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Thursday, January 24, 2013

An Engineer Seduced to the Dark Side by Alex Salmond & One Not by the Chinese

   I went to the Royal Philosophical Society of Glasgow lecture last night. The lecturer was, recently knighted, Sir Jim McDonald, an electrical engineer and he spoke on "Energy challenges and a low carbon future".

    I was told beforehand that he was a very good engineer and it was clear from his talk that he knows the facts and is capable of lecturing enthusiastically, well and confidently.
    He co-chairs (with the First Minister) the Energy Advisory Board in Scotland. He became Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Strathclyde in March 2009

    So does he agree with me that all this eco-fascism is nonsense, or am I wrong, or is he? Well no to all 3.

     He was speaking in support of the "renewables" programme. as is his job. He even went so far as to say that the global warming scare was "evidence based" but stopped there, without actually giving any evidence.

     On the other hand he acknowledged that we could indeed be building as much power as we need from nuclear and said some particulalrly favourable things about small scale nuclear plants (around 25 MW but comparable to the 225 MW reactors Westinghouse are proposing to mass produce and could be mass produced here).

     He said that the first he had heard of the First Minister's wheeze of making Scotland "100% renewable by 2020" which emerged 4 weeks before the election, was when heard it on the car radio, and nearly drove off the road. As he said this scientifically illiterate promise has since been retroactively finessed to pretend it is just that Scotland will be able to provide the equivalent of 100% in renewables but will still have back-up power.

     He showed us maps of;  

Scotland's current generating capacity - about a dozen large generators

; of what it will be in 2020 - 4 generators, 2 of them, Hunterston and Torness being nuclear (both now officially closing in 2023, Hunterson originally being scheduled for retiral in 2009)

: and of what it will be in 2030 - none of them still providing power - with a deathbed humour remark about balaclava sales  

But despite all that he stuck to the party line asserting that "renewables is a fact" that is not going to go away because the politicians want it. The reason got explained during questions.    

    He then said that 10 years ago he would have been all for going for the best engineering solutions but now he was older and wiser and accepted that engineering reality was less important that what politicians and creators of "social policy" wanted. That "big business and government are hand in hand" and that if politicians want it done a certain way then it is the job of engineers to agree and do their best to make reality fit.

      I understand why he did that and even that there is virtue in doing what can be done in impossible conditions, but I find it sad.

     Obviously I would much prefer a society where economic freedom existed, or at the very least, a centrally planned socialist system where the central planners knew and cared enough to make decisions which are sane in economic and engineering terms and intended to benefit society (which is why I have a soft spot for Stalin).

      The questions at the end were disappointing (ie I didn't get to ask if he accepted that correlation between energy use and GDP; if I was wrong to think at least 94% of electriciry production costs are political parasitism; or what evidence there is for CAGW or the desirability of cutting CO2).
     The example of an engineer not being so seduced that I have been reading about is 

 Chen Xing, one of China's foremost hydrologists was involved in the design of the dam. He was also a vocal critic of the government dam building policy, which involved many dams in the basin. He had recommended 12 sluice gates for the Banqiao Dam, but this was scaled back to five. Chen Xing was criticized as being too conservative. Other dams in the project, including the Shimantan Dam, had a similar reduction of safety features and Chen was removed from the project. In 1961, after problems with the water system were revealed, he was brought back to help. Chen continued to be an outspoken critic of the system and was again removed from the project.

   The dam in question the Banqaio Dam broke in 1975, killing between 171,000 and 230,000 people (don't worry nobody else has heard of it either). Let us hope that when the lights go out in Scotland nothing so spectacular happens though we already have 3,000 excess winter deaths annually which gives us 70 years before we catch up.

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