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« Axe the tax | Main | Let them eat equality »
Sunday
Dec082013

MacKay's dilemma

Christopher Booker's piece on windfarm policy this morning visits old ground for BH readers, namely Gordon Hughes' report on the deterioration of wind turbine performance over time. There is, however, an important bit of information towards the end of the article:

I gather that Prof Hughes showed his research to David MacKay, the chief scientific adviser to the Department of Energy and Climate Change, who could not dispute his findings. So DECC is fully aware of this devastating flaw in its projections, but presses on with its insane policy regardless.

Now we know that MacKay knows that windfarm performance is likely to deteriorate significantly over time, it will increasingly difficult for DECC to hold to their current course. If they do then question marks will surely be raised over the integrity of those involved - both ministers and civil servants.

That said, I hear on the grapevine that the cuts to onshore windfarm subsidies announced last week are marginal and unlikely to affect investor behaviour. So while the government have led us to believe that they are changing their tune on onshore wind, it is likely that this was in fact just an attempt to pull the wool over the public eyes.

That being the case, I hold out little hope that the new estimates of turbine performance will affect DECC's behaviour. Nevertheless it will be interesting to see if they incorporate these figures in their cost estimates and then plough on regardless or if they try to bluff it out and pretend that Hughes is wrong.

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Reader Comments (73)

Is there any link to Prof Hughes research? Is it available to read?

I would bet that the thinking is : "Yes, OLD wind turbines were not very good but these NEW ones we are building are simply marvelous!"

Dec 8, 2013 at 9:06 AM | Unregistered CommenterJack Savage

As I understand it, the strike price for onshore wind will be lower than set out in June by £5 to £95/MWh, falling again to £90 from 2017 to 2019. So a 5% cut for onshore is a marginal effect when the profit margin is reputed to be about 11%. However, the strike prices replace the RO scheme to subsidise wind farms over 5MW in capacity. It is rumoured that the Feed-in-Traiff (FiT) rate for individual wind turbines and wind farms of less that 5MW will be cut by 20% from 1st April 2014. That will make a big difference to the profitability of individual turbines (if there is any profit at all) and there is currently a panic by developers to get this year's FiT rate for turbines currently in the system.

Dec 8, 2013 at 9:12 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

DECC is manned (and possibly womanned) by ideologues. The prospects of them backing away from the stupidity of farming the wind are the same as my prospects of winning the lottery without ever buying a ticket.

Dec 8, 2013 at 9:12 AM | Unregistered Commenterdolphinlegs
Dec 8, 2013 at 9:18 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

The performance (or lack thereof) and cost of wind turbines is not one of Ed Davey's major concerns. He has far more important issues on his plate than concerning himself with whether we will have electricity in the future and how much it will cost.

The Secretary of State met with the Romanian Environment Minister, Rovana Plumb today to discuss Low Carbon and Green Growth ambitions in Europe. The UK and Romania are working on deepening their bilateral working relations on national and EU energy, climate and low carbon policies in order to tackle climate change effectively while boosting jobs and growth.

I bet that was an exciting meeting.

Dec 8, 2013 at 9:46 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

The Christmas Pantomime, DECC. Today's story ' Tales from HC Andersen'

Mackay: Erhem, handsome and most wise and noble prince

Davey Dopey : Come forth and have audience

Mackay : Your favourite policy has no clothes. Offshore windmills are total crap.

DD; Fool. I banish ye from the Green Kingdom of DECC! May the winds tear you asunder just like those turbines that fall down...and may eagles eat your entrails in revenge for their brothers and sisters.

Mackay : But it's true O Almighty And PPE'd one. They are really totally crap.

DD: You still here? Begone while I dial up a proper science adviser. Page - bring me a telephone!

DD: Ed? Ed Acton? How's the weather in Norwich? Any gossip on what Delia said after the Canaries lost 7-0?
Stinkingly pissed? I need a proper adviser. One who knows nothing but gives a good cover story. Jones you say? Send him down to the Magic Kingdom posthaste.

[fade to green]

Dec 8, 2013 at 9:46 AM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

As Leo smith pointed out here. You can read David Mackay's book 'Sustainable Energy without the hot air' in two ways.

1) this is just how much we would have to transform our countryside, nature and human society to reach zero emissions with renewables.

2) This is why going to zero emissions with renewables simply will never work and is totally unacceptable.

David Mackay is highly intelligent. He surely knows that only ~70% nuclear could keep society functioning post fossil fuels. It is just that he can't say so publicly. We don't need to rush either because climate sensitivity looks to be about half DECC estimates so we can transition first with gas. Offshore wind will end in tears.

Dec 8, 2013 at 9:51 AM | Unregistered CommenterClive Best

Latimer: Excellent, but just a fairy story I'm afraid. MacKay is unlikely to risk his well-paid sinecure and future knighthood (or more) by telling the truth. A return to his ivory tower and unobscurity in Oxford is unlikely to be appealing to him.

Dec 8, 2013 at 9:52 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Jack Savage - I knew Phillip would have the link, and he didn't disappoint - I keep the pdf on my desktop.

Another I have sat there is this one

http://www.swlg.org.uk/uploads/6/3/3/8/6338077/spwln_final_small.pdf


I was up in Scotland earlier in the year around the end of March and cold it was. I was genuinely taken aback (let's not over-egg this) by the amount roads/track despoiling the landscape, even not that far from the Bish's part of the world. It was quite depressing, but then the planet needs saving.

Dec 8, 2013 at 10:21 AM | Registered Commenterretireddave

If DECC knows about how the performance of wind turbines deteriorates over time and does not take that into account in its plans then it is surely guilty of some sort of offence. On the other hand, if DECC does take the declining output of wind farms into account in papers given to the ministers in the Department but the ministers concerned do not include that information in public forecasts about output from wind farms, then the politicians are lying.

Dec 8, 2013 at 10:31 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

Thank you Philip Bratby and retired Dave.
Most of the content is likely to be above my head but I can always read the conclusions and abstracts and I like to think (I probably flatter myself) that I can discern genuinely incisive research papers from some of the dross that is often bandied about.
"Evidence on the performance of Danish offshore installations is both restricted and so poor
that there may be concern that the results are affected by a small number of outliers." When I see caveats like that in a piece of work it gives me reason to believe that the methods and conclusions have been properly arrived at. (Er..grammar?)

Dec 8, 2013 at 10:51 AM | Unregistered CommenterJack Savage

DECC officials know about it, they do not dispute it, yet they continue to pursue a grotesquely wasteful policy.

Surely there are grounds for a prosecution for Criminal Negligence, or at the very least, Misconduct in a Public Office?

Dec 8, 2013 at 11:07 AM | Unregistered CommenterDon Keiller

My experience in northern Denmark a few years ago was that there seemed to be quite a lot of stationary windmills and when (on my later visits) I asked natives likely to know what the score was - they all said - "they're too expensive to repair". They also indicated that the extent of the issue was being covered up. Anecdotal granted - but there seemed to be an inordinate quantity of stationary dynamic totem poles that stayed that way for the months I was there.

I have to say (Hi Don!) - DECC are obligated to be objective by law and if they are ignoring substantive information/evidence and progressing their actions on the basis of ideology, ignoring evidence wholly at odds with reality - that's setting themselves up for a legal kicking.

It's clear that participants in the scam aren't keen to disclose real world data.

Dec 8, 2013 at 11:11 AM | Registered Commentertomo

It seems to me that anyone thinking that windmills can change the climate is seriously deluded and needs urgent psychiatric help.

See this Wikipedia definition:

A delusion is a belief held with strong conviction despite superior evidence to the contrary. As a pathology, it is distinct from a belief based on false or incomplete information, confabulation, dogma, illusion, or other effects of perception.
Delusions typically occur in the context of neurological or mental illness, although they are not tied to any particular disease and have been found to occur in the context of many pathological states (both physical and mental). However, they are of particular diagnostic importance in psychotic disorders including schizophrenia, paraphrenia, manic episodes of bipolar disorder, and psychotic depression.

Dec 8, 2013 at 11:15 AM | Unregistered Commentermunroad

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/dec/06/wind-turbines-landscape-billionaires-energy-policy

Simon Jenkins writing in the Guardian says:

Is it fair for the chancellor to cut pensions for the poor while offering a million pounds a year to the Duke of Roxburghe for letting the wind blow? Is it fair to offer half a million to the Earl of Moray, a third of a million to the Earl of Glasgow, and a quarter of a million to the Duke of Beaufort, Sir Alastair Gordon Cumming and Sir Reginald Sheffield, the prime minister’s father-in-law? Is it fair to promise a reported £1bn to Charles Connell over the next 25 years?

Never in the history of public subsidy can so much have been paid by so many to so few.

Dec 8, 2013 at 11:19 AM | Registered CommenterEuan Mearns

How quaint to imagine the Left and the Greens and the Enviros acting according to facts.

Dec 8, 2013 at 11:34 AM | Unregistered Commentercedar rebellion

Ed "Dimwit" Davey's response will be to try and build more of them. He must already be aware of the reality by the pathetic load factor of 24% onshore and 32.7% offshore compared to the projected 39% and 43% by renewables UK. His response to being in a hole will to be keep digging. They don't call him potato head for nothing.
http://www.variablepitch.co.uk/output/

Dec 8, 2013 at 11:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterIvor Ward

I followed the comments on Booker's article over at the DT. The usual suspects turn up and try to claim a) Hughes' report is not peer-reviewed and (b) is based on old, Danish wind stock.

I just think it laughable that the alarmist think that 'Peer Review' = 'Gospel', and that a report on the life-time (so far) of turbine efficiency hasn't reported on modern, up to date stock (What? You mean there's no history? /sarc) These people are to be pitied, but the sad thing is, they probably have more say in our 'green' future than we do.

For all that, I feel a Question in the House should be raised: "Can the SoS for DECC confirm that he has been made aware of the report from Prof Dr Gordon Hughes on the performance of wind farms in UK and Denmark and that this was shown to his chief scientific advisor, Dr Mackay?"

Dec 8, 2013 at 11:47 AM | Unregistered CommenterSnotrocket

Someone should ask Davey how they can cool the country when they are built so far off the beach.

Dec 8, 2013 at 11:47 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlan Reed

"I gather that Prof Hughes showed his research to David MacKay, ..., who could not dispute his findings. "

Remember that is a quote from Booker, not from Hughes. With what is known about Bookers approach to truth (the whole truth) you can be sure this is a distortion of what was actually said. That won't stop you from lapping it up though.

Dec 8, 2013 at 12:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterChandra

Google "Gordon Hughes David MacKay meeting" and it comes up with 'On the Performance of Wind Farms in the United Kingdom' and a link www.inference.phy.cam.ac.uk/mackay/windDecline.pdf, which doesn't seem to work, but there is a downloadable paper "On the Performance of Wind Farms in the United Kingdom" by MacKay which refutes Gordon Hughes paper, on the basis of flawed statistics. I would be intereseted if anybody has the time to examine it.

Dec 8, 2013 at 12:53 PM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Don Keiller - yes it is another case of something we have mentioned before. Many, who feel that they can just get away with ignoring the reality of the evidence, might not be quite so complacent when the chickens come to home to roost and the politician's look around for a scapegoat to get them off the hook.

Rupert Darwall's article in The Spectator

http://www.spectator.co.uk/features/8959941/whats-wrong-with-the-met-office/


"But Britain is in this mess because scientists became political cheerleaders. In doing so, they abandoned science as the disinterested pursuit of knowledge. Failure to predict the weather is, in the scale of things, the least of it. With the cost of climate change policies approaching half a trillion pounds, the Met Office is setting itself up for the largest case of public misfeasance in British history."

The final sentence could just as easily apply to DECC.

Dec 8, 2013 at 12:57 PM | Registered Commenterretireddave

I have never been able to understand why DECC has persisted with the wind scam, irrespective of the latest research by Prof Gordon Hughes which shows they don't work much after 11 years. MacKay in his book 'Without Hot Air' clearly identified the key problem with wind - the energy density in the UK with the latest machines is at best 2W/m-2. And that is based on an average 30% load factor. SSE's 250MW Griffin windfarm, (68 x 2.3MW turbines on a plateau 400m above sea level) managed a load factor of only 14% in its first year. That's 1W per square meter. A complete waste of concrete, steel, copper and neomydium.

http://www.withouthotair.com/c4/page_33.shtml

Dec 8, 2013 at 1:03 PM | Registered Commenterlapogus

"That won't stop you from lapping it up though." Chandra, if you must channel the Omega-woman the correct terminology is: "That won't stop you lot from lapping it up though." One tends to get a bit sensitive about these things, don't you know.

And BTW: If you are going to throw around wild claims that Chris Booker is a liar, please have the good grace to come out from behind your handle and man/woman-up to the claim. I'm sure CB will be happy to give you plenty of time in court to explain where you think he has lied.

Dec 8, 2013 at 1:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterSnotrocket

Chandra - by inference you support windmills then? - and DECC's continuing policy to continue the build out of these useless items hosing inordinate quantities of public funds into the money pit that "renewables" has become?

Dec 8, 2013 at 2:08 PM | Registered Commentertomo

I see the chandra troll is using the usual warmist tool of ad hom attacks again.

This pathetic character is just ZDB with a different sign in name.

Dec 8, 2013 at 2:41 PM | Registered CommenterRKS

The paper by MacKay (draft 6) shows that the decline in UK onshore wind farm performance with age is just less than 2%/year (1.85% in fact). Capacity factor would thus fall from an average of 29.5% at year 1 to roughly 25% at year 10 - which would then fall to 21.5% at an expected 20 year end of life. This is obviously not as severe a degradation in performance as Hughes showed, but is still very significant. The degradation would no doubt be more rapid for offshore turbines.

It is rather surprising that the Chief Scientific Advisor to DECC did this work himself. He must have been very alarmed by Hughes results and couldn't find anybody in DECC to do it or couldn't trust anybody in DECC to do it correctly (probably both, knowing DECC).

Dec 8, 2013 at 2:44 PM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

"Now we know that MacKay knows that windfarm performance is likely to deteriorate significantly over time, it will increasingly difficult for DECC to hold to their current course. If they do then question marks will surely be raised over the integrity of those involved - both ministers and civil servants."

You are making the mistake of looking at these projects as to do with energy generation, they are not, they are subsidy farms with a government guaranteed return to the investors who have unlike any other investment almost no risk. This is why so many politicians having voted for the subsidies run around to the other side and partake of them. Those that do it well appear to be awarded chairmanships of committees that decide on subsidies. These subsidy farms are marked with windmills as that is a requirement of obtaining the subsidies - there is never any intent to be a real source of electrical power. Once the windmill markers fail they will be left to corrode (see tomo post above), the company that was formed to collect the subsidies will declare bankruptcy and then reform somewhere else to farm more subsidies. DECC is merely money laundering taxpayer's money to politicians, their friends, supporters and families through these subsidy farms, telling them that the windmills will be defunct and produce little power inside 15 years or less is really of no interest to DECC as that is not their purpose.

Dec 8, 2013 at 3:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterIan W

It's called infrastructure. It rusts.

Dec 8, 2013 at 3:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterNikFromNYC

Ian W. The other ploy by the developers is to sell the wind farms on as soon as they can to 'green' (in both senses of the word) investment companies, pension schemes and any other gullible investors they can find, before they move on to the next subsidy-harvesting scheme.

Dec 8, 2013 at 3:48 PM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Phillip Bratby

".....and any other gullible investors they can find,.... ."

Like the poor unsuspecting sap known as the UK tax payer?

Dec 8, 2013 at 4:16 PM | Registered CommenterGreen Sand

Green Sand: Yes but it's not the taxpayers who invest, it is the useless politicians who 'invest' taxpayers' money.

Dec 8, 2013 at 4:33 PM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

MacKay is a dud, pure and simple. Evangelical activism trumps intellectual integrity in his world-view so the fact that he's a particularly talented mathematician/statistician goes from being an attribute to being a misleading prop with which to support a distinctly unscientific political stance.

Dec 8, 2013 at 4:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterCRU: Where are they now?

RKS (Dec 8, 2013 at 2:41 PM): Chandra is not ZDB. ZDB’s bilious diatribes are usually well-written, with few (if any) errors in grammar, spelling, punctuation or even missing or misplaced apostrophes. It is a shame ZDB does not apply the intellect to reasonable research, and accept that she/he might be wrong; the point of discussion is for both sides to air the information that they possess, compare and contrast, and agree a more likely explanation, even if it means one side or the other – or both – admits errors and alters their view.

Chandra is, I suspect, a dedicated scientivist (perhaps a bit lacking on the science part of that word, and certainly not with the maturity ZDB can show), in possession of a little knowledge and a massive ideological ego, who joined this site in the vain expectation of zapping us with brilliant logic and winning more to her side. To find that she is not quite as brilliant as she is convinced about herself, most of us expect her to provide actual evidence to support wild accusations and claims has been most upsetting, and she is rapidly descending to ZDB’s utter reliance upon popping out insults and ad hom attacks instead of dispassionate debate.

Dec 8, 2013 at 5:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterRadical Rodent

Snotty, Booker wrote that remark in today's paper. Mackay's paper, draft 6 dated 8 months ago and linked by P. Bratby above, shows something very different. In producing his paper, Mackay corresponded with Hughes. So Hughes must have known more than 6 months ago that Mackay was on the case and very likely that his (Hughes) numbers were very much in dispute. So when did Booker do his "gathering" about Hughes conversation with Mackay? Did he not know that Hughes numbers were tosh or did he just choose to hide that fact? And what of the Bishop, who will doubtless not correct this post to indicate that Booker's claim and hence his own post on the subject are both highly misleading (and that is being generous)?

Dec 8, 2013 at 5:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterChandra

The rebuttal paper by MacKay referenced by Phillip B at 12:53 is at odds with Booker's claim.
The abstract includes the statement: "most of the conclusions of the Renewable Energy Foundation study are believed to be spurious".
The paper includes plots of the data from Hughes' paper which seem to confirm that deterioration is not as bad as claimed.
Has anyone seen a response from Prof Hughes?

Dec 8, 2013 at 5:48 PM | Registered Commentermikeh

Chandra: Just because MacKay challenges Hughes' paper doesn't make his paper/challenges right/gospel. Furthermore, the fact that Hughes may have had a correspondence with MacKay does not make Hughes' claims wrong. But then, you are a (qualified?) arbiter here, are you not? Can you sum up where Hughes went wrong?

The point is, you called CB a 'liar'. Do you wish to rethink that accusation (although I realise you haven't the fortitude to back up your claim)?

Dec 8, 2013 at 5:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterSnotrocket

Occam's Razor and the Precautionary Principle tell me, "Never attribute to abysmal ignorance, utter stupidity, or total insanity what can be explained by simple malice."

Dec 8, 2013 at 6:23 PM | Unregistered Commenterjorgekafkazar

At some stage, senior civil servants in DECC may find themselves in a position where to achieve their apparent aim of destroying the UK's industrial economy, they deliberately increase the likely death toll of the old and poor in a cold winter.

These statistics are well known. Will we see the Trial of the Permanent Secretary on a charge of Corporate Manslaughter? If so, might he/she plead that membership of Common Purpose and allegiance to the EU meant they were just following orders? Would that lead to a Charge of Treason?

Unfortunately, when in Office Blair reportedly changed the Death Sentence for Treason to a jail term. I wonder why?

Dec 8, 2013 at 6:41 PM | Unregistered Commentermydogsgotnonose

DON'T FEED THE TROLL !!!!!!! PLEASE

Dec 8, 2013 at 7:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterStephen Richards

It's worse than we thought so now we'll have to build lots more windfarms to keep the lights on.

Dec 8, 2013 at 7:19 PM | Unregistered Commenterson of mulder

The new era of marketing focuses on the sizzle rather than on the sausage.
Most people who own a PC and do some printing from it now realise that an ink-jet printer attached to a PC is not really a printer but is a device for enforcing the sale of incredibly expensive ink. In the same fashion, wind turbines are not actually installed to generate electricity but to generate subsidies.

Dec 8, 2013 at 7:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlexander K

Alexander K

That is a terrific analogy!

Dec 8, 2013 at 7:59 PM | Registered CommenterPharos

Alexander K - does not the high price of ink cartridges force us to not use our printers and become a paperless society? The same with the high cost of electricity (because of the subsidies) forces us to use *less electricity and so avert the power generation crisis that is looming (besides plunging us into fuel poverty). Just call me cynical.
[*amended. BH]

Dec 8, 2013 at 8:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterGrumpy

Simon Jenkins ..............Your P45 is the post.

Dec 8, 2013 at 9:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterMichael Oxenham

Alexander K and Cynical Grumpy

A great pair of linked analogies thank you.

I rather liked Terry Wogan's thought a year or so back - , he said 40 years from now when all these turbines are stood rotting our grandchildren will say "What the hell were they thinking of?"

Especially if the Sun watchers are right (and I wouldn't bet a lot against them) and the turbines were not only rotten but frozen immovable as well. They would probably then take all the power they generated just to run the heaters to keep them moving at all.

Dec 8, 2013 at 9:08 PM | Registered Commenterretireddave

Should we expect the House of Commons' PAC to investigate the money trail, or at least the unrealistic projections involved here? Or do they just come in conveniently down the line, when all the money's gone and they can look good without any danger of actually affecting policy before it's too late? I used to enjoy hearing them bark, but they seem more like a tape-recording of a dog than something that could actually bite...

Stuart B

Dec 8, 2013 at 9:18 PM | Unregistered Commentersab

@ Grumpy - I find that I tend to use commercial digital print services down in our town centre rather than use the printer attached to my PC when I must do print runs of any size. I restrict my home office printing to an absolute minimum.
I am doing no less printing but minimising my costs, which is a choice that is just not available for consumers of electricity or gas.
I would be very annoyed if politicians forced me to purchase expensive ink by the dishonest methods they employ to force taxpayers to purchase expensive electricity. Fortunately, I now live in New Zealand where (due to a good supply of major rivers and hilly topography, unlike the UK) Hydro is the preferred method of electricity generation. We do have our share of mad Greens here, who encourage the building of windfarms, but a high average windflow compared with the UK and a relatively sparse population - similar to that of Tudor England in a land mass one/seventh larger means the majority of our population don't have to live beside illogical monuments to medieval engineering.

Dec 8, 2013 at 9:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlexander K

Phillip Bratby,

I wasn't aware of the MacKay refutation. It is drastically different from Hughes' claims, which I find remarkable.

I wouldn't claim that windmills start out with an average load factor as high as 29 %; I think 24 % is nearer.

And simple observation would, it seems to me, support Hughes' claims more than MacKay. I know it's very selective but on a recent train journey along the west coast I noted 4 of the 25 Rhyl Flats turbines stationary, and similar levels of apparently broken windmills as we went through the Southern Uplands. These are all young windfarms to have such significant levels of stoppage. And that makes obvious sense to me: they're not great designs and they are very expensive to repair.

Dec 8, 2013 at 10:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterCapell

I met a windfarm developer with an engineering background at a party last night. He develops windfarms in central and eastern Europe, in areas where the population density is much lower and the landscape visually much less interesting than in the UK. He told me that the improvement in technology and reduction in cost over time meant that today's wind turbines were likely to be replaced by the latest models after 10-12 years. If he's right, maintenance costs and degradation of performance after that point in their life are maybe not so important.

But what this also implies is that the UK government is mad to rush to get windfarms developed now, with 25 year subsidy contracts. If they insist on having windfarms, it would be much cheaper to wait for a decade until the technologyy is much cheaper, so that far lower (or no) subsidies would be required. Of course, that wouldn't solve the severe environmental/visual/noise damage typically caused by onshore and near-offshore windfarms.

Dec 8, 2013 at 10:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterNic Lewis

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