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UK energy policy faltering

The Telegraph is reporting that the government body charged with reviewing major state projects has sounded the alarm bell over UK energy policy.

Up to six flagship projects have been classified as "high risk" by the spending watchdog, including new nuclear power stations and key reforms of the electricity market.

However, the watchdog is “doubtful” that Britain can have a reliable energy supply from green sources and keep energy bills affordable under the current plans.

The authority, set up by David Cameron last year, has described the Coalition’s plans to encourage more wind farms and nuclear power stations as “feasible”.

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    - Bishop Hill blog - UK energy policy faltering

Reader Comments (131)

If the Met Office is so cr*p at forcasting even a month or so in advance, isn't it about time it was deisbanded as 'not fit for purpose'..? Clearly they haven't got a cat in hell's chance of forcasting what the climate will be like in 2100...
Or is it a case, like Angela Merkel ('Europe's not working - so we must have MORE EUROPE..') - of the Met Office saying: 'Our £60M computer's not up to it - so we must have MORE COMPUTING POWER...?'

Jun 28, 2012 at 1:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid

At this very moment the UK Parliament are discussing Green Energy.
The level of discussion from both sides of the house is at a Primary School debating level.
Except for Peter Lilley Conservative (and I'm a socialist)
Sleep walking continues.
The level of technical knowledge of our legislature is non existent.
A golden future of carbon free Britain in the future is promised in the sweet bye and bye.
Wishful thinking displaces technical reality.
Its so depressing!

Jun 28, 2012 at 1:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterBryan

Perhaps we are a trifle dismissive of animal sensitivities.
Indeed we are, jamesp. When it comes to animals, our arrogance knows no bounds. We anthropomorphise them and in so doing we assume that they have nothing to teach us and that our position as the most highly-developed and sophisticated species on the planet means we can ignore the messages they send each other (and us in the process, if we would only care to listen).
I don't know how the squirrels know it's going to be a hard winter or the toads know when an earthquake is on its way but they do, and we dismiss it usually as either coincidence or "cute" — usually the latter and often to our own detriment!

Jun 28, 2012 at 1:48 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

My Dear Lord Beaverbrook, the present solar minimum is hardly a new kid on the block because there are data going back to the early 1600 from direct observation of sunspots:

And here are the present data:

Imagine that we are about 1654, 9 years after the cause of the fall in solar magnetic field, the 179 year alignment of the giant planers [Saturn one side, the others on the other]. Also, like that time, we have the cooling ENSO. I suspect Abdussamatov is right, and it's like the 17th Century period with the coldest winters in History and a 25% fall in Scottish population in the 1690s, with us it'll be the 2050s.

Jun 28, 2012 at 1:55 PM | Unregistered Commenterspartacusisfree

Don, jamesp, Mike

I don't think Stormy Petrels acquired their name without good reason.

When the swallow's nest is high, the summer is very dry.
When the swallow build low, you can safely reap and sow.

There must be many many more.

Jun 28, 2012 at 2:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS


I quite agree as far as rudimentary observation is concerned.

As far as research funding to enable state of the art equipment to record the period and and enable theory to be tested I would suggest that we are in the toddler stage 1 at present compared to the effort thrown at research in to AGW. We are still in the realms of TSI represents everything the Sun throws at us!

Perhaps 5-6 years into the process with the first effects starting to filter through, the next 2-3 years will be interesting but I expect if SC25 is going to be quieter than SC24 then I will agree with you that it will get worse towards 2050.

As far as population and adaptation I think we have a few more tools in our arsenal nowadays than they did back then. I've done enough fighting against alarmism over the last few years to last a lifetime..

Jun 28, 2012 at 3:49 PM | Registered CommenterLord Beaverbrook

Mr Brumby, I guess I am the troll in your comment:

The sad consequence of your incorrect comment is that some ... troll now goes into overdrive pretending that UK coal production is "subsidised" - 'it must be because Polish is cheaper' he chirps!

Absolute bullshit. The only 'subsidy' coal has received...

(gratuitous insults deleted)

It matters not a jot where the coal comes from. If an expensive source is used in preference to a cheap source, the end user of the electricity generated will pay the difference. The money can either go to the expensive producer in the form of direct price support (subsidy from government), or in the form of extra payments from the generator, over and above the possible cost of imported coal. In either case it has the same effect. Your politics may stop you from calling this a subsidy, but that doesn't disguise its true nature.

Jun 29, 2012 at 1:23 AM | Unregistered CommenterBitBucket


You must be very clever if you can work out what a genuine subsidy is!

Yesterday the Bishop ran a thread called VAT ON FUEL in which some nutter was claiming that households are subsidised by paying 5% rather than 20% on heating fuel.
Economic logic back to front.

If coal fired power stations used British coal this would lead to more employment of our people who in turn would pay taxes to the Government instead of the Government paying unemployment benefit.
The Coal Companies would pay Corporation Tax.
The economic revival of these mining communities spending in local shops and goods would raise further taxes.
A reduced health bill as a confident population found meaningful employment should not be forgotten.
So if you add all the pluses and minuses could you please identify the subsidy?

Jun 29, 2012 at 9:25 AM | Unregistered CommenterBryan

I've challenged BitBucket on this but I think the point he might be trying to make is that if the on-site cost of British coal exceeded the on-site price of Polish coal at the power station and the government then paid the generator the difference as an incentive to use British coal then that would be a subsidy.
It would also be illegal under EU rules.
But I'm afraid I can't make any sense out of his last paragraph at all. He seems to be saying something to the effect that if the end user paid more for their electricity they would be subsidising somebody but he doesn't seem very clear about who.
And I'm equally unclear about how!

Jun 29, 2012 at 11:02 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Bryan, dissentients on the recent Delingpole thread claim that subsidies to wind power (buying it at a higher price than power from coal-fired generators) kill jobs in the broader economy (precisely 2.1 jobs per wind-related job). They will no doubt say the same for your coal subsidies (buying power from generators that use expensive coal instead of from those that use cheap, imported, coal). Subsidies might nevertheless be worthwhile in terms of social effects, communities etc (Germany subsidises coal for this reason). My intention was just to highlight that people who dislike wind subsides won't like coal subsidies either.

Jun 29, 2012 at 1:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterBitBucket

"Dissentients" from what?
The Spanish have already established that for every job created in the "green" industries, 2.2 are lost in traditional industry due to excessive on-costs associated with climate legislation or increased environmental regulation associated with a perceived need to reduce CO2 emissions.
What has this to do with "subsidising" coal, a practice which as I pointed out earlier would be illegal under EU rules.
Coal is not subsidised; "renewables" are.
I'm not sure which bit of those two statements you are having a problem with.

Jun 29, 2012 at 1:43 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson


Other commentators have pointed out that much of the foreign coal may have been dumped on the British market.

The total cost to the British economy may actually be less by using British coal than foreign after the social costs have been factored in.
However the cost to the consumer of electricity provided by a modern (clean waste output) coal fired power station would be a fraction of that derived from wind power.
This would reduce the number of our population suffering from fuel poverty.
This would enable consumers to spend on other goods and services, kick starting growth in our stagnant economy

Jun 29, 2012 at 1:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterBryan

"Dissentients" from what?

Those afflicted with the malady of thought, of course.

2.2 are lost in traditional industry ...

That is just a ratio of two numbers, as discussed elsewhere on BH. Do the studies identify any real jobs that have been lost?

Jun 29, 2012 at 2:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterBitBucket

I take it you align yourself with the first half of your reply: you dissent from those afflicted with the malady of thought. Your postings on here would certainly seem to confirm that.

As for your second riposte: perhaps I could quote Ms Gergis. Why don't you go and look at the srudies and decide for yourself? It's called research.

Jun 29, 2012 at 5:50 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

MJ, your intentional misunderstanding is trying my patience.

Jun 29, 2012 at 6:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterBitBucket

Not half as much as your trolling is trying mine, sunshine.
You were the one who decided to be clever by using Andrew's blog sub-title to prove a point only to give it precisely the opposite meaning. Apparently without knowing what you were doing.
If you want people to understand I suggest you keep your arguments simple. One thought at a time is best, I find.

Jun 30, 2012 at 10:20 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

MJ, I did no such thing. I use the word 'dissentient' as it seems more accurate than 'sceptic' and less apparently offensive than 'denier'. The word 'sceptical' implies an open mind. Yours and those of many others here are clearly closed; I can imagine no evidence that would convine you of AGW. Therefore you are not a sceptic. Dissentient is more accurate.

Jun 30, 2012 at 2:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterBitBucket

If you care to read what was actually written, I asked you
"dissentients from what?, ie what were they dissenting from.
Your reply was that they were dissenting from "those afflicted with the malady of thought"
The more I read that the more I wonder if English is your first language.
As for my views on AGW, I have stated many times that I do not dispute the warming and I do not dispute the possibility of an anthropogenic element.
I am highly sceptical — because I have still seen no empirical evidence — that the anthropogenic element is significant, that it is inevitable that warming will continue (indeed we now have empirical evidence that it is not doing so), that the recent warming is outwith historical boundaries, and that the catastrophic predictions of the "usual suspects" are ever likely to come to pass.
If and when you provide me with any evidence for any of those pieces of scepticism, I will be happy to listen.
Until then I am still forced to the conclusion that you are trolling.

Jun 30, 2012 at 10:01 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson


“…The word 'sceptical' implies an open mind. Yours and those of many others here are clearly closed; I can imagine no evidence that would convine (sic) you of AGW…”

And thus you show the true nature of your trolling here, for that is indeed what it is.

You appeared here comparatively recently, claiming to know little about either side of the arguments involved and often asking for references to even the most basic of the issues. This apparent lack of knowledge didn’t stop you from opining on the scepticism or otherwise of other commenters though, often with a snide remark or two thrown in. You brought nothing new with you to the blog. No new information that we didn’t already know. No different interpretation of existing knowledge that would perhaps make us stop and think. Nothing, in fact, but the same, tired old arguments we’ve all read a thousand times before. Yet, in spite of this apparent paucity of knowledge and the shortness of time you’ve spent here, you are now able to confidently declare that we are not sceptics at all and our minds are closed. This is, of course, one of the standard methods of attack of those on your side of the argument. Basically, it goes like this: You can be a sceptic, but only if you then change your mind. If you stay sceptical, then you can’t be a sceptic, you must be a denier. This kind of argument doesn’t work anymore, at least not here in the UK. We had 13 years of Nu-Labour. We know all the tricks now.

Back in late 2006/early 2007, when I first started looking into this issue, I stumbled across Climate Audit. Quite early on, I asked a fairly simple, straight-forward question (I forget what it was now, but it wouldn’t have been particularly technical). I received a short, blunt, one sentence answer from a denizen there who went by the name of Bender. Those familiar with CA will remember him well - he has a certain … reputation shall we say. Smart cookie though and his reply was simply “Read the blog”. Subsequently, I learnt that this was something of a catchphrase of his and a good one too. I took his advice and spent the next couple of weeks of my spare time reading every thread there. It made my brain hurt. It might also take a bit longer than a couple of weeks nowadays, I agree. I then did exactly the same thing at Real Climate. These were the best “technical” blogs of each side back then and probably still are. It gave me a good grounding in the issues and what the main bones of contention were. The reason I mention all this is that in the unlikely event that Mike, others, and now me, are wrong about you and you really do want to meaningfully engage, then the least you could do would be to read as many of the previous threads on this blog as your time allows. I don’t expect you to read our host’s book (though you should if the opportunity arises) but you should at least read “Casper and the Jesus Paper” (the very post that brought me to this blog) and it's associated threads as well as the many posts covering the arguments regarding renewable energy. Incidentally, on some of those latter threads, you will find comments from BBD, someone from your side of the fence, so to speak. Now, he may have been a rude, arrogant git some of the time, but at least he was an informed rude, arrogant git.

Should you get the urge to reply to this, especially in some smart alec manner, please don’t put yourself to the trouble. I doubt I’ll answer.

Jul 1, 2012 at 5:33 AM | Unregistered CommenterLC

LC, you clearly spent considerable time writing that and I would not be so churlish as to reply in a 'smart alec' maner. I appreciate your remarks.

Although I do sometimes get irked and post uncharitable things, I usually try to comment where I see error or inconsistency (for example on this thread the assertion that not a gram of CO2 is saved by windmills is clearly nonsense).

On my assertion that there are many closed minds here, I see no way (as an example) in which those who reject the CO2/GHG hypothesis can accept AGW.

Jul 1, 2012 at 1:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterBitBucket

Mr Bucket

understanding now what you mean by an open mind, I agree with you that we are not open minded.

All except Latimer Alder are not willing to accept that 2 + 2 = 4 is up for negotiation.
They are not willing to entertain the idea that the Sun goes round the Earth.
Most of all they are not willing to believe that building and running a CCGT power station 24/7 produces more CO2 than building and running a CCGT power station 24/7 plus building a thousand giant wind turbines plus infrastructure including hundreds of 160 foot pylons and new switching into the national grid.

Jul 1, 2012 at 8:37 PM | Registered CommenterDung

Do you really believe that the backup plants will be running 24/7 when wind is available? It is clearly nonsense. There are various ways to control short-term demand and to provide backup. Ask an engineer such as Martin A if he believes it.

Jul 2, 2012 at 2:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterBitBucket

Jul 2, 2012 at 2:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterBitBucket

OK BitBucket, I'm all ears. Do tell us exactly why running CCGT plants 24/7 when wind is available is nonsense. Martin A, I think your comments would be appreciated also.

Jul 2, 2012 at 7:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid Porter

From Wiki:

In June 2011 several energy companies including Centrica told the government that 17 gas-fired plants costing £10 billion would be needed by 2020 to act as back-up generation for wind. However as they would be standing idle for much of the time they would require "capacity payments" to make the investment economic, on top of the subsidies already paid for wind.

Jul 2, 2012 at 9:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterBitBucket

Mr Bucket

Standing idle does not mean shut down/turned off. They have to be "spinning" all the time and ready to instantly take over when the wind stops blowing.

Jul 2, 2012 at 11:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterDung

Dung: Standing idle does not mean shut down/turned off. So running a CCGT power station 24/7 in this:

... they are not willing to believe that building and running a CCGT power station 24/7 produces more CO2 than building and running a CCGT power station 24/7 plus building a thousand giant wind turbines ...

now has two different meanings: producing power and standing idle. But these are the same thing really. And when the wind is blowing, the turbine is generating at full power (otherwise known as standing idle) and the operator is being paid for the electricity output at the same time as the windmills are being paid for theirs - and both operators love it, as SandyS suggests 'cos they both get paid, and yet the operators want capacity payments to compensate them for having turbines idle most of the time... You people should get your story straight between you before you start spinning fairy tales.

Jul 3, 2012 at 4:31 AM | Unregistered CommenterBitBucket

I see no way (as an example) in which those who reject the CO2/GHG hypothesis can accept AGW.
Seriously ... I am struggling to see what you are driving at. LC's argument is a sound one. Before pontificating, read the blog. Get the facts. Get the alternative opinions.
I think you would find for a start that there is no "CO2/GHG hypothesis" per se. There are a range of opinions about the extent to which CO2 affects atmospheric temperatures. The more extreme of these is starting to look more unlikely by the day, to the point where some of the claims being made are bordering on the ridiculous.
There is even an argument starting to do the rounds that the climate science community has got the fundamental physics wrong and that CO2 is totally irrelevant to global warming.
And,whatever you say in that quote, one does not have to have any opinion about CO2 to accept an anthropogenic element in climate change. It would be extremely odd if the activities of mankind — land use changes, UHI, etc — did not have an effect on the climate.
But to reinforce LC's point: you say "I usually try to comment where I see error or inconsistency..." and I will give you the same answer to that as I have more than once to BBD when he made a similar point: You are not my school-teacher and I am not your pupil. Further I don't accept (on the basis of your comments so far) that you have any greater knowledge on the subject than anyone else who comments here. As I said, don't pontificate!
Just to give one example:
the assertion that not a gram of CO2 is saved by windmills is clearly nonsense
Oh, really?
Why don't you google "CO2+wind farms" and see what comes up. Virtually every link on the first page challenges that assertion. Whether they are right or wrong, the existence of such links proves that your assertion is "clearly nonsense".
If you want to be taken seriously on this blog can I suggest you avoid aiming at your own foot unless you are sure the gun isn't loaded.

Jul 3, 2012 at 11:00 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

MJ are you suggesting that:

1. Literally not one gram of CO2 is saved by using wind turbines (i.e whatever National Grid does in response to variations in wind power, no CO2 is saved)?

or that

2. If National Grid were stupid enough, it could theoretically operate its backup generation in such a way that no CO2 is saved (e.g. by ramping coal-fired plant up and down)?

Jul 5, 2012 at 4:05 AM | Unregistered CommenterBitBucket

Errr.. no.
What I am suggesting is that if you google "CO2+wind farms", you will on the very first page find sufficient links to prove that your statement that "the assertion that not a gram of CO2 is saved by windmills is clearly nonsense" is itself clearly nonsense.
And I did make it clear — but obviously not clear enough for your little brain - would putting hyphens between the syllables help at all? — that I was making no judgment about whether any of the conclusions drawn on any of the pages linked to was factually correct, simply that such pages existed.
I really don't see how much clearer I can make it but if you tell me which bit you don't understand I'm happy to try.

Jul 5, 2012 at 1:18 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Mike, I agree that more wind power doesn't translate directly into CO2 savings. My earlier assumptions against this were naive and incorrect. However, it seems that determining the loss due to intermittency and backup issues is not easy and depends upon many factors.

I did a little experiment and grabbed a day or so worth of 5-minute updates of generation statistics. Plotted against each other they are shown here:

These are the total generation from each source, one with a log Y-axis, the other linear. Ocgt and oil are not shown as they are zero. Neither are two inter-connectors for the same reason.

The third:

plots the variations in each source (different colours from the other two), wind and pumped storage at the front, total, ccgt and coal at the back. The amount of variation in coal and ccgt output is surprising but is clearly unrelated to variations in wind, which varies only slightly. This is for a day when wind reached only 1.4% of total supply, max, so is not very revealing. Hopefully the wind will blow stronger sometime soon and I'll make some more graphs.


Jul 6, 2012 at 5:27 AM | Unregistered CommenterBitBucket

The important thing to remember all the time is that wind is essentially unreliable and, worse, unpredictable.
This is the reason for the spinning reserve and the basic reason why the environmentalist argument in favour of "renewables" (by which essentially they mean wind power) is fallacious. Try to engage them in a technological discussion on the pros and cons and they will be off on a chase after "clean" or "green" within nanoseconds, totally ignoring the practicalities. And also totally ignoring the fact that wind farms are inefficient of space (I can't remember off-hand how much land is needed to produce a given amount of electricity as compared with a conventional power station but it shouldn't be too difficult to find the information) and that they only produce power about 27% of the time. And — a bit like the story of Lord Leverhulme and his advertising expenditure — you never know which 27% it's going to be so you have conventional power stations also operating inefficiently.
Not to mention the times when the turbines consume electricity rather than produce it to prevent the whole installation seizing up.
Then you need to take into account maintenance, especially the off-shore installations, and I suggest you ask any expert on the maintenance and repair of marine installations how easy that is, remembering that every day that the wind is blowing and repair work cannot be carried out is reducing the efficiency even further.
We haven't yet started on the mining of rare earth metals and their transportation and processing, and so on and so on.
In theory, at the "front end" so to speak, wind power will obviously reduce CO2 emissions but only if you conveniently "forget" all these other factors which the environmental activist usually does.
So forgive me if I am less than thrilled with your graphs (though I appreciate the effort, seriously).
Briefly wind-driven power stations will not and cannot provide a cheap, reliable electricity supply. They will not result in a net reduction in the world-wide output of CO2 as compared with conventional stations for all the reasons quoted.
If you want cheap power (and a reduction in CO2 output, which to my mind is a fairly pointless exercise) the current way forward — as the US is showing — is shale gas.
The trouble is there are too many vested interests whether we are talking shareholder value or sheer bloody-minded eco-luddism for the UK to be allowed to come to its senses any time soon.

Jul 6, 2012 at 9:46 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

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