Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Fall Follows (Hot) Summer.

As we enter the Autumn (known as the "Fall" in Old English, and hence in the U.S. and Canada) floods may follow the unusually hot summer we have "enjoyed" in the U.K. this year. Interestingly, in Turkey, there may well be a fall in electricity generating capacity as a consequence of the low water levels in reservoirs engendered by the "heatwave". I have noted in previous postings that there is a problem with providing enough water to meet our needs, particularly in the South East of the U.K., a situation that demands urgent attention and in particular the "fixing" of the national water supply infrastructure - "leaky pipes" and so forth. That would do the trick, but it is expensive and not necessarily at the top of the agenda for any nationalised industry that is accountable to its shareholders. Hence, it is likely there will be "new" reservoirs built - presumably, this is a cheaper and more "visible" option; meanwhile there will continue to be hosepipe bans and in the worst hit areas, more draconian measures are threatened (i.e. standpipes in the street).
It seems that the weather - capricious as it is - is now set to beset us with floods during the coming months, in an ironic turn of the screw. It is thought that a combination of unusually high tides and storms with heavy downpours may act in conspiracy to flood many parts of the country (we are a largely low-lying set of islands) just at a time when funding for flood defenses is being cut - for which the finger of culpability is being pointed at the government. Professor Edmund Penning-Rowsell who is Head of the Flood Hazard Research Centre at Middlesex University, has warned that the risk can only increase over time. The point is that a sense of "maybe" is created by such maverick shifts in funding which implies that there is uncertainty about the issue of floods, whereas in fact, implementing a coherent and consistent strategy over decades is mandatory. Sadly the electoral and political system does not match even short geological timescales.
There are two exceptionally high tides expected, the highest of which is due on the 9th of October. If they were to coincide with storm surges then severe coastal flooding is practically inevitable. Professor Penning-Rowsell said that there are three main threats from flooding. The first is to low-lying areas of Eastern England (around East Anglia) which is in any case at risk of inundation from rising sea levels. The second is the Thames Valley (mmm... that's where I live!) which is largely unprotected from flooding, and the third is London, which is at the mercy of exceptionally heavy downpours which can overwhelm the city's drainage system, built in Victorian times.
Turkey is also experiencing a shortage of water in its reservoirs. This could hit Turkish electricity production especially hard since much of the country's power is produced using hydroelectric generators. Water supplies at some rain-fed reservoirs are drying-up because of continuing high temperatures, so increasing the demand for water. As the nation swelters in 40 degree temperatures, people have clamoured to buy air-conditioners; however, the discounts offered by the retailers of these units were finally offset by an increase in the price of the electricity required to run them! In microcosm, this is what will happen over all our energy - overuse will be priced-out, therefore matching the production drop in oil and other sources.
Turkish demand for electricity has increased by 700 million kWh for the first 17 days of August this year compared to the same period in 2005, with an overall 8.2% increase for the first 8 months of this year compared to last.
Driven by a desire to avoid a nation-wide electricity shortage, ministry officials are considering using natural gas fired power stations. Nearly half of Turkey's electricity was produced from gas in July, but about a quarter from hydroelectric power. Such measures will result in a steady increase in demand for imported natural gas, however. To complete the balance sheet, I note that 18.5% of Turkey's electricity came from domestic lignite (a low-grade brown(ish) coal of fairly poor heat generating capacity), with around 6% from imported coal and 2% from fuel oil. Notably, nearly 3% came from other resources such as wind-power. Now that is higher than in the U.K., by a factor of about 10!

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Eça de Queiroz said...
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