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back to article The UK Energy Crisis in 3 simple awareness-raising pictures

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. If that’s true, we’re about to save you reading 3,000. The UK is running out of gas. Very rapidly indeed. So much so, that shortly after Easter cuts and rationing may be introduced, with industrial users and hospitals getting preferential treatment. This month is the coldest March in …

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Isn't it Spring now?

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Joke

Next Prime Minister

I laughed out loud when I read that line... Thanks' El Reg. You made me chuckle hard first thing on a Monday morning , something that's normally not possible until at least Thursday.

Next Prime Minister... .. You guys !!!!!

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MJI
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Re: I am scared

That people may actually vote for him!

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Re: Next Prime Minister

Ray Barone? PM? Really?

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Re: Next Prime Minister

Well, nobody's going to vote for the current lot, that's usually how things work in politics. Then again, Ed is a characterless man with no balls. Well, he does have Balls, but him aside, he's not exactly someone who inspires you to tick that box.

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Megaphone

Re: I am scared

"people may actually vote for him!"

It seems rare in recent decades for an incumbent opposition leader to still be leader come election time.

I suspect it's to do with "plausible dependability". Opposition seems to be taken literally. How often does the leader of the opposition (any one , not just the current one) ever agree with the sitting Govt., even if they secretly agree? No, Ed will be there to spout off invective and "oppose" everything while trying to score points with snarky one liners like some amateur stand-up comedian at PMs Questions and then will be replaced when campaigning starts in earnest for the next general election. The incoming leader can then quite safely and plausibly deny any previous policy statements as being from "that other person" and nothing to do with the "new" policies (s)he's putting forward.

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Meh

Re: I am scared

"people may actually vote for him?"

Well, that's the problem with the parliamentary model, isn't it?? Actually ONE CONSTITUENCY in Britain (and guess how big a mortal lock for Labor that constituency is) elects this guy and he gets to be Prime Minister because he has risen through the ranks of the party, has his hands on the Whips and other levers of party control and the activists like him. If Labor gets enough seats, Miliband is in.

It's like saying that the 3/4 of a million people (and probably +-200K of them are voters, and maybe 120K-150K of them vote for the winning candiditate) in a Congressonal district elect John Boehner or Nancy Pelosi to their seat in Congress and that person gets to be both President of the United States and chief legislator as well.

It's a system that works for Britain, but I wouldn't care to live under it.

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Headmaster

God will Provide

We joke about the medieval priests who would say "God will provide". We seem to have returned to that attitude (not so explicitly spoken) , what with Green mysticism and creationism. Mrs Thatcher's version (which long outlived her, including into Labour governments) was "The market will provide".

I worked in the generating industry. During pure Thatcherism (which outlived her as I said) we in the industry bemoaned the lack of national energy policy, while watching the run-down of the existing infrastructure. Now we seem to have a "policy" which is to build windmills and keep raising the price until people almost stop using it. With a policy like that, I think we did better without one.

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Anonymous Coward

Where to start rationing

anyone who has a solar panel and matching juicy FIT. It's not like they need power anyway ....

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The big question is, really:

What does this mean?

Does this mean that we have no gas? (I'm guessing no, in the general sense).

Does it mean that, in the event of every off-shore connection breaking we would be able to survive a couple of weeks of normal usage and not even notice? (So, erm... is that a big deal when only one of those connections has broken temporarily?)

Does it mean that we're saving money by not storing all this gas at our end but instead relying on our EU / international neighbours to do it for us? (Which would be a good thing, no?)

Does it mean we're at a disadvantage compared to any other country? (It's hard to tell from just our data, except with the anecdotal "other countries have more").

How long have plans been in place to reduce our storage to that much? (it's a voluntary decision, no? We could just buy tons whenever we wanted?)

Because, just from the stats, none of those questions are answered.

I'm guessing it means only that if we went to war now, and every EU and other country cut off our gas supply, we'd only have a fortnight of gas rather than a couple of months. Which, on the face of it, seems incredibly unlikely and actually a situation that isn't going to change much anyway - you'll still run out of gas before you can do anything about it, even if you severely limit supply (say, to only essential industry) in order to conserve it. And we'd have MUCH bigger problems to worry about (e.g. petrol, diesel, electricity, etc.).

And, personally, it's quite possible that we're saving a shed-load of money by not bothering to store quite so much at our end and relying on a constant supply from other countries (and a small emergency reserve) instead.

Basically, there are lies, damn lies, and statistics. Unfortunately, all we have are some very basic and out-of-context statistics and no actual *explanation*, just some hyperbole.

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(Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

Re: Lee D

"and every EU and other country cut off our gas supply, we'd only have a fortnight of gas rather than a couple of months. Which, on the face of it, seems incredibly unlikely"

The country risks running out of stored gas by April 8 based on the fall in its reserves seen since the cold hit at the beginning of March, Reuters calculations show.

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Unhappy

I'll tell you what it means

It means the energy providers are going to put their prices up "to cope with unprecedented demand / unseasonable cold / director's wife wants a new car".

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Anonymous Coward

The big question is, really:

What does this mean?

Does this mean that we have no gas?

Think the answer is in 10 days, if usage doesn't reduce before then, we will have no enough gas for all the current demands. The issue is the way storage is used to smooth the supply between periods (summer) where usage is less than potenital supply were the extra supply can be stored so that in other periods (winter and "unusually cold March") where demand is greater than supply then this stored gas can be used to meet the excess demand. The problem is that in the UK we don't have enough storage to cope with a prolonged cold period that we have just had ... I suspect this is due to complacency in the past when North Sea production was more than enough for UK needs so the idea of having to store extra wasn't on the agenda but now that North Sea production is ramping down the situation has changed (and, to be fair, I've heard programs about construction of extra gas storage facilities in recent years). In Europe where they didn't have a pipe from the north sea supplying gas "on demand" they built much larger storage facilities so that they could pre-buy much of their winter needs over the preceding summer from producers like the UK who had more gas than they needed at that time and would off load the excess at a discount price to get rid of it!

N.b. the root cause for this may have been under-investment in the past because we had enough supply from the north sea and now that that is drying up we've been caught out .... sounds similar to what is about to happen in the electricity supply industry as the previous generation of Nuclear Power stations are decommissioned and we realize that we forgot to build (or didn't have the political strength to build) the next generation.

Also, perhaps all the people responsible should be taken to see Joseph and his Technicolour Dreamcoat as that covers the concept of storing up excess in times of plenty to use to cover a subsequent time of famine in some detail!

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Holmes

"Does it mean that we're saving money by not storing all this gas at our end but instead relying on our EU / international neighbours to do it for us? (Which would be a good thing, no?)"

No, the money that other countries spend on storage is being charged to the UK via higher prices.

I think the point of the article is that UK supply cannot cope with very high demand levels. Specifically it seems to be a problem with supply rate rather than supply availability but typically with oil/gas the two are linked - there is less flow rate available because the UK is getting close to the end of it's supplies.

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"now that North Sea production is ramping down"

What gives you that idea? There are still billions of boe of gas available in the southern North Sea gas basin with new fields coming online all the time.

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What gives you that idea? There are still billions of boe of gas available in the southern North Sea gas basin with new fields coming online all the time.

Source?

AFAIK British North Sea gas production has <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peak_gas#United_Kingdom>already peaked</a>.

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Because we have so little storage, we always buy on the spot price, and when heavy demand continues, we get to find out just how badly we want it, which balances out the cost saving of not storing it in mild weather and low demand. We did this partly because N. Sea gas was abundant and it seemed silly to pump it out, pipe it 100 miles, and store it again. Oh well.

The most recent decent post on TOD is this:

http://europe.theoildrum.com/node/6329

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Re: Lee D

And to explain why we are at risk of running out, there is no gas storage in the UK. Most of Europe that uses a lot of gas (Germany in particular) has a lot of gas storage because they always have been dependant upon imports. Because historically the North Sea met all our needs, we didn't have or need storage, and we built none as North Sea output declined (because there's no energy policy).

We could potentially import LNG, but the problem is that vessels and gas needs to be contracted in advance - there's not some magical surplus capacity in hot standby, and over recent years Asia has offered better prices than the UK. So that won't get us out of this hole.

I'm not close enough to know how it panned out, but a couple of years ago OFGEM and National Grid came up with changes to interruptible gas suppy rules that looked likely to reduce the number of companies on interruptible gas supplies, meaning less ability to reduce demand in cold spells. I wonder if this supply concern is the outcome?

More worryingly, the next step that NG might have to take would be to take gas powered electricity generation off supply. At the moment we've probably got the spare coal capacity to make good, but don't worry, people! OFGEM and successive governments are working tirelessly to eliminate that. With 12 GW of coal plant to close as part of the government's kow-towing to the EU's Large Combustion Plant Directive, we might just scrape through this year, but by 2016 we won't survive an extended cold spell. This will be made worse by the commissioning of around 6GW of new gas CCGT which will increase base gas demand. Nuclear won't be built in time to make any difference (ignoring its vast cost), we'll see Wylfa take 1GW of nuclear into retirement soon, renewables will continue to be ineffectual toys, and more gas make us yet more vulnerable to our lack of storage. Even new pipelines to Russia or Norway will take a decade to build, and UK gas storage would take almost as long. Given the number of exhausted gas fields in the North Sea the solution is obvious for storage, but DECC have spent far more energy and money looking at old gas fields as a way to store magically captured CO2 than the obvious purpose of gas storage.

Now, you can't say Parliament didn't know the issues a decade ago:

http://www.parliament.uk/documents/post/postpn230.pdf

What you can say, though, is that they reassured themeselves that all would be well, and instead of tracking the gas situation, they increased gas demand for power generation and paid lots of attention to despoiling the land with windmills. Things are going to get worse and more expensive unless (a) we hang all the civil servants at DECC, and (b) have a government prepared to respond to the EU with "You and whose army?"

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Gas-based energy policy for a country with no (more) natives reserves?

What morons where involved in that decision?

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Re: Gas-based energy policy for a country with no (more) natives reserves?

You mean apart from the 200 trillion cubic feet under Lancashire?

The morons haven't gone for a gas based energy policy, they have gone for a wind based energy policy with gas as a reserve. The wind simply can not provide what we need.

Using other means to generate electricity will not help with those who use gas for heating and cooking.

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Re: Gas-based energy policy for a country with no (more) natives reserves?

"The morons haven't gone for a gas based energy policy, they have gone for a wind based energy policy with gas as a reserve."

Yes, and the "Future Prime Minister" Ed MicroMiliband was the one happily signing us up for the stupid enviro-commitments while he was in the Labourast Government together with his bro.

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Re: Gas-based energy policy for a country with no (more) natives reserves?

You mean the 200 trillion cubic feet that may, or may not, actually exist?

Drilling two wells and claiming 200 trillion cubic feet of gas is a good way of propping up a share price; but it is a long way from proving there is actually 200 trillion cubic feet of gas (for which you need hundreds of wells) and even further from proving there is 200 trillion cubic feet (or even a tiny proportion of that) that is economically viable and can be recovered in a reasonable time.

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Re: Gas-based energy policy for a country with no (more) natives reserves?

"Using other means to generate electricity will not help with those who use gas for heating and cooking"

I think you'll find if you're not burning gas to generate 'leccy then there's no shortfall for domestic heating & cooking.

Domestic use of gas isn't the problem:

40% of UK electricity being generated from gas is the problem.

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Flame

Burning Gas = Electricity

Something that's been getting me seeing red for years now. Stop our mining and investing in burning coal cleanly and use up all the gas that's used by people to heat their homes or cook with on making electricity. Transfroming one form of energy to form another and losing energy during the process of transformation. And where are all these CHP stations that were supposed to have sprung up all over the country?

That's the problem with past politicians looking at a 'global economy;' and not looking further than the end of their nose.

And for listening to all these third party 'political' and non-political advisors and experts. You hear me guys in GDS!

Sooner, rather than later, the walls turn brown!

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Re: Burning Gas = Electricity

It's more efficient to use gas in homes than in power stations. Gas is an excellent store of energy and you get a lot more power out of burning it in your home than out of burning it in powerstation sending it to your home as leccy (losing 40-60% during transmission) and then turning it back into heat (and losing some more).

We should stop using gas in power stations. The only reason we do is because it's cheap and easy to throw up a gas turbine whereas it takes years of planning to build equivalent wind turbines or work out where you're going to bury nuclear waste.

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Re: Burning Gas = Electricity

CHP is what is needed for gas... Combined Head And Power... so much power is wasted in gas....

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Re: Gas-based energy policy for a country with no (more) natives reserves?

According to the Times a leaked report from the British Geological Society is going to put the official estimate at 1300 trillion cubic feet.

Aside from that the 200 tcf was only from Cuadrilla's Bowland Shale license area and it was the minimum amount there. You also have other operators like Island Gas Ltd, Greenpark Energy, Composite Energy etc who all have licenses for other shale gas areas.

You also have to consider the nature of the drilling that previous reports are based on. The boreholes were drilled looking for oil and gas. When you drill looking for these you tend to look for hill shaped rock formations and drill at the top. When drilling for shale you look for basin shaped formations and drill at the deepest part. This means that boreholes looking for conventional hydrocarbons tend to underestimate shale deposits.

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FAIL

Re: Burning Gas = Electricity

"sending it to your home as leccy (losing 40-60% during transmission) and then turning it back into heat (and losing some more)."

Don't be daft. Grid losses are around 2% - 4% (slightly more on the low-voltage grid), and when you turn electricity back into heat you can't lose any, all energy ends up as heat in the end.

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Re: Burning Gas = Electricity

> The only reason we do is because it's cheap and easy to throw up a gas turbine whereas it takes years of planning to build equivalent wind turbines

And for every watt of electricity the wind turbines factories can produce you need the equivalent in conventional generation (gas usually) for when the wind dont blow

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Re: Burning Gas = Electricity

Which means that every Watt a wind turbine produces is ~2.5Watts worth of gas saved. Easy?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Burning Gas = Electricity

Except they have to use OCGT as backup which is only 66% as efficient as CCGT therefore you end up using more gas than if you had just used CCGT to start with instead of wind.

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Re: Gas-based energy policy for a country with no (more) natives reserves?

er over the last three years its been 30%

mysql> select sum(ccgt)/sum(demand) from day;

+-----------------------+

| sum(ccgt)/sum(demand) |

+-----------------------+

| 0.301006310097201 |

+-----------------------+

And in 2012 with the coalers running flat out to use up their hours it was

mysql> select sum(ccgt)/sum(demand) from day where timestamp like '2012%';

+-----------------------+

| sum(ccgt)/sum(demand) |

+-----------------------+

| 0.258664160658894 |

+-----------------------+

...25.8%.

source: http://gridwatch.templar.co.uk

That's probably about optimal cost wise. 75% nuclear or coal, 25% gas. 0% renewable. (apart from the smattering of hydro we already have).

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Boffin

Re: Burning Gas = Electricity

No, that is incorrect, we still largely do load balancing with CCGT because running at reasonably decent capacity factors there is not the financial incentive shut CCGT and |to build OCGT plant for occasional peaking use.

That may however change when more wind is applied. In addition the determination of how much extra gas we do burn by having more hot standby and spinning reserve to cope with the massive wind fluctuations, which are NOT predictable to within a GW or so even 8 hours ahead..when high winds are expected, is complex and to put it bluntly, no one has done them, or even bothered to do them.

You might think it strange that we have a policy predicated on the assumption that every kwh of wind power is a kwh of gas or coal we will save (times putative power station efficiency factors) when everybody knows that whatever the true figure is, its not that. And that furthermore no one has ever made a point of finding out what the true figure is.

You might think that. I couldn't possibly comment.

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Unhappy

Re: Gas-based energy policy for a country with no (more) natives reserves?

"Yes, and the "Future Prime Minister" Ed MicroMiliband was the one happily signing us up for the stupid enviro-commitments while he was in the Labourast Government together with his bro."

He didn't sign anything.

That would be Tony Blair. And despite being told it could be done for electricity but not all UK energy needs went ahead and signed it into law anyway.

He wouldn't have to implement it and it was a nice ..|.. to Gordo on the way out as well.

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Re: Gas-based energy policy for a country with no (more) natives reserves?

"40% of UK electricity being generated from gas is the problem"

Time to consider more biogas?

Centrica reckoned it could be good for 40% of UK gas requirements and would make the UK less vulnerable to Russian extortion "negotiation."

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Re: Burning Gas = Electricity

Not true at all. Just look at the graphs: http://www.gridwatch.templar.co.uk/index.php

You can clearly see CCGT following the demand curve and going down dramatically when the wind picked up last Thursday. There is no OCGT at all.

And it doesn't make any sense either, you'd only need OCGT for unexpected peaks, while wind and solar are very predictable.

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Re: Burning Gas = Electricity

Wind's not as predictable as you think.

While wind penetration stays low (10% or so), it's fine. Push it much higher and it becomes almost completely unpredictable.

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Re: Burning Gas = Electricity

Actually as wind penetration increases, it becomes more rather than less predictable (thousands of turbines give a better "average" than any single turbine does - basic statistics). It does become harder to manage of course - if it is windy too much power may be generated (yes that can be a problem too), and if there is little wind across the UK, you need to find enough capacity of gas/coal and interconnectors to make up for the shortfall.

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Stop

Re: Burning Gas = Electricity

Transmission losses are only a couple percent in an industrialized country. They aren't even 40%-60% in the worst, most corrupt transmission systems.

Now, if you are talking thermal efficiency, then yes, 40%-60% of the energy in the gas burned (so on an oversimplified level you could think of it as 40% to 60% of the gas) is lost to radiated heat, incomplete heat transfer and frictional loss during the electrical generation process--but that is not transmission loss.

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Anonymous Coward

er.. those graphs don't actually show a big problem, as far as I can tell. reserves fall as people use more gas in the winter and are then (one assumes) rebuilt over the summer when people don't have their heating on and there's less electricity requirement for lighting & etc (I'm also assuming industrial consumption is relatively constant). A pipeline failing is a short term panic (which of course got speculators... speculating) but there doesn't seem to be any medium/long term issue here..

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Well, the Russians and the Yanks are making lots of gas, now, perhaps they'll be good enough to pipe some our way.

Or perhaps this is a veiled piece to garner support for UK fracking? We seem to have an abundance of water at the moment, at least...

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Russian production is actually stagnant and will be kept that way to maintain prices.

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And to get cheap access to gas from North America (Canada produces quite a bit too, as does Mexico, its not just the US) the UK's either going to need a transatlantic pipeline hyperproject, or Transocean and the like would need a much bigger fleet of LNG tankers, as well as greatly expanded shore terminal infrastructure to support said fleet. Which also brings up NIMBY concerns. However unlikely it is, one of these terminals exploding in an accident (or something more nefarious) would make the Texas City nitrate explosion in 1947 or the PEPCON explosion in Las Vegas in 1988 look small.

Either way its not cheap or easy.

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Don't forget that US can't doesn't actually have any terminals that can produce LNG. It has quite a few ones that can accept it rusting on the Gulf Coast with maybe one or two being converted to produce it. However, once they get going then that gas will be sold to the highest bidder and they currently all sit in Asia where the spot price is far higher than in Europe.

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Boffin

@ JetSetJim

Nobody is going to build a 2500-3000 mile long pipeline under the North Atlantic. I'm not even sure that can be done in an economical manner. If they did, the only pipeline terminus that have enough capacity to make a dent in British demand and are along the Eastern seabord in the Philadelphia-Boston area, and its a LONNGGG run from there to Cornwall or Scotland. That is also the part of North America that traditionally has the most problems with gas supply, since the population density is so high most of the gas is brought there from Texas and the Gulf Coast. Pennsylvania is now becoming a major shale oil and gas producer though, so there is a new local supply to draw from, but I am not sure how much. Still you'd probably have to upgrade the pipeline infrastructure from the Gulf Coast to the Northeast if you were going to ship to Britain by pipeline.

LNG terminals would be a way to go. The U.S. and Canada certainly have the gas to export, even without tapping potentail large shale gas reserves that are still undeveloped in New York and California.

Obviously, none of this is going to help Britain within the next 2 weeks unless someone has a suitable tanker lying around and the export and import terminals are ready.

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Anonymous Coward

The politicians have prioritised accordingly. ®

By that I assume you mean;

The politicians have invested in energy and energy supply companies accordingly. ®

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Not according to Beddington.

On Today BBC R4 this morning he was asked about the cold wet weather we've had and how the forecasts were for warmer and drier. He couldn't bring himself to deal with it and only wanted to talk about extreme events, so he ignored the question.

Which is exactly what I'd expected. I don't have a problem with forecasts being wrong, but these were handed to us with the full authority of the scientific establishment and were given the weight of being near incontravertible fact. Poicy was based on them, why else did we run out of salt when we had the first cold winter à couple of years ago.

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Holmes

Re: Not according to Beddington.

What I've read is that a global warming would cause the Gulf-stream to weaken, thus causing locally in Atlantic-Europe a cooling. Therefore, the cool winter in Europe is not at odds with global warming.

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Re: Not according to Beddington.

According to the Grauniad (and other warmology sites), the current cold is a result of the Arctic warming up. I'm not sure I follow this logic, but one flaw is that the Arctic is cooling quite rapidly at the moment, although I dare say it will warm by the summer and might even melt a bit. Like it usually does.

When "the climate is behaving normally" becomes newsworthy and is not a bar to research grants, we may get some sensible advice and policies...

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FAIL

Re: Not according to Beddington.

I'd be much more impressed if your excuses were generated BEFORE the incidents they refer to rather than after.

At the moment we have:

1970s and the temperature drop - We're all going to die in an ice age

1980s and the temperature rebounds - We're all going to die from something else - chlorofluorocarbons?...

1990s and the temperature goes up - We're all going to die from the heat

2000s and the temperature rise halts - We're STILL going to die from the heat (after fiddling the figures)

2010s and the temperature starts dropping - We're going to die from...er, um.. the climate changing!

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