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Coal takes the strain...again.

Paul Hudson | 16:44 UK time, Monday, 10 January 2011


On BBC Look North on friday I reported that during the recent intense cold weather, it's been our traditional coal and gas fired power stations that have been working flat out to keep our homes and businesses warm.

And for the third winter running, the intense cold has gone hand in hand with periods of little or no wind. This should come as no surprise since prolonged cold is invariably associated with areas of high pressure.

Peak demand also comes during summer heat waves - as we all turn on our air conditioning units - again usually associated with areas of high pressure, with little or no wind.

December 21st 2010 was one of the coldest days on record in Yorkshire. The bar chart below gives an idea of how much electricity was being generated by which type of power facility, when temperatures were at their lowest.



With much of the country experiencing very little wind, both onshore and offshore, wind turbines were largely inactive.

At the moment that is not a problem. Only 5% of electricity is currently generated by wind farms, and so other power stations can step in and ramp up output.

But in only 9 years time, the UK will legally have to generate around 30% of its electricity from renewable sources, of which 25% is expected to come from wind farms alone, as it is seen as a clean, carbon free energy source.

So what will happen then, when the wind doesn't blow?

If a similar meteorological situation occurred in 2020, then almost 25% of power would have to come from sources other than wind.

This means that there would have to be some power stations - using coal or gas, since nuclear power output can't be increased at short notice - that simply exist as a stand-by facility, in case the wind doesn't blow.

And that's a very expensive way of producing electricity.

And what happens if, as seems at least possible, the next 10-15 years sees an increase in the type of disrupted weather patterns that we have experienced recently, because of solar considerations?

Professor Mike Lockwood at Reading University thinks that the UK could indeed experience colder winters on average, compared with the last few decades because of the sun's low activity.

This would lead to a higher frequency of 'blocking' weather patterns leading to less frequent windy conditions than would normally be expected if one looks at climatological averages - suggesting we would have to continue to rely on coal and gas fired power generation well into the future - and possibly more than is currently envisaged.

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  • 1. At 6:04pm on 10 Jan 2011, Gadgetfiend wrote:

    At least the wind farm near me outside Bridlington has been working today, but there have been many times this winter when they haven't been.

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  • 2. At 6:19pm on 10 Jan 2011, PingoSan wrote:

    The lunacy of relying on wind to power a modern, industrialised country is being made clear every winter. And yet our politicians, like they did with the Climategate scandal, are sticking their fingers in the ears and saying they can't hear us.

    Meanwhile we're the ones paying for their green buffoonery through our electricity bills. It's as if they actively want the standard of living to become yet more and more expensive.

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  • 3. At 6:51pm on 10 Jan 2011, Hudsonfan wrote:

    Well done Paul Hudson! I posted on the previous blog about the stupidity of relying on wind power either now or in the future. I find it even more frightening that even the offshore turbines stopped working! If we diverted the money wasted on wind power into clean coal technology we would have safety of supply. I believe we still have about 200 years of the stuff left! Also build new nuclear and gas stations and forget the so called "green" energy. It doesn't work!

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  • 4. At 6:58pm on 10 Jan 2011, RogerB wrote:

    If the do-gooders hadn't put the nail in the coffin of nuclear power, over a decade ago, we'd have no problems.
    Nuclear power has a relatively safe record of operation world-wide, and is the real only alternative to burning carbon fuels and "iffy" wind farms.
    The big plus is they would create huge numbers of jobs as well as clean energy.

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  • 5. At 7:21pm on 10 Jan 2011, Martin In Yorkshire wrote:

    What seriously needs addressing is the diversion of nearly all energy sector investment into the get rich quick scam of wind turbines and solar PV.

    Even tomorrow, with a reasonably strong wind blowing the forecast is for just 863MW generated out of an installed capacity of 2430MW, unfortunately this is predicted for 5am, which is a time of very low demand.

    Of course the distinct lack of sun will mean solar PV's produce next to nothing.

    Search for "neta electricity summary page" for live reports on electricity system demand and generation that show how pathetic wind turbines really are.

    With the ceasing of production by a number of large coal fired power stations due to the EU Large Combustion Plant Directive in the coming years the gap between generation capacity and customer demand (the system margin) is narrowing, and made much worse by inconsistent wind generation. With the diversion of funds into wind and solar PV, together with the reluctance of banks to back investment that will take more than 3-5 years to payback it appears no one will step in to maintain the system margin, OFGEM appear to be blind to the problem saying the market will decide. They won't. All it then needs is a few generator breakdowns, or damage to a gas import facility, or a spat between Russia and the likes of Poland over defence policy and the gas imports will slow to a trickle. Wind will however continue in a silent stealthy way to do nothing but erode all incentives for new build conventional generation.

    The hard facts are that unless there is massive investment in conventional fossil and non fossil fuelled generation in the UK the lights WILL start going out in about five to seven years. Sadly with such a timeframe that generation will almost certainly be gas fired, with the gas being sourced from less than stable overseas regimes.

    We are rapidly heading to a situation where we end up with less diverse sources of energy, all being driven by the con of "green" wind and solar PV.

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  • 6. At 7:25pm on 10 Jan 2011, EUROSCEPTIC wrote:

    Excellent that somebody is nearly telling the truth about this scam.
    Paul, you could have mentioned the subsidies(ROC), the crazy plan to build 50gw of wind turbines(20gw on shore and 30gw off-shore) in the hope that there is a 25% harvest of generation at all times, you could have mentioned that the Co2 saving is, at best, minimal due to the hot back-up required from conventional powerstations, you could have mentioned the crazy plan for a European HVDC supergrid, you could have mentioned the threat to the stability of the National grid, you could have mentioned the total disregard for the planning process, you could have mentioned the destruction of our countryside and then there is the threat to the bird population. That said, I congratulate you.

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  • 7. At 8:07pm on 10 Jan 2011, Sparklet wrote:

    The target in Scotland is actually 80% of gross electricity consumption to be met by renewable sources by 2020 (50% pledged at Copenhagen and then moved up to 80% in Sep 2010 after ten offshore sites within Scottish Territorial Waters were granted "exclusivity agreements" by The Crown Estate to develop offshore wind projects - yet developmnet is supposedly only at the 'Consultancy' stage)
    First Minister Alex Salmond had claimed that
    "Climate change is one of the most serious threats we face. Urgent action is needed to cut emissions which cause climate change."
    So the First Minister is pushing hard for wind turbines littering the beautiful Scottish countryside and coastline.
    And this is the same guy who was 'very sad' when Stewart Stevenson the Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate CHange resigned (due to the transport shambles experienced in December in the heavy snowfall)
    and said
    "At the end of the day, you know, no man can tether time nor tide, and certainly you can’t control the elements. I am very sad that a decent man, a competent minister has been forced to resignation because of the extremities of the climate"
    (Stewart Stevenson is not the only one who should resign!!)
    http://omniclimate.wordpress.com/2010/12/13/climate-change-minister-resigns-because-of-the-extremities-of-the-climate/

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  • 8. At 8:12pm on 10 Jan 2011, RobWansbeck wrote:

    The link to the NETA data is here:

    http://www.bmreports.com/bsp/bsp.php

    Wind is currently providing 1% of our energy needs.

    We have recently been importing almost 5% from France.

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  • 9. At 8:20pm on 10 Jan 2011, RogerS wrote:

    Agree with the comment that it is lunacy to RELY on wind power generation. However, we cannot go on willy nilly polluting the atmosphere. There IS a place for power generation via renewable sources such as wind, solar and wave energy but it has to be kept in a realistic proportion. Time and time again from before the end of the last century we have been told by energy experts such as Prof. Ian Fells that investment was required in nuclear power generation but to no avail. Instead the UK opted for the cheaper option of power generation from North Sea gas. Now we are dependent on gas imports. At the present time we have to be highly dependent on coal fired power generation and it has to be realised that these power stations cannot be simply shut down and re-started when needed. They have to be either kept in operation on base load or shut down and mothballed (then requiring weeks to bring back into operation). As coal has to be major source of power for years to come, strong efforts are required to develop a practical system of carbon capture (removal of CO2 from the flue gases & subsequent storage). More nuclear power generation is required but these plants take at least 10 years to build.

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  • 10. At 9:03pm on 10 Jan 2011, blunderbunny wrote:

    Well, personally I'm a big fan of Nuclear, with Thorium being my fuel of choice. Cheap, cheerful and 3-4 times more of it on the planet than Uranium. But basically any power source other than wind really.... for once I'm in whole hearted agreement with a certain Mr. Lovelock.

    Wonders will apparently never cease,

    Regards,

    One of the Lobby

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  • 11. At 9:22pm on 10 Jan 2011, Hudsonfan wrote:

    As a layman I believe that to even suggest that windpower can supply any appreciable part of our energy need is like saying that scientists have developed a cure for the common cold that costs a million pounds per dose!

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  • 12. At 9:27pm on 10 Jan 2011, brossen99 wrote:

    That neatly brings us onto the next eco scam, household / industrial waste incineration or lack of it as far as the UK is concerned. Eco groups have bleated so loud over the last 20 years about toxic emission that most brain dead politicians ( at least where engineering or science is concerned ) have done everything they can to appease them. Many councils are now contracted to mega expensive " waste treatment plants ", which probably cause anyone local far more noxious smell than any incinerator could ever do. The most logical way to dispose of waste is to incinerate and generate electricity, in rural areas where the potential smell is well away from residential areas but also to allow the construction of glasshouses in order to use any waste heat in order to grow the exotic fruit and vegetables currently imported by environmentally damaging air freight.

    Of course the UK is not allowed to do this because it hits the Corporate Multinational Cartel of big business in two areas, the energy sector ( electricity from incineration could reduce market prices ) and the airlines which indirectly hits the oil section of the cartel. Environmentalists have made a big noise about disposable carrier bags and other alleged excess packaging but if they were burnt to generate electricity we could reduce demand on other fuels. The UK has 300 years supply of good quality coal in the ground yet the environmentalists say we should not use it because there would appear to be doubts about the practicality of the most expensive option for capture of CO2. CO2 emissions from fossil fuel plants can be significantly reduced growing Chlorella, a fast growing Chinese pond slime which itself can be used as fuel, yet no UK research as I believe Shell hold the rights and they would prefer investment in gas. Despite all the environmentalist's rhetoric about standing up against big business it would appear that most of the policy they promote is in actual fact increasing the influence of the CMC over the UK economy, oil companies want an alleged low carbon economy in order to force up the market price of gas.

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  • 13. At 9:53pm on 10 Jan 2011, brossen99 wrote:

    additional to #12

    Just in case any potential eco-fascists try to play the toxic emissions card I can categorically state that the latest flue gas scrubbing technology removes all alleged dioxins plus the sulphur. I know this as I was once actively engaged in a campaign against burning liquid waste print works solvents far more potentially toxic than any household waste at our local cement works. The then HMIP man was quite certain that all toxins would be removed from the flue gas with the then latest ( mid 1990s ) technology and there is reason to believe that the latest systems are even better. Its just a pity that HMIP was disbanded and replaced by the politically motivated Environment Agency.

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  • 14. At 10:13pm on 10 Jan 2011, nibor25 wrote:

    Excellent piece Paul. Urgent debate required.

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  • 15. At 09:21am on 11 Jan 2011, Fudsdad wrote:

    Paul states that wind supplies 5% of our electricity. In a recent Daily Mail report this was stated to have been 8% for the last quarter of 2010.
    Yet if you look at the n e t a website at any given time of the day or night it rarely shows a proportion higher than 2% and is often well below that figure.
    Can someone please enlighten me.

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  • 16. At 12:53pm on 11 Jan 2011, buythermals wrote:

    Well done Paul. I'd watch out for a P45 though, you're not singing from the BBC hymn sheet! How did someone with an independant and logical mind like you get a job with them?

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  • 17. At 1:23pm on 11 Jan 2011, Wallace wrote:

    A good honest article Paul. I have taken a copy just in case the green freaks at the BBC deem this inappropriate content to be discussed on their website. They wouldn’t want to upset the chattering classes at their weekend dinner parties. They could be candle lit ones in a few years 
    Keep up the good work; we need honest debate on these subjects.

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  • 18. At 4:09pm on 11 Jan 2011, LabMunkey wrote:

    Excellent piece.

    Finally my license fee is being put to good use!

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  • 19. At 5:05pm on 11 Jan 2011, john_cogger wrote:

    I'm glad Paul's years of training are not going to waste. It's not windy all the time? It's insights like this that make we want to learn more about the weather.

    Any updates on if its sunny everyday? Rainy sometimes? What bears do in the woods?

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  • 20. At 5:40pm on 11 Jan 2011, TJ wrote:

    Doing a calculation from the chart above for 21st Decemeber I get:

    Total power generated from all sources = 53,020 MW

    That means that wind was = 20/53020 x 100 = 0.037% of the total.

    If 5% of UK electricity is currently supposed to be provided by wind that means 0.037/5 x 100 = 0.74% of planned operating efficiency.

    Have I got this right?

    If these calculation are correct I am totally gob smacked that this has not been exposed as scandalous and a complete waste of valuable time and resources.

    Thank you Paul for bringing this to attention.



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  • 21. At 6:22pm on 11 Jan 2011, husq wrote:

    "you're not singing from the BBC hymn sheet!"

    Bit of topic but:

    The plot thickens: BBC Hits UK Govt with Freedom of Information Demand in Cold Winter Forecast Fiasco

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/01/11/the-plot-thickens-bbc-hits-uk-govt-with-freedom-of-information-demand-in-cold-winter-forecast-fiasco/

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  • 22. At 6:35pm on 11 Jan 2011, bowmanthebard wrote:

    That is a very misleading bar-chart. Given the heights of the "coal" and "gas" bars, the "nuclear" bar should be about one and a half times higher than it is in the diagram, and the "wind" bar should be about 1/25th as high as it is in the diagram (i.e. about a quarter of a pixel in height -- too small to be seen).

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  • 23. At 6:40pm on 11 Jan 2011, Sparklet wrote:

    Re#19. At 5:05pm on 11 Jan 2011, john_cogger wrote:
    "I'm glad Paul's years of training are not going to waste. It's not windy all the time? It's insights like this that make we want to learn more about the weather."

    Yes, but try telling our politicians that - think how much money we could save if they didn't squander it on these hideously expensive and inefficient windfarms. But then again I suppose the likes of Lord Oxburgh (Chairman of Falck Renewables, a company involved in the construction and operation of windfarms, and also Chairman of the Science Assessment Panel which didn't actually look at the 'science' ine the Climategate 'Independent' Inquiries)would lose out!

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  • 24. At 7:28pm on 11 Jan 2011, jkiller56 wrote:

    Well, if Prof Lockwood proves to be right about increased blocking, it is fairly obvious that wind generation is going to be one of the least reliable of energy sources. Clearly we need a more workable and practical answer.

    Personally, I often feel that the true magnitude of the revolution in lifestyle really implied by the "Green" movement is not appreciated by many people(including some of its greatest enthusiasts); nor is it properly explained or explored in general discussion and I feel that politicians and others have a duty to lead this discussion before committing vast resources towards it.

    What if our "standards of living" really will have to fall (perhaps dramatically)? Then so be it; but the implications of this in terms of economics, employment, social justice and FAIRNESS under the law etc. hardly bear thinking about for near powerless Mr Average; particularly as this will need global orchestration.

    "He who rides a tiger daren't get off".

    Which among all our politicians will get off and face the this tiger? Which of them would be fool enough or so politically suicidal?

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  • 25. At 8:03pm on 11 Jan 2011, ManmadeupGW wrote:

    The graphic must be wrong if the Deputy Prime Minister's wife and he say wind power is good then it must be?

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  • 26. At 8:26pm on 11 Jan 2011, RobWansbeck wrote:

    #20, Titus, yes it is that bad.

    From NETA:

    http://www.bmreports.com/bsp/bsp.php

    Wind is currently providing 0.9% of our energy.

    Does anyone know if this is nett or gross?

    That is does this take into account the power required to prevent 'windless' turbines freezing-up in cold weather.

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  • 27. At 8:52pm on 11 Jan 2011, Simon H wrote:

    You guys complaining about wind farms not delivering on energy demand should look on the bright side.

    At least, while there is no wind, we're not paying wind farms to NOT generate electricity:
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/energy/windpower/7840035/Firms-paid-to-shut-down-wind-farms-when-the-wind-is-blowing.html

    We're damned if they do, and we're damned if they don't. As things progress the way they're mandated by law, we'll all be paying ~50% more for our energy needs and can expect Enron-inspired brown-outs as demand exceeds supply.

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  • 28. At 8:58pm on 11 Jan 2011, RobWansbeck wrote:

    Worse things happen when the wind blows:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CqEccgR0q-o&feature=related

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  • 29. At 9:36pm on 11 Jan 2011, blunderbunny wrote:

    Hopefully, people will forgive me for recycling bits of an old post from richard blacks blog. But I think it's relevant to this discussion and I've changed the odd word here or there.

    So, where's all the power going to come from, if not from burning fossil hydrocarbons?

    Note: This is not an exhaustive list.

    First off, there’s the ocean, which is a good potential source of power:

    There’s simple kinetic extraction via turbines, ducks, snakes and worms etc, which are all good. There’s osmotic power using the difference in salinity between sea water and fresh water and as discussed in a previous blog there’s also thermocline power generation, which uses the difference in temperature between warm surface water and the deep ocean to generate power.

    Then there’s geothermic, which is essentially easy to extract and a favourite of some of posters on this blog (Well at least on Richard's blog):

    Again this is good, but there's been some problems with associated micro (i.e. small) earthquakes, but providing you’re okay with that possibility and your geology/geography is suitable then it may be a very good bet. Iceland is the poster boy for geothermic extraction and they seem to be more than okay with it.

    There’s Hydro-Electric:

    Again this is highly dependent on your geography, with some knock on water availability issues for those down steam of the dam and flooding issues for the displaced people on the other side of it ;-) But there are also quite a few successful micro-generation schemes scattered around the world, which don’t have the big knock on effects of the whole massive infrastructure..... dam..... kinda.... thing.

    Note: These things are always touted as entirely carbon free, but even if you exclude the CO2 generated by whole dam building program, they are bound to liberate quite a bit of dissolved carbon dioxide from the water via simple agitation. In the same way that shaking a coke bottle would, only not quite so explosively of course. I don’t suppose that anyone’s got any more information on this, I’d be very interested if you have?

    After that you’ve got solar power:

    The most abundant source of power that we’ve got, it literally powers everything after all. Current technologies suffer from some efficiency problems, cost of manufacture problems and some of the manufacturing techniques require the rare earth element indium to make the transparent electrodes, which is unfortunately in short supply - You can thank LCD panel TV’s for that.

    Then there are infrared solar cells (new, spangly, uber-cool nanotech stuff) again mentioned previously on an earlier blog, which are very promising and would even work in the dark (woo…hoo…yippee). And for when the money truly runs out there's the cheap and cheerful dye sensitized ones.

    There are also algal bio-reactors, which have had some problems in the past, but are supposedly getting much greener (forgive the pun) and much more efficient now.

    Other than that, you’re looking at solar collectors/concentrators/solar furnace sort of things. Again, these are good and cheap, but they require quite a bit of sunny land somewhere (time to by up all that cheap desert). There are a number of operational power plants around the world based on those principles. There’s been one in France since 1970 and I think there’s even one in Nevada somewhere.

    There’s also the Sandia Laboratories sun light to petrol project that rips the CO2 out of the air using a solar furnace and turns it back into useable hyrdo-carbons (Yay - Free petrol – Yay).

    There’s also been some interesting recent work done on simply using sunlight with an inorganic catalyst, to split hydrogen and oxygen out of water. Again, essentially free stuff, just add sunlight, for you to take away and burn in a location of your choice.

    One of our regular bloggers (poitsplace) quite likes the idea of orbital solar collectors beaming the power back to earth, but given our current state of development it might be difficult to stick one of these in space at the moment and as one of our other contributors pointed out it’s a bit of a long way to go to change the fuse ;-).

    Finally, there’s Nuclear Power:

    There’s Fission

    There are many varieties of this, lots of different fission reactor types and different fuels, but the main fuel choices are Uranium, Plutonium or Thorium.

    My personal favourite’s Thorium, just because there’s a lot more of it than Uranium. But there are all sorts of plusses/minuses for all of these, mostly waste product related and there's also various treaties and agreements tied up with them, non-proliferation etc etc.

    One thing is for sure, the world hasn’t got vast amounts of Uranium left – especially, if in the short term it’s going to be our main source of power :-(

    Then there’s Fusion (The Holy Grail of Power Generation)

    Fusion also comes in a number of varieties there’s laser based fusion, tokamaks, spherical tokamaks and the z-pinch.

    Also depending on your personal definition of a proper fusion reaction, there’s also the fusor, interesting to Google at least and even more interesting to build one at home (a hobby that I can certainly recommend, one with just a touch of mad scientist, if you’re that way inclined).

    After that fusionwise, you’re into the slightly wackier realms of cold fusion, bubble fusion (sonoluminescence) or possibly even the odd roll of sticky tape (triboluminescence) - Last one's not really fusion, but something a tad funny is going on if you can use it as a low level x-ray source ;-)

    Out of all of these, Laser based inertial confinement fusion has made some big steps forward recently.

    Mostly, people will tell you practical power generation is around 20-30 years off, but they’ve been saying that for at least the last 10 years. So, your guess is as good as mine.

    Oh, on top of all that power generation stuff you’ve got things like DC supergrids that would help with reducing power transmission losses and even room temperature or near room temperature super conductors to look into.

    Again, I didn’t mention wind, but I really don’t think that it’s a practical way of generating power and I do quite like birds..........

    Way, way into future you've got anti-matter, zero-point energy, black holes and things like Dyson spheres

    Anybody, got any other suggestions that I might have missed?

    Regards,

    One of the Lobby

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  • 30. At 11:01pm on 11 Jan 2011, Stephen Wilde wrote:

    In the light of the scientific ignorance and stupidity of our leaders I am, frankly, scared.

    They seem to be a greater threat than climate changes and environmental damage combined.

    We are resourceful enough and responsible enough to do the right things over time but as in the former Soviet Union, indeed as in any other autrhoritarian top heavy bureaucracy the leadership is the problem.

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  • 31. At 11:08pm on 11 Jan 2011, Feetinthesnow wrote:

    I have had an interest in low energy housing for 35 yeas, since the first oil-crisis. I am also green in a practical sense and seek to lower my carbon footprint as much as I can reasonably do.

    Because I believe that AGW is massively over-hyped, the main drivers for my energy POV is cost (future as well as present ) and security of supply.

    Wind will not deliver the needed level of energy, but we should be seeking to reduce the amount of energy needed to maintain our current position and keep our businesses going.

    The governments current subsidies for things that will not fit the bill at a generation level as well as for costly and not too efficient "renewables" at domestic level will leave us overtaking Denmark with the most expensive electricity in the world.

    encourage conservation not subsidise consumption must be the way forward.

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  • 32. At 00:36am on 12 Jan 2011, brossen99 wrote:

    http://www.standpointmag.co.uk/node/3639/full

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  • 33. At 03:07am on 12 Jan 2011, Brent Hargreaves wrote:

    In many blogs like this I find rational people exasperated by the green lobby's failure to understand how flawed is the flawed AGW argument. Or, in this case, how flawed is the argument for wind power.

    The mistake we are making is the assumption that our adversaries would change their minds if only the physics (or in this case the engineering) were better understood. Nope. Our adversaries are political. No amount of hard facts will cause a Maurice Strong, a James Hansen, a Chris Huhne or a Rajendra Pachauri to abandon the AGW myth. These people have an anti-development agenda; their faith as unshakeable as any religious zealot's.

    Credit where it's due: they have been spectacularly successful in hijacking government policy. European governments are set on the ruinous course of 'decarbonising' our economiesa and crippling our industries - to the great benefit of our quietly sceptical competitors in the US and Asia. Only when the brownouts begin will government recognise how badly we have been conned by eco-alarmists; how wasteful was the national investment in ineffectual wind power.

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  • 34. At 08:58am on 12 Jan 2011, PAWB46 wrote:

    http://www.bmreports.com/bsp/bsp_home.htm shows you by 1/2 periods and a daily summary how useless wind is and where our electricity is coming from.

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  • 35. At 09:39am on 12 Jan 2011, oldgifford wrote:

    I've been banging on about this in previous posts, nice to see the media is taking some interest at last. As an ex CEO of Elexon wrote in Private Eye recently, for every MW of wind power we build we must build a MW of conventional power. So why are we spending so much money on such an expensive folly? Have those in charge finally lost the plot?

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  • 36. At 11:42am on 12 Jan 2011, bowmanthebard wrote:

    RogerB #4 wrote:

    Nuclear power has a relatively safe record of operation world-wide

    It's much, much safer than coal, but exposes the public at large to risk rather than professional coal miners. A fairly large and predictable number of coal miners die in the course of their work every month, in places like China.

    One might argue that because those coal miners willingly undertake those risks, unlike the inhabitants of the Lake District, say, it is right that they bear a greater share of the risk.

    But really, we all use energy, and in using that energy it is fair that we accept some of the risk involved in its extraction. And poverty limits one's choice of career -- to some extent, Chinese coal miners "have little choice" but to work in mines, which mitigates any claim that they undertook the risks willingly.

    I remind everyone again that the bar-chart above is inaccurate. It suggests that on December 21, nuclear energy delivered 12 times more power than wind, but according to the figures it delivered 400 times more power -- out by a factor of 33!

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  • 37. At 11:58am on 12 Jan 2011, Chris wrote:

    I'm not sure what electricity generation has to do with the cold weather. Heating is an obvious use of energy in cold weather, but how much heating is achieved with electricity compared to mains gas, LPG, oil and solid fuel? So is wind generation in winter much different from wind generation at any time of year?

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  • 38. At 12:19pm on 12 Jan 2011, D S Brodie wrote:

    Excellent article, let’s hope it reaches the attention of the politicians in charge of our energy policy. However I think your statement that “only 5% of electricity is currently generated by wind farms” is an overestimate. I have been recording the Neta UK electricity output statistics for the last 5 months and over that period the actual contribution of wind has been an average of only 1.6% of the UK total, corresponding to a load factor of 22.5% on the total metered wind capacity of 2430MW. The lowest 24 hour period wind output I’ve recorded is 0.1% of the UK total, on 21st, 22nd and 30th December.

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  • 39. At 1:02pm on 12 Jan 2011, Sparklet wrote:

    Re: 30. At 11:01pm on 11 Jan 2011, Stephen Wilde wrote:
    "In the light of the scientific ignorance and stupidity of our leaders I am, frankly, scared.
    They seem to be a greater threat than climate changes and environmental damage combined."

    Totally agree, Stephen, I was bemused to see this video of Frannie Armstrong (her of the 10:10 video "No Pressure" notoriety) touring the country with Ed Miliband, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, warning us of the dangers of CAGW and the threat of 'negative feedback'.
    http://www.youtube.com/user/shantabarley#p/a/u/1/1r29uVnKfaQ

    Yet the whole CAGW theory depends on 'positive feedback'.

    "Runaway climate change describes a theoretical scenario in which the climate system passes a threshold or tipping point, after which internal positive feedback effects cause the climate to continue changing without further external forcings. The runaway climate change continues until it is overpowered by negative feedback effects which cause the climate system to restabilise at a new state."
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Runaway_climate_change


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  • 40. At 2:35pm on 12 Jan 2011, Sparklet wrote:

    Re #33. At 03:07am on 12 Jan 2011, Brent Hargreaves wrote:
    "In many blogs like this I find rational people exasperated by the green lobby's failure to understand how flawed is the flawed AGW argument. Or, in this case, how flawed is the argument for wind power.

    The mistake we are making is the assumption that our adversaries would change their minds if only the physics (or in this case the engineering) were better understood. Nope. Our adversaries are political. No amount of hard facts will cause a Maurice Strong, a James Hansen, a Chris Huhne or a Rajendra Pachauri to abandon the AGW myth. These people have an anti-development agenda; their faith as unshakeable as any religious zealot's.

    Credit where it's due: they have been spectacularly successful in hijacking government policy. European governments are set on the ruinous course of 'decarbonising' our economiesa and crippling our industries - to the great benefit of our quietly sceptical competitors in the US and Asia. Only when the brownouts begin will government recognise how badly we have been conned by eco-alarmists; how wasteful was the national investment in ineffectual wind power."

    ------------------------------------------

    Yes indeed China and India are certainly capitalising on the movement of industries from the West with soaring energy costs to the East.
    Interesting to see the massive growth in CO2 emissions from China [which surpassed those of the US back in 2006]

    "Government officials turned away from energy efficiency as an objective to expanding power generation as quickly as they can, and as cheaply as they can," said Carson. "Wealthier coastal provinces tended to build clean-burning power plants based upon the very best technology available, but many of the poorer interior provinces replicated inefficient 1950s Soviet technology....much of China is now stuck with power plants that are dirty and inefficient."
    http://ucsdnews.ucsd.edu/thisweek/2008/03/17_chinacarbonemission.asp

    One would think our eco-alarmists would be quite concerned at this. But rather they are quite envious of China because 'China is not a democracy'!!!
    (Listen to the Analysis programme on BBC Radio 4 - between 5.00 and 7.00)
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/ethicalman/2010/05/are_we_doomed_by_democracy.html

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  • 41. At 3:21pm on 12 Jan 2011, timawells wrote:

    If you agree with Nuclear power, then I think you should live next door to one and put your money where your mouth is. But I bet you wouldn't, as long as it isn't in your back garden.

    There is a Nuclear power station in Scotland and it is dangerous to use any beaches around it, due to leaks in the past. P.S. where will we put all the waste, but then alot of you won't be around. Look how we are now having to deal with asbestos, which rains down on the kids in our local schools.

    Wind, wave and sun are the fuels of the future. It is just a case of the correct advancements being made, so that they are cost effective. There must be many other ways of creating clean energy and a more balanced use of it.

    Could H20 be split, to create massive amounts of energy. This would be the next nuclear without the side effects.

    I don't hold out much hope of the government leading us in the right direction, advances are going to have to come from the private sector. The government seems to have been asleep while this is going off.

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  • 42. At 3:29pm on 12 Jan 2011, bowmanthebard wrote:

    #41 timawells wrote:

    Could H20 be split, to create massive amounts of energy. This would be the next nuclear without the side effects.

    H2O can be split, but it requires energy to do so. That energy is released when H and O are recombined (as when hydrogen is burned in an engine, for example).

    For the record, I would happily live next door to a nuclear power plant, as long as local property prices reflected the fact that there was a great big concrete building next door! I would rather welcome the "fear" aspect as it might keep green protester types away (although I wonder if any of them are not undercover police agents)!

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  • 43. At 3:54pm on 12 Jan 2011, timawells wrote:

    Bowmanthebard

    I am sure nobody would have to next to a nuclear power station, if people asked the right questions. I would prefer energy that is clean and sustainable and doesn't leave a nasty taste in the mouth. I am anti the Green Party, as I believe they are as bad as the other three major parties, just looking at a way of taxing us heavily and forcing their social justice on us.

    If we were meant to live in caves we would still be, but I am sure that we can live in a world than is a little greener and embrace the 20th century, if we asked the right questions.

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  • 44. At 4:12pm on 12 Jan 2011, QuaesoVeritas wrote:

    My own opinion is that there is no ideal source of energy which will meet our future projected needs. Unfortunately I believe that the only long term solution to this problem is to REDUCE demand for electricity, which is unlikely to happen, since the majority of politicians are committed to continuous population and economic growth, which can only increase demand for power. New technologies, such as HD t.v., digital broadcasting and electric cars are likely to increase demand for electicity, rather than reduce it, and the constant demand by the "undeveloped" nations to catch up with the richer nations, can only make things worse. At the moment, we are wasting energy as if there was an infinite supply, but that can't go on forever.

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  • 45. At 4:19pm on 12 Jan 2011, David wrote:

    Good on you Paul, for continuing to sail close to the wind.

    As you point out, wind is very often not blowing when demand for energy is greatest - e.g. freezing winter evenings, and summer heat waves.

    The figures we usually see on wind power do not reflect this factor. They just show the total energy supplied over a period - or even worse, the "installed capacity" of wind vs. other sources. "Installed capacity" is a trick, because while coal and nuclear can run at capacity perhaps 90% of the time, typical output from wind is 20 or 30% of the capacity of the turbines, which will only run at full tilt when the wind is at the perfect speed.

    Your graph points to how little wind there is on days when demand is high. It raises the question: what is the true economic value of wind power? This would be the real test of its contribution. You would have to calculate this by multiplying the output of wind energy by the spot price of electricity at the moment it was generated. Spot prices are low when demand is low, but they go through the roof when demand peaks, as it no doubt did on 21 December.

    A true economic comparison would reflect the fact that wind tends to be plentiful on days when electricity isn't worth much, and scarce when electricity costs a fortune. Wind's share of the total VALUE of electricity produced in a year would thus be a lot lower than its (already low) share in the total electricity SUPPLY.

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  • 46. At 4:20pm on 12 Jan 2011, blunderbunny wrote:

    @timawells.

    Sadly, I fear, wind could NEVER be cost effective. As to splitting H20 yes... I mentioned it above you can do it with sunlight and a catalyst.

    They initially worked on organic catalysts, but these were subject to bleaching. So, they moved on to inorganic ones:

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn18511-sunpowered-water-splitter-makes-hydrogen-tirelessly.html

    For once, something useful from the UEA ;-)

    Obviously, you can also simply split water via normal run of the mill electrolysis. The efficiency of the system as a whole would depend on where you get the energy from and how you capture, store, distribute and use the gases that are produced.

    You can obivously just burn them or you could use the hydrogen in a fuel cell, but storage is a bit of a problem, there's been some interesting crystal storage work that's been done and some research into metal hydrides, nanotubes, metal organic lattices as well - there's quite a long list, the key problem other than not exploding is the density of the storage - It's a pesky little atom ;-)

    I thought this link was interesting:

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn18480-crystal-twins-hint-at-hydrogen-storage-breakthrough.html

    Regards,

    One of the Lobby

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  • 47. At 4:23pm on 12 Jan 2011, nibor25 wrote:

    Hi Paul,

    Off this topic slightly... I saw the following post on the Layman Sunspot Count site. Anything in the post.. are you seeing the same?

    The Arctic pressure is
    by Geoff Sharp - 01/11/2011 - 07:48

    The Arctic pressure is starting to build some strength as the AO trends towards the bottom again similar to last xmas. The stratosphere above the arctic pole has shifted back to a sudden warm phase, which will weaken the polar vortex. The next week will be massive over the northern hemisphere.....

    http://www.landscheidt.info/?q=node/189#comment-383

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  • 48. At 6:47pm on 12 Jan 2011, Paul Briscoe wrote:

    Thanks Paul.

    It was this topic which first brought me to this blog and Paul has summed up my main concerns regarding wind power.

    I would also add that there are big inefficiencies and costs associated with siting the farms where there is most wind and then getting the electricity to where it is needed.

    In my opinion, wind power does have its merits, but mainly for small local projects rather than attempting to meet national demand.

    I think QV has made the most important point - there is huge scope for reducing energy consumption without adversely affecting peoples' lifestyles. I think governments need to do much more in this area.

    Of course, there are other renewables. My instincts tell me that tidal power could be significant in the UK - it is predictable and reliable. I would also like to see more local hydroelectric schemes. However, I think the sun may hold the key to new technologies, unless scientists can harness fusion sometime soon.

    In the meantime, though, there is still bound to be a shortfall of energy if we reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. Consequently, I can't see any alternative to nuclear power for now - something our prof. was saying when I was at university 30 years ago! The French obviously listened, but the UK missed the boat.

    Paul

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  • 49. At 7:22pm on 12 Jan 2011, bowmanthebard wrote:

    QuaesoVeritas #44 wrote:

    At the moment, we are wasting energy as if there was an infinite supply, but that can't go on forever.

    But there is an infinite supply of energy. What we have always been running short of is exploitable, usable energy. As soon as a new technology is developed to exploit energy more efficiently, new energy-hungry industries spring up which use more of that energy, because it's cheaper, thus inevitably keeping us in the position of "running short of it".

    The moment any new source of energy was discovered, we were "running short of it".

    We have no reason to think that technological advances will grind to a halt, nor that the inevitable condition of "not having enough energy" can be avoided. It's the human condition. We just have to be sensible and live with it.

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  • 50. At 10:45am on 13 Jan 2011, QuaesoVeritas wrote:

    #49 - bowmanthebard
    I could be pedantic and state that since the Earth is of finite size, the supply of energy contained in it must also be finite, even if we could convert all of the matter to energy using nuclear fusion.
    I also disagree with your assertion that it is supply which is driving demand. In fact, I think it is the other way round, with supply continually attempting to keep pace with demand.
    In fact, as demand increases, we are turning to increasingly less efficient methods of extracting energy and that cannot go on forever.
    The rate at which we are using the Earth's resources is completely unsustainable and the quicker we accept that the better.

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  • 51. At 11:19am on 13 Jan 2011, Fudsdad wrote:

    Does anyone actually have the information that would anser my point 15 above? There is a massive discrepancy between the n e t a figures and what is quoted as wind power generation in the press and elsewhere. What is the truth of it? Are the 5 or 8% figures actually capacity in which case they are very misleading?

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  • 52. At 2:56pm on 13 Jan 2011, bandythebane wrote:

    Paul is dead right to point to the excessive cost of providing back up power to cover times when the wind does not blow.
    In the next decade or so this will mostly come from new build gas fired power stations. In order to get these in place in time DECC is having to guarantee high "capacity charge" incentives to the builders. This means that as consumers we have to pay for the gas fired power all the time on "take or pay" contracts whether we are using the power or not.
    When the wind doesn't blow we pay only for the gas fired power. When the wind blows we still pay for the gas fired power but we have to pay the "feed in" and other charges to the wind power generator. It would be much cheaper for the consumer if the wind never blew.
    It is a bitter pill for the consumer that he has to pay huge amounts to have the wind farms built then all they do is to make his electricity even more expensive than it would have been if they did not exist.

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  • 53. At 5:55pm on 13 Jan 2011, blunderbunny wrote:

    Been giving this a little thought, the main problems with wind power are that:

    1: It's not Constant
    2: It's got Poor Levels of Power Delivery even when wind is blowing
    3: It Kills a lot of birds and bats :-(

    As a result we need to provide conventional cover for them upto their full capacity and occaisionally kiss good bye to local animal populations...

    These things all go together to make them essentially useless and very, very expensive. So, let's take them of the Grid completely, let's use them for something else. The grid needs power to flow in a manageable way and you just can’t do that with wind, so let's stop trying.

    So what could you use them for, well we discussed it above Electrolysis, we can use them as a means of producing hydrogen. There'd obviously be efficiency issues, but once you'd built up adequate stocks of the gas, you could accommodate a bit of slack and a bit of downtime. I wouldn't go round the country and build any new ones, but we might be able to make use of some of the ones we've got.

    You'd need access to lots of water, so sea based ones and those that are close to the coast could be probably be reused with manageable transmission losses and perhaps some small scale DC grids could help with this.

    It wouldn't be cheap, but what the hell, given the amounts of cash we're spending on things anyway it might be do-able.

    Then we'd be able to use the gas, off-line from the intermittent power source to do useful stuff. You’d need mechanisms of safe storage and distribution, but we’ve got the whole petrol distribution network to play with and Oil companies will need stuff to sell when the oil starts running out.

    It's just an idea and there are some glaring inefficiencies and costs, but it might be better than what we've got and it might be better than trying to use food crops to make bio-fuels.

    Then again, if splitters can run on sunshine with 60% efficiency, it might never be a goer.... Still, it’s an idea.....

    Regards,

    One of the Lobby

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  • 54. At 7:39pm on 13 Jan 2011, Feetinthesnow wrote:

    If someone has already covered this aspect of windfarms - please forgive me.

    Many have pointed out that during the coldest weather when demand for electricity was high the turbines were still and generating no electricity.

    BUT, as Phillip Bratby pointed out recently, it is a lot worse than that.

    "It is my understanding that under a ‘sell and buyback’ arrangement, the electricity produced is sold and metered for calculating and claiming Renewable Obligation Certificates whereas the electricity used to operate the turbines is bought back (i.e they sell electricity at a high price and buy some back at a low price). Thus gross electrical output rather than net electrical output is used to claim Renewable Obligation Certificates, which are used in official calculations of achieved capacity factors. The official capacity factors are thus based on gross output, rather than net output.

    The wind industry does not provide information on the electricity consumption of wind turbines. Electricity is drawn from the grid by a wind turbine for many functions, including:
    • Yaw control (maintaining the direction of the blades into the wind) and pitch control (the angle of the blades)
    • Lighting
    • Heating and de-icing
    • Lubricating pumps
    • Controls
    • Exciting the stator
    • Blade and shaft turning in light wind to prevent warping.
    It is possible that a wind turbine could consume a considerable fraction of the electricity generated, but again, for obvious reasons, this scam is not disclosed or publicised by the industry.

    Obviously when it is cold, the wind is not blowing and electricity demand is high, wind turbines are exacerbating the problem by drawing power from the grid."

    You couldn't make it up.

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  • 55. At 09:58am on 17 Jan 2011, John Marshall wrote:

    It also turns out that winds are less now than in 1890. Winds, for whatever reason, are getting less frequent, high pressure more frequent. High pressure brings extreme cold or heat, depending on seqson, which is when we demand more electricity.
    Wind does not make the grade. We need a reality check by our politicians!

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