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Letters: Ingham right to highlight energy issues

Sir Bernard Ingham’s forthright views on the government’s energy policy stirred up debate in the sector.



Efficiencies: Wind turbines are operational only between 20% and 40% of the time

As someone who worked on the construction of Wylfa nuclear power station in the 1960s it pains me that after 43 years the reactors will cease operations this year. A replacement station would probably have 3GW to 3.6GW installed capacity and cover about 250ha. If wind turbines were to be used instead it would probably require, for an equivalent installed capacity, about 1,500 to 1,800 of these units covering an area of about 1,100ha.

From available operational data, load factors (average to peak loads) for onshore wind turbines are no higher than 24% in year one, decreasing to 11% in year 15.

Meanwhile, lifespans are claimed for onshore wind turbines of 20-25 years but 15 years is likely to be closer to reality; lifespans of offshore installations are dramatically lower. The comparative benefits of nuclear over wind energy are all too stark.

So with the UK government planning to increase the number of wind turbine installations to 10,000 within the next decade, Sir Bernard Ingham appears fully justified in condemning the UK’s energy policy (Opinion 30 January).

Some NCE readers vilify the man because he belongs to the 50 percentile in the UK that do not belong to the climate change fraternity.

  • Professor Albert Hamilton (F)


Sadly, Sir Bernard Ingham used his traditional colourful language to make his point that there is no rhyme or reason to government energy policy and has sadly detracted from the essential truth that there is no rhyme or reason to government energy policy.

I would commend NCE readers to the Royal Academy of Engineering report GB electricity capacity margin (October 2013) prepared for the prime minister’s Council for Science and Technology, which appears to be having little traction with government at the moment. It shows we continue to close power stations at a faster rate than we are currently building them.

As we can see from the catastrophe of the floods, in respect of upgrading/replacing infrastructure, the government appears reluctant to plan ahead and so we are left fire-fighting again. We are at present heading towards a situation in respect of probably not having sufficient power generating capacity by the end of the decade, unless far better leadership is provided from Westminster.

In that respect I share Ingham’s frustration.

  • David Howard (F),


Robert Mattholie (Letters 13 February) is wrong about Sir Bernard Ingham. It may be many years before we know whether climate change is entirely man-made. However, the arguments put forward across the political and engineering spectrum either for or against supporting wind power are many, and often totally misunderstood.

If wind power is to form a substantial part of our energy mix, then full-scale back-up will be required to fill that energy shortfall when the wind speed does not fall within the correct parameters. This appears to vary from 60% to 80% of the time, and should not be dismissed by Mattholie with his remarks that “all forms of energy (production) require some level of back-up”.

The consequence of this gross understatement is that the cost of the “conventional standby power plant” should be added to the cost of generating wind energy, which makes it considerably more expensive than nuclear. The term “inefficient” is not used in the engineering sense of converting the kinetic energy of the wind to electrical energy, but refers to the fact that wind turbines only operate 20% to 40% of the time. Actually, that does sound a little inefficient.

  • Richard Basker (M)


With reference to the letters from Simon O’Hara (Letters 6 February) and Robert Mattholie (13 February) surely it’s now time for a letter stating an alternative point of view? Do the previous contributors not realise that satellite measurements of average global temperatures have indicated no rise for 16 years, despite the steady rise predicted by computer models?

Climate is changing all the time. The current issue at stake is whether increasing CO2 emissions are the main driver of global temperature increases - this is the assumption behind all computer modelling of the climate and has yet to be proven.

The Vostok ice cores indicate that historical increased CO2 levels lagged behind temperature increases by several hundred years, showing that CO2 is not the main driver. Not only have global temperatures flat-lined, there is strong evidence that we are in for a few decades of global cooling as the sun continues in its current quiet phase.

Engineers deal with the laws of nature to create the infrastructure we rely on - they therefore have a responsibility to examine the historical evidence and start to take account of the enormous complexity of climate science.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change statement that Robert Mattholie quotes is based on flawed computer models that are unable to reproduce the past climate, never mind predicting the future, and the 97% of peer-reviewed scientific journals that support this stance are likewise following suit, based on the assumption that CO2 is the culprit - which is the current politically correct stance.

I am not a “climate change denier” - the only thing I do deny is that rising CO2 concentration from man-made emissions is the primary cause of global warming, which is at the heart of the UK’s current energy policy and our increasingly expensive gas and electricity bills.

  • Martin Donaldson (F),


Secret world that we should be ashamed of

It was good to see Fifa, forcing Qatar to reform its working practices for the those employed on the 2022 World Cup infrastructure (News last week).

Heaven forbid that engineers would insist that their designs are constructed without the use of “an alarming level of exploitation”, to quote Amnesty International’s recent report on worker treatment in the country. The lack of discussion on how this can happen and what can be done to prevent it from happening in the future gives a glimpse of why Transparency International invariably lists public works contracts and construction bottom of the Index of Bribery in Business Sectors.

There is a lot of vapid talk about gaining influence and recognition, but our response to stories of abuse and forced labour in the name of constructing our designs shows our actual standing in the world and why many prefer to keep what they do secret.

  • Matthew Gaston,


‘Suck it up’ or ‘pump it up’

Brian Clancy’s letter and Alexandra Wynne are quite right (NCE 13 February).

To paraphrase, if the media is to hear our voice it must be interesting, with style likely predominating detailed content.
While it pains our inner civil engineer to see and hear non-engineers expounding flood engineering advice, the action to correct this is down to us. We have, two choices: either “suck it up” or “pump it up”.

Perhaps the current situation will prompt a re-evaluation of flood defence design. Analyses based on independent annual extremes take no account of event clustering - something that seems to have contributed to our current situation.

Ground saturation, fluvial siltation and beach lowering, all factors that can increase the risk of flooding, may be exacerbated by clustering which leaves little scope for recovery between successive storms.

  • Professor Dominic Reeve (F),


We are not amused by cartoon capers

Recent correspondence has focused on the public perception of civil engineering. What chance do we have?

While watching a Dora the Explorer cartoon with my four year old daughter, I noted that the main character Dora supervised the construction of a significant bridge across a river, using a drag-line as the key piece of plant.

The narrator of the cartoon then outlined that as Dora had performed so well at constructing the bridge, she could become an architect when she grows up!

Enough said.

  • Craig Rankin (M),


  • NCE welcomes letters from readers. We attempt to print as many as possible, which means letters longer than 200 words are likely to be condensed. Send your views and opinion to: The Editor, NCE, Telephone House, 69-77 Paul Street, London, EC2A 4NQ; email:

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