Thursday, June 13, 2024
HomeCulture WarNo matter how many turbines we build, no wind means no power

No matter how many turbines we build, no wind means no power


IF A situation contains two opposite facts that seem impossible, that is a paradox. Climate change produced an unexpected example last month when the polar vortex hit the US and Canada. There is a ‘paradox between warming climate and intense snowstorms’, Canadian scientists said, ‘what climate modellers are finding is that climate change involves more frequent extremes.’

What we, the general public, are finding is that whatever weather we suffer will inevitably be blamed on climate change.

However, a research paper from the Global Warming Policy Foundation demonstrated that reports of extreme weather rapidly increased after 1998, when the internet arrived. A paper published by the European Physical Journal Plus in 2022 showed that the apparent increase in extreme weather events in the second half of the twentieth century was due to the growing reporting capacity of individual states.

The UK government has decided that we must not use fracking, which would bring down energy costs, keep us warm, and reduce our dependency on imported fuel. It is clear, said the government report which killed the idea, that ‘we cannot rule out future unacceptable impacts on the local community’.

Apparently the ‘unacceptable impacts’ on the very much wider community of cold homes, power cuts and higher energy costs simply do not matter. I wonder sometimes whether our government realises that if it should be necessary to turn off our electricity, it would also spell doom for our gas boilers. The gas would still be available, but boilers need electricity for starting and control. Those of you with wood-burners or gas hobs may find you have more friends than you realised.

(The ‘impacts’ situation was actually far worse when we were mining coal. A current government website still says that you may be able to claim for subsidence caused by coal mining. The system is already in place to provide compensation.)

The UK has therefore reached an agreement with the US to import their fracked LNG gas. ‘The US fracking boom,’ a Guardian article said, ‘could tip world to edge of climate disaster.’ We cannot do it here because it might upset the local community; they can do it there even though it might take us faster to our climate doom.

The story of coal is just as inexplicable. The UK imported 2.1million tons of coking coal last year. Approval has therefore been given for a new deep coal mine in Cumbria which will provide coking coal for steel production. Of course the project faces fierce opposition from scientists and environmental campaigners. It is all right to import coal, apparently, but not to mine it ourselves.

‘Many climate experts,’ said the New Scientist, ‘are worried that by approving this, the UK government has undermined its international credibility as a climate leader.’ It’s all very well being a leader, but have we bothered to look round to see who is following?

A&E departments are under great stress because of rising demand, reduced capacity and bed-blocking. Once upon a time (not that long ago) the first port of call was your GP. You went to the next surgery, morning or evening, gave your name to the receptionist, and waited your turn to be seen. Home visits, night and day, were available.

If it is impossible to book an appointment with a doctor in the next day or two, many now go to A&E. It may take some time, but you know you will eventually be seen by someone. Has anyone carried out a survey of A&E arrivals to find out how many would have gone to their GP if they could get to see him or her reasonably quickly?

‘People concerned about rising energy costs should heat their living room,’ the UK Health and Security Agency (UKHSA) said helpfully during the recent cold spell. ‘The elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions are particularly at risk and should keep the heat at 18C in the rooms they use most often.’

I am old, very old, and always feel cold. I could not live at 18C (65F) without two or three jerseys plus my thick padded anorak. Then what do I wear when I go out?

The Age UK website is more sensible: ‘Living room temperatures should ideally be kept at 70F (21C).’ The World Health Organisation recommend 68F (20C) indoor temperature for vulnerable groups, such as the elderly. Anything below that is dangerous, they say.

Why is the UKHSA trying to kill us old folks off? If a retirement home ran their dayroom at 18C there would be an oldie riot and some smashing of the smaller items of furniture.

Then there is wind. The government must think that we’ll always have wind because our energy plans are firmly based on this erratic and constantly fluctuating element. But the UK energy strategy, they say, will also ‘see a significant acceleration of nuclear, with an ambition of up to 24GW by 2050’.

That seems reassuring (except perhaps for that word ‘ambition’) but peak demand (usually at 5.30pm) on several of the cold days last December was around 47gigawatts (GW). At that time on those days wind provided a maximum of 7GW, and on one day its contribution was less than 1GW. There was no output from solar panels on any day after about 3.30 even though it was bright.

So if we actually achieve that 24GW of nuclear power by 2050, where will the other 23GW come from? The peak could be very much higher (and the gap a lot bigger) if by then we all have electric cars and heat pumps.

Never fear: the current target is to have ‘up to 50GW of low carbon offshore wind by 2030 . . . more than enough to power every home in the UK.’ Here we have another attempt to assure us that there’s really nothing to worry about.

The meteorologically-challenged folk who are devising these plans seem to think that the more turbines we erect, the more power we can get from them. However, when the wind does not blow, it won’t matter how many thousands are scattered across the North Sea – none of them will turn. No wind means no power.

In a civilisation that has evolved to depend completely on having constant and unfailing electricity, we are planning to depend completely on the fickle and erratic wind, because that other head-in-the-clouds plan for zero carbon means no oil, no gas, no coal.

Not one of all these examples is actually a paradox, as you may have realised. Paradoxes are apparent contradictions. Not one of them is apparent. They are all, in every instance, real contradictions, manifestations of a curious unwillingness to ferret out the core problem and do something about it.

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Ivor Williams
Ivor Williams
Ivor Williams is a freelance writer and has been a fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society since 1984.

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