Met Office’s Supercomputer consumes the power of 700 Ferraris

A major problem of the AGW enthusiasts is that they cannot get figures a proper, objective, perspective. This same method has been used by the Daily Mail yesterday (and repeated on wattsupwiththat) to make fun of the Met Office’s new £33m supercomputer. The Daily Mail compares it to using the power of more than 1000 homes. However a supercomputer running 24/7 should not be compared with the average load of a household, where most appliances are used for a small fraction of the time at maximum load.

 A similar comparison would be to say it uses the power of 700 Ferraris. How so?

In actual running the computer uses 1200KW or 1600bhp. This is about equivalent to the maximum power output of 3 Ferrari F360s.

However your typical Ferrari will only cover 3000 miles per year. Let us say that is 150 hours, with an average energy power output of 100kw (134bhp) when running. 150 hours is 1.7% of a year, so average energy output is a puny 1.7kw (2.3bhp). 1200kw/1.7 is about 700, hence the supercomputer consumes the power of 700 Ferraris


Many might think this is fair game for an organization that makes forecasts like the one below.

 If no action is taken to curb global warming, temperatures are likely to rise by 5.5 °C and could rise by as much as 7 °C above pre-industrial values by the end of the century. This would lead to signficant risks of severe and irreversble impacts.  (page 13)

 However, the exaggerated and shrill claims made for global warming climate change are due to lack of proper perspective. For instance  

  1. Not putting recent warming in the perspective of natural climate trends over centuries or millennia.
  2. Not looking for alternative explanations of recent warmings, such as the sun.
  3. Alarming predictions or record events being widely publicized, but later corrections not being broadcast such as on July 2009 seas surface temperatures; recent Antarctic warming (or the full detail here);  the failure of Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets to collapse; or claims of the imminent disappearance of the arctic ice sheet.
  4. Extrapolating a short-period of (unusual) data over a long period to get an absurd result. For example the 2005 hurricane season (with Katrina) to say that hurricanes will become stronger and more frequent in the future.


The example of the supercomputer’s power consumption provides a simple illustration of how we can get that perspective wrong.


  1. Rob

     /  29/08/2009

    Please try to get the units right. It’s one of the guiding principles of physics. Assuming your estimates of the usage of a Ferrari are correct (though I doubt that they are since your Ferrari at 3000 miles in 150 hours is averaging 20 m.p.h.), you’d correctly say that the MET supercomputer consumes energy at the rate of 700 Ferraris. Neither “consumes power.” This type of sloppiness is expected of mainstream journalism, but shouldn’t be on a blog the presents itself as having a physical science component.

  2. manicbeancounter

     /  30/08/2009

    You are quite right that neither consumes power – it should be energy. From the name of the blog you will see I am not into science but numbers.

    You quite rightly point out that my assumed average speed of the Ferrari is only 20mph. These vehicles are not workhorses that pound the motorways, but more vehicles for displays of conspicuous consumption. I also make due allowance in the (estimated) energy consumption of 134bhp instead of the maximum of 550bhp.

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