Britain is at the bottom of the league when it comes to wind, wave and tidal, according to the fact free Torygraph

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As Steven Pinker observed, “the only sound way to appraise the state of the world is to count”. This is obvious advice, yet it is rarely followed.

Is crime rising?

Is pollution increasing?

Is illiteracy rising?

These questions are all answered using our feelings. Things must be getting worse because it feels as if they are getting worse.

An energy version of this is the belief that Britain is falling far behind on renewables. This is a popular meme, and it is typically uttered by people who are likely completely unacquainted with easily available statistics for renewable energy.

We are even informed that we are falling behind China, a confusion that results from an inability to compare a country of 60 million people with a country of 1.35 billion people.

Here is the latest version of the “Britain is falling behind” meme from Geoffrey Lean, an environment writer at the the Telegraph:

Britain, moreover – as Government reports show – has the best renewable resources in Europe, not so much in solar power admittedly, but in wave, tidal and (particularly offshore) wind power. But instead of exploiting this natural competitive advantage, it has – under successive governments– been near the bottom of the European league for exploiting them.

Where is Lean getting this nonsense from? Below is a graph of the world’s top 25 per-capita producers of wind electricity.

Wind_per_capIn per-capita terms, Britain is seventh in the EU for wind production. And Britain now gets a higher percentage of its electricity from wind farms than Germany does.


Then we have tidal and wave power. Britain is in fact leading Europe on these technologies. That of course says very little. When everyone is on zero, it’s not that difficult to be the leader. However, that doesn’t distract from the fact that Britain is the leader.

Then we have the other bizarre assertion from Lean: Britain “has the best renewables resources in Europe”. Again, where does this stuff come from? Britain is nowhere close to having the best renewables resources in Europe. Think of hydro rich Norway or wind rich – and not that densely populated – Denmark. When you are account for the massive spatial requirements of wind farms, and Britain’s high population density – think NIMBYs – it should be crystal clear that Britain’s renewables potential is not the best in Europe.

Comparisons between countries are vital to understand energy issues. Yet, the comparisons we see in the popular press continue to be based on fantasy, feeling, and perception. Numbers be damned.