back to article Save the planet: Stop the Greens

I find myself in an uncomfortable position over this climate change thing. I've no problem with the existence of man-made climate change, no problem with the idea that we ought to do something about it. But what we are actually trying to do about it seems bonkers, counter-productive even. So how did we get into this mess? To …


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  1. John 90


    > at least a soupcon of a suspicion

    You do know that "soupcon" means suspicion, don't you?

    1. frank ly

      Tautology Soup

      It does in French. In modern English, it means 'a slight trace or hint', especially when used in culinary matters.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I thought it meant "little bit" - at least in this context

      which I suppose is also one interpretation of "suspicion" ("I detect a suspicion of garlic in this soup" say) but a different meaning to the one in use. English is like that - sometimes the same word can have several completely different meanings - which can make translations from foreign rather ambiguous.

      1. PhilBack

        The french brigade says...

        "un soupçon de suscpicion" means "a tiny bit of suspicion, just enough"

      2. Lars Silver badge

        Lee, you are funny

        Do you actually know of any language "where the same word cannot have several completely different meanings", or translations not beeing rather ambiguous (left out the "from foreign" as it sounds rather silly when you think about it, very British I suppose, though ).


    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Tautology

      "at least a suspicion of suspicion" works for me. Poetic. Makes the point. Prefer the original.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      why we spend a fortune on Windmills?

      Actually its pretty simple, politics

      its quick, its high visability and politicians can say, hay look at what we are doing.

      Its to help buy your votes

      Why would any govenment want to start a project that wouldnt be finished before the next election, it doesnt give them any more votes ad by the time they are finished no one will be really intrested.

      Its this short sighted policy that has got this whole country screwed

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        why we spend a fortune on Windmills?

        You seem to be saying that we're building windmills so that politicians can buy peoples votes. How can this be when all I keep hearing about is how people don't want a windmill built near them? They are definitely *not* being promoted as vote winners.

        1. G.R.L. Cowan, H2-to-B convert

          They are fossil fuel tax revenue winners.

          They are fossil fuel revenue tax winners.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward


          Of course not, because politicians dont do anything for the wider public

          no one wants them built next to them but given that the locations for these things are usually remote its a tiny proportion of the voting public.

          your right tho, lets build one of these monsters on top of every city house and see if it wins votes, of course it wont, but you build these things far enough away and its no longer their problem.

          Im telling you, this country is a victim of its own stupidity.

      2. Craig Taylor

        Follow the money

        Darren, you are right, of course. But it's worse than you state.

        The politicians have two entirely different constituencies. First, the naive greenies who want to "save the planet" and think they have The Answer. More stealthy are the subsidy suckers, companies who produce the economically unjustifiable Windmills and Solar PV panels. They supply money to the pols as contributions, complimented by the votes from the greenies.

        It's a marriage made in hell. Lots of votes AND plenty of campaign funds to advertise how GREEN they are. Even the odd, temporary job in their district pouring concrete for windmill tower footings. The fact that it's all going to be paid for by the poor electricity rate payer and taxpayer is irrelevant. It's not costing the Pols anything! They get re-elected and get to continue their scam. Personally, I think burying the cost in increased electricity rates rather than in more obvious direct taxes is brilliant. In a disgusting sort of way.

        And yes, if the money were applied to energy research on low waste fission reactors (thorium) and other undeveloped technologies, we might eventually have a true solution. We sure do need one for that time to come when all the natural gas is consumed in space heaters and gas turbine generators. England will need LOTS more gas turbines for the rather obvious times when the wind stops blowing and the sky is overcast. But that never happens, does it?

  2. M7S
    Thumb Up

    Great article

    Now "feel the love".

    Or maybe not....

  3. Dunstan Vavasour

    Carbon footprint is Power times Time

    Whether the windmills are generating at the time of maximum demand will effect the amount of non-windmill capacity required. But they are still generating many kilowatt hours every year, which replaces burnt carbon, whether it is at times of maximum demand or not. The carbon footprint isn't about the instantaneous rate at which it is emitted, rather about the total quantity emitted each year.

    Even if the windmills are becalmed for a significant proportion of the time, that doesn't mean they "don't work".

    1. Anonymous Coward

      I wonder....

      how many of those kilowatt hours are needed before the carbon footprint of actually PRODUCING just one of those turbines is actually offset and they become carbon neutral.

      1. Sandtreader

        Energy payback time for a modern turbine = 3 months,1033)/The_energy_balance_of_modern_wind_turbines%2C_1997.pdf

        1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
          Thumb Up


          Thank you for providing some actual statistics rather than just an opinion.

        2. Zippy the Pinhead

          @ Santreader

          How do you figure?

          Looking online I see that even small wind turbines cost into the upper hundreds and thousands of dollars even before installation... and because of the additional fees and installation cost from licensed contractors you can easily triple the final cost of having the device installed for home use. (Don't think you can do this yourself unless you are a licensed electrician!!!)

          So tell me how is my spending oh I figure about 2000 dollars to have a tiny 600 watt unit installed and its going to pay me back in 3 months when I spend on average less than 50 dollars a month on electric. Especially when I pass a huge turbine daily on the way to work and less than 50% of the time the thing is actually moving.

          So figuring at even the absurdly high rate of 50% efficiency for a wind turbine over this time frame.. I would be lucky to have this little miracle paid for in about 5 years and still not have enough power to pop a bag of popcorn.

          Oh wait.. you forgot repairs too... So now after 5 years it's worn out and I have to replace it... You figure it'll be a simple swap but the previous unit and this unit are not compatible so you spend even more money this time.

          This one of the huge issues about what bothers me about the Green Movement.. its "We must be green regardless" attitude doesn't not take into account real world issues such as total cost of ownership.. where Green cost 2~3 times more than "wasteful" over the life span,

          Like green Laundry Detergent cost twice as much and gets clothes 1/2 as clean!

      2. copsewood

        Wind turbine energy payback 6-8 months

        It isn't meaningful to answer this in KWh, because there are many different sizes of turbine, and some equipment in a windfarm e.g. grid connection relates to the farm as a whole. However, states:

        "The average wind farm in the UK will pay back the energy used in its manufacture within six to eight months, this compares favourably with coal or nuclear power stations, which take about six months."

        1. Ammaross Danan

          @"Payback time" people

          "The average wind farm in the UK will pay back the energy used in its manufacture within six to eight months, this compares favourably with coal or nuclear power stations, which take about six months."

          However, this is likely factoring in the subsidies payed out for deploying a windfarm "renewable" solution. Also not mentioned is the power generating capacity of said windfarms vs a coal plant. If the coal plant generates 5x the amount of power of a given windfarm, that's 5x capacity it's profiting off of. Stop subsidies and see how fast they switch to a "this is not even near economically feasible" mindset.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        turbines driven by carbon emitting fuel consumption also have a carbon footprint for their production, probably quite similar for the same output as the wind driven one.

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I also wonder...

        how many of those kilowatt hours are needed before the carbon footprint of actually PRODUCING just one nuclear reactor is actually offset and they become carbon neutral.

        1. Andydaws

          It's something pretty tiny - in the 1-3 months range.

          Nuclear stations are big, complex beasts - but they make a LOT of power.

    2. Jaap stoel

      Replace work with 'cost effective'

      If I want to get from Europe to the UK I could swim the channel. That 'works' but its a lot more effective to take a ferry or plane.

      What the author's saying is that these windmills are not generating enough power to be cost effective and its most likely that they never will. But still there's tons of money subsidizing them.

      While other experimental technologies (and I use the term loosely) are not eligible for subsidies while they do look like they could become self-sustaining and thus economically viable.

      1. Saigua

        Cost effective, awesome, menacing, picaresque, fungible, real; pick any 6.

        I wish he'd cited the wind cost-benefit bits, not that carbon fiber is swimming in wins as a construction material over whatever was supposed to have replaced concrete (you know, absorbing CO2 into its carbonates at first, instead of releasing them.) It is not impossible to store some energy (typically in water works,) though his example is a fine win for industrial wool...sweaters. The relation to Greens as a party, burgeoning class or new weird odor is yet unclear.

        It's stupid not to ask subsidy ever; we don't buy quad redundant heating provisions until we can switch to the built green and cheap one, we buy on the spot year (or 3 years.) Coal's seeing subsidies as a matter of course, offsetting proof-of-principle compliance, rural buildout, right-of-way, tariffs on heavy metals disposal, ash and coke steerage, mine allocation, distribution safety, railways, etc.

        From the other side (concerning why not shale methane everywhere,) it's stupid not to build more awesome heath roofs instead of PV (which I regret is less use poleside of +-44 longitude) or not to use less power (power that nVIdia Tesla with compost fumes) rather than try to burn enough LNG that the earth gets/loses a more richly layered atmosphere. Maybe there's a tacit local carbon sequestration angle to shale claims that we hadn't seen developed...

    3. Anonymous Coward

      Yes it does

      Even if the windmills are becalmed for a significant proportion of the time, that doesn't mean they "don't work".

      It means exactly that - They aren't going to solve the energy problem that people say they will, therefore as a solution they "don't work". Yes the individual windmill produces power. Its very much like saying that the solar powered (non storage) torch works. Yes it generates light when the sun is shining, however at night its not much use. By your definition it works, it produces light, just not when we need it to.

    4. David Evans

      @Dunstan Vavasour

      He probably means "don't work" in the more traditional sense of "don't provide power when you need it to heat your house", rather than the more progressive interpretation you seem to favour.

      To be honest I'm amazed this article even needed writing; I thought everyone knew this already? Never trust a hippie.

    5. Tim Greenwood

      Green anything, not just windmills !!

      Whether windmills are generating at full chat or becalmed they generated a hell of a lot of carbon to produce them and install them. If they operate through their life time (often only 15-20 years with full stripdown service with some renewal after 10 years) at 30-40% efficiency then their payback is pretty bloody crap. This is one of my biggest issues with "green" products - WHOLE LIFECYCLE IS IGNORED. Electric bloody cars are apparently super green provided you scrap your existing car buy the electric one and keep it for the 2-3 years the batteries will last then buy a new one. Of course this assumes you don't take into account the effect of scrapping your otherwise acceptable existing vehicle, take no account of the effect of producing the electric car, and in particular ignore where the electricity has come from.

      My existing car can become super green and generate no emissions providing you only take a snapshot such as turning the engine off and coasting downhills, it's not real worls though is it !

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re Green anything, not just windmills !!


        Absolutely. Try including the carbon footprint created creating the vast amount of electricity used in producing petrol, and the carbon footprint of moving the fuel to the petrol stations, as well as the carbon footprint used creating your petrol car, and suddenly the already frighteningly bad figures for a petrol car get much worse.

        "Electric bloody cars are apparently super green provided you scrap your existing car buy the electric one"

        No, you buy a new car when you need one. However it is a valid point. Creating a new car and scrapping an old car is wasteful. Don't do it unless you need to.

        "and keep it for the 2-3 years the batteries will last then buy a new one."

        Oh so much wrong with that. Batteries should last way more than that. There is I think an electric RAV4 with 10 Year old batteries that's still working fine. You don't have to buy a new car simply because the batteries are worn out, just like you don't have to buy a new car simply because it's run out of petrol. You replace the batteries, or fill the tank.

        "[] take no account of the effect of producing the electric car..."

        just like people take no account of producing a petrol car

        "...and in particular ignore where the electricity has come from."

        Well electric cars are typically charged at night, when electricity demand is lowest, and as less coal is being burned to produce it, it's greener than peak rate electricity.

        1. Andydaws

          AC, those numbers are actually quite well known....

          "Try including the carbon footprint created creating the vast amount of electricity used in producing petrol, and the carbon footprint of moving the fuel to the petrol stations,"

          Refining produces about 3% of UK carbon output (and we're a small net exporter of refined products, I think). Electricit5y is a small proportion of that, most is process heat production.

          Overall transport use is about 35% of CO2 output. Refined product transport is way <1% of net transport use.

          So, you can up the carbon output per mile by about 5-8% if you add in refining ad fuel transport - not insiginficant, but not the "game-changer" you suggest.

          "Oh so much wrong with that. Batteries should last way more than that."

          It depends entirely on the usage - how deeply and houw fas they're syscled. Generally, batteries will last a long time (depending on the technology) provided they're not cycled below 50% of capacity, and are kept "conditioned" when not in use. The problem is, given the restricted range of EVs, it's going to be very hard to stick to using <50% of an already inadequate range.

          " You don't have to buy a new car simply because the batteries are worn out, just like you don't have to buy a new car simply because it's run out of petrol. You replace the batteries, or fill the tank."

          Rather a different set of ecnomics - unsubsidised, a set of the LiOn batteries used in something like a Nissan Leaf are probably worth about 40% of the overall cost of the vehicle. A cloer analogue would be having to pay for a replacement engine and gearbox every few years.

          "Well electric cars are typically charged at night, when electricity demand is lowest, and as less coal is being burned to produce it, it's greener than peak rate electricity."

          Rather the oppoiste - almost all variation in UK electicity production comes from cycling gas-fired CCGT plant, which is about twice as carbon-efficient as coal. If anything, the CO2 output per KWH is likely to be higher at night than during the day.


      2. indulis

        Please justify your "whole lifecycle" claims for windmills

        Can you please provide a reference for your claim that "[energy] payback is pretty bloody crap" for windmills? This sounds like the same old "solar cells give back less energy than it takes to produce them" claim that has become an often quoted psuedo-fact (that is actually incorrect).

        It'd be interesting to do a "whole of lifecycle" calculation for a current technology nuclear power plant. For both $ and energy.

        For some real reading on energy and a rational investigation readers can turn to "Sustainable energy: without the hot air".

      3. elderlybloke

        Green anything, not just windmills !

        Dear Tim,

        Plead don't confuse the Greenies and friends with facts , reality and reason.

      4. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Thumb Up

        @Tim Greenwood.

        "years with full stripdown service with some renewal after 10 years) at 30-40% efficiency then their payback is pretty bloody crap. "

        The Register has mentioned before that large wind generation companies work on the basis that a windmill will generate power 26% of the time (30% offshore)

        However at least 1 site listed in an Andrew Orlwoski article was 1 wind mill showing 5% (roughly 19days a year) operating time.

        The actual *electrical* generator is something like 96% efficient (when it's working of course).

        A *full* accounting on "Green" energy would need to factor in *all* carbon emissions from the supply chain (For example until a few weeks ago *all* current UK windmill towers were made in China) *and* the carbon footprint of the *backup* system that will have to step in.

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @ Dunstan Vavasour - RE: Windmills

      I see your point - windmills are not totally useless, however you have to look at the big picture - which is that you will always need a secondary power source to supplement the windmills.

      You are dead right in the inference that a reduction in CO2 by less reliance on coal / oil fired stations through an increase in wind power will be a Good Thing, however you then need to look at the impact of needing alternative power sources for the times that wind is not cutting it (typically either in the dead of winter when we need lots of heating or the height of summer where we need our aircon).

      Power stations cannot just generate power on demand - they take time to power up, time to run down and need constant maintenance. Supplementary power stations will practically need to be able to provide 100% of the country's power needs on demand - you can't make pensioners freeze to death just because it is a still, overcast day in January.

      Which gives us 2 options - either the backups to the windmills are carbon pumping (like coal, oil and gas) or they are carbon neutral (like nuclear, wave or hydro).

      It seems fairly rational to conclude that we would be better off spending the windmill R&D / building money on either looking at cleaner fossil burners, practical tidal generators or safer nukes (sorry, I don't believe that solar & hydro are viable for the same reasons that wind isn't - too unreliable. I am not optimistic regarding tidal either - I think the environmental impact would be unacceptable).

      It is not that windmills inherently "don't work" so much as resources thrown at windmills is preventing 100% viable options from being developed.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        IT Angle

        Wind prediction ...

        I'm always surprised that El Reg never mentions the IT angle in this : yes, backup power will be needed, but its not as if wind is unpredictable. We don't need to run the gas / etc. stations full time in case the wind power isn't there, we can predict it!

        Secondly, there's this whole "smart grid" thing, adjusting load to suit generation conditions. No mention of that here ... how about talking about the 'data centre use follows the moon' models, so popular elsewhere, never mentioned here ... why?

        As for shale gas, look at for a contrarian view. Not as green as _its_ made out to be.

      2. Andydaws
        Thumb Up

        Lee, a very good post. But... miss something important. That's to do with the economics of standby plant.

        When you build standy plant, you look typically for two things - it should have low fixed costs (including finance - we'll come back to why), and that it should be reliably and quickly "dispatchable". Dispatchable is the industry term for bringing plant on line as required.

        The first comment is, by their very nature, that rules out most renewables, since they may well not be available - i.e. they're not dispatchable. Unsurpsingly, wave and wind intensity tends to be coupled, and tidal, although predictable, varies sinsoidally twice each day. So, you may end up having to have back-up plant for the back-up plant - which obviously burns capital investment at a rate of knots.

        TO give you an idea, the industry awards something called (capacity credit) reflecting the reliable availability of standby plant. Wind power is usually rated at best at a15-18% of nominal capacity - a more usual number is around the 8% mark. Tidal would merit perhaps 30%, if built. Wave would be soewhere between the two. A conventional generator (gas, coal or nuclear) is usually rated in the middle 90% range. They have outages, but they tend to be predictable, and can be timed for periods of low demand.

        Back to the finance....

        If I build a power station, obviously, I expect to make a profit on it - borrowing for power projects usually costs around the 7% range (the "weighted average cost of capital)"). The cost of financing, of paying for the station, and for the operating costs have to be recovered - and those can only be recovered by the sale of electricity. Sorry if that's stating the bleedin' obvious.

        If I have a 1000MW station that costs £1Bn to build, and another £30Mn to maintain per year (whether it runs or not), I have to have revenues of at least £100Mn to break even. If it runs 20% of the time, that means I need to see at least £60 or so per megawatt-hour of margin, over and above the cost of fuel. If it runs 10% of the time, I need £120/MWH of margin.

        For what it's worth, the "balancing price" - the price paid for short term generation (including fuel cost) rarely goes over £60/MWh, INCLUDING FUEL.

        So, I desperately need, if I'm going to de-risk my investment, to keep capital cost way, way down, and be happy to carry variable costs when I'm generating. If I do that, I can be sure my competitors are seeing similar fuel costs, and hence I'm unlikely to get undercut.

        And keeping captial costs down rules out most forms of low-carbon plant. It pushes me towards open-cyclle gas, and certainly rules out carbon-capture. It certainly rules out tidal - according to the last study on the Severn Barrage, it was of then order of £30-35Bn for an average output of 1,900MW.

        I'd even be a bloody fool to use carbon-capture on gas - say it's as little as a 50% uplift on capital spend, that still hughely increases my break-even point., and hence my chance og getting burned.

        1. Saigua

          Broken model; pure-play considered regulated out

          ...unless you have to pay CO2 emissions, natch. Though that Severn Barrage tidal bit is a nice example of not making book (cite it for us next time?)

      3. apjanes

        Hydro is viable, under the right circumstances

        The blanket statement that hydro isn't viable because of reliability is not actually true. Two thirds of Canada's electricity is generated by hydro and last time I checked it was plenty reliable. The main potential issue for hyrdo in the UK is to do with demand and capacity.

        1. The UK has many millions more people than Canada requiring much more electricity

        2. The UK has far less space to build hydro plants and, as such, far less water

        These issues, rather than reliability, might be the show stopper for hydro in the UK.

        As an island with plenty of coastline, tidal seems like a good potential source.

    7. Skizz

      If only it were that simple...

      The problem with wind is that it is volatile and unpredictable. In an ideal situation, your power generation would match the required demand, but in reality the demand is not constant. You don't just switch off power generators when you don't need them, it takes time. So, if there's a sudden gust of wind, it's not possible to turn down all the other generators in response to the spike in power from the wind farms. In fact, varying the output of a fossil fuel plant might be less efficent than keeping it running at a fixed rate.

      So, in the end, wind isn't useful for general supply as it can't be switched on when required, and when it's generating you can't easily turn off other generators. So the best use I guess for wind power is to pump water back up into the reservoirs that feed the hydro electric stations.

      1. Saigua

        How completely unlike server farm demands!

        Lucky for us you only turn on your tablet when you can completely utilize its computational faculties. See also: inductance, phase margins, market scheduling, water treatment/storage, negative power pricing subscribers.

    8. bamalam

      Still need plenty of other electricity plant to back it up

      Electricity generation plants are not free and their investment has to be justified. Wind and solar still needs to be backed up by other plant as they may produce next to zero at any given day.

      See for an example of where 1250MW of Irish installed wind capacity gets you on a calm day like today. And since the greenies don't want nukes as backup this means carbon producing plants. That means you are still dependent on coal/gas/oil and the price escalator they are on. Often they have to be running to backup wind immediately as it is such an unpredictable source of power (see forecast as against actual capacity in the Irish case).

      Thorium based reactors can be throttled up and down with demand and are much safer than conventional Uranium based reactors. Time we started working on them.

    9. smylar


      Greens always neglect the economics, they would love it not to be a factor, unfortunately it's a big one.

      To power the country on wind means a hell of a lot of turbines, expansion of pumped storage, and then a load of gas turbines as back-up that can provide power in the event not a single windmill is turning and the pumped storage has run out. So you have an installed capacity well over double what you need, and massive maintenance costs.

      The result is *!#&ing expensive, which means a lot of poor people, high product prices etc etc. Which is probably what the most devout greens want, so that we can all go back to the glorious hunter gatherer days!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        Oil and Gas are finite resources. They will run out. Oil is used for all sorts of useful things like making plastics etc. I think it's wise to reduce the consumption of oil and gas by using renewable resources. This will make the non-renewable ones last longer.

        1. Homard

          More basic !

          This article is at multiple levels.

          Firstly it discusses globalisation as bad. I have to agree.

          At the most basic level, people need full bellies, water, and a place to shit. If you don't have this society breaks down.

          So, tractor engines have the cylinder block manufactured in Detroit (where else :-) ?), the head/valves in UK, and the injection/engine management system in Japan. All works well until something goes wrong. The Japan earthquake is an example.

          This is why globalisation is bad. People will starve !

          Globalisation is also good with trade agreements and cheaper goods. But when the chips are down this won't matter one iota.

          Secondly this article discusses 'energy alternatives' and the 'greens'.

          Now nuclear might be clean for those present now, someone has to deal with the legacy. Is this as bad as global warming ?

          I use (and have to fight) the wind all the time and know how fickle it can be. So I agree with the arguments that windfarms are useless on that cold winter night. Given UK weather, do they pay ? I honestly don't know. If you're guaranteed wind (30 mins after lunch ?) they maybe have a higher service factor.

          What truly frustrates me about all of this :-

          Daughter : must be green (from school) - xbox on 24/7, laptop on 24/7 etc.

          Thy must not use thy conveyance : fuel duty increases, and so do rail prices, so what alternative ? In general if you work in rural areas public transport is bollocks.

          Leccy cars : great idea, not as green as claimed, and if everyone used them out go the lights !

          Cycling : often a viable alternative transportation, but not free. Wear and tear costs have to be met. If an MP claims these it is fair IMHO (and good on the guy for doing it). Really good for getting fit !

          Man's activities in general : if the 24 hour clock is the time since earth was created, we have been here mere minutes, and how much damage have we done ?

          We need to work out what is actually 'green', and when we understand that, then we can really take meaningful action.

          1. Anonymous Coward


            Man's activities in general : if the 24 hour clock is the time since earth was created, we have been here mere minutes, and how much damage have we done ?

            The earth is approximately 4.5 billion years old and for 4.5 billion years it has been undergoing some kind of climate change. Using that timescale, we have been around for about 2 minutes but our 'best' minds with their super long view of climate history (usually about 200 years or so), they have convinced us that its all out fault.

            Well done, top choice.

    10. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse
      Thumb Down

      @ Dunstan Vavasour

      "The carbon footprint i'tsn't about the instantaneous rate at which it is emitted, rather about the total quantity emitted each year."

      So what? The argument made here isn't solely about carbon footprint. It's about replacing existing energy generation mechanisms with low impact ones - and in that case it is absolutely about instantaneous rate, as I don't want be turning my telly on in April, only to find that no electricity is available until June simply because of the weather.

    11. SImon Hobson Bronze badge

      Wrong on many levels

      > But they are still generating many kilowatt hours every year, which replaces burnt carbon, whether it is at times of maximum demand or not.

      Actually, there is an argument that those windmills may actually INCREASE CO2 emissions !

      The simple fact is that for EVERY kW capacity of windmill, you need another kW capacity of an alternative. Nuclear really, really doesn't deal well with rapid changes in power, and nor does coal. Pumped storage (like Dinorwig) have very limited capacity - certainly nowhere near the level needed to allow for a widespread becalming for a week or more*. Given that nuclear (apart from declining in capacity as old stations are shut) doesn't like changes in power, and coal takes some time to adjust (and in particular takes hours to get from ready to running, or even days to get from fully shutdown to running), that means gas will be used to fill in.

      Generators are commercial companies - they look to make a profit. If you tell an owner that you'd like them to provide capacity, but you won't actually call on it for much of the time, and when you do, you'll expect them to turn up and down very rapidly and repeatedly - then they aren't going to put in the best, most efficient, and probably more expensive turbines. No, on the basis that they'll have a low load factor (poor return on investment), and high operating costs as the rapid cycling kills the turbines - they'll build the cheapest ones they can.

      So there's an argument that the 70% (I'm being VERY generous and assuming a 30% load factor for the windmill) of the power generated from the cheap and nasty gas turbine, operating at a sub-optimal load, may actually produce more CO2 than if you'd just generated 100% of the power with a more efficient gas turbine operating at a better load.

      Add to that another factor. All these renewable incentives are paid for by higher fuel bills for everyone. If (and I don't personally believe it) electric cars are "the answer" to another problem, then higher electricity prices are a disincentive to their use. Thus one "green" agenda is detrimentally influencing another "green" agenda.

      * Don't claim it won't happen, it already has been shown to happen, but I can't find the article now. There was almost zero wind across the whole of northern Europe for about 10 days - back in the 1990s IIRC, but it's happened since.

      1. TheOtherHobbbes

        Er, no.

        "The simple fact is that for EVERY kW capacity of windmill, you need another kW capacity of an alternative."

        No, that's not a fact - it's an outright lie. No country that uses windmills for power works like this, or needs to work like this.

        "Generators are commercial companies - they look to make a profit."

        And this is why "the markets" are a self-defeating way to organise things.

        Has everyone forgotten Enron already? That was the red-headed poster-child of a market-managed energy corporation, and it proceeded in the way that most market-led projects do - by screwing its customers, failing to provide energy when needed (Californians still remember the rolling blackouts), sharking and profiteering, and eventually imploding in proven criminal action.

        This is what we're supposed to rely on in future?

        Mmm, kay. Good luck with *that*.

        In fact this what markets do without strong oversight and regulation. It's such a reliable and predictable problem you can set your watch by it. (q.v. banking, savings and loan scandals, the incredible customer-killing expensive disaster that rail privatisation turned into, technology monopolies, etc, etc.)

        The issue isn't even power - it's how to manage innovation and resources in ways that actually work objectively, with genuflecting to the False Religion of the Markets.

        The reality is there is no evidence of any kind that conventional energy corporations know how to innovate *at all.*

        E.g. an obvious immediate need are more efficient smart distribution grids.

        Are we supposed to get those from the likes of BP, GE and TEPCO?

        I mean - it's nice that EON offered me a plug-in meter for my PC recently, so I could see how much energy I was wasting by using it.

        But the reality is that without government help, a deregulated energy market like the one the UK currently has is simply incapable of long-term strategic planning at the national or trans-national level.

        What commercial incentive do the UK's energy cos have to work together to manage distribution intelligently?

        Deregulation meant that the UK's energy cos invented a *brillliant* plan to save money on gas prices by not spending money on storage - which is why the UK's customers pay insane spot prices during heavy winters, and the UK is in serious danger of running out as winters get heavier.

        That's entirely typical of the madness of markets.

        And for the record - the final piece of casuistry in this piece is the suggestion that it's windmills or nothing.

        This is nonsense. Anyone who works with renewables professionally knows that it's sensible and entirely practical to build mixed-mode system which combine wind with tidal, hydro, and other renewable sources.

        It should be self-evident plain common sense that it's better to have energy sources that have the potential to last forever with minimal consequences than ones that rely on limited fuels and make a huge mess.

        The fact that it's somehow being portrayed as a dirty hippy fantasy and not self-evident logic that can be grasped by a school child simply shows how tabloid the Reg and rather too many of its readers are.

        (To be fair, it is a redtop, I supppose.)

        "There was almost zero wind across the whole of northern Europe for about 10 days - back in the 1990s IIRC, but it's happened since."

        Links with independent confirmation, or it didn't happen.

        Of course, with a good Mediterranean-wide renewables grid it wouldn't matter even if it were true.

        1. SImon Hobson Bronze badge

          Wrong, really wrong

          >> "The simple fact is that for EVERY kW capacity of windmill, you need another kW capacity of an alternative."

          >> No, that's not a fact - it's an outright lie. No country that uses windmills for power works like this, or needs to work like this.

          It *IS* a fact, it is *NOT* a lie. *WHEN* the windmills stop generating* the power needs to come from somewhere. That means having enough generating capacity to supply peak demand without the contribution of wind. The alternative to having enough alternative generating capacity is to reduce demand - and at the moment that means turning people off (rolling blackouts - remember them from the 70's ?). Just listen to the complaints when that happens, and if we don't do something soon then it's going to start happening since we have a lot of nuclear plant retiring and not a lot else replacing them at the moment.

          In the future that *may* change - it is one of the reasons given for forcing the so called smart meters onto everyone with their mythical ability to turn off loads at times of peak demand/troughs in supply. That's going to be a lot of fun when someone hacks it and starts turning people off for fun - note that's a "when" not "if".

          There is actually a small amount of load that can be remotely shutdown - but in the grand scheme of things it's going to be like peeing in the ocean. Some premises with an "economy 7" type tariff have remotely switched rather than timeclock based night mode. Thus it is possible to remotely turn off people's night storage heaters as long as you give them the rest of the 7 hours later to meet contractual obligations.

          * Yes, there are periods when there is zero output from windmills - not just across the UK, but it's even happened across northern Europe (for over a week IIRC). Last December, when if you recall it was "a tad chilly" there were extended periods of zero output from windmills.

        2. rciafardone


          Simply LOL...

          You sir are delusional. Centralized planed economies are self defeating, it has already been proven again and again.

          A beer because no matter how bad socialist supporters fail, they keep on going.

    12. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Of course it means they don't work. Please do some research into how the National Grid works.

      Coal, Gas and Nuclear plants cannot ramp production very fast (50% output to maximum). Gas and some kinds of Nuclear take tens of minutes, Coal and older kinds of Nuclear tends to take half an hour or longer. Certain kinds of Hydro can start up from 'hot standby' in a few seconds, but they can't be left in hot standy for very long, keep up that level of production and don't have a large capacity compared to Coal/Gas/Nuclear.

      Wind is *highly* variable - it can even go from 'maximum output' to 'zero output' in tens of seconds, possibly faster: the windspeed exceeds maximum rating, so the turbines automatically feather and shut down.

      So, let's examine your proposition:

      Wind is producing 60% of the UK's needs by running at 100% plate rating across the whole country (actually impossible for many reasons, but let's roll with it). Coal/Gas are at 'cold shutdown' (not burning any fuel).

      Windspeed rises in some regions and large blocks of turbines shut down. Coal/Gas has to be started from cold - but this takes several hours!

      So Country-wide blackouts occur. Parts of the National Grid may be damaged, and many non-resettable big trips drop open to protect generation plants and distribution. The whole system is down for a long time (even days) as repairs and manual resets are carried out.

      So we have to keep the Coal and Gas plants 'hot' - burning their fuel to maintain temperature and synchronisation - even when they're not producing any electricity.

      Now windspeed rises and blocks of turbines look on the verge of shut down. Gas plant is ramped up, followed by coal plant. Depending on how good we are at predicting that shutdown, we either get brownout or partial blackout for minutes or tens of minutes, or we burn a lot of fuel ramping the Gas/Coal plant for no reason as the turbines don't shut down or shut down later than expected.

      Either way, you simply don't save much CO2 but you end up with a *very* unstable National Grid.

      That's even before you consider the cost of having 'other plants' with at least the generating capacity of all the wind turbines in the country put together - as there are many days where there's no wind nationwide, on those days you've got to produce it somehow. Or go dark - and going dark is very, very bad for the Grid, and even worse for homes, business and hospitals. (Hospitals will start up their diesel generators and *hope* they've got enough fuel to cope.)

      On top of that, the Greens are also pushing for greater electrification of transport - trains and plug-in electric vehicles. If that occurs, then electricity demand will greatly increase - and we're on the edge of capacity already.

      Basically, small amounts of wind generation are annoying for the Grid (it's expensive power and hard to balance as it can ramp down at any moment), and large amounts would make the Grid highly unstable.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Thumb Down

        Wind highly variable

        Wind in _wind_farms_ is less variable: fast changes are on the order of 10's of percent over 10 minutes, not max to zero in seconds. Secondly they can be spotted working their way across the country as weather fronts pass over -- on a national scale they are quite predictable, much more than predictable than we currently do.

        We don't currently do specialised wind forecasting, but various groups are setting up to do it, precisely because of wind generation. So the backup generation problem is far less severe than usually railed against in El Reg, not much more than needed now. In fact, given that you need to have backup power in case _any_ piece of equipment fails - e.g. the transformers for a 1 GW coal station, in practice the spin reserves, properly done, can be no larger and possibly smaller than today.

        (You need spin reserves, 'backup', in case any given piece of equipment fails. A large 1 GW coal or nuclear plant is a single point of failure. For it you need 1 GW spin reserves. The same spin reserves also backup wind. Move to having multiple 10 -- 500 MW wind farms, with no SPOF being more than 50 MW, spin reserves need to be ~ 50-100 MW).

        1. Richard 12 Silver badge

          You didn't read the post, did you?

          Max to zero windspeed does indeed tend to be fairly gentle.

          However max to zero *output* can happen very rapidly - the wind gets *too strong* so the plant *shuts down* to protect itself.

          Wind gently rising. Plant increases in output. At some point the windspeed exceeds the maximum rating of the turbines and they shut themselves down.

          Turbine shutdown is very fast because if it isn't, the plant can be badly damaged and in worst-case you can even get large pieces of turbine flying across the countryside!

          - There's video of failed shutdowns around YouTube somewhere. Don't have YouTube access from here, but should be easy to find.

          1. Saigua

            Dangerous and noncompliant Design falling in popularity

            Shutdown's a label for a state of acknowledged brokeness; it can spin or not. I'll give you this; it's not for 8bit MCU, sampling torque three times a second to handle 400km/s microbursts.

      2. indulis

        Demand controls required

        If your assumption is correct, and you can't predict within minutes that your wind farm will "drop to zero" (highly unlikely, I can foresee some smaller wind gauges placed in a perimeter around a wind farm would solve the problem), then we need to use "smart grid" system to control energy usage- for example, if all non-critical appliances could ramp down (dishwashers, clothes dryers, electric car recharging stations) in times of shortage, it'd give you some buffer to use, with a short (minutes) delay turning them back on again until the secondary power systems were brought back on-line.

      3. Saigua

        Steam loop pause/resume; yes there is a diversion loop you git

        Amazingly electricity has some grid events that are pretty fast, as if it were not an orgone-related system. Accordingly, it has some nifty generator, snubber and switchgear applicaitons if it ever had to meet compliance or profitability. Alternate steam loops that can be tapped in tens of seconds, dampers, even generator inlet and vane controls, sometimes ignition preheating and fuel bed controls so you don't have to idle the steam loop for windy days on end; or alter furnace or vane temperatures much, even if you don't have cogeneration customers to suck up heat or other loop products for manufacturing generation. Thank a lineperson if you really nerve out at being 'on the edge' of capacity...and maybe help nub out transmission losses with local fixup.

    13. BristolBachelor Gold badge

      Peaky power generation

      I thought that one of the problems with power generation was that the cleaner 'normal' type power generation needed to be turned on slowly, and then run continuously and then turned off slowly.

      If you need 'nromal' type power generation that you can turn-on at a flick of a switch (like when there's no wind), it tends to be dirtier, outputing more CO2 for the same energy. If we have to switch all our 'normal' generation to this technology to allow for wind / no-wind, does our total CO2 output go down or up? EVen if it still goes down, does it go down by as much as we are told is saved by wind?

      If our total CO2 goes up because of these windmills, can I say that they don't work (as in they don't reduce CO2, which is what we're told they do)?

    14. Andydaws

      It's not that simple - if, for example,

      compensating for intermittency means I have to run Open-cycle gas turbine plant (or Closed cycle in open-cycle mode), that means my net production of CO2 increases, compared to the more efficient mode.

      Or, another example - assuming Carbon-Capture technology can be made viable (I'm reasonably certain it can for gas, but have severe doubts about coal....), then it'll make for a very high-capital cost plant - which means that to recover cost, I'm going to need to guarantee that the majority of output gets sold reliably. If I start having to cycle that sort of plant to accomodate variability from other sorts of plant, it's unlikely to be financially viable.

    15. Ron 10

      Actually it does not really work that way

      Actually it does not really work that way. The overall power grid needs to be designed to handle "peak" loads. There must always be enough instantaneous capacity to meet demand; thus there needs to be enough capability from another fuel to keep the world running when wind is low (or it is night or cloudy for solar).

      Therein lies the real problem. Most sources of electricity can not make quick changes from idle to producing power. Whereas wind has essentially instantaneous changes.

      Solar and wind really don't work as a significant fossil fuel replacement unless there is an economical way to store power to meet peaks. Basically there is none and no really good prospects.

      There is also recent information that wind farms are causing significant climate disturbance downwind of the sites.

      Nuclear is really the only essentially zero carbon stable source. And can be made much safer if the greens of the world had not stopped reactor development in the US and some other areas a decade or two ago.

    16. Msan

      I thought the point of power generation was to keep the economic,

      social and cultural infrastructure ticking along nicely, not to shoot under par on a carbon measurement?

    17. Zippy the Pinhead


      No... but that makes them more costly and less efficient.

  4. fritsd

    you forgot a step

    1. "Thus, in the absence of a storage system, populating the country with windmills just won't work."

    2. ???

    3. "(...) windmills, which we know won't work, (...)"

    You forgot step 2: you imply that storage systems (pumped hydro storage, Sodium Sulfur batteries, using cold storage meat warehouses as energy storage) are not available.

    As you write yourself, this is because of "Thus they don't even want people investigating such systems, let alone proving that they will work."

    But maybe I'm being unkind to you. Of course it's all the fault of the all-powerful hippies.

    1. Bumpy Cat

      Not quite ...

      Energy storage is a big problem, and storing it in the industrial quantities over days is even harder. I'm sure you're already had a look at "Without Hot Air", an in-depth look at power generation:

      - Pumped hydro storage will require concreting over large areas of the countryside. You might be producing less carbon, but the devastation of wilderness seems like a poor trade-off.

      - Batteries are not a solution yet. Relying on *two* unproven technologies for our power generation seems unwise.

      - There are not enough cold-storage units to make a dent on the power requirements of the national grid.

      Like the author, I'm agnostic about power generation. Whatever damn well works, we'll use. I would venture to suggest that you are not similarly agnostic, and in fact agree with the less-than-rational people who are trying to use this issue to force *their* ideal lifestyle on us.

      1. Hollerith 1

        stored energy = compressed air

        Another way to store energy is compressed air. Yes, it costs some energy to do it, but you can have it 'on tap' when the windmills run dry, and it is ready instantly, so to speak.

        1. Dave 62

          on the subject of windbags..

          while we're going on about "windbags" the author and indeed all you fine chaps should check out the Robinsion creations of one Professor Seamus Garvey who thinks we should stick great big bags under the sea to store compressed air from wind turbines. Not sure how feasible it is but it is an entertaining idea.

          Otherwise I do largely agree with the article, hippies are killing the planet. Ideally developed nations would finance the irrigation and/or solar-panal-installation of deserts, thorium reactors everywhere, but people have greed and pride, that's what it all boils down to.

          I want to start my own political movement with the sole objective of spreading peace, love and understanding (what's so funny?), something clearly not practised by many "climate" protesters who seem to be in it because they like to feel superior or like to be part of something, maybe it's human pack instinct. Gosh I'm awfully verbose today.

    2. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Storage doesn't scale like generation.

      Also, those same Greens won't accept the storage anyway.

      Pumped-storage hydro could be pretty high output for several hours.

      So where can I build one? Ah yes - I can't because that involves flooding (and draining) significant areas very rapidly and digging very big holes, which the Greens will not permit. There's also not very many locations suitable for pumped-storage as you don't want the water to run away.

      Existing installations produce their max. design output for single-digit hours, because they're not allowed to flood large areas. (Dinorwig is declared as 1728MW for 5 hours. It normally bursts the output for short periods to allow other generation to ramp up, and can be used to quickly sink excess generation when ramping down)

      Sodium sulphur batteries involve very toxic chemicals. The Greens don't like that either.

      The biggest sodium sulphur battery installation is designed to run a small town of about 4000 inhabitants for 8 hours. (Presidio, Texas, max 4MW, max 8 hours). That's absolutely tiny and cost them $25 million.

      I've not heard of cold storage meat warehouses before, but I suspect it's similar scale to the Presidio battery installation but with slower ramping. You'd need a lot of mass to store much recoverable energy.

      The trouble is that politicians really don't understand the scale of the National Grid. Near-live demand figures are published by the National Grid online - as I write this:

      Demand: 39,084MW 12:40:00 GMT

      Frequency: 49.984Hz12:43:45 GMT

      1. fritsd

        All we need is energy storage

        Sodium-sulfur isn't very toxic chemicals, especially compared to nuclear or coal waste :-). For example it's less toxic than the sulfuric acid-lead batteries that every car driver has. If you'd neutralize and oxidate it, the end result can be used as a laxative or in washing powder (sodium sulfate). It is corrosive, so you'd want to keep the batteries in a locked waterproof shack with a warning sign on the door.

        My complaint was mostly that it was a main component in the author's argument (wind and solar without storage doesn't work), and then completely ignored for three pages and glossed over, and then came the conclusion (... therefore wind and solar doesn't work).

        About the cold storage meat warehouses: I read the idea basically


        and more specific here:

        The idea is that most industry currently is built to use constant amounts of electricity, but for industries that could switch processes to use more power when it's cheaper (see , it 's a bit like a stock market), it can be a win-win both for that industry (cheaper power if they're able to be flexible) and for the country (less total energy infrastructure needed).

        Here's another crazy hippie idea:

        - when the wind blows in the UK but not in France, sell electricity to France. when the wind blows in France but not in the UK, vice versa. I doubt that it's physically possible for there to be no wind in the whole of Europe at any single time.

        Also this should be a net win for Blighty because it's a bloody island.

        1. DavCrav


          "when the wind blows in the UK but not in France, sell electricity to France. when the wind blows in France but not in the UK, vice versa. I doubt that it's physically possible for there to be no wind in the whole of Europe at any single time."

          FAIL. Epic FAIL. You might doubt it, but it's true. Google for the National Grid, 'Winter Outlook Report 2009/10', and see p54, paragraph 167. I will quote:

          "High pressure normally extends over a large area and this could mean there would be very little wind generation in Western Europe."

          (The report is available here: but this link might not be liked by the moderator.)

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: you forgot a step

      I don't think he forget a step.

      Without some exciting new storage medium, storage is not going to solve any problems.

      The suggestions you posit are laughable.

      Let's pick on the pumped storage reservoir one, simply because I hear it a lot:

      a) How many reservoirs are you planning on building? Where? Given that you'll need a low one and a high one to generate any power, really where? Given that, as well as low and high reservoirs, you'll also need a power station sitting between them, really, really where? Given that, as well as two reservoirs and a power station, you'll also need a large pumping station, really, really, really where are you going to build them? How many did you say you were going to build?

      b) What are you storing? Oh, excess power. Where's this excess power coming from? Oh, the wind turbines on a windy day. Given that wind turbines can only physically generate a small proportion of our daily power requirements, at what point are you expecting any excess power from them. Oh...

      1. Rob Dobs

        Being ignorant in the reverse direction is not the answer.

        Really people, someone said it best, - what hippie out there really has any power that has done this to us? Currently in the US the Greens have practically 0 elected officials, and no senators or congressmen that I am aware of. They have no power. Current US energy policy is decided by business owners and the top politicians, I imagine the UK is the same. i.e. don't blame the greens for what we currently have.

        Wind is not a 100% solution, and no one intelligent is saying so. I believe that people are working out multiple approaches to the problem which really is the best.

        I think too many Anti hippie types are just as quick to apply the same unproven logic they accuse the hippies of:

        From the comments here you would think that the world just has no reasonable ways of storing power. Ridiculous. Batteries and Flywheels do exist, and can be made in many variety of capacities and sizes.

        And talk about jumping to conclusions.... Of course hippies and greenies would HATE having something like a two ponds in their community, god even worse if their water levels were to change sometime!!! Really?... A water reservoir is a pretty easy concept for storing energy, and I don't see why the greenies wouldn't love it. All you need is two ponds, (two big ones, or lots of small ones). They should close to each other, and one needs to be a few feet higher than the other. You could make a small two story building, and pump up from the lower to the upper chamber. The could look as simple as a shed or farm silo, or could even be put underground and out of sight under a pasture. Power Station, you make it sound like some ugly undesirable thing.... a small mechanical hydo pump could be buried between the ponds, or in a closet in a building.

        I don't think even the heads of the wind industry pretend that their solutions is a 100% solution.

        As to the OP who questions why the UK politician could consider one unproven and the other not.... One has not been successfully done yet at all - just theory. Wind and Solar DO WORK... just not as efficiently as we would like.... improving efficiency seems to be an more reliable route that a fully unproven technology. (That said I do agree with supporting Thorium reactor research, as we do need some reliable fuel to "burn" on demand as part of a national solution.)

        And everyone keeps quoting different numbers with the facts to back them up. OK so Solar and wind are a financial failure... or they pay themselves off in 6 months. Where is the facts? It should be pretty easy to total up the output from a production effort. ALL products made in mass market conditions should be forced to carry this information ( at least on their web site). How much power was used to make this particular item? What amount and what type of chemicals gases etc were released, what chemical process changes took place etc. Any manufacturer knows these data points perfectly as it affects their bottom line and tells them whether they are going to make money producing it.

        In the end what you power neutral, and Gas and coal lovers need to understand is there is a long term picture that people are looking at as well. Coal and Gas cause lots of emissions, but worse are a finite resource, and will get MORE EXPENSIVE as they get more SCARCE!

        Solar, wind and hydro all offer something that these other power sources cannot, sustainability.

        There is a inherent interest in pushing these systems to better efficiency, as this could be redone over the world without the limitations that fossil fuels have.

        Of course the US at least has the current policy: let all the oil holders sell of their fuel cheap, then we will look for something better when that runs out.... given that we are paying less for a gallon of finite gas, than a gallon of replenishable milk. its not a terrible economic decision.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Being ignorant in the reverse direction is not the answer.

          "Currently in the US the Greens have practically 0 elected officials, and no senators or congressmen that I am aware of. They have no power. Current US energy policy is decided by business owners and the top politicians, I imagine the UK is the same. i.e. don't blame the greens for what we currently have."

          I'd upvote this more if I could. It's not the fault of the Green Party (or, indeed, Greenpeace or those fictional weed-smoking but highly influential hippies) that the UK has stockpiles of plutonium and a two-party commitment to a nuclear deterrent, and yet the Britard Executive is unable to formulate any coherent plan for power generation other than leaving it to the market and praying for cheap gas.

          Instead of blaming the country's woes on hippies, perhaps one should demand a bit more spine from one's favourite politicians - the ones running the country into the ground over the past few decades because anyone else would just be "too risky" - if one really thinks that, for example, nuclear power is the way out of the mess those politicians have helped to create.

      2. kwhitefoot

        All of you are ignoring one of the biggest problems

        The lack of high capacity interconnects between countries is one of the things that makes things like wind power awkward and pumped storage difficult to use.

        If we had a fully connected grid from Portugal to the Ukraine and Sahara to Norway we would be able smooth out a lot of the demand and Norway could act as the storage system for quite a substantial reserve. Startup time for a pumped storage generator is very short so they can be used to cut the peak demand.

        And of course if we have high power DC link we can put CSP plants in the North African desert. Look up Desertec.

        1. Andydaws

          Not really,

          or at least not without an immense expansion of Norway's hydro capacity - it's currently 23,000MW, and could, perhaps be doubled. Of course, most of that supplies Norway itself, so if we assume that 23,000 MW would be available - that's about 3% of peak demand across the major countries of Europe - GErmany, the UK, France, etc.

          Plus, there's a major misunderstanding of what role hydro plays in compensation for wind intermittency.

          Some - not all - hydro plant is constrained by water supply. For example, Norway has had only one year in which there was any constraint at all on electricity production at it's hydro plants in the last 20-odd years (2002). In all other years it has adequate catchment to run year-long. further south, there tend to be more constraint issues - in Spain, for example - but even there winter-run-off is usually adequate.

          So, where Danish wind is using Norwegian hydro for compensation, it's actually done by stopping production of some Norwegian hydro (because the Danes bid into Nordpool at zero) when wind is available. In other words, one low-carbon source is displacing another. Worse, if the reservoirs are anywhere near full, all that happens is incoming water is sent over the spillway.

          OK, so what if you went instead for pumped storage? Well, there's a problem - as a rule, if a site is suitable for pumped storage, it's suitable for conventional hydro (other cases, like Dinorwig, where an upper lake has to be created from scratch are hugely expensive - replicating Dinorwig would cost the thick end of £3Bn for just 10GWh storage). If anything, PS sites are harder to find than concentional hydro, as you need a large lower lake as well as an upper.

          So, it's a fair bet that PS is only going to add a smallish increment otherwise developable hydro sites - and in fact, that in most cases, we'll be back to the Danish-Norwegian situation - wind simply displaces hydro production.

    4. The First Dave


      I think the possibility of extending our current pumped storage capacity has already been shown to be unable to match this need, but a country mile, but I agree that a reasonably efficient method of storing the power from these turbines would dramatically improve their utility.

      Also glossed over was the potential from fusion, which would not only reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, but also give us enough power to synthesize fuels "out of thin air".

    5. Tim Worstal


      Slightly my faulty there, infelicitous phrasing. They don't work because we don't have that storage system as yet. As to whether they might, well, in my day job I do run around trying to find the weird metals that would make one of those possible storage systems work.

      So I do indeed leave open the possibility that the storage system could exist in the future.

      Although I am inclined to believe (no evidence, just an informed guess) that the falling cost of solar will make that the intermittent power source of choice by the time we do have that storage technology ready for prime time.

    6. smylar

      Well yes ...

      You could build more pumped storage, however, just about eveything geologically suitable is being used as such, so then you'd have to manufacture the geology - can't imagine that being cost effective.

      Batteries will introduce even more inefficiency to the system, not to mention mining a fuck tonne more minerals to build them, plus they too will run out, how much storage do you install, a couple of days worth? - how many batteries is that? So you introduce even more costs to the system and still have to build a duplicate backup gas/coal/nuclear/whatever network.

      1. kwhitefoot

        No it isn't

        You could build more pumped storage, however, just about eveything geologically suitable is being used as such, so then you'd have to manufacture the geology - can't imagine that being cost effective.

        It only looks that way because of a parochial point of view and lack of interconnects.

  5. david 63

    As far as I'm concerned all the windbags...

    ...can sit in the dark waiting for the wind to blow.

    All the more diesel for me to run my generator.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Of all the articles on Global Warming....

    ...that support the opposite of my own view on whether it is a result of human activity, this one struck a chord with me.

    The greens I have long suspected are one of the driving forces behind modern society being devolved into some sort of pre-industrialised cottage-industry-based wake-up-with-the-sun-and-go-back-to-bed-when-it-gets-dark pseudo feudal society (I frikkin love hyphens).

    Without high yield methods of power production how are we to ever advance in any sort of field? To even suggest that something as inefficient as Solar or Wind power could ever be something which is commonplace in every day use other than to charge our ever increasing batches of battery powered gizmos is ridiculous at best.

    1. indulis

      And I love seeing someone take 2nd hand opinions as fact

      Glad to see that the author of the article supported your pre-concieved biased view of "the Greens", as "one of the driving forces behind modern society being devolved into some sort of pre-industrialised cottage-industry-based wake-up-with-the-sun-and-go-back-to-bed-when-it-gets-dark pseudo feudal society".

      Of course you can rely on someone elses (the article's author) view of "the Greens" as being fully accurate, and that they are all there to make us wear sackcloth and weave our own yoghurt.

      Lets not bother with facts shall we? Gross generalisations are so much more fun.

    2. PT

      Let's hear from an Über-Green

      "The greens I have long suspected are one of the driving forces behind modern society being devolved into some sort of pre-industrialised cottage-industry-based wake-up-with-the-sun-and-go-back-to-bed-when-it-gets-dark pseudo feudal society"

      Can this really be true? Here to tell us is an important and influential man called Maurice Strong. Read about him on Wiki to see how central he is to the whole thing. This is a verbatim quote from an interview with Canada West magazine in 1990 (sorry, I can't link the original source).


      "What if a small group of world leaders were to conclude that the principal risk to the Earth comes from the actions of rich countries? And if the world is to survive, those rich countries would have to sign an agreement reducing their impact on the environment. Will they do it? The group's conclusion is "no." The rich countries won't do it. They won't change. So, in order to save the planet, the group decides: Isn't the only hope for the planet that the industrialized civilizations collapse? Isn't it our responsibility to bring that about?"

      Does this sound like the sort of person you want influencing your national energy policy?

  7. Anonymous Coward

    The rich and the stupid?

    "If thorium (or space based solar, or fast breeder, or fusion) ever really worked on an industrial scale it would blow apart their ideal of that William Morris style Arts and Crafts society. Thus they don't even want people investigating such systems, let alone proving that they will work."

    While there may be people who only want waterwheels and old-school windmills, painting everyone who doesn't want a full-on Lewis Page "uranium shower" as some kind of agrarian fantasist doesn't make your case for you. Bill Gates apparently advocates thorium reactor research and surely has enough money, but will he pay for it? Of course not! It's the taxpayer who has to bear the costs so that the wealthy can have their fat profits.

    Why aren't you nagging Gates and pals? I thought you were a big fan of private enterprise.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Actually the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation are sponsoring a large amount of research into new Nuclear power generation tech, just not Thorium. They can't do everything, so it makes sense for them to pick the particular areas that they want the BAMGF to research and give serious money to them, rather than spreading out all their money to the point that it's so little given to everything that it's not worth doing.

    2. Throatwobbler Mangrove


      I'm a bit mixed about the article as a whole (not really knowing enough about the subject) but that quote jumped out at me as weird too:

      "Well, umm, however strange this might sound, there really are a lot of people, or perhaps just a few very vocal people, who think that more energy, in and of itself, would be a bad idea."

      Well, umm, why weren't they named if they're so very vocal? I'm sure such people exist but it was a weird omission - it just looks like a straw man without detail and without knowing who they are or how influential they are already.

      1. notagreen

        Who are they

        Nick Clegg, Chris Huhne, Greenpeace, The Transition Movement, Friends of the Earth, The Guardian, The BBC, The new economics foundation (NEF).....

        Do you need any more names?

    3. Filippo Silver badge

      Re: The rich and the stupid?

      If you are against public subsidies for research on new energy sources, then yeah - you're an agrarian fantasist. Either that, or you're for uranium. There are no other alternatives, really. It's waterwheels, or uranium, or lots of costly research.

      And the payoff of the research will take enough time that private investors won't go for it, especially given that the fortunes of energy sources are so heavily dependant on where the political wind blows. If I had a few billion dollars to spare, I too wouldn't want to drop them on thorium, even if it's the right thing to do, simply because it only takes a few stupid politicians to drive the public to a frenzy and put the kibosh on everything nuclear for 20 years. You just don't start a mega-investment all by yourself with that sort of crap happening all the time.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Dead Vulture

        Re: The rich and the stupid?

        "If you are against public subsidies for research on new energy sources, then yeah - you're an agrarian fantasist."

        I didn't say I was against public subsidies for energy research. I said that those advocating thorium-related research, particularly those who are rich and supposedly in favour of the markets running everything, might want to put up real amounts of money rather than getting the taxpayer to bankroll their pet projects. Do try to digest the whole point.

        "Either that, or you're for uranium. There are no other alternatives, really. It's waterwheels, or uranium, or lots of costly research."

        Yes, and thankfully a lot of that research is being undertaken with government funding. It makes quite a bit more sense to prioritise fusion research with government money, for example, precisely because no-one else has both the foresight and the pockets to pay for it. Meanwhile, people whine about thorium reactor research not being done with such money (although I imagine it actually is done on some level), but the thorium brigade have had quite a few opportunities to dip into the public purse over the years, and it is arguably the job of the existing commercial operators to extend their expertise into thorium (making use of the existing research). Not that they will, of course: any observation of the way the energy business operates will inform you that the operators would rather the taxpayer bore the cost of the R&D right up to the point when they can start billing the customer.

        "And the payoff of the research will take enough time that private investors won't go for it, especially given that the fortunes of energy sources are so heavily dependant on where the political wind blows."

        Super-rich investors like Gates need not care: they could blow all their money and not live to see the outcome of their work. Indeed, Gates once claimed that he wouldn't leave a great deal of money to his offspring, anyway. Moreover, they have quite a bit of influence to steer the politics in the direction they favour, as we tend to see in the decisions of our rulers.

        In time, people in Britain will get desperate and embrace whatever power source will eventually provide the megawatts necessary to run their iPads and other countless/useless gadgetry that everyone is told to buy to prop up the economy. Perhaps the politicians would rather leave the matter until then, and perhaps the super-rich would rather restrict their advocacy to merely courting the politicians until something absolutely has to be done, only to buy some costly assets from the state for £1 as is customary.

        But, hey, let's blame some hippies for the inaction. After all, they're the only ones not doing anything, right?

  8. Dr. Mouse
    Thumb Up


    "the difference between subsidising nuclear power and subsidising solar power is that nuclear is a mature technology and solar is not. In that case, I asked, would she support research into thorium reactors, which could provide a much safer and cheaper means of producing nuclear power? No, she told me, because thorium reactors are not a proven technology."

    Love this quote. It is the typical logic-defying argument of someone with an agenda to push.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Don't forget...

      Don't forget that the Green Party are also anti-high speed rail, the reasoning is the rather staggeringly inverted snobbery of "It will just encourage the rich to travel to and from London" with a rider of "and do nothing for the poor". They completely ignore the fact that if we get good north/south high speed trains, we'll take all those London to Edinburgh/Glasgow flights out of the sky, possilby even Edinburgh/Glasgow to Paris as well and make Heathrow more efficient by reducing the amount of trivial flights it serves.

  9. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    Aperture Science Now!

    "For it's the subsidies we paid a decade or more ago that have accelerated the industry to this point: yet the near term economic switching point is used as the clinching argument for why we should have whacking great subsidies for the next 20 years."

    This is the main problem: Economic knowledge of most all is in La-La Land. Apparently "subsidies" can be had just "for free" and are often credited with "accelerating" a technology.

    On the contrary - they mean some committe in the Ministry of Planned Economy has decided that they know better than anybody else and that want to direct scare resources into some politically preferred scheme of "investment" (and this goes for windmills, solar power at home or nukes), while actual solutions and reachable technological paths stay unexplored.

    These resources must be pulled either from other taxpayer-funded projects like [favorite program here] or else taxes will be going up. Maybe the government goes a bit into debt with its central bank, and "finances" things through inflation. When the subsidies stop, or the technology tanks for various reasons [hey, Niobium is sooo expensive!], or the money-fuelled bubble pops, resources will have been squandered, pension schemes will have evaporated, companies will have crashed and the dole queue will be longer. Meanwhile, economically reasonable and feasible projects will never have seen the light of day.

    But by then it will be nobody's fault in particular. the minister will wash his hands and the usual suspects will be calling for even more control economy, "money injections", "belt tightening", "price controls" to twart "gougers", banning of a recently "dangerous" technology or whatever.

    And winters will be colder.

  10. davenewman

    Wind is fine up to 33% of demand

    This was calculated thoroughly by the CEGB back in the 1970s. The spare capacity in the system was enough to cover this. Now there is less spare capacity, but more gas turbines that can be turned on quickly (unlike nuclear power stations that take days to start or stop, and hours to change output).

    Unfortunately, this and other detailed calculations have been forgotten by commentators today, who instead repeat unverified assumptions about the variance in wind power output.

    1. copsewood

      Current dam capacity could take wind higher than 33%

      Those who understand wind technology (of which few who do seem to be commenting today) are not arguing to take wind up to 100%. Nuclear is also unsuited for peaking demand. Many of the hydro dams we have already got could be uprated relatively cheaply compared to their original construction cost to act primarily as wind generation storage and balancing.

      The research paper referenced below demonstrates Scottish available hydro storage capable of satisfying wind storage needs for wind generation of up to 40% of UK electricity.

      In practice neither the Arts and Crafts William Morris followers nor the nuclear powered everything "too cheap to meter" lobby have very useful answers in this debate - as we're likely to have to put our generation eggs into multiple baskets for a whole raft of reasons, including a split between nuclear, a selection of renewable technologies and a diminishing share of fossil fuel burning technologies. The longer-term future of the latter is also dependent upon currently unproven technology, i.e. carbon capture and storage.

      Interestingly, a very practical patron of the Arts and Crafts movement was the Victorian inventor of hydro-electric power, Lord Armstrong who put a hydro electric plant in the garden of his Cragside house. This exhibits a fine selection of A&C art including work by William Morris himself. But while Armstrong liked A&C art, he didn't subscribe to their values. This is evident from the fact he also had a painting of the Newcastle Elswick Works Armstrong built, smoke and all that the A&C crowd would have despised, above the mantlepiece in his main reception room.

      1. Andydaws

        You need to have a read of the paper you linked, not just the conclusion....

        It's referencing 40% of SCOTTISH winter demand, but is predicated on interconnection to the ENGLISH system - which is about 9 times the size of the scots system, and is assumed to act as a sink/back up.

        A bit naughty, really.....

    2. chr0m4t1c


      "Unfortunately, this and other detailed calculations have been forgotten by commentators today, who instead repeat unverified assumptions about the variance in wind power output"

      Perhaps you should read the original article and the report and if you *still* think people are repeating unverified assumptions then get the data and do the calculations yourself.

      But in short, in just over two years there were 124 days where the *total* output of all wind generation was less than 20MW for at least one five minute period and over three hours in at least one case. That's fairly variable, unless you think it would be OK for the country to be randomly powering down (i.e. without warning) between 5 minutes and 3 hours roughly once a week.

      At best that's going to be inconvenient, but more likely it'll be dangerous - hospitals certainly don't want frequent unpredictable power outages for example. And if you start saying that you just need to put in a UPS for critical requirements, then you're back where we started with wind being too variable.

    3. Andydaws

      Careful with the numbers....

      It's a little tighter than that...

      wind is OK up to 20-25%, or perhaps 30% of "connected capacity" - which equates to nearer 10% of production, on average load factors.

  11. Bilgepipe


    I actually saw a couple of windmills at a wind farm turning once.

    Just a couple.

    1. Boring Bob

      Lonely windmills

      I always found it strange that I should find only one or two windmills turning in a farm when most of them were stopped (at least that is commonly the case here in France). If there is enough wind to turn one of the windmills then why not all of them? The reason I have been told is for political reasons: the one windmill that is running is being powered by electricity using its generator as a motor as EDF does not want the public to commonly see entirely stationary wind-farms.

      Might be true, might be false, however it the best reason I've been given yet.

  12. Keris

    It's not new

    Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle and Michael Flynn wrote in the SF book "Fallen Angels" about a future where the Greens had won so far that the earth had fallen back into an ice age. That's not looking likely now (it was a possible future back when they wrote it in 1991), but the real point is what the governments then did -- they continued their programme of energy reduction even when it was harmful because they wanted to stay in power. There's a lot of power (of the political kind) in having a 'crisis', and one which they can blame on the "ordinary people" (like "you're using too much power") is really useful. It's all our fault so we must suffer (while the overlords, of course, sit in comfort).

    1. Rob Dobs

      Greens had less power in 91 than now

      Granted I haven't read it, but from your synopsis this sounds like a pretty stupid idea/book.

      It seems to ignore the facts around greed consumption and capitalism, that really cause a lot of our waste. It also does not focus at all on the real heat that billions of people will produce even with better technology. The idea that not making enough heat would somehow cause us to freeze sounds retarded and laughable. I get the big brother reference, but there is a disconnect in how energy reduction leads to freezing, or how energy reduction could possibly help someone stay in power.... its only popular now because it is such an OBVIOUS looming threat to so many people. Human nature seem to dictate that as we reduced energy support for reducing energy would wane.... especially when it started to cause REAL hardship for the masses. That this would not self correct seems asinine and purposefully forced to make a false point.

  13. Gupie

    fossil fuel companies also don't like thorium

    The lack of research into Thorium in Europe is much more likely due to a general anti-nuclear bias, think bombs and radiation, than due to a desire for a pre-industrial energy and population levels from some sections of the Green movement. I would think that more effective opposition to any viable replacement to fossil fuels would come from existing fossil fuel companies and dependants.

    1. hamsterjam

      Actually, no, you're 180 degrees out.

      You can't make nuclear weapons from thorium reactors. That's why there's no motivation to develop them.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. Gupie

        Actually there can be more than one reason for something

        That's perhaps one reason why nuclear power was pushed 50 years ago, I doubt there is a shortage of weapon grade fissile material now. If nuclear power, thorium or otherwise, was a vote winner we would be investing in it, after all you cannot make nuclear weapons out of windmills but there is a motivation to develop them.

      3. Andydaws

        Taht's a line often argued by the pro-thorium lobby, but....

        It doesn't really bear examination.

        The argument is, although the uranium 233 produced in a thorium cycle is just as fissile as U235 or pu 239, it's contaminated with U232 - which is relatively radioactive, and would make the material hard to handle. U232 has roughly a 70 year half-life.

        But, in civilian "conventional" breeder cycles - whether it's just extracting Pu from spent fuel or using fast reactors - the plutonium is a mix of Pu 238, 239 and 240. And Pu 238 is also short-lived, with a half life of 90 years. So not much less hot than U232.

        FWIW, the US did actually test at several U233 bombs - bizarrely called " operation teapot". It worked rather well! The technology had real virtues for lightweight/small yield bombs.

        The reality is, from either cycle, civilian fuel is a crap starting point for making bomb material.

      4. IvyKing

        233U is usable for weapons

        Thorium reactors convert thorium to 233U, which is a reasonable material for weapons, especially in that it doesn't have the neutron production problem of Plutonium (spontaneous fission of 240Pu).

        What's funny about the talk of thorium reactors is that quite a bit of work was done in the US, General Atomic's HTGR program and Rickover's LWBR conversion of the Shippingport reactor.

    2. Anonymous Coward


      Do some sections of the Green movement actually advocate pre-industrial energy *and* population levels? (Makes sense - can't really have one without the other) However, do they also advocate the mass euthanasia programme that would surely be necessary to achieve said population levels? Think of the carbon emissions from 50 million cremations!

      1. Gupie


        " long as there is one breeding pair of humans, there's too great a threat to the biosphere"

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Thumb Down


 do realise population equilibrium can be achieved ethically without resorting to mass euthanasia? And that its geared to future generations not the current one for exactly that reason.

          You didnt? In other words you spouted out a daily mail style death-camp comment without researching? Kudos. Welcome to Greenpeace.

          Of course this is where you spout some bollox about how the near 7bn humans have had *zero* impact on biodiversity, habitats, fellow species etc and how everything is fine.

      2. Tim Worstal


        Optimum Popuation Trust.

        They argue that UK population must fall to 18 million.

        Current head, Sir Jonathan Porritt Bt.

        Who was, as you might recall, head of the Sustainable Development Corporation (umm, Committee?).

        You know, typical Tory, there's far too damn many of you peasants, cluttering up the land.

  14. Graham Bartlett

    Energy storage systems

    Normal power stations need energy storage too - the infamous "all-the-country's-kettles-at-halftime" load as a prime example. That's what Dinorwig does for the National Grid.

    As far as I'm concerned, there are two questions. One is: what's the payback time on investment for any new infrastructure? And the other is: how much is it going to cost to run the infrastructure in 20 years time?

    If windmills and associated energy storage systems will pay back in 20 years, it's worth doing. Likewise PV. If they won't, then they probably aren't. Even if you need to keep a few "backup" gas power stations active but mostly switched off, that's not a big deal. And let's remember that we *always* have at least a couple of days warning of low winds with current weather forecasting.

    And then there's the long-term thing. Maybe they won't pay off on today's budgets - but look up the multiple oil crises caused by Opec raising their prices for how those assumptions can easily be blown out of the water. Infrastructure can't be built instantly, so if we're going to need this stuff in a few years time then it makes sense to get started, even if it costs a bit more initially.

    In this though, I'm somewhat with Tim. There seems to be far too little data on the payoffs behind these technologies; and quite a few bits of tech (e.g. that Spanish solar tower) which actually have working examples out there but for some reason are being ignored.

    1. Andydaws

      Graham. let's get a sense of scale on this

      Dinorwig can run at about 1.8GW for 6 hours or so - it rarely does so, because it's primary function isn't storage per-se. It's there to form the platform for a shit-fan interface stuation called a black-start.

      Peak demand is about 60GW - so, balls- out, Dinorwig and the other PS stations could produce about 5-6% of peak demand.

      Compare that with HMG's intended wind penetration - 30-50GW, which can cycle (realistically) from 90% of nominal capacity, to sub 5% in a matter of hours. Even if we assume s relatively benign cas - having to substitute for average winf aoutput from 40GW of wind, for an outage of 5 days, that needs 1200GW-hours. Dinorwig can (if you wring out every last drop) about 11GW-hours. The other PS stations all together (Ffestiniog, Sloy, etc.) have about as much capacity together as Dinorwig.

      I make it we'd need to find about an extra 1178 GWh of storage.

      As so often with this debate, I find myself thinking (do the fucking numbers before making claims....

      "If windmills and associated energy storage systems will pay back in 20 years, it's worth doing"

      But they won't. At 7% WACC, £3bn/GW and 25-30% capacity factor - all currently representative - they need power prices to be more than double what they are, just to ciover their borrowing costs, never mind break-even

    2. Tom 13

      I've find it interesting how many greens are willing to invest 20 years out for their tech,

      but when it comes to developing an oil or gas field that will produce in 5 or 10, that's too long term to be considered.

  15. BristolBachelor Gold badge

    Global warming

    I have a question about global warming. I do accept that it is happeneing, and I agree that it could really affect us. My question comes from the fact that we know that the Earth used to be frozen from pole to pole. This ice obviously melted and the Earth obviously warmed for this to happen.

    What I want to know is who the hell did that? I'm sure that it was before Henry Ford's time, and I don't think that they had data-centres or incandescent light-bulbs then. It seems strange that the whole Earth has been warming continuously for thousands of years before we even existed, and is still doing it, but we are taking all the credit. In the past the Earth was also much warmer than now, and at another time had much more CO2 (although strangly cooler!). How arrogant are we to say that we did it?

    1. Bumpy Cat

      It's a bit more complicated than that ...

      You seriously don't know any more than this?

      You're right, and it's true - the earth has been much hotter and much colder many times before. The problem is that we are adjusted to living in the current climate. Our CO2 output is enough to push the climate much hotter. This will cause problems with climate - severe floods or droughts, which will directly affect large numbers of people. The floods and droughts, along with extended habitats for pests like malarial mosquitoes and crop-eating locusts, will cause major problems.

      That's to say nothing of the damage to ecosystems around the world. People won't directly suffer, but as intelligent beings we should care if we are wiping out other species.

      In short, we won't break the planet or do anything that hasn't happened before, but millions of people will suffer as a result.

    2. bamalam


      Please grasp the concept that conditions on Earth were a lot different over 600 million years ago. For a start the Earth was spinning faster - days would have been about 18hours in duration. There was unlikely to have been large scale vegetation and the sea/land masses were very different. The reckoning is that it took a number of factors to end Snowball Earth (see wikipedia for an explanation). These are likely to have included a massive increase in CO². Note that the earths core was likely to have been much more active as there was still plenty of radioactivity to decay and so more volcanos as a start point is feasible.

      The world has not been warming continuously but there have been plenty of variations which is why we are in an interglacial period. What is wrong is how rapidly we are changing the climate as much as the extent.

      Note that there is no arrogance involved in suggesting that we are changing the climate - yep natural factors can be larger but we are burning up about a million years of trapped carbon! We can calculate the various factors that could heat the world up and cool it down and assess them through forums such as the IPCC. We are looking at things and not putting our heads in the sand.

      Note that the sort of thinking in the BristolBatchelor post leads to b*llocks such as suggesting that just because it was much warmer in the past and that was all right for the dinosaurs - what are we worrying about! We are looking at what is suitable for a population of 9 billion humans by mid century.

  16. nederlander


    Infinite, carbon free, cheap energy would, in the medium term be worse for life on earth than quite severe energy restrictions. The global economy is a linear system that turns natural resources into irrecoverable waste. The only limitation to its growth is the energy supply. More energy just means we'll kill ourselves quicker.

    On the other hand a limited energy supply (which can only be imposed by nature - it would never be self imposed), could result (eventually) in a stable and sustainable level of human population and activity, which might just be good for everyone.

    The most important thing to realise is that we human's have no control over our behaviour, so there's no point in worrying about any of this. What you are observing is a natural phenomenon that occurs all the time in many types of system - growth, overshoot, collapse.

    Just sit back and enjoy the ride.

    1. dogged


      Speak for yourself.

      Don't presume that you speak for an entire species.

  17. Adam Trickett

    There is no silver bullet!

    The sad truth is that there isn't a magic silver bullet, we just have to use less energy, a lot less.

    PV, solar, gas and uranium fission will all be in the mix as will dirty old coal but the only way to cut greenhouses gases is a drastic reduction in consumption. Every alternative fails at current consumption levels somewhere, if we cut energy consumption by 50% then a mixture of technologies become viable.

    1. Bumpy Cat

      No hot water for you, then

      Given that most of the power we use is for things like heating, heating water, transportation and agriculture, how do we cut energy consumption by 50%? We would have to go back in lifestyle by several decades (weekly baths, dirty clothes, limited foodstuffs, cycling everywhere) to manage it. I don't mind the cycling bit, but the others are a bit much to ask.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Re: No hot water for you, then

        "Given that most of the power we use is for things like heating, heating water, transportation and agriculture, how do we cut energy consumption by 50%?"

        Given the fucking abysmal state of British housing with respect to things like insulation - apologies for the coarse language, but Britain must really stand out in the infrared in winter - it wouldn't be too hard to not pump heat straight through the windows, roofs and walls of the average British home. Sadly, instead of bankrolling this with modest amounts of cash in the last decade or so, everyone decided to go on a borrowing and spending spree, pissing away money on tarting shit up needlessly (both private property and public infrastructure) before realising that they couldn't really afford the luxury Dubai-style trimmings on, say, that semi-detached house's new conservatory whereas the outlay on insulation would have been modest.

        But conserving resources is just so unsexy, and the average modern Britard votes for the man who promises more Dubai-style bling, complete with those unicorns being denied to them by the nasty man holding the purse strings.

      2. Andydaws

        Energy use tends to rise pretty monotonously

        But, even so, you miss something. If we're going to hit the decarbonisation agenda, we're not only got to decarbonise electricity production for other uses - we've got to shift lots of other carbon-producing activities onto electricity, in order to decarboniase them

        Think electric cars, and replacing your gas boiler with electric heating.

        Even if you assume a 30% or so improvement in overall energy efficiency, we'll still need to see electricity production nearly double, to hit the current carbon targets.

        Have a play with this...

      3. Red Bren

        Weekly baths?

        Whether we need them or not...

    2. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: There is no silver bullet

      "if we cut energy consumption by 50% then a mixture of technologies become viable."

      That's going to need a *lot* of silver bullets. You could use them to force the existing population to accept a 50% reduction in living standards, or you could use them to force a 50% population reduction. Either way, don't expect history to be kind to you.

      Fortunately, you are talking total bollocks. Almost any non-fossil-fuel-based technology would, if adopted on a large enough scale, result in a massive reduction in greenhouse emissions. Since even the good folks of the IPCC are still talking in terms of decades rather than years, the switchover wouldn't even need to be costly. You just replace fossil-fueled infrastructure with non-fossil-fueled versions at end-of-life.

      It wouldn't need to be a centrally planned or legislated policy either. A tax on raw carbon (coal, oil, gas) would be easy to police and collect, since these fuels are needed on such a vast scale that no-one could possibly "smuggle" them, and there are only a limited number of sites world-wide where significant quantities are actually extracted. Start the tax really low and set a schedule of increases so that by 2050 it is simply uneconomic to extract coal, oil or gas if your intention is simply to burn it.

      All this could be done now, at the stroke of a pen, without any technological breakthroughs. It requires only that today's politicians make promises (that future politicians will maintain the tax escalator) that they themselves won't have to keep.

      The only problem is the one identified in the article. There are people out there who *want* the sky to be falling.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Population 2's an idea - wanna reduce co2 by 50%? Throw in some ethical population control on a 50 year program into the mix. No need for death camps (why does every muppet Daily Fail reader think that's what it entails??), focus on the developed and "new world" populations (no more mums with literally 13 kids rummaging through an Indian landfill), and bingo. Job done.

        1. Richard 12 Silver badge

          WTF is "Ethical" population control?

          There's only two ways - compulsory sterilisation* or mass-murder.

          Ok, three ways - you could use forced abortions, though there's a lot of people who'd call that mass-murder.

          I'm guessing by 'ethical', you mean "Ask people nicely to only have 1 child". China has already proven that doesn't work without large penalties for breaking the edict.

          And we're back to compulsory sterilisation.

          Have you had the snip or a long-term (>5 years) contraceptive implant? If not - go do it. Then convince everybody you have ever met to do the same - without threatening to murder or imprison them.

          If you can do that, then we'll take your lunatic idea seriously.

          *Doesn't matter whether you mean reversible or permanent, it's still compulsory.

        2. Ken Hagan Gold badge


          "No need for death camps (why does every muppet Daily Fail reader think that's what it entails??), "

          Probably because the majority of Fail readers are over 50.

          If you want to lower the population by non-Draconian means, it will take a long time. China had a one child per family policy for donkeys and saw bog-all drop in population over that period.

          Now couple that with the fact that over the same period any humane development policy would see 6/7 of the existing population come up to the same standard of living as the lucky bastards reading this article. Putting these two facts together, it is clear to me that global energy consumption will *have* to be significantly larger in 2100 than they are now, because happily we just aren't sadistic enough to contemplate the alternative.

          Technologically, this isn't a problem, even with CO2 emission constraints. The problem is that too many people still fondly hope that the extra energy simply won't be needed, so they don't need to think Hard thoughts about how they'll provide it.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    it does mean they don't work because

    they don't contribute significantly to solving the problem, whilst taking a disproportionate amount of resources to build.

    Nuclear is the only answer to this issue - and this will need a lot of research on storing, disposing, and maintaining the waste product, as well as new battery technologies to allow leccie motors to take the place of all the petrochemical gubbins we use now, and a thousand other things I lack the wit to think of.

    And finding those nuclear answers will take time - so best start putting the little money we have into that, not nonsense like wind and wave

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Big Brother

      Re: it does mean they don't work because

      "And finding those nuclear answers will take time - so best start putting the little money we have into that, not nonsense like wind and wave"

      What do you think people have been doing up at places like Sellafield for the past half century? Research into storage and reprocessing has been ongoing and presumably isn't just a few quid every so often. And the nation would have more than "the little money we have" if it weren't pissing cash away on the usual vanity projects, wars, backhanders, the financial industry's bonuses, and so on.

  19. Stuart Castle Silver badge

    Hardly exhaustive I know,

    I live near Croydon.

    When Travelodge refurbished an old office building there as a Hotel, they installed a few wind turbines on the roof.

    The trouble is, where they are, it's rarely windy enough to get maybe one or two of them turning.

    I don't know how much leccy they generate, but I suspect it's not enough to cover the hotel's needs.

    1. jonathanb Silver badge

      Too small, in the wrong place

      Urban windmills don't work. They need to be very big and in an exposed windy place. Rooftop windmills in the city are a waste of money.

  20. Chris Procter

    Idiot greens

    My sister-in-law is a climatologist who worked with greenpeace for a year. However, she's great.

    I know people travel, go to massive gigs all over the country when it suits them, however make me out to be a bad guy for travelling 60 miles at weekends to visit the parents.

    Apparently this would be acceptable if they were terminally ill, otherwise is plain evil and I should be destroyed.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Climate change is inevitable...

    It has been happening for over 4 Billion years. If Human kind are the sole/major contributing factor in an apparent recent acceleration then it is to your/our children's and grand children's benefit that we take an interest now. The rate at which large parts of the planet may become marginally or totally uninhabitable may well exceed population growth putting further stress on our, relatively, fragile ecosphere. Wind power without storage is an expensive joke, perpetrated by the aerospace industry. Shale fracturing to release methane is little better.

    Wave, tidal and solar furnaces technologies are more than 'experimental' and we can continue to use our gas distribution networks if we start large scale electrolysis of seawater with the excess electricity. Indeed, whole new industries may be developed for energy storage. This does require a leap and maybe the capital and market systems just wont be able to cope.

    I do hope they can though. I'd like the planet and the human species to be around in a recognisable form for more than another 10 or 20 generations but I fear that if we carry then there is big trouble ahead.

  22. Grahame 2

    politicians and perception

    It is far more important to politicians (the people deciding where to spend to money) that they are perceived to be doing the right thing, rather than actually doing the right thing.

    Ask the average voter what green is and they will think sunshine and windmills, not nuclear technology, whatever the reality.

    Wind, solar, efficiency, demand management, storage (thermal, pumped, etc), nuclear all have something to contribute, but overly focusing on one solution will not work.

    PS: You can also add China to the list of countries seriously pursuing thorium reactor technology, they know their energy demands are only going to go in one direction.

  23. Nick Kew
    Dead Vulture

    A long history

    It must be a good 25 years ago I attended some mainstream 'green' meetings, and despaired of seeing any sense from them. The dogmatic, quasi-religious anti-nuclear stance pushing the inevitability of more fossil fuels, and the even-more-religious refusal to countenance anything that might discourage the world population bubble. Nothing new there, except some greens (even Monbiot on a good day) talk more sense these days.

    As to your article, wind power is good, as a small part of an overall solution. Solar PV likewise: the subsidies are of course just another perk for rich homeowners (as witness their removal from funds that the not-so-rich can invest in). Novel technologies like Thorium (or fusion): nice idea, good that it's being researched, but let's not bet the globe on it quite yet. And even the barmy greens are right about the principle of using energy more efficiently.

    Complacency is perhaps the enemy. Look what happened to the only serious thing this country ever tried: John Major's fuel price escalator could have helped wean us gradually away from car-addiction, but instead fell victim to political pressure.

  24. jonathanb Silver badge

    Anti-windbags don't get it

    Of course wind power isn't going to provide 100% of our energy needs. It will provide about 5% of our energy requirements. That means about 5% of the requirements of Europe and North Africa, and about 1/3 of that 5% will come from Britain. With interruptible supplies for eg storage heaters or cooling, we can increase that to maybe 10% Not anywhere near 100%, but still worth having. It means we can save those fossil fuels for when we need them more.

    When people turn on their kettles in the ad breaks in the middle of X-Factor on a cold winter night when there is no wind blowing, then we need peak demand generation. That means gas or hydro. Not nuclear or coal or anything like that because it takes too long to switch it on.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      I'm struggling to see why you were voted down for that well written and well argued post.

      Maybe it's becuase you suggested Wind has some place, which presumably makes you a dangerous hippie or something...


    2. fandom


      Here in Spain the record for wind power is 21% of the energy supply. It varies from moment to next, but more turbines are being installed so it can only go up.

      And the electricity price keeps going up and up and up, of course.

      1. jonathanb Silver badge

        Yes, on average

        In Britain, I believe the record is about 10% of the energy supply (, but that was for one freak half-hour period. Some times you will get 21%, some times you will get 0%, depending on how hard the wind blows, how cold / hot it is, what's on TV, the time of day and so on. You can aim for an average supply of about 5% without having supply interruptions, and you can get a bit higher by having managed interruptions.

        In a previous flat I lived in, I had a stored heat tarrif where the electricity company switched on the storage heaters for 8 hours per day at times of their choosing; and the electricity on that meter was a lot cheaper than on the other meter which I used for everything else. Another possibility is refrigerated warehouses, where they keep the temperature a bit colder than required, and the chillers can go off for a couple of hours at a time without causing any problems.

  25. bamalam

    Big coal and big oil a much bigger problem than misguided greens

    The ideology and entrenched financial muscle of big coal and big oil are a much greater threat to real innovation in the energy field than greenies and hippies. They seem to be trying to brainwash the american public into believing climate change does not exist let alone is not caused their polluting product.

    Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors (LFTR or lifter) are certainly the way to go.

    1. fishman

      Big profits in "green"

      While there are some industries who are threatened by changes, there are other industries who are going to profit handsomely from the greening efforts. And many of the advocates on both sides have substantial investments involved.

  26. Bunglebear
    Thumb Up

    Very good article

    Shows how an important debate gets warped by ideologies and the folly of big economic decisions being made on such terms. The energy debate desperately needs a practical viewpoint rather than a political one.

  27. John Savard

    Planned Economy

    It is true that we need innovation to find new sources of energy, and free markets promote innovation.

    However, free markets don't normally account for externalities, and in free markets, people buy the lowest-price goods on offer. It's cheaper to get energy from burning fossil fuels than from nuclear power. So without the heavy hand of government saying, sorry, since to avoid climate change, we have to put no more than X amount of greenhouse gases into the air this year, you don't get to choose an energy source that would put us over the limit, a switch away from fossil fuels won't happen.

    The free market promotes innovations in areas where there are people paying for those innovations. You can't pay some money as an individual and have a better climate delivered to your doorstep. Expecting enough individuals to voluntarily choose to pay more for energy, with no guarantee enough other people will to deliver the desired result of halting climate change, is not realistic.

  28. Anonymous Coward

    How much biofuel would you get...

    ... from composting the corpse of a typical hippie / green?

    (Just askin'!)

    1. Rob Dobs


      Less than you would from rich elitists saturated with all their precious fatty oils and chemical additives.....

      hippies are leaner and tend to have less calories when eaten as well.... or so I imagine.


  29. Glyph

    pumped storage

    The energy density of pumped storage is extremely low. Wiki says a cubic meter of water in a 100m tower has about 0.272kwh. Adding in the losses of the turbines, pumps, and evaporation, it only gets worse. To last through the long cold calm spells you'd need to turn all of Scotland into a reservoir farm, destroying its ecology, and that might not even be sufficient. Pumped storage is good for smoothing output on the periodicity of a day or so, but anything longer requires alternative power solutions capable of the entire peak load on the system. If those alternative solutions aren't environmentally friendly, you still have a problem, and they are, why do you need wind?

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Wild idea.

      So, let's move out that storage to sea, hm? Plenty place there, water conveniently at hand. Maybe store energy by pumping it up a bit on floating platforms? Really really big floating basins on poles a couple score metres up. Like, a million oil rigs tied together and a really large swimming pool on top, or something. Maybe invent something fancy like one-way water-permeable foil and have the sun do some of the pumping up work. Or catch rain, that'd work too.

      Actually, this is an absolutely bonkers idea. But at least there we have the room and it won't bother the sheep. And you can stack some windmills up top for extra greenness. Or is that too over the top?

      Ah, the sou'wester coat and hat; the anorak is someone else's, honest.

  30. stopcpdotcom

    All part of the plan for...

    a communitarian society.

    Find out about Common Purpose:

  31. Anonymous Coward

    What's that I smell? Troll bait? Well fol-de-rol, may I have you for my dinner?

    The problem facing the world is really very simple. There is (outside a vastly entertaining lunatic fringe) absolutely no interest in cheap or free energy. Whatever "solution" there is to be found for the "problem" must make money.

    Hence the hysteria from the hard right against windmills. Since it is not possible to bet on wind futures, or have a lock-up somewhere chock-full of breezes waiting for the price to go up, there is no money in it for rich people. All this shit about "feed-in tariffs" is just that: shit. At the end of the day, the wind blows and there is electricity. This electricity was not there before, and it is there now, as long as the wind blows. When the wind doesn't blow? Store it, or use something else. Geothermal, hydro, tidal, solar, perm any three or take the lot.

    Since it is not possible to corner the market in wind, or to hire goons with guns to make the wind blow when it won't, in order to extract currency from wind power it is necessary to steal it from the public purse. Fortunately those who tend the public purse (filled with the money that we the people shovel shit to earn) are perfectly aware that it is their responsibility to transfer its contents to the top 1% rather than spending it on (say) energy research which might compete with governmental corporate sponsors.

    Our current energy policy is entirely predicated on making money from energy for the benefit of capital. This means making more money this year from energy than last. More money next year than this. Maintenance of living standards, helping third world suffering, reducing pollution? Er, nope. Just more, more, more, an endless future of Iraqs, Afghanistans and Libyas. The future is a handmade Loake shoe stamping on a human face forever.

    The phenomenon that yesterday's Stakhanovite is today's tree-hugger (which Tim alludes to) is well-known, and seems to centre on the principle that where there is yin there will be yang. My concern is simple. I have as little interest in living in 1960's Albania as I have of being the victim (or even a member) of The Smartest Guys In The Room. We are now twenty years on from "The End Of History" and capital runs absolutely untrammelled. Look at the results.

    It's a shame you can't burn greed to make electricity. The UK seems to have a limitless supply of it, and we could really do with a bit less of it.

  32. The BigYin

    I am all for...

    ...more energy, cleaner energy and simply using less.

    I think the big problem is trying to a find a "one size fits all" solution. Such a thing does not exist.

    In some place wind makes sense. In others solar, others hydro, others...

    Each needs to be seen in the local context (topography etc) and in the relationship to the global context ("If I put the solar cells there, how do I maintain/fix them?"). But governments do not like this as it makes it appear that people A get something different from people B and ass-hats in both camps kick up a stink. Despite the fact the peoples A and B actually have different needs.

    This puts me in the curious position of quite liking the idea of wind turbines, but deploring they way they have the splatted all over the landscape.

  33. clean_state

    rant against regulation ?

    I agree with most of this article but what is the purely ideological rant agains any kind of regulation at the beginning ? It says more or less this:

    *free markets favor innovation, innovation can resolve energy crisis, thus hail free markets.*

    If that is not a purely ideological statement then I have never seen one.

    Free markets also generate waste: for example all the cars we junk to buy new ones just because fixing them in the European free market costs too much money. Ask the Africans: they can make a Renault truck run 40 years. Some of this waste has to be regulated away. Markets will take care of it only when scarcity kicks in and in many fields, we do not want to wait that long.

    Good segway to another example: free markets do not solve "tragedy of the commons" situations. Prime example: overfishing. Free market laws state that overfished fish, as it gets rare, becomes more expensive. A great incentive to sail out and grab what is left before your competitors do. In the end we are all left with no fish at all.

    in an article calling on common sense, I would expect a more balanced opinion on the free market / regulation equilibrium.

    1. Tim Worstal

      No, not ideological

      For free markets (note, not capitalism, but markets) do indeed promote innovation. The go to economist on this is William Baumol and his results are very clear indeed.

      I'm fully aware that free markets don't solve commons problems. I'm just fine and dandy with regulation to solve those. But what regulation? Me, I prefer simple regulation, Pigou Taxes for example (in this case, a straight carbon tax). Instead of what we've got which is the most godawful mish mash of planning and regulations designed to push us all into using specific technologies: exactly the sort of planning which doesn't promote innovation.

    2. Rob Dobs

      But that last fish..

      Should fetch like a million dollars... you are creating wealth by making demand.. isn't this the point of capitalism?

  34. Anonymous Coward


    I disagree with your conclusions, but some of your premises are correct, and you don't piss me off like Lewis Page does, and you obviously know a bit more then him about possible solutions so:

    You are right, we are pushing for a localised energy production with a greater agenda then just global warming.

    I don't think that was ever a secret. I do think that having communities control their energy production will free those communities from dependency on someone else, and will give them more control over their resources.

    Now I’m guessing that just about any community which had a natural resource project going on have resisted it, I can name Rossport and Alberta Oil as examples, but pretty much any community had some form of resistance to big projects like these, after all who would want to have their local enviornemnt ruined.

    Now i live in London, and having some smoky refinery somewhere wouldn't bother me much, but if i was living in say... Lake District, I would definitely resist any attempt to build a big polluting monster in my back yard.

    And who can blame those who do, it's not their concern that the world needs energy, and it's their stock of natural resources which are being exploited.

    Now, I know that everything require mining these days, and that wind power is no different, but it could be a lot easier for a community to agree to accept these mining/refineries if they benefited from them directly, and this will never happen when those in control of the energy production are sitting in some faraway board room, and have no real interest of sharing the wealth they make with the people/communities they pillage, and that's why we advocate localised energy production, as a mean for communities to have a decision about their environment and reap the benefits of living on a resource rich land.

    Now I don't advocate like you concluded a return to peasant society, or that we all live in some hippy arty commune, what I advocate is the next logical step, meaning after we industrialised everything, and concentrated the wealth in the hands of a select few with no productive skills, that we bring communities control over their means of production (I tried not to use that phrase really hard). This isn't a call to demolish modern society and return to curving tools, it's more of a renaissance for science and technology, in which (at least that's how the theory goes) we free up more time to pursue our skills and hobbies to a new level which we cannot afford to at the moment, and with access to the right facilities, science hobbyists who are currently charted accountants and advertisers could use their time to explore and discover things that might be unimaginable to us, and not only things someone somewhere thinks will make a profit.

  35. Nick Galloway
    Thumb Up

    The new commodity

    What an excellent, informed insight to the issues at hand. The carbon 'problem' is being addressed to reate a new market commodity, not to rectify climate. The climate is changing, that is what it does and the human community cannot stop it. We need to be ready.

    The interesting issue not raised is that changes in land usage changes climate. Laying out a field with solar panels has surely got to do something different to local weather. I suspect a bit like paving a park in granite slabs!

    The Thorium issue is one that real environmentalists will support but the raging, fundamentalist Greens will accept nothing short of the collapse of modern societies and lifestyles. About time they were being shown for their perverse intentions.

  36. DominicT

    What part of 'unsustainable' don't you understand?

    Words fail me. The only solution is a reduction in energy usage, and it's luddites who call this 'going back to living like peasants' who are holding back science. While energy is cheap there is no incentive to enhance energy efficiency - energy needs to become considerably more expensive.

    Power generation and the means of it are a red herring. There are lots of perfectly rational moves we could make as a nation to help avert an energy crisis, such as changing our appalling building regulations so that insulation is much more efficient. It's perfectly possible to heat a family home with a tiny fraction of the energy currently used on average, but what do we do? Moan at each other about how alternative energy won't work (on one side) or how nuclear is evil (on the other) and nothing gets done.

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: what part of unsustainable don't you understand

      It sounds like you want a true steady state, so I'll suggest you google "heat death of the universe".

      Meanwhile, for the rest of us, there's no actual need for a steady state. As Douglas Adams once pointed out, the universe is Really Big. Sustainable growth is perfectly possible.

      And my luddite objection to living like a peasant is basically that there are too many of us to do so. Whilst you're googling, look up world population levels at various points in history. We're all quite familiar with exponential growth, but the dominant pattern throughout history has been a plateau, policed by Malthusian checks, as the prevailing technology limited the available energy budget per capita.

      For a "peasant" (pre-industrial?) lifestyle, we're current over-staffed by quite a few billion. On what timescale would you like to dispose of this surplus? If you forcibly sterilise the entire population of the world, you can probably complete the "adjustment" within a century without resorting to genocide. (Of course, you'll have to keep a few people fertile so that you still have youngsters to breed in 2111, but I don't suppose there will be any political problems in deciding who gets spared the snip. Oh no.)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: what part of unsustainable don't you understand

        "For a "peasant" (pre-industrial?) lifestyle, we're current over-staffed by quite a few billion. On what timescale would you like to dispose of this surplus?"

        Hello? The commenter wasn't advocating living like a peasant, let alone everyone living a pre-industrial lifestyle. They were saying that people need not consume as much power as they have been accustomed to doing. What you get is someone claiming that "my washing machine uses a lot, so why shouldn't I have two plasma televisions that I leave on all the time because I'm not always in the same room?" and it's a slippery slope from there, all while they heat up the air above their house because "gas is cheaper than electricity and I've got a gas boiler".

        1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

          Re: Hello?

          Without the high-energy agriculture and the high-energy transport network and the high-energy "rest of the economy", you most certainly *are* talking about a return to peasant living.

          You may be able to point at a handful of "two plasmas" domestic users, but energy consumption in all these other areas represents the majority of *your* lifestyle's energy cost and they are nothing like as wasteful, since they are commercial operations and already complain about the cost of energy. Making energy much more expensive, as the OP suggested, would be very bad for "the economy" in the short term and consequently bad for the people it supports (i.e., you) in the long term.

      2. John Smith 19 Gold badge

        "forcibly sterilise the entire population of the world,"

        The device for this is largish nuclear weapon with a Cobalt casing detonated in the jetstream.

        I read about it at my HS in a book written in the late 50s.

        IIRC it was estimated it would take 4.5 days to circle the Earth and Co60 has a half life of 5.4 years.

        Co60 is a gamma ray emitter used to sterilize potatoes. It's effect on higher life forms was expected to be equally shriveling.

        They called it a doomsday device.

        I think you can see why.

        1. Andydaws


          The atmospehric bomb tests of the 1950s and 1960s, on conservative assuptions seeded several tonnes of plutonium, and similar amounts of materials like strontium and caesium. Life survived.

          "Doomsday bombs" never really stood up to examination - you'd need hundreds of megatonnes to loft enough cobalt or whatever to have any real effect.

  37. PatC

    Wouldn't "No to Subsidies" ..

    .. include "No" to the billions the petrochemical - and coal and gas and every other energy-related - industry gets in direct grants and tax breaks ..?

    To say nothing of the trillions in defense budgets required to secure access to the oil, gas, uranium etc.

    The idea that it's only tree hugging green projects that get inexplicable amounts of government money is standard right-wing BS: decide what you want prove, deny reality and invent "facts" to back up your assertions. The bigger the lie etc.

    Coal, oil, gas, nuclear all have government skewing the market in their favour: why not a little skewing in favour of things that aren't going to totally trash the planet?

    Going back to the middle ages is definitely not the answer, but then it's not what anyone is actually proposing, except in the right wing imagination.

    Quit b*tching about emerging technologies getting a tiny fraction of the assistance established technologies have been getting for decades: sure, it may affect your share price in the years to come, but you can always just buy into green technologies.

  38. charlesH


    China has recently initiated a priority effort to develop thorium molten salt reactors.

    "China has officially announced it will launch a program to develop a thorium-fueled molten-salt nuclear reactor, taking a crucial step towards shifting to nuclear power as a primary energy source.

    The project was unveiled at the annual Chinese Academy of Sciences conference in Shanghai last week, and reported in the Wen Hui Bao newspaper (Google English translation here).

    If the reactor works as planned, China may fulfill a long-delayed dream of clean nuclear energy. The United States could conceivably become dependent on China for next-generation nuclear technology. At the least, the United States could fall dramatically behind in developing green energy."

  39. Chrisso
    Thumb Down

    Short term solution, long term problems

    An interesting piece, but it does seem to me that the author is being deliberately obtuse.

    In George Monbiot's exchange with Caroline Lucas, surely he (and the author) can see the difference between an 'immature' technology such as solar PV that we know works, but has yet to really reach widespread production and the associated economies of manufacturing scale that come with that, and an 'unproven' technology such as thorium reactor nuclear power that is still in the research stages?

    Not to mention the one major argument that always gets conveniently swept under the carpet with pro-nuclear arguments (notably in The Register I might add): where exactly is the hazardous long term (100,000's of years long term) nuclear waste going to be stored from now until our great grandchildren's great grandchildren are all long gone, forever stashed in monitored caskets deep underground, just in case of an earthquake or some seismic event? Which country has held it's hand up to provide the 'bin' for this steadily growing pile of spent nuclear fuel that will be around long after this column has faded into obscurity and the internet is a footnote in some future history book? That'll be no-one to my knowledge, but then perhaps El Reg knows better?

    Agreed, thorium reactor technologies allegedly reduce this waste production significantly, but a small pile of practically permanently lethal material is still practically permanently lethal, no matter what the size. And the pile won't be getting smaller.

    It is widely accepted that neither solar PV nor wind power alone are likely to be capable of providing all of our growing power needs. What they can do is supplement the existing base load to the extent that we can cut the amount of hydrocarbon emissions by a significant amount using the power of the sun and the wind that is provided at a fraction of the environmental cost compared with oil and gas. Distribution of these systems will help to ensure that some fraction of them will be producing at any point in time.

    Until someone can make a Mr Fusion waste/energy converter a la the Back To The Future film, there are precious few alternatives and we should be investing in those that push non-polluting technologies forward and not those that line the pockets of corporations waiting to take on lifetime waste management contracts.

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      PV works?

      The world is not short of vulture capitalists looking for a guaranteed return on their money. However, where I live, PV only "works" because of a whacking great feed-in tarriff, enjoyed by people who can afford the installation costs and paid for in higher electricity prices by those who can't.

    2. bamalam

      Thorium means a lot less waste for less time

      Thorium power means a lot less waste and the really nasty bits are gone in about 20 years with longer term storage for the remainder of about 300 years and not the 100s of thousands of years suggested. See:

      Solar and wind are great but they are useless for base load. See

      Also what do you do in large parts of the world which have neither regular sunshine or wind resources? In Ireland we should have lots of wind but look at the generation on a calm day like today:

      And pumped storage is not the solution for the reasons outlined in various posts here.

      Yep solar is great for the southwest USA but even there I'd suggest there should be better ways of getting it than PV.

      1. Andydaws
        Thumb Down

        That's simply not true....

        A thorium-u233 makes roughly the same quantities of waste as a "classic" u 238-Pu239/240 cycle - thorium protagonists have a nasty habit of failing to compare like with like - they compare a "once through" cycle for uranium fuelled plant with a recycling-based approach for the thorium plant.

        I'll declare my hand - I think the Thorium-U233 cycle has potential - however, it's being chronically oversold by the enthusiasts, mostly relying on a pretty poor understanding of the issues by those they're selling to. It's one of several potential routes to a closed cycle for nuclear fuel, but by no means the most promising.

        Let's be clear - making a thorium cycle work is hard, even if you use a throrium cycle in "conventional" (and that's stretching the normal use of the word) fast reactors. More usually, the enthusiasts go further - they argue for a cycle based on thermal breeding in a molten-salt system.

        The neutron economy of such a system is utterly marginal - a 1% variation in the ability to extract fission products from the salt makes the difference between it producing surplus fuel, and needing continual top-ups.

        Worse, making a molten salt system works requires, a large scale and complex chemical processing plant to be added on to a reactor. A Molten Salt Breeder Reactor (MSBR) won't work if you let just a few percent of the siffion products (like Xenon) stay in the fuel - you need 95% plus efficient extraction on every circuit of the fuel. Worse, you HAVE to get out 90% or more of the intermediate between thorium and uranium on every cycle - protactinium. And to get that out will involve delights like passing 800C flouride-uranium salts through a column of molten bismuth, then extracting the protactinium frojm the bismuth somehow.

        I wish the people who latch onto this, like ducklings following a rolling ball, would bother to think through the engineering needed for such a system. Here's one for the enthusiasts - once the uranium is "bred" in the fuel/salt mixture (and leaving aside the delights of managing two such circuits, one for the fuel, and one for the breeder blanket), you have to get it out. And to do that, you have to bubble flourine - that well known non-reactive and benign gas - through that same 800C molten uranium salt, then capture the resulting uranium hexaflouride. "Hex" is not only "hot" both thermally, and radiologically, but it's venomously corrosive - the separation membranes in enrichment plants have to be made of pure (99.9% plus) nickel to withstand it, and even then last only a few years.

        And yes, it has virtues - thorium abundance, and potentially, it can be "drained down" in an accident. Bit that still means you have to remove decay heat from a couple of thousand tonnes of fuel mixture (more than in a conventional reactor), and have secure cooling and storage for the chemical plant and fission product inventory.

        As I said, it might have potential - but compared to something like a lead-cooled fast reactor, which have already been built in considerable numbers - the Soviets used them to power the "Alfa" class subs - doesn it look like an obvious route? Hardly...

        1. bamalam

          Waste problem much reduced with LFTR

          Because you are fissioning U-233 and you need no U-238 in the reactor you end up with far less transuranic isotopes such as plutonium which are the really nasty ones as they are so poisonous and need to be kept out of harms way for thousands of years. The waste problem becomes easier with a LFTR as most of it is low level after 10 to 20 years and safe after about 500 years.

          Because Xenon is a gas it is much easier to remove from liquid fuel as you are bubbling it out as you go along. The neutron economy margin is more like 5% apparently. This makes it easier to get the conversion rate of just over 1 needed to fuel itself but we have plenty of U-233 to start reactors in any case (it would help if the US doesn't destroy its stockpile of course). Great strides were made in many of the issues you raise for the extraction circuit at the test reactor in the 60s (known as the MSRE at Oak Ridge in the US). More work still needs to be done of course. It's possible to use pure Nickel but a more likely technology is a frozen wall fluorinator which is much more advanced than it was back in the 60s. It deals with a lot of the corrosion issues.

          Yeah it needs to be tested further but what those of us who support it are saying is that it seems to have plenty of advantages many of which were confirmed at the MSRE and we should be at least building a test reactor to confirm those advantages. Note that for a 1GW plant the fuel load is about 100 tonnes and not the thousands you refer to and it convects passively which makes it easier to cool.

          The advantages of LFTR include the reprocessing being built into the reactor operation but that is better for many operations than lead-bismuth where you have to cart the entire reactor core away every 9 years or so. The lead-bismuth technology is being applied by a commercial company in 25MWe lumps so that is already maturing - LFTR needs the impetus of a new research reactor in the western world.

          1. Andydaws

            not so, Mamalam

            First, transuranics - plutonium apart - aren't a major proportion of the overall radioactives inventory. Amerecium contributes about 1-2% of the waste burden at most, even on convetntional reactors.

            And getting rid of gaseuous fission products isn't as simple as you imply - xenon is soluble in halide salts, se getting shut involves entertaining processes like forcing it through a pressurised spray (at 800C) into an intert atmostphere like helium, then processing the xenon from the helium - hard to do as both are noble.

            Which is pretty poor (and closer to 1-3% in an credible operational system - 5% is a theoretical maximum). A "conventional" fast breeder will run a 20% or better neutron surplus.

            "This makes it easier to get the conversion rate of just over 1 needed to fuel itself but we have plenty of U-233 "

            we most cetainly don't - U233 exists in gramme amounts in the convetional fuel cycle. The LSTR/MSBR arguments are basedon U235/Pu239 "feedstock".

            "circuit at the test reactor in the 60s (known as the MSRE at Oak Ridge in the US)"

            far from it. The MSRE wasn't a breeder at all - it was purely a test of the "core" LFTR process, and completely lacked the crucial separate breeder circuit. Which reduced it's use as a demonstrator re the crucial aspect of neutron economy to essentially zero.

            "More work still needs to be done of course. It's possible to use pure Nickel but a more likely technology is a frozen wall fluorinator "

            And, what might that be? I know most of the key technologies around erichment and fueln processing, and I promise you no such thing is in use at even ilot scale amongst any of the major fuel cycleplayers like Urenco, Areva, BNG and so on.

            " Note that for a 1GW plant the fuel load is about 100 tonnes "

            If you exclude the breder blanket, of course. Even ignoring that, that's another implicit failure to compare like with like. The reason that the fuel load is so low is extremely high enrichment (after all, the energy per fission is fixed - all you're doing is haivng more fissions in a smaller volume, itself problemativ for control purposes). So, a better analogue is to a fast readtor, rather thana thermal plant per se - and guess what, you end up with a similar fuel load.

            " Note that for a 1GW plant the fuel load is about 100 tonnes "

            Which is, if anything the major problem - yas I commented before, you're reprocessing out of extremely hot working fluid, in "real time" - compare that with the vastly lesser chalenges of working on "cold" fuel that's had a decade or two to allow the decay of the truly unpleasant fission products.

            If I'm handling LWR fuel, post 20 years of cooling, I've a negligible inventory of problematic stuff like Xenon, Iodine 131, to remove. It's gone, mostly into the form of non-problematic "noble metals" like ruthernium, rhodium, palladium etc (which may even have a market value in their own right). If I'm going to keep an MSBR running, I have to remove those poisons within a circuit or two of the point of their creation.

            It's also not asthough I can work a single process to extract the uranium/plutonium as in "Purex" or the electrophoretic processes used in "conventional" reprocessing - that'd leave leave the fission products and other poisons in my working fluid - rather, I have to work multiple processes to remove each procut individually, at extremely high efficiency - a spray into a helium atmospheren to remove xenon (the somehow separate two noble gasses from each other...) , a hydrogen stripping process to remove iodine, another process (reacting with lithium and chlorine) for the alkali metals like caesium, a flourine sparge to manage uranium concentration (followed by hydrogen treatment to get the uranium back in metal form for re-injection), and in the breeder stream, treatment with molten bismuth to remove protactiunium as it's produced (otherwise neutron economy goes to pot). And all working at 700-800C with a radioactive working fluid.

            The net effect is that you end up with a relatively simple reactor - with a large, expensive and complex reprocessing plant stuck on the side - worse, that reprocessing plant has to be in close proximity to the reactor(s) served, so can't have the economies of scale of a centralised plant like a Cap de la Hague.

            With the best will in the worl, the capital costs are going to end up dominated by the processing side of the plant - and it adds huge complexity and difficulty in securing such plant against (for example) aseismic problems, etc.

            " but that is better for many operations than lead-bismuth where you have to cart the entire reactor core away every 9 years or so."

            No need to move entire cores - LMFBRs work unpressurised, so you refuel, and manage the breeder blanket oline - like with MGNOX and CANDU, but without the need to manage a pressure seal.

        2. John Smith 19 Gold badge


          "A thorium-u233 makes roughly the same quantities of waste as a "classic" u 238-Pu239/240 cycle - thorium protagonists have a nasty habit of failing to compare like with like - they compare a "once through" cycle for uranium fuelled plant with a recycling-based approach for the thorium plant."

          What *kind* of molten salt reactor are you talking about?

          Molten salt fueled/cooled or molten salt moderated? AFAIK the Gen IV "Molten Salt" proposal just uses a molten salt as a coolant with all the usual paraphernalia of a conventional reactor.

          I'll declare my hand - I think the Thorium-U233 cycle has potential

          I'm glad you made that clear. It's pretty well hidden otherwise.

          Let's be clear - making a thorium cycle work is hard, even if you use a throrium cycle in "conventional" (and that's stretching the normal use of the word) fast reactors.

          True. The MSRE did *not* incorporate breeding of Thorium.

          "More usually, the enthusiasts go further - they argue for a cycle based on thermal breeding in a molten-salt system."

          Not to do so eliminates some of the *key* advantages of a molten salt reactor (IE one where the salt is both coolant and *fuel*).

          "The neutron economy of such a system is utterly marginal - a 1% variation in the ability to extract fission products from the salt makes the difference between it producing surplus fuel, and needing continual top-ups."

          The key one of which seems to be Xe135. The ability to purge the reactor of this was *the* key reason for designing a molten salt reactor (as part of the nuclear powered bomber programme) in the first place. And AFAIK the MSRE did *not* require top ups of Uranium. However as it did not including the breeding function this merely says a non breeder can be designed well enough *not* to need a top up.

          "Worse, making a molten salt system works requires, a large scale and complex chemical processing plant to be added on to a reactor. A Molten Salt Breeder Reactor (MSBR) won't work if you let just a few percent of the siffion products (like Xenon) stay in the fuel - you need 95% plus efficient extraction on every circuit of the fuel."

          I looked for "siffion" products but found nothing so I'll assume you mean fission products.

          MSRE indicated both Xe and Kr poisons could be efficiently stripped by spraying the salt in a small chamber with an atmosphere of Helium. Both came *readily* out of the salt mix for later absorption onto carbon bed filters to be retained till their decay products could be released into the atmosphere.

          " Worse, you HAVE to get out 90% or more of the intermediate between thorium and uranium on every cycle - protactinium. And to get that out will involve delights like passing 800C flouride-uranium salts through a column of molten bismuth, then extracting the protactinium frojm the bismuth somehow."

          AFAIK already worked out. The description I'm aware of was a 1GW station would need A 4m (14 feet) high column. my experience of the chemical industry is that a 14 foot high column at probably a few atm (I'd expect it to operate near the same pressure as the core) is not *that* big a deal *despite* the temperature, which I would expect to be *lower* than the core in any case. This hardly compare to reactors for Ammonia or Nitric acid, typically running at 300-400atm, c300c and maybe 8-12 feet wide and 50-100feet high.

          "Here's one for the enthusiasts - once the uranium is "bred" in the fuel/salt mixture (and leaving aside the delights of managing two such circuits, one for the fuel, and one for the breeder blanket), you have to get it out."

          This *is* a reasonable concern and something which has not been demonstrated.Its complexity is the reason the MSRE did not include the breeding process. *However* the separation process is *well* understood using a combination of adding fluorine and distillation, *provided* you do have 2 separate circuits. The unavailability of a material with sufficient hot strength and chemical and radiation resistance at the preferred temperature was what stopped the MSRE testing this. Metallurgy has improved a bit in 40 years.

          " And to do that, you have to bubble fluorine - that well known non-reactive and benign gas - through that same 800C molten uranium salt, then capture the resulting uranium hexaflouride. "Hex" is not only "hot" both thermally, and radiologically, but it's venomously corrosive - the separation membranes in enrichment plants have to be made of pure (99.9% plus) nickel to withstand it, and even then last only a few years."

          As you point out this is *known* technology from the Uranium enrichment industry. Agressive certainly but *well* within the state of the art. Note also the "freeze valves" developed for MSRE would allow parallel processing columns (if needed) to be isolated for maintenance and replacement

          And yes, it has virtues - thorium abundance, and potentially, it can be "drained down" in an accident. Bit that still means you have to remove decay heat from a couple of thousand tonnes of fuel mixture (more than in a conventional reactor), and have secure cooling and storage for the chemical plant and fission product inventory.

          I'd doubt that. The MSRE salt mix density was 2300 Kg/m^3. Given that's lower than Aluminum and the *entire* volume of the MSRE (with no space taken up by the actual graphite moderator) would come to about 5500 Kg, with a maximum thermal output of 8MW I'd say 100x bigger would give c550 tonnes, so a 1GW (common size of power plant) reactor would have to be *very* badly designed to need more than a 1000 tonnes of salt .

          As I said, it might have potential - but compared to something like a lead-cooled fast reactor, which have already been built in considerable numbers - the Soviets used them to power the "Alfa" class subs - doesn it look like an obvious route? Hardly...

          You are aware that the design you're describing actually uses a lead/*bismuth* alloy?

          It's major features being an ability to operate with natural convection in a "stealth" mode which is handy on a naval submarine. and will fail "badly" if the coolant freezes in the tubes.It's got *all* the issues conventional reactors have with fuel element design/certifcation and Xe135 and Kr reactor poisons, *without* the ability to irradiate decay products to *much* shorter lived elements, possibly *the* key benefit of this design if you want to have a nuclear fuel *cycle* instead of the burn/store arrangements most countries seem to have at present.

          On the subject of the Alpha reactors for re-processing didn't the USSR just *dump* the cores at the end of life?

          I'm not arguing, merely commenting that the phrase "Molten salt reactor" if used loosely has more than 1 meaning.

          In case you haven't seen it this is the description of the work written by one of the team shortly after the MSRE. worth reading for the good, the bad and the could have been better.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Why thorium

        is so praised here? It's a technology that, for the time being, simply does not exist in any useful size. It was tried in experimental life size reactors back in the 20th century and abandoned because it could not be made working.

        If we want to believe in unproven technologies, why not go to fusion right away. Billions have been invested in that technology for ages now, and it promises energy with no limits, never running out of fuel.

        1. Andydaws

          @AC - "why is thorium so praised here"

          I'm not entirely sure - there are a few real enthusiasts out there ( a chap called Kirk Sorenson has been on the US lecture ciruit puching it for years).

          It's a mixture of things - first, it's a technology that was at that attractive stage where it'd beeen shown to work at a simple trials stage (a 5MW reactor running for five years), but not where any of the real unpleasant grind of moving from that stage to commercialisation. For a comparison, the 40MW "Windscale Advanced Gas-cooled Reactor" (WAGR) worked beautifully. It was the propotype for commercial scale AGRs which were utter pigs to build and run.

          Second. there are genuinely good arguments for a Thorium cycle - primarily, the sheer abundance of Thorium itslef.

          But a lot of what people have bought into seems to be based on overselling - and something the nuclear industry doesn't need is a repeat of the "too cheap to meter" overselling of the '50s.

          For example, the proliferation argument - it's true that a thorium-origfinated U233 is laced with highly active U232, which makes it hard to handle, comparaed with bomb-grade plutonium. But civil non-thorium breeders and LWRs don't make bomb-grade Pu239 - they make plutonium laced with Pu240 and 238 - the latter of which is about as active as U232. In theory, you could run a breeder or LWR to make near-bomb grade PU - but it'd be crap for power production if you did - far easier to make Pu in a optimised design, like that used by the North Koreans or Israelis.

          Similarly, the argument that the reactor doesn't contain such a large inventory of fission products. True, in part - if it's used as a breeder the fission products MUST be removed, as neutron economiy is marginal at best. But, they're still there on site, needing highly secure storage and cooling, just like spent fuel ponds. And there's a whole additional set of vulnerabilities introduced by having the processing facilitites to remove them - having a large inventory of extremely reactive flourine, for example, or needing to process extremely hot (in both sense) fuel through other extremely hot materials like bismuth.

          The worst habit, though, and one that many have fallen for, is the trick of comparing dissimilar fuel-cycles. They compare the waste generation and fuel utilisation of a molten salt design requiring immediate, on site reprocessing to remove poisons and nascent fuel, with LWRs running a "once trough" fuel cyccle. The appropriate comparison would be LWRs/breeders running a classic reprocessing cycle. And if you allow for the fact that "classic" reprocessing lets you allow 10 or 20 years of decay between taking the fuel from the reactor, versus having to do it straight away in an MSBR, which makes handling much easier.

          MSBR and the thorium cycle are concepts with a lot of potential - but kidding yourself that thatey're some sort of deus ex machina is naive.

  40. The Beer Monster

    Save the planet?

    I wish people would be more honest about things. This has got sod all to do with saving the planet. It's all about saving the Human Race and "the way things are, with the pretty birdies and the whales and...".

    As has been pointed out earlier, the planet's been through more climate change than you can shake a stick at and it's still here.

    1. NomNomNom

      earth will be fine. ppl maybe not

      I wish dinosaurs would be more honest about things, said the triceratops to the diplodocus, as has been pointed out earlier, the planet's been through more climate change than you can shake a stick at and it's still here.

      What a non-issue agreed the diplodocus.

      1. The Beer Monster


        I never said it was a non issue.

        I said that people calling it "save the planet" should be more truthful about what they're trying to save.

        1. Maty

          I think they mean ...

          'Save the planet as it is now.' In a few million years the earth will still be spinning merrily along, and humans will be forgotten.

          Since you are the 'Beer Monster' here's a totally unrelated fact. Beer is brewed from yeast which turns the malt sugars to alcohol. Alcohol is toxic to yeast, so the yeast multiplies rapidly at the start but is eventually killed by its own waste products ...

          Make your own metaphor

    2. indulis

      Planet has also been through sea level rises and supervolcanoes

      Don't know about many planet-wide civilisations that rely on fragile infrastructures and "at the limit" food production systems that have survived massive climate changes though!

      The "planet has been through climate changes before" is a statement that provides little justification for our civilisation forcing a massive change in an incredibly short time (tens of years instead of thousands, way faster than most ecosystems can move/adapt... even if they had somewhere to move to that we had not mined or turned into farmlands or cities).

      Still, what a great experiment!

      As the gambler said "let it ride" (just before losing his stake, as he always will if he lets it ride long enough).

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Follow the money, eh.

    The very reason why carbon trading is seen as a "good thing" is because it's the only sufficiently large thing our various political systems can get off the ground to "*do* *something*".

    This usually cynical commentard was in fact shocked to learn that some of our westerner greenies had the sheer gall to tell whichever international politico or ngo or whatever wanted to hear, that we shouldn't develop Africa because that would keep emissions low.

    The sheer audacious stupidity of that I found daunting, and taunting.

    We can't afford not to. But it is that it's apartheid all over again, on a global scale and in greenie sauce this time, that makes it morally objectionable as well as, long term, highly impractical. Our food situation isn't getting better and the world population keeps on growing. Also entirely hypocritical, of course, as this sort of thing is touted in five star restaurants in world capitals, not in Darkest Africa. You'd get eaten right quick if you dared utter it there.

    But it's part of a pattern that tends to be common to activists of all plumage. For example, PETA still conveniently labels wearing of fur as proof of being personally responsible for killing small furry animals. Disregarding for the moment that there are mighty cold places where furs are the only thing keeping the hairless apes wearing them alive. Apparently greenies never go there. That there is in fact a continent full of small furry animals where they are pests and that this indiscriminate labeling killed the market in their fur, allowing these pests to flourish and further endanger already endangered species down under appears to be no skin off their nose. Apparently they've never been there either. It's the thought that counts, not what happens in the real world. Ideology based policy making in its purest form. It distorts reality so hard that even science seems to agree, until you realise it's a fundie in a white coat. Who let them out of the asylum?

    But it's worse, Tim. Our politicians are clearly utterly and completely incapable of making their own well-informed, nevermind balanced decisions. We've long known that the real vulnerability is in listening to lobby groups. This is just one of those things where lobby groups got sway. But it isn't in the best interest of humanity or even any single people. Only some industry groups.

    I am probably a liberal-leaner mostly because, even if they're selfish bastards, they usually go for things that at least look like they might work. I've yet to see a starry-eyed youth utter anything remotely practical, no matter how full of the urge to go out and "help the poor" or "help the workers" or whatnot. It always ends up in handouts, and they never really work. But they do keep an entire industry going, even if entirely on subsidies. It's good monies for the now grey-haired starry-eyed youths from yesteryear filling the senior positions. Greenies and other ideologically-driven I don't suppose are much different--haven't seen any evidence to the contrary.

    Which is a shame, really. If only the thought is what counts, we won't be changing our ways. Instead we're just pouring money down a black hole. And at some point people will start to notice and put the greenies out to pasture. So snap out of it already, you greenie bunch of selfish oafs with your selfish "starving to be green" agenda. Reality check, people.

  42. Nightkiller

    What I want to know is

    If the author's thesis that the Green Party is all about bringing back Henry David Thoreau's Walden is true. Butchering our own animals on our own patch of Heaven? Using Laudanum for any and all aches and pains? Get Real.

  43. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why reference idiots?

    The article's fundamental point that we should be investing in thorium is correct, but the problem is that it's still in research and therefore is not yet actually a solution either. It does ignore the fact that we are investing oodles in fusion which, of course, is the cuddly research project. I presume it's a green politics issue, but maybe it's a resource issue too. On the other hand wind, solar, tidal and hydro are solved problems, even though they are currently fucking expensive. The problem is that saying wind isn't a magic solution doesn't actually do anything to resolve the fact that there are finite supplies of fossil fuels and fissionable material.

    "But I'm actually seeing people arguing that we can't shouldn't use gas because it will stop us from investing in windmills"

    Similarly, I see people arguing that windmills are pointless because they aren't a reliable source of electricity. It seems we both encounter idiots.

    What matters is net energy savings. That's all. If windmills provide net energy savings then they help towards to the current energy supply problem. While gas generators might not be super fast to be adjusted they're a damn sight faster than nuclear and coal. Pair wind with gas generation and you can reduce the consumption of a finite fossil fuel resource. And the natural gas can be generated renewably from waste, even though the total amount generated won't meet current demand and it's probably another fucking expensive thing to do.

    And please, everybody, just stop with the "it's too expensive" crap. Everybody, including advocates, know it's expensive, but it doesn't change the fact that the cheap stuff is running out. Just breath a sigh of relief every time new technology increases available fossil fuel supply or makes renewables cheaper or more efficient and cross your fingers for your descendents and hope that research gives us a magic solution.

    Again, people saying lots of energy is a bad thing are nuts and should be ignored. Limitless energy would help resolve the resource problem since limitless energy would mean limitless recycling.

    And the part of the article about cheap solar always being just around the corner fails to show the numbers that indicate that the actual price of solar has been falling consistently. Even if it's not as cheap and magical as the boosters would have you believe, it's still net-positive for energy and better than having millions of empty roofs.

  44. Stuck-Record

    Everything you need to know about the Greens... contained in this single paragraph from a BBC Radio 4 program "ARE ENVIRONMENTALISTS BAD FOR THE PLANET?" Broadcast Date: 25.01.10

    Solitaire Townsend Co-founder and Chief Executive of Futerra Sustainability Communications: "I was making a speech to nearly 200 really hard core, deep environmentalists and I played a little thought game on them. I said imagine I am the carbon fairy and I wave a magic wand. We can get rid of all the carbon in the atmosphere, take it down to two hundred fifty parts per million and I will ensure with my little magic wand that we do not go above two degrees of global warming. However, by waving my magic wand I will be interfering with the laws of physics not with people – they will be as selfish, they will be as desiring of status. The cars will get bigger, the houses willget bigger, the planes will fly all over the place but there will be no climate change. And I asked them, would you ask the fairy to wave its magic wand? And about 2 people of the 200 raised their hands."

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      the vast majority did not want to play a silly game? Good to know, that cheap rhetorics do not work on everyone.

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Everything you need to know about the Greens...

      "I will ensure with my little magic wand that we do not go above two degrees of global warming. [...] there will be no climate change."

      All that tells you is that two people failed to detect various obvious inconsistencies in a presumably self-serving bullshit sales pitch ("Sustainability Communications" indeed). Maybe the "thought game" played itself out on the speaker, not the audience.

  45. DaWolf

    mostly interesting


    1) The repeated use of windmill (they are not: they are wind turbines, and if you don't understand the distinction you know nothing about the subject)

    2) The ignorance of the difference between fuel and plant capacity, and why that means that wind energy reduces our fossil fuel use.

    The first one isn't a major flaw, more a sign that you don't really know the subject, but the second one is a pretty major problem.

  46. Gordon Barret

    Shale Fracking

    And that's not good either.

    "The main risk and source of public outcry in the US has been the contamination of drinking water. The routes to pollution are multiple, and include leakage from the well, spillage from the site and handling of thousands of gallons of liquid which flows back from the well after fracking.

    Also serious threats to locally produced food, and the risk to wildlife and animals is huge."

    Quotes from the Save The Ribble campaign

  47. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    LFTR is the silver bullet.

    See a recent talk from Kirk Sorenson

    You have to love a man with an actual plan:

  48. Disco-Legend-Zeke

    Net Metering...

    ...and competitive transmission rates would push sales of town-sized thorium reactors.

    The problems to be solved with thorium are financial and engineering. Forward looking companies around the globe have devoted resources to the engineering side.

    The net base demand for electrical energy and the high cost of building transmission infrastructure make investing in local power generation very attractive.

    Factories needing process heat would buy the appropriate model, and sell excess energy to the grid. Small nuke is a game changer.

    There is nothing wrong with wind, per se. But wind probably has the highest death rate if you include tornados and suchlike in your data stream.

    A true Carbon Tax would force drivers to extract the hydrogen from their fuel oil, and return the carbon. This becomes very attractive combined with mature low temperature fuel cell technology. Hydrogenated diesel is already available, the ideal fuel would give up most of it's hydrogen yet remain liquid to be recharged with hydrogen at a fueling facility..

    1. Andydaws

      What do you call "town-sized"?

      I worked on 660/1220 MW AGR stations (660MW per reactor, 1220 per station). Of the four reactors at Heysham, 3 just about covered Manchester's load, 1 Liverpool's.

      As a working assumption, peak load is about 1GW per million population, average load about 2/3rds of that.

      And about 2/3rds-3/4s of the UK's population live in the big conurbations - London, Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow, Newcastle, etc.

  49. David Kelly 2

    Bonkers Boffins

    If the solutions forwarded by Climate Change Boffins are Bonkers, then perhaps the whole proposition is bonkers as well?

    If the cure is flawed then if the same logic was used to diagnose that ill as to produce the flawed cure, then the logic is flawed.

    1. neil 15

      Or perhaps

      this is just a pad piece for a book (very badly written and using far too simplistic economics by all accounts) written by a UKIP swivel eyed loon. You know the type, the blog and get fringe publishers and make a big thing how they have written a book and claim it is fact.

      Just a rehash of the common lies being put forward by these idiots.

  50. Luther Blissett

    Some answers

    Why windmills?

    >>> Tibetan prayer wheels (called Mani wheels by the Tibetans) are devices for spreading spiritual blessings and well being. Rolls of thin paper, imprinted with many, many copies of the mantra (prayer) Om Mani Padme Hum, printed in an ancient Indian script or in Tibetan script, are wound around an axle in a protective container, and spun around and around. Typically, larger decorative versions of the syllables of the mantra are also carved on the outside cover of the wheel.

    Tibetan Buddhists believe that saying this mantra, out loud or silently to oneself, invokes the powerful benevolent attention and blessings of Chenrezig, the embodiment of compassion. ...

    With the introduction of Tibetan Buddhism into the West, new types of Mani wheels have come into being. His Holiness the Dalai Lama has said that having the mantra on your computer works the same as a traditional prayer wheel.<<< []

    Of course, here in the West we do things better and bigger. Behold our windmills! Feel our compassion!! Observe our sufferings (to come, natch, when the lights and the heating go out)!!! (Our windmills don't need mantras to be inscribed on them, as thanks to the BBC, these are well enough known already).

    Why is it still going forward?

    Kyoto basically.While the obligations on reducing the manufacture of plant food as a side-effect of a developed economy have not been met, the agreement binding on the 23 select developed nations to pay for the costs of all the others has been very successful. In fact it has been so wildly successful that politicians of all persuasions have noticed its efficacy as a revenue collection machine, and are busy transferring receipts from any green projects to general funding (net of the costs of propaganda). That is why all parties appear to be green. They are of course all playing chicken with energy security - but hey, while the money's rolling in, let's party (and increase our pension provisions).

    The rent-seeking United Nations Organization has noticed not just that the money has been coming in, but also that it's not being put their way in the quantities they would like.The arguments about the environment have turned into arguments about money (as the Greens have noticed), and the UNO has lost control of the game: the beneficiaries of Kyoto are not suddenly going to agree to become sugar daddies for the others (as Copenhagen demonstrated). In anticipation of the failure (or non-occurrence) of Rio 2012 the UNO has been floating other ways of skimming the hoi polloi, such as a global tax on aviation, a global Tobin tax on financial transactions, etc. Unfortunately, while the UNO counts national leaders as their friends, and so can influence legislation, the national chancellors keep other company which determines financial ways and means beyond politicians. The UNO scammers have themselves been scammed. While there is scope for a scam, the windmills will continue.

  51. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wind power is one component

    But I get twitchy when people start saying things like how it should provide 20%+ of our power in 10-20 years:

    1. The wind doesnt always blow, and prudent utility management practices mean you always have a backup of power/gas/potable water for times of peak demand or when there is something wrong with the delivery infrastructure.

    2. Thats an awful lot of rare earths for the controls on all those wind turbines. Not sure we can mine and process that much in time.

  52. Relgoshan

    Next Disaster...

    Exploding pressure-storage caverns? (the system to store wind power by compressing gas underground)

  53. Anonymous Coward

    Only "18.1% of Canada's electricity comes from fossil fuels"

    ...according to CBC News.

    Hydro and nukes mostly. It seems perfectly feasible to reach *zero* percent if They wish. A few more nukes. Windmills and Fundy tidal power. They will hopefully run an undersea hydro electric power cable from Newfoundland to Nova Scotia. 120,000 LED highway lights mandated in NS - five year payback claimed. It all seems rather hopeful in the mid-term.

    Actions that make a real difference: insulate your damn house, fool!

    Actions that make no difference whatsoever: turning off your stupid lights for an hour.

  54. peter_dtm


    Green on the outside

    Red on the inside (don't tell me you didn't realise all the communists had vanished - ? Well now you know where the went).

    Most Greens are a-scientific; and demonstrate no understanding of how anything more advanced than a wheel and a wood fire actually work. They can normally be spotted telling OTHER people how to live; frequently ignoring their own (unwanted useless) advice

  55. Tinal


    Put all the nuclear reactors you want in my back yard, just please dear god no more windmills, cooling towers are aesthetically pleasing, giant rotary bird-killers are not.

    1. Sarah Bee (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: IMBY

      You can't possibly argue it on aesthetics. Cooling towers are uglier than your mum.

      1. rciafardone

        Maybe if we paint them? :p

        Seriously. Nuclear energy is a waste of time.

      2. Andydaws

        There's not a sinhle UK nuclear station

        that uses a cooling tower....

      3. John Smith 19 Gold badge

        @Sarah Bee

        "You can't possibly argue it on aesthetics. Cooling towers are uglier than your mum."

        I quite like the shape. They same quite graceful. But they could do with a paint job.

        "Cooling towers are uglier than your mum."

        This I'm not so sure about.

  56. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    Environmentalists here in the US

    Have been putting out ads on local television opposing the building of a "dangerous new nuclear plant." Ignoring entirely the fact that the new nuclear plant is 1) A modern, safe design. 2) The *existing* reactor is one of the infamous GE Mark Is, it'd actually be safest to build an *extra* new reactor and shut down the Mark I compared to keeping it running through the 2030s, which is the plan now.

  57. DF118

    Can't believe nobody has said this yet

    Shirley you're just tilting at windmills?

    Seriously though, you have raised a good point.

  58. Alex Prior

    Wrong Economics On First Page

    Actually, the global financial crisis has fairly crushingly proved the point that there is one thing more efficient than a market economy, and that is a mixed economy, where the market does what it is good at, and government does what it is good at (long term planning and investment). I would argue that climate change requires the latter.

    This argument (the bit about the mixed economy) is explicated in full in Prof John Quiggin's excellent "Zombie Economics" - worth reading, and challenges a fundamental assumption of the article.

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: Actually...

      "the global financial crisis has fairly crushingly proved the point"

      ...that if you intervene in a market economy and stop the losers from being eliminated, by bunging billions at them, then you end up with a horrible mess.

  59. NikFromNYC


  60. Mark Serlin

    Shale gas will work?

    That's where you lost me. That's just rubbish, do your research. The environmental costs are MASSIVE and cracking destroys local environments and communities.

  61. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    How will the climate changer's react when they discover the continents are drifting?

    The climate is changing? No shit sherlock. Since time immemorial.

    I also get a kick out of the solution they offer for what they claim is man-made climate change: manipulate the climate!

    Any moron can see this is a contrived political 'crisis'...or maybe not?

    Using Paris, because the world revolves around her, does it not?

  62. Anonymous Coward

    You know why

    Quote 'Thus, in the absence of a storage system, populating the country with windmills just won't work. So why are we doing it?' - we are doing it because windmills are very visible and our scum that we elect want something visible so that they can point at it and say 'look we are doing our bit'.

    Scare = money = political scum sit up and rob us blind.

  63. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Article spot on with respect to wind power and the greens

    The article is spot on in that the green lobby is a problem pushing us towards a fantasy solution (wind power) which has little environmental benefit, damages the economy by unnecessarily increasing energy prices, undermines energy security and prevents investment in solutions that do work.

    The second area of irrationality in the energy debate is that nuclear power is remarkably safe. Safety can be measured by the average impact over time or the worst possible impact from an event. Nuclear is excellant on both. The average safety measured as deaths per GWh is two or three orders of magnitude better than any other source of energy. The worst possible consequences of an accident can be confidently known after Chernobyl. The affect of that disaster, the result of a poorly designed, poorly operated nuclear reactor failing catastrophically were relatively minor. The total death toll was significantly below 100, a tragidy to those involved but much less than most industries. It is three orders of magnitude less than hydroelectric power (deathhs in 100K range when catastrophically failling), better than petrchcemical plants, a little better than passenger aircraft.

    The perception pushe dby greens is that nuclear power is extremely dangerous when the opposite is true. Strangely the extremely cautious safety limits for radioactivity increase rather than decrease th epublic perception of danger. When a radiation leak is thousand sof times above the safety limit but stiall has very little public health impact the fact that the leak ias 1000 time sthe 'safety' limit makes peope scared instead of reassured that the industry sets such incredibly conservative limits.

    Any sort of rational energy policy would stop wasting money on wind power and focus on an increased nuclear program, and energy efficency. We will probably carry on as we are and as a consequence have higher than necessary emisssion of C02 and much higher enegry prices.


    Brent Spar tells everything you need to know about the true priorities of the green movement as a whole. I fthe green movement was actually about the environment they would push nuclear power.

  64. A J Stiles
    Big Brother

    Enemy at the Gates

    It's an ancient, established principle of statecraft that the people need to be convinced that there is an imminent threat to their security, in order that they will gratefully accept whatever mistreatment you care to dole out to them under the noble colour of preventing the enemy from attacking.

    Persuading them that the enemy at the gates is themselves is a great modern twist, though. The existence of an abundant source of energy with no attached guilt-stick would deprive the ruling classes (and the wannabe rulers) of an extremely useful tool.

  65. Kestrix


    Here's a novel idea, how about reducing the population?

  66. Anteaus

    Fusion yes, Tokamak,no.

    The reason fusion power has gone nowhere is that almost all of the money is being poured-into just one branch of that science, namely the Tokamak or toroidal magnetic-bottle style of reactor. Some research is now being done into laser fusion, but that is only recent.

    The Farnsworth electrostatic-confinement fusor was producing actual hydrogen fusion, albeit at a low level, long before the big Tokamak projects got off the ground. The Tokamaks have only recently produced low-level fusion after countless years of trying, and billions spent.

    Opinions have been voiced that the reason so much money has been poured-into just one field of fusion research that has produced virtually no useful results is that the oil companies see this as a safe option, since Tokamaks will never challenge the dominance of oil, whereas some other technologies just might do. I don't hold much for conspiracy theories, but it does beg the question.. why? If a simple, inexpensive apparatus was already producing measurable results, why spend 40 years trying to get one very bulky and very expensive apparatus to do the same?

    A development of the Farnsworth machine, the Bussard or Polywell reactor, certainly has the theoretical potential to produce power on a commercial scale. Yet, it has suffered from serious lack of funding, hence the slow progress.

    A viable fusion powerplant would in any case more likely use hydrogen-boron fusion rather than the deuterium-tritium fusion currently being explored in Tokamaks. The reason is that D-T fusion generates fast neutrons which tend to damage the apparatus, not to mention ruining any electronic equipment inside the shielding. Which would make control and monitoring extremely difficult.

    Hydrogen-boron fusion calls for energy levels which no present Tokamak can reach, and which are probably beyond the theoretical capability of any Tokamak design. Meanwhile, Farnsworth/Bussard reactors could exploit the less problematic H-B reaction, as it is within their theoretical capability given a moderate upscale of present test plant.

    As far as proof of concept goes, at least with fusion we have one. Nature has done this before, albeit with a very simple apparatus but much larger supplies of fuel. The sun. We therefore know it can be done. There is no question about that. We just need to figure-out how to duplicate those results, but on a smaller scale.

    First though, we need to stop flogging the dead horse and look at ALL the available options.

  67. W. Keith Wingate
    Thumb Up

    Why no mention of those who will die from the Fukushima windmills?


    At least in the US (I can't imagine it's all that different in the UK) "green" (note the lowercase; the actual US Green Party here has only a casual interest in environmental issues, bears little resemblance to their European counterparts, and enjoys less popularity than a hunter in a gathering of vegan deer) comes in at least two different hues: 1) The "smaller is better crowd", [eat local, organic food ; bike more / drive less, recycle, have fewer children...] and the 2) The "I'll have my cake and eat it too" [tech will solve all problems: PV on the roof, Prius in the drive, ...] crowd.

    Far from being a denialist, I actually thing the environmental question must be our number 1 priority: if we get that wrong (and we're clearly getting it wrong) the other issues won't matter. At all. And yet...

    Group 1) is just naive. The Ponzi schemes which pass for pensions in the developed world, even the whole economic system is completely dependent on growth. Without that, they collapse. Most of what we toss in the recycling bin ends up in landfills anyway. I can bike everywhere, but when neighbors on both sides joy-ride in SUV's my impact is negligible.

    Group 2) is just buying indulgences. If mere technological innovation could solve these types of problems, we wouldn't be here. "Free markets" don't solve all problems, and in fact may solve fewer than they create.

    So despite epic fails in some of the arguments (Globalization absolutely DOES accelerate our self-destruction because we globalize capital but not environmental protections, so it's a race to the dirtiest, cheapest. least sustainable way to bring the 3rd world up to 1st world standards of gluttony and waste), I am very sympathetic to the article's author.

    Enough so, that he's sold me on his book -- if I can get a soft-copy, rather than the dead-tree version.

  68. Alan Brown Silver badge

    hydro has serious emissions levels

    Especially methane - this comes from flooded vegetation breaking down anerobically.

    This is well known for tropical hydro -

    but it also appears the levels are significantly higher than expected in temperate regions -

    (Of course the emissions are substantially less than burning fossil fuels for the same energy AND as nothing compared to what's about to happen with permafrost melt and possible methane hdyrate outgassing as happened off Norway 10,000 years ago)

    1. Zippy the Pinhead

      The title is required, and must contain letters and/or digits.

      (Of course the emissions are substantially less than burning fossil fuels for the same energy AND as nothing compared to what's about to happen with permafrost melt and possible methane hdyrate outgassing as happened off Norway 10,000 years ago)

      Total Human based carbon released is at about 3% of what the earth releases naturally on its own.

  69. Alan Brown Silver badge


    Funnily enough several climate experts have the same opinion - the point being that none of the stuff anyone is doing now will be worth anything as long as the human population stays at the size it is or increases.

  70. siliconhillbilly

    Electric Power Storage

    Most knowledgeable people agree that it's necessary to have power storage if you want more than a few percent of wind and/or solar power on the grid. That, or lots of cheap, inefficient gas turbines for backup generation.

    With current technology, a storage battery costs about 5x to 10x more than it is worth to store energy for "calm, cloudy days" . Actually, I can't imagine a battery system large enough to store more than a few hours of grid make-up power on "bad renewable energy days".

    Of course, if you have the ideal geo-hydrology for it (steep mountains with lakes on the top and bottom) you can build pumped hydro storage and all is well. I don't think this describes much of the English countryside.

    So when the "windy power" promoters show up at the money trough, uh, I mean national government energy ministry, they should be escorted to the door, forcefully. Unless they have made the proper payment to play the subsidy game. Fun for all! No one loses! Ummmm.

    If you end up wasting the investment money, it's NOT green. But it seems to be happening anyway. Could it be that someone is actually making real money on the deals? It's certainly not the electricity consumer! So who else might be smiling about this situation? Don't take too long to answer, because the waste is still going on.

    1. Videography

      Electric Power Storage

      There are new standards for electric-power-storage that are currently developed. They work very efficiently for families and individuals. They were designed to store power from humble sources of energy and give power back when required. We have them now and more in production!

      At present they are expensive, but according to our marketing the "power of scale" of mass production will dramatically reduce costs later this year. An analogy is batteries used in early automobiles were 6 volt. Later the standard went to 12 volt. We believe that 48 volt is the next step and so our micro-processor controlled sealed lithium batteries were designed for rugged durability, 2000 cycles, safety and maintenance free operation. Put them between your windmill or solar panels or power them with your vehicle as you ride along. Bottom line is that they can power a lot of stuff :)

      1. Andydaws

        You need to have a look at your own marketing, then....

        The voltage produced by single cell of a given type is fixed by its electrochemistry. For lithium cell, it's about 4v.

        If you're going to 48v from 12v, all you're doing is packing more cells in series - hardly a transformational breakthrough in cost, and one that is likely to have reliability implications (think what happens when a cell in a stack fails - and you've just gone to four times as many).

        Your wording "humble sources of energy" is suggestive. It implies you're not talking bulk scale storage, but perhaps a few tens of KWh. Industrial scale storage needs to be delivered in GWh scale, at a cost per MW of significantly less than the original generation cost. What's your capital cost per KWh?

  71. royan

    II-IV Corporation

    II-VI perhaps? Don't go short-changing us on the Nitrogen group and Chalcogens... where will I get my CdTe and CIGS?

  72. Malcom Ryder 1

    Market forces

    You are right about the market forces leading the energy strategy. Players like GE and Siemens have marketing forces that are known in America as lobbyists, who are strong arming your politicians into putting big money into wind. Gotta love capitalism.

  73. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    How can climate change be a problem if real thermometer records that carry back 350 years show NO SIGN OF TREND CHANGE WHATSOEVER IN THE MODERN ERA?

    Well, I guess if you listen to utter psychopaths it might make sense.

    But I'm not sure left leaning intellectuals are along for the ride.

  74. bugalugs

    Wacking great prop-driven dynamos up on poles

    always struck me as a bit daft. As well as producing nothing when the wind fails ( Or over-achieves ! ), each dynamo uses masses of copper and other expensive stuff, increasing capital costs/kwh. Storage of any surplus neat electricity is also expensive and inefficient. Earlier mentions of air-pressure storage sound interesting. What about hydraulic ( or air ) accumulation ? Relatively cheap hydraulic ( or air ) compressors feeding central accumulators which can be tapped for more-or-less instantaneous use ? Vertical spindle rotors ( an article here t'other day found nothing worse to say about these than that they required guy ropes ) might make things a bit safer for the birdies too. Automatic transmissions might allow for continued operation at higher wind speeds too. This as part of the mix perhaps.

    It's worth noting that if coal, oil, gas, wind and solar had to conform to the safety standards of nuclear, we would be nowhere at all. We have a 25% or so chance of dying from cancer anyways, some of that probably attributable to pollution from coal, oil and other *conventional* nasties associated with energy production/storage/use.

    We need engineers in charge, not ignorant/bought pollies, lobbyists, fanatics and FUD-mongers.

  75. cnapan

    Fusion research pitifully under-resourced

    I agree with the notion that fusion research is pitifully under-resourced and the options not fully explored.

    Our per-capita consumption of energy is going to have to increase dramatically in the future, both as a result of rising living standards and as a consequence of us having stripped the earth of the easily reachable resources.

    Renewables make sense in certain situations, but many of the most populous areas of the planet cannot hope to rely on them for future energy needs.

    The current use of carbon-based fuels is something that everyone agrees cannot go on indefinitely, for the simple reason that they are finite resources (even leaving aside the sense in toying with the earth's chemistry on such a huge scale).

    That leaves just one game in town: the liberation of energy from mass.

    ITER, by far the world's largest fusion research project, will probably end up costing around 15 billion quid or so - with contributions from many countries.

    To put this into perspective, the UK alone is expected to borrow about ten times that amount this year alone to cover its current budget deficit.

    The world's politicians are not currently taking the impending energy crisis at all seriously. Their support of forms of power generation which cannot provide the vast majority of predictable and cheap power our societies need in the future just goes to demonstrate their lack of engagement with the seriousness of the situation.

    The atom is the only thing that will give us the energy we need without changing the chemistry of the planet. It really is that simple.... so what are we waiting for?

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: what are we waiting for?

      "ITER, by far the world's largest fusion research project, will probably end up costing around 15 billion quid or so - with contributions from many countries. [...] To put this into perspective, the UK alone is expected to borrow about ten times that amount this year alone to cover its current budget deficit."

      We're waiting for politicians who can count. (Right now we've just got c*nts who can pollute.)

  76. Videography

    How many ways can Modern Humans divide?

    male-female-short-tall-white-black-chocolate-rich-poor-fearful-brave and by culture-education-creed-politics-vocation-race-religion ... add a million more dividing characteristics as you will. Now "ofcourse" by additive Primary Colors, in the case of this article, Green :)

    In the USA Red often describes conservative(s) and Blue describes liberal(s). Such labels and indeed the division that they create between people are a key reason why ALL systems [Yes! I said "ALL systems"] are stalemated by viral-quibble these days.

  77. Anteaus

    Here is an example of 'green effect.'

    OK this has been commented to the hilt already, but thought I'd add these links:

    "This is the largest public funding contribution in the world to a single CCS project, ensuring that the UK will continue to lead the way on large-scale demonstration."

    Gives an idea what's involved.

    -and which hint at the sheer amount of taxpayers' money being wasted on 'carbon capture' projects.

    -So' we're going to spend huge wads of cash and loads of scientists' time on developing these extremely questionable technologies to trap CO2. Then of course we have to burn MORE of our limited fossil fuels because of the lower efficiency of these schemes. So, we run-out sooner.

    I firmly believe that if the cash were put into fusion research instead, we'd have an answer in a few years. Or, even photovoltaic cell research would be a wiser spend. Low cost, high efficiency solar panels would at least have a use, especially in developing countries.

    Maybe we should all lobby our MPs to stop this nonsense.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Ive got a question for everyone, and please dont slate me for this, im curious and thats why im asking.

      At what point do we allow the world to change is climate? it changes all the time, its on a natural warming cycle just now so who are we do try are keep it the same. And lets assume for a second that we are able to keep the climate to our needs, what would the long term effects be? would the world behave like an elastic band, stretched until it snaps?

      Also, the climate suites us very well at the moment but that cant be said for everywhere, who are we to say that jo blogs in the north cant have a warmer climate because we dont want it too warm, on the flip side who is to say that those in the warmest regions wouldnt want it to be cooler.

      Im all up for not needlessly poluting our planet but at what point did we suddenly become the climate police and there by changing or insisting on our views being the correct view.

      Curiously, a warmer brition would be hugely benificial in a economic anyway, whats your thoughts on that?

  78. Colin Bain


    Perhaps in our enlightenment our glorious leaders have been overly affected by the tale of Don Quixote, who was fond of tilting towards windmills, although even he had the sense to overturn them rather than support them?

  79. Andydaws

    meanwhile, on a not unrelated topic.....


    "A visual inspection by remote controlled camera has shown no significant damage to the used fuel pond of Fukushima Daiichi unit 4.

    There had been fears of serious damage to nuclear fuel stored in the pond after a series of fires and explosions in the vicinity. Highly radioactive and heat-emitting used nuclear fuel is stored for a few years in the ponds before transfer to a larger storage pond shared by all six reactors at the site. However, the reactor was in a period of maintenance with the full core temporarily stored, requiring very much more cooling than the years-old fuel. This contributed to problems at the pond as water heated up and evaporated after the tsunami of 11 March disabled cooling and water top-up systems.

    At least two fires as well as an explosion occurred in the area of the pond around 15 March, although at that time radiation levels prevented workers from making a direct check on the pond's status. Engineers became worried that the pool had dried out, the fuel overheated and zirconium cladding reacted with water to produce hydrogen, but this visual inspection initially discounts that scenario by showing no serious damage of the kinds that would be expected. Some debris was scattered in the pond as a result of the damage to the building but it is thought that fuel integrity has been maintained.,,,,"

  80. Andydaws

    Anteus, you miss a couple of subtleties

    I'm guessing you missed the announcement. on the DECC page that the subsidy was now available for gas-firing too?

    There are two potential fuels (at scale), and two broad groups of technologies. These are respectively gas/coal, and pre/post combustion.

    Post combustion is a long-shot irrespective of fuelling - you've got to try to remove CO2 from hot flue gas, without using excessive quantities of absorbent, and without requiring much pressure differential.

    Coal-based capture's always going to be a pig. It means having to handle huge quantities of solids, contaning significant levels of contaminants (assuming a CCS plant is half as fuel efficient as a modern coal plant, the residues dumped in the environment will contain about 1000te of uranium over life). I don't expect it to be cost-competitive, even with CO2 penalties.

    Pre-combustion gas is a different matter. The technologies involved are well established, albeit not cheap. It's basically a Fischer-Tropsch hydrogen production plant, in front of a CCGT power station, with a large-scale compression and pumping plant (like we already use for moving gas in pipelines taking the CO2 waste stream. I've worked on a F-T plant of the right sort of scale, making synthetic petrol from gas in New Zealand, so we know that works. About 40% of our electricity already comes from CCGT, which could move to h2 burning with minimal mods, so we know that works. And large scale CO2 injection into oil-bearing formations is routine as close to home as Norway. So, not much that's "questionable" from an engineering perspective.

    As things stand on economics, it looks as though it'll add between 100% and 200% onto the capital cost of a CCGT plant - but, CCGT is cheap, so we're still talking about something much less capital intensive than wind or other renewables (and less than nuclear). A number in the range £1.2-£1.8Bn/GW won't be far out. They're also less gas efficient than a pure CCGT, adding about 40% to gas usage/MWh - the end result is they'll probably produce at £60-80/MWh. Dearer than new build nuclear (except at the very bottom end of the scale), but cheap compared to offshore wind (£100-150/MWh).

    I'd be interested as to what sorts of costs you think fusion plant will produce at - although I can see technical progress, ITER and the various inertial confinement tests won't tell us anything much about what building and running a "commercial" plant will cost - we're still at least one generation, and probably two away from a commercial demonstrator - but I see noting to suggest it'll be cheap.

    1. Anteaus

      Don't think so.

      The issue here is not whether there are environmental concerns, but what those environmental concerns are. Pollution, yes, that is a concern, and a possible reason to avoid coal. But CO2 is not a pollutant.

      Wastage of limited natural resources on a pointless exercise is also a key issue. The efficiency of any plant using carbon capture will be substantially lower than that of one without.

      I can't help but think there are parallels between this scheme and the old American 'gas guzzler' cars, some of which managed only 3mpg due to ill-conceived 'smog control' measures which still further reduced the efficiency of an already inefficient vehicle to the point where an engine of ridiculous size was needed even just to achieve acceptable performance. I could forsee a similar positive-feedback loop applying here, with larger and larger power stations being needed to achieve the same output, but at much lower efficiency. If these 'green' power-stations guzzle the remainder of our gas reserves they will do us no favours.

      As for funding, the cost of the carbon-capture pilot alone is touted as a billion.

      I don't hold out much hope for ITER, it is a dead-end technology. Even if it can demonstrate continuous fusion at breakeven levels, there is no known way of extracting the energy it would produce. Meanwhile, a pilot-scale Bussard plant would cost a great deal less than the CC pilot.

      Now, everyone's afraid to waste money on long-shot fringe science, and rightly so. But in this context what is carbon capture but fringe science? OK the technology is mostly based on proven stuff, but can it be shown to achieve anything useful? If every powerplant is converted to CC but global temperatures continue to rise regardless.. where are we then? Billions or trillions worse off, energy reserves squandered, and the chance to find a better solution wasted. That's where we are.

  81. Anteaus


    So, now your windfarm pays you more if you switch it off.

  82. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Some notes on the ORNL Molten Salt *Breeder* reactor and chemcial plant. study

    Oak Ridge worked up a design for a 1GW molten salt *breeder* in the early 1970s. The report is archived at ORNL-4812. "development status of molten-salt breeder reactors" I've skimmed it.

    The Bismuth separation process allows 1 salt mixture to hold both U233 and Thorium to act as both the core and the blanket provided the moderator layout is properly chosen.. This makes *all* of the MSRE experience applicable and the Bismuth process a real game changer.

    Flow through the reactor core was 55000 gallons per minute, *but* the flow through the processing plant is 1 (US) gallon per minute. Whole inventory cycles through reprocessing every 10 days.

    Fissile Uranium inventory is listed as 1500Kg.

    Thorium inventory is 68000Kg

    Fuel doubling time is 19yrs.

    Graphite parts need replacing every 4 years if Graphite properties *no* better than those in the MSRE are available (Graphite or reinforced carbon carbon is now used in aircraft brake linings. I suspect some grade have *much* better properties)

    Some processing tanks were expected to made of graphite.

    Processing plant input was at 1050F/566c which is output temperature from the core.

    Bismuth cycle operates at 500-700c and its MP is 271c

    Heat transfer from reactor is to a sodium/Potassium fluoride mix then steam generation at 3500psi (modern approaches talk about driving a gas turbine using hot Helium or Nitrogen).

    The chemical cycle works a series of swaps between the reactor salt, Bismuth and a Lithium Chloride/Bromide mix, preceeded by spraying the reactor salt mix with Fluorine to salt out 99% of the Uranium.

    The structure where this happens is kept cold enough to leave a layer of metal fluorides on the metal surface, hence a "Frozen" flourinator.

    Fluorinator (ORNL spelling) is 8" dia x 15' high. Protactinium column is 3" dia and 15 ' high.

    The rare earth columns are 7" to 13" in dia. *None* of these is particularly large WRT the bulk chemicals industry. Note they would all need radiation shielding so the layout would not be as compact as you might hope, but we are not talking a warehouse sized structure either.

    Graphite to survive in the reactor without replacement would have to resist damage at a total fluence of 3x10^23 neutrons per cm^2 (described as roughly 10x what available grades could survive in 1970)and a gas permeability of < 3x10^-8 cm^2/sec of STP He, implying pores of c10nm dia, requiring at least a surface layer of fine grained graphite.

    This is a *landmark* study from people who had spent a *lot* of effort (its > 400 pages long). Sadly a follow up document from ORNL "molten salt reactor technology gaps" keeps coming up "Forbidden" and should make *very* interesting reading to see how people's views have changed in 40 years.

    These do not sound like show stoppers to me. Experience of Kr and Xe stripping was that the process was straightforward. The protactinium separation column is not huge, nor are the rare earth metals (IIRC you'd need 3 for 2+,3+ and 4+ oxidation states) You're looking at a 2 storey building, but provide you don't have shielding *between* the colums perhaps quite a small 2 storey building.

    Possibly the *big* disappointment was the 19 years to double the fuel inventory. Note that implies *no* more U233 available from outside, which is unrealistic. OTOH the ability to operate both as a regular and as a breeder seems to be a very *practical* benefit avoiding a bet you whole operation on weather you need one or other type, especially as so far the answer has been we need *no* breeders at this time.

  83. mstreet

    Green movement bad for the environment

    Well...maybe not in theory. But I've been amused for years how suddenly we all need greener cars, fridges, air conditioners,factories etc. Sure many new products are more efficient than their predecessors, but only at face value. When you consider the environmental impact of retooling factories, energy requirements to create all these shiny new replacements etc. how much impact will the green tech really have?

    It's a sad fact that once unbridled capitalism see's proffit in a venture, their maeketing 'geniuses' will convince the puplic to buy the new stuff whether it is needed or not. How many people buying the newest and greenest tech, actualy consider what happens to the perfectly servisable stuff it replaces? How many functioning fridges and cars will be scrapped and left in landfills in the name of the environment?

  84. karlmitchell

    A few quick responses

    I agree there are problems with the debate becoming somewhat dogmatic and ill-informed. Unfortunately, this makes for messy arguments that are detracting somewhat from the need to do something now. I'll avoid the planned versus free market debate, as the US and European contexts are more relevant to this discussion, and they have a free market bias. However, I wanted to respond to some of your specific points regarding forms of energy production.

    Solar PV is reducing in price faster than any other form of energy production, but it is not at grid parity in the UK. It's mostly a matter of how much sun there is, and the U.K. isn't ideal from that perspective. It IS approaching grid parity in many parts of the world, and is there in some sunnier parts, Hawai'i and Southern California for example, and in these places solar PV is starting to attract massive investment. However, this grid parity is on a cost/watt sense, and some issues linger with respect to balancing variable supply with variable by different demand levels (which is a problem for fixed-rate energy production too); In short, rooftop installations are already cost-efficient in many places, but big solar farms are still a challenge. I agree there are issues regarding the metals required for production, and only a fraction of this can be tackled by recycling (which is now done by many solar companies) due to exponential industry growth. R&D activities are on-going to address this.

    Wind is already very cost effective on a cost/watt sense (cheaper than nuclear in most countries), but, as you mentioned, the variability/unreliability of wind is even more difficult to deal with in a grid system.

    Several developments are necessary in order to make large scale implementation of variable-supply clean energy (especially wind) cost effective: (1) An improved wide-spread efficient grid system capable of utilising geographic distribution of installations in order to smooth out supply and transfer efficiently over great distances; (2) Smart metering and billing that can match demand to supply (e.g. turning dish washers on when supply->demand; (3) GWh-scale pumped storage to further smooth out supply. For the U.K., the first of these is cheaper than many countries due to the small scale, but also will not smooth out supply as much for the same reasons; An interconnected European system would be ideal, but hard to implement. The technology for smart metering and billing is already there, in both public and private hands. Pumped storage technology is often combined with hydroelectric facilities, with the most well-known UK example being Dinorwig, Wales (see e.g.

    Natural gas is cheap at present, but remains a finite fossil fuel, and so may be useful as a stop-gap, but not in the very long term. Shale gas reserves are hard to tap, and highly dangerous. The technology may improve, but it's not there yet.

    Nuclear power (also subsidised) is currently cost effective in a $/watt sense, in most countries, lagging slightly behind wind and lots behind more efficient fossil fuels, but ahead of solar. It has the advantage of a smooth supply, but bear in mind that demand is not smooth although is, to a large extent, predictable. However, in the light of Fukushima, tighter safety standards, rising insurance costs and a not-in-my-backyard mentality are likely to cause these costs to increase. The nuclear industry also consistently underestimates the cost of waste disposal in the very long-term future. Regarding insurance, nuclear power stations and their operators are not liable for the full cost of major nuclear accidents, keeping economic costs artificially low. Even the U.S., which has national reserves specifically for nuclear incidents (Price-Anderson Nuclear Industries Indemnities Act), cannot afford a Fukushima-scale incident without public payout.

    Also, don't forget wave, hydroelectric, solar thermal and geothermal energy sources. Only the first two of these are really viable in the UK, and neither are probably sufficient on their own without massive land-/sea-scape changes.

    No solution on its own is ideal, but the need to do SOMETHING is urgent. All supply methods have pros and cons, and market prices are likely to fluctuate. By combining multiple production sources, and the various grid improvements, most of the problems (esp. variable supply rates and finite metal resources) are eased. National or even international infrastructure (electricity pipeline from Iceland to tap their vast geothermal reserves, anyone?) is required in order to deal with the challenges of green energy, which is difficult in a competitive free market. Given the fragmental nature of most nation's energy supply, especially in more free market countries, some level of government involvement is essential.

    Within a free market context, there are three strong arguments in favour of subsidies: (1) It provides a kickstart for the industry in order for mass production to continue increasing efficiency and thus become more universally cost effective; (2) It makes it affordable in the near-run in order to tackle climate change now and prevent massive environmental costs later; and (3) Because infrastructure costs are massive compared with running costs, which delays profitability potentially for over a decade in some instances, investments in solar and wind are hard to attract.


    P.S. And as I'm sure has been pointed out, wind turbines are NOT windmills, which are for grinding. What you mean is wind turbines.

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