Brinkmanship is no way to run an economy but proves we must speed to a low carbon version

Radio Five’s very entertaining “Wake up to money” haven’t woken up to this; nor has William Hague; and, when you hear British Gas boss Phil Bentley tell us that we all profit from their profits, you really do know that those that should, simply do not get this.  We are in desperate need of a rural energy strategy that incorporates the type of energy we actually use in rural areas!

As I write, wholesale prices for rural energy – kerosene, gas oil, LPG – have rocketed. They have risen on the back of Crude OIL jumping over $2 in a day yesterday – the 22nd of February – to $122 a barrel. They in turn have risen on the back of brokers speculating over the brinkmanship between Iran and the UK, the US and the EU. So in other words we are going to pay more for heating OIL and LPG from today because of what might, but almost definitely won’t, happen a couple of thousand miles away. How have we let this dependency on the good relations of others who have little concern for us happen? How is nothing being done to remedy this? Both are answered by the dumbfounding truth that the UK has zero rural energy strategy. Change must occur now…it must be forced from the bottom up. Last year I ranted, many moved that message on and we got the issue of outrageous price increases raised in The House. Now it is time rant some more and to take the Twelve Point Plan to parliament and beyond:

  • smart meters on every OIL and LPG tank
  • remote web access to fuel levels
  • monitoring to push a massive energy saving program
  • enhanced energy security to protect all from supply issues
  • carbon emission reductions across the entire supply process
  • reinventing the ordering process to incorporate existing smart technology
  • reinventing payment to include a pay as you go method
  • gps and remote mapping to cease aborted deliveries
  • streamlined coordination to specifically reduce waste in delivery and congestion on tight country roads
  • job creation via development of a skilled labour force in the green economy
  • embracing the opportunity of leading a reformed energy market to a renewables revolution

I defer to my previous blogs to expand on each of those points. In the US The Picken’s Plan is moving legions of supporters to force their government to tackle the issue of dependency on Middle East OIL, we must do the same. Please add your comments below and forward this to your address book AND your MP. Urge them to see that a foreign policy of brinkmanship is no way to run our economy and that they must support us now to redesign rural energy.  It is that important. Thanks.

What we should give up for lent: pretence that the UK has any sort of a rural energy strategy

Rural energy strategy…do we actually have one? It doesn’t actually make a massive difference off-gas or on-gas every single rural community is affected by this blight: the pretence that the UK has anything that even slightly resembles a rural energy strategy.

We are in the transition era but for some reason this critical issue has been overlooked, entirely left out of DECC’s business plan, consigning thousands of communities and millions of people to live with an energy system rooted in the last century.

If we were to design energy delivery for rural areas in line with the way other energy mechanisms have been designed then we create thousands of jobs (within local communities), we reduce the UK’s carbon emissions by millions of tons a year, we attack fuel poverty on a massive scale and we create safer, more sustainable places to live.

Energy that is delivered on a truck – most people living in urban areas would not believe that we even still have such a thing and you would have to agree it does sound like an utterly proposterous statement in 2012 – so, energy delivered on a truck…must be redesigned. The business in which that energy mechanism has been allowed to continue will naturally redesign with it, IF we adopt a really simple twelve step plan:

  • smart meters – every single OIL and LPG tank must be connected up so that it can communicate with the delivery network
  • web access – every tank must have its own dedicated webpage, showing the number of days fuel remaining, so that levels can be seen easily at any time meaning no interruption to supply will ever occur again for anyone
  • energy saving – both systems will trigger a monitoring process that when wedded to an energy waste/saving educational campaign must ensure that energy use drops dramatically
  • energy security – the remoteness of the tanks should not mean that vulnerability to theft and security of supply should be any less sophisticated than the security provided for the energy we pump into urban homes, the technology already exists to secure every tank and to monitor that remotely
  • carbon emissions reduction – in addition to the reduction of emissions by eradicating energy waste the archaic delivery process must be set stringent targets, either self imposed or directed from central government, to bring down CO2 levels in the delivery process
  • reinventing the ordering process – we should simply expect more because if the Big Six went about taking orders and moving those orders along the system for their energy delivery in the same ad hoc, unintelligent and last century method as truck delivered energy then our opinions of them would be even lower
  • reinventing payment – all energy forms should be pay as we go and the process should be redesigned so that tanks are filled and the end users are charged as they use it on a monthly basis, simply squaring the circle of smart meter monitoring and security
  • virtual delivery reports – somehow thousands of aborted deliveries occur because delivery is attempted with the incorrect vehicle, this is completely surmountable by using existing technology – a combination of GPS and virtual delivery reports showing measurements and distances easily accessible via remote mapping
  • streamlined coordination – millions of litres of fuel are transported needlessly around the UK and returned to the depot unused, many million of miles are wasted needlessly as trucks are sent across many different communities on a single delivery route rather than coordinated deliveries to one community to drop their entire cargo to those homes ready to accept a top-up; remote monitoring completely redesigns both of these challenges and creates a streamlined transport/delivery system that fits with the 21st century and the UK’s ambitious carbon emission targets
  • job creation – rather than resisting change because it will cost jobs, this industry must embrace change, it will allow suppliers to diversify, it will create economic growth and it will generate thousands of jobs: right where we need them – in local communities; for people that really need them – the young, the old and those wishing to retrain; and in the sector that every one knows we have to develop a skilled labour force – the green economy
  • unforeseen outcomes – change once embraced can create endless possibilities, who knows what serendipitous outcomes will occur when this massive rural issue is resolved, there are so many connected positives that reach far beyond just the price of energy.

That’s it…extremely simple isn’t it?

Support: all we need is for DEFRA, DECC, BIS, OFT, CAB, FPS, ACRE, HAs, NFU and a whole list of other acronyms to lend their support, because there is one thing for sure the energy companies won’t. They don’t like change too much when the odds are currently stacked completely in their favour.

Delivery: there is only one way to deliver this rapidly across the UK, from the bottom up. Community Buying Groups can deliver this led by the revolution that the RCC movement is already creating and by every other independently run community buying group – either new or existing.

This is a people’s revolution that starts with making a dumb delivery mechanism smart and to get that moving I defer to my last blog: we just need a million pounds.

Lent is for giving up something – let that be this pretence, but it is also for making a positive change – let that be making a noise for those who remain without.  It really is as simple as this: when we connect up the dots of the rural communities reliant on truck delivered energy we begin to create a movement that can lead to any type of rural energy revolution…one that will be a move away from fossil fuels to renewables and a low carbon rural energy market – that sounds like the foundation for a strategy.

Think big…then think a lot bigger

Two years ago I walked into several offices of influential people and announced: “I am going to redesign the home heating OIL business”.  I believed it, I just wasn’t quite sure how I was going to do it.  Here we are on the cusp of not just that, but actually bringing thousands of rural communities into the smart energy era and there was only one way it was possible:

                  Collaboration, collaboration, collaboration!

Back then most of those influencers thought I was jolly good value, smiled and then did nothing. Only one embraced both the concept and the challenge of working with me.  As a result of Linda Watson’s vision, and our collaboration, the RCC network is playing a critical role in this transition.

We needed to get SMART in so many ways about rural energy because it has been left behind. In particular heating OIL.  You see there is only one thing more dumb than the systems in place for heating OIL users to order their OIL and that is the system in place for the heating OIL suppliers to actually deliver it.  We might as well be in the 1960s because that is where this is stuck – almost nothing has changed and anything that has is purely to the benefit of the supplier and not the consumer! It is about behavioural change. When we transform behaviour – of both buyer and supplier – we will have a delivery system that is making its first nervous steps into the 21st century.

What are the challenges to making this change?  In the last few weeks two members of the group, that live in my own village, have run dry and several have had to turn their heating off until a delivery can be arranged!  I have a question:  IF OIL buyers that live at the very seat of all this can’t get themselves organised to buy when they know we buy every month, or more often, then how can I expect any one else to do so?  The answer is I should be able to, but I can’t.  People run out of petrol in their cars with a gauge almost staring them in the eye, an OIL tank – even if it has a gauge – is at the bottom of the garden!  So the real challenge is dumb systems.

The solution is incredibly simple, it looks like this! A very smart system.

The Pomfret Probe


This really smart monitor sits on tanks and communicates directly to Community Buying unLimited and tells us exactly what number of days of OIL is left in each tank.  Think about this: IF oil buyers know exactly what number of days OIL they have left it will completely transform the way they order their OIL.  BUT if WE know that information too then we have the key to completely transforming the business of delivering heating OIL.  It will help it to catch up with other smart energy systems.  Both the member and we can access that information from a bespoke, secure webpage dedicated to each tank that shows useage, meaning we will never let anyone run dry again, always buy at the right time and even encourage energy saving via a really clever thermostat app! For true peace of mind it also has an alarm system (email, text, etc.) that warns of dramatic level drops through theft or leak.

Thinking BIG: we have the exclusive rights to put these monitors on members’ tanks across the UK and we need to put them on thousands of OIL tanks NOW!  With them in place we attack the issue of Fuel Poverty, we eliminate millions of tons of carbon emissions from delivery, we generate even greater savings for members and we help to create safer more sustainable rural communities.  Basically we redesign an archaic industry and we drag rural energy systems into the smart era.

How can you help?  Of course we want to hear from individuals and groups whi wish to participate, but we need to think big and then bigger: between now and the end of March we all know that there are many funds – in foundations, charities, councils, corporations, etc. – and budgets that need to be allocated to alleviate social issues like Fuel Poverty, to increase environmental consciousness about things like carbon emission reduction and to educate the masses about reducing energy waste and smart metering.  In what ever way you can help…please create a link from them to us so that we can collaborate and create true change where true change is screaming out to be made. Initially we only need a million pounds!  Why not…it is all a part of community group buying and that is an idea whose time has come.

I have a question: what would you do…Buy or Hold?

“Go not where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

You are a Community Buyer – it means you buy stuff for communities – and so here we are at buying day once again – lots of orders, new counties covered by different RCCs and even more suppliers to wrangle with…it can all get very entertaining because today the product is heating OIL – aka kerosene.

So I have a question: what would you do? Given the national and international events it is rather surprising that the wholesale market for kerosene trundled down a little this week and the price closed down last night. You wonder if it will fall more, but:

    • then you look at the white stuff that fell on the ground in some of the 10 counties we buy for today, the frost that the rest of them got, and you wonder if winter finally arrived (finally giving the suppliers a busier order book and a reason to manipulate prices up). You check the long range forecast…interesting…!
    • your eye turns back to the Strait of Hormuz, well not actually to it – you know what I mean – but to the constantly shifting postures of Iran, the US, the EU and the OIL traders’ own profit hunting take on it.
    • you reflect on Petroplus plummeting into receivership this week – after flirting with it for weeks – and whilst you wonder how a business that deals in OIL can be run into the ground (a little like a casino going bust in Las Vegas – a very bizarre sight to behold) you are aware that the loss of a critical refinery and supply stream for the UK is going to make an impact. But which way will it impact?
    • then you hear there is a Jet tanker driver strike out of Immingham (you’d heard about that right?)…more to consider

and your gut is beginning to tell you what?  Buy today or hold till early next week?

This is what we are going to do: the market report at 9.30 am shows it is up already…we’ll wait till the next full one at 11.30 am and then decide but I would be very surprised if we didn’t buy today. However, the bit that makes us unique is that we have the services of a true industry expert – with a philanthropic heart – and because we will receive market intelligence as it happens we might push it right to 5pm or later. At that point we definitely know what direction the market will go Monday and, because we we can still have today’s prices, we can choose to buy or hold.

Maybe there is a better question than what would you do: why do you buy anything on your own?  Whether it is heating OIL or anything else the power is with the group…we are leaving our own trail.

2012 is going to be a great year…

If you’re like me then you have good days or great days. Today is going to be better than that! In fact today is the day that signifies 2012 is going to be a great year.

The year 2012 will go down in history as the year that Community Group Buying changed the economic landscape. The very same economic landscape that The Daily Telegraph shouted at us about just two weeks ago: “We may pass through hell first but the UK will rise from the flames”. Bah humbug! Look beyond your blinkered, last century economic thinking. Groups of people getting together in their communities to buy things they would normally have bought alone – things that are necessary – will challenge the flawed economic model that we have been seduced by for over 200 years.

So why today?

Well today 40 bags of Rock salt – a pallet load – arrive in the village of Wootton nr Woodstock in Oxfordshire. They are being sold to the residents of our community at £5.49 less – per bag – than they can be bought at Homebase. They are being delivered to the door – or garden shed – of those that are unable to lift a 25kg bag or those that are out all day. The delivery method will be by wheelbarrow. An unsual company vehicle I would agree! They are being delivered by three young people that until a few weeks ago, when they met an educator named Richard, had nothing to look forward to as they are NEETs kids. Not in Education, Employment, Training…it is a horrible term isn’t it? It is also testimony that our flawed economic thinking has let down an entire generation – one million unemployed teens!

So a group of people get together and save some money. So what? OK so they’ve saved themselves forty individual journeys, some time, the phone calls to ring round to see who has the cheapest and the back breaking effort of picking it up at both ends of the journey. Is that really such a big deal?

This is a massive deal.  This is about Community in the truest sense. This is about reinventing the way a community does business. This afternoon and this product are just one example of why Community Group Buying works and how nobody gets left out. We are a group and as a group we go to market.

In this instance the rock salt was bought wholesale and the small profit it will generate is the unusual twist this time around, as it will give those three young people an insight into how a business can be generated by helping the local community. By getting a necessity to those that could not conceive of being able to go and buy it themselves they have protected the vulnerable.  They  have  erradicated numerous journeys on our tiny country roads and that is so much more than simply a reduction in carbon emissions – critical as that is.  The £20 they will each clear from this makes a huge difference to their lives – it also creates belief. But even more than that they have proved a redesigned economic model.

Our Community Buying Group formed over two years ago. In that time 100 families have shared savings of over £40,000 just on their heating OIL. That Community Buying Group can now buy anything it wants to buy as a group…your community, rural or urban, can buy anything it chooses and it too can find ways to reinvent economic models and create micro businesses: nappies, compost, solar PV, fruit and veg, oil, gas, water butts, window cleaning, the list is pretty much endless.

So why is 2012 going to be the year that Community challenges the economic landscape? Apart from the obvious because we must challenge it: we have influenced a project that will create another 2000 of these groups right across the UK! Community Buying Groups…if you hadn’t heard about this phenomenon before, then you most certainly have now.

And so what happened…


It really is as simple as it looks…and in that simplicity is a solution to a vastly more complex issue – jobs for young people in their community