Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Data, data, everywhere

Water, water, everywhere – but not a drop to drink.

Like the ancient mariner, I was at sea today (well, close to the sea in Aberdeen). The renewable energy sector is not short of data – wind speeds, wind directions, MW of electricity or percentage capacity. Trying to make sense of all this data, and of all the competing technologies that make up the energy sector, however, is something else entirely; a visit to All Energy ’09 today left me with my head spinning.

Wind farms, onshore and offshore, hydro schemes, sub-sea projects – all show enormous potential for helping us reach our 15% EU mandated target for renewable energy, but not all are getting funded for one reason or another. Often the reason is competing stakeholder interests. Quite rightly the environmental lobby is vocal, well organised and effective in the go/no go decision for renewable schemes.

Of course, there is no “right” answer – our energy needs are substantial and ongoing and no one solution appears to have all the answers. So whilst government continue to hold consultation after consultation, the UK is showing little sign of having a coherent renewable energy plan. Meanwhile newly created government departments pop up to add to the rhetoric. Added to which the official line on the climate change debate appears to be an open and shut case, which I’m far from convinced about.

This is a fast growing and dynamic sector with a great deal of activity. The map of the UK appears to have developed a nasty rash when the current wind farms are plotted onto it. Is this the best way of navigating our way out of the fossil fuel and carbon emissions crisis? We will see. Or perhaps the data will.

2 comments:

  1. Michael Dempsey28 May 2009 at 10:04

    One issue is exactly what is the environmental lobby to which you refer. One would expect that it was the lobby that argued that, no matter how sceptical people were about climate change, wind farms in a country like ours had enormous potential. But very often it is the nimby lobby posing as environmentalists - like the people who effectively blocked a wind far adjacent to the M6 in Cumbria because it affected the natural beauty of the Lake District. And, in Wales last year, I spoke to one woman who wanted a sustainable electricity supply for the swimming pool that she had built for visitors to her properties but who nearly threw me out when I suggested a wind turbine.

    Personally I think wind turbines are graceful and elegant and that a lot of the quasi environmental case against them is just nimbyism. On the other hand I don't believe in the changes the Government has made to the planning process whereby it can issue a diktat about a major development and, lo, it shall prevail. But I don't think that arguments for wind power, or wind turbines, are being presented coherently enough. How do we go about presenting them more effectively?

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  2. Thank you, Mike, for your pertinent observations. Just as you probed the definition of the environmental lobby, I would like to probe who you mean by “we” in your final question. The people we employ to manage our energy policies, ie the government, are more concerned with cleaning moats or putting up garden pagodas than they are in presenting clear, bias-free and understandable data.

    So who does that leave to do the work? Trade organisations? They have a vested interest in one technology over another. The media? They are after a news-worthy story, not ensuring that data is presented in an organised and coherent way. That leaves the swimming pool owners, highland farmers, or people who live in scenic places who do not want their green and pleasant lands blighted by wind turbines. Or hydro plants. Or whatever.

    There is an enormous challenge in cutting through the CO2 and other emissions on this subject and creating some joined up policies that everyone can live with: including future generations.

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