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« BBC still handing free airtime to greens | Main | A few recent headlines »

Hugo's howler, Harrabin's howler

The Spectator doesn't do a great deal on the climate front, but when it does, it does it very well. At the moment they have a long piece (£, but you may get a free look) by David Rose on Judy Curry, which although containing little that will be new to BH readers will be informative for many.

If it's pure entertainment you want, they also have a preview of Paris from Hugo Rifkind (£), a man with a wonderful facility for words, but also one who is just a moderately loud repeater of metroliberal certainties on the state of the climate. His effort this week is rather more thoughtful than usual, but he still retains some odd notions. Observing, quite correctly, that everyone in the UK is backing off green policy, he says that as a country we are starting to look a bit provincial:

Germany’s big push for renewables (which was admittedly predicated on an hysterical and frankly stupid post-Fukushima fear of nuclear) is surging ahead, in precisely the manner that Scotland’s could be if anybody still gave a damn.

This seems strange because according to Wikipedia, renewables as a whole generated just 11% of German energy last year - a strange kind of surging. And the renewables industry are facing a series of reforms to the subsidy regime that is going to make life rather harder for them.

He also seems to think that China is on board with the green cause:

China now worries enormously about CO2 emissions, and doesn’t just pretend to in order to stop Europe shouting so much.

China is famously opening one new coal-fired power station per week, a strategy that would be strange for a nation that was slightly concerned about CO2 emissions, let alone one that was worrying enormously.

But it's when he gets to the new solar power station in Morocco that he really goes off the rails. This facility has been getting greens very excited - see for example Roger Harrabin here - in recent days. Here's Hugo's take:

With far less fanfare, Morocco is opening a vast solar plant next month in its otherwise useless desert, and aims to get 42 per cent of its energy from renewables (far more than us) by 2020.

With weary inevitability this turns out to be complete drivel. Every time a renewable power station is launched, its installed capacity is rapidly transformed into an expected level of power generation. These can easily be different by an order of magnitude, and perhaps by a factor of four for desert-based solar.

A little light Googling reveals that this is precisely what has happened here. The Moroccan government has actually set itself a target of 42% of installed generation capacity being renewables by 2020. So Hugo has made a howler of fairly epic proportions. But he is a wordsmith, and we should therefore be charitable if he struggles with numbers. Roger Harrabin, who is supposed to be a specialist in these areas, did exactly the same thing. There the howler is harder to excuse.

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Reader Comments (58)

These howlers are not unexpected. They occur every day at all levels - from Government to reporters to commentators to the Greenblob and to troughers. Some are due to ignorance, some are deliberate deceit.

Nov 26, 2015 at 11:55 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Guardian doesn't seem to understand that you cannot simultaneously be a trusted source of news on topics and also an activist political movement trying to make some actions happen on those topics.

Its pretty simple really, its just classic conflict of interest stuff. The old rule used to be you had a declarable interest if the man on the Clapham omnibus would think you'd be influenced in your view by your situation.

Well, being committed as an institution to stopping using oil, coal and gas and replacing it with solar and wind, wouldn't most people think that might influence your reporting of such projects?

Its been a long time since the Guardian was a newspaper. A great pity, because when it was, it was a pretty decent one.

Nov 26, 2015 at 12:24 PM | Unregistered Commentermichel

Now, I wonder which it could possibly be?

Nov 26, 2015 at 12:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterOswald Thake

Your Wikipedia link says 11% renewables as a whole for Germany, not 2%.

[Thanks, fixed]

Nov 26, 2015 at 12:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

JOB DONE : public get super rosy picture of solar/wind
So Harra has given the world a full rosy picture of solar right at the top of his article.
An accidental error ? ... I think his errors seem deliberate.
"Get the meme out there", reposted a thousand times with the BBC credibility stamp on.
And any correction if made will, never b added to those reposts.

No its seems like his job is to spread propaganda' hype up the scare' ..'romantisise his mates solutions'. His news-stories seem CONSTRUCTED to mislead
The top of Haara's post

The solar thermal plant at Ouarzazate will harness the Sun's warmth to melt salt, which will hold its heat to power a steam turbine in the evening.
The first phase will generate for three hours after dark; the last stage aims to supply power 20 hours a day.
It is part of Morocco's pledge to get 42% of its electricity from renewables by 2020.
The UN has praised Morocco for the level of its ambition. The UK, a much richer country, is aiming for 30% by the same date.
See the magic memes he got in there Wow 42% of electricity almost 24 hours a day from solar, loved by the UN, with UK looking like a lose lagging behind.

The truth is the first stage of that project Noor1 is tiny 160MW rating, yet what's the load factor ? You might average 10-40MW.... (Noor2 to be 200MW)
...the big claims are for future phases
There are possible problems like your pigeon dinner is cooked as it flies over to you. Like at Google's Ivanpah project

Nov 26, 2015 at 12:43 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

The Guardian is a yellow journalism rag, but it is useful to see what the terminally ignorant collectivists are thinking at any given moment.

By the way, 42 percent of electrical power coming from renewables is not going to happen. There should be a site someplace to place bets on these sorts of things.

Nov 26, 2015 at 12:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterMark Stoval

Another axe or two may be falling in Spain.
Abengoa, the Spanish renewables company, announced the start of insolvency proceedings on Wednesday, sending shares in Spanish banks tumbling on concerns that the country’s lenders may be left with heavy losses. A possible default would likely count as the largest bankruptcy in Spanish history.
The company said it had been forced to seek creditor protection after a potential investor cancelled plans to inject €350m into the heavily indebted group. The Seville-based renewables specialist now has up to four months to raise capital elsewhere, but bankers in Madrid sounded a sceptical note over its chances of finding new investors.
“It looks like nobody is willing to put money into this company, especially once they have looked at the books in detail,” one banker said, adding: “There is a lot of debt that won’t be recovered.”

h/t GWPF

Nov 26, 2015 at 12:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterMick J

Apologies. Had intended to post the Spain related story under the "A few recent headlines" blog.

Nov 26, 2015 at 12:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterMick J

Wow - a new solar plant...

And at night..??

Nov 26, 2015 at 12:58 PM | Unregistered Commentersherlock1

Some Googling reveals that only phase 1 has been built (160MW) and it seems to be horribly expensive.

Nov 26, 2015 at 1:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Mott

From your other link; "...contributing around 14% of the energy mix in the country’s electricity supply. The plan calls for the construction of 5 solar complexes in requiring an estimated investment of $9 billion".

I daresay the UK will manage to spend rather more than £6 billion by 2020 on renewables. The Committee on CC are aiming for a spend of £8 billion every year just for wind energy. Alas we'll only meet our targets by massive de-industrialisation or by more creative accounting from the DECC shysters.

Nov 26, 2015 at 1:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

My take on what Paris will achieve, which won't be much ...

COP21 – Doing the climate can-can in Paris.


Nov 26, 2015 at 1:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterPointman

Re working at night, apparently the new plant has a molten salt energy storage system attached. However, this presumably reduces the amount of electricity it can supply to consumers during the day.

Nov 26, 2015 at 1:08 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

'Lord' Har-Har Harrabin is nothing more than a fifth columnist.

Nov 26, 2015 at 1:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterHarry Passfield

Bishop Hill ,
presumably about 20% of the maximum will be available for the 24 hours, until a few dust storms reduce that further.

Nov 26, 2015 at 1:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

Harrabin says

Morocco is opening a vast solar plant next month in its otherwise useless desert

Personally I imagine that the useless desert performs several functions necessary for the well-being of the planet.

Nov 26, 2015 at 1:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

The renewables number for Germany should be taken with a good pinch of salt. Reality there is that Germany too is both re-opening old coal fired plants and re-activating mothballed coal mines, and opening up a series of brand new coal fired units.

In that vein last week, outside Hamburg, a handful of political brass helped Vattenfall open a new coal fired plant and Germany is now one of largest importers of US coal. It may not be one unit a week as in China but by the time all is said an done a couple of years out, there will be some 18 coal fired plants producing the electricity that renewables can't assure.

Good to bear this in mind when we see Frau Dr Merkel do her green song and dance in Paris next week.

Nov 26, 2015 at 1:43 PM | Unregistered Commentertetris

From the comments. LOL !


If people are put off from renewing their subs due to drivel of this nature appearing in a supposedly credible organ, then we can also link the demise of the Speccie to 'climate change'.

Nov 26, 2015 at 1:48 PM | Unregistered Commenteresmiff

Good point, SandyS. This “useless desert”… useless to whom? There are probably quite a few desert dwellers who would disagree with that statement – surely the “eco-worriers” should be setting their eyes on defending yet another fragile environment?

Nov 26, 2015 at 1:54 PM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

James May's instructive programme on his visit to Seville's solar concentrating plant is even used as course material by the Open University "Elements of Renewable Energy" MOOC.

Skip to 4:40 in the vid:

"And from here they can even tell if one of the heliostats becomes a bit dirty. Now if it just has the slightest layer of dust on it, it's efficiency is reduced by 10% which they regard as very significant.

Dust is a surprisingly low tech Achilles heel for such a high tech power station."

[My bold]

Vids of not uncommon Saharan sandstorms spring to mind.

Nov 26, 2015 at 2:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Public

"generated just 11% of German energy last year - a strange kind of surging"
No I understand he is thinking about for ELECTRICITY where they have surged from about 14% 7 years ago to 28% in 2014. Solar has surged in last 6 years for 1.2% of electricity to 6.2%.

- But perhaps Germany has been saving energy on heating at a bigger rate that renewable electricity has grown cos the graph on Wikipage for German renewable energy shows that in overall energy terms renewables have NOT SURGED but rather been at 11% for the last 4 years

- The 11% is for total energy consumption of all types and since heating accounts for 50% of energy and transport 11% and it's all mostly oil. So electricity is 39% and since renewables account for 28% of that 39% that matches the 11% quote for renewables as overall energy.
- Further down that page you see a whole series of graphs showing growth in renewables for electricity. Wind and biomass have grown steadily.

Nov 26, 2015 at 2:05 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

Storing solar energy as molten salt is expensive and fraught with engineering problems. Must be some free money floating around to build that. I wonder who is paying? "The first phase will generate for three hours after dark" is a tacit admission that it cannot cut the mustard, even at such a favourable location (Scotland, it is not) . And even there in Moroccan desert, they only get about 8 hours of sunshine per day in December. It can also get very cold there in December. What will they use to stay warm at night? Molten salt?

"..the last stage aims to supply power 20 hours a day". Yeah, right...

The cynical will note that the location is the same place as a significant Movie Studio, so the luvvies are probably made to feel a lot better about the amount of jet fuel consumed in getting there.

Nov 26, 2015 at 2:21 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

"In recent years there has been an increase in the amount of electricity generated in Scotland by renewable sources. In 2014, renewable electricity generation was equivalent to 49.8% of gross electricity consumption compared to 16.8% in 2006."

Nov 26, 2015 at 2:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

Some of these solar farms may be visible from space, and spotted by lifeforms on other planets looking for evidence of intelligent life on other planets.

They will carry on looking.

Nov 26, 2015 at 2:51 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

The "increase in renewables" is itself a scam, with pictures of windmills and solar panels, but actually a regression to more "biomass", meaning wood burning. In Germany, the 11% "renewables" includes 9% "Other Renewables", which is actually wood burning. Calling increased wood burning "renewable" is a joke, since it leads to increased land clearing and reduced habitat for wildlife. Calling increased wood burning "progress" is also a joke, where the next step in the "progression" would be increased dung burning.

Nov 26, 2015 at 3:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterMikeW

"With far less fanfare, Morocco is opening a vast solar plant next month"

"Far less fanfare",

"a vast"

"aims to get 42 per cent of its energy from renewables "

So, what are you asking Rify? Is it - a double whammy or a triple whammy and either way it ain't going to be UK solar at 52º N.

Just more Panglossian bollocks from a bloke who talks just as much cr*p as his father waffled on and on.

Nov 26, 2015 at 3:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

'Lord' Har-Har Harrabin is nothing more than a fifth columnist.
Nov 26, 2015 at 1:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterHarry Passfield
A fifth columnist he may be; but he and his kind are leading the closed-down 'debate' on Climate with a single voice as they intended post 28Gate.

He is a dangerous man with the full megaphone of the BBC at his disposal.

This means that he can present computer models as 'evidence', pal reviewed papers as proof and omit any of the many references and peer reviewed papers relating to natural climate change that the IPCC don't fund or publish because they don't want to air opposing evidence as it is counter to UN/IPCC strategy.

So, in the interests of 'balance'.................

Enjoy !

Nov 26, 2015 at 3:06 PM | Unregistered Commenterjazznick

"With far less fanfare, Morocco is opening a vast solar plant next month in its otherwise useless desert"

Bloody hell, Hugo. Useless desert? I think you'll find that it is a fragile eco-system containing bio-diversity that must be preserved at all costs.

Nov 26, 2015 at 4:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlabicyclette

For Germany, wind power is 1.5% & solar power is 1% of total energy consumption:

But wind power is 9% & solar power is 6% of power generation:

So not nothing but not a great return for the relatively huge increased cost to consumers:

I wouldn't say it was something to boast about unless killing off the poor is the aim.

Nov 26, 2015 at 4:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

the new solar power station in Morocco
shinny panels, sandstorm , no longer shiny panels, or has CAGW got rid of sandstorms now ?

Nov 26, 2015 at 4:18 PM | Unregistered Commenterknr

"Saharan sandstorms"

Sandblasting is a common engineering technique for imparting a smooth, non-reflecting surface to a metal or glass object. It could almost be tailor-made for wrecking a mirror.

Only a Guardianista or Beeboid would not know this.

Nov 26, 2015 at 4:22 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

Yes, solar in the Sahara has been touted for years, and many have pointed the sandstorm issue out. It will be interesting to see if the plant survives.

Nov 26, 2015 at 4:25 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

That's not the only howler.

> "The mirrors will cover the same area as the country's capital, Rabat......35 soccer fields of huge parabolic mirrors"

You can fit about 140 football pitches fit into a square kilometre. Rabat city covers 117 km2 according to Wikipedia.

So the mirror area is about 1/468th the size of the city.

Maybe that's only Phase 1, but they'll need another 467 building phases for his claim to be true. Ho hum.

Nov 26, 2015 at 4:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterMartin Audley

Michael Hart

"Storing solar energy as molten salt is expensive and fraught with engineering problems."

Large tanks of anything stored at 560 deg.C strikes me as hazardous. It's a mixture of nitrates, apparently, and described as 'inert', despite being components of home-made explosives!

Nov 26, 2015 at 4:36 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

"The mirrors will cover the same area as the country's capital, Rabat"
..Yep funny he chose the small city of Rabat as an example ..
Morocco is one of the few countries where the capital is one of the smallest cities in the country
It's 7th in size ..6 times smallers than Casablanca which is just down the road.

** Title needs correcting to : Hugo's howler, Harrabin's fouler

Nov 26, 2015 at 4:43 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

germany energy : Hydropower, windpower, solar around 1%

Nov 26, 2015 at 4:45 PM | Unregistered Commenterlemiere

9% energy by basically burning stuff....and there comes the miracle counts for nothing in CO2 emission of germany....

Nov 26, 2015 at 4:56 PM | Unregistered Commenterlemiere

"Currently Morocco imports electricity from Spain, ..."

I wonder if any of the solar-by-diesel (at night) electric power made it to Morocco?

Under the photo, the caption says Rows of curved mirrors capture solar energy.
That's what the salt does. Maybe the writer needs to review how a mirror works.

Nov 26, 2015 at 5:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn F. Hultquist

Harrabin has an English degree and is unlikely to have the expertise to properly comprehend what he writes and comments about. Only one of the BBC science correspondents that I know about has a science degree (Gosh with a Physics degree from Imperial ). It begs the question whether their arts correspondents have science degrees, which I doubt.

Nov 26, 2015 at 5:25 PM | Unregistered Commentersrga

"Its been a long time since the Guardian was a newspaper. A great pity, because when it was, it was a pretty decent one." --michel

Yes, it's pitiful. In the early 60's, it was decent for covering the bottom of my budgies' cage. Otherwise, it was a disgusting stream of Socialist drivel.

Nov 26, 2015 at 7:09 PM | Unregistered Commenterjorgekafkazar

'There are possible problems like your pigeon dinner is cooked as it flies over to you. Like at Google's Ivanpah project'

BWTM: Ivanpah, the world's largest solar power plant, is also the world's largest gas fired power plant (by footprint). They preheat the boilers with gas. Heating the boilers with solar is just too much to ask for.

Nov 26, 2015 at 7:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterGamecock

The image suggests that this is one of those installations that regularly turns birds into fireballs, very gentle on the natural world that is. This will be an interesting one to follow. If solar power can't be made to work in Morocco, what chance does it have in Northern, cloudy Britain?

Nov 26, 2015 at 8:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterStonyground

Nov 26, 2015 at 1:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterPointman

Paris will achieve great things. The greenies will be bubbling and the socialists of europe will be rubbing their hands together at the likely tax take.

At least that's what the communiqué will say after.

Nov 26, 2015 at 9:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterStephen Richards

'Lord' Har-Har Harrabin is nothing more than a fifth columnist.

Nov 26, 2015 at 1:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterHarry Passfield

I thought for one moment that you wrote filthy columnist.

Nov 26, 2015 at 9:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterStephen Richards

Mick 3 mentioned this imminent solar bankruptcy and I think it bears watching in relation to these columnists rapture with another big solar plant in a desert. Here's one look at the Abengoa situation from a US perspective. Another potential $2.7 B loss for Obama's green infatuation and possibly $21 B for Spain - which if crystallizd would be the largest bankruptcy in its history.

Nov 27, 2015 at 3:07 AM | Unregistered Commentermikegeo

Just wait until the Saharan dust has settled on the solar thermal plant at Ouarzazate, which should be early next week. It will soon be thick enough to bring the the plant to a halt. Somehow I cannot seen the acres of collectors being swept on a regular basis in Morocco, which itself, as a country, does not look as if it has been recently swept, ever.

Nov 27, 2015 at 3:31 AM | Unregistered Commenternicholas tesdorf

Abengoa's $2 billion, 500mw nameplate capacity Ivanpah project burns natural gas quantities sufficient to generate 25% of it's actual power if burned in a conventional thermal plant, and would come under California "cap-and-trade" rules.

Ouarzazate was just a military outpost when I drove past in the early 1970's (shortly before the Polisario guerrillas began launching their attacks) on the northern edge of the Sahara and certainly a long way from population centers which to use the power. The guerrillas are still not far away, being kept at bay by literal "lines in the sand", the berms of the Moroccan Wall. Defending 6100 acres of mirrors should be a doddle...or something..

Nov 27, 2015 at 4:28 AM | Unregistered Commenterbetapug

@Betaplug you are right I failed to spot that Abengoa built and half own Ivanpah as well.
I always think of it being owned by their partner Google.
- So Ivanpah is really a hybrid plant : a gas powered steam boiler that drives turbines, but gets heat input from sun at good times. The theory being then you turn warm the system up with gas and then turn it off, but the gas limit was increased from 5% max to 38% max. I wonder if this Noor project will be the same.

Nov 27, 2015 at 7:41 AM | Unregistered Commenterstewgreen

Harrabin is NOT accepting Bishes point
the update here says "Roger Harrabin says he has clarified his article on the BBC website."
Yet all he has done is change
"It is part of Morocco's pledge to get 42% of its electricity from renewables by 2020."
to "It is part of Morocco's pledge to get 42% of its electricity generation from renewables by 2020."
followed by no change to
"The UN has praised Morocco for the level of its ambition. The UK, a much richer country, is aiming for 30% by the same date."

Harra is still siding with Some green websites that assert the 42% is electricity generated
Bish asserts as do many websites that the 42% is of electricity generation capacity and I would add that since efficiency of solar is likely to be less than 25% we can divide that its actual electricity generated with be more like 11%.
(Electricity consumed is something different still, cos of transmission losses. And losses for solar plants will be much higher, cos they are not situated right next to their customers like conventional plants are.)

So the article should read "It is part of Morocco's pledge to get around 11% of its electricity from renewables by 2020."

or if you are talking about CAPACITY you could say something like :
"The UK, a much richer country, is aiming for 50% by the same date." It's already above 30%, but wind and solar are so crap the electricity supplied is a fraction of this capacity ie 15% of electrcity supplied is from renewables

Nov 27, 2015 at 8:05 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

I think you're being very charitable to Rifkind in your analysis. I've read some of his, shall we say lighter pieces, in the Sunday Times for some years and while some of them are reasonably amusing every time I've seen him stray into serious subjects he comes across as under informed. This is particularly the case when he strays into the climate debate. My advice to him from a fellow countryman, for the good of his own reputation, would be to avoid all climate and energy articles altogether until such time as he is much better informed, and if he insists on appearing on the BBC news to comment on the next day's newspapers, particularly avoid climate issues there because he comes across as shifty.

Nov 27, 2015 at 9:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn B

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