Monthly Archives: June 2013

Will there be electricity blackouts in the UK? Yes, but only for fridges.

Prediction: by year 2020 all UK households will be supplied with circuit breakers to be fitted to the plugs of our fridges, freezers etc. Whenever the national voltage drops below 230v the breakers will cut out. New appliances will have the breakers inbuilt.

We now have a 25% chance of electricity blackouts in the UK each year, especially between 16h00 and 20h00 (4pm and 8pm) in the winter months. The UK government has rejected suggestions of extending variable supply contracts from heavy industry to other large consumers such a retail stores.

Behind this vulnerability has been effectively a “dash for coal” by the generating companies because coal has become so cheap on the world market. However, even though the industry’s carbon allowances are now becoming exhausted, the race remains on who can gain the most in the time that is left, and not on collective planning for the future.

It is a bit like a students’ party, when someone says “hey guys, we’re running out of beer” and everyone just refills their own glass faster; rather than anyone organising and buying or making more. The regulator (ie the adult at the party) has no real power when compared with the companies (ie the intoxicated kids). There is more money to be made in the energy market from being selfish than from being prudent.

Worse, the efforts to reduce demand in the domestic sector were being pinned on the government’s Green Deal, however reports this week show it has failed to take hold, with only four completed households nationally to date. The government response has been that this is due to teething problems with the computer software, and that many households have replaced their boilers off-scheme after an assessment.

We know we have to balance supply and demand to avoid blackouts. Most of us also know that supply is chaotic and that demand is continuing to rise, not least because of the energy demands of consumer electronics. Something has to give, hence my prediction above. To be announced by the new UK government in 2015, blaming the previous government for not “getting a grip”.

Second prediction: retail chiller cabinets will be put on variable supply contracts, but the lights and tills will not.


21 Century will be defined by new landscapes worldwide, from producing meat to capturing energy

The twenty-first century will see a change around the world as landscapes become increasingly used to capture energy. The main driver will be price. When subsidies for animal grain feed become unsustainable, the cost of meat production will become uncompetitive when compared with the capture of energy.

We see some of this already with wind farms and increasingly in solar PV (photo voltaic cells) in the USA as well as the UK.

This range will grow, especially in warmer countries, where we may see thermal capture being used to manufacture transportable fuels to be sold to cities around the world. If the transport issues can be sorted this may include the manufacturing and export of hydrogen fuels.

The world’s landscape has changed before: the reduction in tree cover by early humans, through to the enclosure of common land into agricultural production. This century will see the next phase of landscape transformation worldwide.

Mental Health and Recovery, findings from an international conference

This week in Wales there was an international conference sponsored by the International Mental Health Collaboration Network (IMHCN) and the International Centre for Recovery Action in Practice, Education and Research (ICRA). It took place at the National Botanical Gardens in south west Wales on 20 and 21 June.

It was a crowded agenda with a lot of ground to cover, from local practices in Wales through to presentations from Italy, New Zealand, Australia, Denmark, Ireland, Malaysia, Brazil and most harrowing from Serbia with images of mental hospital inmates being tied down with sheets last year. Some good practice was found in parts of England, notably in Plymouth.

There is too much detail from such a conference to cover in a blog post. Perhaps my key observation is that, at last, the various professional bodies are beginning to try and come to terms with the idea of recovery, an idea which has come from people who have experienced mental suffering. The danger now, as discussed at the conference, was that the mental health professions will try and systematise recovery and in doing so will suck the life forces out of it, killing the bits that work.

Interestingly, a common theme from around the world was how powerful it was when employment was included in a recovery journey.

There is a new LinkedIn group for IMHCN for those interested in joining.

The link below is a 20 page brochure with the conference agenda and speakers details.

Link –

UK planning policy has lost its coherence

The BBC news website reports on findings from the Estates Gazette that UK planning permissions for large retail schemes are still favouring out-of-town areas as opposed to High Streets. An example is given of the Portas Pilot town of Margate, where it seems policy is pulling in two directions with a recent approval for an out-of-town Tesco store despite Portas’ work to reinvigorate Margate High Street. Another example is given of tension between ministers as shown in correspondence between them on possible developments on green field sites.

Has the planning system lost its way?

Essentially, it is meant to be a fair and just way of deciding between competing interests, without fear or favour. However, in recent years it has become seen predominantly as a system of entitlement for land owners to increase the value of their holdings (favour). Planning policy has been surrendered to become a fight between teams of expensive lawyers, and councillors are in danger of being intimidated by the costs of appeals and threats of damages (fear).

Planning policy has also become seen as essentially a local concern only, with national decisions restricted to major infrastructure decisions such as nuclear waste sites.

I suggest that we need our national decisions to decide on regional balances. For examples, promoting research and development sites north of Cambridge; promoting green fuel production in declining industrial areas; promoting existing airport usage not just in the South East; promoting public transport ahead of new roads even in corridors of congestion; and making consumer charging compulsory for car parking spaces in new out-of-town developments, then phased in for existing out-of-town schemes. Otherwise the Greater South East of England will continue to pull away from the rest of the UK.

Then, within this balanced national and regional framework, local planning committees can frame their decisions on particular developments. Additional local planning powers are also needed, such as limiting the number of arcades and betting shops, payday loan shops, and new powers to reconfigure High Streets to become fully functioning neighbourhood centres and not just retail centres.

National and regional planning policy needs to move on from 2010 and its knee jerk hatred of regional housing targets and regional development agencies.

Town centres ‘missing out on new retail development’ –