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Clean energy – What is it and what are we paying for?  

Author:  | Economics, Emissions, Europe, Ireland

Dogmas of ‘clean energy’ versus ‘dirty energy’ abound. So much so, that in order to ‘cure’ a perceived problem in the EU, by the end of 2012, over €600 billion had been invested in wind turbines and solar panels, with multiples more of that planned to come. Given that you only get to spend it once and we are funding it through soaring electricity prices; that’s a hell of a belief system. So where are the figures to justify it?

History abounds with poor decision-making and the resulting major political, financial and environmental failures. As a result, legal systems were put in place, requiring for significant policies, plans or programmes, that Regulatory Impact Analysis with detailed cost benefit studies be completed, with a further legal requirement for the completion of Strategic Environmental Assessments. These procedures must involve participation of the public in the decision-making and be completed before such policies, plans or programmes can be adopted.

However, having established such procedures, they were promptly ignored by the EU and its Member States, after all there was a planet to be saved and existing energy structures no longer sufficed and had to be made ‘clean’. The EU’s politicians knew best and established a 20% target for renewable energy by 2020, essentially ‘pulling it out of a hat’. It was never worked out in advance; what was to be built, where it was to be built, what were the impacts, what were the costs, what were the benefits, etc. These minor details were not allowed to limit the implementation of the target. As the introduction to the relevant Directive explains, the overall 20% target for the EU was then shared out among the Member States based on their existing level of renewable energy and a factor based on GDP. Hence Ireland obtained a 16% target and Austria, a country with considerable hydro reserves; essentially double that at 34%.

The democratic deficit was staggering; as bypassing these assessment procedures also bypassed the associated public participation in decision-making. To quote Animal Farm, in which the pigs decide and all the animals have to toil building windmills:

The number 42 is, in ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ by Douglas Adams, “The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything”, calculated by an enormous supercomputer over a period of 7.5 million years. Unfortunately no one knows what the question is. It is the same way with ‘clean energy’; it was never worked out what the 20% renewable energy target was actually to deliver, a position we are still in, after five years of its implementation and hundreds of billions of Euros spent.

In the limited supporting documentation for the 20% renewable energy by 2020 programme, the wild guess used to justify the claimed for carbon dioxide savings, was generated as an output from a super computer used by the EU, which nobody else is allowed to access and evaluate. However, it was clearly fundamentally flawed, the computer programme completely failing to account for the increasing inefficiencies induced on the existing thermal power stations, as more and more highly intermittent wind and solar energy is added to the grid. As if this wasn’t stupid enough, even if those claimed for savings had materialised, they would have amounted to at most 2% of global annual carbon emissions; in other words have had no effect on the planet’s climatic systems. Neither was any consideration given to alternative measures to achieve the same or better results.

Bad enough as how the issue of emissions savings was dealt with, even worse is that nobody knew or continues to know, what exactly in terms of damage, carbon dioxide emissions are causing. Instead, political consensus was reached that these emissions were causing damage and a policy and target implemented to suit. Then billions of Euros, our Euros, thrown at it to achieve the target – but nobody knew what the problem was in the first place, as the data to support and quantify the decision-making was never generated. This was never seen as an obstacle by the relevant political decision-makers, after all being ‘Green’ was fashionable and any decisions could be justified by taking the moral high ground in that the planet needed to be saved.

A striking feature which runs through the limited amount of documentation, produced by the authorities to support the renewable and climate change programmes, is its glaring incompetency. Competency by definition requires demonstration of the relevant knowledge and experience in the subject matter, but more importantly evidence of a position of responsibility in implementing that subject matter. Europe for instance is not short of senior engineers, who have delivered major projects in the energy sector. Yet absolutely none of this competency featured in the appalling poor and limited analysis completed on behalf of the public authorities. Instead deliberate preference was given incompetent University ‘researchers’, who as complete charlatans repeatedly produced deficient and politically motivated documentation to suit the politicians’ objectives.

In contrast the manner in which since the early 1980s Europe, both Eastern and Western, addressed the challenge of air pollution could not be greater. As a result of a focused technical approach, with extensive cost benefit analysis, huge reductions in emissions of pollutants, such as sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulates have occurred. While there are still some remaining problems with respect to air pollution, these are now occurring primarily from traffic and domestic heating systems. Our power generation sector is no longer the significant source of these pollutants.

However, these improvements in reducing the environmental impact of our power generation was no longer good enough for us, we also had to decarbonise, but why? In particular, where is the supporting information for these policies, which have such huge costs? If it is the EU’s official position that:

“Science tells us that all developed countries would need to reduce emissions by 80-95% in order to have a fair chance of keeping global warming below 2°C”.

Then is it not reasonable to expect that if one goes searching for the supporting information, one will find it? Unfortunately, one finds that such supporting information for this position does not exist; instead the policy was based on political consensus being reached by our same leaders gifted with their superior knowledge and abilities. Yet global temperatures have not risen since 1998, when the EU was developing its renewable energy programme, despite that fact that some one third of global carbon emissions have occurred since that date, why?

Chemical engineers by profession complete heat transfer calculations, which are based on the three methods of heat transfer, namely conduction, convection and radiation. If you put your hand on a stove, heat will transfer by conduction from the molecules of the stove to the molecules of your hand. Yet the heat transfer fluxes based on conduction, which occur when the air interfaces with the surface of the land or the sea are unknown. The same stove in a room will transfer heat by generating circulating air currents, which is heat transfer by convection. The planet’s circulating ocean currents and atmospheric patterns likewise transfer heat by convection, but we do not understand those mechanisms, such as to the basic level as how clouds form in these thermals.

The stove in the room will, if you are in a line of sight to it, transfer heat to you by infra-red radiation. If you place an obstacle between yourself and the stove, such as a sofa, you will not feel this radiant heat. In a similar manner, the planet radiates infra-red radiation out to space, except when it is trapped by molecules in the atmosphere, the so called greenhouse effect. Despite claims as to otherwise, the most significant greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is water vapour, whose concentration and hence effect is highly variable. Carbon dioxide is also a greenhouse gas, but the greenhouse effect associated with carbon dioxide is logarithmic, decreasing rapidly as the carbon dioxide concentration is increased. For example, the greenhouse effect which occurs when the carbon dioxide concentration is raised from 10 to 20 parts per million (ppm), is the same as an increase in concentration from 100 to 200 ppm. In simple terms, carbon dioxide’s greenhouse effect is ‘tailing off’, as the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere is increased.

So where does this the catastrophic warming arise from? Of huge concern is the blind faith we are now expected to put in the skills of a limited number of mathematical experts and their computer models, called General Circulation Models (GCMs). The threat of global warming in those models is singularly based on the principle of a feed forward effect, i.e. that if the earth’s temperature increases slightly as a result of increased carbon dioxide, then more water vapour will enter the atmosphere, this will in turn increase temperatures, leading to even more water vapour and as a result we will enter into a never ending spiral of run-away temperatures.

Yet if this feed forward mechanism were not to occur, then even the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a deeply politicised body, has to admit that a doubling of the global atmospheric carbon dioxide level would only lead to about a 1.2°C rise in temperature. As we are only about a third of a way to that doubling of the pre-industrial age concentration, one can only conclude; so what, after all such a rise is equivalent to everybody moving 200 km closer to the equator; Belfast gets Cork’s climate, etc. Indeed, if we consider the EU’s policy objective of limiting the future average global surface temperature increase to two-degrees, that this would essentially happen anyhow without any requirement to reduce fossil fuels.

So does the whole debate around whether climate change, is mild warming or catastrophic warming, come down to this question of the degree of feedback? Essentially it does. While the ability to understand the complexity of the Earth’s climatic systems will require many decades of careful analysis, as the Earth goes through its natural cycles of change, there are two things which are already certain.

Firstly the large degree of uncertainty in relation to how the Earth’s basic heat transfer mechanisms occur, uncertainties which are documented in the IPCC reports, renders these GCM computer models as completely unfit for purpose. As such then it is not surprising that the predictions of these computer models, which are extremely alarmist, is rapidly diverting from the behaviour of Mother Earth, which has been in a temperature pause for eighteen years. Secondly, if there was strong water vapour feedback occurring, we would have seen it to date, as the pre-industrial carbon dioxide concentration has risen from 250 to 400 ppm.

We are in a position in the Western World, the EU in particular, where political leaders jumped on this populist decarbonisation agenda without ensuring that the proper due diligence and assessments were completed. This hasn’t happened in other parts of the World, such as China for example, where the validity of the IPCC’s predictions is called into question. As a result the EU’s obsession with renewable energy is increasingly becoming a liability for the proper functioning of its society, not least in the manner in which its citizens are being deceived and defrauded.

The cost of renewables in Ireland has already resulted in a 50% rise in the domestic electricity rate, while the capital expenditure alone for the infrastructure to deliver the 40% renewable electricity target, which is almost exclusive related to wind energy, is in excess of €20 billion. As the necessary legal procedures in assessment were bypassed, it was never worked out in advance what actual reduction in greenhouse gases would occur or what the costs would be, while neither was any alternatives considered.

When applying in 2007 to the EU for State Aid for Environmental Protection in relation to Renewable Energy Feed in Tariffs (REFIT), the Irish administration claimed that 1.9 million tonnes of carbon dioxide savings would result per 1,000 MW of installed wind energy. Their latest 2014 National Renewable Energy Action Plan (NREAP) progress report claims 1.17 million tonnes of CO₂ savings per 1,000 MW of installed capacity, but this is based on a calculation method, which even the Irish authorities admit is inaccurate, as it ignores the significant inefficiencies induced on the grid by the intermittent input of wind energy.

Stung by criticism that they were ignoring these inefficiencies, the Irish authorities produced a new analysis in which they claimed that these inefficiencies were addressed, in which savings were now estimated at 0.85 million tonnes of CO₂ per 1,000 MW of installed wind capacity. Sadly, this is actually less than half (45%) of what they claimed would occur when REFIT was initiated back in 2007 to fund the building of this infrastructure in the first place. Despite their claims, there are also huge doubts over the validity of the methodology used in the final report, but regardless, the sad conclusion is that Ireland’s renewable energy programme delivered emission savings of less than 0.004% of the global total; a futile drop in the ocean.

No matter which way you look at it, Ireland and the EU’s renewable energy programme has been a massive squandering of resources. Back in the late nineties and early 2000s some efforts had been made to quantify the environmental impact of carbon dioxide. Even then it was obvious that the money being allocated, to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, was grossly disproportionate to the environmental impact of those emissions. Furthermore, those conclusions on environmental impacts were based on projections of computer models, which have since proven to be inaccurate and alarmist.

In times to come people will look back at how the EU and its Member States failed to complete any technical, economic and environmental assessments, broke its rules in relation to State Aid for Environmental Protection and subverted the democratic rights of its Citizens, all to deliver the projects of the wind energy industry. Who in turn as purveyors of a technology, which was obsolete in the 1770s when James Watt invented the steam engine, must be in a position where they cannot believe their luck.

However, right around the EU the renewable energy programme is now coming off the rails, as both the financial and environmental costs spiral out of control – the 20% by 2020 renewable target is dead, it is impractical to meet it, even for the wealthier Member States like Germany, the UK and France. Yet one cannot but wonder at the stupidity of political leaders and their infatuation with the ‘Green’ vote, which led them to pull this whole programme ‘out of a hat’.

So was it a case of the ‘grass is always greener on the other side of the fence’ and we ‘threw the baby out with the bathwater’. Well the figures actually show that there is actually nothing wrong with our existing conventional generation. Air pollution had been dealt with by improved emissions control. The carbon dioxide emissions are only leading to a minor warming in temperatures and an increase in plant growth, particularly in arid regions, both of which are beneficial. So what is the problem?

By Pat Swords BE CEng FIChemE CEnv MIEMA

Regulatory Impact Assessment and Cost Benefit Analysis
The EU’s Detailed System for Environmental Assessment
Europe’s Successful Programme to Reduce Air Pollution
—The Impacts of Air Pollutants
—The Cost of Air Pollution
—The Impact of Air Pollution from Irish Power Generation

The Cost and Benefits of Reducing Carbon Emissions
—Eighteen Years later do we actually have a clue as to the damage cost of Carbon Emissions?
—How was Renewable Energy originally justified financially?

The Basis for the EU’s 20% Renewable Energy Programme
—The EU’s Impact Assessment for the Programme
—How the Member States then went about implementing the Renewable Energy Programme

So after 18 years what was actually achieved?
—The National Renewable Energy Action Plans come off the rails
—Mother Nature did her own thing
—Billions of Euro for a ‘Drop in the Ocean’

The Grass is Always Greener on the Other Side of the Fence
—Throwing the baby out with the bathwater
—The Era of the ‘Dream Salesman’
—Have we lost the ‘run of ourselves’?
—So what is Sustainable Energy?


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