Blown away?

Further to my earlier remarks about the wastefulness and illogicality of investment in wind-power, which not all readers agreed with, I note this in The Times:

Europe should scrap its support for wind energy as soon as possible to focus on far more efficient emerging forms of clean power generation including solar thermal energy, one of the world’s most distinguished scientists said yesterday.

Professor Jack Steinberger, a Nobel prize-winning director of the CERN particle physics laboratory in Geneva, said that wind represented an illusory technology — a cul-de-sac that would prove uneconomic and a waste of resources in the battle against climate change.

“Wind is not the future,” he told the symposium of Nobel laureates at the Royal Society.

Claiming that his favoured model, solar thermal generation, was on the brink of a great advance, he said "Governments need to focus on this area right now". Continued investment in wind generation, he strongly implies, will actually harm long-term prospects for carbon-neutral power by diverting resources from where it would best be spent. Which is more or less what I said.


Well yes he would say that wouldn't he, but solar energy has been 'on the brink' of the breakthrough for a decade or two. Windpower for all its defects and limitations is working technology available now.

Should the long promised solar technology breakthrough ever arrive then we can always decomission the wind farms and build the good professors solar arrays instead.

This is a job for engineers and it is them you should be listening to when it comes to power generation. The scientists are the right people to tell you about the science but not the engineering.
Philip Hall said…
But the government has to foot the bill. Most breakthroughs come in wars when all the reseources of the country are focused on acheiving an aim. Big coalition government.
Phil Hall said...Most breakthroughs come in wars.

Certainly WWI and more noticably WWII did cause some spectacular accelerations of technology. But against that the Industrial Revolution, The Green Revolution, the IT Revolution / Internet and Biotech have all leapt forward just as spectacularly without any war driving them.

I think it is the focus, the sense of urgency and the competition that inspires the teamwork, risk taking and vision. War can provide it but so can other things.
Heresiarch said…
Woolly: "Windpower for all its defects and limitations is working technology available now."

Yes, but you fail to address the question, which is that investing in wind power today might produce less available power tomorrow. The cost paid would then be far higher than merely the cost of decommissioning wind plants (which itself will be far from negligible).

If in the nineteenth century they'd ploughed money into stagecoaches rather than railways, because "the technology is available now", then the railways would never have been built - or at least they would have been built far more slowly. In Britain in the 20th century, investment in advanced electric trains was cut back because they said, "We have diesel technology which is available now". Result: our railways today are primitive compared to France and Japan.

Wind power isn't the best available technology, it's merely the technology that has got its feet under the table first.

Phil's point about wars is well taken. There isn't anything remotely comparable today to provide that sense of urgency - just computer projections of how bad it might get. If the oil wells suddenly ran dry progress in alternatives would be much more rapid. But that's not likely for the time being.
As I recall money was spent on coach, then canal then rail as and when each technology became a practical working proposition.

Working in IT I see a lot of over engineering because people want everything in right from the beginning and don't focus on the business need. A cranky, creaky, buggy inefficient hard to maintain system that made it into production, gets used a lot and makes money is a success. A gleaming, clean, bug-free efficient one that arrived too late is not.

We need to produce low CO2 power today and its no good putting it off until tomorrow. Windpower is just the start, there will be plenty of investment for all technologies.
valdemar said…
Barack Obama's expert, Dr Chu, thinks we should paint roofs white and drive around in white vans - well, cars. He makes a lot of sense. A few billion gallons of white paint would undoubtedly reflect sunlight back into space in summer, and heat back indoors in winter.

Solar thermal sounds fine in theory but I wonder how easy it would be for a well-organised terrorist cell or hostile enemy power to, basically, blow the lot up? Same goes for offshore wind farms, of course. The latter do at least have the advantage of being ours. Solar thermal always belongs to somebody else (well, it does if you're British).
Anonymous said…
For every expert that advocates one technology, there are half a dozen ready to contradict them. We have to use all available technologies, including wind, solar, wave and nuclear and we have to invest in all of them urgently. The kind of money we used to transfer our unsustainable property debt to the public sector would have been far better invested in clean energy and energy conservation.

The oil wells don't need to run dry. All we need is for demand to exceed supply. If we haven't already reached that point then we will soon after the recession ends. Personally I think we're several decades too late and are already screwed. I'm just on the planet for the ride from now on.
Yes 'anonymous' - we must use the available technologies and not wait in hope that technologies not ready for the real world will mature. Solar power might be ready for the 'big time' next year in 2010 : sorry, but that is too late. The time to act has already passed and no good will come of waiting for better technologies.

There is a danger we could waste billions. But as Brown and Obama have proven governments these days deal in trillions so we can easily afford to take that hit. We cannot afford the price of inaction though unless science has suddenly and innaccountably gone unprecedently off the rails.

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