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The Death of David Mackay

April 15, 2016

By Paul Homewood 


Sir David MacKay


It is sad to report on the death yesterday of Sir David Mackay, formerly Chief Scientific Advisor at DECC.

While he had opposing views to many of us, I have found him to be open and courteous. He was also honest enough to admit the very real problems with the solutions he was recommending, particularly renewables.


A talk he gave at Warwick University in 2012 gives an insight into this. The talk was billed as “A reality check on renewables”.

He summarised the situation regarding renewables in the UK thus:


So, let’s now say why this is relevant. Well, we can measure renewables in the same units and other forms of power production in the same units, and renewables is one of the leading ideas for how we could get off our 90 percent fossil fuel habit. So here come some renewables. Energy crops deliver half a watt per square meter in European climates. What does that mean? And you might have anticipated that result, given what I told you about the biofuel plantation a moment ago. Well, we consume 1.25 watts per square meter. What this means is, even if you covered the whole of the United Kingdom with energy crops, you couldn’t match today’s energy consumption. Wind power produces a bit more, 2.5 watts per square meter, but that’s only twice as big as 1.25 watts per square meter, so that means if you wanted literally to produce total energy consumption in all forms on average from wind farms, you need wind farms half the area of the U.K. I’ve got data to back up all these assertions, by the way.

Next, let’s look at solar power. Solar panels, when you put them on a roof, deliver about 20 watts per square meter in England. If you really want to get a lot from solar panels, you need to adopt the traditional Bavarian farming method where you leap off the roof and coat the countryside with solar panels too. Solar parks, because of the gaps between the panels, deliver less. They deliver about 5 watts per square meter of land area. And here’s a solar park in Vermont with real data delivering 4.2 watts per square meter. Remember where we are, 1.25 watts per square meter, wind farms 2.5, solar parks about five. So, whatever, whichever of those renewables you pick, the message is, whatever mix of those renewables you’re using, if you want to power the U.K. on them, you’re going to need to cover something like 20 percent or 25 percent of the country with those renewables. And I’m not saying that’s a bad idea. We just need to understand the numbers. I’m absolutely not anti-renewables. I love renewables. But I’m also pro-arithmetic.


Others could learn from his openness.   



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