Professor David MacKay and the Renewables Delusion

I too would like to simply replace fossil fuels with renewables, but nature doesn’t care about what you or I would like, and renewables don’t have enough power per unit area. If you think you can phase out fossil fuels in densely populated countries without phasing in nuclear, please show me your arithmetic. David Mackay’s full book and 10 page synopsis are available (in English and several other languages) here (free download)

[See however https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/511939/Renewables.pdf (h/t Michael Reiss); renewables according to this source already generate 24% of the UK’s electricity requirements; not of course the same as total energy requirements, but not negligible either]

h/t Michael Roberts

Skepteco

“I’m not pro-nuclear- just pro-arithmetic”.

The cause for a rational evidence-based approach to energy policy has suffered a huge loss with the death of Professor David Mackay  three weeks ago, on April 14th.

Mackay, Chief Scientific Advisor at the UK government’s Department of Energy and Climate Change, was the author of Sustainable Energy Without Hot Air, a key text that has been my number one stop to point folks to as a starting point for understanding energy supply and demand. In particular, I have frequently cited this table which explains very well the limitations of wind and solar energy due to their relatively low energy density:

Power per unit land or water area

Based on these figures, population and current energy demand, MacKay calculates that Britain cannot live on its own renewables- they simply need too much land.

By contrast to the 2-20W/m2 that can be achieved through wind or solar pv power, fossil fuels or…

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About Paul Braterman

Science writer, former chemistry professor; committee member British Centre for Science Education; board member and science adviser Scottish Secular Society; former member editorial board, Origins of Life, and associate, NASA Astrobiology Insitute; first popsci book, From Stars to Stalagmites 2012

Posted on May 9, 2016, in Climate, Global warming, Politics, Science, Society and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. What is missing is the lifetime costs & commissioning time – huge for nuclear, not to mention the energy costs for decommissioning and outraged technology. We would have had to make the decision decades ago, now too late &expensive for newbuild

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    • Good points. Perhaps attention was misdirected. *Why* is commissioning time so long (inflamed fear of nuclear must bear some of the blame)? Whatever happened to pebble reactors, and small-scale reactors (which we’ve been fitting on submarines for decades)? How much can still be achieved by prolonging the lifetimes of existing plant, a strategy being pursued in the US? Have we been rewarding industry for doing the wrong things? With no new build, we will lose generating ability as we decommission. Then what?

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