One thing we have learnt this week – Power to the people

walney 1 and 2Power to the people- not the cry of “Citizen Smith” (look it up), but a programme on BBC4 this week following SSE energy over a year.  Scottish and Southern Energy is one of the “big six”, its ex now retired boss Ian Marchant attends my church and wrote the forward to our book.  Power to the people episode one used an old coal fired power station and an offshore wind farm to highlight the changes and challenges in the UK energy system.  What was slightly annoying was that the unseen interviewer tried to constantly play up the differences between the two energy sources and their staff.  So the coal fired staff came across as anti-wind and climate sceptic.  (The crew maintaining the wind turbines saw it as the future but at the same time as just another form of energy generation).  The only part of “Power to the people” that looked at anything else was the bit that looked at SSE’s brand new high tech energy to waste plant.  This will do base load but as was pointed out has only a fraction of the old coal fired power station next door, which it was pretty clear was going to have to close.  “Power to the people” has made no mention of solar yet and its interesting to see what the other programmes will cover.

There were some interesting things I learnt though.  The struggle to keep the 50 year old coal plant going (they had a fire which took one unit off line).  This has lessons for new nuclear power stations where the people who designed it will be long dead by the time they are closed.  One problem being that coal power is now competing with other sources (such as wind).  This means a plant that was designed for baseload operation goes off and off line.  The sheer amount of coal needed (all imported) to keep the station going is also huge.

On the wind front its not quite so low carbon as it might seem.  There is a huge crew keeping it going and in a completely staged incident the programme watched two people being winched onto the top of a wind turbine (there is a platform on it but it still looked hair raising).  I say staged because they normally go out by boat but the weather was supposedly too bad- in fact there was not a cloud in the sky and a calm sea!

One last thing.  I think Ian Marchant would have made an ethical and business case for investment in renewables.   Its current CEO in “Power to the people” suggested it was driven by government.


PS off to Paris for climate change lobbying by bike/train.  I will try to update on progress via FB and twitter (

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