Died far too young

The Telegraph reports:

Professor Sir David MacKay, who has died aged 48, was a Cambridge University physicist who set out to cut “UK emissions of twaddle” by applying the laws of physics and mathematics to the debate on sustainable energy.

48 is so very young.

MacKay’s genius was to express all forms of power consumption and production in a single unit of measurement – kilowatt hours per day (kWh/d). A 40 watt lightbulb, kept switched on all the time, uses one kWh/d, while driving the average car 50km a day consumes 40 kWh/d. Such comparisons, MacKay argued, help to shift the focus to the major issues away from much-hyped “eco-gestures” such as believing you have done your bit by remembering to switch off the mobile phone charger. “The amount of energy saved by switching off the phone charger is exactly the same as the energy used by driving an average car for one second,” he wrote. Switching it off for a year saves as much energy as is needed for one hot bath. Such gestures were akin to “bailing out the Titanic with a teaspoon”.

I wish EECA or someone would so something like that here – clearly explain what measures are significant and which are trivial.

Applying the same approach to electricity generation, MacKay argued that for renewable facilities to make an appreciable contribution, they would have to be developed on a massive, industrial scale. At the time the book was written, Britain was generating about 4.5 per cent of its electricity from renewables, mostly hydro-power, landfill gas and wind.

Any substantial increase would involve nationwide projects that would have significant effects on the environment. If, for example, it was decided burning biomass (crops for fuel) was the answer, about 75 per cent of Britain would need to be covered in biomass plantations to meet only 25 per cent of our current electricity demand.

Some rational facts!

We require either a radical reduction in consumption, or significant additional sources of energy – or, of course, both” – the main “clean” alternatives to renewables being nuclear and so-called clean coal, “which is as yet an unproven technology”. MacKay was, he claimed, “absolutely not anti-renewables. I love renewables… but I’m also pro-arithmetic.”

Pro-maths – I like it.

It was here that the consumer could make a difference: “ ’Turn your thermostat down’ is, by my reckoning, the single best piece of advice you can give someone. So is ‘fly less’ and ‘drive less’. But hybrid cars and home windmills are just greenwash.”

Again be good to have a NZ guide to what makes the most difference.

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