel that has been a bedrock of the UK’s energy system since the first steam-driven public power station opened in the 1880s.” The Financial Times April 22nd 2017.

So we have now entered the ‘better’ part of the year where hours of light outnumber hours of darkness each day and it’s warmer (or should I say less cold?).  It is now that our renewables and in particular solar power really come into their own. To illustrate this point, take a look at my solar generation since last August from the panels on my roof. You can see that output doubles and triples as soon as we get out of the November to February dull and miserable months:
Nov, Dec,Jan and Feb are lousy but then it jumps

Multiply this by millions of solar panels and farms across the country and it really starts to kick in and make an impact. Together with an increase in the burning of gas in our power stations, we are now regularly seeing days when coal, the dirtiest and most polluting material we use to generate our electricity, is not burned at all. This is great news for the environment, our health and probably our pockets.

Friday April 21st was the fist day we burned no coal since the 19th century.

We are still burning vast amounts of gas and the nuclear contribution is stable, but the rise of renewables is generally a good thing. The impact as always with new technologies does have some very odd effects on the market. Clearly the price of coal id dropping (to a point where it looks a very attractive option!) and we have seen days in Germany and elsewhere where weather conditions (such as no wind and no sun) and the inability to fast start some types of power station have combined to produce circumstances where electricity prices are temporarily dozens of times more expensive than the average. This price impact is on industry as residential users are normally on fixed tariffs.

But whilst this fundamental once-in-a-lifetime change in the way we generate our power will inevitably require some big adjustments, overall it represents great progress.

Quote of the Month

“ If you can not explain it simply, you don´t understand it well enough ” 
Albert Einstein

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