Now before anyone screams at me, this isn’t an entirely serious posting (hard to believe I know). However, it did follow on from some thinking about the law of unintended consequences.
Yesterday’s post about renewable energy raised a few eyebrows among readers, particularly a couple of questions over the real time display of UK energy use by energy type. The dashboard display can be found at http://www.gridwatch.templar.co.uk However, be warned it’s highly addictive viewing.
So who, I hear you ask was Elizabeth Woodville and what has she got to do with UK energy demands and more specifically my fuel bill?
Well here comes the history bit (and the easiest part) first. Elizabeth Woodville was Queen of England between 1464 and 1483. She was the wife of Edward IV and the mother of the ‘Princes in the Tower’.allegedly killed by the infamous (and possibly much maligned) Richard III.
To understand the queries about the real-time use of energy in the UK and a former Queen’s part in contributing to my gas bill we should start by looking at a particularly British power usage anomaly – the tv pick-up. The nature of this strangely British quirk is explained in the following short video
For those who chose not to watch, this shows a spike in demand for power across the UK of some three thousand million watts. This only happens in the UK (to this extent) and occurs between the most popular soap operas. So – what on earth makes Britain unique in having to deal with sudden power surges between popular tv shows?
The National Grid put the effect down to two actions. Firstly millions of UK viewers using the advert break to put on the kettle for a very British cuppa. Shortly afterwards (following a fairly consistent gap) millions of fridge doors are simultaneously opened to allow a dash of milk to be added.
Whilst it is certainly true that ad breaks make convenient times to make a hot drink in places other than the UK, it is far more likely that the drink being made will be coffee. As we all know, coffee (particularly with the move from instant granules) is likely to be percolating constantly with no subsequent spike in demand for boiling water. So it appears that Britain’s love of Camellia sinensis (the tea plant) provides its own specific energy consequences.
Of course this perfect storm only matured with the arrival of television, electric kettles and a ready supply of running water which is some time after the introduction of tea into the country. However, it is the nation’s love of this particular beverage (with milk) that causes this unusual double whammy in demand not seen elsewhere.
Green tea was first introduced in the coffee houses of London (how ironic) in the 1660’s promising a cure all property for conditions ranging from gout to scurvy. However, at this time the Chinese valued the plant so highly that they would only exchange it for gold or silver.
The British government of the time started trading Opium brought in from Afghanistan and India in an attempt to secure the tea plant. In the process it secured some tea thanks to the services of Robert Fortune an early spy. As a side effect it also created tens of thousands of addicts and kicked off the Opium wars – worth pondering when you next fish a tea bag out of your cup.
The plants taken from China were then introduced into India where the Brits found they also grew well. However, the traditional addition of lemon was not possible at the time so the Indian tea was taken with the addition of milk. So the second of those energy spikes is clearly down to the early colonisation of India and subsequent development of the Raj.
The first and bigger spike is down to the vast popularity of the drink in the UK and in large part that followed the introduction into the country of the leaves by the East India Company. Once it was presented to Charles II the social acceptability of drinking crushed up leaves steeped in hot water grew exponentially. So if the biggest fuel spike is a product of the East India company – who can we apportion blame to for that?
Well (we’re getting to Elizabeth Woodville shortly) the Royal Charter was issued to the East India Company by Elizabeth I in December 1600. Actually, she was only perpetuating the exploratory tendencies of the earlier Tudors who were all (to a greater or lesser extent) interested in the growing New Worlds.
Any of Elizabeth’s immediate predecessors could have made a similar Charter offer. It was only the Plantagenets who favoured a more insular and non-expansionist monarchy focused on England. Had they continued it is almost certain that tea would be as uncommon in Britain as wheat grass or posset is today.
Clearly it’s down to the change from Plantagenet to Tudor that has led to us boiling millions of kettles at regular intervals. Although Richard III’s reputation has undergone something of a revival of late, it is certain that he was an often unpopular King mainly due to his early removal of King Edward V and his twin brother and locking them up in the Tower of London for safe keeping.
All of that finally brings us to Elizabeth Woodville, Had she let her late husband’s will stand, Richard would have been appointed protector to the King (he had already declared his loyalty before events overtook matters). Instead, Elizabeth ignored the conditions of the will and pronounced her son Edward V at the age of twelve leading to a fair amount of unpleasantness all round.
As a result, Richard was hated, support fell away, he lost the crown to Henry VII in 1485 and 520 years later it’s hello Chai Latte !
The serious implications of the energy spikes seen in the UK is a requirement to have significant capacity on stand-by and arguably a more robust and costly grid as a result. Guess where those costs end up – in part in our fuel bills.
Unintended consequences indeed. So join me in raising a cup of English Breakfast (nicely timed for your choice of Coronation Street or East Enders) in a toast to Elizabeth Woodville the Electric queen !