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Energy engineers wrongly in the firing line

 

03-01-2014 10:20:48 by Admin

 SMEIA is deeply concerned that David Cameron is prepared to follow OFGEM's lead in criticising the Power Generating and Electricity Network Operating companies for their performance in reconnecting customers after the recent storms. It may well be correct that the commercial management of these companies have some questions to answer on profitability, and on retail pricing to customers. It is also correct that OFGEM is tasked with ensuring that customers get back on the grid connection as soon as possible. However SMEIA believes that the Prime Minister is deeply mistaken in making these public criticisms now, and indulging in taking cheap shots at targets that he believes to be unpopular, for simple, and entirely unworthy, political purposes.

Any scrutiny of this criticism will reveal a familiar pattern. On the one hand we have the whole banking and financial services industry, still largely unreformed five years after the economic crisis began. We have had revelations in the Tomlinson report of RBS foreclosing on SMEs for their own profits in very recent times. We have major corporations involved in systematic avoidance of corporation tax.  They also systematically ignore the patent rights of Britain’s smaller entities involved in valuable creative work. We have industrial companies still unable to obtain capital on any sensible terms. All of these are problems with no cause other than human greed and lack of proper regulation and governance.

On the other hand we have people delivering electricity, gas and other fuels. The UK still enjoys a very competent engineering community, despite long term under-investment. The lack of attention to such matters means that we now have to rely on the French for the technical expertise to build nuclear power stations, and the Chinese to finance them. Despite this the UK National Grid supplies electricity to a standard in which it bothers to count the number of 50 Hz cycles in a 24 hour period, and make sure that it is exactly correct. The teams working at the sharp end of the storm repairs are working in all weathers, working very long shifts, doing a technically excellent job, and they are dealing with real engineering problems, working with their hands and with tools: skills that the governing class in the UK seem to think are somehow of lesser worth than banking, PR, IP or politics.

Of course government must hold all the private utilities to account, and it is probable that there are things to be done. But this is not the time. We call upon the Prime Minister to think about the impression he has given, and to immediately act to correct it. We also call on the government to urgently and seriously get to grips with the deep-seated problems that have held back UK science and engineering for the whole of the post war period.

Until the UK government takes engineering and science seriously, it has no moral right to make any criticisms at all.