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Wednesday, June 06, 2007


I sent this letter to the Herald last Friday in response to a letter from Friends of the Earth assuring us we could keep the lights on with renewables. I have to say that I think it is improper of the Herald to have decided to let FoI's letter which was, as I point out, not only contentious but factualy incorrect, without allowing any response not only from me but, if past experience is any guide, from several other people. It is however an impropriety the Herald have shown before:

There is a considerable amount of sleight of hand in Friends of the Earth's letter today assuring us that we can avoid blackouts without nuclear.

Of course they make no costings of any of their proposals but then it is a given, among renewabilists, that the mere doubling of electricity prices to pay for windmillery, rather than halving if we go nuclear, is a price the 24,000 people who die annually of fuel poverty are happy to pay. The real argument is that whatever we spend on windmills they won't work.

Moderately correctly FoI say that 20% of our power is exported to England & Wales (actually 17% & 1/3rd is to Ireland) but this is purely because we have nuclear power. This is not an argument for letting Hunterston & Torness close.

Their happy scenario is that renewables will be up from the current 13% (10% being hydro) to 45% in time for the closure of Torness. This is a rise of 32% at a time when 50% of Scotland's current capacity will have closed. This will clearly mot avoid blackouts. Going into it in more detail 20% of this proposed capacity is windmills, 6 times present production. Grid experts have publicly warned that wind's inherent instability (wind comes in gusts) would make the grid crash at above 10%. The remaining 15%, while not detailed, must be the long promised wave & tidal which currently provides zero % of our power & has not progressed as far as completing the journey across the drawing board. It is grossly irresponsible to base Scotland's future on such a will o' the wisp.

They also promise that conventional coal production would be transferred to inherently more expensive "clean coal" while admitting that this "urgently needs to be demonstrated commercially.". Indeed. Once again we are being promised pie in the sky

Perhaps most dishonest is the cheerful assurance that "there will be no year in which demand comes even close to exceeding supply". This is also the line in the previous Executive's report Matching Renewable Energy With Demand which again happily assures us that production will "on average" over the year, match demand. What this means in real life is that only 49% of the time, if all the renewabilist's promises work out, will we be suffering blackouts. Presumably almost all wimter nights when there is no wind or when there are gales, while supply will hold up during balmy summer afternoons.

Worse - the writer says that he makes no allowance for energy saving, which is sensible since nobody has yet ever pointed to a power station that was closed because of energy saving, but does not mention that he is making no allowance for a growing economy. If the SNP achieve their promised 3% annual growth by 2023 we will be 60% wealthier (if they achieve 4% as promised if we get the ability to cut corporation tax we will be 90% better off due to compound growth). In fact these are both extremely modest ambitions since world average growth is 5% annually. Since the correlation between economic growth & energy use is as well recognised as anything in economics we will need to increase energy production commensurately.

There is absolutely no reason, apart from politics, why we cannot have unlimited quantities of nuclear power at half the present cost. However because of the irresponsibility of our political we are sleepwalking towards blackouts & a very great increase in hypothermia deaths.
Yours Faithfully

Neil Craig
Reference - the Executive's renewables report - conclusions p77


Normally I agree with you but this...

The remaining 15%, while not detailed, must be the long promised wind & tidal which currently provides zero % of our power & has not progressed as far as completing the journey across the drawing board.

... is just plain wrong, sorry.

WaveGen's Islay LIMPET wave generator has been delivering a substantial amount of power to the National Grid since the year 2000; it is far more constant, and far cheaper, than wind.

Unfortunately, because it was privately financed, the government seem to be utterly unaware of it.

I have to admit to having been careless here. There is some wavepower electricity being produced in Scotland. As a proportion of our roughly 6,000 MWs the 15-25 KW mentioned on this link isn't much. The link says it is connected to the grid but since Islay is an island well offshore this connection may be pretty nominal. Nonetheless the difference between getting zero from wind & tidal & a small fraction of 1% is a real one because it demonstrates a potential for growth. Nonetheless to that nonetheless it is still a very long way to go.

The water column feeds a pair of counter-rotating turbines, each of which drives a 250kW generator, giving a nameplate rating of 500kW.

500kW is rather more than 25kW, no? Or have I misundertsood something here?

The article say "The performance has been optimised for annual average wave intensities of between 15 and 25kW/m. The water column feeds a pair of counter-rotating turbines, each of which drives a 250kW generator, giving a nameplate rating of 500kW." which is not cklear either way. My reading is that though the theoretical maximum is 500 the actual average power delivered is 15/25. This is like a 3MW windmill which works to an average of 27% capacity ie 810MW. When politicians say that a windfarm can supply a quarter of Glasgow's houses they are always using the theoretical capacity rather than the real one. I may be wrong here but when you are offered 2 figures for anything it is usually the less impressive one that turns out to be true.

'Cos I'm interested, I emailed WaveGen's General Manager to clear this up. I received the following reply.

Dear DK

The figures of 15 and 25kW/m refer to the incident wave energy per meter of wave front at the location. This means for the lower figure the total energy available to the 20 meter wide collector is 15 X 20 = 300KW

The turbines on any plant are sized to suite the incident wave energy and the collector dimensions. The LIMPET plant is used as a test and development facility and as such the turbines are reconfigured at intervals to allow us to increase our knowledge of the OWC system. Recently the plant has been operating with a 250kW main turbine together with a 20kW research turbine. We are currently commencing a test programme where a new turbine will be tested in place of the existing 250kW turbine.

The project in the Faroe Islands is currently on hold while the utility in the Faroes seeks funding for the demonstration plant.

David Gibb

I stand corrected.
I must admit this is a very impressive figure. If that much energy was available for every 20m stretch of coast this would seem to be able to power the world.

I assume there must be some sort of problem (eg that this is a particlualrly active area or more likely that it still a very expensive way of producing power) but then occasionally my cynicism turns out not to be justified.

Will you be mentioning this on the Devil's Kitchen blog?
Probably, although I have mentioned and linked to the LIMPET project more times than I'd care to remember! But it's good to get figures.

If you are interested, I happened to hear about the project when watching one of those Open University programmes on the Eastern Isles, about four or five years ago. At that time, the presenter said that it potentially produced enough electricity to power the entirety of the Highlands and Islands (which, sparsely populated though they are, I thought quite impressive).

I don't know, of course, whether this claim is true, but if Scotland's current power requirement is indeed 6,000MWs it doesn't seem too far-fetched.

The Faroes project that David Gibb mentioned had been on their site for sometime, but was essentially going to be build into the 300ft cliffs, rather than being the sort-of beach-like installation that the Islay one is.

The PDF Report on their site gives operating costs, etc. but they seem to be reasonable.

The problem is, as I pointed out some time ago, that our Environment Minister -- that arsehole, Miliband -- was totally unaware of this project even as recently as last September. Despite my linking to the project on his site, he still has not acknowledged its existence.


I have just written about it: would you care to check my assumptions?

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