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Huhne attacks 'armchair engineers' for criticising renewables projects

Energy secretary Chris Huhne has attacked “armchair engineers, climate sceptics and vested interests” for trying to prevent the construction of renewable energy infrastructure in the UK.

Huhne said at the RenewableUK conference that he will “take aim” at “curmudgeons and faultfinders” who claim that renewable energy deployment is impossible. He also responded to chancellor George Osborne’s speech at the Conservative Party conference who insisted the UK should only cut its carbon emission at a the same rate of the rest of the European Union.

“Yes, the UK [emits] only 2% of global carbon emissions,” said Huhne. “But if we grasp the opportunity now our businesses and economy can be much more than 2% of the solution.”

Huhne pointed to over a hundred announcements in this financial year that add up to almost £1.7bn in renewable energy investment, creating over 9,000 UK jobs.

Readers' comments (12)

  • The renewable energy projects that we "armchair engineers" are against are those projects that cost this country billions of pounds in subsidies, paid for in taxes, that are inefficient and do not negate the need for back up by other energy sources that in themselves are not renewable. Windpower is only being pursued as a convenient means of achieving a taget but does not solve the long term energy crisis.
    It is time Mr Huhne started to listen to informed debate rather than denigrate and insult opponents to his policy.

    Roger Colton CEng FICE

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  • That looks good value. £190,000 per job for windmills that don't work when we need the power (cold spell last winter) and are generally about 7% efficient rather than the required 30% before the locations for the windmills are approved.

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  • A quick review of Huhne's CV from the Department for Energy's website: "Before entering politics, he was a financial and economic journalist for nineteen years at the Guardian, Independent and the Economist. He also founded one of the City’s largest teams of economists advising pension funds on overseas investments." Well no worries there then, clearly know all about wind energy, that's for sure. If renewable energy projects actually produced a significant proprtion of our power requirements I wouldn't object, but for instance wind turbines only generate electrical energy when they are not shut down for maintenance and repair, and the wind is between about 8 and 55 mph. Below a wind speed of around 30 mph, however, the amount of energy generated is very small. Wind turbines produce at or above their average rate around 40% of the time. Conversely, they produce little or no power around 60% of the time. So I can only conclude wind turbines are a complete and uttter waste of time and money, to say nothing of being a blott on the landscape.

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  • Yes, I am an engineer, I'm sitting in an armchair and I am extremely sceptical of false prophets such as Chris Huhne and his cronies.

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  • Mr. Oliver, my views on this subject and this man are well known and recorded and substantiated to you, several times. I don't have to add any more - any professional engineer can use DECC's own data and records, and Huhne's past outpourings to reach the same conclusions.

    The very eminent and successful engineers who taught me at University, during my graduate training, and for the next few criticalformative years, and who I have worked with and learnt from since in the UK and on 4 continents would have professionally, but not literally, taken this unsavory and utterly discredited and suspect character and ripped him apart! If there were sufficient engineers of similar calibre and fibre at senior levels in the Institution, they would have done similarly, and publicy. Regretably, as it is, we deserve such idiots as this and such public abuse simply because his antics and opinions have been too often supported and at best condoned, even by default!

    Is it no wonder that the profession has gone right down in public standing and status, and within all professions, since I graduated!

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  • Let's get it in proportion. Huhne has some justification on his side.
    1 A land-based wind turbine produces about 90 times the energy it takes to build it (For pV panels the ratio is about 4). Turbine operating energy consumption is small, and so whether they are 'efficient' in engineering terms is not of much importance except to the person who wants the return on their capital. For the rest of us they allow us to turn off polluting power stations for much of the time. If we have turbines distributed widely on land and sea most will be working most of the time. Of course we will need back-up, (we already do) but it will be switched off most of the time. Of course a Severn Barrage would be better, but we engineers haven't persuaded the public that they should give up the bird sanctuary. Of course the rest of the world is also causing pollution, but other people's foul behaviour doesn't mean we have to be the same. We led a world-wide action on cfcs and we all have slightly more expensive refrigerators as a result, but we also have an ozone layer. World wide action on climate change is not an impossibility, and we may yet stop our country and our planet being ravaged.
    2 The renewables 'subsidy' costs each of us about £5 a year, as compared to the £110 per customer profit announced by one energy company recently. That £5 is a good investment in terms of making our energy supply secure from Russian oligarchs' switching off gas supply and middle east potentates' inflating oil prices, never mind climate change.
    3 There are armchair engineers (I have some locally) who insist that turbine efficiency is important. It isn't. Some still don't accept climate change, despite the recent reworking of all 40,000 weather station data by Berkley Earth Project. This reworking was funded by climate change sceptics, but has come up with the same frightening outcome. Having taken account of all the mitigating factors there is an accelerating temperature rise, and any engineer worth his salt would see it as a danger signal.
    4 I do not know why it is that UK engineers have not reached the same conclusion as those in both Eastern and Western Europe, Scandinavia China and India. (China is building turbines like there was no tomorrow). Turbines are not a complete answer, and no one says they are, but armchair critics should get on with building a better alternative if they have one, not sniping from the sidelines.
    So Huhne is largely right. We are ruining the world, not improving it for our grandchildren, as previous generations of engineers have done. All our engineering efforts should be behind building renewables.

    Professor Emeritus Peter Gardiner FICE

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  • I do not dispute that wind turbines have drawbacks, as indeed do all forms of energy generation (none perform at 100% capacity); however, we should be using our ingenuity to learn to live within the bounds of low carbon forms of energy available to us. For example, in the built environment, we should mobilise our industry to massively reduce energy waste, and to accommodate variability in energy supply. As engineers, I believe it important that, where we find deficiencies, we propose viable alternatives.
    If we are to preserve a habitable environment for our grandchildren then we need a mix of low carbon supply, preferably renewables, and wind power will have a major role to play.

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  • The efficiency of a wind turbine may be less than a coal/gas/nuclear power station, but with no need to provide a fuel or dispose of any waste, the benefits are clear. When calculating the efficiency of a fossil fuel power station, is the energy required for the mining and transport of fuel, as well as disposal of slag/spent fuel rods included? Not to mention the environmental impact of these activities.

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  • I am appalled by some of the above comments. We are engineers, not sociologists; let's deal in facts and not vague generalisised aspirations and wish lists, and let us use recorded and independently assessed evidence and data, not vague opinions. The operating and output efficiercies and total costs per unit power generated by complete Wind Farms systems are a matter of independently assessed and recorded fact and are very relevant. They confirm that they are totally unacceptable as a designed Total Engineering System. They have appallingly low efficiencies, 20-30% and appallingly high unit power generated total costs compared with other available systems - 100-200% more. Wind Farm system's have to include a base load reliable standby Plant of almost equal capacity to accommodate no/low wind conditions, meet maximum Power Demand periods and achieve difficult interfacing with these varying and capricious Turbine outputs. They also need extensive expensive cabling to connect the GrId to remote Turbine locations. It is now accepted that only Gas Turbines can provide such a standby facility!

    Using DECC's own published data also identifies that Wind Farms are grossly inefficient in reducing CO2 - only 2% more 1990 CO2 level emissions' reduction where replacing CFP's compared to using Gas Turbines. Using Gas Turbines alone, and not simply as Wind Turbines' standby's for no/low wind, would in itself reduce our 1990 CO2 Power Generation CO2 levels to date by almost 50% - a very respectable achievement. UK shale gas is needed, in any case, for the 45% or so UK power currently generated by Gas Turbines, will relatively soon be available in abundence - and from USA experience will be significantly cheaper than imported gas.

    Add to this that independent experts now realise that by next year China, alone, will produce more CO2 per capita than the UK from a never ending series of new basic Coal Fired Plants.The UK has less than 1% of the world's population, China has roughly 30%. The UK produces only 1.5% or so of global CO2. Work the figures out - China alone is producing increases in its CO2 emissions more than the UK generates, let alone what we can save. Our attempts to reduce CO2 emissions, even if such reductions are required, or more particularly are required in some panic - justifying the unaffordable money that we are throwing at this problem, then the UK's actions and unaffordable CAGW expenditure is completely ineffective in reducing this "problem" The costs are a massive UK and UK plc overhead, yet clearly wasted money which in our present circumstance could be better used elsewhere!

    Are we professional engineers and deserving the status on a par with that earned by our very eminent predecessors, or aren't we? That is the question!

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  • I forgot to add. Using Gas Turbines to bridge the Energy Gap, can be done much more reliably and easily, much more cheaply and relatively much more quickly, and without any significant increase in new transmission facilities - the GT's need to be located near to local Power Demand and can use existing transmission lines.

    Time and money saved would then give the UK the opportunity to re-build its power generation capability in design, fabrication/manufacture and installation and fund an emergency UK R&D programme for more efficient and more reliable base load Generators - renewable if needed, including safer and more efficient Nuclear Plants and even ultimately Thorium Plants. China and India have already started on the 2 latter options!This would provide proper skilled jobs and new exporting capability well before the new Gas Turbines needed replacing!

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