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Bryan Leyland

Do we want myth or reality?

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At the Electricity Engineers Association annual conference a few weeks ago many of the speakers – including keynote speakers from overseas – seemed to have forgotten that, as technological advisers to the government, it is their duty to tell the government what it needs to know rather than what they think it wants to hear.

Virtually all of them said that it is essential that we fight climate change by exploiting wind and solar power supplemented by batteries and by converting to electric cars. None mentioned that the cheapest and most effective way of achieving a reduction in carbon dioxide from power generation is converting from coal to gas and exploiting nuclear power.

Many of them seemed to believe that the world’s climate would change if New Zealand reduced emissions of carbon dioxide and that New Zealand has no option but to abide by its Paris agreement promises. They seemed to be unaware that no developed world signatory is doing so at the moment and, under the agreement, India and China are able to build 450 Huntly sized coal-fired power stations.

Most speakers ignored the well established evidence that wind and solar power are more expensive than conventional generation and require virtually 100% backup during most peak demand periods.[1] Many seemed to believe that, in spite of their very high cost and short life, stationary and electric car batteries were a viable option for providing power when the wind didn’t blow and the sun didn’t shine.

I pointed that completely new technologies would be needed to make these power sources economic. In response they said that the government had a policy of “decarbonisation” and they had to go along with it. When I suggested that as technological experts they had an ethical obligation to protect the welfare of the public and so must provide the government with the information it needed to evaluate different policies, their response was, in effect, that if the government has decided on an obviously stupid policy, they should pretend that it was sensible.

The CEO of Transpower discussed a recent Transpower paper that was replete with seriously misleading assumptions. For instance, it suggested that: the cost of wind and solar power is similar to the cost of conventional generation; New Zealand, can change the world’s climate; the transport future is electric; a renewable future is affordable and nuclear power is not an option for New Zealand. No supporting evidence was provided.

It ignored the evidence that overseas, wind and solar development cease if the subsidies are abandoned; nothing that New Zealand can do will change the world’s climate; electric car sales largely rely on subsidies and other privileges and the small, safe and environmentally friendly modular nuclear reactors currently being developed would be ideal for New Zealand.

The Transpower paper proposed scenarios that did not include continuing to rely our geothermal, gas and coal fired generation to meet increasing loads and provide vital dry year reserve. There is no way that the Transpower scenarios could not provide a reliable and economic supply and, as Transpower did admit, could not provide the large amount of reserve energy needed during a dry year. One can only conclude that the scenarios had not been run through the Generation Expansion Model developed by the Electricity Authority which would have revealed that all the scenarios proposed were impractical, hugely expensive and would lead to blackouts and high prices.

Almost everybody in the electricity industry tells the government that the electricity market is doing a wonderful job in spite of the fact that we are now at high risk of shortages due to inadequate capacity and insufficient dry year reserve.[2] All the market has done is massively increase prices, peak demand and the profits of the electricity companies.

The failure of the experts to provide objective rational advice based on the evidence is not confined to the electricity industry. Many “experts” endorse the government’s decarbonisation policy even though it will increase world emissions, damage the economy and further impoverish poor people with high electricity and fuel prices.

For 300 years the UK Royal Society stated in every edition of its transactions: “It is an established rule of the Royal Society… never to give their opinion, as a Body, upon any subject.” Yet the Royal Society of New Zealand promote economically damaging policies predicated on the need to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide without once mentioning the massive uncertainties involved. When the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition challenged them to produce convincing evidence that man-made CO2 causes dangerous global warming they were unable to do so. One can only conclude that man-made global warming is the biggest hoax in the history of the world.


[1] Wind power in New Zealand costs about $2200/kW and. at 8% return this works out to 7,5¢kWh + 2¢ for operation and maintenance + 2¢ for backup = 11.5¢. The average spot price is about 7¢. Solar power costs $3300/kW, generates even less energy, and is least in winter.)

[2] A few weeks ago peak demands were higher than predicted, wind generation has been tiny and spot prices have been more than 10 times normal. On the afternoon of Sunday 1 July, the demand was low and prices rose to 10 times normal. Why?