Saturday, 12 July 2008

Climate, energy and all that

Lewis Page in The Register writes about a book being written by Professor David J C MacKay, who has weighed into the ever-louder and more unruly climate/energy debate with several things that so far have been mostly lacking: hard numbers, willingness to upset all sides, and an attempt to see whether any of the various proposals made would actually work. Mackay, of the Cambridge University Department of Physics, holds a PhD in computation from Cal Tech and a starred first in Physics, so we can take it that he knows his numbers. And, as he points out, numbers are typically lacking in current discussion around carbon emissions and energy use.

He’s coming at the issues from a green/ecological viewpoint, but climate-change sceptics who are nonetheless concerned about the UK becoming dependent on Russian gas and Saudi oil—as the North Sea starts to play out—will also find his analysis interesting. Eliminating carbon largely equates to eliminating gas and oil use. “I don’t really mind too much what your plan is,” MacKay says. “But it’s got to add up.” He says he’s largely letting his machine-learning lab at Cambridge run itself these days, and is personally spending most of his time on trying out different energy scenarios.

The book is called Sustainable Energy—without the hot air, and you can download it here (a .pdf file of about 14MB, or there is a synopsis here). It isn’t quite finished yet, and Mackay says he’s always glad to hear from someone who has something to add or has spotted a mistake.

The Green Party, or Greenpeace, might want to give him their comments on one of the plans he discusses, starting on page 209 (Plan G, Producing lots of electricity):
Some people say ‘we don’t want nuclear power, and we don’t want coal!’ It sounds a reasonable goal, but we need a plan to deliver it. I call this plan ‘Plan G’, because I guess the Green Party don’t want nuclear or coal, though I think not all Greens would like the rest of the plan. Greenpeace, I know, love wind, so plan G is dedicated to them too, because it has lots of wind.

Mackay is not at all judgemental in comparing the various options: he just gives you the figures. But those for Plan G suggest that the Green Party hasn't studied them.

There is little point in arguing about these matters with anyone who has not taken the trouble to read Sustainable Energy right through and ponder its content. And, in case anyone asks me, no, I haven't. But I shall, any time soon.

1 comment:

outeast said...

It sound as though he's coming at things from a similar angle as Pacala and Socolow, who discuss a variety of options for reducing carbon ouput while meeting future energy needs and who emphasize the logistical issues involved.

You can get their 2004 Science paper for nowt here if you're interested (just 5 pages, not a demanding read but quite an eye-opener). Well worth a read.