Monday, 18 March 2013

Hard Lessens about Energy

I was walking through a nice park today - children were playing with a ball, a few immensely happy beagles galloped past my feet, fixated on their play. I turned on my beloved smart phone, and read an article, and then I ran to a nearby swing set, and banged my head on the pole repeatedly. 

The article was written by Bjorn Lomborg, the world's favourite moderate climate skeptic, and centered around Earth Hour - an awareness-raising campaign that began right here in Australia, several years ago. 

Gordon Ramsey Bjorn Lomborg
Lomborg occasionally makes a couple of decent points in the article, worth thoughtful consideration, particularly by people like myself, who work in the renewable energy industry. 

He also manages to hurl, directly onto his keyboard, several stale bowlfuls of ridiculous myth, whilst grinning broadly, satisfied that he's issuing cold hard fact to the religious green-ideologues. The flailing of his arms, as he types, causes wet fiction to splatter on the walls. 

We are smothered in weird, soggy falsehoods, and we quietly pick them out of our hair as we pat ourselves on the back, because we don't subscribe to the nonsense that all those other people wallow in. 'No', we say, peeling viscous chunks of bullshit off our brow, 'we're better than that'. 

Dear reader, shall we go for a dip?  
"Earth Hour Is a Colossal Waste of Time and Energy —Plus, it ignores how electricity has been a boon for humanity."
I always knew that Earth Hour was a secret conspiracy to rid the world of electricity. As everyone already knows, if you reduce your consumption of anything, you pretty much have to rid yourself of it entirely. That's why Earth Hour 2014 will consist of citizens literally destroying power stations and network infrastructure. With axes. Well spotted, BL.  
"the reality is that Earth Hour teaches all the wrong lessens [sic], and it actually increases CO2 emissions....................during Earth Hour, any significant drop in electricity demand will entail a reduction in CO2 emissions during the hour, but it will be offset by the surge from firing up coal or gas stations to restore electricity supplies afterward."
When electricity demand rises slightly, (for example at the end of Earth Hour), do hundreds of dormant coal fired power stations fire up, frantically shoving piles of coal onto the furnace? 

"Jimmy, get back here! Earth Hour just finished!"
The mental picture seems neat, but unfortunately, it's a figment of Lomborg's handsome, blonde imagination. Lomborg is implying that shifts in demand (and, logically, shifts in generation) cause a resultant increase in the carbon intensity of thermal power plants. It doesn't

Wind energy and demand both work in similar ways, in terms of integration into an energy market - fluctuations, both small and large, are accounted for by the market operator [Page 8]. Variations in generation and demand are also conservatively preempted, to ensure that reserve capacity is always available, whether a 2,000 megawatt coal-fired power station trips offline, or a whole bunch of human beings turn their lights on. 

This is why wind farms don't increase carbon emissions - and it's also why changes in demand don't increase carbon emissions. As the National Grid operator in the UK (the market to which Lomborg refers) states:
"Variations in power station efficiency may be due to a range of reasons, including,  but not limited to, the age of the plant, temperature, maintenance schedules and  operating strategy and whether the plant is generating at or near its Maximum Export  Limit or its Stable Export Limit."
Sorry Bjorn. Standard fluctuations in demand don't significantly change the efficiency of thermal generators, and Earth Hour does not increase carbon emissions. 
"In the United Kingdom, there are now more than 5 million fuel-poor people, and the country’s electricity regulator now publicly worries that environmental targets could lead to blackouts in less than nine months"
This is what the world will look like, if we move away from fossil fuels. 
Ofgem is the UK's electricity regulator. In October 2012, they raised the remote possibility that rapid decarbonisation could bring about shortfalls in energy supply, possibly leading to blackouts. No, Bjorn, this doesn't mean Earth Hour is going to cause blackouts:
"Andrew Wright, a senior executive at Ofgem, played down the chances of a return to 1970s-style power cuts. "It is too early to be alarmist about the lights going out," he said on Friday, but "it is likely the tightening of the market will lead to higher wholesale prices"."
Never let nuance get in the way of hyperbole, Bjorn. 
"[Wind and solar] are also unreliable (we still have no idea what to do when the wind is not blowing)"
Renewables offset thermal generation - well connected states and high-capacity infrastructure result in wind energy being utilised across Australia's national electricity market with regularity. 

South Australia has an installed capacity of 1,205 megawatts of wind energy. When the wind doesn't blow, does the entire state plunge into darkness? No. Again, the grid is balanced by the market operator - and still, wind energy contributes significantly to the total generation of the state. 
Wind energy in South Australia is kicking arse and taking names.
Bjorn fails to see the link between human behaviour and electricity demand, a link that is burned into the brains of those who work closely with energy markets - technicians, engineers and scientists associated with both thermal and renewable generation. A large portion of his criticism is predicated on catastrophic misunderstandings of the mechanics of energy markets. 

He also seems to proudly proclaim the demented delusion that Earth Hour is an 'attack on electricity' - that the proponents of Earth Hour are privileged, ignorant, feel-good slacktivists, whipping off their lights for an hour as part of some cultist green ritual to rid the world of electrons. 

You're appallingly, devastatingly, ruinously wrong, Lomborg. The deployment of wind energy, combined with the inestimable prowess of engineers and scientists, delivers a huge quantity of energy to Australian homes. Solar PV is pushing demand down. Logical minds are forming solutions to retaining and enhancing human wellbeing whilst reducing our reliance on fuel sources that badly damage the Earth's physical systems. 

Meanwhile, savvy citizens understand the benefits of pushing down their consumption. They don't hate electricity. They love electricity - it enriches their lives. You can cut down on your consumption without ripping the cord from your lifestyle - Earth Hour doesn't fix all of our problems. It shows us that there's nothing to be scared of. 


  1. Thanks for the response editorial! I was just ranting to myself after reading the article and some kind soul in the comments section was nice enough to link me here.

    One part of Lomborg's piece that you didn't bring up was when he suggested removing subsidies for wind and solar. I'm not sure how he can say this with a straight face and no mention of fossil fuel subsidies. I've read numerous studies concluding that the removal of all government energy subsidies would result in an increase of renewable energy (sorry I can't find any to link here).

    In addition, I organized an Earth Hour event three years ago. Every single piece of their literature says the goal of the organization is to raise awareness and start a discussion. They specifically wanted event organizers to stay away from claims of how much energy this one hour of darkness would say. This combined with Lomborg's claims of Earth Hour participants turning off lights but still watching TV, using computers, etc., it became clear to me he had not visited their website or done really any research on the event.

  2. Anyone familiar with Lomborg's output on climate change will know he's highly dishonest.

    He claims to be accept the science, but that's just another layer of deception. It's simply impossible to make so many 'mistakes' that all work in the same direction - to stall any meaningful action to climate change mitigation.

    Never trust Bjorn Lomborg.