Clowns to the left of me…

Jokers to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with you. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, I can now read the full lyrics and realise I haven’t got a clue what they are on about. Wiki doesn’t know either, but does include the curious line “The song is often mistakenly attributed to Bob Dylan, likely because Rafferty’s distinctive voice is similar to Dylan’s”… errrm, then how can it be “distinctive”?

Anyway, this long rambling introduction has no great purpose, other than to lead into the next level of rambling:

As I was rowing along the Cam this morning, trying to avoid feeling or thinking about the miserable cold rainy weather, and why my finish always has a curious little splash to it, and why #5 always digs too deep, and other similar mysteries, I was turning over a post entitled “Those who can’t do arithmetic are doomed to talk nonsense” (which some will recognise as a misquote (I discover this as I’ve just looked it up) on my part of the great John McCarthy’s “He who refuses to do arithmetic is doomed to talk nonsense”. JMC’s is better, because the correct problem is not inability to do the numbers, but the refusal to use it. We’re inching closer to my subject now). This was going to be a rabid stoat attack on Inel’s latest (hey, I was fair, I gave her a chance in the comments) and a nod towards James’s.

But then I read Out On A Limb – The 2007 Bali Climate Declaration By Scientists by the usual suspect, which is… depressingly wrong headed (I wrote “stupid” in the first draft but I take that back and apologise, because thats wrong and impolite). I quite liked the start, since I was going to comment on “have elected to take an advocacy position” myself (see below). But the continuation just jumps onto the same tired old hobby horse. Only this time its even more obviously wrong than ever. Whether you think the correct metric for GW is Joules or oC, if you care about future change then Joules really don’t matter – they have no effect. Temperature change does.

BTW, is Bali over yet? (wake me up when its all over 🙂 I assume it can’t be, unless the final communique has been released very quietly.

The Bali declaration… I’m not on it, you’ll have noticed. I was offered the chance, but declined, since I knew I was on the way out. Which neatly let me off the hook of whether I wanted to sign it (James has a nice dig at it for being geographically unbalanced, but we all know thats because he wasn’t asked to sign :-). I’ve given up signing political petitions at home, unless there is some good reason (like making a petition-carrier happy) because they are pointless. So why don’t we have fun looking at the text (obviously not many people are going to bother doing that, since the main point is that scientists are signing a pro-GW petition, but I’m like that). The very first sentence catches my eye: The 2007 IPCC report, compiled by several hundred climate scientists, has unequivocally concluded that our climate is warming rapidly. Is that true? Rapidly? Sounds unlikely. It does say “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal” but *rapid* is not really a scientific world, being meaningless without context. I can’t find it in the WGI SPM (whew) or even the Syn. So thats not a good start. Then a pile of fairly std stuff, though limit global warming to no more than 2 ºC above the pre-industrial temperature, a limit that has already been formally adopted by the European Union and a number of other countries. is a bit odd (think about it: why are scientists using political decisions as evidence for the science?). Based on current scientific understanding, this requires that global greenhouse gas emissions need to be reduced by at least 50% below their 1990 levels by the year 2050 doesn’t really make sense either – the limits are in terms of CO2 levels, not emission rates, so for example if we followed A1F1 to 2050 and then dropped our emissions, instantaneously, to 1990/2, we’d be at 550 ppm and stuffed. The 450 ppm bit that comes next does make sense, in its own terms. Am I being too picky here? It seems to me that an important declaration like this should at least have been written properly. And global emissions must peak and decline in the next 10 to 15 years, so there is no time to lose – hmm well, maybe. Just to wrap up, assuming the minor infelicities were corrected, I would have signed it.

2050 is a long time, but 10 years isn’t, so… anyone care to bet on it? I want to bet that CO2 emissions *won’t* peak in 10 years time. Anyone interested?

Where was I? Falling quietly asleep by the fire as befits my old age. Ah, you young folk. Anyway, yes, doing arithmetic. Inel praises David Cameron for his support for microgeneration. Once upon a time I would have been all in favour of same, but as a renegade ex-greeny (?) I’m now allowed to be suspicious. No-one proposes micro-car-building; or chip-fabs; why is mirco-generation a good idea? There is an excellent reason why you don’t find large-scale photovoltaic arrays in fields in this country (or indeed in any other): its because they are uneconomic. Putting then in smaller quantities on your roof saves you transmission losses but thats all, whilst losing economies of scale; they are still uneconomic (and no, money is not everything, but I rather strongly suspect that they aren’t CO2-economic either). But they do allow you to comment smugly about being green on blogs. Micro-wind seems even more obviously stupid (sorry Fergus :-() because for voltaics, at least a panel on your roof is as effective as one in a big “farm” (unless of course your roof doesn’t face due south or is partially shadowed); whereas a small windmill is very likely to be (per construction cost) significantly less efficient than a large-scale one (Fergus, if you’re reading this and haven’t exploded in anger or sadness yet, yes I’ve read this but… how many urban areas have mean winds at roof height of 5 m/s? What is the payback time for a turbine, etc etc). My own take on wind is here, I think: not even off-shore is enough, on-shore is likely to be small. I like wind turbines though, and would like to see more of them. In fact I’ve even put my money where my mouth is and invested in two, probably more than enough to supply this house and power this pooter. That does make sense. But micro doesn’t.

I seem to have wandered off the point. I was supposed to be bashing Cameron, and Inel for taking him seriously. Well I won’t bash Cameron: he is a politican, and is supposed to try to bamboozle us. But Inel… Well, Cameron said “This is not a pipe dream; it is tomorrow’s world.”. I say, this is not a serious energy policy, its PR, even if he believes it. Its not quite as mad as I’ve portrayed it, since it does sensibly point out that CHP is a good idea, and energy-from-waste (though the latter may not meet your defn of micro, depending on what that defn is). The paper is short of real numbers; one I found is in the phrase “Initial estimates suggest that, if installed capacity reaches 3GW by 2020, the annual cost of feed-in tariffs for micro-generation could by then be £200-300 million.”. UK ‘lectric capacity in 2004 was 45 GW, so they appear to be aiming for about 7% in 13 years. Which would be a respectable start. But the associated £200-300M is suspiciously small, so Im suspicious. And that seems to be it for the numbers, unless I missed some. What fraction will CHP / micro wind / micro solar / etc take up by 2020? 2050? Who knows, they certainly aren’t saying 😦

Its late, I’ve ranted enough.

Finally… you know you’re working in a nerdy environment when people start picking holes in The 0x10 Best Questions for Would-be Embedded Programmers. See if you can spot them yourself :-).

Which leads me (oh dear, that wasn’t final, was it?) to the trivia quiz: what state does “gently curved on top” refer to and why?

32 thoughts on “Clowns to the left of me…”

  1. Yeah, well I personally think that “mirco-generation” is a good idea whose time has come.

    I think I’d take your emissions peaking bet, if it was 15 years instead of ten, and if we’re talking about stakes in the range of spare buttons and half-chewed gum pieces. Bigger stakes and I’d have to think about it.


  2. Illicit, flourishing like a lordmajor or a buaboabaybohm, litting flop a deadlop (aloose!) to lee but lifting a bennbranch a yardalong(Ivoeh!) the breezy side (for showm!), the height of Brewster’s chimpney and as broad below as Phineas Barnum; humphing his share of the showthers is senken on him he’s such a grandfallar, with a pocked wife in pickle that’s a flyfire and three lice nittle clinkers, two twilling bugs and one midgit pucelle. and a spare Rabett And aither he cursed and recursed and was everseen doing what your fourfootlers saw or he was never done seeing what you cool-pigeons know, weep the clouds aboon for smiledown witnesses, and that’ll do now about the fairyhees and the frailyshees. Though Eset fibble it to the zephiroth and Artsa zoom it round her heavens for ever. Creator he has created for his creatures ones a creation. White monothoid? Red theatrocrat? And all the pinkprophets cohalething? Very much so!

    [Your point, I’m guessing, is that my post was like great literature? -W]


  3. The real problem with your post is that I now have the tune stuck in my head, which is annoying, but as it is also evocative of my student days (and a woman), it is also distracting. God damn your hide, Sir. Get ye back to Finnegan’s Wake.


  4. Seeing as I’m already going to owe you $10 when nothing comes out of Bali, I think I’ll hold off on the overly optimistic gesture this time around.

    And yes, the negotiations are still going on, but the whole meeting has been characterized so far by the soft tyranny of low expectations, to paraphrase a great speaker.


  5. The song is about Custer. He thought he was surrounded by idiots.

    [Its an interesting theory, bu not supported by googling. I’d like to see your evidence -W]


  6. Hi William. First; no offence taken, so the apology is unnecessary.
    I agree with you and disagree with you (being contrary and knowing that’s how you like it), about wind.
    Micro is a bad idea (ie., 1Kw output or less). Some of the machines aren’t very good, and the energy generated relative to the cost is too small to ever justify the cost.
    Small wind, however, is now economically viable, in places where there is enough wind. Not many of these are in the centre of cities, however, unless there are conveniently situated hills, parks or, perhaps, ex-landfill sites.
    However, there are a large number of locations in the UK where (according to the DTI database) mean wind speed exceeds 5m/s. The company I am about to start working for is, though, working on the assumption that a genuinely cost-effective 6kW installation needs a mean wind speed at hub height of at least 6 m/s; we don’t recommend an installation, otherwise.
    With tax allowances or grants reducing the initial cost by £2500-6500 for a £25K system, and energy companies offering 9p/unit for every kW generated (I kid you not), a turbine generating 13500kWh/year will be returning about £1200 worth of energy, and paying for itself in its’ lifetime, even without any energy price hikes.
    ‘Medium’ wind is even better; my company will install a 250kW turbine at around £1400/kW equivalent. A break-even between four and ten years is very likely. After that, its all profit. These things only take a few months to turn around, as opposed to the lead time of years involved in wind farms. There are hundreds in Germany, The Netherlands, Denmark… yet the UK has a better mean wind resource than most of these places.
    Oh, bum! It’s turned into a sales pitch, hasn’t it? The point is, small and medium wind have their part to play in the energy mix, and the economics do now make sense.
    Serves you right for bringing it up in the first place.


  7. “Small wind, however, is now economically viable, in places where there is enough wind. Not many of these are in the centre of cities, however, unless there are conveniently situated hills, parks or, perhaps, ex-landfill sites.”

    I have seen designs for vertical wind generators, to be sited on top of buildings (in urban areas). Are these viable or over-hyped, or both?

    With an apparent risk of “peak copper” (yes, yes, I know) then reducing any transmission distances might be a good idea.


  8. Adam: as of yet, with the notable exception of Windside, nobody makes a really decent VAWT. This, however, is a fairly specialised product designed to work in extreme conditions and trickle-feed batteries; even the large ones won’t produce a large amount of power, but they are very good producst for what they do.
    The new ‘QuietRevolution’ looks reasonable, as does the Ropatec and a couple of other designs, but so far, these have been unable to compete economically with the productivity of the standard ‘prop’-type HAWTs, and have quite high cut-in speeds, which means they stand idle for long periods. They are also comparatively expensive.
    With VAWTs, the problem is that there is less swept area, therefore less wind energy, therefore less power generated, for comparably-sized units. Because of this, a roof-mounted VAWT would have to cost a fraction of the price of a prop-HAWT to be economically viable.
    You may not be surprised to know that I am working with a small team on yet another ‘improved design’ for VAWTs, but as things stand, I wouldn’t recommend any of the existing models in preference to a straightforward ‘prop on a pole’.
    There is also an issue of turbulence which is important when you are talking about rooftops.
    As an interesting segue, one of the first experts (and an award winner) on computer modelling of wind turbulence in urban environments is RPSr, who was working on this issue more than twenty years ago. Tp save William’s space, I will add something to my own blog, for further discussions, should anyone be interested…



  9. Thanks Fergus. My thinking was whether they were reasonably viable based on the fact that there was the potential for reasonably high density packing of them.

    As an aside, one of the windiest places I’ve known was the road in front of the old Met Office in Bracknell (relative to ambient wind speeds). This sort of funnelling could be used with turbines on the sides of buildings. But that’s probably even less economically viable.


  10. One of the more interesting things they are trying at the moment is turbines built in to the structure of buildings, to take account of the kind of effect you are describing here. In principle, these could be quite cost-effective, but I think there is only one example to date, and it is still very young.

    High density packing of many tiny wind units is still going to be vastly less efficient that one or two ‘medium sized’ props here and there. This has to do with the physics; wind speed increases with height, more power can be got from clean, as opposed to turbulent winds, and power produced is cubed with increased swept area. The only way such installations would be worthwhile is if their all-in cost was low enough to make what small amounts they produce competitive; this suggest something no more than a few hundred pounds in cost, to produce a few hundred kWh a year (maybe ten-twenty percent of a house’s average use).


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