Book review: ‘Fossil Capital: The Rise of Steam Power and the Roots of Global Warming’, by Andreas Malm.

When I bought this book I thought it was going to be a history of steam power in the textile industry in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. I was looking forward to reading about cross‑compound engines, Corliss valve gear, centrifugal governors and indicator diagrams.

When I opened it I was surprised to discover that it is, in fact, a sequel to Karl Marx’s Capital. It attempts to weave (no pun intended) the idea of fossil fuel into the fabric of Marx’s theory of class struggle. It aims to show that capitalism and fossil energy are so intimately connected that they cannot be separated, from which it follows, according to the author, that only the overthrow of capitalism can avert climate change.

The book is full of words and phrases that only Marxists use, such as ‘structural crisis’, ‘surplus value’, ‘historical process’, ‘commodity fetishism’, ‘primitive accumulation’, ‘subsumption of labour’, ‘property relations’ and even ‘bourgeois property relations’. The author appears to have a checklist of ideas from Das Kap and to be ticking them off one by one.

I should have guessed from its title that it would be something like this, in which case I wouldn’t have bought it. If you are tempted to buy it for the same reason as I was you now know everything you need to know about it and I will forgive you if you don’t read any further.

Read more

What’s happening with Swansea Bay tidal lagoon?

Am I the only person who’s bemused about what’s happening to the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon? It looks like precisely nothing, though it would be just my luck for a deal to be announced five minutes after I post this article. If that happens, then don’t bother reading the rest!

As far back as July the FT reported that the project’s investors were warning that the delay in making a decision was putting the project at risk. According to Wales Online, a bunch of Swansea councillors met with Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Greg Clark on 30 October to urge him to speed things up, but two weeks later there have still been no announcements about what is happening. I wondered whether an announcement might have been made at the recent International Tidal Energy Summit earlier this week, but there’s still no news.

I don’t understand why the government couldn’t have given it a definitive unambiguous yes or no several years ago. But I have a theory, and here it is.

Read more

Swansea Bay tidal lagoon, what is its real cost?

The Swansea Bay tidal lagoon debate tends to focus on its cost. The figure usually quoted is £168/MWh for the feed-in tariff or ‘strike price’ needed to enable it to go ahead. If you were wondering where this number came from, how it was derived, and whether it is still correct, then you’ve come to the right place.

Read more

Rebooting marine energy. One year on.

A year ago I wrote a blog post entitled Rebooting Marine Renewables. Its centrepiece was an analysis of the electricity generated by wave and tidal-current plant in the UK as revealed by ROCs and REGOs. Now seems like a good time to update it by taking a fresh snapshot of the data to see what has happened since then. To keep this article short and sweet please read the original post for background and context. The most relevant part is where the graphs of the data are shown.

Read more

An attempted reconstruction of Tidal Lagoon Power’s ‘New Power Cost League Table’

Tidal Lagoon Plc (TLP) has recently published a document called ‘The New Power Cost League Table’ that compares the cost-effectiveness of different electricity generating technologies according to a new measure they have devised that they call ‘lifetime consumer cost per MWh’. Figure 1 shows the league table.

Read more

Why you shouldn’t use the triangular distribution

The triangular distribution is popular in risk analysis because it seems to naturally embody the idea of ‘three point estimation’, where subjective judgement is used to estimate a minimum, a ‘best guess’ and a maximum value of a variable such as the cost of an item or the time taken to accomplish a task. It looks mathematically simpler than many of the standard distributions and could be regarded as the simplest probability density function that embodies a random variable with a given minimum, mode and maximum. Because of this, you may be tempted to think of it as the distribution that involves fewest assumptions and that it is therefore the one to use when you don’t know what the real distribution is. Its Wikipedia article says ‘… the triangle distribution has been called a “lack of knowledge” distribution’. Although the article gives no reference for this assertion, and I’ve never seen it explicitly stated anywhere else, it sounds plausible and I do think it represents the main reason people use the triangular distribution.

The problem with this idea is that it isn’t true. Read more