The fiddly and tricky bit of the new electricity system

That the amount of electricity we can generate from wind turbines is inherently variable is well known. What isn’t as well known is how they intend to deal with it:

Households’ lights could be dimmed and kettles take longer to boil when the wind isn’t blowing, under Government-backed plans to routinely dip the voltage of Britain’s electricity supplies.
As Britain builds more wind farms, the measures to dip voltage could be used when there is an unexpected lull in wind power output.
New technology to instantly dip the voltage of power to entire regions “at the press of a button” has already been quietly trialled on half a million households across north-west England.
The system could be rolled out across the UK in coming years, ministers have indicated – after trials showed consumers did not notice any difference.

That is just fine for domestic supplies. No one does notice although we do have a technical word for this: “brownout”. It’s something that we consider to be part of a Third World (for which read “bad”) electricity supply system.

For while there’s pretty much no problem with domestic supplies this causes absolute chaos in industry. Something that is already being seen in Germany. There, it’s not so much that the grid is intentionally lowering (or, as is proposed, raising at times) the voltage, it’s that the country’s reliance upon wind just makes it happen. And modern production machinery simply cannot deal with variations in voltage.

There have been cases not just of production runs faltering, ruining what was being produced, but of voltage variations damaging the actual machinery itself. This has in turn led to German industry scrambling to deal with the problem: effectively, the solution is to put something like a giant UPS on the side of every piece of production machinery.

This, of course, has costs, substantial costs, and needs to be added to the cost of this new electricity generation system. And it isn’t added: so, therefore, the costs of wind power are not fully accounted for. Just as with the original carbon emissions, we’ve got an uncosted externality in the system making the numbers even worse than the current massive price.

Nationalising the energy companies works so well, doesn’t it?

Jeremy Corbyn tells us all it would be lovely if the gas and energy companies were nationalised:

The cost to taxpayers of renationalising the UK’s gas and electricity sector, as desired by aspiring Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, would total as much as £185bn, according to city experts.
Peter Atherton, analyst at Jefferies investment bank, said that the cost to take control of just the UK assets of companies, which include British Gas owner Centrica and network operator National Grid, would drain about £124bn from the nation’s coffers.
Mr Corbyn has stated that he would nationalise British Gas, SSE, Eon, RWE, Npower, Scottish Power and EDF if he became Prime Minister in 2020. He said he would also put National Grid back into public hands.

This is because public policy should decide how these companies work, not the cut and thrust of the purely commercial world.

Hmm:

It was not too long ago that Gazprom, Russia’s state-controlled energy conglomerate, was one of the Kremlin’s most powerful weapons. But those days now seem like a distant memory. Today, Gazprom is a financial shadow of its former self.

The speed of Gazprom’s decline is breathtaking. At its peak in May 2008, the company’s market capitalisation reached $367bn (£237bn), making it one of world’s most valuable companies, according to a survey compiled by the Financial Times. Only fellow Exxonmobile and PetroChina were worth more. Gazprom’s deputy chair Alexander Medvedev repeatedly predicted that within a decade the Russian energy giant could be worth $1 trillion.

That prediction now seems foolhardy. Since 2008, Gazprom’s value has plummeted. In early August it had a market capitalisation of $51bn – losing more than $300bn. No company among the world’s top 5,000 has suffered a bigger collapse, Bloomberg Business News reported in April 2014, and by the end of the year net income had fallen by an astonishing 86%.

Why’s that then?

Experts say Gazprom’s main problem is that it continues to serve as Putin’s favoured geopolitical weapon. Examples include the company’s purchase of major Russian media outlets that were then turned into Kremlin mouthpieces, bullying or buying the loyalty of neighbouring states and sponsoring the egregiously expensive Olympic Games in Sochi.

Most ominously for the company, the Putin administration still keeps pushing Gazprom to implement new projects that are important for the Kremlin but risky from a financial viewpoint. Two prominent examples concern Ukraine and China.

Because Gazprom is run according to public policy, not the cut and thrust of a purely commercial world.

That it would be public policy running the energy companies is exactly why Crobyn suggests their nationalisation. That it would be public policy running them is exactly why it’s a bad idea for them to be nationalised.

If only the warmists bothered to read the actual research

Talking about climate change inevitably brings up huge shouting matches. But let’s put that to one side for a moment and just start insisting that those who do urge action on it actually read the reports that lead to the urging of action. As The Guardian quite obviously isn’t here:

The fact is that it is in the very poorest countries where women have the most children, on average. And where population growth slows, generally economic growth speeds up, and carbon emissions rise faster. This happens on a global scale and even within countries – certainly within the poorer ones where there is most scope for population control, and where, also, the potential for industrialisation is greatest. It is unclear which is cause and which is effect: it is likely that they play off each other. And in some cases, perhaps, population policies go hand in hand with economic reforms. Only in the wealthiest countries, though, which already have lower fertility rates, are these links weakened or even broken.

This phenomenon raises the counterintuitive possibility that curbing population growth could generate higher global emissions than would otherwise be the case.

No, that’s not something you’re allowed to do. For, as the SRES, the economic models upon which the whole game is based, have entirely the opposite assumptions baked into them. A richer world has a smaller population. And those richer, smaller, worlds have lower emissions than poorer and more populated ones. Other than the entirely extreme world of A1FI that is (and really, nobody believes that coal is going to provide 50% of energy in 2100).

Economic growth leads to falling fertility and thus a smaller future population. The combination of these two is part of the solution to climate change, not part of the problem.

It is, of course, fine to have differing views on the subject itself. But we’re adamant that whatever your views are they must at least be consistent with the evidence that leads you to them.

Let’s call a thing what it is shall we, a spade is a spade after all

It’s not so much the pettifogging that annoys, although there is a tinge of that, it’s the hijacking of an honourable description that really irks:

A typical household has 40 plastic carrier bags stashed away at home, ministers have claimed, as new figures showed the number of bags used by shoppers rose for the fifth year running.
British shoppers took home more than 8.5 billion single-use carrier bags from supermarkets in 2014, 200 million more than in the previous year, figures from charity WRAP show.

Charity: the giving of money to aid mariners in peril on the seas perhaps. Or alms to house the destitute. But the most important part of the description is voluntary.

Following the review we worked closely with Defra to develop a programme of work, in line with sharpening our
strategic focus, that will make a significant contribution to helping the UK achieve its environmental objectives
and obligations, such as achieving the 50% household recycling rates by 2020, but at less cost. As a result grant
funding from Defra for 2014/15 has been confirmed at £17.6m (2013/14: £25.7m), expected to reduce to £15.5m
in 2015/16.

Financial Results for 2013/14

WRAP‟s total income for 2013/14 was £65.4m (2012/13: £63.2m) of which the majority (98.9%) was grant
funding from government and EU sources. Although the underlying grant funding from Defra reduced compared
to the previous year, the addition of the Resource Efficient Scotland programme and the timing of activity in EU
funded grant schemes, notably the ARID capital grant scheme in Wales, resulted in a marginal increase in total
income.

This is not a charity. This is a tax funded arm of the central bureaucracy. As such it most certainly isn’t voluntary.

It has to be said that a caring society would indeed have a place in it for those who get their kicks counting plastic bag hoarding by household. But it’s not entirely obvious that those working hard on the minimum wage should be charged tax to pay for it. Perhaps it should be paid for, voluntarily, in a charitable manner, by those who share this minority taste?

At which point we are going to revert to calling a spade a spade. WRAP is not a charity, it is a collection of tax leeches.

Opposing environment-friendly rice with higher yields

The MIT Technology Review reports that scientists have produced a genetically modified rice strain that emits far less methane than traditional varieties.  It emits one thirtieth as much in summer and half as much in winter.  It does this because a single gene from barley has been inserted to make the plant yield 43% more grain per plant, so less carbon goes into the roots and the soil to be converted by microbes into methane.

Despite its enhanced yield and lower greenhouse gas emission, it is estimated that it could be 10-20 years before it becomes available to farmers.  This is because scientists will have to use traditional breeding methods to produce a rice that is scientifically the same, including the same gene.  As Chuanxin Sun, the report’s senior author, puts it: 

“Right now of course it’s a GMO issue, and we cannot deliver this variety directly to farmers. We have to use traditional breeding methods and breed the new, society-acceptable variety for farmers.”

It is thanks to completely unwarranted scare stories from environmental groups that progress in genetic modification has been held back.  Millions of children have suffered blindness or death because of opposition to ‘golden rice’ modified to biosynthesize beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A, to combat a shortage of dietary vitamin A in some areas.

Millions more live at precarious subsistence levels because they are denied access to GM crops with enhanced yield or greater saline or drought resistance.  Innumerable field tests have failed to show adverse effects on humans, yet many in the environmental lobby campaign for all GMOs to be rejected.  They do not hesitate to trample down experimental crops planted with the support of democratically elected governments.

Many of the NGOs will undoubtedly oppose the new rice, despite its hugely increased yield and smaller environmental footprint.  Scare stories are what they do, and they keep the subscriptions and donations rolling in.