GMOs, ethics and the environment

Right2Know GMO SF Rally

In a recent moment of procrastination I found myself on the product accreditation page of the Vegetarian Society and was intrigued by one of their requirements, that all products must be free from genetically modified organisms (GMOs). This seemed interesting as not even the Vegan Society goes this far – it only excludes GMOs which contain animal genes or animal derived substances. This got me thinking, why should the vegetarian society accreditation, which exists to help vegetarians avoid foods containing meat, care at all about whether the product contains GMOs? After all, if the world was to start eating less meat for both ethical and environmental reasons, GMOs would be a great way to both increase the yield of crops and to create meat substitute products.

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GMOs, ethics and the environment

Do small businesses overpay for utilities? Evidence from the CMA and the real world

The recent provisional findings from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) investigation into energy markets includes the less than shocking revelation that SMEs overpay for their utilities. It found that most micro-businesses overpay for their energy usage and that 45% are on default tariffs that they had never negotiated with their suppliers. Consequently, suppliers are free to set high prices and enjoy profit margins of 8%, which are exorbitant compared to the 3% in domestic markets. Why does this appear to be the case? In this post I’ll be exploring some of the arguments made in the provisional CMA report as well as reflecting on my own experience running a small business and switching our electricity provider.

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Do small businesses overpay for utilities? Evidence from the CMA and the real world

A green bird of freedom? Any rekindled Lib Dem identity must focus on our green credentials

LibDems_StyleGuidlines2010.indd

As has been pointed out by many commentators in the past few weeks, now is a time for the Lib Dems to engage in some protracted soul searching. This is our eat, pray, love moment if you will. The familiar camps of the liberal left and the orange bookers will be out in force trying to assert which direction would be best for the party. Potential leadership candidate Tim Farron has even reportedly considered rebranding the party with a new logo and colour. While the new colour and logo would no doubt be a disaster, if it were to change then green would be a solid option.

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A green bird of freedom? Any rekindled Lib Dem identity must focus on our green credentials

Standing charges – the hidden enemy of energy efficiency

Last week I wrote a post that looked at the effect of standing charges on consumer understanding of energy tariffs. Standing charges are set daily fees that consumers pay regardless of their actual energy usage. I argued that eliminating standing charges is the best possible way to simplify energy tariffs. This would make switching easier for consumers and would lead to a better deal for low-energy consumers. Today I will take a different approach to the issue and will focus on the inter-relation between energy efficiency and the standing charge. As far as I can tell this issue is too boring for any academic research to have been undertaken, so the statistics here are based on my own calculations from Ofgem data. Continue reading “Standing charges – the hidden enemy of energy efficiency”

Standing charges – the hidden enemy of energy efficiency

Standing charges – the last frontier in the simplification of UK energy tariffs

I figure that nobody reads this blog anyway so what’s the harm in devoting a post to a dull  but rather important issue; the simplification of energy tariffs in the UK. As I noted last week, this is a commitment in the Labour Party manifesto, although one which is left unclear as to how exactly simplification could occur. Under OFGEM’s recent retail market reforms the tariffs that energy providers can offer have been limited in number and simplified in format. Each retailer can now only offer four types of tariff and each one needs to be clearly displayed with the unit price, standing charge and ‘tariff comparison rate’. I will argue here that the most effective further simplification of tariffs would be to abolish the standing charge.

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Standing charges – the last frontier in the simplification of UK energy tariffs

Price comparison websites – consumer champions or well branded middlemen?

meercat620_1969570aPrice comparison sites have grown hugely in the past few years. There have been expensive advertising campaigns to try and differentiate among several websites that are all almost identical in functionality. Recent research by Consumer Futures finds that 52% of consumers have switched or purchased directly through a price comparison website. Despite their growth there has been little research done to examine how beneficial they are for consumers, how they should be regulated and how sustainable the business model is likely to be.

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Price comparison websites – consumer champions or well branded middlemen?

Learning, technology, scale and Swansea Bay

The government has recently announced that it will enter into negotiations to fund the £1 billion pound investment needed to build the UK’s first tidal lagoon power scheme at Swansea Bay. The project is going to be expensive, very expensive. If it is completed on budget it will require a subsidy of £150 per megawatt hour (MWh), which is high even compared with the £98 figure agreed for the new nuclear power station at Hinkley.

The key to the pitch delivered by the Tidal Power Lagoon team rests on one element; learning. This is the basic idea that as you produce more of any given good, the cost per unit will decrease. As a general rule, you can expect a 20% saving every time the total unit quantity is doubled. Under this logic, while the first power lagoon at Swansea Bay may be astronomically expensive, future projects will be cheaper and may even achieve grid parity. Mark Shorrock, Tidal Lagoon Power’s chief executive and founder, has said that by the time the first two are operation “a third lagoon will be competitive with the support received by new nuclear”.

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Learning, technology, scale and Swansea Bay