Today my blog on energy innovation, Watt-Logic is one year old! It’s been an interesting and unexpected year.
A year of surprises…
A year ago Brexit was still seen as a somewhat unlikely prospect, as was President Trump, yet a year on, not only are we on the way out of the EU, but we have a General Election coming that is likely to return a large Conservative majority. And that same Conservative Party is seriously considering imposing price caps on the retail energy market.
Over the past year we have seen coal being edged out of the merit order, with entirely coal-free days – a thing that would have been unheard of until very recently. We have also seen Hinkley Point achieve final approvals and begin the construction process, despite the ongoing uncertainty at the flagship EPR at Flamanville.
We saw the UK market comfortably withstand the loss of 50% of the UK-France interconnector – which arguably was positive for UK capacity margins given a correlation between high demand and high exports. The French market also managed to cope despite extensive nuclear shutdowns following the steel forging scandal affecting the construction of its reactors.
Germany had a rocky start to 2017 as sustained still weather at a time of low solar production risked causing havoc to the system and saw conventional plants including coal firing at full tilt to meet demand.
…and new innovations
In the course of writing my blog I’ve come across some really interesting new concepts. We’ve become used to the notion of disruptive technologies such as electric vehicles and battery storage, but there is also a pipeline of other potential game-changers.
“There’s a way to do it better—find it.”
– Thomas Edison, inventor and businessman.
Small nuclear reactors are showing potential and there is some interesting work going on in the field of nuclear fusion, although whether that nut will ever be truly cracked remains to be seen.
Building-integrated PV is also gaining momentum, with new technologies allowing high levels of efficiency and optical transparency, significantly increasing the potential for small-scale PV as a way of decreasing net energy consumption – particularly where other efficiency schemes may be difficult (eg glass-walled buildings).
Wireless charging technologies are also gaining ground, dangling the tantalising prospect of doing away with the proliferation of wires and adaptors that currently fill our homes, offices, cars….
Further down the line, but no less intriguing are developments such as the bionic leaf – a process of artificial photosynthesis making liquid fuel from sunlight, carbon dioxide and water.
Scientists are also studying the unattractive but fascinating naked mole-rat which has the ability to effectively turn itself into a plant by metabolising fructose instead of glucose in low-oxygen conditions. This may have zero applications in the energy industry but is pretty cool anyway.
On a personal level, it’s also been an interesting year. I left my previous job due to health reasons – having been diagnosed with a chronic condition I needed time to figure out how to manage my symptoms. It’s involved a lot of research – some helpful, some less so, and some that sounds pretty bizarre (apparently people with my condition have an excess of something called “substance P” – very X-Files!)
I started this blog as a way of keeping my eye in during my break – I didn’t expect it to lead to consulting work, but saw no reason to turn down the offers when they came! As well as finding work, the blog has allowed me to meet (both in real life and online) a lot of interesting people with whom it’s been a pleasure to exchange ideas and collaborate on new initiatives.
I’m looking forward to the next 12 months and hoping they are similarly interesting and unexpected….
“It is known that knowledge is power, and power is energy, and energy is matter, and matter is mass, and therefore large accumulations of knowledge distort time and space.”
– Terry Pratchett, The Science of Discworld