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Letters to the editor: volume 17, issue 8

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In the September 2022 issue of E&T, readers discuss UK energy policy, the country’s prospects as a global leader in space, and more.

Power disruption ‘is the result of self-inflicted policies’

I am amazed at the lack of concern over the future of UK electricity supply following the reality check caused by the Ukraine conflict. The hike in electricity prices was predictable, as with gas having a regional market the only alternative option for the UK would have been coal for generating electricity. Not only did the UK retire its coal portfolio prematurely, unlike Germany, but the state also failed to increase its gas storage and deliberately prevented the hydraulic fracturing of indigenous gas through regulation.

Political ineptitude is not new – the mid-1970s shutdown of a nuclear option prevented any future indigenous capability. Only after 2008 was this intent reversed with a devastating failure to promote an intended scale of a necessary nuclear portfolio. We are left with a deliberate policy of conserving supply by price escalation.

Expensive renewable generation can only be a sticking-plaster solution whose cost is hidden by structural fragmentation allied with corrupting subsidy from politicians, having lasted for well over a decade. This scenario is creating an unstable grid and continental dependence through interconnection that should have been foreseen.

Recent forecasts for this coming winter are now suggesting power disruption through self-inflicted policies being directed from the European Union. The obsession with green intent is rapidly becoming disruptive when the priority should be conventional generation investment that is needed to replace dated inefficient capacity after a decade of neglect.

Derek G Birkett MIET

By email

UK poised to be a global leader in space

I enjoyed Heidi Vella’s article on the new space economy (‘Time for Lift Off’, August 2022), and agree with her sentiment that economic development will see the multi-gazillionaire space barons of the future emerge.

Looking at historic parallels, visionary entrepreneurs opened up maritime commerce, especially from the 1600s, exploiting the new-found riches. Technological advances provided an edge for the wealthy, but the competition inevitably led to tension, stimulating the expansion of navies to protect citizens and tax revenues. Recognising power and wealth was going awry, the British government eventually checked the commercial expansion, as the size of the British Empire peaked.

With British companies driving space innovation and the government championing norms of responsible behaviour for space at the United Nations, the UK is well placed to be the global leader in promoting a stable, sustainable economic environment in space. A full, space-going uniformed force is a few years away yet, but perhaps the first of its number has already been born?

Ben Sharp CEng FIET

High Wycombe

Is switching off always better than standby?

I was checking standby currents on various appliances the other day and found that my 13-year-old 42-inch Panasonic plasma TV consumes 140mA when switched off by the switch on the front. That would cost £92 a year at current rates. I dug out the instructions and found that a warning was given, but no reason for it. I have failed to find a reason with Google yet. On standby, with the red LED glowing, it consumes 220mA, which would cost £144 a year if left permanently on.

I have started to switch off at the wall, but it may not be wise. Does anyone know why? I have read that OLED televisions sometimes run a pixel-updating routine on switching to standby, which can prevent ghost images forming and stop other pixel defects.

Norman Willcox MIET

By email

Maltese memories

I lived and worked from Malta for many years and attended many forums on the island’s George Cross war record. The ‘Eccentric Engineer’ article in the August 2022 issue of E&T about Lt George Frederick Koehler’s part in the 18th century defence of Gibraltar against the ‘Bourbon Alliance’ reminded me of a similar experience, of which the Maltese people are very proud.

During the Second World War, Malta’s Grand Harbour was attacked constantly by Italian and Luftwaffe planes, which had early success because the British anti-aircraft guns were never allowed by intractable senior officers to depress their barrels. Enemy planes knew this and readily flew just above harbour level. Local servicemen were invariably of NCO rank only, but eventually commandeered ack-ack batteries as British gunner levels dwindled. Barrels were instantly tilted downwards and the harbour and Mediterranean environs became littered with downed aircraft.

William Fraser FIET

By email

ET September 2022 Issue Letters Section Cartoon

Image credit: E&T

What makes an engineer?

I read Tim Donaldson’s letter ‘Hard Truths for “Moangineers”’ in the August 2022 issue of E&T and feel that he has a fair point. I have achieved CEng status through my work but as far as my employer was concerned my skill was to solve problems. As an engineer on sea-going surveys, when we had an equipment failure – whatever it was – my responsibility was to fix it. Whether that meant replacing a fuse, rewriting a piece of code or reconfiguring the kit to work again didn’t matter. Some of my ‘bodges’ were, in my view, fairly left-field. Hence people who can solve an engineering puzzle have a right to the name engineer.

David Wallis CEng MIET


When to trust a technician

It is unlikely that the media would take any notice of letters or emails relating to the use of the word engineer, as Anthony Gardiner suggests (Letters, July 2022). Television and newspaper companies employ many technicians and service personnel who choose to call themselves engineers and may not want to upset them by making an issue of the title.

Intelligent, competent and experienced as they are, it is hard to see why these personnel would need, or want, to be called engineers. Are they ashamed of their professions? If I need my television, dishwasher or car to be mended, I would rather put my trust in a qualified repair service person rather than a professional engineer.

Geoffrey Evans CEng FIET

Digswell, Herts

Not just engineers who have issues with titles

The debate over the use of the term ‘engineer’ continues, with some recent correspondence in E&T advising that no change is likely. My memories of this debate go back to first becoming an AMIEE in 1973.

Turning the pages of the August issue of E&T, I was intrigued to find a statement in an article on electrical wiring safety inspections: “It comes down to who’s allowed to call themselves an electrician and the fact that there’s no proper licensing.” Given that this issue directly concerns a matter of safety, it will be interesting to see how this is resolved.

Anthony Cutler CEng FIET


Winning the title race

While fully agreeing with Tim Donaldson (Letters, August), I would add a readily practical item to his suggestion: sign up to be a EurIng, and then use the existing French Ingénieur as your title. To Denis McMahon, I would commend Ingénieur instead of technologist as it is too close to the title of technicians.

I endorse EurIng David Guppy’s point: the IET is a respected and large enough organisation to influence the government on including EurIng in the standard list of titles. To Peter Martin I would say, proclaiming that you are a chartered engineer is one thing, but only EurIng can lawfully be used as a title in front of your name.

EurIng Derek Rimington

Gillingham, Dorset

Algae – good or bad?

So there I was thinking that algae were good as they ‘eat’ carbon dioxide, thus removing the nasty greenhouse gas from our atmosphere. But now it seems that ‘dead zones’ are appearing in the oceans caused by the use of fertilisers. Oxygen is being taken out of the seas by algae, which are feeding off excess nutrients we are adding to the sea. So on the one hand algae are good and on the other they are bad! Algae must be confused by this!

L Mason MIET

By email

Why we all need supplements

The article on athletes who have adopted a plant-based vegan diet in the August 2022 issue of E&T (‘A Recipe for Success?’) points out that vegans need to take B12. So do all the animals omnivores eat. It’s added as a supplement to their food. Almost nobody gets enough B12 unless it’s added as a supplement somewhere. Many omnivores are deficient. We used to get it from dirty food!

Paul Wearing


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