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There will be a meeting on Wednesday September 14th in the Hornsey Library about the installation of Solar Energy. The meeting is organised by an architect, and speakers include an installer, a householder with an installation, a local 'green' activist group and a group aiming to retro fit Victorian Terraces with energy efficient stuff. No doubt they will make a convincing case for adopting the technology.
But having this happen so close to home brings out the sceptic in me. I am sceptical on three main grounds:
1) the technology
2) the 'scientific consensus' on global warming
3) government promises
There's also a qualm somewhere at the back of my mind about disadvantaged groups.
There are various technologies being pushed as 'green' solutions to the problem of producing energy, and the one thing many of them have in common is that we are being bribed to use them. Solar photovoltaic panels and wind turbines both attract huge subsidies. One of the selling points in the meeting notice is the availability of government subsidies - the so called 'feed-in tariff' - available to house holders with solar panels. If solar panels are so good, if they reduce the usage of grid electricity as much as they should why do we have to be paid to use them? Any technology worth its salt would surely fly off the shelves on its own merits. Does Steve Jobs bribe you to buy the iphone or the ipad? Did Henry Ford bribe you to buy a motor car? Did Kodak pay you to own a box brownie? No, these technological advances came with their own built in advantages that prompt purchases at premium prices. The reason we are being bribed to take possession of solar panels and wind turbines is that they are no good. They cost too much to produce, they cost too much to install and they take too long to earn their keep. I looked at an advertisement in a colour supplement last week which boasted "Free Electricity" after installation of solar panels. You only get free electricity if two key things happen, if you own the panels for 25 years, and if the government subsidy lasts for 25 years. Chances are you'll move, or the panels will fail within 25 years, and we all know governments are elected for 5 year terms!
Of course the subsidy is having a perfectly predictable unexpected consequence, in the way that subsidies always do - there are many rich landowners up and down the country who are giving over acres of productive farmland to solar and wind farms. This might have a trifling effect on our commitment to producing electricity by renewable means - it certainly has a huge effect on the countryside and on the ability of already wealthy people and huge energy companies to collect subsidies.
I feel entitled to bracket the solar panels being proposed at this meeting with wind farms. These really frighten me, because the drive to build them has enormous momentum despite their needing 100% back up from conventional power stations, and unlike nuclear, there is no plan for their decommissioning when they become ineffective.
The 'scientific consensus' on global warming
There certainly seem to be a new orthodoxy about global warming, a consensus of some sort, but I am far from convinced that it is scientific. One of the first bits of reading I undertook on this topic was to look at the data from the Vostok Ice Core. Examination of this core provides a second hand way of estimating the temperature of the earth at times in the past, and of the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere. Al Gore used the resulting graph in his presentations. The graphs clearly show that there is a relationship between carbon dioxide and temperature - they show that as temperature increases the amount of carbon dioxide increase, i.e. that carbon dioxide in teh atmosphere is a consequence of global warming, not its cause.
So when Al Gore put this graph up on a huge wall at his lectures he was, to put it politely, employing legerdemain, like a conjuror he was misdirecting his audience's gaze to see the existence of the relationship, but not its nature. I have to believe that any one whose case is so flimsy he has to misrepresent the facts in this way actually does not have a case. I am reinforced in this view by the other parties to the consensus who, in many well known instances, withhold the underlying data on which they have based their conclusions, redraw graphs to show what they want, use unreviewed material in their publications and make errors of orders of magnitude in the data they do publish.
And then there are the weather forecasts. The forecasts which show global temperatures rising by however much we are told they are going to rise by whenever they are going to do it, use the same computer models that generate today's met office forecasts we get on the app on my iphone. I spent the afternoon out of doors near Oxford this Sunday prepared for heavy rain and high winds as per the morning's forecast. The afternoon was dry and bright. If the models cannot get it right when the weather is actually on the radar, how can we put any faith in their long term predictions. Russell Grant would do just as well.
The financial premise for buying solar panels depends on a continuing government subsidy. Already the terms of this have been varied, hence the need for the urgency to buy your panels now. I only have to remember a recent change made to pension arrangements, in which Gordon Brown as chancellor 'modernised' Advance Corporation Tax, hence denying me, and millions of others, the promised investment advantage granted to my pension contributions, as a reward for taking care of myself and removing me as a burden on the state. This was a retrospective change to a contract I had entered into with my government and my government overturned the deal. This cost me a lot of income, and has helped to undermine private pension provision in this country. You can't help but think this feed in tariff subsidy might well soon disappear altogether.
I also have considerable doubts about the way the subsidy is being provided - it is collected by means of additions to electricity bills. In a country which claims to value a so called 'progressive' tax system, whereby the more you earn the more you pay, to collect a surcharge on the electricity bill of a pensioner living in a council flat in order to enrich Electricite de France and the Duke of Gloucesterseems to me to be a very odd proceeding.
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