Letter from Bryan Leyland to Ralph Sims in response to his article in the NZH

Read the article  (Thursday 14 November 2013) by Professor Sims here:


The response from Bryan Leyland:

Dear Ralph,

 I have read your article carefully and I am disturbed that an academic and an engineer could write something that is so misleading. You make many statements which are  unsupported and, in many cases, in direct conflict with the evidence.

 As you know, I am an engineer with 55 years experience specialising in renewable energy. Over the last few years, I have worked on a number of small hydro schemes – and I actually own one – and I have worked on tidal power, wind power and solar power projects. I am currently helping the Faroe Islands with wind power. I have also tried to run Rotoroa island – which is a nature reserve off Waiheke – from solar power. The economics simply did not stack up – and by a very large margin.. The best we could do was about 50% solar power and 50% diesel. On Motutapu island, where they have solar cells and diesels, the diesels run about twice as much as predicted.

 I have always been on the practical side of the business and therefore I actually believe that “engineers can do for five bob what any fool can do for a quid”. It seems to me that you are far from this commonsense objective.

 I comment below on a few of your most glaring errors.

 “In 40 years time we will wonder why drastic steps to combat climate change  were not taken earlier”.   The statement presupposes the existence of dangerous man-made global warming that will seriously affect the world within the next 40 years. This is a more extreme position than taken by the current IPCC scientific reports and, as you may know, the fact of the world has not warmed for the last 17 years tells us that the unverified climate models that are relied upon are worthless. Are you not aware that virtually all of the 70 or so climate models failed to predict the lack of warming? http://www.drroyspencer.com/2013/06/still-epic-fail-73-climate-models-vs-measurements-running-5-year-means/ 

 As an engineer, you should be well aware that any computer model that is not an accurate representation of the system and does not have accurate input data is worthless. Nobody understands how the climate works and if we did, the models would be able to predict El Niño events. It is not possible to get accurate input data because it simply does not exist from places all over the world. I therefore contend that the foundation of your main assumptions is seriously unsupported.

  “In 2050 we live in a world where record high temperatures are a common occurrence”. Even the IPCC only predicts a less than 2° rise. 

It is generally agreed that this will be beneficial. Where do you get the evidence supporting your statement from?

  “much drier summers”. People who have thought about the effect of an increase in temperature conclude that will cause more evaporation and more rainfall. Are you not aware that huge dust storms occurr during ice ages?  Are you not aware that the IPCC has stated that climate models cannot predict regional climatic variations? I quote “…we are dealing with are coupled non—linear chaotic system and therefore to long-term prediction of future climate states is not possible” What evidence do have to support your statement?

 Reduced power output and efficiency from gas and coal fired thermal stations. We have only one power station that operates on river water and now it has a cooling tower to boost cooling in the summertime. The other stations use cooling towers and, if, as you postulate, it will be hotter and drier, the lower wet bulb temperature will probably mean that the cooling is unaffected. This is something that you should be well aware of.

  Because we have failed to invest in research, other countries will dominate various energy technologies. This is the case right now. Didn’t you know? They are pouring more money into these technologies than the whole GDP of New Zealand. We cannot and should not try to compete. There are better things to do.

 “As carbon prices continue to soar and uranium, oil and liquefied natural gas become increasingly scarce the economy is crippled…  I do not know what you mean by “carbon”. Are you talking about coal or do you not understand the difference between carbon dioxide and carbon? If it is carbon dioxide, then you should be aware that carbon prices have collapsed all over the world mainly driven by cheap gas coming out of the USA. There is no evidence that they are becoming increasingly scarce. If you look at the BP statistics you will see that, almost every year, the reserves and resources increase. Most people no longer talk about “peak oil” because, quite obviously, it is way in the future.

  What are your grounds for believing that uranium will become scarce? The world currently has 80 years of proven reserves and hundreds of years of resource. Anyway, as nuclear fuel is only 15% of the cost of nuclear generation,  a large increase in the cost of uranium will have a very small effect on the cost of electricity. 

 As you obviously believe that man-made carbon dioxide is dangerous global warming and you are an engineer, you must be aware that nuclear technology is the only large-scale proven source of power that could make a large difference to carbon dioxide emissions. You should also be aware that wind power has killed at least as many people as nuclear power (including Chernobyl) and that nuclear power has the least effect on the environment of all forms of power generation. You should also be aware that, according to the latest report from UNSCEAR, no one at Fukushima has received a dangerous dose of radiation. They state categorically that nobody has yet died and nobody will. They also state that levels of radiation 200 times higher than the maximum allowed for a nuclear power station are quite harmless.  http://www.unscear.org/unscear/en/publications.html

  “Sea levels continue to rise” As you should know, sea level rise has been constant at about 2 mm per year – maybe three – over the period since we first began having accurate records. Recently, there are signs that it is easing off. But in New Zealand, this quite tiny sea level rise is not the major problem. Tectonic movements – either up or down – are often much more rapid than sea level rise – at times, dramatically so. Have you forgotten that much of Wellington and parts of Napier area rose out of the sea during an earthquake?

 “ extreme weather events impact our lives”. The latest IPCC report says that they have limited confidence in this and regard it as extremely unlikely. Have you not read this?

  “ traditional hydropower plants still exist…to provide base load stability”  As you should know, our hydro plants are heavily constrained for environmental reasons and cannot balance the huge and rapid swings in output that would result from a system dominated by solar and wind power. You may also not be aware that power systems must have inertia and this is not provided by wind and solar power. Lack of inertia is already becoming a problem in the North Island.

  “Perceived problems…have been overcome by accurate weather forecasting…”  Is your belief that, when a long period of calm or seriously cloudy weather is predicted, the economy will largely shut down. Have you pondered on the economic cost of this? Even if we knew a dry year was on the way, what couid we do about it? These are serious questions.

 “… backup…heat and power plants.” Are you not aware that combined heat and power plants primarily exist to provide process heat and electricity generation is a byproduct? The problem is finding industrial and other plants that need all this heat – and the amount will be huge – that are prepared to have their whole production cycle driven by the need for electricity.

  “… big areas have become biophilic with plants and wildlife closely integrated with the buildings” .Are you not aware that it is almost universal amongst town planners to push for high density housing consisting of blocks of flats and very little grass. Therefore, your dream does not fit with their plan. (As it happens, I prefer your dream to their plan.)

  “smart meters… enable occupiers to save money by avoiding peak power charges”  This is something that, in days gone by, New Zealand did better than anyone in the world using ripple control. The crazy electricity reforms killed ripple control and no smart meters are doing anything towards peak load control. If you do not believe me, look at em6live.co.nz in the wintertime and see how the upper South Island is the only area still using ripple control. We need to put the clock back, not adopt a technology that is expensive and anyway, for very good reasons, cannot deliver.

 “ Electric vehicles… Used as energy storage devices when needed” Are you not aware that the average electric vehicle battery costs about USD500/kWh stored and has a life of no more than 2000 cycles. So the cost is 25 cents per kilowatt hour per cycle. Even if this was reduced to one quarter, it would still be expensive storage. Anyway, all the storage technologies that you talk about do nothing for the indeed to store energy for days and weeks and months so that electricity is generated in spring and summer when the sun shines and the wind blow strongest, can be used in autumn and early winter when the wind does not flow and the days are short. to my knowledge, there is no efficient and economic technology available and none is on the horizon. To pretend that car batteries can do this job is seriously misleading.

  “Selling excess power… back to the grid” I can only assume that you are unaware of the situation in Germany and Denmark when solar and wind power generate large amounts of energy when it is not needed and it has to be exported to Scandinavia and other countries and, when the wind stops blowing or the Sun stops shining, purchased back at a very high price. In Germany, there is serious concern that the whole grid will be destabilised and there will be a massive power failure that could cost the economy USD600 billion.

 I look forward to your reply.

 Kind regards,

 Bryan Leyland