What we really need to know about public attitudes to wind farms

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A couple of simple questions:

1. Do you support the existence of motorways?

2. Do you support the existence of railways?

99.999% of people will say yes to both questions, at least I guess they would.

Now. Here is another question.

Would you like to live beside a motorway or a railway?

Suddenly I’m not sure if 99.999% of people will answer yes. In fact, I’m confident the majority would say no.

Let’s try another one.

Do you support onshore wind farms?

Read the rest of this entry »

Renewables pay you to take their electricity

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From The Age today:

Germany, the world leader in installing renewable energy, had a moment last month. It was producing so much electricity from solar, wind and biomass that more than half of the country’s electricity was flowing from these renewable sources.

There was so much, in fact, that the price of electricity actually fell to zero. And the price kept falling. It went negative. There were times on April 17 when wholesale electricity in Germany was selling for minus 14.91 euros for a megawatt hour. So it wasn’t free – it was cheaper than free.

Now, I’m not overly knowledgeable about economics and that kind of thing, so bare with me here. But is negative pricing for your product not a bad thing? Do the above facts not simply show that on April 17th Germany’s renewable energy plants were simply producing a lot of electricity which has more or less no market value?

I don’t think this is an overly complex point. Yet, occasional negative pricing is put forward as a positive for renewables. Can someone explain to me how it is not a negative?

If a Rome street vendor is standing around the Trevi Fountain trying to hawk umbrellas on a balmy August evening, the fact that tourists aren’t willing to give him a dime for them is not evidence umbrellas are cheap.

Meaningless energy unit of the day: cups of tea

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To make an issue understandable to the average person we do not use scientific units. This would simply confuse the average bone headed human. No, we must do what we can to condescend, and use units people are familiar with.

It’s difficult for someone to visualize what a tonne of coal looks like. Instead it would be much wiser if we told people what the weight of a few million tonnes of coal would be in terms of blue whales, as the Guardian did recently.

Confused by the meaning of the blue whale unit? Read the rest of this entry »

Are we running out of oil, copper and zinc yet?

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I am in the middle of reading the many books published in the mid 2000s about the growth of China. My rationale is simple: if you want to know how credible the soothsaying of pundits is on a subject it is worth going back a decade. The ability to predict the future rarely improves.

So, right now I’m reading Will Hutton’s “The Writing on the Wall: China and the West in the 21st Century“. Read the rest of this entry »

Book recommendations updated

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The book recommendations section of the blog was getting a little dusty. I don’t think I have updated the thing in the last 2 years, 2 years where I’ve done much less reading than I would have liked.

So, I’ve added a bunch of new ones, and removed a few, to leave 25 recommendations.

Naturally, I think everyone should read them all under duress. But at least you should all read the delightfully nasty Kill Your Friends or Jonathan Meades’ fine essay collection. You can take or leave the rest.

Why does 350.org employ people to spout arithmetic defying sophistry about Germany?

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A simple fact. Germany shutting down 8 nuclear power plants in 2011 resulted in carbon emissions being higher than they otherwise would have been. This should not be a controversial point, to argue against it is to take a stand for rank stupidity and ignorance of arithmetic.

Yet, many environmentalists continue to take a stand against it. Read the rest of this entry »

Solar powered self sufficiency at high latitudes is a fantasy

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One of the oddest delusions is the idea that at high latitudes you can run a house, town, city, or country on solar panels coupled with batteries. The idea itself is so daft I often fear I am attacking a straw man to even discuss it. Yet, a reasonable number of people seem to believe this nonsense.

The most popular form of it comes in the following sound bite: “If you covered all of Britain’s roofs in solar panels, it would meet 100% of Britain’s electricity demand”. The claim itself is actually false, even if you simply consider total energy produced – and ignore the long stretch of winter when Britain’s solar panels might as well be disconnected from the grid. And what a glorious coincidence this would be, that covering all available roof space in solar panels would precisely match demand. Read the rest of this entry »