Author Archives: Robert Wilson

Do wind farms displace coal or gas?

I’m finalising my PhD thesis, so forgive me for the inactivity. But something caught my eye this week that I thought would be worth a short blog post.

An “independent report” – the BBC’s description – for the lobby group RenewableUK has got some media attention for its claims about reductions to fossil fuel imports due to wind farms. In essence, it is claiming that fossil fuel imports have been reduced significantly, with the bill being lowered by £579 million in 2013. Continue reading

How big would a wind farm need to be to power London?

I get rather frequent traffic to a piece I once wrote called “How many wind turbines would it take to power the UK?”

There are multiple varients of the google search that have led people to reading the piece. Most strange are those who interested in finding out how big a wind farm would need to be to power a fun fair. Don’t ask.

Others are clearly searching google to find the answers to a question asked by a high school teacher. The sudden influx of almost identically worded google referrals is the giveaway.

But one question that people appear to want to know the answer to is of genuine interest, and the answer is very uninformative of the deep challenges we would face if we attempted to transition to a be a predominantly wind powered society.

How many wind turbines would it take to power London? Or perhaps more revealing: how big would a wind farm need to be to power London? When I mean I power here, I use the word colloquially, meaning electricity, and not scientifically. Enough people seem to want to know that it would be worth doing the basic calculations.

So, here goes. Continue reading

Britain has overtaken Germany for new solar installations

For years cloudy Germany lead both Europe and the world in solar power. In absolute terms it still does. At the end of last year Germany had 36 gigawatts of solar capacity installed, almost two times higher than any country. However, things have changed significantly in the last number of years.

Germany’s annual solar installations were absurdly high for a number of years, at over 7 GW. This was unsustainable both economically and technically.  And for this reason, the German government now have in place “installation corridors” of 2.5-3.5 GW a year.

In the meantime even cloudier Britain appears to have overtaken Germany. According to Solarbuzz, Britain has installed over 2 GW of new solar this year. Germany, however, had installed only 1.6 GW by the end of September, according to official figures.

Britain is more or less certain to top Germany for total installations this year. And these numbers should also be adjusted for population size, Germany’s being 25% higher. So, Britain’s installations might end up being a third more or higher than Germany’s this year.

We should, of course, not get carried away. I type this on an unseasonally cloud-free British November evening. But, solar will always remain a marginal energy source in a country as far north and cloudy as Britain, unless there are huge breakthroughs in energy storage.

Do wind farms produce less than expected?

Almost two years ago I wrote a post called “Are there limits to large scale wind power?”  The post looked briefly at a paper by Adams and Keith which suggested that large scale wind farms will produce less electricity than expected.

From the paper’s abstract: ” New results from a mesoscale model suggest that wind power production is limited to about 1 W m−2 at wind farm scales larger than about 100 km2. ”

At the time I suggested a possible test of this would be the output of the London Array wind farm, which is 100 square kilometres in size. At the time it wasn’t open. But it has now been running for over a year.

What has happened? Continue reading

A change of scene

For reasons I will not bore you with I have decided to stop writing for the Energy Collective. For the last year or so I wrote a column there and I was able to reach a much broader readership, with a couple of pieces getting around 20,000. All things must end though and I came to the conclusion that the model of journalism represented by websites such as Energy Collective is no longer one I can go along with. I could bore you with the arguments, but if you want the case stated clearly I suggest you read the writing of David Simon, the creator of The Wire, on the state of journalism. Continue reading

To be a plagiarist

You come across some rather strange people on the internet. Craig Morris is one of them. Ostensibly a journalist, but really a crude propagandist, this man seems to be paid to do little other than smear people. Anyone who pays attention to Twitter debates about German energy policy is probably aware of him. Some people, for some perverse reason, imagine is an honest relayer of information. Far from it.

Today he is implying that Mark Lynas is a closet climate change denier.  The evidence provided is zero. This, however, is his typical style. Discredit people by smear and innuendo. Some think he is an honest journalist; so, I thought I would just document some of his behaviour for the record.

Here are a couple of examples of what this so called “journalist” gets up to.

He claimed that I shut down my Twitter account because of embarrassing tweets I directed towards him. I have no idea what these tweets were, he didn’t specify.  But my guess is that they were tweets I directed at him when he called me an “opponent of renewables” This accusation was in response to something I wrote arguing that Germany should invest more in wind, and less in solar. If someone thinks this makes me anti-renewables then they are obviously a dogmatic fool. Naturally, after issuing this personal attack on me, Morris then complained about me making personal attacks on him. This, again, is a regular trick by Morris. Smear people and then complain about them being rude in response.

On the face of it, this is delusional. My mixed feelings about Twitter are on public record. And they are on this website. In fact, I had a public bet with the US journalist Keith Kloor that I couldn’t go a month without using Twitter. My threats to quit Twitter were treated as a recurring joke by some of my followers. But I did eventually shut my Twitter account, and then started a new one, mainly for social reasons; but I haven’t tweeted in the last four months. Was this all part of a ruse to hide my real reasons, these supposedly embarrassing tweets to a parasitic blogger? That this man believes I deleted my Twitter account because of rude tweets to him suggests he has some mental issues. Twitter would be out of business if everyone shut down their accounts because of such tweets.

Then there are the plagiarism accusations. First off he accused me of stealing a graph from a website without acknowledgement, and was describing me as someone who doesn’t source properly. This was nothing more than a shameless smear. My personal website has a data sources section, and I state in all of my Energy Collective pieces where I have taken data from. The accusation that I don’t source properly does not wash. But clearly Morris has the time to troll through my website to find a rare occasion when I forgot to provide a link.

Things then got worse when Morris popped up in the comments section of a recent piece I wrote to, once again, accuse me of plagiarism. First he accused me of re-writing his articles, but provided no evidence whatsoever that I did this. He then accused me of taking data from the Fraunhofer Institute and not acknowledging them because it would undermine my (apparently secret) agenda.

I responded to this accusations by copying in the computer code I used to calculate the numbers Morris claims I stole from somewhere. I hoped this would have resulted in an apology coming from Morris. But all I got was silence.

And today I find him on Twitter - he goes by handle of @ppchef – telling someone, who tweeted my pieced referenced above,  that Morris broke the story first, i.e. I am a plagiarist.

Clearly I am nothing of the sort, and if Morris believes I am he should damn well provide some evidence. But the only real question here is whether this man is a fantasist or a liar. Perhaps both.

Anyway, this man’s behaviour is ugly and he is probably not worth paying attention to; but I felt the need to put this on the record.

China’s per-capita coal consumption has today caught up with Britain’s 150 years ago

Here is a fascinating graph that I will have to use for something. It shows that China’s per-capita coal consumption is now what it was in Britain 150 years ago. Britain kept above those levels for a century.ukversuschina

What’s clear here is that China’s coal consumption (and its air pollution) are far from historically unprecedented, except on aggregate. China is simply running the historically normal course. Develop rapidly; pollute highly; clean up later.

The British data comes from the UK government’s official statistics, which go back to 1850s. China’s are from BP. The energy content of a tonne of coal varies a bit from country to country and in time. So, the above graph needs to be adjusted for this. As far as I know the UK government does not provide reliable estimates of the energy content of coal going back very far. The American government takes it back only to the 1950s.