I’ve just finished transcribing an episode of BBC Radio 4’s Costing the Earth programme, which was broadcast back in May and was about the Eigg Electric project:
The project – to power the Scottish island of Eigg’s homes and small businesses almost entirely by solar, wind and hydropower, seems to have largely been a success – bearing in mind, though, that there are about 100 people living on Eigg and the island is about 5 miles long by 4 miles wide, so essentially there’s the population of a single London street inhabiting an area the size of an entire London borough, without the kind of energy-hungry infrastructure generally required by city-dwellers.
I’m not entirely against renewable energy – and if it didn’t require subsidies and was cheaper, more abundant and as reliable as the alternatives, I’d be entirely for it. What I find a bit off-putting about the notion is illustrated by the following exchange, where the BBC’s Tom Heap visits the house of Ailidh Morrison, a local, who puts the kettle on:
Tom Heap: And what is the limit you work under?
Ailidh Morrison: We work – each residential house gets 5 kilowatts, so that would be a kettle, an immerser would take you up to 5 kilowatts, and anything with an element is 2.5 kilowatts.
Tom Heap: Right, so that’s just about to come to the boil, that taking a big 2.5 kilowatts –
Ailidh Morrison: That’s 2.5 kilowatts to run, yeah.
Tom Heap: Right.
Ailidh Morrison: If I had that on and then I tried to put on a toaster and the immerser on at the same time, my leccy would flip off and I’d have to ask the leccy boys to come and switch it back on.
And a few moments later:
Tom Heap: So how much of a problem is it, this 5-kilowatt restriction?
Ailidh Morrison: It’s no problem at all. I’ve never had that kind of problem with it. I’ve only done it a couple of times, and that’s when I still had the toaster, because yeah, I put the kett- yeah, because the kettle’s 2.5, the toaster’s 2.5. So you can have those both on at the same time, so if I had my immerser on in the morning, and go – oh, I’ve put that on to have a bath later, and think oh, I’ll make my breakfast, tea and toast – boom. Out. That’s it off.
Ailidh is okay with this because she’s happy with the community-owned scheme and is signed up to saving the planet from global warming – and that’s fair enough, it’s her choice. I don’t think I’m much of an energy spendthrift, but I think I’d balk at those kinds of constraints – always having to wait for the washing machine to stop before I could make a cup of coffee or use the vacuum cleaner, for example, or constantly having to choose between hot water or a hot breakfast.
It seems a bit like having to count the cracks in the pavement every time you go for a walk, or facing being fined for going a few pence above your household budget, or needing to log the precise number of calories in every single morsel of food you eat.
“Life’s too short” is not a phrase I’d normally use, but am sorely tempted to make an exception in this case.