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Scientific Alliance Newsletter

The answer is definitely yes according to a new report from the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems, commissioned by an organisation called Agora Energiewende. The report – Current and future costs of photovoltaics – suggests that “In a few years, solar energy plants will deliver the most inexpensive power available in many parts of the world.“ The first health warning is that Agora Energiewende presents itself on its web-page like this: “Our central question is: How do we manage the clean energy transition? Agora Energiewende will prepare the...
This week, BP has published its latest Energy Outlook 2035, which analyses likely global energy use in twenty years’ time. Also this week, a further element of the EU Ecodesign Directive brings in mandatory energy efficient standards for domestic ovens, cookers and cooker hoods (EU introduces new rule to make cooking greener). Further standards will be introduced and existing ones tightened over the coming years. They now apply to a range of appliances, but this time there has been no repeat of the media furore over the banning of the highest-powered vacuum cleaners. The change...
Two hundred years ago, railways revolutionised travel, but the majority of journeys were still undertaken on foot or by horse-power. A century later, the situation had changed remarkably little, until the coming of the mass-produced motor car started a second revolution. Today, personal mobility is taken for granted in the developed world and is becoming a reality for a great many people in emerging economies. One result is clogged roads and delays. This, and governments’ desire to cut use of fossil fuels, has intensified the long-standing debate about private versus public...

Peak oil postponed

05.02.2015
Mark Twain once famously said that reports of his death had been exaggerated. Is the same true of the impending demise of oil as one of our primary energy sources, neatly encapsulated in the concept of Peak Oil? The unexpected dramatic recent fall in the price of oil has brought the future of fossil fuels into sharp focus once again and must give pause for thought. Oil is a resource which is finite in the strict sense of the word, but whose supply has in practice been increasing year by year. The effective level of resource is determined by economics. As supplies get tighter, prices rise...
As Nils Bohr said, prediction is very difficult, particularly about the future. The recent (and continuing) drastic slump in oil prices is a perfect example of this. Rather than the seemingly inevitable approach of Peak Oil, we seem to have a return to cheap energy, at least temporarily. Given the central place of energy to the world economy, this is bound to have some profound effects. Overall, the impact should be very positive. Drivers have already seen a significant drop in the price of petrol and diesel, and reduced transport costs will translate in many cases to reduced prices of a...
Scientists may lay claim to objectivity, but we should always be cautious in accepting the conclusions of others. Take, for example, a news item from this morning: Pesticide ban to save bees ‘based on flawed research’. The argument made by Norman Carreck, who works at the University of Sussex on bee research, is that other scientists had used unrealistically high levels of neonicotinoid insecticides in experiments with bees, so wrongly concluding that these chemicals are a likely cause of a decline in numbers. To add further interest to this intellectual spat, one of the...
New year, same old issues. Climate change negotiations continue with glacial slowness, with attention now focussing on what is touted as a landmark Conference of the Parties in Paris in December. Negotiators hope that this will see a binding international agreement on emissions reduction signed, but there must be many crossed fingers, given the abject failure of the similarly crucial Copenhagen climate summit in 2009. Meanwhile, CO2 emissions continue to rise inexorably in the absence of anything other than regional policies. Plus ça change… And the issue of GM crops...

Plus ça change…

19.12.2014
Christmas time again, and an opportunity to look back over the last year. Twelve months’ ago, I wrote “Perhaps 2014 will be seen as the year when the international will to seek to control the climate via energy policy begins to wane more noticeably. Already, even the chairman of the UK Committee on Climate Change has recently admitted that unilateral action is useless. Perhaps next year will be the one in which the UK government – still the only one with supposedly legally-binding emissions targets – begins to prioritise energy security and affordability over failing...
European environmental policy is made at EU level and, like most policy areas, legislation is agreed by qualified majority voting. This requires not just a majority of Member States to be in favour, but for them to represent normally at least 60% of EU citizens. The nature of this means of course that not all countries are equally enthusiastic about particular decisions, but will compromise as part of the normal semi-democratic horse-trading that goes on in Brussels. The net result has been a steady move towards a highly precautionary stance on environmental matters, accompanied by...

Misuse of science

05.12.2014
Scientists are human and have their opinions. Although we may like to think of science as a purely objective search after truth, we have to be realistic. It would be all but impossible for a researcher to start an experiment without having some idea about the expected outcome. Objectivity then comes in the form of a willingness to accept evidence which points to a different answer. Nevertheless, in most cases there is likely to be a tendency towards confirmation bias: giving more weight to observations which conform to your expectations or opinions. A well-known example of this is the...

Current Issues

To see UK electricity demand
and the contribution from
wind, see www.gridwatch.templar.co.uk

 

What's New

The Scientific Alliance has published a new report on wind energy, jointly with the Adam Smith Insitute:  Wind Power Reassessed: A review of the UK wind resource for electricity generation.