“Hiding the decline”

Wind turbine output declines rapidly over time

An economic disaster in the making

An economic disaster in the making

The phrase “hide the decline” became notorious during the “ClimateGate” e-mails scandal, when it became clear that scientists at the heart of the IPCC process and the global warming scare were dismayed to find that the real-world data failed to follow the theory.  Temperatures went down when the alarmists thought they should be going up.  So they took counsel together as to how they should “hide the decline” (their phrase, not mine), in a deliberate attempt to mislead scientific and public opinion.  They sought to achieve this through cobbling together two utterly unrelated and inconsistent data sets (recent observed temperatures and historic dendrochronological data).

It took some scientific and statistical detection work by Steve McKintyre and Ross McKitrick and others to demonstrate the scale of the deceit.

But the phrase could equally be applied to a more recent story on the performance of wind turbines.  Statistical data show an alarming fall-off in turbine output over ten to fifteen years.

A paper  by distinguished environmental economist Professor Gordon Hughes of Edinburgh University shows that in the UK, on-shore wind farm relative output (actual output as a percent of rated maximum) declined from an average 24% at the outset to 15% after ten years and 11% after fifteen years.  Danish offshore wind farms declined even more catastrophically, from 39% initially to 15% at age ten.  The output of larger turbines (now favoured by the industry) declined more rapidly than that of smaller turbines.

This decline may be attributable to wear and tear on the mechanical parts and bearings, plus degradation of the aerodynamic surfaces of the blades (I daresay those clots of eagles’ blood and feathers don’t help).  Degradation of the blades can create instability and vibration, in turn leading to mechanical wear, damage and failure.  And offshore, the strong winds and harsh conditions constitute an extraordinarily challenging environment for wind turbines.

The word in the industry is that Operation & Maintenance costs are coming in far higher than planned, at a time when output and life expectancy are coming in much lower.  I understand that the industry bases its projections on the broad assumption that design life is of the order of 25 years, and the tacit assumption that output will be maintained over that period.  We now know that neither assumption can be sustained.

The Hughes paper, published by www.ref.org.uk, has been available for a year or so, and rather than being lost on a dusty shelf, it seems to be gaining traction.  I’ve mentioned it a couple of times.  So I was delighted to see that Christopher Booker chose to pick up the story (Dec 8th) in the Sunday Telegraph. He adds another interesting angle.  It seems that Professor Hughes showed his work to DECC’s Chief Scientific Officer David MacKay, who found no fault in Hughes’ analysis.

So MacKay knows.  Presumably Ed Davey knows.  Yet they insist on pursuing their dream of “free wind energy”, even when they know that it is proving vastly more expensive even that their own eye-watering estimates.  They talk of reductions in subsidies for on-shore wind energy, but the reductions are small, and in any case will be offset by increases in off-shore subsidies.  Just the place where returns are lowest and the output decline is greatest.  I think it’s called “reinforcing failure”.

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29 Responses to “Hiding the decline”

  1. neil craig says:

    You are right. Ed Davey knows, (unless his department are actively deceiving him on everything)

    In which case he and the party that supports him are engaged in financial fraud on a scale never seen anywhere before, and are clearly unfit for any role in government.

  2. martinbrumby says:

    “scientists at the heart of the IPCC process and the global warming scare were dismayed to find that the real-world data failed to follow the theory. Temperatures went down when the alarmists thought they should be going up. So they took counsel together as to how they should “hide the decline” (their phrase, not mine), in a deliberate attempt to mislead scientific and public opinion.”

    Not quite accurate, Roger. It was NOT that “Temperatures went down” (at that time).
    It was that the tree-ring PROXY they used for temperatures in their “reconstructions” (such as the infamous hockey-stick graph) indicated that temperatures declined from the 1960s.
    A moment’s thought would suggest that all sorts of things influence tree growth – as well as temperature there might be moisture availability, availability of nutrients, proximity of competing vegetation. And, oh yes! Carbon dioxide levels. But rather than consider whether tree ring thickness is a reliable indicator of temperature, they just deleted the data when the proxy temperature started going the ‘wrong’ way. Hence ‘hide the decline’.

    The fact that the activist ‘scientists’ behaved like this, and the vast majority of the scientific community, and the government and the media, chose to divert their eyes rather than challenging the climate clowns even after Climategate, speaks volumes about the dangers of pouring billions of taxpayers’ money into scientific research to see whether there is a ‘problem’ and of choosing to appoint activists as Government Scientific Advisors.

    • Me_Again says:

      Increasing carbon dioxide levels will cause an increase in growth output of all plant life at a constant temperature. Increasing temperature will cause an increase in growth output of all plant life too [within normal plant growth temperature ranges] Therefore the growth rings would be wider and wider both for increased temperature and increased CO2.

    • OK, Martin. I said “Temperatures went down”. If you want be to be hyper-accurate and detailed, I could say “One of the two key data sets they were using indicated that temperatures had gone down in the relevant period”. I agree that tree ring data may be affected by many factors, but these guys considered it accurate enough to use, until it said something they didn’t like. Then they went looking for an alternative data set that fitted their preconceptions.

  3. 1957chev says:

    People need to “wake up”, and start screaming like hell, until the politicians realize that it will NOT be tolerated any longer. Don’t give them a minute’s peace, till they understand, that you are serious!

  4. David MacKay says:

    You said “MacKay found no fault in Hughes’s analysis”. Actually, this is not true; you can see what I think of Hughes’s analysis here: http://www.inference.eng.cam.ac.uk/mackay/windDecline.pdf or http://www.inference.phy.cam.ac.uk/mackay/windDecline.pdf .
    David MacKay FRS

    • David: Many thanks for this input: I shall of course take it up with REF and Professor Gordon Hughes and seek to resolve it. But I gather there is no dispute that turbine output declines significantly. Clearly we need accurate and agreed figures on the extent of the decline.

      • catalanbrian says:

        Once again a twisting of the facts to fit the chosen outcome. I don’t think anybody doubts that turbine output declines (significantly or not) with age but this can be said of all machinery, including your beloved gas powered generators.

      • martinbrumby says:

        Catalanbrian @ 2:55
        Yes, you are indeed “twisting the facts to fit (your) chosen outcome.”
        If the output of a gas turbine declines, it is a fairly straightforward engineering maintenance operation to overhaul it and optimise its output.
        But a wind turbine 100 metres up in the middle of the North Sea?
        Not quite the same, is it?
        That is one of the reasons why the only way you’ll persuade anyone to invest in wind power is by heaping obscene subsidies on it and by compelling the energy companies to use the pitiful and unpredictable output.

    • Professor Gordon Hughes and the Renewable Energy Foundation have now published a detailed rebuttal of Professor MacKay’s criticisms: is.gd/APeZdc including links to the relevant documents and correspondence. Although I have a maths degree, I’m finding that the statistical argument is a bit deep. But it’s clear that both parties agree that there is a significant decline in output over time. Disagreement remains on the extent of the decline. Either way, government and industry should now be reviewing the impact of the decline on the business case for wind power.

  5. Chris says:

    The main stream media are waking up to the fact that by 2015, the UK will barely have any spare generating capacity with the closure of perfectly working coal fired power stations and the slow replacement of them by wind troughs and gas power.

    Nothing focuses people’s minds quicker than brown and blackouts.

    • Me_Again says:

      Yes they are working BUT they are quite polluting -sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and ash/dust. I don’t think anyone would want the quantities of that crap we are producing in the air. The problem lies in the expense of fitting the various filters/ catalysers which remove the pollutants.
      I would rather spend OUR money on fitting those filters than subsidies for wind farms. Or give the companies a zero interest rate loan to fit them.

      • Neil craig says:

        However acid rain, the alleged result of SO2 & NO, has turned out to be another “environmental” scare which was false. They actually fertilize the land.

      • Me_Again says:

        Well Neil, I do understand the chemistry here and I can tell you for certain that Nitrous Oxides combine with water vapour to form weak nitric acid, so too does sulphur dioxide forming, ultimately, weak sulphuric acid. The presence of both of these are factually recorded in atmospheric samples. Whether they act adversely on plants on the scale claimed or not, I don’t know. From my knowledge and understanding of plant physiology I would say it was heavily dependent on the final concentration in the rain or snow BUT that if it was high enough [don’t know what level but think damage to human tissue and there’s no reason to suppose plants would be any more resilient] then those acids would cause damage, and on a large scale.

        I would certainly put more credence to any claims of acid rain damage than I would the claimed adverse effects of too much CO2 in the atmosphere. Incidentally carbon dioxide forms a weak acid too.

      • Neil craig says:

        This is a link to the Norwegian government saying that fear of acid rain they among others had been promoting was “totally unfounded” http://web.archive.org/web/20040630202225/http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2002/08/03/wrain03.xml

        This was admitted in 2004. Naturally the BBC etc having, up till then put a lot of effort into promoting the scare & not being wholly corrupt fascist propagandists put at least as much time into acknowledging the truth.

        Oops I seem to have got that wrong. The entire news was buried with the exception of a handful of mentions worldwide. Wholly corrupt fascist propagandists it is then.

      • Me_Again says:

        Well that’s excellent, as you say nothing trumpeted over here about it. Still they cling to “… there were still great worries over its affect on lakes and freshwater fish.”
        Which again, trying to be reasonable is quite logical. except in this case they are up against natural chemical buffers in a more robustly defended setting.

  6. Thomas Fox says:

    How accurate are ice core samples,as regards Co2 in ancient history

  7. Ex-expat Colin says:

    No worry – gas plant back them up, so keep that plant running while the spanners get in and fix stuff that has to be repeatedly fixed. Nothing like the advancement of costly repetition to fill the bank.

    Must be nice to have a maintenance contract that seriously rolls the bucks in and likely has no penalties attached. I suspect there is a clause(s) somewhere in the support contracts about national security that enables Gov to dish out money well above initial maintenance/repair costs. Defeats the whole notion of cost cutting that I certainly have been used to in similar spendy equipment support games.

    Used to be software support and seems to still be there in Gov projects (DWP !!).

    • catalanbrian says:

      But of course fossil fuel and nuclear generating plants have no maintenance costs whatsoever!

      • The question, Catalanbrian, is not whether a power plant has maintenance costs, but whether these costs are economically sustainable.

      • Chris says:

        The difference is, that a nuclear plant will run for 18 to 24 months, 24/7 before shutting down for refuelling. There are nuclear power stations which are still operating after 30 to 40 years.

        How long does a wind farm run for continuously catalanbrian?

      • ogga1 says:

        Me_ Again

        I definitely heard it on radio 4 at 7am, if I have misheard it was not intentional and can only opoligise.

      • Me_Again says:

        Don’t doubt you Ogga, just trying to track it down. News like that gets smothered quicker than a fat fire.

  8. DICK R says:

    This is going to be a total disaster , it will be interesting to see what a couple more years of North Sea gales and being immersed in sea water will do to their turbines, the maintenance costs alone on these things is going to be astronomical!

  9. Richard111 says:

    The cost of ‘free off shore wind power’ electricity is SIX times the cost of electricity from a coal powered station. The impact on food prices is already apparent. I and my wife are pensioners and we watch prices carefully. I am thinking about what actions I will take when we can no longer afford food, never mind heating.

  10. ogga1 says:

    Roger, does not the latest reading taken at one of the poles read as 4 degrees lower than thought?
    as reported on the radio this morning.

  11. Russellw says:

    Apropos of your (& my) solar installation, Roger, is there any data on the how generating efficiency of solar panels changes with time?

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