Denied

I have just finished reading the book ‘Denied’ by Richard Black, the director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) and ex-BBC environment editor. It is well written and easy to read. He claims to demolish the climate “contrarian” and climate “denier” positions on climate change and renewable energy. As far as I can work out contrarians are lukewarmers who accept the science but argue that any future warming will be far less damaging than the consequences of overreacting to it right now, while ‘deniers’ argue that CO2 can have no effect on the climate at all. His main targets in the book are the usual suspects: the GWPF, Nigel Lawson, Matt Ridley, Christopher Brooker, James Delingpole, Judith Curry and anyone else who dissents from mainstream climate and green energy orthodoxy. Richard is also upset with the BBC for interviewing Nigel Lawson on the Today programme, and with various newspapers for giving Brooker, Delingpole or David Rose any column space. In this vein then I too should be placed in the Contrarian camp, particularly concerning renewable energy policy.

Richard however does acknowledge that climate gate exposed a certain amount of sculduggery within the climate science community and because climate gate also coincided with a 15y pause in global warming, the position of sceptics back in 2014 was actually very strong and put climate scientists onto the back foot. The chapter in AR5 discussing this warming hiatus reflects this defensiveness. However,  by the end of 2018 Richard argues in his book that consequent events have now demolished all those contrarian or “denier” arguments and therefore these opinions should now be denied any undue influence in determining future climate policy. His main arguments for this are:

  1. Warming has continued as expected and the pause never actually happened. Temperature data are now compatible with model ‘projections’.
  2. Prices of new off-shore wind capacity and of solar panels have dropped so dramatically that they are competitive or cheaper than Nuclear and Gas. So objecting to green energy is illogical.
  3. The new SR15 report has highlighted the need for  immediate action to close down fossil fuels as soon as possible and invest in ‘clean’ energy. Shale Gas is an illusion.

Let’s look at each claim in turn.

  1. The Pause is no more.

Here is the original plot from AR5 showing a comparison of four major temperature datasets versus CMIP5 model projections.

Fig 1. AR5 Comparison of global temperature anomalies with CMIP5 models

In 2012 all the major temperature sets (HadCRUT, GISS,NCDC) showed no consequent year warmer than the El Nino year 1998. Furthermore the trend was dropping below model predictions. Since then a huge effort has been made to add new weather stations in Arctic regions where warming is fastest and to improve the spatial coverage averaging.

Fig 2. How the pause ‘disappeared’ .

HadCRUT4.6 has about 2000 more stations than HadCRUT3 had in 2012, but also dropped some stations in S. America (they were cooling). Temperature homogenisation on land and oceans has also had a net warming effect, although quite why seems to be a bit of a mystery. The method of spatial averaging also has an important net effect on the global temperature. Cowtan & Way used kriging to infill empty regions, whereas I use a 3D spherical triangulation to provide natural global coverage. The results are almost identical.

What is interesting though is that the flat trend prior to 2014 has now disappeared in HadCRUT4.6 which uses the same averaging procedure throughout. So this must be due to ongoing data corrections and to all the new stations added consequently. Each new monthly release of data shows that earlier values of global temperatures also get updated. Data homogenisation is a continuing process updating past measurements as well as new ones. Note however that temperatures have been falling for the last two years following the the 2016 El Nino peak. If 2019 continues this cooling trend then the pause or hiatus in warming could well return. 

2. Falling prices of renewable energy. 

Recent auctions for new off-shore wind farm capacity  “Contracts for difference”  have reached as low as £57:50/MWh for 15 years , apparently undercutting both new gas and  the Hinkley C price £92/MWh for 35 years.  So if the price of new wind and solar generation is so cheap why don’t we just buy more of it? The problem of course is that we are not comparing like with like. Although Hinkley is very expensive (consequent nuclear stations should strike a much lower price) it is still cheaper than the London Array  which receives £150/MWh, but the main difference is that nuclear is predictable. Nuclear provides constant base load power which can in the future be used for charging EVs overnight. Wind energy is fickle and may or may not be available to meet peak demand, and this inherent unreliability will not change in the future. Other advantages of nuclear over wind are

  • that its environmental footprint is tiny
  • that it lasts 3 times as long as wind farms (60 years as opposed to 20 years)

Solar Energy makes little sense in Britain because it produces no power in winter. Annual peak demand is around 5pm during winter evenings when solar output is zero. So if energy security is your goal then  solar power is useless no matter how cheap the price falls. The only thing going for it is that  it can displace fossil generation during summer months thereby reducing CO2 emissions if that is the goal, but this then increases the overall energy cost.

3. Urgent action to avoid climate disaster.

How realistic is it to expect the world to cut carbon emissions in half by 2030 and eliminate them by 2050 to meet the 1.5C target? If we get it wrong by acting too soon then we don’t get a second chance because we destroy our economies in the attempt. David Mackay said we need a plan that works for the UK. Similarly each country needs a plan that works for its particular environment. To get to zero carbon we also have to electrify both transport and heating. This means that electricity peak demand will increase to  a minimum of around 90GW. The problem then is that this increased demand must be reliably met on cold winter evenings or people will die.  Does Richard Black imagine that by expanding wind power alone one could achieve this goal, or that somehow battery storage might cover such wind lulls ?  Last night is a good example of the problems we already face after installing well over 20GW of wind capacity and over 30GW of solar capacity.

Power generation by source for 2/3 Jan 2019.  UK still regularly depends on coal when green energy lets us down each winter, despite all the hype. Coal was fired up to provide ~6GW because  wind+solar combined could only manage ~2GW

Renewables simply cannot provide energy security. Nor can some magic smart grid or energy storage system cover several day long wind lulls  affecting Northern Europe each winter.  So given that we must provide power 24/7 to maintain modern life then the only realistic low carbon solution is nuclear power. Roughly 30 identical Hinkley sized nuclear plants would do the job nicely. I doubt whether Richard Black nor his ECIU would agree with that.  I wonder who might eventually be called an energy denier?

The book is a good read though 😉

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35 Responses to Denied

  1. Keith Brown says:

    Very much in agreement. Even if the generation cost of renewables drops below the strike price for gas or nuclear, the true cost must include all the adaptations necessary to accommodate them, smart grids, back up capacity, storage et al. Very disingenuous to sweep this under the carpet. (As an FD, I’d have skinned somebody alive if they tried to get a major investment proposal past me by hiding the full costs involved, or trying to slip them through under different guises (salami slicing) so as to game the approval protocols.)

    Also, I think electrification of transport and heating would take peak demand way over 90GW. Electricity is only about a fifth of total energy consumption, and peaks at about 50GW. I think total consumption (as opposed to primary) is about 1700 TWh per annum. Maybe it’s fallen a little since I looked at it a couple of years ago, but that’s an average pull of about 200GW. Maybe you have better figures, but that’s how I remember it when I was preparing a presentation on the fundamental case against wind turbines.

    • Clive Best says:

      Keith,

      The 90GW figure was based on David MacKay’s book – “Sustainable Energy without the hot air”. I agree it sounds a bit low but he was assuming that heating would be from energy efficient heat pumps and that energy saving measures (insulation, lighting, transport) would reduce demand further. How realistic that is considering all the drafty old houses we have in Britain (including my own) I couldn’t say.

      Quite how we are going to replace all our petrol stations with high voltage charging bays fed by the national grid is another matter. Perhaps they will use diesel generators instead !

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  3. Stephen I. Mayo says:

    Nice demolition of elitist orthodoxy. In UK, apparently, just as in US, the left needs to carefully isolate and then vanquish those “deplorables” who only seek reliable scientific and market-worthy evidence before committing to a radically spare and impoverished future way of life. Just asking questions makes one a skeptic or worse, a denier and therefore subject to all possible villainy and abuse to be heaped upon by the “Sustainability Gods” of the academic, professional and industrial wind-solar energy lobby.

  4. Stephen I. Mayo says:

    Nice demolition of elitist intellectual orthodoxy. In UK, apparently, just as in US, the left needs to carefully isolate and then vanquish those “deplorables” who only see real scientific and market-worthy evidence before committing to a radically spare and impoverished future way of life. Just asking questions makes one a skeptic, or worse, a denier and therefore subject to all possible villainy and abuse to be heaped upon by the “Sustainability Gods” of the academic, professional and industrial wind-solar energy lobby.

    • Clive Best says:

      It is surprising how Energy and Climate Change has become so political. I guess the left like centralised control of the economy and climate change suits their purpose. Vilifying those who question how renewable energy based on an 18th century technology could possibly sustain 21st century life is par for the course.

      The great thing for the activists is that climate change is actually very slow. None of us will be alive in 2100 to look back and see whether it was all worth it. Therefore they don’t have to answer for their actions.

      Independent of climate change we already know that we have to find alternative energy sources to fossil fuels within the next 50 years. Is it not better to let market forces decide the winners and losers rather than let activists and politicians decide to bet all available resources on one horse?

      Climate scientists are also to blame for this mess. They refuse to take responsibility for solving the energy crisis they helped to create, but they continue to bleat lever louder for ‘action’.

  5. Ron Graf says:

    I am all in favor of alternative energy, including nuclear, as long as we are not given false science or statistics to provide a pretext for driving a preferred social agenda. I am not a huge fan of the idea of reforms for the sake of climate justice. But I am for economic sustainability and geopolitical independence from the middle-east. As a lukewarmer I feel we have the time to make the transition as we are doing: steady as she goes. Improved electrical storage technology using colloidal electrolytes and electrodes will continue to improve speed and efficiency of charging and discharging. This will help with load shifting of solar and wind.

    Fusion energy is an eventuality. I believe it’s a necessity for humanity’s ultimate success. What the bridge to fusion is made of is the question. I just started watching the fairly publicized Terra Power company. Their idea is to use spent nuclear fuel or un-enriched uranium ores for a breeding reactor. Very interested to see how the left is going to welcome their roll-outs.

    • Clive Best says:

      I was unaware of Terra Power. Looks like an interesting design because it avoids enrichment and proliferation problems. If they can run for decades then they could be delivered as black boxes to third world countries.

      Fusion has to deliver by 2030 or it will be too late.

  6. Joe Brannan says:

    An interesting discussion Clive, though I for one won’t be buying the book. Your suggestion that changes to the global station network have bust the pause is an important observation, though maybe not for the reasons that alarmists might think. If simply by changing the station locations we can make such a difference to the temperature anomaly, how can we be so sure that we have a robust figure? Even if we believe this estimate to be more representative than earlier ones there is no equivalent global spread of historic data to which it can be compared. Hence any claim that the present day is warmer than, say, the 1930’s, is based on a comparison of apples and pears.

    • Clive Best says:

      There is an inbuilt bias with time simply because very few stations have century long measurements. When you calculate a temperature anomaly you simply pin values relative to a zero value equal to the monthly averages between 1961-1990 (for HadCRUT4). So as you go back before 1950 fewer and fewer stations and ocean measurements contribute.

      There is also a simple reason why you expect Arctic stations to warm faster. An average temperature of -20C which warms to -19C requires far less energy than warming from 30C to 31C. Furthermore average temperatures are calculated from measurements of Tmax and Tmin. Tav = (Tmax +Tmin)/2 but if you plot Tmaxx and Tmin anomalies separately then you find that most of net warming is in Tmin. This means warming mostly occurs at night.

      • J Martin says:

        Also is any allowance made for the fact that arctic air is dryer than tropical air so contains less energy for a given temperature, so it cannot be correct to average a dry air mass with a wet air mass.

        • JonA says:

          I think this is just one of many problems with temperature averaging.

        • robertok06 says:

          That’s correct, in fact a similar issue has been dealt with 15 years ago by a notorious “skeptical”, RA Pielke Sr:

          “Although climate change and variability involves all aspects of the climate system [Pielke, 1998],the assessment of anthropogenically?forced climate change has focused on surface temperature as the primary metric [Mann and Jones, 2003; Soon et al., 2004]. Our contribution only addresses this very specific (and limited) metric of the climate system. The term “global warming” has been used to describe the observed surface air temperature increase in the 20th century. However, this concept of “global warming” requires assessments of units of heat (that is, Joules). Temperature, by itself, is an incomplete characterization of surface air heat content.”

          Full paper here:

          “Assessing “global warming” with surface heat content”
          https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1029/2004EO210004

  7. oldbrew says:

    The current UAH 13-month average temperature is about 0.1C above the highest points reached in the 1980s. Hardly a crisis?

  8. Mr Broccoli says:

    A lovely piece of analysis Clive. As always, I will pass it on to my students to encourage them to think rather than accept blindly, or sheepishly.

    I continue to develop my bio battery concept and think that eventually it will provide the power smoothing currently provided by nuclear. This year takes me to a new developmental stage, so hopefully in the near future it will provide a significant alternative to add to the mix.

    • Clive Best says:

      Thanks,

      We’re going to need all the sustainable battery backup we can get if wind and solar expand much more. I don’t think Lithium Ion batteries are sustainable long term.

  9. manicbeancounter says:

    There appears to be a flaw in Roger Black’s analysis, which you – like most other people – have failed to pick up on. To stop global warming requires reducing aggregate global GHG emissions. Yet emissions will carry on increasing even if all proposed emissions policies are fully implemented. The UK currently emits about 1% of the global total, and electricity generation is only responsible for part of that 1%. Converting from low cost fossil fuels to higher cost nuclear, wind and solar only increases costs in the UK.
    The UNEP Emissions GAP Reports 2018 clearly states the gulf between desired and current policies in point 2 of the Executive Summary

    2. Global greenhouse gas emissions show no signs
    of peaking. Global CO2 emissions from energy and
    industry increased in 2017, following a three-year
    period of stabilization. Total annual greenhouse
    gases emissions, including from land-use change,
    reached a record high of 53.5 GtCO2e in 2017,
    an increase of 0.7 GtCO2e compared with 2016.
    In contrast, global GHG emissions in 2030 need
    to be approximately 25 percent and 55 percent
    lower than in 2017 to put the world on a least-cost
    pathway to limiting global warming to 2°C and 1.5°C
    respectively

    There have now been 24 annual COP meetings that have failed to produce policies that will reduce emissions, so this is far from being a new issue.

    • Clive Best says:

      Of corse you are right. Whatever the UK does is not going to make much difference to global emissions. A growing population in developing countries is going to burn whatever they can to get out of poverty. COP meetings don’t produce any policies. They just set out idealised targets with platitudes about clean energy and like like. UK, Germany and a few others actually try to meet those targets but are finding out the hard way that renewables can never work without a large Nuclear component. Germany will eventually stop trying to abandon nuclear

      The only way out of this mess is some cheap breakthrough in nuclear fusion. There are some private companies trying to solve it.

  10. J Martin says:

    Using actual numbers from solar installations it would seem that solar power doesn’t return it’s embodied energy anywhere north of Italy.

    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301421516301379

  11. Colin Megson says:

    As well as decarbonising electricity, decarbonising heating and transport also need attending to. Professor Paul Howarth of the NNL says in a video that the UK’s [and any other nation with a grid] will need to uprate electricity grids X4 – from 80 GW in the UK to 320 GW -to do this.

    Well worth noting his comment about ‘closing the model’ [DECC 2050 Calculator] when nuclear was added: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ltfa8sSwZTA&feature=share

    The CCC will soon be recommending to the government an increase, maybe a huge increase, in renewables penetration along with EVs [or hydrogen powered vehicles], plus heat pumps or hydrogen for heating. Hydrogen for vehicles or heating will be via the P2G route using natural gas and CCS.

    I run a facebook page for GE-Hitachi’s BWRX-300 SMR. I am in touch with David Powell of GE-H who can be seen on this video [32:10] confidently proclaiming an overnight cost figure for a 300 MW npp of $2,000/kW. This is a quarter of Hinkley’s overnight cost: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hNpant6xANE

    2030 will see the FOAK operational BWRX-30 and a few years later, it’s the NOAK at $2,000/kW. This overnight rate will make investment in renewables look insane and should signal the collapse of all renewable technologies – including the multitude of proposed storage technologies – in any nation with a sound grid network.

    A single BWRX-300, will have an overnight cost of £468 million and will deliver 142 million MWh of dividend-paying, 24/7 units of electricity. Whitelee Windfarm, the biggest version of the most cost-effective renewable technology – onshore wind – cost £600 million and will deliver 32 million MWh of dividend-paying, intermittent units of electricity.

    Investing 28% more for just 22.5% of the earnings would clearly be insane. But the killer punch is the declaration from the USA’s NRC that the Emergency Planning Zone [EPZ] for SMRs can be at the boundary fence of the tiny site. This Forbes article makes it clear that SMRs can be sited close to population centres: https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2018/08/29/how-far-do-you-have-to-run-after-a-small-modular-nuclear-meltdown/#1e3ad39d7393

    So this one BWRX-300 could supply all of the electricity – domestic; commercial; industrial – to a city the size of Leicester and also much of the heating.

    It would be politically unconscionable, to a cash-strapped electorate, for any government to continue with a policy that ignores developments in advanced nuclear reactors and continues with a policy of directing investment towards renewables.

    • Clive Best says:

      Thanks for the background. Interesting to hear the talk from Paul Howarth. I think things changed when David MacKay became chief scientist at DECC and civil servants and politicians had to face up to reality.

      The green movement grew out of the anti-nuclear movement and this has infected baby boomer politics. I don’t know much about SMRs but if they are to be delivered to towns or to developing countries then they have to be black boxes which run for at least 20y without need for refueling

      • Colin Megson says:

        The BWRX-300 has a refuelling cycle of 2 years, but at the NOAK overnight cost, it will be irresistible in developed nations where good regulatory control can be assured.

        It will be a nuclear power stop-gap for a few years until Ed Pheil’s Gen IV, Molten Chloride Salt Fast Reactor [MCSFR] gets up and running with its ‘walk-away-safe’, proliferation-free, HLW-burning, 40 year operational period. It will be there to safely power the high-emitting, developing and underdeveloped nations in the 2030s.

        Watching every minute of Ed in action made me believe he’s the most pragmatic, safety and cost conscious nuclear reactor designer in the ‘known’ world: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aHsljVnY6oI&t=2839s

        No reactor can possibly be made more cost effective than the BWRX-300, so it will be valuable for low-carbon electricity for many decades to come, particularly as the learning curve of nuclear power regulation takes hold in developing and underdeveloped nations. It’s the reactor that is most affordable and creates saleable fuel for the MCSFRs.

  12. Colin Megson says:

    Don’t know how else to contact you, but I wsonder if you could check your wind metering figures. Elexon are showing a current wind figure of 3224 MW and you are showing 5000 MW.

    renewableUK show 20,571 MW of ‘Operational Capacity’. If we imagine, for the sake of argument, around a 20% cf at the moment, that tots up to 8,880 MW of [“…source: Elexon (WIND adjusted to include small wind farms)…”] small wind farms.If you’re satisfied with 8,880 MW of small wind farms, have you any idea if this is added to or subtracted from the renewableUK figure?

    • Clive Best says:

      I take the Elexon figure and then correct it upwards to include all small embedded wind farms across the UK. Only the largest wind farms are metered by the National Grid and appear in the Elexon figure.

      For the details see Untangling UK Wind power production

      It is exactly the same story for solar energy. None of this is metered by Elexon. The figure is a theoretical one calculated by the University of Sheffield and is based on the hours of sunshine in regional locations.

      Both Solar and embedded wind produces an apparent drop in total demand rather than individually contributing to meet ‘demand’.

      • Colin Megson says:

        Thanks. That 46% is significant as one of the most popular metering sites used is Gridwatch Templar, which roughly agrees with the Elexon figure.

        I use Gridwatch Templar to download spreadsheet data, so I’ll have to correct the wind figures accordingly and warn others I know, who also use it, of the need to correct.

  13. dpy6629 says:

    Hi Clive, I liked the chart you did for the old vs. new versions of the surface data sets vs. CMIP5. It explains neatly how the pause really existed before it was adjusted away. Would it be easy to generate a plot that has everything on it without the animation? Also zooming in on the relevant temperature range would help to see clearly the differences.

    Thanks.

  14. Gerry McIsaac says:

    I started out reading your blog about the insolation study you did in 2016. Now I find you have fallen into the same trap as everyone else. Arguing about which “”model” is more accurate. How did that happen?

  15. Mark Heslep says:

    Agreed all around. In particular, I object to Black’s arrogant dismissal of objections ‘to green energy’ as ‘illogical’. If there must be arrogance, it should lie with empiricism; that is, the decades of experience with nuclear power (along with hydro) has repeatedly produced clean power grids on multiple continents (France, Ontario, Switzerland, Sweden).

    The solar and wind combination has never come anywhere close to providing a low carbon grid. The West is not building any more hydro, and it should not build much biomass power. Solar share of generation in western Europe seems to have stalled out at 6% to 10% (Italy, Spain, Germany), as predicted by its limited capacity factor. Regardless of price, reliance on VRE means large land use, additional reliance on full grid scale backup, and these will never be cheap. Yet Black et al speak of successful all-green power as if it had been around since the Norman Conquest.

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