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Scientific Alliance Newsletter

25.11.2016
A decade ago, we were all being encouraged to buy diesel cars to reduce CO2 emissions. More recently, reports of the health toll caused by urban air pollution – much of it down to older generations of diesel engines – together with VW’s infamous ‘dieselgate’ scandal, seemed to mean that the days of diesel were numbered. But perhaps we should think again. A Bloomberg story this week suggests that Tesla shock means global gasoline demand has all but peaked. The basis of the headline comes from the latest report on the future demand for energy: “The International Energy Agency forecasts that...
18.11.2016
In a recent posting, McKinsey offered some thoughts on how global energy use will develop up to mid-century (Energy 2050: Insights from the ground up). They used available data and historical trends to model patterns of use based on a business-as-usual scenario, that is, with no major changes to technology or trends in energy use or efficiency. As for any projection forward for several decades, the only thing we know for certain is that this will be wrong, but at least we can get at flavour of what steady progress would result in, ignoring the inevitable unforeseen factors and events. The...
11.11.2016
On Monday, COP 22 – the 22nd Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – began in Marrakech, Morocco. Unlike last year’s event in Paris, this climate summit has received little publicity. There is hardly a mention of it in the mainstream media. Even the fact that the Paris agreement came into force last week (with the backing of both US and Chinese presidents, representing the two largest emitters of CO2) made little splash. Even if it had, the world woke up two days after the jamboree had started to the unexpected (and, to some, shocking) news...
04.11.2016
In 1989, two physicists – Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons – held a press conference to reveal an experiment that apparently demonstrated nuclear fusion at room temperature. Understandably, this caused a furore in the scientific world, but after the hype came the consensus that this was essentially a con. In fact, the situation is much more complicated than a simple case of poorly-designed experiments, misinterpretation or even scientific fraud. One of the problems was the name given to the observed phenomenon, cold fusion. The suggestion that atomic nuclei could be made to fuse and...
28.10.2016
An intense El Niño event has raised global average temperatures recently, in the same way as the spike in 1998. But all the indications are that the Pacific is turning towards La Niña conditions, which will depress temperatures for the next year or so. It is too early to tell what trend we will see after that part of the ocean has settled back to ‘normal’, but these spikes appear to be superimposed on an essentially steady average temperature. This, however, is not what you would think if you read recent headlines about the most recently published measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide...
21.10.2016
Two major UK travel infrastructure projects are slowly edging towards realisation. One is HS2, which is looking increasingly like an extremely expensive way to add extra capacity on the West Coast mainline, affordable only to business travellers; the other is a third runway at Heathrow, to give London’s main airport a fighting chance of remaining a key international hub. While experience shows we are not necessarily the worst at completing such projects – Heathrow Terminal 5 and the Olympic Park were built to schedule, unlike Berlin’s new airport and Stuttgart’s new station – we often seem to...
14.10.2016
If cutting greenhouse gas emissions is as important as is claimed, there are two main ways to do it: stop using fossil fuels as soon as possible, or continue to burn them while viable alternative energy sources are developed, and remove and lock up the resulting carbon dioxide. Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) still has its supporters, despite a singular failure to upscale in any way that could be easily rolled out on the vast scale needed. But, if – and it’s a big if – a recent report is true, then this outlook could change. The report on the Independent website certainly hypes up one...
07.10.2016
Consumer prices for gas and electricity have to cover various fixed costs – the distribution network, maintenance, metering, administration etc – but are determined primarily by market prices for fuel. With oil, coal and gas prices being relatively low, Europeans should normally be looking forward to a period of stable or even falling utility bills. However, climate change policy has changed this situation. By requiring suppliers to generate increasing proportions of electricity from renewables – wind in particular – and by effectively taxing the use of fossil fuels, prices are being...
30.09.2016
The old adage that good news isn’t really news today seems truer than ever. Bad news is reported rapidly across the internet and social media, and there are unfortunately relatively few good news stories that command as much attention. Something such as the Olympics is the exception. But it’s not just current news that is generally bad; increasingly we see dire predictions about the future. In fact, perhaps this has always been the case. After all, think how much science fiction envisages a dystopian future. Computer modelling, which is the source of most of the current stories, uses...
23.09.2016
It seems that the UK’s first new nuclear power station for a generation – Hinkley Point C – will finally be built (Hinkley Point C finally gets green light as government approves deal with EDF and China). The deal has been widely criticised, but it still has its supporters. So, at this critical stage, it is worth trying to put this key part of the country’s future energy infrastructure into context. With the benefit of hindsight, it is probably not something that any of the parties involved would want to start from scratch now. But we are where we are, and the project has to be viewed in...

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