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Kelly on engineering reality

Mike Kelly has a new briefing paper out, looking at decarbonisation in the context of previous technology changes.

A paper published today by the Global Warming Policy Foundation and written by Professor Michael Kelly (University of Cambridge) shows that most of the ambitions to decarbonise the UK and global economy have not been put through an engineering reality test.

The paper reveals that the scale, scope, feasibility, cost, resources and other requirements of the decarbonisation agenda have never been tested against other calls on human and physical resources of the planet.

The fact that carbon emissions are going up inexorably in spite of many projects across the globe already raises a simple question ‘What are we getting for our money?’

Professor Kelly’s paper discusses the role of technology changes in helping meet the global decarbonisation agenda: success in the UK and failure elsewhere still represents failure.

The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shows that some of the more calamitous projects are rather less likely, raising the question of how much of this agenda is really necessary in short order.

The new paper is intended to bring out some key lessons from the realities of successful technology changes in the recent past as they bear on the global challenge of climate change.

It finds that the gap between rhetoric and reality is dangerously wide, on the basis of some of the simplest premises of engineering and technology.

The paper is here.

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Reader Comments (26)

A very good paper rolling over the foolishness of the recent and not so recent past. Just shows how scruffy this whole energy/climate change business is and has been.

Nice piece of work - common sense which is a rare commodity.

Mar 28, 2014 at 5:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterEx-expat Colin

The GWPF has published many useful papers but none more than Dr Kelly's. Not for the faint of thought.

Mar 28, 2014 at 5:43 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

‘What are we getting for our money?’ Sweet Fanny Adams - and that is being kind to Fanny. It may be waaaay less than that. Minus figures even.

Mar 28, 2014 at 5:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterHenry Galt

From the publication

The threat of coal exhaustion was first raised in 1868, and peak oil before 1900, and has been repeated regularly ever since. However, the level of discovery is such that we now have more proven reserves of fossil fuel energy, which will cover future energy needs for longer than ever before in history.[3] Since the industrial revolution we have used as little as 10% of the known reserves of conventional and unconventional forms of fossil fuel.[4]

[3]BP Statistical Review of World Energy, June 2012, [4]Hansen, J., Kharecha, P. and Sato, M. ‘Climate forcing growth rates: doubling down
on our Faustian bargain’, Environ. Res. Lett. 2013; 8: 011006.

Funny how we keep hearing everywhere we're running out soon...

Mar 28, 2014 at 6:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterWijnand

Richard Drake - 'Not for the faint of thought'. Well said.

The paper chimes nicely with my view (er ... obsession? - see this Discussion) that, for Britain, 'there’s no longer much point in emission mitigation and instead [we should] take account of what’s actually happening in the world by an overall strengthening of our economy, energy supply and infrastructure and the prioritisation of long-term adaptation to whatever climate change may occur.'

Looking at the global context, Kelly says:

The European lead in decarbonisation is penalising the European economy, while China and India pursue progress with the rapid expansion of coal-fired electricity. By the time the developing countries agree to a low-carbon economy, the developed countries should have mature and economic alternatives to fossil fuel technologies available for rapid global deployment. We are not there yet, and based on what is in the pipeline, we will certainly not be there before 2030.

His first sentence is spot on. As for the second, I think it most unlikely that 'the developed countries' will have have such alternatives in place until well after 2030. And, in any case, I'm doubtful that 'the developing countries' will be even close to being interested in agreeing to a low-carbon economy by then.

Mar 28, 2014 at 7:08 PM | Registered CommenterRobin Guenier

What are we getting for our money?

Lots of well-paid narcissists.

Mar 28, 2014 at 7:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterJake Haye

And mirror carriers.

Mar 28, 2014 at 7:54 PM | Unregistered Commenterssat

Just watched a Channel Four news report about coastal flooding in the Norfolk.

Usual alarmist propaganda bullsh.t

Wonder if there is a new Fred Phelps of Climate Change Rheteric

Mar 28, 2014 at 7:55 PM | Unregistered Commenterjamspid

In business, they call it a "feasibility study" in which you ask, "Is it worth investing money in this?" Another form of it is the "prospectus." Steve McIntyre made a living on evaluating prospecti in the field of mineral exploration.

So now we have feasibility studies in hindsight that are suggesting much of the money spent was wasted.

This is why government should be limited in form and function.

Mar 28, 2014 at 8:04 PM | Unregistered Commentertheduke

'The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shows that some of the more calamitous projects are rather less likely, raising the question of how much of this agenda is really necessary in short order.'

Is the word projects not somewhat ambiguous? Would not projections, predictions, scenarios be better?

Mar 28, 2014 at 8:46 PM | Registered CommenterPharos

This reality-checking is dangerous stuff. You can see now why they don't let physicists and engineers anyway near Policy-Setting teams. Reality must not get in the way of Ideology!

Mar 28, 2014 at 9:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterKeith Macdonald

Just watched a Channel Four news report about coastal flooding in the Norfolk.

When is it projected to reach UEA?

Mar 28, 2014 at 10:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterIt doesn't add up...

Buuuuuut, is it peer reviews???


Mar 28, 2014 at 10:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterMailman

I'm in Aus, and so far we're still hanging in there. The UK population has my sympathy

If my reading of the drift of past and current UK energy policy is correct, then in 5 years or less we will see the empirical results of "decarbonising" an advanced economy. Unlikely to be a pretty picture

From an objective viewpoint, it's a fascinating experiment

Mar 28, 2014 at 10:26 PM | Unregistered Commenterianl8888

It would appear that, in the absence of subsidies, the solar panels and windmills did not generate enough usable electricity to cover the cost of maintenance and interest payments on capital. Since the recent financial crises there have been many bankruptcies in the USA and Europe of renewable energy companies, and all such industries in China are producing at a substantial (~30%) loss, which would also result in bankruptcy in a capitalist economy.

Over time, the removal or reduction of subsidies in the USA, Spain, Germany and the UK will lead to similar green industrial graveyards, in which the intrinsic diluteness of the energy source means that vast areas will be blighted in
the continuing absence of clean-up commitments.

That's a really key message to get through the skulls of the politicians.

Mar 28, 2014 at 10:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterIt doesn't add up...

Read the paper the day it came out. I find it more than a bit off on a number of factual things, although I agree with its perspective. For example, fn 3 in support of no coal peak in the UK is flat contradicted by all UK facts. That logic can be extended to the globe, country by country, region by region. He has not done the hard work to do so, nor cited those that have. On the other hand, his engineering comments about time of adoption, risk, and so on are spot on.

Mar 28, 2014 at 10:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterRud Istvan

I'm glad Kelly cited the Hansen, Kharecha, and Sato (2013) paper (and thanks for pointing it out, Wijnand). That is a dog-that-didn't-bark paper about another “pause” By his own data and calculations and words, Hansen baldly states that the airborne fraction of fossil fuel emissions is going down when the models say it should be going up sharply. It's there in figure 3, with red and blue lines, and black and white text underneath*. It's going down when it's not supposed to. And they don't know why. And Hansen says so. And he says it is important.

(*Hansen might be wrong, of course. I don't discount that, but think it more likely he is right for the wrong reasons, gluing some false eyelashes to the pig to go with the lipstick. Sure, he then waves his hands a bit and mutters something about Chinese coal and nitrogen, but is even less convincing about the missing CO2 than Trenberth is about his missing heat.)

Mar 28, 2014 at 11:48 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

An excellent paper. Nice to see an academic grounded in reality.

It should be a must read for every cabinet minister in every true democracy.

Mar 29, 2014 at 12:31 AM | Unregistered CommenterMike Singleton

Am I wrong in remembering that Prof Kelly was a dissenting member of one of the investigations exonerating EAU?
Who is keeping track of the number of scientists who are challenging the upper limit of the 3% of climate scientists who are not with the 97% majority? (the 97% of 79 scientists)
(e.g. Curry, Lindzen, Christy, Spenser, the climate scientist with whom I play tennis every morning and now
Prof. Kelly)

Mar 29, 2014 at 2:06 AM | Unregistered CommenterGeorge Daddis

He has some good remarks on consensus. There has to be a general moral conviction that renewables must be developed and society decarbonised before there is any chance at all of executing the hugely disruptive and expensive policies these goals require. Good point.

Oddly, as global warming alarmism looks increasingly discredited, and the economic case for wind remains doubtlful at best, my sense is that this "environmentalist" consensus is in fact growing.

A large rotor (75m) blade factory is being built by Siemens in Hull for offshore wind farms. This will employ 1000 people, apparently. So it is, or will be, jobs as well.

Maybe sceptics have won the argument but the consequences will be just what they would have been had they lost it.

Mar 29, 2014 at 11:24 AM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Mott

And there is still no empirical data proving that CO2 is a climate changer. There are many research papers showing that it is NOT but they, of course, do not count.

Mar 29, 2014 at 11:36 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Marshall

Ah - engineers. We are such a nuisance to those of a political persuasion, because we live in the real world, where we must design, produce and maintain equipment which actually WORKS and provides VALUE FOR MONEY...

Mar 29, 2014 at 1:09 PM | Unregistered Commentersherlock1

Engineers do seem rather under-represented among the ranks of alarmists. When such people talk reverentially about "scientists" they seem to mean life science graduates and IT people.

Mar 29, 2014 at 3:30 PM | Unregistered Commenterkellydown

As an engineer, working with many other engineers, I can say I've only come across one who is even remotely 'alarmist', and I have to admit the only disagreement is over fracking, (oh, won't someone think of the children) (and he's a microwave engineer, so used to examining chicken entrails as his 'simulation' - well that's what we mechanicals think!
I'm sure it comes about through familiarity with feedback mechanisms, and what happens when they go positive, and a healthy suspicion of computer simulations. We've all been bitten too many times by simulations failing to represent reality like they're supposed to! (except chicken entrails, of course - they're never wrong)

Mar 29, 2014 at 4:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterSimonJ

Gap between rhetoric and reality dangerously wide? Bill McKibben says Balcombe, the only fracking site in Britain is going 100% solar. Plus you can get 7% on your investment!
Wonder if the protest was actually a stealth promo for

Mar 31, 2014 at 12:59 AM | Unregistered Commenterbetapug

Most applied scientists with a good understanding of maths, physics and chemistry, who work in industry solving problems are cynical of global warming. Those supporting global warming are largely environmental scientists working in academia.

Mar 31, 2014 at 2:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterCharlie

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