By Amanda Murphy.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracture stimulation, is a very recognisable, very divisive topic. It is common to have a strong opinion about fracking, be it for or against it. Indeed, for most, fracking is something for others to solve. But while we empathise with the impact of such industrial development, we seldom suggest fracking in our backyard.

The North Sea dominates the United Kingdom’s (UK) energy supply. However, with North Sea oil and gas fields in decline, controversial fracking technology may be the best option to fill the gap in domestic energy demand. Exploration sites earmarked for hydraulic fracture stimulation are in relatively rural areas of the North West, Yorkshire and East Midlands, but shale oil and gas development should be considered in more urban areas. London and the South East overlie the prospective Weald and Wessex sedimentary basins and development here would be close to consumers in an area with a strong history of monitoring, industrial brownfields sites and existing road and power infrastructure. Perhaps it is time to consider fracking in our London backyard.

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Electricity meter

[ Image Credit: Niel Lall ]

The broad question looming over these recommendations is this: will this new intervention – which is essentially a negation of the previous one – bring about positive outcomes for the consumers?

by Paul Monroe

Ensuring sufficient competition in the energy market is a key role of the regulator. One of the most popular measures for measuring competition has been in the analysis of customers switching between tariff plans. Unfortunately, switching rates are comparatively low and the market remains dominated (85%) by the six largest energy companies. Many regulatory interventions have been made, but one of the most significant was a cap on the total number of tariff plans on offer by suppliers.

Earlier in 2016, this decision was reversed and the cap was eliminated. The primary reasoning was that the cap now inhibited competition because, alongside other measures, it prevented the creation of innovative offerings, like reward plans paired with other services, discounted “smart home” packages, and more.

The broad question looming over this decision is whether the cap removal will promote innovation or simply represent at return to the previous state of affairs. Furthermore, the implications for vulnerable customers – who benefit greatly from regular switching but may be dissuaded from doing so in this scenario – require exploration. This paper will detail the potential effects of this policy intervention in depth.

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by Victoria Plutshack

Smart technologies, which can communicate and share information, have been hailed as a panacea for a range of our energy problems. The possibilities for energy savings and greater energy efficiency are enormous. The first step in realizing the smart vision of the future is the humble smart meter, which is due to be universally available in British homes by 2020. However, the behavioural science behind the effects of an in-home energy meter is mixed. Pilot tests have returned a range of results, from energy savings to increased consumption and everything in between. Given that there is scientific uncertainty, how should policy makers respond? I argue that the Government must clearly prioritise its reasons for the adoption of smart meters in order to create meters that are most likely to produce a single desired result, instead of solving all the nation’s energy problems.

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by Ed Leon Klinger

Driverless cars present an unprecedented opportunity to transform the way we transport goods and people through cities and across countries, posing benefits to our collective safety, environment and economy. They also pose new risks; as cars become more connected, they become more vulnerable to malicious attacks by thieves and terrorists. This essay argues that the government should take active steps to position the UK at the forefront of autonomous vehicle technology, establishing itself as a world-leader in this rapidly approaching disruptive innovation.

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by Hannah Smith

Limited water resources, weak states and ethnic tensions across Central Asia lead many analysts to believe that the region will bear witness to the world’s first war over water. Through drawing on fieldwork, this study takes the example of the geographically isolated village of Barak (a Kyrgyz exclave) to demonstrate how water resources are manipulated strategically at a local level. This has profound consequences for communities and presents clear violations of basic human rights. The internationally community must act at a micro level to ensure that water does not become another tool of war.

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