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Your letters

The pick of the crop from the E&T mailbag and inbox.

Foreign powers

Let me get this straight. The UK desperately needs a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point in order to sustain the base load as older coal-fired and nuclear power stations are retired. However, the Chinese state-backed financiers require a guarantee from the French state-backed owners (EDF) that if the French state-backed suppliers of the reactor (Areva) go bust or overrun the budget, the French government will compensate them.

The Chinese also want EDF to hand over a second site at Bradwell so that the Chinese can build a reactor of their own design. Finally, the Austrian government is bringing a legal action against European Union approval for a British state subsidy for the project, a move which could delay construction by five years.

Could somebody please explain where on earth the UK government features in all this and why it is apparently left to the French, Chinese and Austrian governments to determine whether the lights stay on in the UK?

Peter Finch CEng FIET, Tring

Batteries aren't that smart

It would be interesting to see details of the control scheme for the battery-storage scheme at Leighton Buzzard reported by E&T in order to understand how it ensures that the battery only stores nice green electrons from wind and solar sources rather than the dirty black electrons from coal or gas sources, or the radiation tainted ones from nuclear sources.

The truth is of course that the stored energy is extracted from the connection point at Leighton Buzzard and it is impossible to establish in any meaningful way which of the numerous sources connected to the grid the energy has come from. Storage battery schemes have significant merits in their own right and should not be given false green credentials.

Concerning the problem of renewable intermittency, energy storage can only play a part if the timescale of the intermittency is shorter than the time over which the storage device can provide its output. Thus a battery scheme such as the one at Leighton Buzzard can help smooth out intermittency over periods of up to a few hours but cannot help fill the generation gap that arises when windfarms lie idle for periods measured in days when high pressure systems are present.

Ray Ball MIEE CEng, by email

Get the engineering champions on TV

It has been suggested that part of the reason that young people are not taking up science subjects is the lack of hero or celebrity figures.

Of course, that is not true. The problem is that such figures don’t get much, if any, media coverage. The Baftas include technical awards but there is very little mention of these amid all the glamour of the artistes. Indeed, on TV, we see quite a lot of awards to various entertainment celebrities. I wonder if the IET, in collaboration with other engineering institutions, could persuade the main TV channels to show a little of the various engineering awards that take place annually?

EurIng Brian Hammond CEng MIET, Lichfield

Starter's orders

Like Denis McMahon (Letters, March 2015) I get very cross about the continued use of glow starters in fluorescent lamp fittings. The alleged triggering of an epileptic fit that he reports is new to me and one wonders if it happens more often than we think, but without the cause being identified.

I am very familiar with all the other arguments having spent a significant part of my career designing, manufacturing and selling electronic starters. At peak times we made 30-40,000 a month. It should have been 10 times that figure; but most specifiers and installers are hung up on lowest price, with no regard for life cost and scant attention to health and safety.

The only thing which will change this is legislation. The humble light bulb has been outlawed so why not the ubiquitous glow starter?

John Martin FIET, by email

Engineering's inferiority complex

I am of the strong impression that the engineering profession suffers from a monstrous inferiority complex, to which a continuous stream of correspondence bears witness. The stream of complaints, ever present in the letters pages of E&T, is reminiscent of a whingeing child seeking attention. Demanding pre and post-nominal recognition of qualification designations is not the solution to our lack of status and may be even be counterproductive and perceived as being pretentious by the wider public.

The general public views engineering as a trade, as do the media and employers. The fault lies with the profession through its members and institutions as we protest our status without taking positive action to address public perceptions.

The most urgent action, almost to the exclusion of all else, is to achieve legal recognition for the title of engineer. Such recognition will require action through the support of the EU parliament. UK governments of all parties have singularly failed to address the problem due to disinterest and lack of pressure from the profession.

I feel we should seek to obtain a debate in parliament by obtaining the requisite number of engineers’ signatures to table a motion for discussion on legal recognition and supporting framework for our profession.

EurIng Francis Geraghty CEng MIET, by email

I read with interest the numerous letters on the status of engineers, and how they seem to think that because ‘engineer’ is protected by law in North America, the land is some sort of utopia in this area. I therefore read with hilarity a piece of junk mail recently sent to me by a financial company offering to lend me money. It was signed by their ‘chief happiness engineer’.

Martin J Leese CEng MIET, Canada

Measure for measure

The experience with multiple systems of units described by Colin Brown (Letters, March 2015) was similar to mine, and I suppose not untypical. While doing an electrical degree in the late 1960s/early 1970s we used CGS in physics, MKS in electrical, and FPS imperial measurements in mechanical subjects.

To make it worse a mechanics lecturer, presumably having been told to prepare for the forthcoming change to SI units, said he could work in metric and proceeded to set us test papers where he had simply converted all the imperial numbers to metric. Thus “a one pound weight travelling 3 feet” became “a 0.454kg weight travels 0.91 of a metre” and questions which were meant to show understanding of the principles involved by using calculations in round numbers, but not bog the student down in mathematics, became much too complicated to easily work out.

Later, working in industry, there were occasions when we could only buy material in imperial widths, but had to order by the metric length!

J Hamill CEng MIET, by email

3D films

I was surprised that Dickon Ross’s editor’s letter in the March 2015 issue of E&T perpetuated the myth that 3D films in the 1950s were viewed through red/green glasses. This is not true.

In the 1950s, 3D films were watched through polarised glasses just as they are in movie theatres today. What killed 3D at that point was the projection technology. Two projectors were used, with polarised filters. With two projectors it was all too easy for the two images to become misaligned vertically or out-of-sync temporally. Either of those will cause a blinding headache.

Polaroid Corporation allegedly did field tests in 1953 in which they found that half of 3D movie theatres had one or both of these problems. No wonder people hated it. Today’s technology has a single digital projector, ensuring that the two views are always perfectly aligned and in sync.

Neil Dodgson CEng FIET, Cambridge

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