Category Archives: Climate

Farage Barrage – wind power politics.

JR Max Wheel

5 March 2010

UKIP’s MEP leader, Nigel Farage could hardly be accused of diplomatic niceties, even before his blast against the Eurocrats. In the latest UKIP party political broadcast Farage appeared before a wind farm as a latter-day Don Quijote inviting locals on Romney Marsh to give their views on wind power and the manner in which these turbines have been installed and financed. Even allowing for the usual Nimbyism and a populist backlash, there is a serious point at stake struggling to get out in this argument about renewable energy.

Farage criticised the economics, a failure to consult local communities and the way in which the public have been “sold” the idea of wind power as an essential contribution to UK energy policy. The renewable energy argument is hedged about with feelings of public guilt- and a generalised concern about price, energy security, and being green. He is right to be concerned, irrespective of whether you are a UKIP supporter or a Green party member, the economics of wind power is highly questionable, and I suspect the British public have been sold a story that is misleading and at worst downright deception. Behind this are the BWEA, now re-badged as RenewableUK and the Department of Energy & Climate Change. A visit to their website is instructive: They now also embrace wave and tidal power but they began as promoters of wind energy. The UK is now littered with some 2,757 turbines with an installed capacity of MW 4,113, there are a further MW 9,000 mired in the planning process. This is all in the name of reducing our Co2 emissions by 2020 by a third and to stand by our commitments to international treaties to do so.

Most UK wind farms to date have been built with turbines of outputs of 1-2MW, when the wind is blowing and not too strongly!

New turbines are being introduced with somewhat higher outputs of MW3-4, although this is still low output, the capacity has to treble to reach the target for onshore wind. Offshore wind is also a key contributor- end 2009 there is a little under 1GW [1000MW] installed and a further 800MW underway. We are still a long way for achieving the offshore goal of 33 GW
The polarisation of the debate is summarised here:

The UK has the best wind resources in Europe.
Sustainable Development Commission

Wind farms will devastate the countryside pointlessly.
James Lovelock

The economics. This is based on the cost of generation based on existing technologies plus the incidence of wind. The period of cold weather from December 2009 to January/February 2010 contained many wind free days-hence resulting in minimal contribution.

Professor Mackay’s excellent analysis “Without hot air” should be compulsory reading for all.
He states that if we covered say 10% of the country with wind farms and assuming that the average output was based on 2MW per turbine [20 KWh/day per person], this would equate to half the power used by driving a fossil fuel car 50km a day. This is no way sufficient. Even taller towers would only increase power by about 30%. Load factors are at best some 30+% and even that is optimstic.
To understand the cost it needs to be measured in terms of Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs). The standardized price for ROCs (2007figures) is £45 per MWh Onshore wind requires £69-89/MWh and offshore approx £92/MWh. This is a huge amount of subsidy.

It gets worse. The cost of maintenance of offshore wind is huge and ongoing akin to maintaining oil rigs in the North Sea due to operating in a hostile marine environment.
This also does not take into account that the UK is short of skilled engineers to cope with a project of this size. The financing arrangements on the previous BWEA site – before the glossy make-over had not been updated since 2002, It pointed out that the methodology was anything but clear and that the Government had failed to provide the necessary framework so that the investment conditions were anything but conducive to mobilising private capital or if Government funded that there was a proper value for money estimate of such spending.

The BWEA has tirelessly campaigned for wind power and pushed this agenda when the real costs and benefits have been largely hidden from the public. The arrival of higher energy bills as a result of misconceived policy decisions may well end up on your or my doorstep.
A further observation- the producers of the turbines are mostly foreign companies Vestas [Denmark] and Gamesa [Spain] being two of the most advanced suppliers.

Whatever the case, it will require extensive backup to carry base load demand, whether this be nuclear, clean(er) coal via Carbon Capture and Storage or fossil fuels like gas. This does not mean that wind has no role to play but that it needs clarification as to real cost and it needs to gain proper public support. Anecdotal evidence suggests that farmers are being approached with offers of £20,000 to permit a wind turbine to be erected; the developer however will pocket some £300,000/year in pure profit. How so? Assuming construction costs of say £2m– 2008 figures from the Times newspaper the operator pushes power into the grid receiving £500,000 of which £300,000 is subsidy! The cost per bill could run to £60 per bill according to Ofgem. This is not a sensible way to run an energy policy, so Farage is correct in his attack. I personally dislike these towers, despite many who apparently don’t. It is not just that the public need to be consulted on where they are put, they seriously need to have the economics explained to them.

Prof. Mackay ebook “Without Hot Air” Cambridge 2009
Sunday Times article- 27/1/2008

The Copenhagen Interpretation or how to organise deadlock. COP out 15

30 Jan 2010

JR Max Wheel

In the 1920s Copenhagen was home to the extraordinary explosion of ideas surrounding the foundations of quantum mechanics- much of what was then postulated was known as the Copenhagen Interpretation and rightly subject to fierce academic debate. It is ironic that this City was chosen for the extraordinary and acrimonious meeting of world leaders to agree a deal on climate change. This vexed topic has, as could have been easily anticipated, produced more heat than light. I am agnostic on man-made climate change, find the targets unachievable and and I suspect, not alone. We are also, as the general public, I suspect. being kept in the dark.

This is not to deny any change, nor maintain that large-scale and global industrialisation has no effect, but it seems to me as a layman that the so-called consensus on the science is anything but that. Climate scientists seem to be better at reading long term trends rather than short ones, some seem to attribute changes to naturally ocurring cyclical changes in our climate through whether by solar activity or orbital wobbles or both whilst others firmly believe that the primary cause is man’s activities. If climate science is better at detecting trends over very long time scales rather than short ones, where data may well be all over the place, policy remedies are unlikley to be consistent . Current hysteria coincides neatly with Millenium notions of a dramatic and uncontrolled changes to come, a serious form of Y2K problem or, even punishment for original sin, to satisfy the lunatic religious right, especially in the US. Hurricane Katrina gave this a serious boost. Climate has been increasingly hi-jacked by politicians and scientists with an agenda. The Al Gore narrated film “ An Inconvenient Truth “ being a good example. We are told this is a truth and yet few have encouraged an educated debate with the public, presumably because in the view of the “cognescenti” we are too stupid to understand the science. This is monstrous arrogance. Those that argue for a more measured and public discussion are howled down by scentific advisers , many of whom are not climate scientsists but who work in related disciplines:they have taken a position and that is that- or is it? Groupthink is a common yet under-recognised curse afflicting Governments, industry and academia alike. Despite the University of East Anglia e-mail saga, which at first sight looked more like a bungled attempt at a statistical fix ( for lines of best-fit to data), than an out an out conspiracy, exposed the political nature of the debate.

It is clear that the Copenhagen summit was ill-conceived from the outset. Getting international agreement on almost anything was always a heroic struggle, requiring months of preparatory work. Climate change has by now become entangled in a rich vs. poor country debate, whether couched in the cost of adapting to climate change language or not.It is also highly convenient to blame the now increasingly post industrial West for having reached industrial maturity before many other States. It has also become a theological issue, with its own dogmas. Behind it all is a fierce argument about energy – both its location and its use, but just as importantly that is a covert argument about economic growth or the lack of it. Neither China nor the US wish to curtail growth nor to expose their industries to “unfair competition”. In such circumstances to expect anything meaningful to come out of Copenhagen, with this hinterland was always a triumph of hope over experience irrespective of any individual point of view.

An equally unlovely facet is the growth of the eco-fundamentalist, with whom no reasoned debate is possible. To question climate orthodoxy is tantamount to Holocaust denial, you are with us or against us; this approach is actually damaging both to life and limb, not to mention public property but ultimately to its own cause. It is redolent of Prof. Dawkins doomed attempt to explain evolution to creationists- a spectacular dialogue of the deaf..

Not even respected science journals or international bodies seem immune to the corrosive effects of the climate science argument. The IPCC reports are commissioned by the UN and the World Meteorological Organization and aimed squarely at Governments as a summary for a series of policy initiatives. Note well that the IPCC Bureau’s members are predominantly selected by nomination by host Governments, with some specially qualified exceptions- more Groupthink?

The science is collated and analysed, but the summary is a political document. Indeed several members have dissociated themselves from these final communiques –why? The political argument runs like this- it is happening, the results will be catastrophic and we must act now- delay is potentially fatal. Little of this argument however is presented cogently to the public who will be the direct victims of carbon taxes, cap and trade schemes and similar mechanisms to curb emissions. Targets must be set, adhered to and be verified. Dial down a degree or in the US probably ten, switch off electrical items on standby, every little helps. No it doesn’t, as Professor Mackay has pointed out in his excellent site www. If this is for real then some serious decisions need taking and fiddling at the margins is useless. If we need to control emissions then much more is required. This involves the public directly so why apart from political hand-wringing and brinkmanship have Governments failed to engage the public in any meaningful way?

Mackay points out that renewable energies are unlikely to meet targets even if we covered unacceptable amounts of land in wind farms. Far better to invest in better cheaper transport and smarter generation as well as sending out the right price signals. That means cheaper = greener, this is the oldest trick in the book and requires no compulsion at all as Danish climate scientist Bjorn Lomborg points out. A radical increase in R & D spend on fossil fuel alternatives is likely to be much better value (and more effective) than $100bn/year transformation subsidy to developing countries.