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2020: Will the lights go out when the wind stops blowing?

Paul Hudson | 15:17 UK time, Monday, 15 March 2010

It struck me early last week how little wind there had been. Of course this will come as no surprise to many of you with an interest in weather, as a large anticyclone dominated our weather.

When I came to work last Monday, I discovered that Humberside Airport had recorded its coldest temperature of the whole winter, at minus 7C. Of course this was not only down to clear skies, but to the lack of wind too. These weather conditions weren't unique to Yorkshire and Lincolnshire. In fact I estimated that approximately 90% of the UK, land and coastal, had calm winds last Sunday night and into Monday morning.

Last week I received an e-mail from one of Look North's viewers. They live at the top of the Pennines and have been thinking about investing in a large wind turbine on their land, which would cost £30,000. But they are nervous, because this winter has been less windy than normal. I re-assured them that winters like these are the exception to the rule and that on average winters in their part of the world are such that they needn't worry about a lack of wind.

But it got me thinking. What are the implications for our future power needs during weather conditions like this winter's, when electricity demand is high? It's not so much a problem now, as only 6% of electricity currently comes from renewable sources. If the wind doesn't blow, our coal and gas fired power stations can take the strain.

But in only 10 years, legally binding targets mean that almost a third of our electricity will need to come from renewables, which when other sources of renewable power like solar and biomass are taken into consideration, means that around a quarter of all our electricity will have to come from onshore and offshore wind turbines.


So in 2020, when we have the same weather conditions as we had on Monday morning, with 90% of all turbines inactive, where would the electricity come from? Nuclear power gives a constant level of electricity and can't respond to extra demand. The only power plants that can respond to extra demand are coal, gas and biomass.

And it's not just during cold weather in winter when there will be problems with a lack of wind power. Anticyclonic conditions in summer often go hand in hand with warm temperatures which sometimes turn into heatwaves.

And let's not forget that if climate predictions are correct, the summer heatwave that much of Europe experienced in 2003, will be an average event by 2050. We will regularly have our air conditioning units on full, and electricity demand will be high - again at a time when many wind farms may not be able to supply any electricity at all.

So could we find ourselves without enough electricity when the wind doesn't blow?

According to Renewable UK (formally the British Wind Energy Association - BWEA) that just won't happen. They told me yesterday that there is currently a capacity of around 80GW, but the maximum demand on record was only 63GW, and although the mix of power generation will be different in 2020, there will always be back up available from other plants should wind power fall to very low levels.

There will also be a new transmission line linking the UK with the Netherlands, which, together with a French line means if necessary more power could be imported. And, they said, it's important not to forget the bigger picture - that wind power will substantially reduce the UK's carbon footprint.

But the fact remains that there will have to be power plants which simply exist to come on line when wind farms aren't producing enough electricity. This will mean that electricity prices will have to rise over and above the rises that are already in the pipeline to pay for a heavily subsidised renewable sector.

This is because it is very expensive to produce electricity from a power station that is on stand-by, simply because the plant needs to be maintained when it isn't at work, and so on average the cost per unit of electricity from plants standing idle for periods of time will be much higher.

The bottom line is that going green and de-carbonising power generation will not be cheap and all of us can expect electricity bills to rise substantially in the years ahead.


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  • 1. At 4:07pm on 15 Mar 2010, PingoSan wrote:

    "The bottom line is that going green and de-carbonising power generation will not be cheap and all of us can expect electricity bills to rise substantially in the years ahead."

    They have already risen due to the climate change scam, due to various carbon taxes, levies (climate change levy) and all manner of certificates (Renewables Obligation Certification, Levy Exemption Certificates) companies now need in order to generate.

    You are quite right that wind power generates least when we need it most - durng the coldest days of winter (high pressure, no wind) and the hottest days in summer (high pressure, no wind).

    But never mind, at least it gives some a fluffy feeling of doing something for their grandchildren (like vastly indebting them with a monstrous white elephant and incompetent power network).

    We have lots of gas and coal. We need to ignore the climate change scammers and get using them.

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  • 2. At 4:23pm on 15 Mar 2010, Simon H wrote:

    TITLE TYPO ERROR: "Light's" - plural, should be "Lights". Please moderate this post out :o)

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  • 3. At 7:30pm on 15 Mar 2010, Adrian Buckland wrote:

    The best option is probably to use gas and coal but not irresponsibly as some seem to think but bury the carbon dioxide under the sea or underground.

    Lovelock has recently suggested converting agricultural waste globally into charcoal and burying that too. So that we might begin to reverse the damage we have made to atmosphere and oceans.

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  • 4. At 9:19pm on 15 Mar 2010, PingoSan wrote:

    "So that we might begin to reverse the damage we have made to atmosphere and oceans"

    Thanks to our supplementation to the atmosphere, biomass has been blooming recently, as much as 8% more growth above recent decades (we have satellite measurements of this). Ignore the agenda-driven alarmists who try to tell you we are bad for the natural world - we're not, we're the most altruistic species on this planet.

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  • 5. At 10:13pm on 15 Mar 2010, Tom wrote:

    From the gist of your post, I would say that you're not a 'fan':-)

    Legally binding Paul?
    Legal not in my eyes, we owe Europe nothing, (they owe us) and should disregard all edicts concerning (especially the 1972 sulphur emissions directive) our power supply.
    In the end what could they do? - Invade us?
    On alternatives 'green energy alternatives' there is much wrong headed thinking.

    Wind turbines are useless, we could not erect enough of them even if the flippin' things were efficient which they are patently not, the industrial capacity (in Britain) is not there, China could do it (eventually) but then transporting massive steel structures around the world and their erection - no easy task, the lifting gear is enormous -
    and in the end defeats the object - does it not?

    Then we have madness like this;

    We are not far away from blackouts, despite what you have been told, a crash in generating plant, an exceptionally cold snap and it will happen, if it does it will trip the system and cause widespread blackouts, the infrastructure of the Grid is old and cannot stand an outage, because a small one would trigger a much larger event.

    So what do we do?

    Gas is our only clean option and is possible alternative, though not great on efficiency because it should be pumped straight into homes but for electricity generation? - maybe and we have the technology already and gas exploration and longevity of supply may not be a problem.
    See here;

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  • 6. At 00:11am on 16 Mar 2010, SheffTim wrote:

    I am agnostic on the 'peak oil' issue. But it stands to reason that finite (non-renewable) resources won't last forever, particularly when major developing countries such as India and China place such importance on providing economic growth that means more families having electrical appliances and cars etc.

    Its a fact that we've already depleted our North Sea gas (according to the energy companies):

    North Sea oil reserves will probably run out this century (according to the drilling companies):

    So we import. Every country will want to maintain energy supplies; the population (and number of our gadgets) grows; yet oil and gas will probably become harder to extract and therefore more expensive.

    As I see it we're going to be between a rock and a hard place. It its one reason why we should be looking at the alternative energy sources now, irrespective of the climate issue.

    As for the question about what do we do about wind power on windless days.
    I'll ask in return - if one day oil or gas energy is so scarce and/or expensive as to be beyond many peoples (or countries) means what do they do on windy days?
    Won't they ask why it wasn't harnessed? Ditto other alternatives.

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  • 7. At 01:29am on 16 Mar 2010, Boleslas_Broda wrote:


    If only there were some credible science to back up these claims.

    Say, the BBC is publicly financed.

    Couldn't one get the data used to come to these conclusions by FOI request for all of the emails of everyone who deals with wind or oil at the BBC?

    Wait. Don't know where that impertinent suggestion came from. How rude of me to even suggest it.

    So, yes.

    Wind sometimes doesn't blow at some peak times.

    Wind sometimes doesn't blow at some peak times for so long as to exhaust all practical storage of wind power.

    Waves, too, may fail, and daylight sun.

    Biomass may run low, even if horded against those dark lulls.

    Conservation measures, insulation, sealing drafts, improved efficiency, lighter vehicles, and better architecture can only go so far.

    Which still, by any stretch of the imagination of all futures results not only in overall savings -- after conservation and efficiency measures are figured in -- by a huge margin, but also more than covers any anticipated variable load needs of the UK past what fixed demand nuclear can meet.

    A shame the shoddy state of enforcement of efficiency standards in the UK building industry by inspectors, because of the huge loopholes in the building laws. A shame so many choose drive grimy elephantine vehicles many times larger and more powerful than their needs.

    You don't like how much the near future is going to cost your pocketbook because of these shameful factors, imagine how howlingly frothingly mad three or four generations from now people will be having to pay off this generation's carbon budget debt because this generation thought there was so much coal and oil, and didn't think raising CO2 levels could possibly have any ill effect.

    Blooming biomass from increased CO2, indeed.

    Have you seen how much the biomass of the oceans has been depleted?

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  • 8. At 02:33am on 16 Mar 2010, PingoSan wrote:

    "As for the question about what do we do about wind power on windless days.
    I'll ask in return - if one day oil or gas energy is so scarce and/or expensive as to be beyond many peoples (or countries) means what do they do on windy days?"

    Human ingenuity is boundless. When we truly face this Peak Oil scenario (still waiting for that and all the other apocalypse predictions that never come true), so long as the flame of human invention hasn't been stubbed out by overbearing state interference, we will have new technologies that our current crop of otherwise omniscient governments failed to predict.

    One hundred years ago they wouldn't have been able to believe some of the technologies we have now.

    Ditto in hundred years they'll be looking back at our time with their massively advanced technologies. We aren't running out of energy. We utilise only a fraction of the energy the sun provides to earth each day. Technological advances will help us harness it better - when it is needed.

    It's just not needed at the moment. We have more than enough energy resource to go around (so long as we don't fritter it away on windmills or trash economic incentives by printing up even more money). When the moment comes that we don't have enough energy, necessity will be the mother of ingenuity.

    Until then the agenda-driven alarmists like Gore, Ehrlich and our very own uninterpretable Boleslas will have to make do with the current nature bounty that has allowed humankind to a prosperous several billion population and still rising (something they appear to hate for reasons unknown).

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  • 9. At 07:39am on 16 Mar 2010, SheffTim wrote:

    According to BP's Statistical Review of World Energy 2009, the world has enough (oil) reserves for 42 years at current production rates.
    That is considered optimistic by some; but even so, 42 years time will be within the lifetimes of many readers of this blog, certainly of their children.

    You can download BP's report from this page on their website.

    'Human ingenuity is boundless. It's just not needed at the moment. We have more than enough energy resource to go around (so long as we don't fritter it away on windmills or trash economic incentives by printing up even more money).' #8.

    Ahh, the wait until the last moment and hope something turns up approach (Very Micawberish).

    Personally I don't see the harm in attempting to plan ahead for what would be a major shift in our sourcing of energy and use of technologies; particularly as they'd have to be applied worldwide. That's not going to be the type of task that could be achieved in a just year or two.

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  • 10. At 08:58am on 16 Mar 2010, Adrian Buckland wrote:

    Really - could you explain how the ocean's pH dropping from 8.2
    to 8.1, the plankton weight in certain species has dropped by 30%
    over the last 30-40 years and the coral bleaching due to
    anomalously high temperatures can possibly be described as

    CO2 is a natural product but if you add it to
    a system at unnnaturally high rates then unfortunate things can happen.

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  • 11. At 11:10am on 16 Mar 2010, John Marshall wrote:

    Your claim that weather will warm up is based on the model forecasts. Not a very accurate source of information.
    Wind power is not very efficient and the maximum efficience is about 20%. Wind turbines will only work within a narrow band of wind speed. Too little will not overcome internal friction and too much will destroy them so they have to be feathered to reduce the chance of damage. In either case no power is produced.
    Nuclear is a variable power source but is run at maximum efficiency and has a constant reliable output.
    Biofuel is also a waste of agricultural land that could produce more food. Biofuel is very low in energy density so to grow it miles from where it will be burnt is a useless exercise. Elephant grass is one such crop but it has to spend at least 2 years growing and drying before cutting for fuel. In my experience farmers only try this crop once and return to food production, there being more money in it.
    We must ignore the EU rules about coal fired power stations. Since CO2 does not cause climate change and more in the atmosphere will enable crop plants to produce more food we must build more and ignore the Carbon Capture which has been shown to be expensive and probably dangerous since injecting so much high pressure gas into rocks will shatter these rocks and cause serious problems. All for no scientific reason.

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  • 12. At 11:23am on 16 Mar 2010, John Marshall wrote:

    Ocean pH varies between 7.9 and 8.4 naturally! and has done for hundreds of millions of years. Algal production also varies considerably, naturally, as algal blooms show. These are caused by various changes in dissolved CO2, food availability, sunlight etc. Coral bleaching, once thought as coral death, is in fact the coral changing their algal symbiots to ones more used to current conditions. Corals did not die out during the Cretaceous Period when, at times, temperatures were up to 30 deg. C higher than today. In fact they thrived. Corals hat ecold not heat. They also thrive in deepening water so can easily endure rising sea levels because griwth will keep up with sea level rises. What they cannot survive is falling sea levels. The GBR did not exist during the last ice age for example since sea levels were 160 odd meters lower than today.
    We are not adding to the atmospheric CO2 content at an unaturally high rate. Any large volcanic event will do so much more than us and that has happened for billions of years. We only add 3% per annum to the atmosphere compared to natural inputs which is fairly low.

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  • 13. At 12:05pm on 16 Mar 2010, PingoSan wrote:

    "Really - could you explain how the ocean's pH dropping from 8.2
    to 8.1, the plankton weight in certain species has dropped by 30%
    over the last 30-40 years and the coral bleaching due to
    anomalously high temperatures can possibly be described as

    Things change in nature, that's why we have evolution. The one thing that stays the same is the desperation among the agenda-driven alarmists to point to evidence of natural change and try to use it to attack mankind for our success.

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  • 14. At 2:55pm on 16 Mar 2010, Boleslas_Broda wrote:

    To paraphrase Nietzsche, there are no unfacts, only uninterpretations.

    Not all technological changes are advances that can be called human progress. At its height, the Roman Empire boasted engineering techniques that were lost for a millennium or more, the art of archery has still not today recovered the skill of bowyers of the time of the Crusades, and people a hundred years ago counted on sky-cars and moon cities, so might sniff at the annoyance of cell phone ringtones and turn their noses up at the advancement that is Twitter.

    The head-twisting contradictions between Eyore-like pessimism about actions somehow linked to the pro-AGW 'side' and stampeding optimism that things will all work out for the best if we just pump CO2 into the atmosphere at the fastest possible rate astound and shame this sceptic.

    I don't pretend the BBC has never before been a forum for naked unreason.

    It would be silly to think one could stroll along in the internet and not step in some puddle of spin and self-delusion. From the obfuscatory inclusion of the Theory of Evolution to excuse rampant descent into CO2 budget debt that our descendants will not thank us for, to the unbalanced and ill-researched claims of golden days to come through the magic of CO2 fertilization, it's just more of the same, really.

    Indeed, this Hudson-tilts-at-windmills post marks no particularly special low point for its breed. It's more of a mediocrity than a nadir.

    Clearly, all this fertilizer is not inspiring human ingenuity to invention on the road to progress.

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  • 15. At 4:21pm on 16 Mar 2010, Lazarus wrote:

    I don't think there has ever been a serious suggestion that all our energy or even much of it will come from wind. There needs to be a wide spectrum of sourses including nuclear and hopefully tidal.

    Until then,there is no reason why coal and gas which is fairly low emission in any case, can't produce energy cleanly. All that human ingeniousness that PingoSan talks about can be used to retrofit existing stations and build new ones without much loss in efficiency.

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  • 16. At 5:58pm on 16 Mar 2010, Ben Vorlich wrote:

    Without even dealing with the CO2 is plant food side of energy problem.

    I think it is true to say that anti-cyclones often mean that a large part of northern Europe and not just the UK are windless (as far as power generation is concerned). Periods of windlessness usually mean calm seas. Slack water (no tidal power) happens roughly twice a day for a couple of hours. The sun doesn't shine at night. So on a cold winters night it wouldn't be exceptional to have zero renewable energy. Such a period could extend for a week or more. We already know that the death rate is highest in winter, and in winter it is highest in cold spells. Once all the coal/nuclear power stations have been closed what exactly are we going to do for energy.

    We need to hope that the current climatic warm period continues and gets warmer or there is a likelihood of social unrest. What politician is willing to bet their career on such a gamble? Apparently none of them think it will be them facing this problem.

    Does anyone really think that when Northern Europe is suffering from a lack of power those altruistic nations such as Russia, Ukraine, Saudi Arabia are going to solve the problem by selling us cheap energy/biomass?

    I grew up in a house in north Perthshire which had no electricity and life in a cold winter (1963 for instance) is one long struggle to stay warm. We had the 'luxury' of wood burning fires, candles and parafin lamps. Breaking the ice on the WC cistern, unfreezing pipes, doors freezing shut (try pulling a door which is frozen shut open); sawing up old fence posts and throwing the logs straight on the fire. I still have nightmares. Long live global warming I say.

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  • 17. At 6:36pm on 16 Mar 2010, PingoSan wrote:


    "Until then,there is no reason why coal and gas which is fairly low emission in any case, can't produce energy cleanly. All that human ingeniousness that PingoSan talks about can be used to retrofit existing stations and build new ones without much loss in efficiency"

    Given that we know carbon dioxide supplementation of the atmosphere is either net neutral (for humans), or net positive (for the rest of the planet's biomass), how do you incentivise power plants to fit these things?

    In case you hadn't noticed, we have a fiscal crisis in this country (I get the impression you Lazarus and babelfish-user Boleslas live abroad based on your posting times, which does beg the question).

    We must not waste money on ineffectual capping of inconsequential "emissions" when we have other priorities such as ensuring our pensioners can heat their homes, we can provide universal healthcare, and that we don't follow Greece into needing a national bailout.

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  • 18. At 6:53pm on 16 Mar 2010, ManmadeupGW wrote:

    Dear Mr Hudson

    Thank you for highlighting something that the alarmists, msm and politicians are generally happy to ignore that wind power will always need a backup.

    It is clear from current events that the whole global warming has been man made up and is irrelevant. Junkett science at best.

    The UK needs an energy policy based on a range of measures and of course renewable energy sources can form part of the gurantee of supply provided it is economic to do so.

    We need to consider re-opening coal mines and constructing many more nuclear power stations if we are to be masters of our own destiny.

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  • 19. At 09:29am on 17 Mar 2010, Lazarus wrote:

    PingoSan wrote:
    I don't know why you try to make everyone of Paul's postings a climate change denailist rant. Your personal opinions about emissions are not supported by the scientific literature in any case.

    If this and other countries are going to meet the commitments they had made in reducing GHGs then energy generation must be the focus of some significance.

    Any 'fiscal crisis' is unrelated but meeting emission targets could well be part of the solution of the crisis.

    Perhaps history and economics were not your subjects at school but America recovered from the Great Depression and subsequently became an industrial world power that could turn its manufacturing base over to the war effort in WWII by spending heavily in roads, dams, building and capitol projects, creating mass employment, and upskilling it workers. Many internationally known companies have their roots or expansion in the recovery from the 1920s.

    But the government had no hope of profiting from this within its life nor within the life times of many of those involved. This was so successful that Britain has only recently had its WWII debt written off by the USA.

    Clearly investment in new technologies and large building projects - Severn tidal barrier perhaps - if properly managed could create much needed employment and upskilling. Yet Europe including the UK is currently installing wind turbines and solar panels mostly manufactured in China and other developing countries.

    Developing technologies that have little reliance on fossil fuels is clearly the future because even if emissions were harmless we have a finite resource of such fuels - probably less than 50 years to peak oil for example.

    Time you put your anti CC rants to one side and looked at the big picture.

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  • 20. At 11:16am on 17 Mar 2010, PingoSan wrote:

    America recovered from the Great Depression by i) having the depression (the best cure), and ii) the second world war. This is universally accepted.

    Recessions and depressions are necessary economic diets where we trim the fat. Granted depressions are crash diets but sometimes those are needed due to the extreme imbalances and overhangs that have developed.

    Of course fossil fuels are finite, but energy is not. We receive what is for our purposes an unlimited amount of solar energy and we only utilise a fraction of it. Plenty more where that came from. It makes sense to go for the low hanging fruit of oil first, when we have satisfied those supplies we shall get the ladders out and up to the next rung. That depends, however, on there not being a huge misallocation of resources due to overbearing government interference in the economy - as we are seeing now with uneconomic windmills sprouting up everywhere and harming the effectiveness of our power grid.

    As you are also an economic expert along with being a climate expert you ought to know that government investment has a record of tending to pick losers. The government does not know more than the market, whatever you may wish.

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  • 21. At 1:05pm on 17 Mar 2010, Marcus Garvey wrote:

    Regarding peak oil, the chief economist of the International Energy Agency reckons we've about 10 years:


    It is not the time to use projections of future generations ingenuity as an excuse for inaction. It is essential that alternatives are explored now, with urgency. The specifics of what those alternatives are is fair game for debate though. My own feeling on windfarms is that they are a potentially useful small part of a mixed power generation system. They are unfortunately treated by some as a panacea, and are politically popular because they provide a relatively quick and visible means of showing that something is been done. Regarding climate change, they can often be counterproductive as innapropriate siting, on moors for example, can result in large quantities of CO2 being released from peatlands.

    Biomass and biofuels are also worth investigating, but surely only viable as a small part of the mix. People have to eat after all, and a market in biofuels can easily create a monstrous situation where my ability to pay to fuel my vehicle wins over anothers ability to pay to feed his family.

    What I think is completely criminal is the missed opportunities so far in developing these technologies ourselves, instead relegating us to being mere consumers. Hopefully the missed opportunities with wind power will not be replicated with wave and tidal.

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  • 22. At 2:44pm on 17 Mar 2010, Boleslas_Broda wrote:

    @20 PingoSan

    "America recovered from the Great Depression by i) having the depression (the best cure), and ii) the second world war. This is universally accepted."

    Uh.. What? The babelfish can't quite make that out.

    While I don't accept Lazarus' simplified summary ("spending heavily in roads, dams, building and capitol projects, creating mass employment, and upskilling it workers. Many internationally known companies have their roots or expansion in the recovery from the 1920s") as the only factor in America's recovery from the Depression, it was certainly far closer to the truth than the pure myth that WWII helped anyone other than opportunistic war profiteers recover from anything.

    Perhaps in that fabulous land so far from the UK that it is untouched by the current world fiscal crisis -- a land I do not live in -- people might be so far removed from reality as to believe that languishing in poverty and misery somehow improves an economy, or that leaping from that frying pan to the fire of battle can be a better stimulus than new infrastructure, modernized institutions and organized efforts to improve the quality of life of a nation.. but any such lotus-eaters wouldn't have much to say to those who live in the waking world.

    Depressions and recessions are not necessary or even effective ways to trim the fat from unhealthy economies, any more than amputating limbs is a healthy weight loss method.

    Abusing scarce resources like the world's shared GHG budget is not likely to resolve the fiscal problems of anyone, except those carbon profiteers who seek to exploit short term opportunity for a long term debt passed along to far future generations.

    It's sad, if Paul Hudson's baseless conjecture about a perpetual European anticyclone proves true (he's been right before) and stills the winds while plunging the UK into deep winters and searing summers (come to think of it, it's the same baseless conjecture I've used myself as a conjecture of what the uncertain climate we are creating may look), but one sleeps in the bed one makes.

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  • 23. At 7:23pm on 17 Mar 2010, Lazarus wrote:

    PingoSan wrote:
    “America recovered from the Great Depression by i) having the depression (the best cure), and ii) the second world war. This is universally accepted.”

    It is very strange that you believe it is universally accepted when the US wasn’t even in recession when WWII broke out. So I’m not certain if anything else you say makes much sense – some doesn’t, for example;

    “As you are also an economic expert along with being a climate expert”

    I am neither, I leave such thing up to those qualified and working in both climatology and economics and accept their conclusions. But it seems that you may be claiming to be at least a climate change expert.

    All the national academies of science agree with the majority of climatologists that climate change is both man made and due to become a serious problem. Many economists also agree that mitigation now will be less costly than adaption later. Many also see the challenge of this as a way to create jobs and boost economies.

    Do you agree with these experts or are you claiming to be more expert?

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  • 24. At 7:30pm on 17 Mar 2010, Lazarus wrote:

    Boleslas_Broda wrote:
    "While I don't accept Lazarus' simplified summary"

    I do admit it is very simplified - it has been many years since I had to study such things and I was also aware that keeping it simple was best for the intended audience.

    However it is considered by many to be true that Roosevelt bought the country out of recession with a $5 billion spending program.

    "Depressions and recessions are not necessary or even effective ways to trim the fat from unhealthy economies, any more than amputating limbs is a healthy weight loss method."

    I not only agree but love the analogy!

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  • 25. At 8:15pm on 18 Mar 2010, Hudsonfan wrote:

    Has nobody read the reports that the USA has enough natural gas to last them for decades and that they are already drilling in France where the rock strata is the same. The USA reckons that this same strata runs all the way from Scandinavia throught to Spain and if they are right Europe will also be self sufficient for decades! Furthermore is it only me that has read of the devolpment in the USA and by Mitsubishi of small nuclear power plants that are sunk into concrete,do not use any weapons grade materials and only need refuelling about every 20 years or so.Why are these developments making headlines on a daily basis, could it be that we cannot handle good news?

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  • 26. At 00:36am on 19 Mar 2010, SheffTim wrote:

    #25. Can you give links to your source, or at least name the organisation or name of the paper/article and where published? I'm genuinely interested.

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  • 27. At 1:01pm on 19 Mar 2010, Adrian Buckland wrote:

    I am sorry but I have to disagree with previous comments as I also do on similar comments regarding Arctic ice trends.

    I draw attention to the following


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  • 28. At 10:03pm on 19 Mar 2010, Hudsonfan wrote:

    Sheff Tim @ 26. The natural gas story from the USA has been in all the major newspaper. It is the reason why the wholesale price of gas has dropped although this has not been reflected from the greedy power companies. The USA built specialised ports to import gas and they were supposed to have a ship a day. In the last year they had about two loads in total. The "mini" type nuclear units was also in all the major papers. I did not keep any copies. It just strikes me that in the haste to build massive new Nuclear power stations and wind farms is this news being deliberately being ignored?

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  • 29. At 11:11pm on 19 Mar 2010, SheffTim wrote:

    Do you mean methane clathrates?

    Or shale gas?

    My posts (#6 & 9) above referred to oil; both my links above are about 2nd stage natural gas (CH4) extraction.

    The easy stuff's gone, it gets harder and more expensive to extract from now on. (And in other countries hands.). That may explain why so little is being extracted.

    Mini-nuclear: sounds interesting, but at present seems to be at the stage hydrogen power is at; it all comes down to costs. (And with nuclear, how waste is disposed of; and how finite fuel sources are?)

    PS: I support more nuclear power stations. I don't think there is an easy (green) solution to future energy needs.
    As I see it, we (or our children) are going to have to face a number of hard decisions this century.
    Where our energy comes from (and what the 'cost' is) is one of them.

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  • 30. At 10:37am on 20 Mar 2010, John Marshall wrote:

    The history of forecasting 'Peak Oil' shows that every forecast as wrong. If I remember correctly the first serious forecast came in around 1960 ish and 'peak oil' was to be 1975/6. Wrong!
    The people to listen to are CERA (Cambridge Energy research Associates) based in Boston Mas. Their forecast is that they really do not know but at least a couple of decades. By then the laboratory experiments producing oil products from algal digestion and atmospheric CO2 will be up to industrial size. We already use waste to produce methane which is used for heating of power production. This is a far better use of waste than throwing into land fill and you end up with fertilizer for the land as well as the fuel gas. Methane can be polymerised to more complex compounds for use as fuel or plastics. Australia claim that they have the ability to produce their total oil requirements now by algal digestion. So there is no reason to buy your first electric car and be limited to a radius of 50 miles between 10 hour recharges. Nissan claim that their first electric car is carbon free. They do not count the carbon used in production, especially the batteries, or the pollution produced by recycling these batteries every 5 years or so. So why go down the very wasteful wind power route when so many other ways are available and fuel for transport will not run out.

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  • 31. At 11:43am on 20 Mar 2010, Lazarus wrote:

    John Marshall wrote:

    "The history of forecasting 'Peak Oil' shows that every forecast as wrong."

    Well sooner or later someone is going to be right! There are those who think that it has already happened because it was originally based on the point when demand outstripped known economic reserves and it can be argued that has already happened, driving up prices and shifting the goal posts of what is economically recoverable.

    Oil will not run out any time soon because as the easier recoverable oil is extracted it will become economic to extract low quality or difficult to recover reserves like shale oil.

    The only thing that is certain is that oil prices can only ever rise in the long term and at some point other forms of energy generation will reach price parity or even better it. This seems due to happen within the next few generations even with low efficiency power generation such as Solar PV and much sooner for nuclear, wind, tidal etc.

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  • 32. At 1:07pm on 20 Mar 2010, Hudsonfan wrote:

    Has no one read the story of the University in the USA who have invented a new (quick) way of charging batteries. They observed that whilst charging presently a lot of the power used was lost. It would be like filling a lighter from a petrol pump. With the coating they use it was reckoned that you could recharge a telephone in about a minute and a car in about an hour! This strikes me as the breakthrough on electric vehicles. Is this more good news that is being ignored/supressed? Or these stories made up, I think we should be told!

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  • 33. At 1:58pm on 20 Mar 2010, Lazarus wrote:

    Hudsonfan wrote:

    "Has no one read the story of the University in the USA who have invented a new (quick) way of charging batteries".

    Is this what you mean?;

    Sounds like an interesting future development.

    The big problem of fast charging something as large and as powerful as a vehicle battery needs to be is the sheer current required. How thick would the cables need to be and how big would the trip need to be?

    Most homes can't manage much more than a shower and a cooker. I'm not sure what a battery in something like a Prius would be power wise but I think an ordinary car battery is about 60Ah which means it would need 60 Amps to charge in an hour. A fully electric car may need 10 or more times that power.

    Fast charging will need very specialised charging stations.

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  • 34. At 6:22pm on 20 Mar 2010, Fudsdad wrote:

    Where does Paul get 6% energy from renewables from?!

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  • 35. At 7:51pm on 21 Mar 2010, bandythebane wrote:

    Paul in his post is absolutely right a precipitate rush to produce renewables using the current poor technology will cost us dearly.

    John Marshall is also right about the consistent failure of peak oil forecasts. These failures go back much further than he thinks. The British Government for example as far back as 1870 was debating fearfully what would happen when coal ran out which it assumed would happen around 1890.

    The problem always is ignorance. Now today for axample we know that there is a lot of the so called "tight" or "shale" gas about which will largely dent or even wipe out the huge US energy imports. Even 5 years ago no one recognised gas like this was of any real significance at all. New technology is also opening up deep ocean oil more successfully these days than we would have predicted a few years ago.

    What this means is that hopefully we will have an extra decade or so of adequate fossil fuel supply and that hopefully by the time we have to move to other technologies using nuclear,renewables or anything else they will have improved in various ways and we will have no need either to freeze or starve.

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  • 36. At 03:58am on 22 Mar 2010, Boleslas_Broda wrote:

    @35 btb "..we will have no need either to freeze or starve."

    Well, not all of us.

    As has been noted before, there is a cost to produce new technology, and not all resources prove lower-cost to extract with any technology than the resources they replace.

    The Alberta tar sands, for example, was once predicted to be the petroleum source of the 22nd century, because of the prohibitive price of the extraction process.

    These same tar sands are being tapped right now, not because the technology has advanced ahead of estimates, but because the price of crude oil has increased faster than expected. Indeed, the price of crude has advanced so rapidly, that investment in developing new technology went up, making the stuff even more costly.

    "Peak oil" is a mythic and imprecise term, like suggesting that one particular woman is the greatest beauty of all time, or some particular wag the greatest wit who will ever be.

    Even when there's an exact and agreed on definition, the context is so complex and subjective as to render measuring when the condition is met incredibly difficult, and may not be recognized until decades after it has passed.

    We may have even passed the mark of "peak coal" (though I doubt it) if one figures in the price impact on the GHG budget of our shared atmosphere for burning coal.

    Incidentally, a great deal is made of the 'tax' of having to pay for what we use of the limited shared GHG budget, after so long not paying for what we use (which in some places is called free-riding, freeloading, or more simply poaching), but little is made of the pressure on technology to solve the problems of the future that will come out of that practice. Necessity is the mother of invention; when it is necessary to pay a fair price for using up the GHG budget, perhaps the technology to solve the problems of that necessity will arise. And it may be less expensive. Sometimes that does happen.

    It certainly hasn't happened for fossil fuels, which are only marginally more efficiently used today than in past decades or centuries, all things taken into account.

    For those of us willing and able to shift our budget to get less quality out of life overall to pay more for fossil fuels, "we will have no need either to freeze or starve," while those on tighter budgets will do exacly that.

    That, or governments plan better, administer better, legislate better, and demonstrate more diligence, prudence and intelligence.

    So get used to cold potato soup, or elect better.

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  • 37. At 1:54pm on 22 Mar 2010, John Marshall wrote:

    Peak Coal is a term that has not been used before. The USA has coal reserves in Alaska alone to last over 200 years and this is Cretaceous coal so is clean burn producing no SO2. The coals mined in Utah, providing over 9M tons per annum are also Cretaceous as are those in Colorado. I do not think that the US knows exactly how much coal they have. As far as burning it is concerned if CO2 has no climatic impact, as the real science would suggest, then this is no problem and a good source of energy. There is also the increased gas reserves in the US using strata cracking which increases output many times from rock considered too difficult 5 years ago. We need this energy because a report in today's Telegraph shows that wind farms in the onshore UK only produce 20% or less of that claimed as I have been saying many times over the past months.

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  • 38. At 6:08pm on 22 Mar 2010, Jack Hughes wrote:

    One thing puzzles me about wind farms.

    Very often they have one windmill out of action - the others are turning merrily and one is fixed, rigid.

    Why is this?

    Is there a reliability problem?
    Or do they not generate enough value to keep them turning?

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  • 39. At 10:44am on 23 Mar 2010, Boleslas_Broda wrote:

    "37. At 1:54pm on 22 Mar 2010, John Marshall wrote:
    Peak Coal is a term that has not been used before. The USA has coal reserves in Alaska alone to last over 200 years and this is Cretaceous coal so is clean burn producing no SO2. The coals mined in Utah, providing over 9M tons per annum are also Cretaceous as are those in Colorado. I do not think that the US knows exactly how much coal they have. As far as burning it is concerned if CO2 has no climatic impact, as the real science would suggest, then this is no problem and a good source of energy."

    While there is no dispute of coal in the ground beyond any current want; while the problem that not all the coal is where one would most want the energy produced from it is relatively small; while some coal is marketed as 'clean burning' by its sellers to comfort its buyers' consciences, what sort of real science can suggest that the limited GHG budget of the biosphere, a parameter for so many complex processes in climate and in life sciences both, will infinitely bear depletion?

    Is this the same real science that led bankers to offer infinite credit to those with no means to pay, or have we forgot what caused the economy of the world to teeter so and shudder and in its great retraction do so much real harm to so many real billions of people?

    If there is a 'peak oil' in any meaningful sense, then too by extension there must be a 'peak GHG' upper limit on the sum of the peaks of oil, coal, natural gas, and biomass combustion. The economic feedback of the costs shared by all users of the atmosphere will find its ways to affect us, whether our governments tax it or set up a system of trade for it or ignore it and let it teeter and shudder and retract.

    This is in the long run mathematical certainty, because it is a proven net cumulative effect, beyond speculation and the small cyclic trends of solar output and oceanic or stratospheric oscillation we have seen in the lifespan of humanity.

    It's perhaps not likely that peak GHG will happen in our lifetimes, one supposes, not being so wise as to encompass in one's contemplations the detailed working of every aspect of the worlds of economics and geophysics, aerodynamics and biology.

    Then again, if there's an iceberg ahead, and the ship is the unwieldy and ill-responsive behaviour of the world's industries and governments and individual consumers taken as a mass, how soon is too soon for trimming the engines and setting the wheel on a safer course?

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  • 40. At 7:44pm on 31 Mar 2010, jono-been wrote:

    Why are we using Wind Power? Its totally useless.
    We should be using Hydro-Electric Power (HEP) where available and the remaining should be generated by Nuclear Fission. These are the only non-carbon emitting sources that do not rely directly on the weather.
    HEP is costly, however there are no fuel costs, and they also prevent floods, and create recreational waters. They have a very very very fast response time when it comes to generating power at peak demand. Yes there are limited sites for HEP, but there are plenty of sites for pumped storage (read below).
    Nuclear energy is also costly to setup, but requires only a small amount of fuel compared to coal and oil, and with the latest advances and saftey requirements, Nuclear Power is safer than ever! Did you know that hospitals output more than 10 times the amount of background radiation than we experience from Nuclear Power Stations? The radioactive waste is a problem, but just do what we do with everything else we don't want... bury it. Preferably very very deep under the ground.
    Combine these two, we have a perfect system. Nuclear Power generates the base amount of power that the grid needs, at night, during low demand, the electricty can be used on pump storage schemes (we already have these). Then in the day, when demand is high, you can use the pumped storage and to a lesser extent, HEP, to keep the grid up with demand.
    Sometimes I wonder what our government is actually for.

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