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Wind and solar a waste of money for UK, Prof Sir David MacKay said in final interview

May 4, 2016

By Paul Homewood 




There are two pieces of news today, which should really drive a stake through the heart of the renewable scam, if our politicians had not already boxed themselves into a corner.


First up from the Telegraph:


Wind turbines and solar panels are a waste of money if Britain wants reliable low carbon electricity supplies through the winter, the late Professor Sir David MacKay said in his final interview.

Prof MacKay, who served as chief scientific advisor to the Department of Energy and Climate Change for five years until 2014, died from cancer last month.

In an interview with the science writer Mark Lynas, filmed 11 days before his death and released posthumously, Prof Mackay said the "sensible thing" for the UK to do was to focus on nuclear and on carbon capture and storage technology, which traps the emissions from power stations.

He criticised the "appalling delusion" that renewable sources of power could simply be scaled up and paired with battery storage to provide all the UK’s energy needs, citing the high costs and large areas of land that would be required.

Wind turbines 

Prof Sir David MacKay said there was no point building wind turbines if the country had enough low-carbon energy to cope with periods of no wind


Prof MacKay was renowned in the energy world for his book Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air, which examined the potential limitations of renewable power, but said he had "always tried to avoid advocating particular solutions".

However in his final interview – in which he stressed he would be "content with any plan that adds up" – he set out for the first time his own recommendation for "the rational thing to do in the UK", explaining: "Maybe [as] the time is getting thinner, I should call a spade a spade."

"For the UK, I think we want a zero carbon solution and it has to work in the winter," he said.

The British public also seemed to care about the cost of energy, he said, so "we should be looking for a low carbon solution that is low cost".

Prof MacKay said: "If you just cost-optimise and say it has to keep working in the winter, even if there’s no wind for seven days at time and obviously no sun… the sensible thing to do for a country like the UK, I think, is to focus on carbon capture and storage (CCS), which the world needs anyway, and nuclear.

"Then if you ask, what is the optimal amount of wind and solar to add in as well? The answer is going to be almost zero."

Prof MacKay said he loved wind turbines, describing them as "the cathedrals of the modern age", but said that if the country managed to build enough low-carbon supplies to get it through periods of no wind or sun in winter, then there was "actually no point in having any wind or solar".

Wind turbines were a "waste of money" in that scenario since "when the wind blows you are going to have to either turn those wind turbines down or something else down that you have already paid for like the nukes or the CCS", he said.

While advocates of renewable technologies often cite the potential for electricity storage to deal with their intermittency, Prof MacKay said that balancing wind-based power supplies would require "hundreds of flooded valleys" for hydroelectric storage.

Powering the UK from solely solar and batteries would require "absurdly large" batteries, while the cost of battery technology would need to come down "by a factor of 100" for it to be a realistic option, he said.

He alleged that solar panels had been subsidised in the UK against the advice of civil servants, due to their popularity with MPs and the work of solar lobbyists.

However, Prof MacKay emphasised that the best energy solutions would vary from country to country depending on their demands and political priorities.

Solar panels were a "really good idea" in hot countries where solar power supplies correlated with times of high demand, he said, while a combination of wind and storage might make sense in a country where "price doesn’t matter".


Of course, the alternatives he offers are no better. As we know, nuclear is also hugely expensive; he is right however when he says that it is economically illiterate to run nuclear intermittently.

As for CCS, there is no commercially viable technology available. Whether there will be sometime down the line, who knows?

Mackay was intelligent enough to realise that the only logical solution is to build plenty of CCGT, and ignore the renewable crap. 


As I mentioned at the time of his death, I found David Mackay to be honest and open. This interview clearly reinforces that view. 

  1. May 4, 2016 6:07 pm

    Reblogged this on Climatism and commented:
    Devastating interview for feel-good ‘unreliables’ – wind and solar – from Prof MacKay, who served as chief scientific advisor to the Department of Energy and Climate Change (UK) for five years until 2014.

    Interesting how government bureaucrats always end up telling the real truth when their tenures are up!

  2. May 4, 2016 6:45 pm

    Reblogged this on Climate Collections.

  3. May 4, 2016 8:18 pm

    The renewables lobby have always been uncomfortable with MacKay’s book, I recall a BBC radio 4 business programme about 6 months ago, with 3 leaders of Big Green, the presenter was quoting things at them from the book, and they produced the usual renewables lie, that the book was right when written, but technology has moved on and the book needs a second edition.

    There is always some technology just about to come on stream that will save the pack of cards from collapse.

  4. Bloke down the pub permalink
    May 4, 2016 8:42 pm

    There may be a new nuclear option before too long.

  5. Bitter&twisted permalink
    May 4, 2016 9:40 pm

    “Science writer Mark Lynas”.
    The last thing loopy Lynas writes about is “science”

  6. Charles permalink
    May 4, 2016 9:51 pm

    There is also a very good piece in the “Keeping The Lights On” column in the current “Private Eye” magazine commenting on David MacKay – is only available in full in the print copy – the start is:

    “How to make sense of the lies and dodgy statistics that bedevil current energy policy?… To identify which ‘facts’ are reliable and which arguments are sound is exceptionally difficult. The premature death of the redoubtable Professor Sir David MacKay last week at the age of 48 is therefore a tremendous loss. Eye readers will recall that in his five years as chief scientific adviser to the Department of Energy and Climate Change, he resolutely sought to bring to the attention of politicians and civil servants all manner of salient facts about energy that they would rather not know…”

    That sentence continues: “in particular the uselessness of wind turbines without a means of storing electricity”

  7. CheshireRed permalink
    May 5, 2016 4:34 pm

    Much as he was clearly a ridiculously talented man, isn’t it odd how he still advocated CCS and giant battery storage as a ‘solution’ to our energy needs when NEITHER are currently available?
    Magic flying carpets would a be a low carbon zero emissions solution to the worlds traffic problems…IF they existed, but wishing they did doesn’t make it so.

  8. May 6, 2016 1:21 am

    Nuclear is hugely expensive because of the burden of regulations. It’s just about impossible to build nuclear plants in Western Europe or North America because the bureaucratic burden is nearly equal for all nuclear power plants, regardless of their capacity. So the biggest-possible plants are built to provide the earliest RoI to investors. But such things are individually engineered; driving up all costs.

    “Small”, modular reactors (SMR) of 300MW and less make more sense, even where power plants have to provide several thousand megawatts as individual reactors can be taken offline for maintenance and refuelling without the need to replace power generation via a (perhaps) distant grid connection. SMR also make sense for small cities; individually or paired for reliability. It reduces the distances over which large amounts of electrical power have to be transmitted, improving energy efficiency.

    SMR make even more sense in engineering and manufacturing as they can be substantially made in factories and shipped to site; reducing manufacturing costs and increasing the inherent ability to control quality.

    Sealed SMR can be factory-fuelled for service lives of up to 20 years, offering an option for nuclear power generation in politically sensitive regions.

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