Matt Ridley: Realistic roundup of renewables

Posted: July 28, 2014 by tallbloke in Accountability, Carbon cycle, Education, Energy, flames, government, People power, Robber Barons, Solar physics, wind

Matt Ridley article for the Times, reposted from the GWPF, because as many people as possible need to read it and think. Then act by using your vote sensibly.

Date: 28/07/14 Matt Ridley, The Times

wind-costsIf wood-burning power stations are less eco-friendly than coal, we are getting the search for clean energy all wrong
On Saturday my train was diverted by engineering works near Doncaster. We trundled past some shiny new freight wagons decorated with a slogan: “Drax — powering tomorrow: carrying sustainable biomass for cost-effective renewable power”. Serendipitously, I was at that moment reading a report by the chief scientist at the Department of Energy and Climate Change on the burning of wood in Yorkshire power stations such as Drax. And I was feeling vindicated.

A year ago I wrote in these pages that it made no sense for the consumer to subsidise the burning of American wood in place of coal, since wood produces more carbon dioxide for each kilowatt-hour of electricity. The forests being harvested would take four to ten decades to regrow, and this is the precise period over which we are supposed to expect dangerous global warming to emerge. It makes no sense to steal beetles’ lunch, transport it halfway round the world, burning diesel as you do so, and charge hard-pressed consumers double the price for the power it generates.

There was a howl of protest on the letters page from the chief executive of Drax power station, which burns a million tonnes of imported North American wood a year and plans to increase that to 7 million tonnes by 2016. But last week, Dr David MacKay’s report vindicated me. If the wood comes from whole trees, as much of it does, then the effect could be to increase carbon dioxide emissions, he finds, even compared with coal. And that’s allowing for the regrowth of forests.

Despite the best efforts of the Conservatives to rein in their Lib Dem colleagues, the renewable-energy bandwagon careers onward, costing ever more money and doing real environmental harm, while producing trivial quantities of energy and risking blackouts next winter. People keep telling me it’s no good being rude about all renewables: some must be better than others. Well, I’m still looking:

Tidal power remains a (literal) non-starter; if you ask ministers why nothing has been built, they say it’s not for want of proffering ludicrously generous subsidies on our behalf. Yet still no takers.

Wave power: again, the sky’s the limit for what the government will pay if you can figure out how to make dynamos and generators survive the buffeting of waves, corrosion of salt and encrustation of barnacles. Nothing doing.

Geothermal: perhaps great potential in the future for heating homes through district heating schemes, though expensive here compared with Iceland, but not much use for electricity. Air-source and ground-source heat pumps, all the rage a few years ago, have generally proved more costly and less effective than advertised, but they are getting better. Trivial contribution so far.

Solar power: one day soon it will make a big impact in sunny countries, and the price is falling fast, but generating for the grid in cloudy Britain where most power is needed on dark winter evenings will probably never make economic sense. Covering fields in Devon with solar panels today is just ecological and economic vandalism. Solar provides about a third of one per cent of world energy.

Offshore wind: Britain is the world leader, meaning we are the only ones foolish enough to pay the huge subsidies (treble the going rate for electricity) to lure foreign companies into tackling the challenge of erecting and maintaining 700ft metal towers in stormy seas. The good news is that the budget for subsidising offshore wind has almost run out. The bad news is that it is already costing us billions a year and ruining coastal views.

Onshore wind: one of the cheapest renewables but still twice as costly as gas or coal, it kills eagles and bats, harms tourism, divides communities and takes up lots of space. The money goes from the poor to the rich, and the carbon dioxide saving is tiny, because of the low density of wind and the need to back it up with diesel generators. These too now need subsidy because they cannot run at full capacity.

Hydro: cheap, reliable and predictable, providing 6 per cent of world energy, but with no possibility for significant expansion in Britain. The current vogue for in-stream generation in lowland streams in England will produce ridiculously little power while messing up the migration of fish.

Anaerobic digestion: a lucrative way of subsidising farmers (yet again) to grow perfectly good food for burning instead of eating. Contrary to myth, nearly all the energy comes from crops such as maize (once fermented into gas), not from food waste. Expensive.

Waste incineration: a great idea. Yet we are currently paying other countries to take it off our hands and burn it overseas. If instead we burned it at home, we would make cheap, reliable electricity. But Nimbys won’t let us.

Over the past ten years the world has invested more than $600 billion in wind power and $700 billion in solar power. Yet the total contribution those two technologies are now making to the world primary energy supply is still less than 2 per cent. Ouch.

Full story (paywall)

  1. vuurklip says:

    Reblogged this on vuurklip and commented:
    We’ll never learn from other’s mistakes. Our own are so much better!

  2. lapogus says:

    Excellent summary by Matt. Here’s the latest proposal of onshore wind madness in the Scottish Highlands – – a 24 turbine scheme in the hills to the north of Loch Rannoch – unthinkable landscape vandalism, proposed by a Dutch company who will very likely sell the rights to SSE or anybody they can as soon as they have planning permission. Please object by August 5th if you can.

  3. tallbloke says:

    What do the Dutch know about beautiful mountain landscapes?

    I’ll blog about this.

  4. Chaeremon says:

    Over at EIKE, Frau Merkel is asked: You claim to reduce CO2 (but instead you increase CO2 in support of ecological ideology).

    Merkel, a physicist, is apparently ignorant of the Cost-Energy Law, well I’d say she is rather a leading and influential reality denier.

    English translation of the (peer-reviewed) Cost-Energy Law paper is here:
    Website (in German) is here:

    Quote “Application of this law to economic processes and thus to the structures of political action leads to surprising findings concerning fundamental correlations which have evidently not been recognized as such until now. This applies in particular to the consequences of the change in energy policy to alternative forms of energy, which will lead to a permanent and irreversible manifold increase in the consumption of fossil energy sources as compared to classic thermal power plants and thus to increased emissions of carbon dioxide.” emphasis mine.

  5. tom0mason says:

    Once the UK is totally de-industrialized, decarbonated, and the populous attuned to the policy of super high efficiency smart-metered living, then UK will lead the world in green-blob energy.
    Truly then the windfarms of wishful thinking will ensure that solar power will never set on the British Empire.

  6. oldbrew says:

    Anyone who thinks wood can be grown faster than it can be burned, needs help.

  7. A C Osborn says:

    Paul Homewood has a list of Wind Turbines that have failed the test of time either by not generating Electricity and therefore cash or failing mechanically.
    One theme through the story is that the Turbine Companies have been liquidated and are thus not available for compensation to the various councils and schools etc.
    The other theme from these Green nuts is that the failures are OK because theywere only built to demonstrate and ““raise the profile of renewable energy?”

  8. oldbrew says:

    ACO: they forgot to say the wind turbine itself is not renewable, and may not last all that long either.

  9. Bob Greene says:

    Reblogged this on and commented:
    Renewable energy summarized very nicely

  10. Bob Weber says:

    Very dumb and shortsighted moving huge amounts of wood from the US to the UK – certainly not “sustainable” over the long haul! We’ve had oil wars, water wars, and soon it looks like we’ll have wood wars too. Why don’t we just do everything the hard way? Doh, we already are!!

  11. SalvaVenia says:

    Hydroenergy from Norway could lead to a shutdown of more than 40 nuclear power stations in Europe. There even exists a respective pipeline from Norway to the German harbour Cuxhaven and, thus, a connection with the european energy nets.

    However, and because it is a political decision to let that energy pass, all German ministers for environment refused to push the Cuxhaven button.

  12. TomK says:

    Y’know, the laws of thermodynamics are not just helpful suggestions — they really are what reality is. It just doesn’t matter how strongly and sincerely the delusionals believe they can be enticed to change so that they can satisfy our needs — ain’t gonna happen. And them ain’t chickens comin’ home t’ roost. Them’s buzzards.

  13. […] Second, renewable energy will not be our power future. It can play a part, but not a large one.  Read here. […]

  14. Roger Andrews says:

    WUWT and a number of other sites reposted this article. It may be of interest to Talkshop readers too:

  15. AlecM says:

    The greatest sin of all is that Common Purpose and the elite Fascists removed professional engineers from the loop because they assumed, being the new master-race, that they knew better. This is why the 2003 White Paper claimed a Virtual Power Station was possible.

  16. p.g.sharrow says:

    This was never about energy and its’ cost. This is and was always about closing the coal mines.
    Talk to any Ecoloon and they will start foaming at the mouth over the mining and burning of coal. There is no reasoning or logic on this subject. pg

  17. colonialist says:

    The conclusion? People are dim, like the outlook, and both are getting dimmer.

  18. cornwallwindwatch says:

    Reblogged this on Cornwall Wind Watch.

  19. hunter says:

    My family in North Carolina appreciates the nice money the green mob is forcing you Brits to pay over for their wood power scam.

  20. tallbloke says:

    Hunter: Do they fell during nesting season?