It did seem to me to be just another slightly comic byproduct of industrial evolution that I was musing upon, fittingly illustrated by our cartoonist’s vision (below) of a highwayful of excavations marking a search for lost or forgotten utility cables.† What did not occur to me was that comparable amnesia could afflict power system builders in relation to their – sometimes too obviously – visible above-ground plant and equipment.

The possibility of such systemic oversights has not escaped acuter minds than mine, however. Not only has it been recognised but so has a way to eradicate it. A UK firm of engineering, environmental and landscape consultants†† tells me that it ‘has solved the problem of how to keep track of geographically distributed assets, from heritage sites, buildings and land, to electricity pylons and industrial equipment’.

These enterprising people claim to have a system for providing ‘an accurate picture of where each asset is, in a searchable, web-enabled database that can include everything from records of maintenance and expenditure to site maps, historical information, environmental data, photographs, video and sound’. The system was developed originally for watch and ward over ‘landscape assets’ but is now being offered ‘as a complete, turnkey package, with a web browser interface and content manager’ so that power network operators, too, ‘can develop and edit their own database cost effectively’.

All of which could mean that the digital age will forbid any bit of a power system, big or little, above ground or buried, to stray. I wonder.

They mince neither words nor wildlife

I remain, in the teeth of the opposition, a hydrophile. Hydroelectricity is still the only well established form of renewably energised power, and I shall probably love the concept of it for ever.

All the same, when reading an issue of HyPower (the anglophone customers’‚ magazine published by Voith Siemens Hydro Power Generation GmbH, Germany), and while generally agreeing with praises of hydro sung in the leading article by Dr Hubert Lienhard (the company’s chairman), I felt rather uneasy about his statements that hydro ‘has negligible environmental effects’ and, ‘in comparison and relation to overall negative impacts and total emissions, availability, reliability and grid balance, . . . still cannot be topped by any other conventional or alternative energy source’.

But, ever a sucker for a pun, I forgave him everything when I read the report elsewhere in the magazine of a ‘fish-friendly modernisation at Wanapum’ in the USA. There, on the Columbia river, a 1960s installation of ten five-bladed Kaplan turbines is being brought up to date by replacement machines. These are described as ‘Voith Siemens Hydro 7.747 meter††† [sic] diameter six-bladed fish friendly EFISHENT Kaplan units’.

No wonder they print that trade mark in capitals!

An occupational hazard strikes again

An irate but anonymous critic tells me that he happened upon a copy of our October 2005 issue in a certain power station cubby-hole by sheer chance. He claims, incredibly, not to have encountered MPS before. But thus it came to pass that he read my remark about tucking away allegedly ‘climate-threatening carbon’ with fissile residues in nuclear waste repositories.

My critic, evidently a pro-nuke who thinks me anti, scolds me for ‘sticking up for antediluvian coal firing in the 21st century’. Carbon dioxide, he advises me, is unlike radwaste in that its environmental offence – via the greenhouse effect – does not decay as does the radioactivity of wastes locked away for long-term (but not eternal) safe-keeping.

This is a slightly breath-taking inversion of the usual anti-nuke charge that some radwaste ingredients stay dangerously active for a very long time. I guess my critic has taken opportunity to make a valid point. However, I shall utter no ifs or buts. Whether CO2 or radwaste is the greater challenge is not for debate on this page. I merely admit that I have (and not for the first time) miscalculated, or rather failed to calculate, the everlasting risks of irony.