Month: November 2016

Writing retreat

Closeup of a woman typing on a laptop with a notebook and a mobile phone next to her.

Photo: Public domain (CC0).

Last week myself and nine other researchers of various levels, from PhD to professor, drove ourselves to a moderately large country house in the middle of nowhere to write. All of us had a paper to produce; some were converting thesis chapters into journal articles, some (like me) had new and fully-outlined articles that they just needed to sit down and write, and others had less-clear ideas that they needed clear thinking time on.

Writing, and subsequently publishing, is probably the most important thing that most researchers do – at least in career terms – but it is never the most urgent. There are always other things demanding attention, and those things tend to have deadlines, while journal articles usually do not. As a result it can be hard to set aside time to get papers written. Setting aside a week for doing nothing else allowed people to protect their time and, at least as importantly, their thinking space, and there was a consensus among the group that this was a Good Thing.

During working hours we mostly wrote; at mealtimes and in the evenings we socialised, discussed our work, played giant Jenga, and bounced ideas. One biologist benefited greatly from this cross-fertilisation when she spoke to a policy expert and realised that her very specific, factual article about a protected area for a specific species raised an important policy issue that is much more widely applicable. Now she is planning to expand the focus of her paper and submit to a different (and more prestigious) journal.

I had a good time professionally and socially, and I had a productive time, and now I have a fully drafted paper that I need to fill in a few figures on and send off to co-authors. Woo!

Posted by simon in Reflective

CFD news

Two men in suits shaking hands across a large amount of money

Photo: Pixabay user Geralt; CC0 public domain.

Amidst all the attention that has been (rightly) focused on the US presidential election, the UK government has published something that has been long-awaited by the renewable energy industry: Details of the next round of Contract for Difference (CFD) subsidies. For anybody who wants to read the details themselves, they are here.

The first thing to note is that this is a very short-term measure; while the previous round, in 2014, covered the six-year period of 2015-2021 (that is only six – they’re financial years), this round is for just two more years of support from 2021-2023. So after all the uncertainty leading up to this announcement, we’ll still be begging for info again in not all that long.

In terms of technologies, onshore wind is gone as expected (and as per the Conservative manifesto commitment). There had been talk of making an exception for Scottish islands, and this hasn’t been totally abandoned, but it has been kicked into the long grass with another consultation. Offshore wind is in, with a strike price of £105/MWh that reduces to £100 later. That’s good – it’s the price that the offshore wind industry has been publicly aiming at, and they show every sign of meeting or exceeding it.

Tidal is in there as well, at £300/MWh (reducing to £295), which is probably a reasonable price… but there’s a catch. In the earlier round there had been a certain amount of capacity that was reserved for the more expensive, less-developed, technologies, but this time that is gone. There’s a total budget for payments of £290m/year, and if sufficient generators apply to use this up then the contracts will be auctioned off to the lowest bidders; and there’s no way that a tidal scheme can hope to complete with offshore wind on price right now.

I’m not sure exactly how this calculation is done, given that the subsidy costs of a development will depend both on the amount of energy generated and the market price for electicity at the time (remember that the government only pays the difference between the market price and the agreed price, not the whole lot), but in a very rough back-of-an-envelope sort of way I reckon that around 2-3GW of offshore wind capacity could use up that annual pot and leave nothing for tidal. That eventuality would be bad news, but even that possibility is probably bad news – because it means that rather than tidal developers and investors having certainty from the announcement date, they won’t know whether they have viable projects until the auction is held. I’m not sure whether any date for that has yet been announced.

Posted by simon in The wider world

November writing

Text scrawled across a colour chart reading "insert something profound here"

Photo: Flickr user maddiegascar95. Licensed CC-BY-SA 2.0.

It’s November, and that means that a number of my friends are starting on NaNoWriMo, a crazy scheme to write a novel in a month. I am not doing that, but I do have a lot that I need to write. So I’m setting myself a goal to write something every working day in November, and maybe a few other days as well.

I’m going to use a pretty broad definition of “writing” here. Outlining counts (this is a necessary part of my writing process). Reading my work and editing counts (this is not NaNoWriMo, I’m not simply trying to bash out wordcount). Reading papers, if not also accompanied by writing, does not count – endless reading when trying to write is a particular trap that I tend to fall into.

Next week I’m going on a “writing retreat”, where a group of researchers who have papers to write sequester themselves in the middle of nowhere for a few days to do that, with mutual support. The idea for me is to get a paper drafted without letting it spread and encroach too much on my thesis work. It also has the benefit of providing a deadline for being ready to write, and this week I’m putting a lot of effort into getting all of the data ready. Today’s “writing” task was outlining that paper (more precisely re-outlining it, as last week’s data didn’t show quite what was expected).

Things that I hope to write during November:

  • A summary of what I did in October. I find that writing these up monthly is really helpful for me.
  • The paper that the writing retreat is for.
  • Revision of another paper in line with reviewer comments.
  • Updating and refactoring the literature review for my thesis. Some of what I did a couple of years ago is no longer relevant as my subject has shifted, and other stuff is now needed. This is a bit open-ended, and is unlikely to be finished this month.
  • Maybe some more blog entries? They totally count 🙂

It’s likely that one of these will slip, but…. we’ll see.

Posted by simon in Reflective