The Social Network and Groupthink

The Social Network and Groupthink

Groupthink – “a psychological phenomenon in which people strive for consensus within a group  by setting aside their own personal beliefs. Those opposed to the decisions or overriding opinion of the group as a whole frequently remain quiet, preferring to keeping the peace rather than disrupt the uniformity of the crowd.” An example of groupthink was our Celtic Tiger boom and bust where the combination of light touch regulation, tax breaks and a cosy relationship between government and developers created a building boom that was totally unsustainable. This resulted in major financial, environmental and social crises still affecting our country. Parallels can be drawn to the current renwable energy plans: The close relationships and ties between charismatic characters such as Mainstream Renewable’s Eddie O’Connor and SEAI’s Brendan Halligan. The dismissal by Pat Rabbitte of opposition to renewable energy plans. The ‘revolving door’ whereby executives from Eirgrid and wind developers leave one organisation  in to take up office in another. The ‘revolving door’  whereby officers from An Bord Pleanála bring their inside experience of planning to Eirgrid and wind developers. Chairman of SEAI, Brendan Halligan, straddling both camps, owning shares in, and sitting on the board of Mainstream Renewables- a blatant conflict of interest. Many executives of Eirgrid and wind developers have worked together in the ESB, Airtricity, Bord Na Móna and other semi states, and also have strong political links to parties currently in government. The National Renewable Energy Action Plan (NREAP ) and Grid 25 are plans hatched at the very height of our Celtic Tiger boom and are indicative of the type of thinking of that time....
Lets stick to facts and evidence

Lets stick to facts and evidence

A Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland report launched in February this year, estimated that wind was saving Ireland 2.3 % from total fuel imports per annum, of the €6.5 billion spent on fuel imports. This 2.3% saving did not include any fuel used in spinning reserve which is likely to have reduced that estimated saving to well below 2% and possibly even less than 1%.  How do we know this? Wind is intermittent; it produces little or no electricity for about 70% of the time. For the 30% of the time when the wind does blow, coal and gas plants continue to run in the background ready to come in on short notice when the wind dies. This permanent back up is called plant cycling or Spinning Reserve. Spinning reserve can quarter claimed fuel savings, this was one of the findings from the Fred Udo study which examined the Irish system and is unique in that it deals with real outputs and is not based on industry models or projections. This small saving of most likely between 1 and 2 % has come on the back of 20 years and several billion euros of investment as well as 1,200 turbines and a substantial investment in the grid to cater for and balance this intermittent and dispersed power. It is also likely that further wind development will yield little or zero C02 reductions as the law of diminishing returns will apply. The Irish Wind Energy Association (IWEA) has accused Wind Aware Ireland of using inaccurate information. However, this information comes directly from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, a body closely...
Wind is not the only option

Wind is not the only option

Renewable Energy Sources of Electricity (RES-E) – Wind is not the only option. Dr. Anthony White gave an interesting investigation into the currently prevailing ideology that wind energy is the only solution to meeting our renewable electricity target of 40% for 2020. His contention was that wind is not the only option, that there are credible alternatives to wind and that it is not too late for Ireland to change its policy and investigate the alternatives in time for 2020. Dr. White began by noting that from 2000 to date, Ireland has made a massive switch from reliance on coal and peat sourced electricity to natural gas. He commended Ireland’s CO2 savings in doing so. He pointed out that since the recession began in 2008, electricity consumption in Ireland has reduced dramatically. Due to this reduction, no new electricity generating plants or turbines are actually required to satisfy demand within the Irish market. Were it not for EU directives on the quantity of renewables used to generate electricity we would not need to worry about the status-quo in national electricity production. On the subject of “spinning reserve” (the backup required within any electricity generation network), Dr. White highlighted that a network operator needs to build-in as much spinning reserve as its largest infeed into the network. This is required to prevent black-outs and guarantee consistency of supply in case of failure of that infeed. Because wind is not despatchable (i.e. it cannot be switched on as required) the network has to match the wind supply with spinning reserve. The example given was the event of maximum demand on a still day:...
Rebuttal of wind industry

Rebuttal of wind industry

A rebuttal of the wind industries claims made at Engineers Ireland presentation May 2014 By Owen Martin At the Q&A session following Dr.Anthony White’s presentation at Engineers Ireland last Wednesday, a number of points were made by the wind lobby in an attempt to disprove Dr.White’s assertion that there was a 20% limit on the amount of wind energy that could be accommodated by the grid. An SSE Airtricity Representative claimed that wind energy could power 100% of Ireland’s electricity needs. This is a ridiculous statement as Airtricity are investing in gas plants themselves e.g. Great Island CCGT, so the idea that Airtricity are interested in closing conventional plant, as this statement implies, is false.  It is also a technical impossibility. Dalkia VPP, a demand side unit operator, state that “as the amount of renewable generation increases, the TSOs will need to keep higher levels of operating reserve available”. With increased levels of wind penetration in the system, Eirgrid cannot shut down back-up plant without replacing it with new back-up because, as stated in their 2007 Adequacy Report, “there is a significant risk that a single source of failure (i.e. very low or very high wind speeds across the country) will result in all wind farms producing practically no output for a number of hours even allowing for geographic diversity”. New fossil fuel plants are being commissioned at present. Tarbert heavy oil plant was due to close last year but will now remain open as Eirgrid realise that large amounts of spinning reserve is essential to keep the lights on. An Eirgrid Representative claimed that Eirgrid welcome more wind...
Wind Energy– The Science Bit!

Wind Energy– The Science Bit!

For many of us the wind/pylon debate has been an eye opener on many levels. For me, in my naivety, the level of lobbying power of big business and the absence of real evidence informed debate is staggering. I knew of course that spin (excuse the pun!) exists in decision making but surely once the facts are presented to decision makers they’d change their mind?!…as I said, naive! We have all had to educate ourselves, in the absence of leadership, on issues we previously knew nothing about and have trawled through technical reports and economic analysis which are by no means light bedtime reading! In this series of blogs I hope to give my understanding of some of the key reports which inform the stance of Wind Aware Ireland and many other wind and pylon campaigners and which I believe completely undermine the sustainability of wind energy and associated grid upgrades from and economic and environmental point of view. The first two reports we’ll have a look at are Joe Wheatley’s paper ‘Quantifying CO2 savings from wind power.’ published in the journal ‘Energy Policy’ in 2013 and the analysis ‘Wind Energy in the Irish Power System’ by Fred Udo published online in 2011. Most analyses of wind energy use assumptions and projections to come to conclusion. That is the nature of these types of studies. So, if the wind blows at a particular strength for a particular period and if conventional generation of electricity runs at a lower rate for this period then the CO2 or fuel import savings will be X. What is interesting about both these studies...
The facts behind the figures

The facts behind the figures

Albert Einstein’s thoughts on 40% wind energy! Einstein reportedly had a sign on the door of his office which declared “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can  be counted counts”! This in a nut shell describes the concept of cost benefit analysis (CBA). CBA is not difficult to get one’s head around, we all perform CBAs all the time. In order to make a decision, whether it is to have that extra slice of cake or to take the washing off the line because it might rain, we weigh up the pros and cons and come to some conclusion. The broad purpose of CBA is to help social decision making and make it more rational. When you think of it, if it were used systematically, it would also counter the malignant culture of lobbying power of big business; decisions would have to be evidence based. In this instance a CBA should have been undertaken to ascertain of Ireland’s National Renewable Energy Action Plan (NREAP)  of providing 40% of our electricity from renewable sources, mainly wind, represents a net benefit to Ireland or if, in fact its costs outweigh its benefits. So how does a CBA work? “A CBA attempts to evaluate on a monetary scale, the costs and benefits of all ‘marketed’ and ‘unmarketed’ consequences of projects and to estimate the net social benefit.” In plain English that means that CBA must consider costs and benefits which may have a value to society but whose value, in money terms, might not have been calculated, for example, the value we place on our landscape or...