Spike Milligan, Nuclear Fusion and Smart Meters…

Two recent announcements, seemingly unrelated, reminded the Badger of Spike Milligan’s quip ‘And God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light, but the Electricity Board said he would have to wait until Thursday to be connected’.

The first was that UK Smart Meters will, by default rather than consumer opt-in, automatically send usage data to suppliers every 30 minutes by 2025  so that ‘time of use’ tariffs charging more at peak times can be offered to all consumers. According to OFGEM, the Regulator, ‘It will enable a more efficient, flexible and greener energy system which will save billions of pounds per year on all consumers’ energy bills’. Hmm, that seems doubtful. Smart Meters have hardly been a success for consumers who haven’t seen any savings in their bills to date from their introduction over the last decade. Will people really change their habits and routines after 2025 for consumer bills to go down? It’s doubtful. Apparently, the fire brigade was not consulted about this announcement, and so we can expect a public outcry when there’s a fire tragedy caused by household appliances running late at night or in the early morning.   

The second announcement was the achievement of a fusion record at JET. There’s a long way to go before commercial fusion power becomes a reality, but this record shows that scientists and engineers are rapidly building the knowledge and technology needed to deliver the  low-carbon, sustainable, baseload energy that future generations need. The Badger doesn’t know if the Electricity Board had a say in when the JET experiment was  conducted, but ‘Let there be light (and heat)’ was certainly achieved!

Which brings us back to Spike Milligan, a man with severe bipolar disorder and famous for surreal humour who died 20 years ago. He was an enthusiastic environmental campaigner and the issues of life on our planet would be a rich source for his dark, surreal, humour if he were alive today. It’s entirely possible that Spike might draw on the electricity, greener energy system, and consumer points that emerge from the announcements above to make quips like ‘The Smart thing with a Smart Meter is not to have one’, ‘I want my energy a different colour to go with the décor’, ‘My Bill needs to go on a diet’. Spike would, however, produce better quips than the Badger’s!

Of the announcements above, it’s the fusion record that should give most cause for optimism about our energy future. While commercial fusion power may still be ’30 years away’, the JET record highlights not only the importance of career scientists and engineers working together to build knowledge, understanding, and to solve world problems, but also that seemingly intractable problems can be overcome to provide energy benefit to us all. The Badger’s always been pro-fusion because, as Spike Milligan observed, One day the “Don’t Knows” will get in and then where will we be?

Hinkley Point C and the Marble Arch Mound…

The recent BBC television series ‘Building Britain’s Biggest Nuclear Power Station’ about the building of Hinkley Point C on the UK’s North Somerset coast was enthralling. Television cameras not only followed people building the station, but also gave an insight to the engineering, processes, professionalism, and diligent attention to detail that they follow at every step of the build. The Badger found the sections covering the ‘Go/No Go’ decisions for a) pouring nearly 1000 lorry-loads of the correct specification of concrete for the nuclear island foundations, and b) installing the first ring of the reactor containment building, impressive and reassuring!

Normally we see little of such readiness and decision-making processes on major programmes and during his career the Badger was involved in numerous post-mortems of programmes that suffered from poor Go/No-Go readiness and decision-making disciplines, especially with regard to opening up to ‘live’ operations with end users. A failed major programme activity or a failed introduction to use with end users can often be traced back to poor Go/No-Go professionalism with decisions based on poor status information, poor risk assessment, and commercial or political priorities. It is, therefore, reassuring to see that things are being done right with regard to every aspect of readiness with Hinkley Point C.

The recent opening of the Marble Arch Mound in London, however, is a different endeavour. It’s recent opening before it was ready not only led to some ribald laughter in the Badger household, but also lots of derision on social media and in the press – see here, here, and here, for example.   Westminster City Council’s ’s CEO must have felt highly embarrassed at having to apologise via a statement on the Mound’s website that it hadn’t been ready for opening to paying customers. The Badger knew little of the ‘The Mound’, a phrase that seems apt for a horror story, before the tsunami of recent coverage, and so he explored further in a more objective frame of mind.   

The motive for building the ‘The Mound’ was to get people back into the shops, theatres, and restaurants of London over the Summer, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a temporary structure costing ~£2m of council taxpayers money that’s only in place until January 2022. It apparently fails to deliver what was promised.  On absorbing its history, the Badger felt that while the motive was laudable, the concept of ‘The Mound’, the way it was marketed, and its delivery were likely flawed from the outset. The Badger’s conclusion? ‘The Mound’ is a reminder that not every idea is a good one, not every delivery meets expectations, and not every decision is the right one.  It’s also a reminder of human fallibility which is, of course, something which cannot be countenanced at Hinkley Point C where everything must be perfect.