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Close down DECC

The Commons Public Accounts Committee has issued a report about the award of renewables contracts. It is not a pretty sight.

By awarding early contracts worth up to £16.6 billion to eight renewable electricity generation projects without price competition, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (the Department) failed to adequately consider how to secure best value for consumers. In committing 58% of the total funds available for renewable contracts under these transitional arrangements, the Department has severely constrained the amount available to be awarded under new arrangements through price competition, reducing the opportunity to test the market and secure the best value for consumers. Under the terms of these contracts the Department failed to defend consumers’ interest. For example, the risks associated with inflation will be met by consumers with inflation measured on the Consumer Prices Index. At the same time any benefit from excess profits will be retained by the developers as there are no claw-back clauses.

Click to read more ...


The underpinning of energy policy collapses

UK energy policy has one key predicate, namely that fossil fuels are going to get inexorably more expensive. This is, not to put too fine a point on it, the sine qua non of the whole renewables programme. Renewables, we are told, will save consumers money, and only if we dig much deeper might we discover that in fact we are actually being told that renewables are being forecast to be cheaper than fossil fuels in the future.

For years that forecast has looked ever more implausible, as all around us a revolution in unconventional oil and gas has caused fossil fuel prices to fall. Now, finally, the government has been forced to respond and to reduce its forecast prices.

Burning gas for power is currently far cheaper than electricity from wind farms, which receive billions of pounds in subsidies from consumers.

Yesterday however the Department of Energy and Climate Change released new forecasts slashing its power and gas price forecasts for later this decade by as much as 20 per cent.

But ministers have repeatedly argued that gas prices will keep on rising, eventually making green energy good value for money.

This is a bit of a nightmare for the greens in government, and it is hard to imagine that the government and its advisers are not going to have to reassess the whole renewables programme. No doubt it is not beyond the wit of the bureaucrats in DECC to come up with some plausible explanation of why renewables will get much cheaper in the future, but it will be interesting to see just how much they have to wriggle first.


DECC's new adviser

DECC has finally persuaded someone to take on the role of chief scientific adviser - as readers no doubt recall the role his been vacant for several weeks since David Mackay stood down.

The new man is Professor John Loughhead, who currently runs the UK Energy Research Centre, a sort of retirement home for superannuated environmentalists. Loughhead is an engineer by training and was formerly the head of technology at wind turbine manufacturer Alstom. His professorship is an honorary one from the University of Cardiff.

His public pronouncements suggest that he is cut from the same cloth as Mackay - he will go with the political flow, setting out just enough of the engineering problems with the rush to renewables to cover his backside.


Oh Godlee

Fiona Godlee has an editorial in the British Medical Journal on the subject of climate change (£, but free trial is available). It begins with a defence of the journal's climate campaigner position and moves on to discuss some of the science. For example:

The IPCC reports that it is highly likely that global warming is causing climate change, characterised by more frequent and intense temperature extremes, heavier rainfall events, and other extreme weather events.

Click to read more ...


Off target

Anthony reproduces a Nature editorial that suggests that nations should abandon the 2°C target that has allegedly focused political responses to global warming in recent years.

Bold simplicity must now face reality. Politically and scientifically, the 2°C goal is wrong-headed. Politically, it has allowed some governments to pretend that they are taking serious action to mitigate global warming, when in reality they have achieved almost nothing. Scientifically, there are better ways to measure the stress that humans are placing on the climate system than the growth of average global surface temperature — which has stalled since 1998 and is poorly coupled to entities that governments and companies can control directly.

Click to read more ...


The walrus and the ecoperson 

Tom Nelson is having some fun with uber-ecoperson Bill McKibben who has been tweeting about an AP story in SFGate about a huge congregation of walruses on the coast of Alaska. SFGate helpfully provides a photo:

According to the story, this so-called `haulout' is down to climate change:

The gathering of walrus on shore is a phenomenon that has accompanied the loss of summer sea ice as the climate has warmed.

Which is the kind of statement to get McKibben going of course.

Click to read more ...


The Pause comes of age - Josh 295

Today is the official birthday of the pause. James Delingpole says so and he is, as we know, always right - especially when he is quoting BishopHill.

What will the Pause do next? Get a job? Go on a gap year? Maybe go to college and rack up some proper student debt. Who knows, but it's worth celebrating the good news that the planet's temperatures are not accelerating to thermageddon. 

Cartoons by Josh


Climate models and clouds

Idly looking for something to write about this morning I sidled over to Geophysical Research Letters where my eye alighted on the abstract of a paper by Cheruy et al. It concerns the CMIP5 climate models and considers clouds and the transfer of moisture from land to atmosphere. Here's the abstract:

Over land, most state-of-the-art climate models contributing to Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5) share a strong summertime warm bias in midlatitude areas, especially in regions where the coupling between soil moisture and atmosphere is effective. The most biased models overestimate solar incoming radiation, because of cloud deficit and have difficulty to sustain evaporation. These deficiencies are also involved in the spread of the summer temperature projections among models in the midlatitude; the models which simulate a higher-than-average warming overestimate the present climate net shortwave radiation which increases more-than-average in the future, in link with a decrease of cloudiness. They also show a higher-than-average reduction of evaporative fraction in areas with soil moisture-limited evaporation regimes. Over these areas, the most biased models in the present climate simulate a larger warming in response to climate change which is likely to be overestimated.

If I'm understanding this correctly, when you consider climate models' simulation of clouds and land-atmosphere coupling, the warmer models show the most marked biases against observations.

But don't worry, they are just fine and dandy for informing policymakers.


Inner damage

The Telegraph is carrying an interesting report about an experiment carried out by German researchers, who fired low frequency sound at human subjects to see if they could find an effect on the inner ear.

The physical composition of inner ear was “drastically” altered following exposure to low frequency noise, like that emitted by wind turbines, a study has found.

The research will delight critics of wind farms, who have long complained of their detrimental effects on the health of those who live nearby.

In fairness, the sample size is small - only 21 subjects - but almost all of them exhibited the same reaction, and one gets a warmish feeling from the work because the scientists were measuring a physical effect rather than relying on their subjects' subjective reporting of what they experienced.

Worthy of further research, I would say.


Quote of the day, murderous edition

Via Warwick Hughes comes this award of money from the government of the Australian Capital Territory:

Aspen Island Theatre Company: $18,793 to assist with costs of the creative development of a new theatre work, ‘Kill Climate Deniers’.



Hardtalking with Stern

Nicholas Stern was on the BBC's Hardtalk show, being grilled by Zeinab Badawi about his recent report.

For a BBC journalist, Badawi did not too bad a job of taking potshots at Stern, with ammunition apparently sourced from Richard Tol. I was amused when she called Stern a "climate lobbyist", before correcting herself.

Stern himself was deeply unimpressive, with the mannerisms and delivery of a minor council official rather than a great academic sage and, as Pielke Jr notes on Twitter, constantly resorting to namedropping rather than rational argument.  I was struck also by his allegation that Tol builds his conclusions into his economic models. This struck me as quite a strong thing to say.


Keenan on McKitrick

Doug Keenan has posted a strong critique of Ross McKitrick's recent paper on the duration of the pause at his own website. I am reproducing it here.

McKitrick [2014] performs calculations on series of global surface temperatures, and claims to thereby determine the duration of the current apparent stall in global warming. Herein, the basis for those calculations is considered.

Much of McKitrick [2014] deals with a concept known as a “time series”. A time series is any series of measurements taken at regular time intervals. Examples include the following: the maximum temperature in London each day; prices on the New York Stock Exchange at the close of each business day; the total wheat harvest in Canada each year. Another example is the average global temperature each year.

The techniques required to analyze time series are generally different from those required to analyze other types of data. The techniques are usually taught only in specialized statistics courses.

Click to read more ...


A physicist does Bayes

Physicist and science writer Jon Butterworth has written a layman's introduction to Bayes' theorem, touching at one point on its use in climate change:

If you have a prior assumption that modern life is rubbish and technology is intrinsically evil, then you will place a high prior probability on Carbon Dioxide emissions dooming us all. On the other hand, if your prior bias is toward the idea that there is massive plot by huge multinational environmental corporations, academics and hippies to deprive you of the right to drive the kids to school in a humvee, you will place a much lower weight on mounting evidence of anthropogenic climate change. If your prior was roughly neutral, you will by now be pretty convinced that we have a problem with global warming. In any case, anyone paying attention as evidence mounts would eventually converge on the right answer, whatever their prior - though it may come too late to affect the outcome, of course.

The use of Bayes' theorem in climate science is so much more interesting than this: as readers at BH no doubt know, the IPCC's use of a uniform prior in ECS for its "neutral" starting point biased the posterior towards higher estimates of future warming. Secondly, do we really have "mounting evidence"? Surely what we have is comparisons of unvalidated physical models to observations.


Fire down below

Another day, another fire at a recycling plant, this time at a site near Hull (H/T Stewgreen).

Firefighters were battling a major fire at a waste recycling plant in Melton early today.

The fire broke out at a large facility in Gibson Lane shortly after 7am.

At least six crews from Humberside Fire and Rescue were in attendance and large plumes of acrid black smoke could be seen coming from the scene.

This is getting to be a familiar story isn't it?

Click to read more ...


Carbon Brief does energy budgets

One criticism of the energy budget model approach that lies behind these kind of studies is that it doesn't take into account the role of the oceans in taking up excess heat. Other estimates of climate sensitivity using climate models support the higher end of the IPCC's likely range.

Carbon Brief is struggling again.

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