Not if, but WHEN the Internet goes down ....

Yesterday a workman looking for a leaking water main cut one of the electricity cables serving my street. He is in hospital. We were without mains power for the evening. Had we still been off today I would have been using the car to recharge the battery of my laptop and netbook and using mobile broadband. It reminded me why I was planning to install a small standby generator (akin to those used in the Highlands and Islands) for when power cuts are commonplace because of UK failure to invest in a new generation of Nuclear Power stations, let alone wave, tidal or hydro power.  It helped remind me that I have to do more to put all the hype about the always-on society, critically dependent on the Internet, into perspective 

There is yet another article today (this one in the Independent)  on the need to cherish the Internet as the crucial under-pinning of modern society.

I’d like to see rather more on the need to invest in the power supplies without which we cannot access the Internet. I’d also like to see more effective a hatchet job on subsidies for windmills. They are surprisingly inefficient as a means of generating power, other than for demand that be postponed until there is “the right kind of wind.”

I have to confess that used to be a fan of windmills – although I remembered a cold still day one winter when the only power being generated in the Centre for Alternative Technology at Machynllech (North Wales) was from an old Pelton wheel driving a 1920s generator. Both had been donated by a local farmer who now used the mains electricity.

That changed when I discovered that a headland on the Isle of Mull, of which I am a trustee, was unsuitable – the wind was either to strong (the windmill would have to spin freely to avoid damage) or too weak. The wind was rarely within the efficient operating range. I was, however, agreeably surprised that, because of the long summer daylight hours, solar power was highly efficient during the period of peak power consumption (the holiday letting season). More- over payback (from reduced gas and battery consumption for lighting and, more importantly, increased holiday lettings) was barely 18 months!

I find a similar situation with regard to a location I am advising with regard to a secure, resilient, “green”, data centre and global communications hub. The massively expensive wind farm being planned nearby will generate little more than subsidies for most of the time. The use of tide, wave and solar power to fill a pumped storage facility looks to be far more reliable and cost-effective – although a couple of surplus submarine nuclear reactors might well be even cheaper – if we could get permission!