Monthly Archives: November 2013

The unsuccessful success story

Last week there was quite some fuss about the near bankruptcy of a Belgian green energy producer, Electrawinds. They manage installations that produces green power via wind, solar, biomass and also bio-diesel.

I know there were a lot of bankruptcies last year among for example solar panel installers (because of less subsidies given to install solar panels), but Electrawinds isn’t really a small company and received loads of governmental support. Until shortly it was considered a success story. There were many projects, not only in Belgium, but also in France, The Netherlands, Italy, Serbia and Kenya. There were even plans to build a prestigious, futuristic looking new headquarter in Ostend.

But last year they reported a loss of 361 million euro and then things went downhill very fast. Several efficiency measures were taken, involvement in some projects (bio-diesel) was diminished, two rescue plan were rejected. If they don’t come up with a solution this weekend they will file bankruptcy on Monday…

Most news media told about the same story with largely the same words, so I guess they all originate from the same source. According to different sources the amount of subsidies was more than 140 million euro. This amount is without the income of green certificates (money given for the production of green electricity – not really a subsidy, but indirectly paid by the consumers).

The subsidies were detailed in the open letter to Minister vande Lanotte (Dutch), written by Jean-Marie Dedecker (founder of the political party LDD), is very detailed and gives a lot of background information that the media doesn’t bring. Not only a detailed list of the subsidies, but mostly background information about the many political connections between Electrawinds and (the entourage of) the Minister.

How did this happen? Electrawinds went in a short timespan from a successful example of green entrepreneurship to a financial disaster. When looking deeper, there were more darlings of the green economy that are in serious trouble or experienced it in the recent past (4Energy Invest, Enfinity and Thenergo) or stopped altogether (Photovoltech, V&R Solar Company and Solar Living).

People are still claiming renewable sources of energy don’t depend on subsidies anymore and are even cheaper than gas or nuclear. But the gruesome reality is that many of the green companies were dependent on the subsidies and had to file bankruptcy when the subsidies diminished. Take away the subsidies and the system starts to collapse.


Widespread support or widespread ignorance?


On November 20, the Dutch State got sued for not doing enough to avert dangerous climate change. Some weeks ago I downloaded the “draft version 7” of the summons, but in the meanwhile the final version (in Dutch) became available. There is quite some difference between the versions, but what stood out were two paragraphs that disappeared (translated from Dutch):

  1. This lawsuit further provides the opportunity to drag the discussion about climate change out of the domain of the one liners and emotions. The court room provides, maybe even as only public space in The Netherlands, the possibility to have the climate discussion on the basis of facts, evidence and nuanced position changes. A judicial decision and the considerations underlying it will, regardless of the outcome of the procedure, give the Dutch public better insight in the climate debate into how the evidence and the dangers should be valued.
  2. Plaintiffs also see it as a necessity because the Dutch public, at least a substantial part of it, doesn’t know much of for example the degree of warming which can not be avoided anymore, of the climatic and social causes that underlie these changes and of the unavoidable consequences and risks of that warming, or of for example, the nature, severity, duration and extent of the damage that is likely even greater in the case of dangerous climate change. In the absence of active information and warnings from the government, they don’t realize the risk. For the uninformed public the danger is once again not known because there is a delay of decades between cause and effect, therefor the damage is already done but not yet suffered (due later). These conditions contribute to the dangerous situation that was created, this is why one of the claims against the State focused on its obligation to inform the society and to warn of climate threat, so it gets clear what is at stake in The Netherlands if no adequate climate action is taken and supportive action from society can emerge.

Discussions on basis of facts and evidence, what’s not to like? To be honest, when I first read these paragraphs I was a bit surprised to find this in there. First, if there is one country in the world open for debate, it surely is The Netherlands. No courtroom necessary for having a debate there. Even (sparse) skeptic voices can be heard in the media. Second, it seems to me that the skeptics tend to focus more on the facts and the evidence than the alarmists. Last, but not least, it doesn’t fit in a “crowd” pleading action. They see the court summons as a democratic action, so it doesn’t sound good when stating that a substantial part of the Dutch doesn’t know much about it and still has to be “educated”. That is probably the reason why these two paragraphs didn’t survive the cut.

Subsequently, of the three demands to the judge the last one didn’t survive either (translated from Dutch):

To demand the State to inquire the Dutch population about the scientific knowledge and insights about the effects of the current global CO2 emissions on the climate and the associated risks.;

Probably ousted for the same reason. Yet, on their website that demand still stands. That is a bit schizophrenic. On the one hand they want to show the judge they have a widespread support among the Dutch people, yet on the other hand they show that a substantial part of the Dutch people still need to be convinced. Do they want to hide this fact from the judge? While admitting to the public that a substantial part of the public are ignorant and need to be informed?

What frightens me in these paragraphs (and also in general in the summons) is the incredible certainty in which a highly uncertain process is proclaimed. It makes me wonder if they really want a debate of just want to persuade people into the (one-sided) absolute truth they are declaring?

Chicken Littles have come to roost in COP19


Sometimes a small lie, being told for whatever reason, can be taken to an new unexpected level by the reaction by those who take the lie for granted. It forms often the hilarious plot of comedies.

It happened also at the Warsaw summit. After decades of demonizing CO2, the developing countries took that for granted and at the COP19 summit they turned it up a notch. On November 20 the delegations of the G77 (a coalition of developing nations) walked out the summit because they didn’t see a commitment by the developed nations. The issue they had was on “loss and damage”. This was the, ahem, “money” quote (my emphasis):

Developing countries negotiating at COP19 have repeatedly stated that creating an international mechanism under UNFCCC to address loss and damage is the biggest expectation they have of the Warsaw meeting.

It was never a big secret that the developing countries want to be on the receiving end, but this is the clearest you can get.

Typhoon Haiyan lays at the base of this issue, brought forward as some countries that “already are suffering the deadly impact of climate change”. Therefor they want a compensation for this damage done by the developed countries, they obviously “caused” the whole shebang.

How did they got that far? The initial lie by the politicians and the media was that extreme disasters like droughts and storms are getting more powerful and/or more frequent due to global warming caused by our emissions. Probably in order to facilitate the political process to curb emissions. Whatever. The lie is still being perpetuated. For example, Ban Ki-moon was, speaking at Tallinn University in Estonia on November 16, claiming that:

[…] We have seen now what has happened in the Philippines. It is an urgent warning,” he said, “an example of changed weather and how climate change is affecting all of us on earth”. […]

[…] “We need action before it is too late,” said the UN chief, adding that a rise in temperatures would “affect us all. The threat is very real, and we all have to take responsibility to stop it.” […]

Probably putting in the (not warranted) certainty and the urgency to put pressure on the negotiators, but in the light of the lie it is easily understood as yet another guilt declaration.

Haiyan is attributed to global warming/climate change created by our emissions, a claim that is not supported by the scientific evidence. The IPCC said that there have been “no significant observed trends in global tropical cyclone frequency over the past century”. Yet, the UN ignored its own science report to claim this typhoon is somehow linked with our historical emissions, making it our fault. This little lie apparently came back to haunt them.

We shouldn’t be surprised that the developing countries use the tragedy of the Philippines to propose these additional demands. They are smart enough to come to the obvious conclusion that if it is true that our historical emissions caused current global warming (that is what the politicians and the press have been telling them all along) and as a consequence make Haiyan happen and/or worse, then follows that we did harm. You break it, you pay for it.

Can you blame them for trying? We made it really easy for them to come to that conclusion.

Overwhelming circumstantial evidence


In the court summons of Urgenda (Dutch) the urgency based on their evidence is described. Interesting. I am always interested in the evidence. There was a time when I was looking closer for that “overwhelming” evidence of Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming. I didn’t find hard evidence, but what I did find was an overwhelming repetition of assumptions.

This was no different: no hard evidence, but an accumulation building on a base assumption. It starts of course with this base assumption:

we emit CO2CO2 is a greenhouse gaswe are the main cause of the temperature increase

All nice and (much too) simple. Sure, CO2 is a greenhouse gas and the more in the atmosphere, the higher the temperature, other things being equal. Earth is a very complex system and elements it is composed of interact with each other. The big question is what the temperature impact of the human origin CO2 is in the real world. The IPCC (which their defense depends heavily on) even lowered the equilibrium climate sensitivity, going from 2 °C – 4.5 °C (best estimate of 3 °C) to 1.5 °C – 4.5 °C (no best estimate given). That is basically an uncertainty increase. But then they said they are even more sure now than ever before… That assumed certainty increase was being gloriously displayed in the court summons, mounting to the “overwhelming” evidence. The increased uncertainty was not acknowledged.

Temperatures went up in the last 100 years, but that doesn’t necessarily prove it is of human origin. And yes, the warming started in the 1850s, which coincide with the start of the industrial era. But it also coincide with the end of a cold period, the “little ice age”. When we came out of a cold period of 400-500 year, a 160 years of warming should not be that unusual. How to differentiate between the anthropogenic warming and a recovery from a cold period?

No mention that the “evidence” is obtained by climate models that don’t seem to be on par with reality. They act as if the climate models are correct and accurate. The pause in global temperatures learns us that there is a growing divergence between the models and observations and that should indicate we should have less confidence in them.

Do they have sound scientific evidence? Nope. Do they have a falsifiable theory? Nope. Do they have validated models? Nope. Were previous projections correct? Nope. Do they look at the different sides of the issue? Nope. In the end this is circumstantial evidence at best.

Where did all that uncertainty go?


When reading more about the Urgenda lawsuit against the State on their action website (Dutch), I had one big question: how can they be so damn sure? Climate is a very complex system with many thousands, maybe even million variables, that can interact with each other. Yet they know it all, even 30 years in the future! In full detail! No doubts here.

While climate models can’t predict anything a couple months beforehand, scientists are surprised when again something happens that doesn’t fit the theory, climate sensitivity lowered, things like hurricanes and drought which were deemed as proof of human influence lowered in certainty,.. Yet, even with more uncertainty the climate of several decades ahead is still no mystery. Something is not right.

But in a way, I can understand it. I have been there. I once believed that the science was solid (although I thought that scientists exaggerated), the models were mature after so many years, we would end in 4 °C at the end of the century, my country would be changed dramatically. Melting polar ice, polar bears, omens that things were broken. I believed what others told me, so I was absolved in checking facts. Heck, if I would have been in other circles and had a climate blog, I could have well written things like that.

Now that absolute certainty seems unreal. So much sparse data relied upon. So many ifs, buts, woulds, mays and mights. And yet, all that uncertainty seems not to get through to the public. Leaving only the certainty.

Are Wind and Solar unaffordable or dirt cheap?

When looking at the article about the threats made by Aspiravi to tear down windmills when they get more than 10 years old (see previous post) I found on the same page two links to other stories titled Green power becomes unaffordable and Extremely low electricity prices because of wind and sun. It looks a bit comical and contradictory having links to those two articles on the same page. How can solar and wind be at the same time be unaffordable as well as giving extremely low electricity prices? Which one of the two is correct?


After digging a bit deeper I came to the conclusion that both are correct. The articles are about two different things.

Green power becomes unaffordable

This is about the yearly cost of subsidies for wind, solar and biomass energy in Flanders (about half the area of Belgium). This cost is rising and this year it will rise above 1 billion euro. I was really surprised by this number. I knew it was high, but I did not realize it was THIS high. This is for an energy source of about 7% of the electricity production. We only are with 6.4 million people in Flanders, so if one wants to mathematically spread this evenly over our population this would mean about €150 for every man, woman and child … only on subsidies. This only to get the extent clear (I know children don’t really pay individually and there is also the industry and businesses that pay for it).

In 2012 there was 626 million of subsidies for solar panels … for a share that for convenience mostly is rounded to zero! Biomass gets €223 million, wind on land another 69 million. Offshore wind is not taking into account because they get federal support (but which will be paid by the Belgian taxpayer anyhow).

That is a lot of money for an energy source that is, ahem, free and supposedly beats coal, gas and nuclear energy.

The cost will still grow until at least 2020. Until last year there was an oversubsidising. The subsidy rules changed drastically last year, but existing contracts will keep on being oversubsidized until the end of their contract.

Low prices because of wind and sun

The low prices are because of a bigger energy production by wind and solar on Sunday October 27, 2013. So it is basically a snapshot in time when wind and solar were optimal. But they don’t talk about the rest of the year when this for the largest part isn’t optimal. Wind and Solar are intermittent energy sources. They depend on the sun and the wind. No problem with that on that Sunday. Also not much of consumption on that day, so there was more energy production and not so much consumption, which means a surplus of energy. In the energy market this low demand and a high supply means lower prices.

Although it is true that there was a low price on the energy market because of the extra production, this will not affect the electricity bill of the ordinary consumers. They don’t buy the electricity on the price of the moment, but have a contract with a fixed price with their supplier. Basically, the target group of this newspaper has no connection with this lower price, only the big industry benefits from it. Therefor the title is misleading for this target group.

Also nothing could be done with this surplus energy. Our neighbor countries had the same problem, so exporting it was not an option. In this case it seemed not a big issue, but when the surplus is more extreme it could overload the grid with a potential brownout or blackout as a result.

Basically it is a not so good property of wind and solar was brought as a nice thing. Ignoring that fitting an intermittent energy source in a continuously working system is not for the faint hearted and can disrupt the grid completely. We have been there several times before (see for example too much green power).

Concluding: wind and solar can be dirt cheap and unaffordable at the same time.
Unaffordable because of sky high subsidies given to green energy (especially solar) and this billion is not the end of it. Even more to come in the near future.
Dirt cheap because of the intermittent nature they can produce a lot of energy at certain times which make it cheap on the energy market (only at that moment). But this doesn’t mean that the ordinary consumer will gain from it.

Please don’t cut our subsidies, we want more profits for our shareholders

Remember the statements that “wind energy is free” or “wind energy is cheaper than say coal or nuclear energy”. This week the mask has slipped. Aspiravi (a Belgian developer and manager of wind, biomass and biogas projects) threatens to tear down their wind turbines when they get more than 10 years old , because they will not get subsidies after this time for them anymore.

They claim that it was agreed they would receive green certificates for 20 years (the expected life time of a windmill), but at the end of last year this was reduced to 10 years. They claim that energy is cheap (tell that to those who can’t afford it anymore) and exploitation costs are high. Therefor some of the projects will not be profitable anymore. It is not clear which turbines they exactly mean. Existing contracts were not affected by the new policy, so I guess they mean only the new projects since the end of last year that will not be profitable within 10 years.

The Minister was not amused. She said that the certificates have the goal to compensate for the investment done in the projects, not for financing profits after this. Once the investment cost is recuperated, continue subsidizing the project is not a responsible thing to do.


Let us look at the cold reality again. This little nasty pop-up can be found on the Aspivari homepage. It says [translated from Dutch]:

Go like the wind

Your savings have the wind from behind

Invest and win three times

Those who invest in wind energy projects of Aspiravi, win three times
One time in pure local energy, one time in a sustainable environment for your (grand)children, one time in an expected yearly return of 4 to 6%
No bank or saving account can do this.
Become shareholder of “Aspiravi Samen” and invest with us.

Aspiravi. Go like the wind.

So this is what they mean with “profitable”. They are advertising that their product is far better than any savings accounts. When I read this I can imagine why they have a problem with a limitation on subsidies. It eats away their high profit rate.

They are forgetting where the money actually comes from. It is from the taxpayers and consumers. It is basically just a redistribution of money, from the taxpayers and consumers to those who do invest in green energy.

Sue the countries with a small emission decrease and ignore those with a massive increase. That will make the difference!


Last week Wednesday I heard a short news flash on the radio. The room was rather noisy at that time, but I caught some bits and pieces: apparently a group of people prepare for a lawsuit against the Belgian Government, suing them for failing climate change policy. Back at home, I started to look for it on the internet, but found nothing.

The next day I found a very small article in a newspaper, tucked away on the very last page below the weather forecast. A group of scientists, lawyers and artists are preparing for a lawsuit against the State. It was inspired by a similar lawsuit in our neighbor country, The Netherlands.

A lot of questions arose: what is their standing? Negligence in the sense of what? At the moment they don’t want to give more information about the lawsuit, so I got interested in the lawsuit of the Netherlands. Here the organization Urgenda is suing the State of The Netherlands for not doing enough to avert “dangerous climate change”. According to their writing I guess they mean “Global Warming” with this.

This is what they ask the judge (translated from Dutch):

  1. To declare that the Dutch State acts unlawfully by not conducting an adequate climate policy.
  2. Asking drastically bring back the CO2 emissions ie preferably by 40% compared to 1990 levels and to submit a realistic program to explain how it will be done.
  3. To request the State to better inform the Dutch population about the scientific state about climate change and associated risks.

Update November 26, 2013: in the meanwhile this version of the summons (draft version 7 final) is replaced by the final version. In this final version the last point disappeared.

I have some questions with the first request. Is the Dutch State conducting in a wrong way legally? Do they have a law that commands The Netherlands to lower emissions by 40%? As far as I know they signed international agreements, for example the UN climate treaty. Shouldn’t they go to the UN for sanctioning The State for not abiding to the treaty in stead of to a judge in the Netherlands? In the court summons there is a paragraph about the right of the next generation that could be taken into account and they want to come to the courthouse with a whole bunch of people (crowd pleading), probably in order to state representation of (a part of) the Dutch people. But I suppose the judge is not a scientist and could not possibly give a judgment on the science even if it was given, he can only give a judgment on the law.

The second request of cutting down the emissions by 40%, let’s look at reality for a while: the emissions worldwide and in The Netherlands in specific. The EU as a whole is lowering its emissions and even lowering still. The emissions of The Netherland dropped in the last years, but if one takes the 1990 as a benchmark, they kept even. Emissions per capita is lowering. But look at India and China. They are increasing their emissions at greater speed. They are not done yet. And then we didn’t talk yet about Africa that eagerly needs more energy in the near future.
Even the largest reduction possible in The Netherlands will be completely overwhelmed by all these numbers. The problem with emissions isn’t The Netherlands, nor Belgium, nor Europe.

Belgium had even the largest emissions reduction in the EU in 2012, so I am really curious what the Belgian group will come up with to back up their claims…

But let’s stay with the example of The Netherlands. Last figures I found were those from 2011. In that year the Dutch had an emission of 160 million metric tons. Worldwide emissions were 33,900 million metric tons. This means The Netherlands is responsible for a whopping 0.47% of the total emissions. Even with a 40% emission decrease in emissions the influence on the global temperatures would be a number with a lot of zero’s after the decimal symbol. Whatever reduction in emissions (even a complete reduction) would hardly be scratching the surface. For the Belgian situation it is probably even less.

Global CO2 emissions. Source:

Global CO2 emissions 1990-2012. Source:

Looking at the graph, if they really, really are concerned about limiting global CO2 emissions, then they are suing the wrong countries!

The last request for the judge is a tricky one. This could as well being a way to have even more one-sided alarmist views spread to the people. Why not just give BOTH views on the issue? And in a lawsuit, is it not the tradition to look at both sides of the issue and not only one as in this case (hiding all uncertainties)?

No thanks, but yes please


This is something I didn’t expect. According to CNN four climate scientists wrote an open letter to use nuclear energy in order to fight global warming. They state that only nuclear power can make enough clean power to slow climate change. Those who signed the statement: James Hansen, Ken Caldeira, Kerry Emanuel and Tom Wigley. Rather known by those following the climate controversy.

If we assume that CO2 is the problem, then nuclear energy would be the path to go. It is a proven technology, it doesn’t emit much CO2 (only at extraction and with transport) and gives a reliable output. Considering that renewables are still a marginal part in the energy mix, nuclear energy should be the logical choice when one wants to abandon fossil fuels.

The greens were very vocal in the discussion of phasing out the Belgian nuclear reactors. Nuclear energy provided somewhat more than half of our electricity production. When we want to shut them all down, half of our electricity production should be replaced by something else. Replacing it by renewables would not be practical, they are only about 7% of our electricity production and the production of it is incredibly expensive. Wind is free, but catching it and producing electricity from it clearly isn’t.

When some of our nuclear reactors went (temporary) offline, suddenly the greens went ballistic again: our carbon footprint went up dramatically. Not hard to understand: to close the gap, one of the measures of the government was to keep open older coal and gas plants longer, which means higher consumption of coal and gas because those are not that efficient in use. Combine this with the loss of an energy source with a low CO2 emission and you get an enlargement of the carbon footprint of our energy production. Many people were not surprised, but it seemed the greens couldn’t grasp that simple logic.

I am very curious how this information will reach our little country and how the greens would deal with it after taking rather strong standpoints against it.

Personally, I do not think the point of the open letter is relevant. It is based on the assumption that human emissions are the main cause of dangerous global warming, which is not supported by the observations. We shouldn’t rush into alternative energy sources before they are ready, when we find a good alternative to fossil fuels or when we can deal with the intermittent nature of our current renewable energy sources.

It is a waste of time to debate … we do not have the answers either

When searching for information on how the AR5 was portrayed in the media, I came to this remarkable interview with Jean-Pascale van Ypersele (vice chair of the IPCC) in MO* magazine.

Again the usual statement that “the 5th IPCC report confirms with even more certainty that the warming is persisting and that man is responsible”. No word of course about the lowered equilibrium climate sensitivity, the larger sensitivity range, the inability to give a best estimate, the low confidence in trend and attribution of droughts and hurricanes, the lowered confidence in climate models and so on. Also no mention that this assessment is a opinion, not a measured value. In the light of this it is a bit odd certainty goes from 90% to 95%.

The thing that surprised me was that van Ypersele didn’t hide the fact that politics is almost as important to him than science (his father and grandfather were politicians). Which is probably an advantage having in the IPCC process (the IPCC is a political organization that uses science for its purposes).

That is how I saw the rest of the article, a combination of science and politics. About the AR Summary for Policymakers (translated from Dutch):

For five days long they discussed almost day and night about the Summary for Policymakers. Climate scientists simply do not rush it. And once the evidence is obvious, they also want politicians to take responsibility.

The summary for policymakers is a combination of science and politics. Strangely he says that “once the evidence is obvious”. As if the evidence is that clear. It relies heavily on climate models, which received quite some criticism in the last year. There is a growing discrepancy between the output of models and the observations. That would also be a reason why the certainty should have been lowered in stead of increased.

The reporter suggested that the report was conservative because the numbers are old. The answer (translated from Dutch):

With all the filtering it underwent, it can only be conservative. But the final findings have been accepted by all countries, including Russia and Saudi Arabia. That’s very important, the report is very solid. If we don’t have controversy anymore over this data, it is a very important base. Therefor, the UN Climate Panel decided not to enter into debate with climate skeptics about science anymore. The debate should now be about the solutions.

This strikes me as a pure political statement, not a scientific one. Scientifically, it shouldn’t even matter if a finding is accepted by all countries. The fact that these countries agree, doesn’t mean this is a solid finding, in fact, it only means that the selected members of those countries agree on this text, not that it is scientifically correct. Big difference.

No controversy anymore? Sure, if there is no debate anymore with skeptics about the science, then there obviously is no controversy anymore and the debate could be continued to find the solutions. Which is the pure political part in the process.

This gives it a sense of urgency. Quick, quick, we have to do something. Never mind the failing models, never mind the observations that raise questions that could not even be answered, the lowered sensitivity,…

Besides, losing the debate because of the naughty uncertainty could mean losing credibility.

Acting upon the advice of the UN Climate Panel he refused a debate (translated from Dutch)

That’s why I did not accept the invitation of the RTBF program Mise au Point to debate with fellow chemist at UCL, István Markó. It is a waste of time to debate someone like that before a public that does not think about it in a scientific way. I don’t avoid the debate on scientific questions, but then it must be conducted in a scientific context, in meetings with scientists. If you have a science that is so firmly established, examined by hundreds of scientists, and if the result is accepted by all governments of the world, no, I have no more time to this yet to deal with a climate non-expert who cast doubt in the debate.

That really convenient. Back in 2011 he once debated István Markó and it didn’t fare well. After the discussion the majority of the audience said not believing that humans are responsible for global warming, while at the beginning it was the reverse.

He doesn’t want to discuss about it anymore, except with like minded people. That’s not a debate anymore, but a cozy get-together. It gives me the impression that here speaks a man that doesn’t want to prove his case and just want to press his political ideas without resistance. This is not a scientist speaking, but a politician.