Author Archives: Robert Wilson

Unit of the day: the blue whale

There are many totally zany units used in energy – my favourite: the British thermal unit, used by Americans and not by the British- and here is a new one: the blue whale.

It first appears  at the Guardian’s website today. They have kicked off a “Keep it in the ground” campaign, aiming to get the Wellcome and Gates Foundations to divest from fossil fuels.

At the bottom of the page is ticker, it tells you how many tonnes of coal have been burned since you opened the pages. Bizarrely, they tell you how many blue whales this would be the weight of. This definitely ranks up there with the worst units in the history of energy. Yes, to put 12,000 tonnes of coal into perspective we will tell you the equivalent weight in a common marine mammal. Of course, it isn’t much worse than measuring oil in barrels, or natural gas in cubic feet.


No, China’s wind farms don’t produce more electricity than America’s nuclear power plants

OK, I am about to sound like a broken record. But, is it not time that people writing or campaigning about energy learned that the capacity of a power plant is not the same thing as the production of a power plant?

It’s rather simple really. Continue reading

Japan says no(ish) to nuclear power, says yes to coal

Japan’s closure of its nuclear capacity continues to have obvious results. It has just announced plans for another new coal power plant. That takes the number announced this up to 7, with a total capacity of around 7 GW (a quick calculation tells me they will supply around 4% of Japan’s electricity.)

As the WSJ points out:

All of Japan’s 48 reactors are offline over safety concerns following the Fukushima nuclear accident, though four of them are expected to come back online later this year.

Before the nuclear accident in March 2011, the environment ministry had essentially blocked the building of new coal-power stations through tighter environmental assessments as Japan sought to meet ambitious greenhouse-gas reduction goals that have since been scrapped.

Fear of nuclear, then, has lead Japan reconsider the risks of coal. The possibility of death is replaced by the certainty of it.

So, Japan now seems to have a clear choice. This densely populated country must either abandon nuclear energy, and abandon any hope of near or medium term decarbonisation, or reconsider the role of it.


Telling the selfish their opposition to action on climate change is really a defence of the poor

Some people are complaining/agreeing with Matt Ridley’s latest piece on climate change in the Wall Street Journal. If you are familiar with Ridley’s output on the issues, then none of it will be new to you. Some (half OK) stuff about how bad renewables are; some (dubious) stuff about climate sensitivity being lower than most scientists think; and so on and so forth. Continue reading

Now this is how to build quickly: China puts up 57 story building in 19 days

I once lived in Toronto and from my balcony I could see the Four Seasons hotel under construction. Eventually it would be around 50 stories tall, and it seemed to increase by about a floor per week. Not bad, I thought.

But China seems to think this is rather sluggish. It has just built a 57 story building in 19 days. (Though a lot of it is modular construction that was made in a factory and assembled on sight.)

Watch this video and marvel, and imagine going on holiday for a couple of weeks and returning to find a skyscraper where there used to be a minor construction site.

The New York Times on CO2 emissions in China

A headline from a story in the New York Times:

China Said to Sharply Reduce Emissions of Carbon Dioxide

An excerpt from the story:

In the debate on global climate change it has long been a given that China, with its huge population and endless coal reserves, would overtake the United States early this century as the biggest source of the atmospheric pollution that scientists believe is warming the planet.

That specter of runaway Chinese emissions has been cited by President Bush as a major reason for describing as ”fatally flawed” the 1997 Kyoto agreement to protect the climate. The treaty exempts developing countries, including China, from its initial, binding limits on the output of carbon dioxide and other so-called greenhouse gases that scientists believe are causing traumatic changes in the climate.

But treaty obligation or not, China has already achieved a dramatic slowing in its emissions of carbon dioxide in the last decade, Chinese and Western energy experts say. That record of progress has pushed further into the horizon the day that China will surpass the United States as the lead culprit, and it is something that Mr. Bush seems to have overlooked in his harsh appraisal.

Chinese officials insist that their country will do its fair share to combat a serious global threat.

This is not a story from this week, as you probably guessed. The story was printed on June 14, 2001. In 2001, China produced 1.5 billion tonnes of coal each year. It now produces 3.9 billion tonnes each year. So, the “sharp reduction”, if it happened at all, did not last long.

The New York Times headline may sound incredibly daft given China was just about to go on the biggest coal binge in human history – adding 2 billion tonnes of annual production in a decade, something that North America and Europe combined took over a century to do. The NYT was simply reflecting the consensus that existed at the time. If you look at forecasts from the time, no one was predicting that China would be consuming close to 4 billion tonnes of coal today. Lesson: don’t make confident predictions about the future of coal in China.

h/t Andy Revkin on Twitter

China has already exceeded its 2015 “cap” on energy consumption

Many naive Western onlookers imagine that when China says it will cap coal consumption or emissions by 2020 or 2030 that it will be able to do so.

Last week I pointed out that in 2013 China had already exceeded its 2015 cap on coal production. And here is another one. It has also exceeded its 2015 cap on primary energy consumption. Continue reading

Going Full UKIP: cutting CO2 will kill crops

“If you succeed in decarbonising Europe, our crops will have no natural gas to grow from. We have to have carbon dioxide. This is madness! Absolute madness, what you suggesting! Our industry, our agricultural industry, is going to suffer heavily if we attempt to bury carbon dioxide in the ground. It is absolutely mad!”

A quote from Stuart Agnew MEP, which once again confirms that UKIP wants Britain to be both independent from Europe, and from reality.

Here he is giving one of the nuttiest explanations of the carbon cycle you can imagine.

A guide to correct behaviour on Twitter and other environs

Here are a few simple rules that should be followed when tweeting or commenting online.

1. Don’t read someone’s entire world view into an article, blog post or tweet.

Believe me. There are people who do this. If you don’t believe me, join Twitter.

2. Develop a sense of irony.

They say irony doesn’t work on Twitter. I say some people simply lack this particular sense. But try to not respond to ironic tweets as if they are literal statements. Continue reading

Why shouldn’t you put a wind turbine in a wild place?

It remains fashionable to imagine that there is such a thing as wilderness. This concept has long had its problems. Think of the wilderness that it is Yellowstone National Park in America. This place was so wild the US army had to be sent in to kick the Native Americans out.

And so today, there are efforts to keep wind turbines out of wild place. Continue reading