Sunday, 30 August 2009

Bestselling guru David MacKay to lead climate fight

Dominic O’Connell
A CAMBRIDGE academic who has suggested importing solar energy from the Sahara and using Scottish lakes as giant batteries is to be named the government’s scientific adviser on climate change.
David MacKay, a professor at the famous Cavendish Laboratory, has been recruited by Ed Miliband, the energy and climate change secretary. His appointment is due to be announced in a few weeks.
MacKay has this year become an international star of the climate change debate, thanks to his book, Sustainable Energy — Without the Hot Air. Despite being available as a free download from his website, it has turned into a bestseller.
The book’s main subject is not climate change, but energy. MacKay uses a combination of mathematics and dry wit to puncture common assumptions and in particular skewer corporate greenwash. He sets out the scale of the challenge if we are to replace conventional forms of power generation with alternatives such as wind, tidal or nuclear power.
MacKay debunks the idea that switching off appliances while they are on standby will make a significant difference to energy consumption. Turning off your mobile-phone charger between charges for a year, he points out, saves the same amount of energy required for one hot bath.
He highlights the potential to generate solar power on a massive scale in north African deserts and export it to Europe, and suggests using lochs to store the power generated by renewable sources such as wind power. The lochs would be pumped full at times of low demand, and the water released through hydro-electric turbines when the power was needed.
He has refused to be drawn into political debates about climate change policy, and refrained from backing one form of energy generation over another. “I’m not pro-nuclear, I’m pro-arithmetic,” he told an interviewer earlier in the year.
The Department of Energy, Climate Change and Conservation declined to comment last night, but senior government sources said MacKay would add impetus to the work being done on the government’s low-carbon transition plan, a blueprint for UK commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.