UK Energy Research Centre (UKREC) doubly misleads

Yesterday the GWPF and Joanne Nova point to an article in Thursday’s Daily Express which declared

A report from the UK Energy Research Centre also shows the number of those who resolutely do not believe in climate change has more than quadrupled since 2005.

There are two fundamental issues with the press release. First the research shows a much bigger divergence in public opinion from climate orthodoxy than the press release by the QUANGO shows. Second, the opinion poll conducted in England, Scotland and Wales by psychologists had two fundamental errors that fail to connect with the real world situations that people are facing and will face in the renewable energy future.

Public Opinion on Climate Change

The Government funded report shows 19 per cent of people are climate change disbelievers – up from just four per cent in 2005 – while nine per cent did not know.

The Daily Express article only looks at the press release and then speaks to UK Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, who says, who says

Of course, however, the 72 per cent of the public who acknowledge the climate is changing are backed overwhelmingly by the scientific evidence.

If they had clicked on the second link on point 3 (of 5) in the “Notes to the Editors” (below where it says – Ends –) labelled “national survey“, they would have opened up the 62 page “SURVEY FINAL.pdf”. If they had then gone to Appendix B, they would have found the full results of all 72 survey questions. The following is relevant

Q3. How concerned, if at all, are you about climate change, sometimes referred to as ‘global warming’?

“Very” or “Fairly” concerned         74%

“Not very”, or “Not at all” concerned      26%

Don’t know                 1%

However, this should be more relevant.

Q5. Thinking about the causes of climate change, which, if any, of the following best describes your opinion?

CC is entirely or mainly caused by natural processes                 16%

CC is partly caused by natural processes and partly caused by human activity     48%

CC is entirely or mainly caused by human activity                 32%

The survey shows that two-thirds of the public disagree with the “scientists”, and thus disagree with a necessary condition to justify policy – that climate change is a non-trivial problem. The press release hides the real story in obscure places that no journalist has time to find.

The opinion poll failing to address real world situations

The questionnaire started with questions on attitudes to climate change. However, the vast majority of the questions, and the purpose of the survey, was upon the “Public Values, Attitudes and Acceptability” of pursuing the UK’s transformation to “green” energy. As this questionnaire was conducted by the School of Psychology at the University of Cardiff, there are two things one could reasonably expect.

  1. Empathy with the people impacted.
  2. Addressing the costs that people are most likely to face.

In both there is a depersonalisation of the impacts.

One of the most controversial areas of renewables is wind turbines. An innocuous question is

Q22. To what extent would you support or oppose the building of a new wind farm in your area? (By ‘area’ we mean up to approximately 5 miles from your home)?

The distance is relevant. Like the vast majority of people I live in a built-up area. If the world’s tallest building was located five miles from my house, I would likely not be able to see it from the ground floor in any direction. Five miles distant there is an airport with 20 million passengers and 170,000 flight movements a year. I rarely hear an aircraft, as I do not under the usual flight paths. To personalize it, you need to ask people if, when purchasing a house, having a wind turbine located at less than a mile from a house, clearly visible, would affect the decision to buy it.

This depersonalisation of the impacts also includes the benefits. In a remote rural area a nuclear power plant would bring a huge influx of jobs and prosperity, more than thousands of wind farms. There is a relevant example. In the 1960s Caithness boomed as a result of the building Dounreay nuclear research plant. The county is currently being overrun by wind turbines, which do little to replace the jobs lost as the nuclear facility is decommissioned.

Empathizing with the plight of a minority who are adversely affected by renewables is something that should be appreciated. However, for most people, it is the direct impact of renewables that will concern them most. For the vast majority, it is costs that are important. UKERC fully realize that switching from fossil fuels to renewables means receiving power solely in the form of electricity. Therefore, there are questions about switching from gas to electric for heating and cooking, and about the public perceptions of electric cars.

Q23. How positive or negative do you feel about heating with electricity?

Q24. Please indicate how willing you would be, if at all, to use electric heating in your home in the future.

Q25. …what if your friends, family and neighbours used electric heating? How willing would you be, if at all, to use electric heating in the future if this was the case?

Q26. …what if the performance of electric heating was no different to central gas heating systems? How willing would you be, if at all, to use electric heating in the future if this was the case?

Q27. …what if electric heating was significantly cheaper than heating with gas? How willing would you be, if at all, to use electric heating in the future if this was the case?

Q28. How positive or negative do you feel about cooking only with electricity?

Q29. Please indicate how willing you would be, if at all, to cook only with electricity in the future.

Q30. …what if your friends, family and neighbours cooked only with electricity? How willing would you be, if at all, to cook with electricity in the future if this was the case?

Q31. …what if the performance of an electric hob was no different to a gas hob (e.g. it heats up in the same time)? How willing would you be, if at all, to use an electric hob in the future if this was the case?

Q32. …what if cooking with electricity was significantly cheaper than cooking with gas? How willing would you be, if at all, to cook with electricity in the future if this was the case?

Q33. How positive or negative do you feel about driving an electric car?

Q34. Please indicate how willing you would be, if at all, to drive an electric car in the future.

Q35. …what if your friends, family and neighbours drove electric cars? How willing would you be, if at all, to drive an electric car in the future if this was the case?

Q36. …what if the performance of an electric car was the same as a petrol car (e.g. speed, range, availability of charging points)? How willing would you be to drive an electric car in the future if this was the case?

Q37. …what if the cost of buying and running an electric car was significantly less than the cost of a petrol car? How willing would you be, if at all, to drive an electric car in the future if this was the case?

UKREC could say they have dealt with costs in Q27, Q32 and Q37. But this only deals with the scenario if the electric alternative is cheaper. Currently the electric alternative is far more expensive. Maybe twice the cost for heating by electric than gas, and an electric car is around twice the cost (or more) of an equivalent size of diesel car. Will the reality change? There are four reasons why not, which need to be compared with the current domestic price (after distribution costs, reseller costs and reseller margin) of 10p Kwh.

First, is that renewables cost more, in total, per unit of electricity than fossil-fuelled power stations. When I last checked it was 4.1p for onshore turbines and 8.3p Kwh for offshore. This is on top of the wholesale market rate. In addition, there is the STOR energy scheme where the marginal cost per Kwh is over 20p-30p Kwh, and the average cost per Kwh could be 50p or more. Then there are the payments not to shut the things off when the wind blows too strongly.

Second, is that fossil fuels are likely to come down in price than go up. In particular in Britain the shale gas revolution will guarantee supplies for a generation and are more likely to see gas prices fall in real terms, than rise.

Third, is that if we switch energy from gas and petrol/diesel to electric, the amount of electric power generation capacity required will go through the roof. The first point applies even more strongly.

Fourth is that current technologies are developing rapidly as well. For an electric car to become competitive on running costs, it needs to overtake the next generation of diesel cars. For instance, last week I drove one of the current Volkswagen Golf diesels, a 1.6TDI. The fuel consumption of just over 60mpg(1), was at least 25% better than a 2007 Vauxhall (General Motors) Astra 1.7TDI, and 100% better than my first car – the much smaller 1978 Honda Civic 1.2 petrol.

Conclusion

The press release fails to show how far out of line the consensus of climate scientists are with mainstream public opinion. More importantly, a questionnaire commissioned by a QUANGO for renewable energy research and conducted by academic psychologists, fails to address the likely real situations people will face under a renewable future.

Kevin Marshall

  1. For Australians and Europeans, 60 miles per gallon is 4.7 litres per 100km. For those in the United States it is about 50 miles per US gallon.
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1 Comment

  1. Brian H

     /  22/09/2013

    Deconstructing the selection bias in framing and choice of questions. Well done, hoist (exploded) with their own petard (satchel charge).

    Reply

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