Wednesday, 27 August 2014

The Bureau of Meteorology is engaging in an evil conspiracy.......TO BE ADORABLE

I think everyone should read the Bureau of Meteorology statement, published in response to a fairly disjointed theory being furiously bandied by increasingly desperate climate change deniers, that implies the BoM is intentionally moving weather stations to 'fake' a warming trend.

But I'm worried people won’t read it.

So, here it is, altered to incorporate fluff balls. Everything has been peer-reviewed to ensure maximum daintiness.

Statement via Graham Readfern’s excellent piece for The Guardian
Pictures via this and this.


Contrary to assertions in some parts of the media, the Bureau is not altering climate records to exaggerate estimates of global warming.

Our role is to make meteorological measurements, and to curate, analyse and communicate the data for use in decision making and to support public understanding.

To undertake these tasks, the Bureau employs highly skilled technicians and scientists and invests in high quality monitoring equipment.

The Bureau measures temperature at nearly 800 sites across Australia, chiefly for the purpose of weather forecasting. The Australian Climate Observations Reference Network – Surface Air Temperature (ACORN-SAT) is a subset of this network comprising 112 locations that are used for climate analysis. The ACORN-SAT stations have been chosen to maximise both length of record and network coverage across the continent. For several years, all of this data has been made publicly available on the Bureau’s web site.

Temperature records are influenced by a range of factors such as changes to site surrounds (eg. trees casting shade or influencing wind), measurement methods and the relocation of stations (eg. from a coastal to more inland location). Such changes introduce biases into the climate record that need to be adjusted for prior to analysis.

Adjusting for these biases, a process known as homogenisation, is carried out by meteorological authorities around the world as best practice, to ensure that climate data is consistent through time.

At the Bureau’s request, our climate data management practices were subject to a rigorous independent peer-review in 2012. A panel of international experts found the Bureau’s data and methods were amongst the best in the world.

The Bureau’s submissions to the review were published on the Bureau’s website, as were the findings of the review panel. The Bureau’s methods have also been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

Both the raw and adjusted ACORN-SAT data and the larger unadjusted national data set all indicate that Australian air temperatures have warmed over the last century. This finding is consistent with observed warming in the oceans surrounding Australia. These findings are also consistent with those of other leading international meteorological authorities, such as NOAA and NASA in the United States and the UK MetOffice. The high degree of similarity is demonstrated in Figure 1 (above).

The Bureau strives to ensure that its data sets and analysis methods are as robust as possible. For this reason we place considerable emphasis on quality assurance, transparency and communication. The Bureau welcomes critical analysis of the Australian climate record by others through rigorous scientific peer review processes.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Renewable energy can't power industry, except when it can, er, just ignore that

I came across this wonderful little clip yesterday:

"There is no way on God's Earth that you can have a solar powered steel mill just as there's no way you can have a wind powered manufacturing plant"
- Tony Abbott, Prime Minister of Australia 
Abbott issued this decree to the Steel Institute in 2011.

This is a video of a solar powered steel mill:

And this BMW manufacturing plant is powered by wind turbines:

"Wind turbines providing power to the BMW Leipzig Plant"

"In July 2013, the BMW Leipzig plant took four wind turbines into service on the factory premises. These Nordex wind turbines have a total power output of 10 MW. This is more than is required for future production of electric cars.....The power needed for the production will be produced on the plant premises by four wind turbines"


Monday, 11 August 2014

Pseudoscience: When You Really, Really Really Hate Data and Deduction

Last week, Senator Eric Abetz, a senior figure in the Australian government, told a panel show that abortion causes breast cancer:

"I think the studies, and I think they date back from the 1950s, assert that there is a link between abortion and breast cancer."

Abetz' massively awkward attempt to engage with medical science were instantaneously labelled as 'anti-science' on Twitter:

It seems logical to label something so monumentally ignorant as 'anti-science'. It's harmful to citizens who receive conflicted medical advice from their television, but it also creates unnecessary work for doctors and scientists who might better spend their time dealing with actual science, rather than refuting inane theories spouted by the scientifically illiterate.

The thing is, I'm not sure I like the term 'anti-science' (though I have repeated it myself in the past). Too often it's used in the case of a single issue, like medicine, or climate science, as an angry rhetorical reflex - of course you think abortion causes breast cancer, you hate science, don't you?

I seriously doubt most people who reject any of these fields of scientific inquiry are truly anti-science. I suspect Abetz is perfectly comfortable with, say, astrophysics, or x-ray crystallography, or chemistry.

But there's still some element of truth to the phrase. I just think it needs to be tweaked.

One of the best examples of what could be classed as something truly 'anti-scientific' is the enjoyably unhinged website 'Natural News', run by a chap named Mike Adams.

Recently, Natural News decided to adopt the issue of 'wind turbine syndrome', and in true Natural News style, they did it in an auto-parodic hurricane of lunacy:

"The blades are known to make infrasounds (sic), vibrations that we cannot consciously "hear" but still have an effect on the inner ear.....Symptoms include fatigue, dizziness, headache, difficulty concentrating and insomnia"

Natural News is an incredible collection of pseudoscience. Namely, they're strong advocates of homeopathy, and they're rabid opponents of vaccination. The issue of 'wind turbine syndrome' is a natural fit for Natural News, because being a proponent of 'wind turbine syndrome' necessitate a certain hostility towards a core scientific concept - waiting for evidence before forming conclusions.

Natural News in a nutshell

This is something I came across again quite recently, reading a blog post on windturbinesyndrome dot com. To awkwardly give anecdotal evidence more weight than one normally would in the process of scientific inquiry is the defining feature of a truly 'anti-data' approach, and it features strongly in this post authored by a doctor in Vermont named Sandy Reider:

"Before concluding, I would like to emphasize that the bulk of scientific evidence for adverse health effects due to industrial wind installations comes in the form of thousands of case reports like the patient I described. One or two sporadic anecdotal cases can legitimately be viewed with a wait-and-see skepticism, but not thousands where the symptoms are so similar, along with the ease of observing exposure and measuring outcomes, wherever these projects have been built.  
I agree with Epidemiologist Carl Phillips, who opined that “these case reports taken together offer the most compelling scientific evidence of serious harm.  Just because the prevailing models have failed to explain observed adverse health effects does not mean they do not exist”"

This is an interesting concept. It excises a core component of scientific investigation - that we need to deduce causal relationships, through controlled studies, before we make assertions about their existence. It also implies that the only necessary information needed to declare the confirmed existence of 'wind turbine syndrome' is the possibility that it's real.

A cursory trawl through Google shows that 'wind turbine syndrome' isn't the only medically contentious issue that Reider is involved in. He's a listed homeopath, as shown on this website, and he's left a comment on this post about 'tautopathy' (a practice predicated on the idea that side effects to medicine can be treated through the issuing of doses of that same medicine).

Similarly, Reider has written content advocating against vaccination, with the implication being that the process is likely to cause harm or injury. In a piece re-published on a website called 'The Refusers', Reider writes:

"Current immunization policy relies on the oft-repeated assertion that vaccines are safe and effective. Yet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Institute of Medicine, and even the American Academy of Pediatrics have acknowledged that serious reactions, including seizures, progressive encephalopathy, and death, can and do occur.
The federal vaccine injury court, which was established at the same time that vaccine manufacturers were exempted from liability, has to date paid $2.6 billion dollars in compensation for vaccine injuries. And there is ample reason to believe that the incidence of vaccine injury is strongly underreported."

The fallacy being used here is elegantly explained by blogger Kathy McGrath:

"Sometimes vaccine critics will use Vaccine Court injuries as evidence of harm. But law courts do not determine causation  -  medical science does.   In Australia, all claims would need to go through a lengthy civil process. I think that the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) in the US appeals to people who misunderstand the process and may think they can take advantage of the system. 
If you take a look at the numbers of vaccine reactions , the rate of compensation of vaccine injuries in the American vaccine court means that 99.99999999% of Americans are vaccinated without issue"

The key part of Reider's writing is this: "there is ample reason to believe that the incidence of vaccine injury is strongly underreported". It's an appeal to the absence of evidence. It's the idea that information, collated and analysed in a controlled fashion so as to remove the influence of subjectivity and bias, is as cold, heartless and toxic as a pill produced by big pharma.

Two sentences penned by Reider in a submission to a US senate committee neatly summarise what seems to be a genuine anti-data attitude:

"I  have to tell you that from my clinical perspective, no amount of hype or spin will convince me that the  adverse  effects of persons living too close to a large wind turbine are simply psychosomatic"........"The adage 'absence of evidence does not mean evidence of absence' comes to mind" 

One cannot declare a conclusion whilst simultaneously citing a lack of evidence as reason to believe that conclusion. If there is truly an absence of evidence, as Reider states, then how is he justified in telling patients that their suffering is caused by wind turbines?

This inverse rule is a paradox: No data is needed to reach a strong conclusion about 'wind turbine syndrome', and no data can exist that could ever reverse that strong conclusion:

The denial of deduction and causation is a necessary component in the concrete acceptance of extremely weak hypotheses, such as those underlying homeopathy, anti-vaccination fear-mongering, anti-abortion pseudoscience dating back to the 1950's, or 'wind turbine syndrome'.

Abetz' efforts on The Project saw him appealing for the rejection of prevailing consensus, despite attempts to backpedal. Unfortunately, for Abetz, the reason that medical science works so well is because scientific facts are deduced using careful testing. The scientific method isn't perfect, but it's an extremely useful tool for deducing the shape of reality.

Reider's last paragraph is something I can imagine has been hurtling through Abetz's mind for the past five days. It's the freedom to ignore data, and to let truth be guided by our desires, rather than our science.

"For better or worse, in today’s “information age” we are perhaps too fascinated by computers and mountains of data, but truth is truth, wherever you find it, even in small places"

Friday, 8 August 2014

Why Wind Turbine Land Impact is Exaggerated

Math is important.

Cast your eyes to the tweet below, courtesy of the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association, or APPEA: 

APPEA's Natural Gas website is linked at the bottom of the image. The website features a gigantic flame, in case you were in any doubt as to what they're all about.

There's an  undercurrent of antagonism towards renewable energy on the page, so it makes sense that, in an effort to compare the land use needed for gas extraction, they'd pick wind farms and solar panels as their comparison technologies.

The troublesome thing here, for whoever it was that made that infographic, is that wind farms actually have an incredibly low impact on land. Once the machines are up, farmers can continue to use the land in and around wind farms, for agriculture and stock. This is a wind farm in the Netherlands, nestled amongst a Tulip farm:

In the infographic, APPEA claim that you'd need six turbines, each of three megawatt capacity, to generated fifty two gigawatt hours a year (enough to power around 8,000 homes). They claim that these six machines would covered a total of 2.5 hectares. For this to be the case, the coverage of each turbine would have to be 4,167 square metres, with the tower having a diameter of 72 metres.

As you may know, a wind turbine tower isn't 72 metres wide. If it were, it would mean each of the sheep in this photo has a length of around 28.8 metres

Via Dave Clarke's Blog

If the sheep in that photo truly are 28.8 metres long, that's about 2.3 standard bus lengths. They're probably not. I think its more likely APPEA got their calculations wrong.

The UK's Department of Energy and Climate Change released this infographic last year:

It was hastily taken down, after the DECC faced criticism. It's a little harder to figure out the calculations they've used here, but we can do a rough estimate:

......625 metres wide? Surely, they're forgotten a zero? They haven't. They're assuming that the land impact of a wind farm incorporates everything within the boundary of the farm, rather than the actual machines. As I mentioned earlier, it's sneaky and dishonest - you can still use the land around the pad of the tower.

If you're still suspicious, here's an overhead view of the Capital and Woodlawn wind farms. Obese, land-destroying death machines? Or, relatively small towers of steel that convert wind to electrical energy? You decide.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Australian Wind Energy Wasn't Generating 'Nothing' In July

Whilst on holiday, in Germany, I stumbled across something that filled me with instantaneous joy. It's from a columnist at the Herald Sun, named Terry McCrann, with the headline "WHEN THE WIND DOESN'T BLOW, THE POWER DOESN'T SWITCH ON":
"On Monday, all the wind farms in Southern Australia, all the hundreds of turbines scattered across South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania, altogether produced exactly zero — nothing, nada, zip, zilch — power for two hours smack in the middle of the day.
Indeed, right through most of the working day — from 11am in the morning until after 8pm that night — the total output of all the wind farms was effectively zero for that entire period. 
But over those nine hours they pumped out at most just 120MW, barely 4 per cent of their capacity (sic), and for most of the time much less even than that. 
That included those two hours, from 3pm to 5pm, of absolutely no power
...these wind farms are scattered from as far west as Port Lincoln to east of Canberra, from the top of Tasmania to way north of Adelaide, from coastal sites to tops of country hills, and from all of them, for those two hours not a single MW of power."
The pitiable headline writer (tasked with awkwardly cramming a hook onto an article that is largely about the fact that wind speeds change over time) didn't give much thought to the fact that the power actually did 'switch on', during the times at which wind speeds were low.

The reason this sort of thing makes me happy is because it's not very hard to make fun of. To be fair, we can't expect a piece of writing that descends instantaneously into self-parody to be hard to make fun of.

The author seems to have an awkward relationship with the concept of 'zero. He's fond of it, as evidenced by the fact that he summoned his thesaurus when describing it. But his dictionary seems to have been misplaced. This is a chart of the time period during which NEM-based wind farms produced "exactly zero — nothing, nada, zip, zilch":

It's low, but it's non-zero, meaning McCrann's assertions were wrong.

I love watching reality mercilessly trample the feelpinions regularly laid out by conservative columnists, like a giant mechanical elephant strolling over an out-of-date Kit Kat.

These articles on wind power output are particularly fun examples of where emotionally-driven ranting collides comically with the need to try and gracelessly wedge some skerrick of numeracy amongst a forest of feels.

So what about the claim that wind farms were, between 11am and 8pm, somehow simultaneously producing 'effectively zero' (wat) and 120 megawatts?

There are peaks at 126 megawatts during the time McCrann angrily insists it was no greater than 120, but hey, what's a few megawatts between friends?

The total amount of energy produced by wind farms during that nine hour period was 521 megawatt hours. Considering the average Australian home uses about 18 kilowatt hours per day, you could have theoretically powered about 521,000/18 =  28,944 homes for a day each during McCrann's nine hour period of 'effective zero' output.

At wind's minimum output during that period, 15 megawatts, you could still have powered 15/((18/24)/1000) = 20,000 average Australian homes (depending, obviously, on how much power each home was actually using).

The fact that McCrann is, quite literally, wrong about his claims, isn't all that surprising. What's more interesting to me is why he opts for the analytical approach of 'ignore nearly all data available'.

Below, we can look at Monday's total output - I've highlighted the time he's ignored, and the times he's discussed:

The probability that Terry McCrann will say things about wind power seems to increase as the wind speed decreases. No doubt, McCrann cast his eye over the output of wind farms over the previous weeks, and regarded all other data as a bizarre, hateful, green-conspiracy anomaly.

Here's wind farm output over the month of July, with the period that McCrann discussed highlighted in red:

This doesn't really give you a good idea of how often wind speeds are high, low and average. A better visualisation is a frequency histogram - this tells you how many hours that the NEM wind fleet spent at each output level. I've summarised the output levels into 50 megawatt bars:

The times at which wind speeds are low across the fleet of wind farms were not particularly common. The times at which total wind output was below 50 megawatts accounts for ~1.8% of total time. The times at which wind power output was higher accounts for the remaining 98.2% of July.

McCrann's furious focus on the small, brief periods when wind speeds are low reveal an important point - logical fallacy is a never-ending fountain of content for conservative columnists critical of renewable technology. In this instance, McCrann uses a 'straw-man fallacy' - he assumes advocates of renewables want only wind farms, and then critiques the rare periods at which the fleet has low output. Build a straw man, and gleefully tear it down.

McCrann also seems to deny the existing of the market operator's wind energy forecasting system, known as AWEFs:
"This is what we saw with Edis some weeks ago when he claimed that an analysis showed you could predict these sorts of “outages” an hour ahead of time (he originally claimed 24 hours, but corrected that); time enough to power up an alternative"
The fact that Tristan Edis followed up with market operator data showing forecasts 24 hours in advance has been, presumably, blanked out by McCrann's subconscious.

This isn't the last time that a conservative columnist will cherry-pick a short interval, and insist that they're being analytically honest. In this case, McCrann couldn't even get it right about the period he'd sliced out, making statements about 'zero output' that were quite literally false. McCrann's ability to take refuge in these brief periods is decreasing as installed wind capacity grows across the NEM. Here's one last chart - showing the percentage of time, each month, that wind power has spent at output between zero and fifty megawatts, since 2010:

The walls of the low-wind cherry-picking room are closing on its few, angry inhabitants. Soon, I suspect, I'll have to find my fun elsewhere.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Why Copenhagen Hasn't Seen A "Wind Turbine Syndrome" Pandemic

Right now, I'm 8.423 kilometres from an operational wind turbine. I'm in Copenhagen, right next to to the Middelgrunden offshore wind farm. The 40 megawatt facility has generated ~1,199 gigawatt hours in its lifetime.

Here are some of the symptoms the 'Waubra Foundation' say I might experience:

"People are reporting symptoms such as the body vibrations and the waking up at night in a panicked state out to 10km from operating wind turbines 
"Worsening diabetes 
"Tako tsubo heart attacks" 
"they can detect the unwelcome pulsating sensations particularly at night, out to 17 km from the nearest operating wind turbine" 
"Episodes of intense anger" 
"Interference patterns are responsible for the reports some residents and workers have given of experiencing strong physical forces which have knocked them to their knees, felt like a ‘punch in the chest’ or resulted in symptoms of an acute hypertensive crisis"
“Various people have described symptoms where they have described either chest or lip vibration, the lip vibrations have been described to me as from a distance of 10 kilometers away.” 

Curiously, I'm feeling pretty okay. This is despite the fact that 20 wind turbines are really quite close to Copenhagen. If we trace a ten kilometre radius around the wind farm:

So; why isn't the city of Copenhagen wracked by the ravages of 'wind turbine syndrome'? I think there are two reasons.

The groups that promote wind turbine syndrome do so, largely, in English speaking countries. It's their continued promulgation of the concept that seems to lend itself towards the reporting of 'symptoms'. This is something I've explored previously on this blog, here, here and here.

One way of identifying geographic spread is examining lists of individuals speaking about 'wind turbine syndrome'. In this case, most are from English-speaking countries. 
This is an important factor, but it's not the whole story. Even if Denmark had its own 'wind turbine syndrome' organisation, I strongly suspect the phenomenon wouldn't take hold. The Middelgrunden Wind Farm happens to be half-owned by Middelgrunden Wind Cooperative - 10,000 investors that own 10 of the 20 turbines.

I think this plays a big part in why wind farms are so readily accepted by the residents of Copenhagen, and more generally, most of Denmark. Here, there's no simmering discontent for groups like the 'Waubra Foundation' to feed off and worsen. Their supply has no demand; and so, 'wind turbine syndrome' holds no sway.

The close interplay between community discontent and the activities of Australian anti-wind groups comes into stark relief, when you're sitting in a city that considers the idea of 'wind turbine syndrome' a fleeting fascination.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Some charts I made whilst drinking a beer in Singapore

Right now, I'm sitting inside Changi airport. It's humid, I'm tired, I ate a weird burger that had some sauce in it that I did't know what it was, and I'm about to board a 13.5 hour flight. There's a pool of koi gazing curiously at the grey sheen of my equally-exhausted laptop.

Basically, I should have other stuff on my mind, but I can't stop thinking about the electrical output of a certain set of machines in a certain state, on a certain continent. 

Australia's Eastern seaboard has an interconnected electricity market, that's sort-of segregated into states. The states are interconnected, but each has its own price, generation, demand and forecasts, from the perspective of the market operator. 

The National Electricity Market, as illustrated by the market operator
This week, in the South Australian region, wind power has supplied a fairly large percentage of the total generation in the state. I won't pre-empt any post-week calculations by declaring what that percentage is, but it's going to be freaking huge, I bet. 

For now, just revel in a couple of charts comparing the output of wind farms to other generators in SA. 

It's not a big state, and, yes, it can draw power from Victoria during a shortfall of supply, or during network congestion. That doesn't take away from the significance of a chunk of our electricity network managing to actually capture the available wind resource, and offset a huge quantity of emissions (given that we'd otherwise have had to source the power from fossil fuels). 

Here's the generation for the month, showing average daily generation (in megawatts). I think this neatly illustrates that, most of the time, wind power contributes to SA's mix, but sometimes it really dominates, and that's what's happened this week:
It's pretty clear from that chart that the presence of wind seems to correlate with lower output from the fossil fuel generators in SA - coal and gas. At one point this week, the coal-fired power station, Port Augusta, shut off. My bet is that it had something to do with the high levels of wind penetration in the state. It might not be, but that's my suspicion. Wind outdid fossil fuels for most of the week, so far:

At the time of writing this blog post (23:05 26/06/2014 AEST), the percentage of wind power in SA is at 69% of total South Australian generation.

The friendly bartender here at Changi airport told me, as he handed me my refreshing and very-welcome beer, that Singapore's current percentage of wind power is precisely zero. It's nice to know we're ahead of the curve. A little patriotic pride on my global trawl. Here's SA's history, since 2005: