Monday, 16 November 2009

Alternative Energy

Since writing this article the market for home roof top solar power has become affordable and indeed there are many companies providing the installation service. Though it should be noted: unless you have a roof top parallel to the equator, you may struggle to generate enough energy to power your home thru the winter months. This is especially the case where day light time is limited, during such times you will be partially dependent upon the national grid for energy. 
An average 3 bed room home installation typically costs between £10,000 to £18,000, giving you free electricity and a small profit of a few hundred pounds each year. At a larger scale, in terms of cost, wind farms are comparable to large scale solar energy farms, requiring far less land. Domestic solar power installation will render the electricity market redundant in the near future, setting the route ahead for the planet's power consuming technologies.  A brighter, cleaner, future for all!

I was recently shocked to find that Scottish Power is owned by a Spanish company and further dismayed to hear of the planned creation of yet more nuclear power stations to be built for us by France. Whilst television has provided coverage of humanity almost literally “fighting over fire”, nightly for the last three decades, I was suddenly struck with the impulse to investigate alternative, local energy sources, if only to avoid working for yet another corporation or bank that sinks beneath the waves of apathy in philanthropic capitalism.

Offshore wind farming is a misleading avenue on two counts: Firstly it still suffers from the negative aspects of monopolistic control, requiring oil platform technology to deploy, therefore costs will ultimately be held above oil as an automotive energy source. Secondly; hills and ridges, where the rise in the land compresses air flow; wind velocity is typically 20% faster than it is offshore.

Consequently land based wind farms are now a lucrative business, with major manufacturers like Siemens, General Electric and Mitsubishi producing wind turbines, as well as smaller independents such as Nordex, Vestas and Enercon to name but a few.

In the UK the electricity industry consists of four parties:
  1. Electricity generators such as BNFL, Scottish Hydro Electric, as well as wind farmers and other electricity producers.
  2. National Grid, a public listed company which each year sets the Transmission Network Use of System (TNUoS) tariff within the UK.
  3. Electricity suppliers such as British Gas, E-on and nPower.
  4. Energy consumers: domestic and business.
Delivery and installation within the UK for a 2MW turbine typically costs between £1.5m to £2m, depending on delivery location and the particular requirements of the site. Fortunately the UK is the windiest country in Europe, with Scotland and Western Ireland enjoying average wind speeds in excess of 11 m/s, which compares very favourably with global wind speeds.

Wind farm revenue depends upon a number of factors primarily including wind class, National Grid tariff, government incentives and feed in tariff:
  • A wind class of 7m/s will yield around 30% efficiency, whereas 11m/s yields around 65% efficiency. This may be determined from the many online wind turbine efficiency graphs available, including this one for the Siemens SWT-2.3MW 101.
  • The TNUoS tariff is set yearly. The majority of our electricity is generated in Scotland and carried to England. For a 2MW turbine, in northern Scotland, National Grid will charge around £40,000 per annum in the worst case scenario to carry your electricity to the supplier. In the best case scenario, in the south and near London, National Grid will pay you around £10,000 per annum. Regions of the country are allocated a zone, each zone has a negative or positive tariff determined by distance from the bulk of the populace and the maintenance overheads for power transmission incurred.
  • To encourage transition to greener energy sources, the government offers Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs) which green energy generators should apply for and then sell to suppliers in order that the supplier achieve their renewable energy obligation target, which is set annually by the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (Ofgem). For 2008, 9.1% of all electricity sold by each supplier constituted the renewable energy obligation which had to be fulfilled. Each tax year, for every megawatt under the obligation the supplier has to pay the buyout level set by Ofgem. In 2008 the minimum buy out level set by Ofgem was £35.76/MWh. For each megawatt of capacity, this ensures that the cost to the supplier will be at or just below the buyout rate of 3.5 p/KWh. This makes the green energy market safer for generators, since the capacity they did not achieve may also be traded at or near the buyout rate. Note that the ROCs remaining between energy generated and the farms capacity are tradeable with all suppliers.
  • In the UK non domestic energy consumers are required to use energy from green sources, failing to do so they are expected to pay the Climate Change Levy (CCL), which in 2008 was set at 0.47 p/KWh. Instead of paying this levy the non domestic consumer may instead pay using Levy Exemption Certificates (LECs) which are issued to green energy generators. Revenue from the sale of LECs will vary, though assuming these sell for 50% of the levy, a 2MW wind turbine would provide an additional £41,172 in revenue.
  • Insurance and maintenance are currently estimated to be around 3% for the total delivery and installation cost: approximately £50,000 per annum. No exact figures were available, though I feel this is quite a generous estimate. Obviously there are advantages to building wind farms of five or more turbines to reduce maintenance overheads.
  • Land rent will vary depending on the outlook of the land owner, from completely free ranging up to £10,000 per annum per turbine for large installations of ten or more that radically alter the skyline.
  • Finally the feed in tariff which you can typically expect back from the supplier is in the range of 4 to 5 p/kwh. As of April 2010, government proposed feed in tariffs will come into effect, alternatively Ofgem may increase the buyout level for ROCs.

The figures above are conservative and tend toward safe margins, they are also in approximate agreement with this article in the online edition of The Times. With just one 2MW turbine you may expect the following revenue per annum, which should return your initial investment within 5-7 years and continue generating profit for 20 to 25 years in total.

T.N.U.o.S. Tariff
R.O.C. buyout per MW/h
L.E.Cs. traded at 50% buyout
Maintenance and Insurance
Land rent
MW/hs at 30% efficiency of 7 m/s
Revenue at 30% of the 2010 proposed rate of 4.5p KW/h
Revenue from remaining R.O.C.s traded at 75% buyout
Total revenue for 30% efficiency
£318,844 p.a
MW/hs at 60% efficiency of 11 m/s
Revenue at 60% at 2010 proposed rate of 4.5p KW/h
Revenue from remaining R.O.C.s traded at 75% buyout
Total revenue for 60% efficiency
£470,889 p.a

There seems to be a level of hysteria regarding wind farms amongst members of the public who I can only assume have some interest in preserving the existing energy monopoly. They protest that wind turbines are noisy, which if you visit one you will clearly hear for yourself this is not the case. They claim that wind farms are not efficient and do not produce revenue, yet house-hold name manufacturers produce them. Silently gathering thermal energy from the sun as it is converted into pressure variance in the atmosphere producing wind; there may honestly be less elegance in the design of a bird’s wing!

"Baseload" refers to the minimum energy requirement that must be met at any point in time, for critical services such as hospitals, fire stations, banks and so forth. Many advocates of the existing energy monopoly sight baseload as the central reason for discarding wind, solar and other natural sources of power generation. With the introduction of smart-grid technologies such as those now being rolled out by IBM, we have the opportunity to manage electricity usage during times of shortage. In these periods non-critical uses of energy, civic energy consumption such as 24 hour car-park lighting, fountains, rural street lighting, as well as electrical appliances on stand-by, may be reduced or switched off altogether. Going forward the base load issue may be resolved by storing energy generated during peak times, using technologies such as compressed air and advanced batteries. Modern compressed air vehicles such as Tata's air car, in comparison with petrol store 50W/h of electricity in one litre, whilst Encore's research finds that compressed air energy storage is 75% efficient, all indicating that mass energy storage solutions are already here. Clearly there are now revenue opportunities opening in the grid energy storage sector. 

With electric vehicles reaching 100 miles for just 96p of electricity, perhaps we should all take heed of Hampshire constabulary's inspiration for a greener planet.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Digital Identity Cards

The UK is currently running through a trial roll out of the national identity card, yet many remain opposed to its introduction. As we move further into the information age I believe the advantages of authenticated identity far outweigh the disadvantages.

In practical terms an identity card, made from electronic paper with a few gigabytes of storage and some secure processing facilities could have many applications:
  • One card for all purposes.
  • Identifying us online.
  • Certificate chains allowing you to grant access to family or colleagues to known resources: cars, offices, databases, doors etc.
  • On request displaying an image of the owner for trivial identification in stores.
  • Displaying retailer logos and advertising.
  • Displaying account balance or status.
  • In tracking altruistic currency...
First of all, let us not deceive ourselves; we already have many digital identities in various forms: Debit and credit cards, passports, national insurance cards, two recent bills, an email address; the list goes on. In this light the battle over any perceived loss of freedom has already been lost, a national identity card would at least reduce the bureaucracy involved.

The digital information age has brought with it the progressive erosion of security within the offices of government, financial institutions, educational facilities and corporations. An individual with a CDROM, a USB data-key, a mobile phone, an email account or simply a web browser may move data into or out of areas which we have historically considered within the realm of her majesty's secret service.

With increasing frequency we see the most senior politicians publish articles in the electronic versions of daily newspapers, only to be greeted by an onslaught of masked jeering and heckling. It is my belief that when our face is hidden a negative trait of animal psychology comes to the fore, an innate aspect of the hunter: I can see my prey, but my prey cannot see me. In a political context this leads us toward the snide and underhand. This is clearly not a useful drive for a politician seeking to gain the will of the electorate through discussion. Ideally they would like to meet the eyes of their audience and win their hearts and minds. Is this same aspect of humanity scheming in the minds of those who stalk children via Internet chat rooms? Wouldn't you like to know who your children are talking to? Digital identities online could bring an end to the threat from darker aspects of the human psyche on the Internet.

What of the individual's freedoms? The dual between the monolithic political entities of the last century brought with it the legacy of the cold war which lead society to new levels of surveillance and new levels of anonymity, a state which is now being compounded by the arrival of the information age. The news papers inform us that secret black lists are being kept and circulated via email, that secret catalogues of fascists are being leaked. Information about you or me, compiled by the masked and circulated electronically amongst the anonymous. If you've been added to a list, wouldn't you like to know who by? Or who has read that list?

What of photographs taken covertly and circulated anonymously with no signature of ownership? Media circulated via the Internet could be prevented by the Internet's search engines unless signed with an individual's digital identity, whilst also enforcing artist acknowledgment; this is a solution many would welcome.

In time digital identity and mandatory digital signatures could bring to society a renewed trust in the communiqué we exchange, information will be regarded as false unless accompanied by the identity of the author, encouraging accountability.

Online discussion in the news papers or more contemporary discussion forums all suffer from abusive campaigning with multiple pseudonyms, giving the impression that there are many more in a faction than is actually the case. Anonymity has its uses, particularly when we are discussing the current limits of freedom itself. If online forums are to give a genuine impression of public opinion, the individual must be identified.

In the UK we are issued a national insurance number and card at the age of 16, for many our first digital acknowledgement by the governing bodies of the nation. We are already identified digitally by the state and its representatives, does bureaucracy really need to be faceless? Why shouldn't we be able to authenticate other people's identities at the very least for our safety online?

Perhaps the most compelling argument is: "How many more passwords do I need to remember?"

In the near future identifying people will be as simple as making contact with a metallic surface: immediate identification without your knowledge. I personally would prefer to live in a society that acknowledges this new sense of identity surveillance, rather than allow it to become another form of covert oppression.

Sunday, 10 May 2009


The information revolution has provided society with a plethora of new mediums, allowing anyone to reach everyone with their opinions and beliefs. In addition to these new ways to express views, new means of debate are emerging. As a result of this communication amongst the populace, individuals are being politicized; everyday challenging the opinions of others whilst defending their own.

Consequently the established political parties, in the past to some extent enjoying the privilege of being able to dictate social and economic policy are now becoming less representative of the opinions of the people. Concurrently and in order to balance this new shift, online news mediums, particularly the established newspapers are forming a bridge between the public and party members, in effect replacing grass roots canvassing perhaps without the tomatoes.

With this shift the newspaper is being redefined. In the past being part of the readership of a particular brand of newspaper identified the person culturally and politically, today's readership expect to be able to challenge from the moment of online publication, prior to arrival at a news stand, the opinions of the article's author, whether they be journalist, prime minister or reader. Thru open discussion the readership are empowered with the ability to redefine the cultural and political identity of the news brand.

Twitter, a recent invention which combines instant messaging with social networking is providing an innovative new source of news content. This is especially the case when combined with technologies like Monitter or Scribble Live, effectively empowering anyone with a mobile phone-camera to create a live text, image and audio feed to a website, as demonstrated during the recent G20 protests.

The question has been posed "Why use Twitter when you have e-mail?". Humans are much more imaginative given limited resources; it's as though the mind simply rationalizes: I have plenty, therefore there is nothing to worry about, relax; become prey. By limiting the number of characters in a tweet to 140, we're forced to be creative in what we tweet, whether poetry, image links, audio boos or you tube videos, the result a montage of multimedia; that 1990's buzz word that has quietly become ubiquitous. As with most forms of online social networking, the resulting chatter forms a layer of validation which I find has a positive affect on what Wole Soyinka refers to as the Quasi State and its communication channels.

Already it is quite possible to foresee a day when a news article is simply not news unless the reader may comment; we no longer wish to be lectured from the pulpit, we want fearless intelligent journalists and social commentators who come down and discuss amongst the readership. The addition of Twitter to the array of blogosphere lecterns is helping to create a hotbed of new journalistic talent, encouraging us all to police society ourselves.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Publishing, File Sharing & Revolution

A shift is occurring which we have all been made aware of by the frequent cries of injustice from several members of the music industry. With the rise of Internet file sharing existing publishing establishment revenues are being undermined, though this has now largely come to be accepted, with those companies concluding that they will subsist on the profit generated by their back catalog of work still under copyright. Digital distribution removes the third party publisher from the loop, allowing more profit to go to the artist, perhaps a result that the majority of those in music publishing are secretly happy about.

This same transition is beginning to occur in the sphere of book publishing. With the arrival of Amazon's Kindle e-Reader, Sony's e-Reader, again the artist will be given the opportunity to enjoy increased revenue and liberated from the leeching publishers. Whilst we will always have film production companies, completely digital distribution of video rental is in the offing in the UK and already available in the US, with television soon to follow.

Many artists complain of the threat to their income created by the ease of digital copying and the rise of peer to peer file sharing, I personally welcome the prospect of having a home free of the various boxes, cases and shelves required to store transient human art forms. There are many advantages to the publishing revolution, with the UK in particular being so resistant to change, the opportunity to turn over the existing publishing aristocracy is very welcome.

The ease of digital duplication is often sighted as a setback, but to who? After all what is wrong with a dynamic that brings wealth to those artists whose art inspires pathos or edifies in such ways as to make us want to give our money?

Whilst many are currently bemoaning the pseudo-politicisation of the celebosphere, the removal of the publisher from transient art forms brings to the fore the question: is this art worth paying for? In time, perhaps redefining who our celebrities are.

Would future generations of children be raised expecting never to have to pay for books, music and films? Surely teaching your children to pay for what they like is a constructive tenet? After all we ourselves expect to be paid for work in the career we choose, so this initial instruction in the determination of excellence can only be mutually beneficial.

If all else fails the Internet provides the artist with a way to maintain a relationship with their audience, providing incentives to purchasing. Ultimately then the artist will be brought back into direct communication with the audience, as it was before recorded music or the printed press.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

The London Time Capsule

Is it me or does anyone else feel they have returned to the 20th century when using the London Tube? 

Each day I seem to spend a full hour in a World War II air raid shelter; one lacking the shared emotional energy of an impending death due to Nazi air raids, cut off from telecommunications and Internet services; not even an SMS can escape the time capsule! We enter into humdrum alienation, each acutely aware of each others presence, yet denied the liberty of expression, sat as we are: confrontationally; all dialogue silently discerned from this mornings choice of apparel. How I yearn for a telephone to break thru the rattling noise of the tube with a shrill rendition of the latest chart topping drivel! To overhear a reassuring phone conversation informing relatives of imminent arrival! To browse thru blogs, tweets, Googled answers or to send an email!

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Altruistic Currency

When currency replaced bartering the moral value of one half of the exchange was lost. Since currency could be obtained from any source, traders were no longer in a position to judge the character of the opposing trader or customer by their goods. Consequently future economics were forever to favor unethical trade.

Today major energy consuming companies trade carbon offsets, whilst green energy producers trade renewable obligations certificates, just two examples of business ethics affecting profits.

With transition to a system of exclusively digital currency, or e-money, the ethical attributes may again be associated with money. Banks already maintain digital records of every electronic transaction. The next logical step is to add information about the source of every sum being exchanged, whilst also leaving a footprint on every account passed thru, so creating a currency market in which the ethical character of money has a value.

So Much Complexity, Is it Worth It?
  • Safer Business to Business Transactions : As money passes thru company or individual accounts, financial profiles of those entities are created. So providing more protection from fraudulent individuals like Madoff and Stanford
  • Protection from sub-prime lending: Any money borrowed, including details of interest rate, is part of an individual or organizations profile.
  • Providing a means of taxing black market produce, denoted import of unknown origin for instance. This would be applied during exchange.
  • Re-establishing a two sided moral value exchange.
  • Providing business and the consumer another way to make more ethical choices, when they can afford it.
  • Providing an additional way to incentivize ethical choices, e.g.: Recycling companies would offer greener money.
  • Allowing a shop or organization to more clearly identify itself ethically and be recognized as such by its trading profile: e.g. The Body Shop preferring money from green or charitable sources.
  • Associating an additional mark of respect with a persons occupation, for health care and teachers for instance.
  • Making money more noble by fitting the political profile of the individual or organization. Trading profiles could be published, displaying percentages of all money transacted in popular macro categories.
  • Imbuing a person or organisations economic presence with good will.

What Information Should be Maintained?
In light of Moore's law, we are in a position to store any amount of information about money. An initial list of suggestions for the types of information to record about money in a transaction might look like this:
  • Bank issue.
  • Resulting from export, from which country?
  • Resulting from import, produce from which country?
  • Resulting from import of unknown origin.
  • Charitable pay: healthcare, education, fire and police forces.
  • Carbon negative, neutral, positive value.
  • Location.
  • Non GM produce.
  • Organic produce.
  • Kosher produce.
  • Halal produce.
  • Fair trade.
  • Interest accrued in unknown investment.
  • Interest accrued in politically correct investment.
  • Previous owner.
Macro Groups
Clearly there are too many items of information for most people to make any quick and useful judgements about. In order to simplify this new classification of money, macro groups, relevant to each culture could be created for the various factions of society, composed of a number of limiting factors selected from the information available. For example:

  • Local: favoring exports and locally produced revenue, within a specified distance.
  • Jewish: Kosher
  • Islamic: Halal
  • Christian: Fair trade, Organic, Humane.
  • Green: carbon neutral or positive, organic.
  • Local: favoring exports and locally produced revenue, within a specified distance.
  • Generally ethical.
For the majority of us, the consumers, our everyday retail experience will not differ by much. Since money paid from a recognised employer will carry the label 'Bank issue', essentially a standard form, into which money again pools when exchanged at the bank. Gradually retail outlets would specify a preference for various currency types, offering financial as well as other incentives.
We already make ethical decisions when we purchase, additionally financial profiles of shops and organisations we are buying from could be made available.
For business to business trading many avenues of altruism are made possible, creating the opportunities for a healthier capitalism.

Associating an ethical attribute with money clearly has many advantages. Yet such a transition also has many issues which must be resolved; to name two:
  • What or who defines the exchange rate between ethical hues? A problem arises: few would deny that practicing medicine is a noble endeavor, but exactly how should that belief be quantified and by who? And what of those occupations we regard as noble but are less skilled?
  • What happens in a predominantly corrupt culture?