Some weapons-grade sophistry
Nov 12, 2015
Bishop Hill in Energy: grid, Energy: wind, Greens

Take a look at Mark Lynas's latest piece in the Guardian, in which he tries to absolve the wind fleet of any part in the close call the electricity grid suffered last week. This is pretty remarkable, given that at the time - as readers will no doubt recall - the wind fleet was becalmed and delivering just 3% of its installed capacity. Meanwhile the ageing coal fleet was only delivering 65% of capacity because of breakdowns.

Lynas's position is that this was fine and dandy because the near-total failure of the wind fleet was predicted.

Grid managers...had a day or more’s warning that Wednesday was likely to see very little wind generation, and planned accordingly.

Which is an argument that I'm sure you will agree, would only convince someone who was extraordinarily slow on the uptake. I mean, it's all very well being able to plan, but you do actually need capacity to act on your plan. Lynas has spent his whole working life as a writer and campaigner, so you could imagine that little details like these might slip his notice.

However, in fact it seems that Lynas's co-author Chris Goodall is not wholly blind to the point, noting in the comments:

If you put a lot of renewables on a grid, then you make it impossible to finance new fossil fuel electricity generation in the current electricity market. Market reform is therefore vital, combined with a well-thought-through plan to move to 100% renewables with storage.

What a shameless piece of sophistry that is. You "put" a lot of renewables on the grid, do you? Of course you can't "put" wind power on a grid just like that - you have to bribe people to install wind turbines and coerce others into buying the output. Only then can you make fossil fuels look financially unviable. It's quite clear that the authors know that this is the case and that it's the subsidies that are causing the problem, but they are putting on a fine show of pretending otherwise. Nothing to do with wind power gov'nor, nothing at all.

That market reform is needed is undeniable, although you will note that Goodall says precisely nothing about what reforms he wants - more sophistry of course. Moreover, market reform is precisely what what the government is doing by cutting back the subsidies to renewables. Is Goodall in favour? Who knows, but one would guess that he thinks we should subsidise fossil fuels too. It is hard to get to grips with such foolishness.

As for his idea that the problem is going to be solved by storage at any time in the next few decades, this is completely crazy. The amount of pumped hydro you'd need to see the country through a five-day lull in wind is absurdly large. And what then happens when you have a lull in the wind that lasts longer than five days? In the cold winters of 2009-11 we had lulls lasting weeks.

But don't worry, if the lights go out it will be fine if was predicted.


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