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Idea of renewables powering UK is an ‘appalling delusion’ – David MacKay

July 8, 2016

By Paul Homewood 


h/t Realist10




A couple of weeks after the untimely death of Sir David Mackay, formerly chief scientific adviser to DECC, the Guardian published a remarkably interview with him. I have highlighted certain sections:


Country should focus on nuclear power and carbon capture technologies, former chief scientific adviser said in his final interview


The idea that renewable energy can power the UK is an “appalling delusion”, according to the final interview given by former chief scientific adviser, the late Professor Sir David MacKay.

The sensible energy and climate change plan for the UK, MacKay said, was for the country to focus on nuclear power and carbon capture storage technology, which traps the carbon dioxide from fossil fuel burning. In that scenario, the amount of wind and solar the UK needed would be almost zero, he said.

However, solar could be a very important power source in other countries, he said, where sunny summers coincided with a big demand for electricity for air conditioning. Prof MacKay also said electric cars are going to be a “massive hit” but said he was “very disappointed” by the lack of progress on CCS, after the government cancelled a pioneering £1bn programme at the last minute.

Prof MacKay was a physicist at the University of Cambridge and served as chief scientific adviser to the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) from 2009-2014. He had gained public prominence after writing a book, Sustainable Energy – without the Hot Air, which assessed the potential of energy technologies from physical principles.

The interview with author Mark Lynas was given 11 days before his death from cancer on 14 April and released with the permission of his wife.

Prof MacKay argued that solar, wind and biomass energy would require too much land, huge battery back-ups and cost too much to be a viable option for the UK.

“There is this appalling delusion that people have that we can take this thing that is currently producing 1% of our electricity and we can just scale it up and if there is a slight issue of it not adding up, then we can just do energy efficiency,” he said. “Humanity really does needs to pay attention to arithmetic and the laws of physics – we need a plan that adds up.”

Prof MacKay had previously avoided being drawn into the political debate about energy, but told Lynas: “I have always tried to avoid advocating particular solutions but maybe because time is getting thinner I should call a spade a spade.”

The key for the UK, he said, was a zero-carbon solution that works in the winter, when energy demand is highest but sunshine is lowest and winds can drop for days at a time. “The sensible thing to do for a country like the UK, I think, is to focus on CCS, which the world needs anyway, and nuclear,” said Prof MacKay.

The decision on a new nuclear power plant at Hinkley Point, which the government hopes will be the first of a new generation of plants, has been delayed until September.

“Then if you ask what is the optimal amount of wind and solar to add in then the answer is going to be almost zero,” he said. “I love wind turbines – they are the cathedrals of the modern age – but they are a waste of money if you have a low carbon solution that gets you through the winter … because when the wind blows you are going to have to either turn them down or something else down that you have already paid for like nuclear or CCS.”

Prof MacKay acknowledged this plan was based on his “political value judgements” but added: “The [British public] do seem to care quite a lot about the cost so we should be looking for a low carbon solution that is low cost. If they had different values, the way the Germans seem to be – ‘we don’t care what our energy prices are’ – then maybe you come up with a different attitude and say let’s have the country be filled with wind turbines and big storage facilities.”

Prof Mackay said civil servants in Decc had assessed solar and found the numbers did not add up for the UK: “The only reason solar got on the table was democracy. The MPs wanted to have a solar feed-in-tariff. So in spite of the civil servants advising ministers, ‘no, we shouldn’t subsidise solar’, we ended up having this policy. There was very successful lobbying by the solar lobbyists as well. So now there’s this widespread belief that solar is a wonderful thing, even though … Britain is one of the darkest countries in the world.”

But Prof MacKay said all energy plans had to be country specific and solar was a good option for hot, sunny nations: “Anywhere you have a correlation between solar and demand, it definitely looks solar is going to be a really, really good idea.”

He added: “Society stops functioning if we don’t have a reliable electricity system going all the time and so for places like Las Vegas, for example, you are still going to need other technologies in that mix. I’d advise Las Vegas to get a nuke.”

Prof MacKay stressed the importance of CCS, endorsing other analyses that indicate that the costs of tackling climate change are much higher without the technology. “The lack of progress is very disappointing,” he said, “I had really hoped the UK would be one of the leaders of the development of CCS technology for the world. All the models show CCS is an essential technology, if you want to make cost effective climate change pathways.

Asked what technologies he was optimistic about, Prof MacKay singled out electric cars as very promising: “I think electric vehicles are going to be a massive hit, just as people went from cassette to modern iPods. That is going to be a very positive development.”



As I commented at the time of his death, I always found David Mackay to be open and honest, even though we may have had different views.

His final interview with the Guardian really is a damning indictment of DECC.






  1. July 8, 2016 7:44 pm

    All the signs are that CCS is merely an expensive turkey. Having severely degraded the efficiency of the generating plant to collect it, where is all the carbon dioxide supposed to end up?

    The costs are horrendous for the alleged benefit, which is probably close to zero anyway.

  2. TinyCO2 permalink
    July 8, 2016 7:45 pm

    A sad loss.

    After a month with almost no wind, it’s amazing that there is anyone who still thinks that wind is an option. No battery could store enough energy for a month. The weird thing is that each expert assumes that a different set of renewables or new machines (like electric cars) are the good choice but [insert a renewable] is a waste of time and money. The only thing they agree on is nuclear. When is it going to occur to them that ONLY nuclear works? The way companies keep walking away from all the others should tell them something. We need to ditch the current nuclear plan too for stations that actually work.

  3. July 8, 2016 8:43 pm

    Reblogged this on Climatism and commented:
    “Humanity really does needs to pay attention to arithmetic and the laws of physics – we need a plan that adds up.”

    Sage words.

  4. Stonyground permalink
    July 9, 2016 9:26 am

    I think that the greens have two problems with nuclear power. The first is the perfectly legitimate concern about potentially very dangerous pollution. The second is that it actually works and the greens don’t actually want us to solve our problems, our problems are what give the greens their claims to legitimacy.

  5. AlecM permalink
    July 9, 2016 10:01 am

    Two problems:

    1. CCS does not work, in engineering terms and economically unless new plant is installed which burns the carbon with pure oxygen. This means the gas separation is done in the Linde plant. Even then it’s hideously expensive; a last resort if nuclear cannot be built.

    2. CO2-AGW is near zero so there is no need for CCS or outrageously expensive renewables, the purpose of which has always been to enrich the West Midlands’ Mafia which put Brown and Balls into power, and the elite landowners. It’s just another property play with a nasty undercurrent of Eugenics as the poor are forced into inner cities, there to die early from power starvation in the bitter new Little Ice Age.

    I strongly suspect that a small group saw the film Soylent Green and thought up the CO2 scam** as a way to gain control over Society so the Corporates would own government.

    **It’s based on easily disproved pseudoscience, but 40 years of indoctrination has allowed that false physics to replace sound science.

  6. Derek Buxton permalink
    July 9, 2016 10:28 am

    I agree on nuclear but why are the DECC so obsessed with EDF. The plants in France seem to have problems and they keep on trying to stall any attempts to get a contract. Time to dump them and look around for a better supplier. As for CCS, total nonsense on stilts. Less energy per ton of coal and huge cost just to move the CO2.

  7. CheshireRed permalink
    July 9, 2016 11:27 am

    Nothing anyone half-sensible didn’t know and hadn’t worked out for themselves already. Despite the prof’ clearly being an intelligent chap he also fundamentally failed in his support for CCS, a ‘technology’ which didn’t exist then and still doesn’t today.

    How could ANYONE nail their energy-policy beliefs to a system that DOES NOT EXIST? It’d be like today’s transport minister advocating reducing traffic congestion by using magic flying carpets or a Star Trek style transporter. Great idea…now can we actually have some of said flying carpets or transporters please? What, they don’t exist? Ah, bugger….back to the drawing board.

    • AlecM permalink
      July 9, 2016 2:42 pm

      Even the claim of 33 K GHE is false. That’s because if you calculate the Earth’s equilibrium temperature for 0.9 albedo, the snowball planet when all water has precipitated in Lacis et al’s 2013 no CO2 model experiment, the real GHE is ~174 K!

      The original fraud was in 1976 and they have bluffed it ever since by claiming that aerosol global dimming hides CO2 global warming. In reality, the aerosol effect is global brightening and that real AGW stopped in the late 1990s.

  8. Richard Bell permalink
    July 9, 2016 3:15 pm

    What a good chap he seems to have been and I liked his numbers ….. BUT ….. It always blows me away the clever, educated, intelligent people like him can’t see that Co2 is not the problem in the first place !!!!!!!!!!!!! …….. So all this wonderful thinking on solar and wind etc is a waste of hot air ( Co2 ??? ) …….. Why do these good people not take the last step in the process and discover for them selves that there IS NO CLIMATE problem and that Co2 has little or nothing to do with a NON PROBLEM .

    • AlecM permalink
      July 9, 2016 3:53 pm

      The problem is that clever people like McKay and Hawking have been indoctrinated into believing you can apply Planck’s 1914 reasoning – equal bidirectional radiant energy and radiation entropy transfer between two emitters in thermal equilibrium in a vacuum – to the atmosphere – surface system. From this derives the rest of GISS/IPCC pseudoscience.

      However, the atmosphere is not a vacuum; they have forgotten to account for the phenomenon of self-absorption. This means there is net mean zero surface heating of the atmosphere by Earth’s surface in all self-absrbed GHG bands. The key experimental proof is that for radiant heating to take place there has to be a temperature drop between the surface and the local atmosphere. In year 2000, Hansen admitted that NASA had looked for this ‘Surface Air Temperature’ but could not prove it exists, at least above the level needed for parallel convection and evapo-tranpiration.

      When Ferenc Miskolczi questioned the orthodoxy (he is still wrong though) a decade ago he was forced to leave NASA. Take away the crutch of the black body surface IR heating idea and the game changes dramatically.

  9. Mike permalink
    July 9, 2016 4:34 pm

    I am no expert and am watching from afar in Aus where our devotees have recently suggested 100% cut in CO2 would be a brilliant idea. . From everything I have learned it would seem fairly reasonable to assume that with respect to base load wind will not work, solar goes off every night, bio-mass kills live trees but the CO2 is not counted-yet- and you are discouraged from burning the only readily available fuel, coal on top of which Drax has been built. We have an open cut brown coal mine which supplies one state, Victoria and already has a backup obligation to neighbour South Aust which has just moved to wind only.

    Nuclear suddenly starts to look appealing especially if the risks can be managed.

    I noticed a ref in a post some time ago, apologies I cannot recall the author, but he offered a link to the executive summary copied below. This is a nuclear option which appears ideal in many respects but it does not seem to gain serious consideration. These people produced a White Paper which described a reactor which operates at only 700Deg, burns just about any form of nuclear waste and if it gets out of control it cools down and if left will ultimately set into a solid mass with virtually no radiation. It would seem to be the ultimate choice, and it is offered in the UK but for some reason never seems to come into consideration. I was wondering if this relates to the technology involved or that there is more security in 200B deals offering technology that has yet to be proven. I would appreciate any info you consider appropriate.

    I have copied just their Exec Summary which covers the essentials.

    Transatomic Power (TAP) is developing an advanced molten salt reactor that generates clean, passively safe, proliferation-resistant, and low-cost nuclear power. This reactor can consume the spent nuclear fuel (SNF) generated by commercial light water reactors or use freshly mined uranium at enrichment levels as low as 1.8% U-235. It achieves actinide burnups as high as 96%, and can generate up to 75 times more electricity per ton of mined uranium than a light-water reactor.

  10. July 9, 2016 4:44 pm

    AlecM, you misconceive the GHE. The surface is warmed by inbound solar SWR. It is cooled by outbound LWR (infrared). GHG act to slow the cooling by absorbing/scattering outbound LWR. They ‘trap’ pre-existing heat; they don’t heat per se. Observable LWR is simply evidence of scattering.

    • AlecM permalink
      July 9, 2016 5:03 pm

      I do not disagree with your statement. However, the bad mistake has been to claim that so-called radiative forcing is one way only,. The reality is that the water cycle for our present climate exactly offsets the heating effect of CO2 because that’s where the thermodynamic
      equilibrium lies.

      The claim of positive feedback comes from incorrect aerosol optical physics, cloud albedo is exaggerated in the GCMs by about a third, giving imaginary extra heating in sunlit ocean regions whilst mean temperature is correct. Secondly, the 16 – 23 micron H2O IR bands are not fully self absorbed and ensure there is zero extra net surface IR heating as CO2 increases. Thirdly clouds separate control of OLR from surface heating by transporting latent heat – this process exactly compensates for the extra evapo-transpiration.

      Add in the oceanic Integral control and the Convective Cloud Differential (safety valve) to the Proportional cloud control of surface temperature and it’s a classical PID control system we engineers know and love.

      This is why for the past million years climate as been controlled to ±3 K! The real AGW has been an aerosol effect, and has been compensated for by the planet – the N Pacific warming in the last El Nino meant that the dissipation of the extra energy has been very fast, and the World is now cooling very quickly.

    • July 9, 2016 8:20 pm

      “GHG act to slow the cooling by absorbing/scattering outbound LWR. They ‘trap’ pre-existing heat; they don’t heat per se.”

      The entire troposphere is at a temperature higher than that resulting from absorbing your theoretical, never measurable, EMR surface exitance! 80% of planetary EMR flux to space originates in the atmosphere, not the Earth’s surface. The atmosphere “traps” no LWIR flux to space whatsoever.

      • AlecM permalink
        July 10, 2016 8:41 am

        The real radiating surface of the planet is the multiple spectral temperature OLR bands. Thus the CO2 emitting part of the surface is at ~20 km!

        This is so simple to understand once you chuck out the bidirectional radiation flux rubbish used and taught by the climate alchemists.

      • AlecM permalink
        July 10, 2016 8:44 am

        PS these schmucks base all their reputations on assuming that a Pyrgeometer measures a real energy flux when >95% of the signal is internally generated from the S-B equation, so hypothetical.

        I have even argued with people who claim that incoming radiant flux is converted to electricity by the thermistor stack between sensor and internal reference!

      • July 10, 2016 8:48 pm

        AlecM July 10, 2016 8:44 am

        “I have even argued with people who claim that incoming radiant flux is converted to electricity by the thermistor stack between sensor and internal reference!”

        There are indeed folk so sure of their religious fantasy, that even after the folk that build the instrumentation, and explain its operation and calibration, still prefer their own fantasy! 😦

  11. July 9, 2016 10:32 pm

    Commenters are cynical of CCS but the Yorkshire Post a few days of ‘another’ a CCS breakthrough. Starbon catalyst
    ..I put it down as more Green Magical Thinking us the pudding to taste

    • AlecM permalink
      July 10, 2016 8:38 am

      But that’s not he real cost of CCCS. The expensive bit is pumping 100s of 1000s of tons per day at high pressure of liquid CO2 into the sandstone reservoirs below 3000 feet.

  12. TonyM permalink
    July 10, 2016 2:43 pm

    Isn’t the need for carbon capture systems also a delusion based on the fallacy that CO2 is a problem?

  13. Russ Wood permalink
    July 12, 2016 1:15 pm

    Anyone who entertains ideas about Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) should have ‘Remember Lake Nyos’ tattooed across their chest (in mirror writing, of course). /sarc

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