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POWER CUTS

Many homes in Scotland and northern England have faced power cuts, some lasting days, following the damage caused by Storm Arwen: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-59396135 Despite receiving text messages assuring me that my power would be restored as soon as possible I seem to have escaped.

Gas and other fossil fuels are due to be phased out and the theory is that we will be largely dependent on electricity for heating our homes and powering transport, maybe with a contribution from hydrogen. That’s too many eggs in one basket for my liking. I trust that the hospitals will be keeping their diesel-powered emergency generators on standby.

There are options that avoid the use of fossil fuels. One is battery storage. The other is hydrogen storage, as used in the Orkneys https://www.orkney.gov.uk/Service-Directory/Renewable/h2-in-orkney-the-hydrogen-islands.htm

Yes, I have mentioned hydrogen storage in other discussions. Battery storage is fine for emergency lighting and other low load applications but would not provide heating in a sustained power cut such as those caused by Storm Arwen. In cold countries like Canada, homes in remote areas that are at risk from extended power cuts often have their own diesel or LPG generators. I suspect that there will be many exemptions to the phase-out of fossil fuels, but hydrogen will help.

Battery storage is suggested, and used, for surplus electricity so using it as back up for key services in premises such as hospitals seems quite likely. Alternatively ICE generators adapted to run on hydrogen would be appropriate as we want to phase out fossil fuels.

https://www.saftbatteries.com/products-solutions/products/flexion-gen-2

Fortunately evens like Arewn are rare but we do need to make precautions in critical situations.

As I said, battery storage will not provide sufficient power for heating in a sustained power cut. Hydrogen could.

Some people make provision for power cuts if they are reliant on medical equipment. A friend had sleep apnoea and used a machine at night. He had enough battery backup power to last over a week.

We seem to agree that battery storage and hydrogen could support a hospital in the event of a long power cut. I wonder whether hospitals are generally in areas that would not be susceptible to prolonged power cuts.

Storms like Arwen are rare (so far) but when we become even more dependent on electricity we do need to think about dealing with power failures, particularly for key services and vulnerable people.

I presume that major hospitals have automatic emergency generators powered by diesel because even a brief interruption would risk lives. Our main hospital certainly does. Existing diesel-powered machines cannot be run on hydrogen but HVO might be a possibility. I expect that there will be exemptions for emergency equipment until it comes up for replacement.

Bearing in mind that countries such as India and China are unlikely to meet the targets set for European countries it would be best to focus on phasing out the main uses of fossil fuels and not worry too much about equipment used in emergencies.

At present homes in rural areas are often heated by oil, LPG and solid fuel, which are reliable unless there is a problem with deliveries. Switching to electricity would reduce reliability, especially if overhead lines are used for supply. This is cheaper than buried cables, though the latter are not affected by problems such as fallen trees.

Hydrogen fuel cells might be the best back up. They are more efficient than internal combustion engines and produce no pollutants. That is where we need to be heading, isn’t it?
We are looking long term of course, not for the next decade.

The power cuts that have affected many areas in the north of England, Wales and Scotland were not caused by a generating outage but by the failure of the power distribution system to withstand the high winds. Generally, this did not seem to affect the national grid high voltage transmission system carried on very tall steel pylons and high cables above the tree line [or away from trees] but the local distribution network, carried on wooden poles running alongside roads or across fields but at some point adjacent to trees which were possibly not there or just saplings when the distribution system was set up.

It seemed usually to be trees which brought down the power lines and because of a late leaf fall this year many trees were still prone to damage in seasonal gales. The collapse of one pole can bring down a whole section of the network; it is a fail-safe system so a breach in continuity can shut off the power to a large area. Unfortunately these events occur in the most isolated and exposed areas where access is difficult and repairing multiple locations simultaneously is a difficult operation requiring skilled technicians who are in short supply. In the more remote areas there is little resilience in the network unlike in most towns where there are parallel or alternative circuits between substations which can be switched in to restore supplies.

Given the likelihood of more extreme weather events in the future, together with a greater reliance on electrical power for heating, cooking, and transport, it would seem to me to be necessary to engage in a major capital programme of power distribution resilience in addition to investment in new electrical generating capacity.

Yes, and that is why I mentioned that buried cables offer protection against power cuts in rural areas. Another problem that must be taken into consideration is the capacity of cables to handle the increase in current when electricity becomes the primary source of heating. The costs could be enormous. Many villages, including the one where my family lives, have never had mains gas, so switching to hydrogen would not be easy.

For the time being I believe it is sensible to continue to use diesel-powered backup generators for hospitals and even shops that currently have them. For most of the time they are only run up periodically to check that they are working and HVO may be suitable as a fuel.

But buried cables are not so easy to maintain, repair and install extensions from. The regional power distribution companies have to take various aspects into account in designing the system and economy is probably the most important.

The advantages and disadvantages of underground cables are well-summarised (I think) here:
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Undergrounding
It is generally rural areas that have overhead distribution and where they are susceptible to storm damage. However, in most cases the damage can be repaired fairly quickly. It is only n the more rare storm events that large parts of an area are affected.

Indeed, John, but that does not help people who are left without power for days during the winter, even people classed as vulnerable. Power cuts on the scale of those suffered recently as a result of Storm Arwen, but what will happen when these people are required to use electricity for heating?

Tackling climate change is long overdue but in an emergency, surely other considerations must take priority.

I doubt there is disagreement in general.

We have had a lot of discussion about plans to replace gas boilers and conventional cars without access to information about the government’s plans for the future. I thought It would be worth discussing the simpler issue of how we would cope with power cuts. The worst I have had to cope with was being without power for about 16 hours due to a local problem and I was impressed when work started promptly and continued overnight.

I have no idea what plans there are, if any, to cope with the relative unreliability of electricity supplies in rural areas in future as a result of moving from fossil fuels.

I feel for the people in Scotland who are without power at the moment.

Overhead energy supply is also a big problem in Japan, and particularly in Hokkaido in northern Japan, with its mountains and undulating territory very similar to Scotland, but with the added problem of frequent typhoons and earthquakes to cope with. Underground heating in such places would prove extremely expensive to execute but nevertheless, plans to remove 4,000km of overhead power lines are underway.

https://japantoday.com – Japanese gov’t plans to remove around 4,000km of overhead power lines

I agree that, in an emergency, human and animal life and welfare must be the priority and that there should be much more attention given to building resilience into our various networks, if for no other reason that extreme weather events are wreaking havoc more frequently, whether it be power failures or flooding or railway lines washed away. The future requires much greater contingency planning and emergency arrangements.

Although overhead power lines can be repaired quite quickly, from what I saw on news bulletins since Storm Arwen struck, access has been a major problem. Roads were blocked and fallen trees were obstructing access to the cables and poles so had to be cleared before the electrical repairs could be carried out. The problems were compounded by the sheer extent of the affected areas.

I was pleased to hear that the regional power distribution company for one area said that, because of the prolonged absence of supply, they would be prepared to meet the costs of staying in a hotel or going out for meals or for other necessary expenditure such as a generator. However, that would not help people who could not leave their properties for whatever reason. It is particularly hard on farmers and farmworkers who cannot just abandon animals or stop milking their cows — a cow can produce over thirty litres of milk a day and good farmers milk them three times a day to relieve the pressure of a build up of milk; the milking parlour runs on electricity and while many have generators they might not have sufficient fuel for a prolonged shut down.

Perhaps some remote communities might need to have their own wind turbines to isolate them from wide-area outages but the need for reliable power distribution to scattered properties remains.

Thought for today

Q. How do I make a Squid laugh?

A. With ten-ticles.

Very funny. We are suckers for some morning mirth.

Thankfully, octopuses don’t suffer from arthritis. They prefer not to marry to avoid arguments about plurals.

Kevin says:
2 December 2021

This squid mockery not armless banter.

Or typos 😉

I think they have to pay for medical treatment when they are ill, but it’s not expensive. I heard something about sick squid.

Kevin says:
2 December 2021

Typos? Saved on unnecessary verb-osity, must be my squid proxy conserving bandwidth.

Kevin, ‘typos’ was misplaced, it was unconnected to Wavechanges
post. It is a frequent problem we are seeing in the Lobby. The only way around it is to refer to the name associated with the comment you are answering after pressing the reply button, but this doesn’t always work 🙁

I thought that Typos was one of the Greek islands.

Maybe – but the Greek apostrophe went missing, along with its English translation 🙁

Wasn’t the goddess Apostrophe a rather naughty young lady, often going off with someone unpronounceable?

Yes, Beryl, we certainly get some interesting and amusing intermissions during the serious programmes showing in The Lobby.

I was wondering about having a holiday on the fabled islands of San Serriffe which seems to be free of the virus. Since then I have learned about two cases – upper and lower.

I think Aphrodite may beg to differ. This naughty old teetotal lady makes no apologies for raising peoples Christmas spirits on a cold December day. CHEERS!

Don’t you mean Aesop’s Wavechange?

No, the now fabled April Fool story was in the Grauniad: https://www.theguardian.com/gnmeducationcentre/archive-educational-resource-april-2012

I’m not sure if it mentions Greek typefaces.

Talking about power cuts in rural areas, we investigated the Tesla Power wall option, of a 8′ x 3′ by 2 inch pack of Li-ion batteries. It runs to around £13,000 so a bit pricey simply to insure against (the rare) outages of any length. But presumably it would be relatively simply to rig up a number of 24v Deep cycle batteries which were continuously recharged from the mains to give around 48 hours of standby power. A petrol generator could be used if the outage continued as long as this one has – seven days in some cases.

A petrol generator is the easy option to power essential items such as freezers. It is illegal to simply feed power into your house wiring unless you use a manual or automatic transfer switch to swap between mains and generator power. A small generator will power a microwave oven but not conventional ovens and hob. The simplest option is to run extension cables indoors and it is easy and legal to alter a gas heating system to work from a mains plug.

A friend did have a home battery fitted at the same time as his solar panels but he does not have a clue about its capabilities and thanks to Covid I have not paid a visit to find out.

My problem is fairly frequent power cuts that can be five minutes or less. I put an automatic emergency light above one of the kitchen units, and it comes on automatically if the power fails. It lets me find battery lights and boil some water on the gas hob.

Some electric vehicles support V2G (vehicle to grid) charging, meaning that the owner already has a large battery available for use in emergency. I don’t know which cars have this facility or how powering a house would be achieved but it might be worth looking at, Ian.