Thursday, March 26, 2020

UK: Almost 3m elderly people turn off heating as ‘they cannot afford energy bills’

Around 2.8 million people over the age of 65 are set to ration their energy usage out of worry that they cannot afford their energy bills, according to new research by Compare The Market.

A further 84% think the cost of energy presents a ‘real threat’ to elderly people living in the UK.

Although a minority, 8% of respondents admit that their health suffers because they limit the amount of heating they use during the winter and 17% say they eat less or buy cheaper food to offset the cost of energy bills.

Findings of the research also suggest 18% of people over 65 are on ‘uncompetitive’ Standard Variable Tariffs, equating to 2.1 million elderly people who are currently on more expensive deals.

It said the cost of energy has increased by £106 in the last year – the average energy bill now stands at £1,813, up from £1,706 in 2018.

Peter Earl, Head of Energy at Compare The Market, said: “These findings should make sober reading for policy makers and energy company chiefs alike.

“We hear a lot of commentary about how today’s over 65s are more financially secure than previous generations, but such a broadbrush perception risks leaving millions of elderly people out in the cold and overpaying for their energy in silence.”


Perspective: Are wind farms better in theory than they are in practice?

Wind turbines. Some people love ‘em, some people hate ’em. Environmentalists love them, so do people who rent land to energy companies and receive a regular check. People who live close without a paycheck, and who have their viewshed filled with towering machines — not so much love.

But wind energy keeps growing. CNBC business news reported in February that “Wind has become the ‘most used’ source of renewable electricity generation in the US.” The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports wind capacity totaled 103 gigawatts (billion watts) at the end of 2019. Generation from those windmills reached 300 million megawatt hours (one megawatt hour is one million watts for one hour), 26 million more than hydro production. Over the next few years the industry is expected to invest $62 billion or more into new projects.

But all this investment comes at considerable cost to taxpayers. For the first 10 years of production, wind energy producers get paid federal production tax credit (PTC) worth $23 for each megawatt-hour they produce. In some markets, that subsidy can exceed the wholesale price of electricity. When subsidies, grants, and tax credits given by states are added to the federal subsidies, turbines can sometimes be installed and operated nearly free. Warren Buffett, whose companies build and operate wind farms, has said, “We get a tax credit if we build a lot of wind farms. That’s the reason we build them. They don’t make sense without the tax credit.”

The average house uses about one kilowatt (1000 watts) of electrical energy every hour. A 1000 megawatt (million watt) dam is said to power one million homes. A 1000 megawatt wind farm, on the other hand, is said to power 300,000 homes, because the wind, on average, only blows 30 percent of the time. A more accurate statement would be to say it powers one million homes 30 percent of the time. The other 70 percent of the time, hydro, fossil fuel, or nuclear is supplying the power. When Amazon, or Facebook, or any other company says they buy all “green power,” that’s not what they get. When the wind farm they bought the power from is idle, they get whatever the grid is supplying, and the wind farm buys grid power to meet its obligations.

Before wind turbines, Northwest dams provided 98 percent of needed power for Northwest homes and industry.

“Only about 15% of the wind power in the [Columbia] Gorge is used locally, the rest is shipped south,” Gretchen Bakke said in her book, The Grid. “The high voltage DC line that carries electricity from the Gorge has a capacity of 3100 megawatts, half of L.A.s peak capacity. When the wind is blowing hard, this line won’t carry it. May 19, 2010. 1000 windmills were lazily spinning on the Columbia Rim Gorge. In an hour, they were at full throttle as a storm rolled out of the East. Suddenly almost two nuclear plants worth of power was added to the grid—the largest spike the Northwest had ever experienced…in May the dams are at capacity. Spilling water was the only option. And that option kills fingerling salmon. … The balanced power system in the Northwest that has taken a century to build is now out of kilter because of wind and solar.”

Wind now provides about 7 percent of the electrical energy in the Northwest. That is not an increase in renewable power because it only subtracts from hydro. Fossil fuel and nuclear stay the same because they cannot ramp up and down rapidly to compensate for wind generation. Some years, spring runoff is so great dams can’t curtail production and still meet spill requirements for salmon. In 2011 Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) had to cut off coal, natural gas, and wind generators to prevent overloading the grid. Federal power was supplied to them for free to serve their customers. That was OK for fossil fuel users, but wind generators were unhappy because they lost kilowatt-hour production subsidies from Uncle Sam. So they went to court, and when reductions were mandated again in 2012, BPA paid renewable producers $2.7 million for 47,000 megawatts of power not produced. You can see the problem with Northwest wind: It blows in the spring when hydro is abundant, and is often idle during summer heat and winter cold.

Nevertheless, we have it, and I decided to check the nuts and bolts of winds farms near me. Some of my friends say they produce no usable power because the wind is too slow and infrequent. Wind farms also use power from the grid when the wind is not blowing, and some say they never break even on power used vs. power produced. My clue that this was important is the fact that for at least three Public Utility Districts in nearby counties with wind farms, the farms are their biggest customers. But getting exact information on grid use by wind farms proved elusive. Turbine manufactures and wind farm operators don’t know or don’t want to release that information. One study from the University of Minnesota concluded grid consumption was about 50 kilowatts for a Vestas V82 1.65 megawatts turbine, or about 8.3 percent of its reported production.

Puget Sound Energy has a wind farm, Hopkins Ridge, in Columbia County, Washington, and an office in Dayton. So I sent them a long list of questions. The farm consists of 87 turbines, with a total nameplate capacity of 156.7 megawatts. Their website claims an annual output of 404,000 megawatt hours, or 29.4 percent of nameplate capacity. That seemed high to me, considering all that I had heard about low wind speeds and idle machines from residents. So I challenged that figure. The comeback was, “During the period 2006-2018, Hopkins Ridge generated 179 times more power than was consumed as station (grid) power.” So whatever the grid use is, it seems insignificant compared to power produced. It should be noted that all generating facilities use grid power when not generating, to run lights, heating and cooling, computers, etc.

At Hopkins Ridge, the turbine generators turn on a ratio of 111 to 1, meaning at the governed blade speed of 16 rpm, the generator is at full capacity — 1800 rpm. What wind speed is required for full production? Recently I went to Hopkins Ridge with a stopwatch to measure turbine speed. Surface wind speed was about 15 mph. Most turbines were turning at maximum, 16 rpm. Blade speed is governed by pitching the blades according to wind speed. Grid power is used to pitch the blades and power the magnetic field of the generator.

Presently there are 4714 wind turbines installed in the states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana, with a nameplate capacity of 8281 megawatts. These overwhelm the grid at times, but when they are most needed — late summer, fall, foggy and cold winters — they often stand silent. Too much power when we don’t need it; no help when water supplies run low. In my opinion we should stop installing them and shift subsidies to grid improvements and power storage projects.


Germany Proves How Essential Natural Gas Is

No country ever has spent more money forcing the adoption of renewable energy than Germany. Passed in 2010, Germany’s Energiewende is an “energy transition” based on relentlessly installing as much wind and solar power capacity as possible, with little to no consideration to cost.

The Energiewende demanding the use of renewables could ultimately cost the country as much as $4 trillion by 2050. Already costing hundreds of billions of dollars, wind and solar now generate just ~18% and ~8% of Germany’s electricity, respectively, and still account for just a small fraction of total energy needs

Yet, the reality is that natural gas is also quickly becoming an even more important source of energy in Germany. Not just as a vital standalone energy source providing 25% of all energy consumed, gas is the backup fuel needed for intermittent wind and solar. As the energy policy advisor to the U.S., Germany, and the other 34 developed, rich OECD nations, the International Energy Agency (IEA) touts gas as the backbone of the electric power system, to have a flexible, reliable grid where gas supports renewables.

In fact, Germany is now looking at building LNG (liquefied natural gas) import facilities to loosen the grip of heavily resourced Russia, which supplies 50-60% of Germany’s gas. The ruling CDU, the Christian Social Union (CSU), and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) have a coalition agreement to build LNG infrastructure.

Germany wants to add three or four terminals to help expand Europe’s total LNG import facilities to nearly 35, a “dash to gas” that is extremely telling for a continent that has deployed massive funding and policy support to force more wind and solar into the system. IEA’s message is simple: LNG is becoming increasingly essential to help stop Vladimir Putin’s goal energy hegemony to exploit Germany’s energy unrealism that “only wind and solar” are required.

Amid energy hemming and hawing, Germany has already been forced to construct the nearly completed Nord Stream 2 pipeline to link even more to politically risky Russia. The U.S. remains confident, however, that its current sanctions on Nord Stream 2 will block the project from being completed.

Indeed, Germany offers a number of lessons for the U.S. and the world – a series of energy warnings that we must heed. Illustrated by Germany’s plan to eliminate both coal and nuclear, which effectively is happening here in the U.S., gas only becomes more essential.

Further, massive payouts to force more wind and solar power into the system can only last for so long, and there are physical and cost limitations that not even rich countries can ignore forever. To illustrate, as tax breaks run out, opposition grows, barriers to new power lines persist, and construction approvals slow, there is a major shortage of new wind projects: “Germans fall out of love with wind power.”

Many though probably see this slowdown in German wind as a positive, financially drained of the levies to pay for renewables subsidies. The “renewables only” tunnel vision has helped soar Germany’s electricity prices for families to being three to four times more expensive than they are here in the U.S.: “If Renewables Are So Cheap Why Is Germany’s Electricity So Expensive?”

After Denmark, Germany has had the highest electricity prices in the world. In fact, ridiculously high energy prices have sadly created a new term in Germany: energy poverty, “Renewable Energy Mandates Are Making Poor People Poorer.”

In contrast, global natural gas prices today are the lowest they have been in over 10 years, strengthening the economic argument for switching to gas. The U.S. has been at the forefront of an LNG export boom that continues to make gas more viable for rich and poor countries alike. LNG is the fastest-growing traded commodity in the world because natural gas is the world’s go-to fuel.

U.S. LNG must help lower Germany’s over-dependence on Russia, especially important now since other traditional suppliers Denmark and the Netherlands face major production problems of their own. The U.S. has been touting its “Freedom Gas” for Germany and the rest of Europe.

Starting in 2016 and soaring to third place last year, the U.S. is set to become the world’s top LNG exporter within four or five years – that is how fast our Federal Energy Regulatory Commission wants the industry to grow.

And this makes also makes perfect sense from an environmental perspective. Not just backing up wind and solar, the International Energy Agency specifically credits more gas usage as to why the U.S. has been cutting CO2 emissions faster than any other country – in “the history of energy.”

That is crucial enough to repeat: the shale gas revolution and the free market of the U.S. has us slashing emissions faster and much more cheaply than the renewables and regulation obsessed nations like Germany. Indeed, “U.S. Department of Energy’s Winberg: Tech will solve CO2 emissions.” Even Germany’s goal for more hydrogen means more natural gas: production processes center on pulling it from methane – or, natural gas itself.

But what does Germany’s requirement for more natural gas really say about the energy needs of the fast-growing poor countries, and the expectations that we wealthy Westerners should have for them?

After all, Germany is a rich country, has had almost no population growth for many decades, and has low incremental energy needs – the exact opposite of the 85% of the global population that still lives in undeveloped nations.

Just think about it: despite years of promises to effectively “get rid of them,” oil (33%) and gas (25%) still supply almost 60% of Germany’s primary energy needs (not all that surprising since wind and solar are strictly sources of electricity, a secondary energy source that accounts for just 20-30% of all energy demand).

If Germany cannot survive on just “wind and solar” how are the poor countries supposed to?

Unlike Germany (ditto California, New York, New England states), these still developing nations must put low costs – and the desperate need for more energy-enabled human development – at the forefront. It is just too bad that this is apparently so inconvenient for some of us most fortunate.


Greta Thunberg self-isolates with coronavirus symptoms

Greta Thunberg, the teenage climate change activist, has revealed that she has self-isolated after showing coronavirus symptoms.

Where a member of a household has displayed symptoms, Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, has said all residents should self-isolate for 14 days. Elsewhere, foreign governments have issued similar guidance.

Having travelled around central Europe, visiting Brussels and Hamburg to lead school strike events, Ms Thunberg, 17, decided she should stay at home.

She took to social media to urge young people in particular to take the virus seriously, noting that she did not feel particularly ill.

While Ms Thunberg has not been tested for coronavirus, because her home country of Sweden does not currently test for it outside hospitals, she said it is "extremely likely" she has had it.

In an Instagram post, she wrote: "The last two weeks I’ve stayed inside. When I returned from my trip around Central Europe, I isolated myself (in a borrowed apartment away from my mother and sister) since the number of cases of Covid-19 (in Germany for instance) were similar to Italy in the beginning.

"Around 10 days ago I started feeling some symptoms, exactly the same time as my father – who travelled with me from Brussels.

"I was feeling tired, had shivers, a sore throat and coughed. My dad experienced the same symptoms, but much more intense and with a fever. In Sweden you can not test yourself for Covid-19 unless you're in need of emergency medical treatment.

"Everyone feeling ill is told to stay at home and isolate themselves. I have therefore not been tested for Covid-19, but it’s extremely likely that I’ve had it, given the combined symptoms and circumstances.

"Now I’ve basically recovered, but – and this is the bottom line – I almost didn’t feel ill. My last cold was much worse than this! Had it not been for someone else having the virus simultainously (sic) I might not even have suspected anything.

"Then I would just have thought I was feeling unusually tired with a bit of a cough. And this it what makes it so much more dangerous.

"Many (especially young people) might not notice any symptoms at all, or very mild symptoms. Then they don’t know they have the virus and can pass it on to people in risk groups.


Smoke from Australia's bushfires killed far more people than the fires did, study says

Smoke is particulate pollution and the study below looked at a standard measure of that pollution: PM2.5. And there is a great deal of prior research on pollution of that sort.  

The conventional assumption is of course that inhaling such pollution is bad for you.  The Australian experience would however seem to show that is is NOT very bad for you.  Australians were not dying like flies while experiencing it. They seemed to be going about their business in their usual way, in fact.

So how have the authors below got their apparently alarming findings:

Modelling garbage.  They had no real data on the health of  Australians at the time at all. They just used conventional assumptions to estimate what the effects would have been. But the conventional assumptions are crap, to use a technical term.  The existing research on particulate air pollution (PM2.5.)shows effects that range between no effect and effects that are so weak that no confidence can be placed in them. See here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here

The conventional assumptions take the occasional tiny effects that turn up in some research to build a great castle on, if you will forgive my prepositional impropriety. So you get statements that pollution causes such and such an ailment, without mentioning the very fragile evidential basis for such a posited effect.

So after that useless modelling it will be interesting if the authors do something more useful in the future -- such as comparing actual recorded deaths and morbidity during the smoke affected period with the same period in the previous much clearer year.  My hypothesis -- based on the actual prior research -- is that deaths and disease in the same period of the two years will differ trivially, if at all.

The "study" is just a grab for government funding

Smoke pollution that blanketed Australia’s south-east for many months during the bushfire crisis may have killed more than 400 people, according to the first published estimate of the scale of health impacts – more than 10 times the number killed by the fires themselves.

The figures, published in the Medical Journal of Australia, are “definitely alarming”, according to Chris Migliaccio, who studies the long-term effects of wildfire smoke at the University of Montana in Missoula and was not involved in the research.

Lead author Fay Johnston, an epidemiologist at the University of Tasmania in Hobart, estimates 80% of Australia’s population of about 25 million was blanketed by smoke this summer.

“The fires were unprecedented in Australia’s history, in terms of vast amounts of smoke, the huge populations affected by the smoke and the long duration,” she said.

Sydney experienced 81 days of poor or hazardous air quality in 2019, more than the total of the previous 10 years combined.

“When you’re affecting millions of people in a small way, there are going to be enough people at high enough risk that you’re going to see really measurable rises in these health effects,” Johnston said.

As data on hospital admissions, deaths and ambulance callouts was not yet available to researchers, Johnston and her team instead modelled the likely medical consequences of the pollution, which is the “the only other way to get a quick ballpark idea of the health impacts,” she said.

To come up with a picture of the overall health burden of smoke exposure, they looked at existing data on death rates and hospital admissions to get a baseline. They then modelled how the known levels and extent of smoke exposure across the southeast, during the height of the crisis from 1 October to 10 February, would have affected these.

Their results estimate that over this period there were 417 premature deaths, 3,151 extra hospitalisations for cardiorespiratory problems and 1,305 additional attendances for asthma attacks. This compares to 33 who reportedly died as a direct result of the bushfires.

Many of the deaths and hospitalisations are likely to have been older patients with heart disease or lung problems, such as chronic bronchitis or emphysema – but severe asthma attacks will likely have resulted in deaths in younger people too, Johnston said.

In patients with pre-existing cardiorespiratory issues, smoke exposure promotes inflammation, stresses the body and makes blood more likely to clot, increasing the risk of a heart attack. “In someone at high risk, subtle changes due to stress … can be the precipitating factor for a very serious or terminal event,” she said.

Guy Marks, a respiratory physician and epidemiologist at the University of New South Wales in Sydney who was not involved in the research, said the findings “highlights the importance of the health consequences” and is useful in estimating fire-related deaths that may not have been recognised as the result of smoke exposure.

The findings concur with previous studies of the health consequences of wildfire smoke in North America, but the numbers “are more drastic, potentially as a result of the unprecedented nature of the exposure,” Migliaccio said. He added that while previous studies found increases in hospital visits, the addition of large numbers of premature deaths in the Australian study is significant and disturbing.

Migliaccio said that due to climate change increasing the frequency and severity of wildfires “these types of exposures are increasing in number and intensity, making this kind of research vital.”

To look into just such effects, a consortium of 10 air pollution researchers from across Australia, led by Marks and including Johnston, have already put up their hands for $3m in government funding, which became available in the wake of the crisis.

The research proposal, funding of which has yet to be confirmed, aims to plug significant gaps in knowledge about the health impacts of bushfire smoke and how these might be mitigated.

Marks says that questions he and his colleagues hope to address include whether there is anything unique about health effect of air pollution caused by bushfires, what the long-term effects of exposure are, and what the effects might be on newborn babies and pregnant women.

The researchers – all members of a collaborative consortium, The Centre for Air Pollution, Energy and Health Research (CAR), funded by Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council – also hope to study whether it’s possible to filter air to make indoor refuges safe from pollution, and if public health advice can be improved.



For more postings from me, see  DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC and AUSTRALIAN POLITICS. Home Pages are   here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.  

Preserving the graphics:  Most graphics on this site are hotlinked from elsewhere.  But hotlinked graphics sometimes have only a short life -- as little as a week in some cases.  After that they no longer come up.  From January 2011 on, therefore, I have posted a monthly copy of everything on this blog to a separate site where I can host text and graphics together -- which should make the graphics available even if they are no longer coming up on this site.  See  here or here


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