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Time to wake up to risk posed by outages and their impact

Powerful thoughts

THERE are costs and benefits to everything in life. In relevant areas it is the job of scientists and engineers to assess all the evidence for costs and benefits, indicate where in their view the balance lies and if necessary change it as evidence and improved understanding dictate. Lang Banks (Letters, March 14) who, as WWF director in Scotland espouses an environmental ideology, writes that he has sparked a debate.

Debates are usually about opinions and require the participants to recognise errors in their argument. Unless Mr Banks is prepared to admit his own ideology can be in error there can be no debate; instead we are reduced back to Galileo and the ideological insistence of one party that the Sun went round the Earth rather than the correct alternative.

Electricity is the lifeblood of our economy; the fundamental requirement of any supply is that it must be secure. Even short power cuts can cause serious economic damage and substantial loss of life. Although accounting for only 20 per cent of our emissions, electricity generation has been specifically targeted for uncertain change by politicians anxious to demonstrate they are doing something.

Introducing an intermittent, unreliable source of electricity in large amounts, much favoured by Mr Banks, greatly increases the probability of outage and the disastrous consequences that follow. I, like many scientists, favour nuclear power and gas, because they have provided security of supply over many decades.

Had we built two more nuclear power stations in Scotland 10 years back we would have reduced Scottish generating emissions to almost zero and avoided the known damage to landscapes and wild life. This Government dismissed nuclear power by edict and thus without debate or provision of evidence.

Professor Tony Trewavas,

Scientific Alliance Scotland,

7-9 North St David Street,




I NOTE in your Letters Pages a difference of opinion between Lang Banks of WWF Scotland and professors McInnes and Younger of the University of Glasgow.

The point at issue is the technical one of restarting the electricity grid following a catastrophic failure. Although I am an engineer this is not my area of specialism so I would not care to venture an opinion.

However, it would be fair to point out that Professor McInnes holds the James Watt Chair of Engineering and is a Fellow of four learned societies. Professor Younger holds the Rankine Chair of Energy Engineering and is a Fellow of five learned or professional societies. Both are Fellows of the Royal Academy of Engineering and have doctorates.

Neither the WWF website nor his LinkedIn profile specifies Mr Lang Banks's academic or professional qualifications other than a BSc in biology.

Jack W Ponton,

Old Cottage Gardens,


Earlston, Berwickshire.


MR BANKS is wrong to imagine that as professional engineers we ignored the commitment to decarbonise electrical energy production south of the Border. However, the Department of Energy and Climate Change envisages that some 60 per cent of electrical energy production will still come from thermal plant by 2030. Moreover in England, the only large-scale source of low-carbon baseload electrical energy production (nuclear) has thankfully not been proscribed as in Scotland, therefore new plants are planned and highly efficient, dispatchable combined cycle gas turbines have been built which have less than half the carbon emissions of unabated coal-fired stations.

Importantly, neither is happening in Scotland, even although the Scottish Government has rightly long acknowledged the need to provide substantial new thermal capacity in the coming years while intermittent renewable energy capacity grows.

In stark contrast, Mr Banks's view is that Scotland should only deploy intermittent renewable capacity, but that our supply would be secure through interconnection as long as the remainder of the UK system is secure. This is duplicitous. We would be pushing essential baseload and dispatchable thermal capacity outside our national borders simply to satisfy the narrow objectives of Mr Banks's organisation, which in any case opposes secure baseload nuclear capacity south of the Border too.

Furthermore, given the recent political mood in Scotland, it would be extraordinary for an aspiring independent state to be entirely reliant on its neighbour, and under what would be disadvantageous terms. For example, when wind output is close to zero for sustained periods during winter anticyclones, and demand is high across the entire UK, imports from the south would come at a price.

It is also ironic that Mr Banks cites concerns over carbon emissions when his organisation, both locally and globally, works hard to oppose nuclear energy. Nuclear is the single largest supplier of electrical energy in Scotland.

As prominent climate scientist Dr James Hansen has noted, large environmental organisations such as WWF "have become one of the biggest obstacles to solving the climate problem".

We restate our considered professional opinion that any proposal to remove all thermal plant from Scotland is irresponsible. It is pandering to a narrow world view that puts an obsession with renewable energy and an irrational loathing of nuclear energy above technically sound policy that balances national security of supply, cost effectiveness and decarbonisation.

Professor Paul L Younger,

Professor of Energy Engineering and

Professor Colin R McInnes, Professor of Engineering Science,

School of Engineering,

James Watt Building,

University of Glasgow.

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The Scientific Alliance is pleased to publish and analyis of the intermittency of UK wind energy generation for 2013-14 by Derek Partington