the Air Vent

Because the world needs another opinion

Apocalypse Soon

Posted by Jeff Id on November 26, 2010

From Verity Jones digging in the clay  — Guest post by EDMH

We definitely need more so if anyone has something, let me know.   Jeff


I have been reading a book which is crucially interesting and which sadly bode ill for the future, particularly for our children and our children’s children.
“Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air” by Professor David J C Mackay, see:, the entire book or subchapters can be downloaded free on the internet. And, also see a recent review in the Economist at
Look at this diagram from the economist and be very worried particularly for the UK. Much of Europe will have similar profile except for France with 85% nuclear electricity generation and still building:

FIgure 1. Predicted electricity demand and generation capacity after forecast closures

This graphic is also reproduced here

Professor Mackay does believe in Man-made Global Warming and considers that reduction of CO2 emissions are essential to control possible future global warming. He clearly supports the IPCC (the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) and other institutional party lines. Sustainable energy to address the problem is a vast subject, much pontificated over, but what is interesting about Professor Mackay’s book is that it dispels the many myths that have grown up particularly from within the Green movements and as such it is truly fascinating.
“Sustainable energy without the hot air”, applies the numerical mind of a physicist to the problems, the solutions and the policies that are being promoted to combat global warming, carbon dioxide emissions and avoiding the burning of valuable fossil fuels, which will continue to be needed as the feed-stocks for industry.
Mackay makes things straightforward, using round numbers and the concept of personal daily energy requirements, taken in the context of the UK and Western Europe. To maintain current lifestyle the 60 million people in the UK needs about 170 Gigawatts (GW) of energy supply, (ie the equivalent to about 170 nuclear power stations).
Right across Western Europe people are currently using about 125 Kilowatt hours per person per day. By comparison energy usage in the USA is at double this rate, whereas China is now about 1/3 of the European level and India is half of that level again.
At long last Professor MacKay has done the maths and presented the figures in an understandable form. As he says, “with numbers not adjectives”. This is what appeals to me so much about his approach. He weighs in on both sides of the equation, both energy consumption and energy production

Energy Consumption

Mackay envisages that the current levels of consumption could be significantly reduced, perhaps by as much as 45% in the following ways. They are radical.

  • Improved efficiency, can reduce heating and cooling costs by at least 25%. This means much improved insulation in new build, which can virtually eliminate heating costs, but which is not often an option in older building stock.
  • Turning down thermostats, and putting on an extra sweater, 10% of the average heating bill can be saved by a 1°C reduction in the internal thermostat.
  • Of course cooling in summer to below winter temperatures, (very common in the US), with air conditioning is a real waste of energy.
  • The use of air source and ground source heat pumps is a choice for change made by individuals and can be very effective. Currently the equipment is costly but with enhanced take-up they could become much more economic.
  • Lighting Energy usage, is only about 3% of current overall consumption, nonetheless energy-saving bulbs make a difference, mini fluorescent bulbs are at least five times more efficient than incandescent bulbs and the LED bulbs coming on stream promise even greater efficiency and reliability.
  • Using electricity for transport, MacKay’s calculations show that electric cars are about 4 times more efficient than using any hydrocarbon fuel. But to give an idea of the scale of alternatives, if we were to convert all road transport in the UK to bio-fuels it would require a cultivated land area about the same size as Wales. MacKay regards hybrid cars as an insignificant possible stop-gap. He sees the use of hydrogen as a fuel to be worthless and particularly misleading, (in spite of its clean emissions on the road), because of the energy requirements needed to generate and distribute hydrogen, give an actual energy consumption of some 2.5 times as much as an ordinary petrol car.
  • Incidentally keeping head lights on in the daytime increases fuel consumption by about 2%.
  • Thus providing well-loaded high-speed electric trains are really efficient ways to get around.
  • Not flying: David MacKay’s calculations show that a single long haul flight, (for example London – Johannesburg – London), in a year uses as much energy per person as motoring an average of 50km every day. So when we Europeans gaily commute 5 or 6 times across Europe on airlines that charge us next to nothing, we are really contributing massively to the energy usage problem. Some time soon cheap flying will have to be a thing of the past.
  • MacKay also notes the laws of physics simply make it unlikely that there can be any significant efficiency improvement in flying as a means of transport. Whatever money is spent on research and development, the new materials, the new engines etc. all improvements will be marginal whatever the manufacturers may say.

So only radically changing habits could make a real difference in energy consumption.
But such a change will also require a greatly increased scale of electricity generation, doubling UK electrical generating capacity to about 90 Gigawatts from the current 45 Gigawatts.

The question then is where can this increased electricity generation come from and what the likely alternate sources are going to cost in terms of finance, use of land and security of supply. David Mackay draws a scaled map of the UK showing the vast land areas that would be taken up even by a rational combination of various alternative energy generation schemes.

He makes a further crucial point that some alternative energy sources only generate heat energy rather than the higher grade more valuable and transportable electrical energy. However probably his most important point is that whatever is done, it will only ever be effective if it is on the grand scale. Turning off battery chargers and not leaving equipment on standby or other minor gestures are not going to dent the problem or save the planet. As David MacKay says only “every BIG helps”.

Energy Generation

So what are the main alternatives for sustainable power generation. These can be compared by their likely cost / Gigawatt and by their land area requirements.

  • Wind power: the wind is intermittent and thus can only ever be about 20% effective.
  • Wind power requires equivalent back-up standby generating power or storage capacity for the times when the wind does not blow or blows too much. The investment and massive subsidies for wind power seems to be utterly misguided. The energy companies are beginning to realise this and are cancelling projects.
  • On-shore wind farms: in average generating capacity these are reasonably cost-effective (rather the less than the total equivalent cost of nuclear power, but this does not count the essential “spinning” back-up generating, grid or storage resources). Wind farms take very large areas of land and are environmentally obnoxious. To provide the 90 Gigawatts, (without the essential backup) would mean covering 2/3 of the of the land area of the UK with wind farms. Incidentally they don’t kill that many birds, domestic cats are 1000 times as effective.
  • Off-shore wind farms: are at least twice as expensive as those built on land, but they are probably a somewhat more consistent source of power. However they require massive engineering, and they still need backup generating or storage capacity. Offshore wind farms have very considerable maintenance problems and are subject to much heavier wear and tear and corrosion difficulties.
  • Using water power: water is a 1000 times denser than air, the tides and their associated currents are therefore much more powerful and more importantly entirely predictable when compared with the power from wind. Better still the tides around the UK are out of phase so tidal power has potential to provide continuous power day and night. The use of waterpower for electricity storage by pumped storage on demand schemes is well understood and effective:
  • Tidal lagoons could be used in a similar manner. Estuarine barrages and tide lagoons use the outgoing and incoming tides released through turbines to generate electricity.
  • These projects have the potential to be of sufficient scale to make worthwhile contributions. It has been estimated that the Severn barrage alone could well contribute 5% of UK power needs: then there are the Wash, Morecombe Bay, Strangford Loch, etc. However the schemes would not be cheap, at their average output estimated at as much as 5 times the cost of nuclear generation. Such schemes will also run into massive environmental protest.
  • Tidal stream: there are many locations around the UK where tidal currents are powerful and predictable. These could be exploited by submerged fields of free-standing turbines but a great deal of research and investment in development still needs to be undertaken. They are likely to be costly, at about twice the price of nuclear power and are also likely to be subject to maintenance problems.
  • Wave power: the technology has been developed on a small scale. One established form operates with long snakes of jointed floating caissons, which generate power as they flex in the waves. The scale necessary to generate worthwhile power would be enormous about 70 kms / Gigawatt. They are also entirely dependent on the weather and sea-state and so can only ever give irregular output and like wind energy would require back-up generation. Current costs for average output are about 5 times cost of nuclear power. They will also have all the maintenance problems of off-shore wind power.
  • Hydroelectricity: is well established, but in the UK the uplands sites for generation are comparatively limited in comparison to the generating capacity needed. However they can be controlled to provide backup energy on demand.
  • Heat pumps: extracting heat from the air or the soil is a very effective way of using electric power for heating and possibly the reverse for cooling. The technique only produces lower grade heat energy but the costs are comparatively low, a quarter of nuclear energy. The use of such equipment is an individual decision and pumps are integrated into new or existing housing and thus make no demands on land use.
  • Solar energy: the sun is intermittent day by day and not particularly effective as far North as the UK. The value of solar input potential in Southern Spain, the Southern USA or the Sahara is more than twice the UK level.
  • Solar hot water: individual domestic and industrial water heating systems can make a contribution even in the UK. They would absorb a lot of urban roof space, which objectors would find unsightly. In cost terms although they would be individual purchases, they are expensive for their relatively small productive capacity of low-grade thermal energy.
  • Photovoltaic farms: with high technology it is possible to convert sunlight directly into electricity and there are some small scale examples. Of course these systems work better the further south you go and returns in the UK would be comparatively small. They would take up significant but not enormous land area. The estimated cost is about 3 times that of nuclear power generation.
  • Solar power in deserts: a serious proposal is that solar power could be collected and imported from other people’s deserts and transmitted north to Europe, (the long distance transmission technology does work). Also technology is available to ensure local overnight local storage to improve the consistency of supply.
  • The scale would have to be enormous, (a plant area of plant the size of Wales would be needed to provide the UK with its power needs), and the costs also are very high, about six times that of nuclear energy. Of course having such plants on other peoples’ territory would raise security of supply problems.
  • Waste incinerators: incineration of household and agricultural waste has real potential for a limited amount of power generation. It costs about twice as much as the equivalent nuclear generation. So far the UK has some limited success but is lagging far behind the best. In Denmark for example, where waste incineration is already 11 times more effective than the UK. Incineration of collected waste seems much more effective than attempts to gather gas from rotting landfill sites. Incinerators may not be thought to be the best of neighbours but they need only take up a limited amount of urban land.
  • Clean coal: there are very substantial fossil fuel coal reserves in the UK and around the world, but the normal way coal is burnt results in significant CO2 release. It is conceivable that the waste gasses could be collected and sequestered underground. It is not easy and it will be expensive. The cost is estimated to be about twice current generating costs and at least half as much again when compared with nuclear energy. However the land take would be modest. As the CO2 produced is a plant fertiliser, sequestration of CO2 would seem to be a particularly pointless exercise unless it can be conclusively proven to be the cause of climate change.

Energy Storage
Storage of electricity is notoriously difficult, sources of standby capacity are essential for most renewable energy sources, (wind, solar etc.).

  • Pumped storage: There are a few operational UK schemes where pumped storage is achieved very effectively. These are essentially two water reservoirs one above the other with reversible generators / pumps. When there is excess, “cheap” power in the grid, it is used to fill the upper reservoir and later the water is released to recover the power via the turbines. The largest UK installation at Dinorwig in North Wales has an output greater than 1GW. The technology is reasonably priced, needs suitable upland sites, but is replicable and does not use much land.
  • Other storage: the most promising of these is the future use of battery storage in a large fleet of privately owned electric vehicles as mentioned earlier using intelligent charging and control technology.

Growing plants for fuel, biomass: photosynthesis, though effective in nature on a world scale, is a very poor way of converting solar energy and atmospheric CO2 into fuels useable for electricity generation or transport, (about 0.2 watts / sqm as opposed to almost 20 watts / sqm for photovoltaics in Southern California).
The fossil fuels we burn now are the result of many billions of years of photosynthesis. When burnt, the biomass probably increases CO2 levels even though to arrive as a fuel carbon capture has taken place so the process is essentially carbon neutral:

  • Wood: growing wood for fuel requires about 2500 sq km to produce a Gigawatt of energy in other words 8 times current UK area of forestry for the 90 Gigawatts required.
  • Biofuels: growing crops to generate liquid fuels diesel or ethanol for example is possible and proven but is even more space consuming at about 6000 sq km per Gigawatt. This would mean about 12 times the UK arable land area for the 90 Gigawatts required.
    But we also need arable land to grow food. The devastating effects of replacing food crops are already being seen and their replacement for biofuels is leading to rapid food price rises especially in the developing world: biofuels are not a solution but a real disaster in the making.
  • Nuclear fission: in spite of all the adverse publicity and protest, it seems that nuclear fission:
    • is about a million times more effective at energy production than any fuel chemical reaction
    • is effective and capable of constant continuous production
    • is comparatively cheap compared with more “environmentally acceptable” alternatives
    • absorbs very little land
    • produces a small amount of waste that can be handled comparatively easily in spite of the propaganda
    • produces no CO2 from its production
    • has a virtually unlimited fuel supply
    • is immediately available
    • has potential for greatly increased efficiency (up to 60 times current output levels) in the future even enhancing current known technologies using fast breeder reactors and / or thorium technology
    • does not pose security of supply problems.

David MacKay does not say he is a supporter of nuclear energy but his arithmetic shows that it is likely to be the only real and currently available answer of sufficient scale to tackle the impending energy problem facing the UK and the world.
As the former director of Greenpeace International Patrick More, (now much vilified by his old movement), has said

“we made the mistake of lumping nuclear energy with nuclear weapons, as if all things nuclear were evil. I think that is as big a mistake as if you lumped nuclear medicine with nuclear weapons”.

At last David MacKay has done the world a great favour in clearly laying out the numbers involved in sustainable energy.
His book does not make for comfortable reading. It clearly explodes many of the myths promoted by Green campaigners in the past years and negates many of the policies that governments are now pursuing, (particularly, for example the subsidising of wind energy). I sincerely hope that the world’s policy makers will sit up and take notice. Fat chance ???

In Conclusion

The greatest tragedy is that the Green Movements have so effectively negated the nuclear energy option in much of the Western world for so long. If, (and this is a very big if), the production of CO2 from fossil fuels is in fact posing a major the problem and inducing climate change, nuclear energy seems to be the only viable alternative for mankind. Without the malign influence of the “well-meaning” green movements, something might have been done to ameliorate the planet’s position as far as its CO2 emissions were concerned.

Indeed, if CO2 emissions are the real problem, Green objections to Nuclear Energy will bear a very heavy responsibility for the damage they have done to the future of our planet.
There is even, a not unreasonable, conspiracy theory that Alexander Litvinenko was murdered using the very exotic radioactive element Polonium, simply to make sure that the West remained fearful and antagonistic towards anything nuclear and thus help maintain the full dependence of Western Europe on Russian energy supplies.

France is one of the few countries that has wisely resisted pressures from the environmental lobbies, as a result 85% of all their electricity generation is nuclear. Thus it is the most enlightened in the world. Their nuclear industries now hold the most advanced technologies in the field, (a position once held by the UK, but which was sold off for a pittance by the last Labour government). The French are also fully involved in the next round of fusion power generation at Cadarache, which is a great hope for clean energy generation for the future.

There is already a transmission line from France to the UK capable of carrying the output of two French nuclear power stations, but of course, the French will be able to set the price when the brown-outs start and the lights go out in the UK in only a few years time, (that is likely to start in about 2015, see the earlier diagram).
The French have even embraced high-speed electrically powered trains as an acceptable alternative to medium distance flying within Europe.

51 Responses to “Apocalypse Soon”

  1. Brian H said

    Dr McKay’s list of possible energy sources has some omissions, notably the one that blows the whole energy crisis meme to bits and pieces:
    Frac Gas.

    Energy costs will stay low, and energy plentiful, for the foreseeable future.

    And AGW is BS, beginning to end.

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Zcz Zzcz, C Jenkins. C Jenkins said: Apocalypse Soon […]

  3. mao said

    deep drilling in the shallow gulf of Mexico will produce a ton of natural gas. When child Obama and Dem dreamers get out of the way, energy will be plentiful.

  4. Brian H is correct. There are very large, hardly tapped supplies of ‘frac gas’ as he puts both from low rank or inaccessible or highly gassy coal and from shales.

    There are also large resources of methane hydrates in Siberia and Canada. Until very recently the method of extraction of gas from the hydrates was unproven but the Japanese have very recently made some major advances in that technology which has brought it to the edge of practicality.

    This is not even to mention the technology of in situ coal gasification which has been successfully operated at quite a large number of sites. In many cases it is easier (and much safer) to gasify wet deep coals by in situ partial combustion in much the same way the old ‘town gas’ was manufactured in the Victorian and Edwardian periods rather than digging the stuff out.

    Taking nuclear power into consideration, even there the prospect of a slow conversion to thorium cycle type power offers the benefits of a nuclear waste with the property of decaying in less than 1000 years.

    Putting aside the issue of AGW there is no energy crisis, with or without nuclear power. For all his intelligence, Prof. MacKay is simply promulgating the viscerally chronic catastrophism (‘Chicken Little-ism’) which has now become the abiding characteristic of the modern Western intelligensia.

  5. Brian H, easier access to crude oil doesn’t fix anything. Reducing the consumption of oil is a much better idea. Hydrogen conversion technology is also not listed here, but would immediately reduce oil consumption by at least 30%. It’s cheap too, cost is approx $100 to convert a car, yet it doubles the vehicles milage.

  6. Ben D said

    I really suspect that the movers and shakers all understood from 1970/80s that nuclear energy was the future, but some of these same movers and shakers whose prosperity was historically based on a ‘fossil fuel energy system saw nuclear energy as a threat to their own future position. IOW, they selfishly put their own future ahead of that of humanity and the planet as a whole by creating and sponsoring the ant-nuclear movement. Obviously they needed to be fastidious in hiding all evidence that there is a money trail between them and the antinuclear front organizations, so please don’t dismiss my suggestion because I can’t provide links. It stands or falls on the logical impossibility of well intentioned intelligent people to naturally choose the path that obviously was going to lead to the present conundrum, when the ‘door’ to the technological mastery of nuclear energy was opening and offering the extraordinary potential for securing energy sustainability into the future.

  7. nc said

    Something not mentioned unless I missed it is the losses in the transmission of electricity. The so called green production of electricity requires a vast electrical transmission system with substantial losses. Nuclear power can generate closer to load centers reducing transmission loses.

  8. Mark F said

    Hydrogen. Yeah, the “hydrogen corridor” down the West Coast. Just a few billion here and there for infrastructure to allow fillups. Don’t think the default back to other fuel has been worked out yet, maybe it has. The tanks do weigh a bit, though. Hydrazine? Maybe Chlorpromazine is a better idea.

  9. Roddy Campbell said

    David MacKay is official adviser to the UK Government Department of Energy and Climate Change, and responsible for talking sense into Chris Huhne, the Minister. His book is excellent.

    MacKay (you sometimes spell the poor man’s name right, sometimes wrong) has also entered into public correspondence with Matt Ridley on AGW, which you can find on Ridley’s blog. Good transparency.

    MacKay’s AGW beliefs are irrelevant, he is adviser on energy policy response. Since we are in a position where the lights will go out and we’re nearly bankrupt, we can hope for a rational policy.

    See also this speech to the Scottish Parliament by a friend of mine who generates temporary power on the coming blackouts and wishful thinking.

  10. boballab said

    Of course cooling in summer to below winter temperatures, (very common in the US), with air conditioning is a real waste of energy.

    This one jumped out at me. Does this guy really believe that it is very common for people in the US to set their AC to below WINTER temperatures or was this a misprint? In case that really is his belief he must think the states such as Florida where average winter temps are higher is the entire US. Where I live, Coastal Maryland, the average winter temperature is around 43° F (6.1° C) and I have never set my AC thermostat to below 74° F. Just imagine what the average winter temperature in North Dakota is and how low they would have to set the AC to meet that statement. They wouldn’t even be able to regular AC and central air units they would need commercial freezer units.

  11. Jeff Id said



    Here are some illustrations of the *actual* “energy apocalypse”:

    China Nuclear Reactors Under Construction: 23
    China Reactors Planned: 29
    China Reactors Proposed: 120

    USA Nuclear Reactors Under Construction: 1
    USA Reactors Planned: 9
    USA Reactors Proposed: 22

    The UK numbers – 13 reactors planned and proposed – are utterly pathetic, and are actually exceeded by the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, one of the poorest nations on the planet but which has 14 nuclear reactors planned and proposed.

  12. Robert Austin said

    Re: Alternative Energy (Nov 26 02:29),
    That’s a scam for the gullible, pure and simple. A perpetual motion machine works even better!

  13. anna v said

    Long term there will be fusion, which will be clean energy and plentiful. The world project is ITER and when fusion energy becomes reality the future will change.

    The main problem I see is finance, it is not financed well and now there is an economic crisis. The technical problems will be solved . A second level problem there is the multinational politics.

  14. Phillip Bratby said

    Boballab. I think you may be misinterpreting what he meant. When I lived in Pennsylvania (I am a Brit) it was my distinct impreassion that my neighbours set the thermostats to a lower value in summer than in winter, so that the hoises were cooler in summer than in winter.

    Roddy Campbell. We can never have a rational energy policy when we have irrational and unachievable renewable energy targets. MacKay can talk to loony Guhne until he is blue in the face and it won’t get us a rational energy policy.

  15. boballab said



    I’m originally from Pennsylvania, so I hope you enjoyed your stay there. As to your point, that would makes sense except for a couple of points.

    1. If you have a central air system, where the heater and the AC unit work off the same thermostat the only thing you do is switch from cooling to heating and vice versa as the seasons change. There is no changing of the temperature.

    2. If they are separate, typically that means you have a window mounted AC unit with a home heating system complete with duct work and wall thermostat. When that is the case, especially prior to digital equipment, there is no temperature settings on the AC unit just level settings such as 1, 2, 3 and so on. So it is virtually impossible to match the AC units operating temperature to the more precise operating temperature of the heating system, since that thermostat is temperature designated. With the newer window mounted units coming out with digital settings this is becoming a thing of the past.

    3. Again with separate Window AC/whole house heating systems, the window AC units being very hard to select a temperature on it, you also have to factor in how that unit is being used. Those AC units are rated by both energy use (how many BTU’s) and square area of coverage. Thus people buy one larger unit and try to cool multiple rooms with it instead of buying multiple smaller units to place in each room. Since these AC units are not duct equipped to pump the cool air into each of those rooms people try to use fans to move the air around, however that is not completely effective. What you end up with is as much as 5°F difference between the air temperature near the unit and the temperature of the air in the room farthest away from the unit. This means that if while it might be around 75°F near the unit it is 80°F at the farthest distance away and uncomfortable when using the AC. In Winter time since the heater is ducted into each room they both are maintained around the thermostats temperature setting (in our example 75°F). How you get the “turn down below winter setting” is that the owners turn the AC down so that it reaches a temp around 75°F at the furthest point away from the AC, which in turn means that at the AC it is around 70°F.

    I have lived all through all of these points at different times in my life, from back int he 70’s with old window AC units, to my father using one of our old Mushroom house AC units (we owned mushroom houses and they use very large AC units) that could cool the entire downstairs of our house (of course it was very cold for an arc of 5ft in front of the unit and comfortable everywhere else), to living in Base housing in San Diego where you had one Window mounted AC unit to cool the entire place in summer and basically wall mounted electric space heaters that had no temperature settings, to now living in a home that has central heat/AC with a nice digital thermostat.

    So overall Dr. Mackay’s point is, at best, a gross misunderstanding of how historically homes in the US were both heated and cooled.

  16. Phillip Bratby said

    Boballab: I stand corrected (always ready to admit I’m wrong). It is thus a common misconception over here to assume you have your houses warmer in winter than in summer (or cooler in summer than in winter). Perhaps it just feels that way when you step in from outside.

  17. Jeff Id #11

    “…the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, one of the poorest nations on the planet but which has 14 nuclear reactors planned and proposed.”

    I always crack up laughing when I read BS like that. I have travelled-to and vacationed-in (and all over) Vietnam many times. To an ultra naive Western view they may seem poor. But not even very poor by some African standards I’ve also seen. No-one starves, they have universal free health care of a reasonable standard – almost as good as Cuba (another ‘poor’ country by the same silly standard) and universal education of an increasingly improving standard. The people are clean, well dressed, unfailingly hard working, courteous and friendly. They were fortunate enough to have an intelligent ‘so-called communist’ father of the nation (‘Uncle Ho’) who wisely said: ‘Family first, village second, nation third’ and they steadily prosper with that simple and sensible model. Oh, and let’s not forget – even 40 years ago they were so damned dirt poor, they whupped the good old US of A’s ass good and proper!

  18. Mark T said

    17.Steve Short said
    November 26, 2010 at 5:15 pm

    Oh, and let’s not forget – even 40 years ago they were so damned dirt poor, they whupped the good old US of A’s ass good and proper!

    Only because we tried to fight a guerilla war using our methods. It has nothing to do with wealth on those terms – the US could easily have gone in and wiped the lot of them out had they the balls to do so. Politics, of course, drove the decision to invade and drove the decision to fight in a manner that was guaranteed to result in a los… almost as if they intended for it to turn out that way.

    Don’t worry, btw, we crack up laughing when we hear jokers like you trying to make a legitimate comparison between the standard of living in socialist/communist cultures and capitalist (at least partly) cultures. The word “naive” comes to mind.


  19. Mark T said

    14.Phillip Bratby said
    November 26, 2010 at 1:45 pm

    When I lived in Pennsylvania (I am a Brit) it was my distinct impreassion that my neighbours set the thermostats to a lower value in summer than in winter, so that the hoises were cooler in summer than in winter.

    Nobody I know does that in Colorado, or anywhere, particularly if you have to endure heating oil for fuel as is often the case on the west coast. It’s too freaking expensive to keep your house warmer in winter than summer. We typically keep our house at 68 in the winter and 72 in the summer (central air, natural gas heat.) I probably couldn’t afford to reverse those numbers, not without eating a lot more baloney than I do now.

    Of course, at least half of CO Springs doesn’t have AC anyway so they have no choice but to be warmer in the summer.


  20. Good to see this posted here for a bit more exposure and discussion (thanks Jeff). I did alert Ed (EDMH) but not sure if he’s aware it is up.

    I’ve changed my opinions on nuclear over the years, but I’m still ‘on the fence’, more re costs than anything. It is one thing to hear “it’s the only option” for a low carbon future, but if we don’t need to account for carbon, coal would be back on the agenda (and oil and gas) until we have viable alternatives (whether they be fusion, affordable PV or some magic low cost biofuel (LOL)).

  21. Mark T #18

    And if you got out and about a bit around this world you would realise that real live de facto capitalism is alive and well in practically every so-called ‘socialist/communist’ cultures (maybe North Korea is the loopy exception). May I strongly suggest a trip to China for example.

    Conversely, bureaucratic socialism of a most insanely intrusive form (complete with bribery to grease the skids) is today routinely alive and well in almost every so-called ‘capitalist’ culture – even the US – very often driven by the apocalyptic green madness which infects most so-called capitalist countries.

    For example, I live in Australia (I hope you don’t think that is located next to Switzerland 😉 where I am (still) trying to build my retirement home on 50 acres I’ve owned for many years, half way up a mountainside. After two mandatory flora and fauna assessment studies, two mandatory waste water disposal assessment studies and two bushfire risk management assessment studies taking 3 and half years (and costing $60K) to complete, the county tried to prosecute me for removing trees inside the only 30 yard x 20 yard ‘envelope’ which they had graciously identified as ‘permissible’ for erecting a house on!!!! When I won the court case the judge couldn’t even bring himself to award me costs so entrenched is the ‘green fear’.

    There are no (at least no longer)’them and us’ ‘black and white’ types of social systems, Mark. It is purely a figment of your upbringing. The word ‘insular’ come to mind.

  22. The basic problem is this:

    Since Climategate exposed US and UK government involvement in deception and coverup, nobody knows what to believe about any government proclamation.

    That sad state of affairs won’t get better unless the US and UK governments “come clean” on the Climategate affair.

    With kind regards,
    Oliver K. Manuel
    Former NASA Principal
    Investigator for Apollo

  23. Mark T said

    21.Steve Short said
    November 26, 2010 at 6:12 pm
    Mark T #18

    And if you got out and about a bit around this world you would realise that real live de facto capitalism is alive and well in practically every so-called ‘socialist/communist’ cultures (maybe North Korea is the loopy exception).

    Which would support my point, don’t you think?

    May I strongly suggest a trip to China for example.

    I don’t need to go there to know why their economy is growing.

    Conversely, bureaucratic socialism of a most insanely intrusive form (complete with bribery to grease the skids) is today routinely alive and well in almost every so-called ‘capitalist’ culture – even the US – very often driven by the apocalyptic green madness which infects most so-called capitalist countries.

    I never said it wasn’t. What’s your point?

    For example, I live in Australia (I hope you don’t think that is located next to Switzerland where I am (still) trying to build my retirement home on 50 acres I’ve owned for many years, half way up a mountainside.

    If you’re going to attempt to insult my intelligence you should at least get your grammar, particularly your quotes, correct.


    Uh, whatever.

    There are no (at least no longer)’them and us’ ‘black and white’ types of social systems, Mark. It is purely a figment of your upbringing. The word ‘insular’ come to mind.

    You’re the one that led off with a ridiculous comparison calling Jeff’s statement BS, not me. I made no claims about “us” nor “them,” I just pointed out that comparisons such as yours leave so much to be desired – they always ignore details in order to make a case that just doesn’t exist. Health care is at a “reasonable standard, almost as good as Cuba” which interestingly has a “reasonable standard” that only exists for the elite, and sucks for everyone else. Some of us were smart enough to know that Michael Moore is a liar.

    Hopefully your retirement is blissful. Literally.


  24. Mark T said

    “If you’re going to attempt to insult my intelligence you should at least get your grammar, particularly your quotes, correct.”

    That should be punctuation, parenthesis in particular, not quotes.


  25. Mark T said

    22.Oliver K. Manuel said
    November 26, 2010 at 6:28 pm

    That sad state of affairs won’t get better unless the US and UK governments “come clean” on the Climategate affair.

    They can’t. From an ideological standpoint, ours (US) wouldn’t anyway.


  26. Hi, Mark.

    Not only governments, but also Nature, Science, PNAS, NAS, NASA, DOE, EPA, BBC, PBS, etc. are all going to have to “come clean.”

    Unless they do, you can forget about constitutional government.

    Insidious scientific deception has been destroying constitutional government “out of sight” – ever since Eisenhower’s 1961 warning about the threat of a government funded “scientific-technological elite.”

    For decades, I foolishly believed that the problem was restricted to deception and manipulation of data in the space science community.

    With kind regards,
    Oliver K. Manuel

  27. Mark #18

    “Only because we tried to fight a guerilla war using our methods. It has nothing to do with wealth on those terms – the US could easily have gone in and wiped the lot of them out had they the balls to do so.”

    Yeah, right, and tomorrow, a chained Osama Bin Laden is going to be waxing your car and Taliban will be mowing your lawn and weeding your roses!

    The last 50 years have shown there if there is one form of energy the American Right and their money-grubbing chronies within the military-industrial complex e.g. Halliburton etc., provide in vast amounts it is (very expensive) hot air.

    Various commentators described this sort of hubris (in Latin) in another dying empire long long ago .

  28. AusieDan said

    Please take a look at the chart at the top of this post.
    I shows oil production virtually stopping by 2015 (five years away) and coal production falling very sharply by 2025 (fifteen years away).

    I have three questions:
    (1) does anyone believe these estimates?
    (2) if not, does anyone believe the rest of the information provided by the author of the book?
    (3) if NO to Q 1&2, does this whole thing sound like a sofisticated attempt to do some “push polling” – giving wrong information and then, on that basis, encouraging the readers to agree with his (possibly wrong headed) conclusions?

  29. AusieDan said

    Oh dear, I should learn to type and spell correctly.
    Please take the start of line two of my previous comment to read “IT SHOWS” rather than “I shows”.
    If only WordPress had a spellchecker!

  30. rk said

    AusieDan…I think this refers only to the UK and specifically to EON UK energy company….they are probably phasing out their oil base energy production

    Here’s their current portfolio, and oil is in there:

  31. Mark T said

    Hehe, wordpress does have a spellchecker: Word (or any similarly powerful word processing software.) Put your post in your favorite word processing software first, spell check, then cut and paste! Sorry, i’m in a facetious mood… /sarc.

  32. Mark T said

    I’m not even sure what you are talking about any more Steve Short. You don’t seem to understand your own original argument nor do you seem to understand history.


  33. To “AusieDan”: The diagram at the top of the post is not from David MacKay’s book, it is from the Economist (as the original post said).
    And it is not a graph of oil production and coal production; it is a graph of *electricity production* from those sources, assuming no power stations are replaced.

  34. boballab said

    #16 Phillip

    Perhaps it just feels that way when you step in from outside.

    There you actually nailed it. In winter time if you spend enough time outside in around 35°F temperature, your body does what it is naturally designed to do: Stop/slow sending blood to the extremities. Even with good outer wear this happens, so when you walk in doors the higher temperature feels higher then it actually is (good example of this is putting cold hands in warm water, the water feels hot that is why they tell you to warm your hands up gradually starting with cold water). The exact opposite happens in summer when you now expose your sweat covered body to the colder air inside (good example of this is why the air feels colder after getting out of a hot shower).

  35. kim said

    Boballab, I’m with Philip and I think the original comment meant what he thought. I believe many American households are set around 68F in the summer and at least 72F in the winter. I don’t; 76F summer and 68F winter works for me, but I grew mostly up before we got air conditioning in my home.

  36. tonyb said

    I must admit to being sceptical about the claim that A/c are ACTUALLY set to 26/28C (partly confirmed in this report from Malaysia)as opposed to theoretically set to that point

    I spent a lot of time in SE Asia and must say that Shopping centres, hotels and offices were often so icy cold that I used to take a sweater along for when I was in the hotel. Take a look at the humidity suggestions in the report and I suggest that we are dealing with apples and oranges as frequently humidity is very high when A/c are needed and therefore their settings might be on much lower than recommended.

    The UK energy policy is a complete mess with still too much expected from renewables when we desperately need some grown up power sources.


  37. boballab said


    Kim you just stated the whole point with these two words: I Believe.

    That is what is stated: a belief with no factual evidence. Over on Verity’s Site she points out the relevant section of the book in PDF format. In it the author talks about building managers, the recommendation of the Japanese government and from that gets how people in the US heat and cool there homes. See:

    Now here is where things get interesting. Has the author been in many buildings in the US? Lived there and visited many homes? Searched through the recommendations of the US Department of Energy?

    From what has been presented the answer is no.

    Example: David Mackay cites the Japanese Government and their recommendation of 82°F, however what is specifically listed here is that the US is the problem child but we don’t see the DOE recommendation which is lower at 78°F.

    Another thing thermostat settings are heavily dependent as Tonyb pointed out in #36 by the humidity level. You lower the humidty and people are comfortable at higher temperatures. This has been tested and can be seen here:

    Click to access Timber_Ridge_Report_Final_Nov2005.pdf

    In it a school in Georgia was able to raise the thermostat setting by 2°F after they installed a system to remove moisture from the air while improving the comfort of the teachers and students:

    3.2 Higher Thermostat Settings Associated with Improved Humidity Control

    As part of a larger DOE-co-sponsored school IAQ investigation, summarized in Fischer and Bayer 2003, it was reported that the schools investigated with effective humidity control were operated at higher average thermostat settings, which were chosen by the occupants (teachers and students).

    Figure 9 shows the Atlanta school realized similar benefits once the IADR system was installed. Following the installation of the IADR, the average thermostat setting for the three classrooms trended by GTRI was 2.4°F higher than it was before the system retrofit (72.8°F vs 70.4°F). At the same time, occupants reported that the comfort level had improved considerably (the rooms were comfortable rather than cold and clammy).

    Significant energy savings have been realized by this 2.4°F change in the space thermostat setting. The energy savings associated with this higher thermostat setpoint are discussed in more detail in Section 3.3.4.

    So where the temperatures might be the same in both Flagstaff Arizona and Baton Rouge Louisiana, the people living in Baton Rouge would have the tendency to set their thermostats lower then people in Flagstaff because the humidity in Baton Rouge is much greater. So thermostat setting and energy consumption is not some cut and dried one size fits all that some try to make it out to be.

  38. kim said

    Yep, it is a belief, but it is based on more evidence than none. I, personally, believe it or not, have been inside a variety of American homes, and, by gosh, in more than one season.

  39. kim said

    But I do appreciate the nuances in your discussion, Boballob. You are right, the thermostat settings in American homes may have generalizable aspects, but as long as Americans are free to set their own thermostat settings, then the behaviour will be difficult to characterize.

  40. boballab said


    Kim maybe people should just look at the latest figures available from the DOE:

    In 2005 52 million units have the AC turned on when someone is home during daytime. Of those 52 million 16.5 million have their thermostat set to between 74 to 76°F. 11.1 million of those units have it set to 77 to 79°F and 8.8 million have them set to 71 to 73°F.

    They also show that 49.5 million units have the AC on when no one is home during daytime and of them: 13.8 million have the thermostat set to 74 to 76°F, 10.7 million have it set between 77 and 79°F and 10.2 million have it at 80°F or more.

    Those figures are for those that have central air where you can set temperature unlike a lot of wall mounted units, however what is most telling is the section just after day/night thermostat setting was: Dehumidifier use. Only 13.3 million units used one while 97.8 million units do not.

    Now compare that to heating:

    93.7 million units have the heat turned on during the daytime when no one is home and only 13.5 million have the thermostat set at 74°F or higher with another 7.4 million stating don’t know. So you have 72.8 million below 74°F with only 10.2 million in the 71 to 73°F range

    101.5 million have the heat turned on during the daytime when someone is home and that breaks down like this:
    23.6 million at 67 to 69°F, 24.6 million at 70°F, 17.6 million at 71 to 73°F and 23.2 at 74°F and greater.

    To see the full listing look here:

    Click to access tablehc2.7.pdf

    And here:

    Click to access alltables.pdf

    So can we now admit that the whole premise of widespread summer set lower then winter in the US is a bogus claim.

  41. #40 good digging! I also agree with the points made about perception of temperature and humidity. For most it is a choice (of thermostat settings) related to comfort vs cost.

    Figure 1 is about energy related to forecast closure of plants in the UK. The source of the data was energy company E.ON ( The book is pushing a particular position – that of a low carbon future and having read chunks of it myself now it is very persuasive and far from objective – it really does push its adgenda.

    There is a challenge facing the UK and there has been a growing voice for a while (including some of the greens: that we have to embrace nuclear. The question is how much.

    The two worries are – too much focus on renewables (wind etc) – too much nuclear (a concern for many reasons). MacKay’s maths focus is one thing, but energy technolgies have to deliver against need – and timescales are very important – timescales for delivery of infastructure (construction and commissioning) and control (ability to respond to peak demand etc).

  42. boballab said


    Do not forget economy of scale. What might be feasible for a small area doesn’t necessarily translate to what is feasible on a larger scale and vice versa. As an example Great Britain has an area of 84,600 square miles and a population of little over 60 million and compare that to lets say the state of Texas which is 268,581 square miles but only has a population of roughly 25 million. So what would work for Great Britain with its much higher population densities doesn’t necessarily mean it would work with Texas much lower population densities or even the US as a whole (remember the US has lots of rivers that have hydroelectric generating capacity, something Great Britain has much less of).

  43. Joel Upchurch said

    I’m a big admirer of David MacKay, but some of his analysis is a little off track. It doesn’t look like he accounts for generation and transmission losses for electricity. Brad Templeton had a recent post concerning this. The correct calculation shows that the Nissan leaf actually 36mpg instead of 99mpg as the EPA reported.
    The parts on public transportation also have some problems in that they are using all UK examples. That is his job after all, but it is sometimes misleading for American readers. From the American point of view, the UK is a small rather crowded country. Trains and buses in the US spend most of the time running around almost empty.

  44. BlueIce2HotSea said

    Kim November 27, 2010 at 3:03 pm

    When I met my wife, she was setting her thermostat to 65 F. summer and 80 F. winter. In fact, it has NEVER been my experience in cold climates that when women controlled the thermostat, indoor temps were warmer in summer than in the winter. And always it was the men complaining TOO HOT in the winter and TOO COLD in the summer. Perhaps that is changing.

  45. kim said

    Very interesting set of data from the DOE, Boballab. Did they just ask people what their thermostat settings were?

  46. slimething said

    I now have four months worth of electricity bills to get an idea how our geothermal system is doing. November (28 days thru Nov 18) for heating/cooling/hot water was $32. We live in mid-Michigan near Lake Huron. There was remodeling going on inside for about 2 weeks during that time requiring open windows/doors much of the time so that is probably higher than it would have been. The previous bill was $21. For the summer months (quite warm July-August) the AC was ~$25 with the house set at 72F when home. Remember, that includes hot water.

    For summer I programmed the tstat:
    mostly 72 when home. 75 is the recommended temp, but that is just too warm during hot humid weather.

    For winter I programmed the tstat:
    8:00am to 2:00pm 65 deg
    2:00pm to 10:00pm 70 (wife bumps it up to 72 🙂 )
    10:00pm to 8:00am 68

    mostly 70-72 when home.

    That may not meet Greenie requirements, but sorry, it takes several hours to warm up all the dishes/pots/pans etc. and we work hard for our “luxury” life so like to be comfortable.

    We burned corn for five seasons, so no more of that ball-and-chain. Geothermal is the way to go.

    Blueice, I couldn’t imagine those inside temps. Wow.

  47. Kenneth Fritsch said

    I always worry when we see topics like this one discussed and I see two themes: We get all the “favorite” sources of energy listed by posters and without much reference to how expensive or viable these sources will be and the almost obligatory tale and/or implications of conspiracy theories on how the development of some sources of energy have been suppressed. It can be suppressed, but only through government regulations and subsidies, that if understood properly, are not a conspiracy but rather more an open book.

    I firmly believe that given a free market of sources and means to apply these sources that no one knows what we would eventually wind up using. The problem will always be that government bodies will be tempted to “decide”, like posters, which sources should/will be used by way, usually, of subsidies and regulations. Under those conditions we are almost guaranteed to chose those sources that are favored by the politicians and whatever the free market has to say about the choices, when eventually applied, will be suppressed or ignored, i.e. once committed there is no turning back outside a major catastrophe that can be easily seen by everyone as a major error and one that cannot be covered up by the government through additional subsidies.

  48. Gösta Oscarsson said

    One additional way to economise seems not to be mentioned. In Sweden most towns and cities have areawide central heating, fired by oil or bio fuels (mostly rest products from our woods). Almost all of these systems also produce electricity. This means that something like 85 – 90 % of the energy content is utilised (compared to 35 % if you only produce electicity). This is obviously a big thing in a country with long and fairly cold winters. As we are rational people the distribution system is allowed to leak very little heat.

    One additional piece of information: Heat pumps are very popular. And as 95 % of our electricity comes from nuclear and water power it really pays if you think CO2 is a big problem. There are by the way big heat pumps feeding into the district heating systems. Also where I live in central Stockholm.

    So much for Sweden.

  49. Claw in Ga said

    What if I came up with an idea for a product that not only provides heat for your house but also provides light too? Shall I call it the incandescent light? Or should I say I have an incandescent heater that is 90% efficient but “wastes” the remainder as light? Should I market this to the higher latitudes where during the low light winters, one could get dual use form one component. Of course the summers with long days, a person would need neither near as much.

    Of course, I could make a bulb that is n times more expensive and requires special disposal too.

    Hmmm …

  50. Ben D said

    No. 47 “Under those conditions we are almost guaranteed to chose those sources that are favored by the politicians and whatever the free market has to say about the choices, when eventually applied, will be suppressed or ignored, i.e. once committed there is no turning back outside a major catastrophe that can be easily seen by everyone as a major error and one that cannot be covered up by the government through additional subsidies.”

    Haha…with due respect Kenneth, you neglect to mention that the politicians by and large favor the same choice as that of their largest political financial contributer. Free market indeed, are you that naive to suggest that this perspective is mere conspiracy conjecture?

  51. designer sunglasses…

    Apocalypse Soon « the Air Vent…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: