Windy Winter Boating Nights

Richard Stabbins begins an occasional series on the joys and heartbreaks of living on a boat in the middle of a big city.

It’s early evening on the canal towpath and I’m almost home. My hands are frozen and even getting my bike lock open had me yelping expletives. I cut a dishevelled figure on the dark stretch between Broadway Market and Victoria Park, dimly lit by LED lights of neighbouring boats. Hopping onto the bow of my floating home, crouching my way through the front door, my first thought is: “I’m so glad I’ve got a dog!”. Bruno is an excitable 30kg hound, a blessing in himself. I had stocked the stove that morning with a generous heap of coal to keep him warm. It made me love him even more. It’s been 1 degree all day and, boaters returning to a frozen tin box usually despair for an hour or more at the lack of heating that we can monitor from an app on our phone. Praise be, though – I have a hound! 

That contentment does not last long. Backpack stowed away in its spot between front steps and cupboard (every boater knows, space is at the key), I set to washing last night’s dishes. I turn on the taps, hear the boiler kick in, and then that splattering sound that every boat-dweller hates to hear: the water tank is empty! I slump down on to my couch made of old pallets and recycled cushions. The serenity of a warm night with dinner and a book is replaced by the knowledge that I must cruise to the nearest waterpoint. Bruno looks on from his bed with eyes that know what’s coming. At least the batteries are full and I’ve got diesel – a (hopefully) short trip like this will use very little fuel.

First things first, I check the weather forecast on my phone. I know it’s cold, but that’s not the biggest factor – it’s the wind. Google says I’ve got two hours before wind speeds really pick up, so that’s my window to get fuel and safely find a mooring spot elsewhere. It wasn’t long ago that I had been awoken at 05:00 by a fellow boater shouting for help. Wind speeds had suddenly hit eighty-plus mph and several boats had come free from their makeshift moorings (their pegs had been dislodged as there are no mooring rings available in that part of Haggerston). One boat had swung around and was resting horizontally across the canal, blocking anything coming through. Four of usin our pyjamas fought the wind and just about managed to heave in the barge Other boats were tied up to the balcony railings of canalised flats. Ropes stretched across the towpath at neck height like deadly rubber bands – a measure taken temporarily to regain some calm and order.

That feeling of …

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UK Energy Policy – No Boost For Prosumers

London – 29 March – The UK government will reportedly unveil new proposals on “Energy Security Day” tomorrow, aimed at hitting net zero by 2050. Sources say Prime Minister Sunak will unveil plans for more oil licenses and Carbon Capture schemes, and a revamped net zero strategy in Aberdeen, the UK’s oil capital. The event has been renamed from “Green Day” to emphasise a reduced commitment to carbon reduction in the short term.

Energy Secretary Grant Shapps will announce a consultation on a new system of “carbon border taxes” to protect UK manufacturers from countries with lax environmental rules, but this will hobble the British economy unless it is accompanied by subsidies for the UK’s own local battery production plants and solar panel manufacturing.

Off-Grid.net has come up with detailed plan to launch initiatives in this area, but the UK government is ignoring the role of households in the energy security plans and focusing solely on “Big Energy.”

Off-Grid.net calls on Shapps to recognise that 100,000 local projects serving a few hundred homes each can produce far better results, far more quickly and easily, than a handful of huge projects serving millions of homes each.

The government’s carbon border taxes will initially target energy-intensive products like batteries and solar panels, as well as hydrogen from non-EU countries, to ensure a “level playing field” for domestic producers and encourage other countries to switch to renewables. But there are no domestic producers of solar panels or batteries.

The government will also offer grants worth hundreds of pounds to middle-income households to make their homes more energy efficient under the new “Great British insulation scheme”. That is a welcome contribution to reducing consumption. But energy production is being reserved for the larger players, companies like National Grid, which is slowing down the race to Net Zero in the same way BT slowed down the the rollout of high-speed fibre and set back the UK Internet by a decade.

The Financial Times reports that a price floor could be imposed for the windfall tax on oil and gas producers, meaning that energy businesses will be guaranteed no windfall tax if the price drops below a certain level.

North Sea firms have expressed concern around the lack of a price floor for the 35% levy – meaning firms would still be facing a total 75% tax rate if oil and gas prices drop.

Imposing a floor has been a key ask of trade body Offshore Energies UK.

It is expected that an announcement on Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) could also made, according to the Guardian.

That comes as ministers have promised an update on the Track 2 funding – which the Acorn development in Aberdeenshire is banking on – before the end of the month.

It also comes a week after Jeremy Hunt announced a £20bn package for the technology in his budget.…

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World’s First Micro-Nuclear Greenlit in Canada

In January, GE Hitachi signed a deal to build the first small modular reactor in North America, agreeing a deal with authorities in Ontario, Canada.

GE is among dozens of companies around the world with designs for small, factory-produced reactors. The theory behind mass-producing them is that development costs can be spread over many units to lower costs.

They are also cheap enough for private companies to buy, with the smallest versions being touted as a prospect for powering container ships.

Early leaders like Rolls Royce are falling behind because of slow Government decision-making on SMRs and their higher-tech cousins advanced modular reactors (AMRs), which are a few years further away in deployment.

Some developers have abandoned hopes of taxpayer funding, but without guidance from the regulator about how far off design approvals may be, and a site to show that their technology works, lenders are skittish about committing to big projects.

Without these assurances, orders and jobs are on the line. However, the industry is hesitant to attack governments openly, given the requirement to win Government approval (and funding). Governments tend to favor home-grown companies, whihc makes the GE deal suprising.

In the UK, for example, foreign-controlled Rolls Royce still has the inside track – a government spokesman said: “Small modular reactors could play a vital role in our nuclear programme as we work to increase our energy independence and security, reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and exposure to volatile global gas prices.

“The Government is investing in these new technologies through the £385m Advanced Nuclear Fund including £210m towards the Rolls-Royce SMR programme. We will announce plans for the set-up of Great British Nuclear soon, and we are committed to backing it with appropriate funding to support projects and investment.”

Tom Samson, chief executive Rolls-Royce SMR, said: “We have over 600 members of staff in the UK, dedicated to bringing our technology to market at pace – a British solution to a global energy crisis.

“Rolls-Royce SMR has called for rapid progress from the Government and we welcome the adoption of that principle in this process.

“We look forward to working collaboratively with Government and Great British Nuclear to realise their ambitions as quickly as possible.”

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