When the relevant data doesn’t fit the narrative, just use other data that will and suggest that the relevant data fits even better

A graph that caught my attention in the “100% renewable electricity in Australia” paper by Blakers and Stocks was this one:

It shows growth of the installed capacity of solar PV and wind compared with other energy sources between 2014 and 2016. The remarkable increase of solar energy stood out, it almost doubled in three years time. Wind energy did not do bad either, the increase grew in 2015, dropped a bit in 2016, but nevertheless stayed above the 2014 value.

There is something weird about this graph: there is also an entry “nuclear” and, as far as I know, Australia doesn’t have any nuclear power plants. So this is obviously not the Australian situation.

The relevance of the graph was explained in the paper as (my emphasis):

PV and wind constitute half of the world‘s new generation capacity installed in 2014-16 (Fig. 1). In recent years, these sources provided nearly all new generation capacity installed in Australia.

That PV and wind constitute half of the new generation capacity is rather meaningless since they are comparing intermittent energy sources with dispatchable energy sources. But let’s assume, for the sake of the argument, that this comparison is somehow meaningful. What they apparently want to say is that the installed capacity of solar PV and wind did very well compared to other power sources worldwide (which explains the “nuclear” entry) and that solar PV and wind in Australia were responsible for nearly all of the growth. Therefor suggesting that there is a similar increase for Australia, only much better since solar PV and wind provided most of the new installations there.

The big question then is: why don’t they just use the Australian data to illustrate their case? The subject of the paper is renewables in Australia, yet they illustrate their claim with renewables in the world. More, since Australian solar PV and wind were almost the only generation capacity that increased between 2014 and 2016, the Australian situation should in theory be a much better illustration of what they want to prove.

It didn’t make much sense to me: why on earth would they fall back to the worldwide situation when 1) the subject of their study is Australia and 2) there is the suggestion that the Australian situation would much better fit the narrative of the paper?!?!?

That was not the first time they did this. It reminded me of the Conversation article which was written by the same authors and was mostly about the Australian situation, yet was larded with two graphs representing the worldwide situation. At that time, I had the impression that the authors were cherry picking, just taking those examples that best fitted the narrative. Whether or not these examples represented the situation of the region they were describing in their article.

So what’s up with the graph in this paper?

Initially, I was looking for the installed capacity figure of the fossil-fuel energy sources between 2014 and 2016, but didn’t have much luck with that. I started to wonder whether the authors used that graph describing the worldwide situation simply because they didn’t have the Australian numbers.

But then, no, that would be very hard to believe. The authors are supposed to be experts in their field, so it would be rather unlikely that they didn’t have access to those numbers.

Then I got the idea to just continue with the data that I got (the BP data of installed capacity of solar PV and wind) and try to recreate their graph. This time specifically showing the Australian data, as should have been done in their paper. When I put the annual growth of Australian solar PV and wind between 2014 and 2016 in a graph, then I get this:

Oooooooops.

No wonder they didn’t show the Australian data!

The growth of solar PV has in fact a slightly decreasing trend (with a small rebound in 2016, yet still below the 2014 value) and that of wind energy is even plummeting towards the x-axis. This is in stark contrast with the more favorable worldwide data showing a strong increasing growth for solar PV and a rather stable growth for wind.

It is easy to imagine why they would be reluctant to show this in their paper. It would not fit their cheering narrative that (my emphasis)

PV and wind allow Australia to reach 100% renewable electricity rapidly at low cost

and then have to show growth figures that are declining. In case of wind, even strongly declining.

World data fitted their narrative perfectly and that casual statement that solar PV and wind provided near all new installed capacity in Australia is a really smart move. It is not exactly a lie, but it is tricking the readers into believing that the Australian situation would in fact be better than it is in reality.

Okay, I can’t possibly know what the real intentions of the authors were to use this specific dataset, but it surely is a neat trick and it conveniently relieves them from using data showing that reality is not as nice as they are presenting it in their paper.

Update
By the way, half of that growth of solar PV installed capacity in the first graph is on the account of the Chinese. I became rather curious how much the share of the Australian increase is compared to the worldwide figures? When I take the data from previous graph, change the scale of the Y-axis to the scale of their graph in the paper and add the (approximate) figures of the worldwide data, then I get this:

Just putting the cheering about the growth of Australian solar PV and wind somewhat in proportion.

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6 thoughts on “When the relevant data doesn’t fit the narrative, just use other data that will and suggest that the relevant data fits even better

  1. tumbleweedstumbling

    A true believing greenie referred me to this paper day before yesterday. I pointed to a few things you mentioned about this paper. I missed the substitution or world versus Australian data but I did point out a few other flaws. Anyway, as per usual in any such discussion, I was then called a few names, accused of working for big oil, and then the conversation ended.

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    1. trustyetverify Post author

      There are indeed more issues with the paper than what I mentioned so far. There are a lot of assumptions, some realistic, other not so. Some have consequences/caveats/nuances, not picked up by casual readers.

      I can somehow understand the reaction of the person you discussed with. The paper has a strong attraction to people who (want to) believe that the the 100% transition to PV and wind within 2 decades could be done. The paper is written by the “experts” and those experts stated (in the paper and elsewhere) that it is possible. In the end it is a matter of trust in the experts and the desire for it to be true. Been there, done that…

      The namecalling/accusations are just defense mechanisms (if you got their label, then your arguments could be safely ignored and discussing those issues, even if real, is futile).

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        1. trustyetverify Post author

          I have no problem with the term. Your “label” is probably more descriptive and certainly not resulting in ignoring his/her argument. Even if it was a label that you used, it didn’t prevent a discussion.

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    1. trustyetverify Post author

      The same was true for 2016: half of the capacity was installed by China. So half of that yellow column came from China, therefor worldwide figures suited the authors better than the slowing down figures of Australia.

      I also heard about the slashing of solar subsidies which made the markets really uneasy. The next years will be really interesting when it comes to solar capacity..

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