Alternative Energy & Storage

In this week’s New Civil Engineer magazine (NCE) there are some interesting articles on exciting alternative energy schemes. These include the Swansea Tidal Lagoon, the Meygen Phase 1A tidal turbines in the Pentland Firth and a floating Solar array on a reservoir in Walton on Thames, which although more costly than covering fields with solar panels, seems to me to be a better use of space.

For each scheme there were figures quoted concerning cost, capacity, lifespan and the number of homes which could be powered. There were also comparisons with the Hinkley Point C nuclear scheme.

I played around with the data and a few comparisons struck me. Firstly if the generating capacity of the Swansea Tidal Lagoon is around a tenth of Hinkley C, why can it power a fortieth of the number of homes? Similarly the floating solar panels have a similar generating capacity to the tidal turbines, yet power half as many homes. Well, the good thing about nuclear power is that you crank it up to optimum operating power and it delivers that power hour after hour, day after day. The tide varies hour by hour and according to the phase of the moon. So although it is highly predictable, it is only delivering its maximum capacity for a fraction of the time. Nevertheless, that predictability is very useful because solar and wind power are nothing like as predictable.

Swansea Tidal Lagoon Tidal Turbine Meygen Phase 1A Hinkley Point C Nuclear Floating Solar Panels
Capacity MW










Homes powered





Cost / MW / YEAR





Cost / Homes Powered / YEAR





Homes / MW





The big problem with electrical power is demand following. I looked at the UK power demand statistics for 2012 and 2013 and the summer minimum demand occurs at about 5AM and is around 27 Gigawatts and the winter maximum is around 58 Gigawatts at about 5PM. In 2015 the total electrical demand was 308,000 GWh equivalent to an average of 35GW per hour over the whole year. So you have to cater for this minimum 27GW, average 35GW and maximum 58 GW scenario. That is before you start worrying about what the demand is going to be in however many years it takes to build new power stations.

Nuclear is not good at demand following, that is you can’t turn it up and down as easily as with gas or coal fired power stations. And we already know that the tide is what it is and the wind and sun are very unpredictable, in the UK anyway. So that’s where energy storage comes in. The NCE article also focussed on new grid battery scheme in Leighton Buzzard. It covers the area of 3 tennis courts, cost £13m, and has a power capacity of 6MW and an energy capacity of 10MWh.

There was also a piece on a cryogenic facility in Manchester that uses surplus energy to freeze air into liquid air at -196 degC and stores in insulated tanks. When required it can be converted to gaseous air again at 700 times its liquid volume and drive turbines to produce electricity.

So, conveniently ignoring energy losses, and spare capacity for maintenance outages and future growth, you could deliver the 2015 UK electricity requirements with something like 123 Swansea Tidal Lagoons (or 11 Hinkley Point C’s) and 2,166 Leighton Buzzard style battery banks. You wouldn’t of course, you’d want a good mix of generation, but storage of one sort or another is key.

The process of deciding how you invest in energy infrastructure is complex. Whilst nuclear looks like the cheapest option for baseload, it has significant disposal costs down the line. Investment in certain technologies might provide a competitive advantage in selling that technology elsewhere in the world. The process of deciding on an investment strategy and making the case for it is project sponsorship. If that’s of interest to you, see my book here.



Project Sponsorship and the Third Runway at Heathrow

There is an interesting article in this week’s New Civil Engineer concerning the recent government decision that Heathrow is the best place to build additional runway capacity in the South East. In an interview with Phil Wilbraham, Heathrow Airport Ltd’s programme director and Tony Caccavone, co-programme director, amongst many good things they say “And crucially, operations people are in from the start. We had some very painful learning after the Terminal 5 opening.”

I used Heathrow T5 as an example in my book to illustrate the point that once the Project Sponsor has engaged a Project Manager, and is happy that the Project Manager has got to grips with delivering the project, the Sponsor’s attention should shift to preparing for the day the facility opens. A multitude of people and organisations must be focused on ensuring that the benefits of the project are realised.

Climate Change and the Case for Agile Project Sponsorship


According to the National Needs Assessment of the UK’s infrastructure, the disruption caused by flooding costs the UK £1 billion per annum. I understand that Donald Trump plans to scrap the International Climate Change Agreement, and since there is no wall that Trump or anyone can build to confine the impact of greenhouse gases, that cost is likely to rise alarmingly. On the positive side, it was reported last week that for a 24 hour period the UK generated more electricity from solar than from coal. It’s the first time that has happened. There is also much progress being made in smart technologies that can predict periods of peak demand and manage both supply and demand accordingly. Similarly, the emergence of driverless cars offers the possibility of releasing much needed capacity on our road networks. Unfortunately the range of estimates of climate change are quite wide. Princeton University predict a repeat of Hurricane Sandy between now and 2100 is between 3 and 17 times more likely due to climate change. Similarly the best estimate for mean global sea level by 2100 is between 0.2m and 2m.

Project Managers often come in for criticism when costs escalate. Pity though the poor Project Sponsor, who has to estimate a project’s benefits, which in the case of infrastructure, may be over a 100 year lifespan. The case for a particular solution may be founded on environmental or technological assumptions which can completely change very rapidly. We have seen how political, social and economic assumptions can also be turned on their head, all too recently.

The practice of project management has being undergoing something of a revolution with agile techniques. These prioritise communication over standard procedures; delivering a working solution, over thorough documentation; greater collaboration with clients; and openness to change.

The fundamentals of project sponsorship remain valid. But I think some things can benefit from speed. Stakeholder management could be more scrum-like. Ten minute morning video conferences, rather than monthly board meetings. Regularly updated, scenario based business cases could span a wide range of possible futures rather than a sensitivity test. Project Sponsors will need to be ready to change tack dramatically as events unfold.

Project Sponsor Role

The role of a the Project Sponsor, or Project Executive, is to act as guardian of the project business case, and ensure that the project is able to deliver the benefits predicted, outweighing the costs. The Project Sponsor should appoint the Project Manager, and thereafter the Project Sponsor and Project Manager must work very closely together. I liken the project structure to an hourglass in which the Project Sponsor and Project Manager sit at the neck of the hourglass. The Project Manager directs the bottom half i.e. all the consultants and contractors delivering the project, whilst the Project Sponsor coordinates the top half, all the departments of the investing organization such as operations, marketing, finance, HR etc.

The key project sponsor’s responsibility is for the business case. Projects are conceived to add value to the investing organization. If the project becomes delayed or is heading over budget the Project Sponsor must re-asses the business case and decide whether it should continue or not.

The Project Sponsor should be someone who understands the business of the investing organization very well. He or she should command the attention and respect of the board and have direct access to all of the departments mentioned above. Ideally the Project Sponsor will have a good understanding of corporate strategy and project appraisal techniques. Once the Project Manager is appointed and fully briefed the Project Sponsor should start to plan for the day when the project is handed back. That is the way to ensure that the benefits are fully realized.

If you would like to know more please check out my book.



Europe & Passion

Having recently returned from our summer sailing holiday and before starting our European rail odyssey I reflect on the Brexit vote and why I’m so very upset about it. I’m a passionate europhile and have been for as long as I can remember. Why? Well, in part I’ve enjoyed a reasonably successful career which has been, in no small way, enabled by the ease of doing business which the EU provided. I also may have listened to all the countless experts advising against Brexit. But that doesn’t explain the passion, for that you have to go back to childhood. My father was conscripted into the 1st Battalion Rifle Brigade on 13th June 1940 and demobilized on 16th July 1946. He was a desert rat, part of Seventh Armoured Division and fought in North Africa at Tobruk, El Alamein and in many other battles too. Then he took part in the first of two amphibious assaults at Salerno in Italy and fought his way up via Naples to Sorrento. Then he landed in Normandy on D-Day +1 and fought through Villers Bocage, Caen and on finally to Hamburg. I learnt all his war stories at his knee. The only story he was reluctant to tell was of Belsen, the horror must have been too much.

So having fought the Germans and Italians and experienced such horror, you might imagine he’d had enough of Europe? Not a bit of it. My childhood holidays were caravanning all over Europe. Dad simply loved Europe and loved the people. Everywhere we went dad could be found sharing a beer or wine with Germans, French, Italians. I remember him drinking with two Germans of roughly the same age. When one of them didn’t want to talk about his war, dad reached across the table and pulled up his sleeve to reveal the SS tattoo. “Macht nichts, it doesn’t matter” dad said. That was the past and it was important to be friends, work together and ensure it doesn’t happen again. And I guess some of that rubbed off on me.

A couple of thoughts about #BREXIT

Something that puzzles me is the argument by leave campaigners that we must leave the EU in order to make our own laws. Two acts passed in recent years which have changed centuries, or millennia even, of the status quo are the Constitution Reform Act 2005 and the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013. As far as I’m aware neither of these were either initiated by or opposed by the EU. We already make our own laws and will continue to do so either way.

On the YouGov website there is some interesting information about the demographics associated with recent opinion polls on the UK electorate’s view on remaining in or leaving the EU. There appears to be no gender bias one way or the other. University graduates prefer to remain by 62 to 38 and you are much more likely to want to leave if you read the Daily Express or Mail than if you read the Times or Guardian. But age is the biggest differentiator with 18 to 29 year olds in favour of staying in by 63 to 37 and those over 60 in favour of leaving by 56 to 44. Depending on your point of view it may or may not be unfortunate that the over 60’s are much more likely to vote than those under 30. Quite why an electorate would want those with most of their life behind them to decide the future of those with most of their life ahead of them, I don’t know. Maybe it’s the village elder principle or the apathy of youth. I would simply urge all those with a vote to use it in June.

Inequality in distribution of wealth

My attention was drawn yesterday to an Oxfam report highlighting that the world’s richest 62 people own as much as half the population of the world. Since 2010 that’s come down from 388 to 62, which does seem to be a worrying direction, but frankly whether 388 or 62 that’s an incredibly tiny fraction of people holding as much as 3,700,000,000 people (roughly). How can that happen? Taxation has long been a mechanism for the re-distribution of wealth and Oxfam make great points about the need to address tax evasion and tax avoidance on an international scale.

But the last time I saw so much concentrated in so few it was when I looked at the relationship between book sales and sales rank on amazon, see my earlier post here. I had a graph that just hugged the axes. I then found that sense could be made of the relationship when you looked at it as a log – log relationship. Drawing the parallel between books and wealth, if you assume that there are 7.4 billion people in the world and they all write a book, then take the sales of the author ranked at 3.7 billion and assume everyone below that sells the same number, which hugely exaggerates the sales of the bottom half of the population, those sales would add up to 118 books. The sales of the top 62 authors would total 27,700 books. So that’s an even more skewed distribution of book sales to the elite few than world distribution of wealth. Of course it’s a lot less important than the big question of inequality, but I’m an engineer and believe that if you want to solve a problem you have to really understand the problem and the maths behind it. Book sales have little to do with taxation but much to do with publicity, celebrity, fashion, connections and talent. Now hands up, I don’t know the answer, and my maths has grown rusty. So I pass on the analysis to my younger readers. I just feel in my water that there is some interesting similarity in the mechanisms at work that concentrate so much in the hands of so few.



Clarity of Risk Description

A good tip that I learnt a few years ago is that you should start a risk description with ‘There is a risk that …’ it encourages you to describe the uncertainty and the impact it may have. For example Budget cap isn’t a risk description. There is a risk that the budget cap may be exceeded resulting in delay or cancellation of project packages, is a better description of risk.

Creative Writing and Plots

I blogged about my journey from a non-fiction to fiction author here, and celebrated my first fiction publication here. One important thing I failed to tell was why my score improved from around 65% for the 1st assignment to, I think, 95% for the 2nd assignment. It also went on to be published as There Must be More in the anthology Something Hidden. My brilliant tutor @brianevansjones had observed that my first story didn’t have a point. I was digesting this whilst watching the quiz show University Challenge when the question was asked, “who wrote The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories?”  I thought I don’t know, but I need to read it. It’s Christopher Booker, by the way.

It’s a very thorough, well researched and well written book. It’s a very long book but kept me enthralled to the end. This book is the main reason for my improved writing from 1st to 2nd assignment. I made the attached aide memoir to remind me about plotting. I hope it helps.

Seven Basic Plots

Electricity Storage – Realizing the Potential and Cutting Red Tape

I have written several times before about climate change, renewable energy and the vital role energy storage has to play in renewable energy. The Institution of Civil Engineers have just published an excellent report Electricity Storage – Realising the Potential which focuses on the benefits and barriers. Whilst I have been very aware of the benefits, I hadn’t realized the absurd red tape which has been preventing more storage being provided.

Apparently because electricity storage is both a source of demand and generation an operator pays double the BSUoS charges (Balancing Services Use of System). Also because storage is classified as generation, DNO’s (Distribution Network Operators) are not permitted to operate it. Seems crazy to me. @David_Cameron I know you’re busy but please take a look at the ICE report.

%d bloggers like this: