Time to see the light, professor!

Professor King wants more solar power


On August 2nd around 8:40 a.m. I was listening to the Today Programme on Radio 4, as is my wont.  Whom should they have on but Professor Sir David King, sometime Chief Scientific Adviser to the government, and universal rent-a-spokesman to promote climate alarmism (although strangely enough, he seems to be a chemist, not a climatologist or an atmospheric physicist).

He’s come up with a grand new scheme.  To save the planet, he wants massive new investment in solar energy.  And (anticipating the criticism that solar power is intermittent and unpredictable) he wants more research funding on energy storage.  (Funny how scientists invariably want “more research” and “more research funding”).

He says, rightly, that atmospheric CO2 recently passed the 400 ppm mark (if I have the decimal point in the right place, that’s a whopping 0.04%), but adds (wrongly) that if it reaches 450 ppm, that will be a disaster.  Perhaps as a chemist, not a physicist, Professor King is unaware of the relation between atmospheric CO2 and the warming effect it produces.  It is a negative logarithmic equation.  That is, the higher the current level of CO2, the less effect any given increase in CO2 level will have.  You need a doubling of CO2 to give a 1oC increase (the IPCC would say 3o, but there is a dispute over feed-backs).  The effect of an increase from 400 to 450 ppm would probably be too small to measure.

Perhaps because he is not a paleo-geologist, Professor King may not be aware that during the history of the planet, levels of atmospheric CO2 have been at least ten times as high as today, and those high levels were not associated with excessive warming.  And he is not a botanist, so perhaps he does not know that rising atmospheric CO2 will increase plant growth, crop yields and biomass formation.  Higher levels of CO2 are literally greening the planet, and we should be glad of it.

Professor King points to the reduction of production costs for solar capacity — he says by 75%.  But because he is not an economist, he may be unaware that this is caused in large part by the Chinese having over-invested in solar, and being forced to sell below cost.  The EU has recently been involved in a trade dispute with China on alleged “dumping” of solar panels. 

In a half-hearted attempt to introduce a degree of balance, the BBC had another contributor, a woman, who said that solar was a problem because of intermittency (she’s right), and that it was profoundly regressive.  Right again.  In the UK, domestic solar panels are generally installed by the comfortably-off middle classes, who can afford ten or fifteen grand.  They then benefit from lower electricity bills and massive subsidies.  These subsidies are paid in large part by the less-well off, who couldn’t afford solar panels, through their electricity bills.  In the early days with the highest subsidies, solar power was a no-brainer.  Subsidies of up to five times the cost of producing electricity in a proper power station meant that for a 65-year-old man, an investment in solar panels delivered two or three times as much benefit as an annuity, after tax.

To be fair to Professor King, he was talking about industrial-scale installations in sunny areas close to the equator, not domestic installations.  But he’s not a power transmission engineer, so he perhaps hasn’t considered losses in transmission, and he’s not a politician, so perhaps he hasn’t considered political risk.  North Africa gets a lot of sunshine, but it hasn’t looked politically stable recently.

Then the key problem of intermittency, which to give Prof King his due, he recognises, and calls for “more research” on storage.  Bear in mind that all known energy storage mechanisms cost money, so stored and recovered energy will be significantly more expensive that it was originally.  If Professor King can find a solution so that solar delivers continuous, affordable energy when and where we need it, I’d like to hear about it.  But of course he hasn’t.

I do think there’s a case for energy storage, but for a rather different reason than Prof. King.  I’d like more of it, not to cope with intermittent supply, but to cope with intermittent demand.  Let me give you an example.  There are those advocating hydrogen-power for cars.  I don’t know whether that would be economic, but let’s just pursue the thought.  If we had base-load generation, say nuclear, running at more than the minimum demand level, we’d have periods when we had spare power — perhaps at 2:00 a.m., say.  If we could use that spare power to electrolyse water into hydrogen and oxygen, we could then store the hydrogen to use in some economic way, perhaps for driving cars.

Even the European Commission has grudgingly recognised that in the energy debate, we need more emphasis on affordability, and on security of supply, and therefore inevitably less emphasis on what they choose to call “sustainability” (although the one thing that renewables are not, is sustainable).  Perhaps it’s time for Professor King to make the same mental leap.  But he might also pause to consider the commercial disaster that solar has proved to be.  President Obama’s pet project Solyndra was a good example.


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8 Responses to Time to see the light, professor!

  1. Eric Worrall says:

    There is a way to overcome the intermittency issue – put the solar cells into space, and beam the power back to Earth as Microwaves.


    Of course, there is the hideous launch cost to overcome – but we have a solution to this as well. The Manhattan scientists, perhaps horrified at the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, tried to find a peaceful use for the awful weapon they had created. The result was Project Orion – a space drive capable of launching millions of tons in a single lift, for less than a billion dollars.


    Of course, the launch requires atmospheric nuclear explosions to drive the spaceship. Nuclear explosives can be made remarkably “clean” these days, compared to old style bombs, but there’s no such thing as zero fallout bombs.

    But we’re saving the planet right? So I’m sure any true green would vote for a bit of fallout, which, after all, would be less than was released during the Nevada and Soviet testing in the 50s and 60s, to prevent catastrophic global warming.

    Go on Roger, put this forward at the next EU parliament session – I dare you ;-).

    • neilfutureboy says:

      Good for you Eric. I am an enthusiast for the Orion programme too. It was estimated in the early sixties as able to give us “Mars by 1965, Saturn by 1970” and according to Freeman Dyson would have, even assuming the LNT radiation theory was true, would release radiation that would cause 0.1-1 deaths. Your £1 billion for a million tons to orbit is for a launch after the preliminary work is done but certainly cost is not a problem.

      I have suggested South Georgia or the South Sandwich Islands as launch points since the winds from there blow round the Antarctic rather than towards land (the next land mass going east from South Georgia is Chile) so that Dyson’s estimate is considerably reduced.

      This is a blogpost I did on it http://a-place-to-stand.blogspot.co.uk/2009/07/big-engineering-36-oprion-project.html

      I also suggested that it is worth building even if we don’t use it as a backstop in case a major asteroid approaches the Earth – I don’t see that even the most enthusiastic ecofascist could object to that (OK that’s not true, they object to everything, I mean they couldn’t do it without revealing their lunacy).

      I also did a subsequent poll on the idea and got 86% for Yes & 72% for Hell Yes. (well ok 6 & 5 respectively out of 7) but it does suggest the idea sold very carefully as a “lets look at, to stop asteroids” rather than going gung ho would not be unpopular. http://a-place-to-stand.blogspot.co.uk/2011/01/up-poll.html The last thing Americans can name that made them proud of their country was the moon landings and I think Britain could do with some national goals.

  2. Martin Brumby says:

    Another excellent post.
    But sorry, hydrogen power is another greenie myth that is pretty much guaranteed to fail.
    Check out http://wattsupwiththat.com/2013/07/01/drilling-for-hydrogen/

  3. neilfutureboy says:

    How inexplicable that the BBC give airtime to him and his economically lunatic scheme and censor from the airwaves anybody with a sensible proposal (including but not limited to elected representatives like Roger)

    I assume, in the normal pattern of interviews of ecofascists (& precisely opposite to treatment of UKIP and sceptics) he was not asked any complicated questions and certainly not if his “Antarctica only habitable continent by 2100, line was holding up.

  4. Richard111 says:

    Well said Sir. If I can add a few pointers for solar panels; the current generation of panels are only about 20% efficient. That means if the sun is shining overhead from a clear sky and producing 1,000 watts per square metre, your solar panels will only be producing 200 watts per square metre, and that only applies if the sunlight is within 7 degrees of normal to the face of the solar panel. Therefore if your solar panels are on rigid mounts they will only provide that maximum for about 1 hour of the day, clouds permitting. There seems also to be a new problem appearing. Within the solid state structure of the panel some of the substrates break down after 3 or 4 years and the panel soon becomes useless. Far less time than the so called lifetime of the panels. And another problem, if your voltage is a little low the meter does not record your electricity as feeding the grid even though you are not using any electricity in your house at the time. Very much a case of buyer beware.

  5. B Hough says:

    Could it be that professor King is hoping for a `job on the board` of whatever company he has in mind to build the panels? or a thank you from all makers for the publicity, I would make a bet that they would not be British!
    The whole `climate change` question should I think be investigated by a neutral body, look at the flooding in China and India, before the monsoon season too, they are the second and third largest users of wind farms. I would like to see a map of the wind farm installations in these countries, are they on high ground and off shore as in the UK, where our local weather has changed!.A look into the turbulence effect at sea level and on high ground would be interesting, the USA have published pictures of turbulence from them on flat ground and they are quite impressive.

  6. Mike Stallard says:

    It would take an awful lot for someone to argue me out of my Christian Faith.
    It would take even more, I regret, to argue some of the people I know well out of their Climate Alarmism.

    What amuses me is to see the argument that you need a proper scientist to discuss this subject turned on its head and used to attack the Climate Alarmists themselves! And what is so impressive too, is your sheer knowledge and powerful research, Roger.

    Keep on – we are winning!

  7. ex - Expat Colin says:

    I would recommend a look at this BBC piece with Ethical Man (J.Rowlatt) and King:if not seen before. Stuff foolishly copied from NASA (for US schools) as I understand it.

    Putting the science of global warming to the test:

    I eagerly await the outcome of the meeting of Paul Nurse (Royal Soc) and Nigel Lawson, but nursey seems to be dodging about having been rather fretful with Lawson of late. A VI at every turn I am certain.

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