Fossil-Foolish at the BBC

Overheard on the BBC News Channel’s “Beyond 100 Days” programme yesterday (h/t Pablo at Paul Homewood’s blog):

*     *     *

Christian Fraser: You know, yesterday I was on the south coast in Brighton, Katty, and I was looking out to sea at the wind turbines which were turning at quite a rate of knots yesterday in the wind. And I was wondering how much impact those sort of new technologies have – and today I came in to quite an interesting statistic. So the UK, right now, is in its fifth consecutive day of powering the National Grid without any coal. So since Wednesday night, there’s been no coal-fired power in the UK – it’s mostly gas and renewable energy. And that’s the longest time the UK has gone being powered without coal since the Industrial Revolution. So this is – you know, this is a stat that shows wind power is not something we aspire to, it’s not something that might be useful one day, it is making a difference now, and it shows that if we do change, we can make quite a sizeable difference.

Katty Kay: Yeah, and actually market forces are driving a similar change here in the US. And I imagine that most people would assume that under President Trump and the deregulation that he has implemented in the coal and fossil fuel industries, then consumption of coal and fossil fuels would have risen. Actually it has declined under President Trump, it’s lower today, consumption of coal in the United States than it was under President Obama, it’s gone down from 731 million tonnes in 2016 to 691 – the highest, the peak was back in 2007, and we’re at a 40% low compared to that. So although there has been an attempt by this President to implement rules that are friendly to the coal industry, in fact market forces are inevitably driving people away from fossil fuels, it is happening, just because production of other alternative sources of energy is cheaper now – fracking and natural gas is cheaper than fossil fuels. And also because people are more conscious about trying to use alternative sources of energy as well. It’s happening here, too.

Christian Fraser: But it does need the big countries, because as we said last week – and these reports are coming thick and fast, at the moment – those coal-fired power stations which are coming online right now in China equate to three times the electricity output of the UK. I mean, that is a – that is a massive element of the story, which of course big governments are going to have to address.

*     *     *

Where to start… Maybe at the Gridwatch website, which was indeed – a few minutes ago, anyway – showing coal at 0% but also nuclear at 19.63%, CCGT at 59.65% and wind at 7.42%.  So a more accurate summary might be “mostly gas and nuclear energy”.

As for “natural gas is cheaper than fossil fuels”… Ever get the feeling that we’re not served well by our mainstream media?



  1. “. . . because production of other alternative [sic] sources of energy is cheaper now – fracking and natural gas is [sic] cheaper than fossil fuels.”

    And there was me thinking that natural gas is a fossil fuel and fracking but a means of extracting it.

    So much to learn, so little time.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. And every day with coal but instead wind (especially offshore wind) is a day rate payers are paying more than they should, with 0 impact on “climate”.


  3. The First Industrial Revolution: Windmills and Water Wheels.
    The Second Industrial Revolution: Coal-fired Steam Power
    The Third Industrial Revolution: Electricity – generated via fossil fuels
    The Fourth Industrial Revolution: Nuclear Fission Power
    The Fifth Industrial Revolution: Wind Turbines – welcome back to the Middle Ages

    Revolution is not evolution, it’s revolution – in the strict sense of the term.


  4. I note a possible frisson between US and UK anchorpersons upon the matter of fracking. Given their store of knowledge about matters gaseous and carbonaceous, I doubt they’ve even noticed.


  5. Jaime: As you probably know, ‘revolution’ originally meant exactly that, in politics, simply using revolutions in the physical world as an analogy. Group A is top, then it’s replaced by group B, who are then replaced by group A again. The French Revolution really changed that and gave us the modern, often far too utopian meaning. (Or, alternatively, for people with any grounding in reality, the much more frightening meaning.)

    So, windmills and revolutions. There’s a lot to play with there. But, as I never play with words, I’ll leave it to others.


  6. Wind can deliver a maximum power density of 2W/m2 (David MacKay), which strangely enough is about the same as the power as the total increase in greenhouse “forcing” due to increased CO2 since 1750.

    To power the UK needs ~50GW of electrical power capacity in winter. You can conservatively double that if we want to electrify transport and heating. That means in the future we will need a minimum of 100GW capacity. Consequently this implies we must cover 50,000 km2 of the UK with wind turbines. The total area of Wales alone is 20,000 km2 !

    The real killer for green ideology though is that every winter there are several cold days when there is no wind at all across the UK !

    Liked by 1 person

  7. HI Richard,
    Well this is the era of the spin, isn’t it? Is spin also a political term of art in the UK as it definitely is here in the US?


  8. ….and of course that should have read…
    “with*out*” coal power.
    But since the Russians got fracking stopped in the UK, no energy mix will ever be as good a price or value as it could be for the user.
    And the climate won’t give a fig for the costs imposed, and the environment will only be damaged worse.


  9. Thinking globally, offshore wind power is even more of a niche than scientists once thought. Breathless reporting about the potential of UK offshore wind power is difficult to understand, there are many better things to get breathless about, and few countries have access to so much nearby continental shelf, in relative terms, so offshore wind power will be a mere footnote in “How We Saved the Planet” bestsellers of the future.

    If you are keen on energy independence for the UK then by all means get a bit breathless, but the 21st century woke globalist is forbidden from getting excited by such nationalist tendencies.


  10. “The real killer for green ideology though is that every winter there are several cold days when there is no wind at all across the UK !”

    True, that’s one of the big issues with wind power but another arguably more important one is that it cannot be “despatched”, i.e. ramped up and down in line with well-understood, socially-determined patterns of demand. It is in essence a parasitic generation mode and will, sooner or later but inevitably, bring down the host transmission system as the requisite backup plant fails, in part because it is uneconomic to maintain. The social consequences of a major transmision failure will not be trivial.


  11. The First Industrial Revolution: Windmills and Water Wheels.
    The Second Industrial Revolution: Coal-fired Steam Power

    Both addressed in this e-book “The Coal Question: An Inquiry Concerning the Progress of the Nation, and the Probable Exhaustion of Our Coal-Mines
    Author: William Stanley Jevons
    Macmillan and Co., 1866. (Second edition, revised) First Published: 1865

    “The first great requisite of motive power is, that it shall be wholly at our command, to be exerted when and where and in what degree we desire. The wind, for instance, as a direct motive power, is wholly inapplicable to a system of machine labour, for during a calm season the whole business of the country would be thrown out of gear.

    Before the era of steam-engines; windmills were tried for draining mines; “but though they were powerful machines, they were very irregular, so that in a long tract of calm weather the mines were drowned, and all the workmen thrown idle. From this cause, the contingent expenses of these machines were very great; besides, they were only applicable in open and elevated situations.

    Coal contains light and heat bottled up in the earth, as Stephenson said, for tens of thousands of years, and now again brought forth and made to work for human purposes.

    In coal we pre-eminently have, as the partner of Watt said, “what all the world wants—POWER.” All things considered, it is not reasonable to suppose or expect that the power of coal will ever be superseded by anything better.

    A FEW pages may be given to considering the policy of imposing duties and restrictions with a view to limit the consumption of our fuel.

    The character of a general tax on coal was truly stated by Robert Bald. “It would unnerve the very sinews of our trade, and be a death-blow to our flourishing manufactories. Were our determined enemy set in council, to deliberate upon a plan to wound us in a vital point as a nation, the advising the imposing of this tax would be the most successful he could possibly suggest.”

    And again he says truly, “A small tax on the ton of coal would be a heavy tax on the ton of iron. The whole of our mining concerns depend as to their prosperity upon the abundance and cheapness of fuel, and if the price be increased by means of taxes, the utility of the steam-engine will be greatly abridged.”

    Sydney Smith described how a man in former days was taxed at every step from the cradle to the coffin. But through coals we shall be taxed in everything and at every moment.”

    plus ça change and all that…


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