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Consumers in Northern Ireland suffer from some of the highest costs of ­energy in Europe. This, combined with the lowest average wage of all the regions in the UK, has resulted in a fuel poverty level three times higher than that in Great Britain.
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Norwegian utility Statkraft's trading update for the last quarter of 2011 makes interesting reading.
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A timely reminder about how much strain our energy networks can be put under was provided by David Clarke, Energy Technologies Institute chief executive, when he gave the Bridge Lecture last week. He noted (see news story, page 4) that domestic gas usage can increase sixfold between summer and winter.
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The UK government now seems to have accepted that new unabated gas-fired power stations will be required when dirtier plant is closed after 2015. New combined cycle gas turbines (CCGTs) have lower emissions than coal, yet retain the flexibility required to accommodate variable renewables.
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The Electricity Market Reform project reveals a profound lack of confidence in the ability of market mechanisms to attract sufficient investment to deliver security of supply from a low-carbon generation mix. Undoubtedly the electricity market would benefit from reform, but not from dismantlement. The current process looks set to stifle investment and precipitate the very crisis the government is seeking to avoid.
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Convincing investors to pay for expensive, risky projects is a tricky business. Initially the set-up is simple: offer a guaranteed return for a guaranteed period. If it's high enough, there will be investment out there, no matter how big the project - even building thousands of wind turbines miles offshore.
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Here at S&C we're celebrating our 100th anniversary. Looking back over the past century, there are of course massive differences between technology and innovation then and what we have today. It is interesting to note not only how much various sectors have evolved, but also the way in which they have done so.
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The UK's assumption about carbon costs underpins some huge programmes - not least the smart meter rollout. It has to reflect assumptions about how costs will change over the long term and can't swing on the whim of today's market.
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The Water White Paper has done a good job of defining new demarcation lines for the industry. It allows for different views of the separate parts of the "supply chain" to be taken, without enforcing the kind of split that would scare industry and investors.
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It's tough being a water company right now. Consumer and industrial demand is affecting availability, managing the obsolescence of complex, distributed assets is a challenge and the regulator is shifting the incentive model in favour of customer experience.
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