A good day for solar

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A cold war airfield in the UK turned into a solar farm, literally spears into ploughshares!

I happened to be watching the status of the UK grid the other day and I noticed how solar power was a one point running at just short of 9 GW’s, which given the grid was drawing about 30 GW’s at the time meant solar was supplying just over a quarter of the UK’s power for some good proportion of the day. This also meant that solar alone was for part of the day outperforming natural gas output.

At the same time, wind and other renewables weren’t adding a further 15-20%, meaning the UK grid was meeting about half its demand from renewables. Nuclear’s not been doing so well the last few months, Hunterston (in Scotland) is shut down (cracks in its core, fixing it might push the operator into negative equity, hence its not clear if it will ever restart). So nuclear has been running at about 20%. So this means that for a good proportion of the day, the UK was 70% powered by low carbon energy sources, with the balance met by either gas fired stations and imports. No coal was running, but then again coal is on death’s door, in the UK right now.

Now okay, this was only for a few hours and yesterday was a very sunny day, so its only to be expected solar would do well. However, I noticed the same sort of thing starting to happen in Scotland a couple of years back (but with wind being the driver rather than solar). Renewables would hit +50%, the naysayers would say, oh that’s just a one off, so what. Well nowadays “only” getting 50% from renewables in Scotland would be considered sub-par. The latest figures suggest the average is running closer to 68% renewable for 2017.

The Scottish government has a target of 100% renewable electricity by 2020 and 30% of all energy use to be renewable by then as well. Currently there’s enough in the pipeline that its possible they’ll hit that target. But even if they don’t, its not going to be off by much. Indeed, once you factor in Scotland nuclear plants (running at about 33% of power, although closer to 20% recently due to the aforementioned issues), Scotland’s already more or less met its target from low carbon sources. Although that said, relying on nuclear is probably not a good idea, given the age of the reactors. Even if Hunterston manages to dodge the bullet this time, sooner or later its going to have to shut, as will Torness and the end for both will almost certainly come within the next ten years. But like I said, there’s plenty of capacity in the pipeline to pick up the slack.

My point is that the naysayers who said that getting anymore than X amount of the UK’s power from solar/renewables is impossible, well you’ve been proven wrong. But isn’t it all horribly expensive and going to make the grid less reliable? Well not necessarily so, indeed, as Blomberg point out, solar can have the effect of reducing peak demand (from fossil fuel plants), which will ultimately reduce overall electricity prices (helping to offset the cost of installation of all those solar panels).

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Granted, there’s still quite a bit to go. Its not sunny right now for example (but it is a bit breezy), so we’re probably going to need to add more energy storage at some point (but, as I’ve pointed out before, you don’t necessarily need to add as much as the naysayers claim). Alternatively, reinforce the grid, add more powerlines and interconnectors with neighbouring countries, manage the load side a bit better (to avoid sudden un-predicted jumps in demand), or just diversify your renewable load. As yesterday proved, solar works fine in the UK, so adding more of PV would help. Having a range of sources helps, particularly when it comes to the likes of tidal, biomass and hydro which are more predictable.

But my point is that there are solutions. Never mind Scotland getting 100% of its electricity from renewables, a UK that is 100% renewable is certainly a possibility. Its just a matter of the political will being there to do so.

And keep in mind that while Scotland’s government has been supportive of renewables, the opposite is very much true down in England, where the Tories have gone so far as to start taxing solar power, while bending over backwards to encourage fracking, diesel farms and massive subsidies to Hinkley C (despite every independent expert they’ve asked telling them its a terrible idea).

So what’s perhaps most surprising is that solar and renewables are doing in well in the UK not thanks to lots of government support, but despite Tory attempts to kill the industry off.

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Posted in clean energy, climate change, economics, energy, fossil fuels, news, nuclear, power, renewables, subsidy, sustainability, sustainable, technology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The trump whispering warmongering yahoo

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Israeli president Netanyahu released a dodgy dossier, which accuses Iran of breaking the terms of its nuclear deal. Now there might be some substance to it yes, some investigation might be necessary, indeed one or two experts pointed out this is the whole reason why the Iran deal existed. However, call me sceptical, but I’d be little suspicious of the words of a president who has an ulterior motive to provoke a war. And it is more than a little ironic Israel lecturing Iran, when its an open secret that Israel has an arsenal of nuclear weapons.

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The style of the presentation however indicated that it was directed at an audience of one. With prop’s and cue cards, this was clearly all laid on for the benefit of Trump. Netanyahu knows that Trump want to have a war to help deflect from the whole Russia investigation. His original…

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News roundup

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Windrush amnesty

The Tories have been distracted from the brexit trainwreck, by a scandal involving the Windrush generation. These were immigrants, most from the Caribbean, who were invited to come to the UK in the 1950’s. Unfortunately, many got caught up in the so-called hostile environment” set up by Theresa May (as Home Secretary at the time) to help appease the bigot brigade.

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And its not just the Windrush who’ve been effected. With box ticking officials chasing targets, people from other commonwealth countries (such as Canada) also suffered under this “hostile environment”, losing access to health care, their jobs, pensions, being unable to leave the country (for fear they’d be denied re-entry permission) or even deported. And its now feared that EU citizens too could face similar problems after the UK leaves the EU.

Naturally this has left the Tories in full back pedal mode. After…

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Not going out

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5616 The great outdoors, Rannoch Moor Scotland, with the mountains of Glencoe in the background

You may, or may not, have heard the story that Penn State university has banned their outdoor recreation club, because its too dangerous for their students to be let out in public. Which from a PR point of view doesn’t exactly send out the right message. Come to Penn state and you’ll be so hopeless at everything you can’t be trusted to go outside.

Let’s be clear this has little to do with “elf & safety”. I cannot help but notice that the American football team, water sports (generally anything involving water carries a certain level of risk), skiing (who tend to be more at risk from avalanches than hikers) and boxing clubs aren’t being closed down, even though some of these would be much more risky. And any contact sports is where…

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The bursting of the London property bubble

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Property prices in the UK are now clearly on a downward trend, notably around London. Since the brexit vote, they’ve fallen by 15%. With Europeans being attacked on the London underground for daring to speak a foreign language, and even some of the windrush generation, who came to Britain over fifty years ago being told to go home by the government, its perhaps no surprise that this will have a knock effect on house prices. The expectation is that this is not a blip but we’ll see a slump in prices lasting at least five years.

At face value this would appear to be the one bit of good news you could draw from brexit. Property prices in London are massively inflated, largely because of investors (from home and abroad) who’ve been buying up London properties and using them as gambling chips in a casino. In some cases…

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The little sub that could

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Figure 1: Sweden’s Gotland Class submarine

I stumbled across this vlog post this week which talked about how back in 2006, during a wargame, a Swedish made diesel electric submarine of the Gotland class managed to “sink” a US aircraft carrier. Evading an entire carrier battle group in the process. Should you ask why the nuclear attack sub escort (US carrier battle groups often include a nuclear powered attack sub to deal with this very threat) didn’t go in there and kick Swedish butt. Well in another incident a Gotland class sub successfully out manoeuvred a Los Angeles class attack sub and also effectively “sunk” it.

Suffice to say this came as a bit of a shock to the Americans, who had long assumed that their fast moving carriers battle groups were immune to attack from diesel powered subs. Diesel powered subs are generally slower than modern surface warships, have limited underwater endurance, can only recharge their batteries on the surface, or near to the surface, and when those diesels engines are running they’re pretty noisy. You can probably see why so many of the world’s major naval forces have switched to nuclear powered subs.

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Figure 2: Stirling engines rely on temperature difference to create a cycle of pressure, from which motive power can be extracted

However, the Gotland had something of a secret weapon, an Air independent propulsion system based around a Stirling engine. Stirling engines run on a heat cycle driven by a temperature difference. While little more than an oddity for many years, they are commonly used in renewable applications, given that you don’t need any special fuel, you just need something that can create a temperature difference. They are often used for example in CHP plants (and its worth noting Sweden has one of the world’s highest installed capacity of CHP) and solar thermal power systems. There’s also been attempts to use them as a range extender alternative to fuel cells in cars.

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Figure 3: Stirling dish solar collectors

Unlike a diesel engine, a Stirling engine is much quieter and has much lower air requirements. Meaning a sub can compress (or cryogenically cool) and store an oxygen supply, doing the same to the same to the exhaust, allowing it to run its engines while still submerged. This not only makes a sub with an AIP much more stealthy, but also means it can remain submerged for much longer. The Gotland has an endurance of 45 days, approaching the endurance of nuclear subs, but with none of the drawbacks. And recall this incident happened in 2006. Since then a number of other navies have developed similar subs with AIP. Most notable of these is the German Navy’s type 212, which uses a hydrogen fuel cell (which would be even quieter and more fuel efficient).

The video I referenced earlier also makes mention of how the Russian navy might be tracking US nuclear powered subs by the radioactive “scent” of their nuclear reactor. I would take this one with a pinch of salt. The Russians are notorious for making bold claims regarding their military which often turn out to not be true. And detecting radiation through many miles of ocean is difficult, given that water is such an effective insulator against radioactivity. Given how noisy Russian subs are, I suspect a US sub would still see them long before the Russians detected the Americans. However, that’s not to say its impossible or that it won’t be possible in the future.

However, the point to be made here is it shows how innovations in one field of science, can often come from a completely different field of research. For example, the internet is largely a product of two things. US military funded research into secure communications networks (that had no central hub and thus would be difficult to destroy, even in a nuclear war). And the fact that particle physics experiments at CERN required large networks of computers talking to one another.

And as I discussed before the USAF funded quite a lot of the early research into the Greenhouse effect, while the US navy were the first to identify that the ice caps were thinning. They weren’t doing this to keep Al Gore happy. Its because, oddly enough the USAF fights most of its battles in the air (and the navy in the sea). And its kind of important to know these things if you’re planning on, say, trying to develop a heat seeking missile.

No doubt this use of Stirling engine as an AIP came about when one Swedish engineer, who worked in the renewables field, was talking shop with another engineer who worked in naval research. So it is no surprise that countries investing in renewables research are going to start finding applications for that technology beyond the field of renewable energy. And its equally not a big surprise that countries who’ve fallen behind in the field of renewables research are shocked when the suddenly find that other countries have gained an edge on them. I’m reminded of a student whose decided to skip the first few weeks of term, comes in to the lecture and he’s now so far behind the others its like were all speaking a different language.

The Americans should be thankful that Sweden and Germany (countries Trump frequently mocks) are friendly nations, and that this was discovered in an exercise. Otherwise they would have likely find out in a shooting war with, say, China (who has a large fleet of AIP equipped subs), or Iran (who has recently sought to purchase or develop similar AIP equipped subs) with the loss of several US carriers.

This is what happens to a country who neglects scientific research or allows the sort of dangerous anti-science, and anti-intellectual rhetoric we now see both sides of the Atlantic, take over. The history of the world is littered with examples of great nations (The Ottomans, the Qing Dynasty, the Japanese Shogunate to name a few), whose empire was brought down by their failure to keep pace with scientific or economic developments. And more often than not, it wasn’t that they didn’t have the technical capability to develop these new ideas. In many cases they were well ahead of everybody else. It was that their experts were actually banned from conducting such research, with whole fields effectively closed off just because the mandarins at court didn’t like the answers they were getting (if you don’t want to hear scary answers, cease to ask scary questions).

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Figure 4: An actual sign PZ Myers came across in the US

For example, at the moment the Trump administration is going through the US budget line by line and cutting anything that stinks of climate or environmental research. Imagine this happened back in the 1950’s when the USAF was developing those heat seeking missiles. This would have put the US well behind its competitors in missile technology and its likely that many of the air to air engagements of the cold war would have ended very differently. And similarly if US universities had not been involved with CERN research (possibly because their funding got cut), its likely the hub of the internet and tech companies would now be based out of Europe or China instead of California.

So this little incident should serve as a warning as to what happens when you neglect science. Trump supporters might believe in “alternative facts” but actually “facts” (what we call “science”) can make torpedoes hit carriers and missiles hit aeroplanes. And that tends to be what win wars.

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Left wing Sadopopulism

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I’ve had a go at Sadopopulism of the right before, but I think its also necessary to highlight the shortcomings of sadopopulism of the left as well, as it has its own brand of the same, which shares many of the same problems. Namely that such policies are basically unworkable and would do far more harm than good.

1200px-Political_spectrum_horseshoe_model.svg The Horseshoe theory of politics puts the extreme’s of the left and right closer than most assume…

Firstly it has to be acknowledged that the far right and left are often closer than they would like to acknowledge. This is how you can end up with Trump enacting trade tariff’s, which some left wing anti-globalisation activists have been previously calling for. Or how Alex Jones can interview Noam Chomsky and it doesn’t descent into fisty cuffs. How neo-nazi’s can show up to an event organised by the nation of Islam

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