Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The cost of steam

An intriguing item on the early morning farming programme. It challenged the idea that tomatoes grown under glass in this country have a larger carbon footprint than those grown in sunny Spain

One Norfolk farm grows tomatoes with the aid of steam which comes from a power station – but only after it has first been used by another factory to refine sugar beet

Listening with only half an ear, I missed the details of this process. In particular I missed whether we were told how much the tomato farmer paid for the steam

Over 40 years ago now I was asked to advise on a similar problem, in this case the use of steam, which otherwise was just a waste product discharged to the air, as an input for one of the stages of metal refining. The pricing had become an issue because previously the power station had been owned by the mining company, but was now being taken over by the government

I am afraid I came to no very satisfactory conclusion – there seemed no very compelling objective case for any particular solution including asking the power company to pay the mining company for taking the waste off its hands!

There are many such schemes nowadays, anything from fish farming to district heating. I still wonder if there is now an agreed method in either economics or accountancy, or is it always just what the market can bear?