Archive for December, 2009

Copenhagen: I am happy :-)

December 19, 2009
Copenhagen Illustration

Copenhagen Illustration

The BBC and The LA Times have remarkably neutral coverage of the outcome of the Copenhagen Climate Conference. It’s neutral because they cannot find ‘the story’. The news organisations would have reveled in a ‘failure’ or a ‘success’, but find it hard to uncover a villain or a hero in the actual outcome – which is a compromise.

Slightly to my surprise, I am pleased with this outcome. More pleased than I would have been with a legally binding commitment. Why? Because I don’t believe that legally binding means anything. We have laws against all kind of things – murder for example, – but it still happens and for the same reasons that it has always happened. I am pleased because the USA is involved in the accord (pdf) and (if I have followed reports correctly) seems to be involved in a deal with China and India – altogether accounting for about 2.4 billion of the Earth’s population. I think an agreement between 3 (or 5) countries is likely to be clearer and more transparent than one between 100 nations. Changing our way of life is enormously difficult and convincing people to do that  – as we must in democracies – is going to be hard. It is like turning around a supertanker – first one has to slow down, and that takes time.

I have two disappointments. The first is that the agreements I have heard discussed, talk in terms of limiting ‘global temperature rise’. I would have made an agreement which limited CO2 levels directly because they can be measured easily whereas measuring the Earth’s temperature is fraught with difficulties. Secondly I think targets need to be on a year by year basis: – they don’t have to be same every year – but we need to realise that hitting targets in 2020 involves action now!

National Electricity Consumption 2001 to 2009

December 16, 2009
Energy Consumption 2001 to 2009

Energy Consumption 2001 to 2009

I revisited the National Grid web site the other day to look at how electricity consumption had varied. Not over recent hours, as I reported previously, but over recent years. Amazingly, they have data for every half-hour period since July 2001 in a series of 6 monthly spreadsheet files. The data is complicated but I extracted the column for Total Gross System Demand which seemed to be what I was after.

The graph above tells its own story. There is no real sign of any reduction in consumption over the last 8 years. In fact, I used to the use the ballpark figure of 50 GW (50,000 MW on the above graph) as a rough measure of peak demand. Now a more appropriate figure would be 60 GW. I have some reservations about the data since there seems to a big change in demand in the Winter of 2005/2006, which then doesn’t go back to its previous value. But overall it does look reasonably plausible. Incidentally the thickness of the coloured regions from top to bottom indicates the variation in daily demand.

We all know the benefits and pleasures of using electricity. But given the challenges that face us as a country, these figures need to come down if we are to make any progress in reducing greenhouse emissions. The only ways I know to do this are to ration electricity or to charge more for it. And I just cannot see any politician in the UK with the honesty to state that.

What have people got against low energy light bulbs?

December 12, 2009
CF Light Bulb

CF Light Bulb

I have remarked before on the Daily Mail’s bizarre objections to low energy light bulbs (Link 1 and Link 2). But now the BBC’s Ruth Alexander at it too (Why eco-light bulbs aren’t what they seem) . In a long article she attacks every claim made for the light bulbs. But despite being supposedly written by a numerate correspondent, she fails to mention the very simple fact: using these light bulbs saves enormous amounts of money and energy. As our leaders negotiate in Copenhagen for such dramatic cuts in carbon emissions (80% within 40 years in the UK apparently) their credibility is reduced to almost zero by the folks who constantly hark on about the good ‘old-fashioned’ light bulbs. If we can’t even change our light bulbs without complaining, then what chance do we stand of really changing our lifestyle. Her criticisms fall into three categories: Brightness, Lifetime and Energy Efficiency. But I will ask you to consider others at the end of this article.


The article states that the light bulbs aren’t as bright as is claimed, and I agree. The claims are generally that the compact fluorescents are 5 times brighter for a given power, but I think the real equivalence is nearer a factor 3. Even so, that is three times more light for the energy input which is a pretty large factor. According to the article my factor of 3 (derived from informal tests and use at home) is borne out by US recommendations. However they finish with the statement that “studies show CFL bulbs can get 20% dimmer over time” Well OK, I agree. But so do conventional light bulbs! And LED light bulbs are (currently) even worse!  It then states that “New European regulations expected next year mean manufacturers will have to display lumens – a measure of light output – more prominently than wattage” Well that’s a great idea, but it is not a downside of CF light bulbs.


Here the article is facile in the extreme. She points out the 10,000 hour lifetime is an average – and half the bulbs will fail before this time. Well yes, but the simple fact is that the bulbs last for years. If you put them in your house, then you are not constantly having to buy and change light bulbs as you are with conventional incandescent bulbs. They do actually last for years.

Energy Efficiency

Here the article loses all track of common sense. This point is already covered in the first point! However the article confuses the matter – deliberately I would say – by using ‘efficiency’ and ‘savings’ figures in appropriately. They say that the CF light bulbs only save 60% of your energy rather than 80% and they compare this with Halogen light bulbs which are 30% more efficient. The facts are these: To get the same light output, using a halogen light bulb will use 70% of the energy you would have used. But using a CF light bulb will use only 40% of the energy i.e. it is more than twice , and nearly three times as efficient – an efficiency improvement of (roughly) 250%.


This article is pernicious. It’s tone implies that these light bulbs are somehow a con. They are not! The technology is imperfect, but they are lighting my home as we speak and they work fine. They also reduce emissions of mercury and radioactive materials into our environment, and represent a pretty straightforward way in which we can reduce easily carbon dioxide emissions. If the UK switched over entirely to CF lighting then there would be one 1 GW power station that we simply wouldn’t need. And to top it all, they save me significant amounts of money (hundreds of real pounds every year!) Just what is Ruth Alexander’s problem?

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