Saturday 28 March 2020

Rainy Day Blues

It's been a very strange six months in Irish history. It began in October when the finance minister failed to top up the Rainy Day Fund he had set up the previous year. At a time when the economy was very strong, this seemed like a reckless move and so it has has proven to be in light of recent events. Unfortunately, government ideas of merit are not followed through with the same enthusiasm as the bad ones are.

After this, an early election was called in January 2020, which led to an historic result, but one that was still very much in favor of the status quo.

Then, a month later, as government formation talks continued to drag out, the coronavirus pandemic landed on Ireland's shores. This event has shaken the global order at its very core. The consequences of open borders and free trade are now very real for everyone. Critical thinkers of the global based economic system, who were branded outdated and backward as recently as January during the election debates, are now being proven correct weeks later. It was the governments allegiance to this system that prevented them from acting early,  closing the airports, and putting travelers from Italy in quarantine as the Icelandic government did right from the start. A contact from Iceland wrote to me :

Iceland put everyone in quarantine coming from Italy very early on and a few days later everybody coming from a ski resort in Austria. Now there are more than 6,800 people in quarantine at home. Last week everybody living in Iceland (not tourists) coming home from abroad had to go into quarantine. Authorities also put a big effort into contact tracing. A team of policemen and health workers (at least 60 people) trace every single case. Everyday 50% of new confirmed cases are amongst those in quarantine.

Back in Ireland, a match with Italy on the 7th March was cancelled but thousands of Italians were still allowed to wander the capital Dublin that weekend. In the week before the scheduled match cases in Italy had jumped by 5000. There is some talk about China not releasing information quick enough. I disagree, the authorities in Europe had plenty of notice, they just failed to act decisively. Iceland have managed to slow the virus, comparatively speaking. Since the 11th March, cases in Iceland  have increased by about 12 times, whilst in Ireland cases have increased by about 50 times. The cases are most likely understated in Ireland, because Iceland have tested 3% of their population, including people who do not have symptoms.

Now that we are in lockdown, climate change is well and truly off the agenda. Which reminds me, if we are in the middle of a climate crisis with the ice melting as the schoolchildren (sorry, teachers) are so fond of reminding us, why were schoolchildren flying fossil fueled airplanes to Italy to ski in the snow in February on their holidays ?

Tuesday 10 March 2020

Does Wind Energy Reduce CO2 Emissions ?

There has been a lot of coverage recently about how much wind energy is contributing to the electricity grid, but how much CO2 is it really saving ?

The graphs below, based on data from eirgrid dashboard, show that on some days there is absolutely no savings at all.

The two days being compared are 23rd January 2020 and 29th of November 2019. Note that wind generation (blue) on 29th November is over 7 times that of 23rd January 2020 but CO2 emissions (in yellow) are virtually identical.

East West interconnector (in green) minus figures are exports, pluses are imports. At 329 grams CO2 on both days EWIC imports are very close 84 and 81 MW on the 23rd January 2020 and 76 and 1 MW 29th of November 2019 (circled). However, even though wind output is over 5 times higher on the 29th November, CO2 emissions remain static at 329. 

This raises serious questions about the effectiveness of wind energy in the irish grid. 

Thanks to John Dooley for providing the graphs. 

Monday 2 March 2020

How the EU repeatedly bypassed its Legal Framework and the Rights of its Citizens to implement its Renewable Programme

by Pat Swords

The EU makes repeated claims about the importance of the rule of law, but in reality, it fails to comply with its own legal framework and the rights of its citizens are not considered relevant, when it comes to implementing the New Green Deal. The ideological driven planned economies behind the Iron Curtain, with little regard for either environmental impacts or citizen’s rights, left behind a bitter legacy. In response emerged the United Nations Economic Convention for Europe’s (UNECE) Aarhus Convention on “Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters”, which has been part of EU legal framework since 2005. As the EU Commission has clarified:

“Such agreements take precedence over legal acts adopted under the EC Treaty (secondary Community law). So if there was a conflict between a Directive and a Convention, such as the Aarhus Convention, all Community or Member State administrative or judicial bodies would have to apply the provision of the Convention and derogate from the secondary law provision.”
As part of this Convention on environmental democracy, obligation placed on contracting parties include "fully integrating environmental considerations in governmental decision making and the consequent need for public authorities to be in possession of accurate, comprehensive and up to date environmental information".  That there should, in a transparent and fair framework, be a weighing up of environmental considerations is  no different than a key element of EU jurisprudence, the principle of proportionality, which requires that :

Measures adopted by EU institutions do not exceed the limits of what is appropriate and necessary in order to attain the objectives legitimately pursued by the legislation in question; when there is a choice between several appropriate measures, recourse must be had to the least onerous, and the disadvantages caused must not be disproportionate to the aims pursued”.

As Recital 15 of Directive 2009/28/EC demonstrates, the EU’s 20% by 2020 renewable target was shared out among the Member States based on the existing percentage of renewables and a ‘fudge factor’ based on GDP. No environmental information existed on what was to be built, where it was to be built, what were the impacts and mitigation measures, etc. Having zero information to quantify the negative impact of carbon emissions, the alleged benefit of the 20% renewable target was related to the expected future price of carbon on the EU emissions trading scheme. A price, which is driven by political decisions related to allocations of carbon credits, with zero relationship to environmental impacts. Hence, what resulted was a circular logic of political target setting in the absence of reasoned decision making, with a complete absence of environmental information to justify the enormous impacts on the European environment and energy markets. 

This glaring democratic deficit was compounded by the supranational dynamics of the EU, where Directives before adoption should first be scrutinised by public participation at the Member State level, such as in Ireland by detailed Regulatory Impact Analysis with public engagement. However, in practice this was by-passed.

After adoption of Directive 2009/28/EC there was only a year for Member States to prepare National Renewable Energy Action Plans (NREAPs) to implement these renewable targets. The Member States essentially left the section on the environmental impacts of these NREAPs blank, as it was an optional requirement in the EU template. Such plans are also subject before adoption to the detailed requirements of the EU’s Directive on Strategic Environmental Assessment (2001/42/EC), in order to establish the justification, alternatives, impacts, mitigation measures and monitoring for unforeseen adverse impacts. This was also bypassed. 

Such legal failures led to a compliance case against the EU at the UNECE (ACCC/C/2010/54) and in 2014 a subsequent declaration of legal non-compliance in International law: Decision V/9g of the Meeting of the Parties on compliance by the European Union with its obligations under the Aarhus Convention. The UNECE recommendations require the EU to:

“…. adopt a proper regulatory framework and/or clear instructions for implementing article 7 of the Convention with respect to the adoption of NREAPs. This would entail that the Party concerned ensure that the arrangements for public participation in its member States are transparent and fair and that within those arrangements the necessary information is provided to the public. In addition, such a regulatory framework and/or clear instructions must ensure that the requirements of article 6, paragraphs 3, 4 and 8, of the Convention are met, including reasonable time frames, allowing sufficient time for informing the public and for the public to prepare and participate effectively, allowing for early public participation when all options are open, and ensuring that due account is taken of the outcome of the public participation. Moreover, the Party concerned must adapt the manner in which it evaluates NREAPs accordingly”. 

As the UNECE documentation records, the EU has since 2014 failed to make any progress to comply with the recommendations above, repeatedly failing to reply to specific questions and advice. Furthermore, at the subsequent 2017 UNECE Meeting of the Parties, it blocked with its 28 votes, a further decision of non-compliance against it. Namely its refusal to provide its citizens with effective access to justice, in order to bring such challenges of non-compliance of EU environmental law directly into the Court of Justice of the European Union. Ongoing UNECE compliance proceedings have further expanded to include Regulation 2018/1999 on the Energy Union and Climate Action and the manner in which the National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs) were adopted. Yet again, the legal requirements of Strategic Environmental Assessment were bypassed and the public had no opportunity to participate in the decision-making, when all options were open and effective public participation could take place. 

If we consider the 2018 World Health Organisation’s Environmental Noise Guidelines for the European Region, while these adopted conditional recommendations for wind turbine noise, they make it very clear: “There are serious issues with noise exposure assessment related to wind turbines”.

Balance of benefits versus harms and burdens: Further work is required to assess fully the benefits and harms of exposure to environmental noise from wind turbines and to clarify whether the potential benefits associated with reducing exposure to environmental noise for individuals living in the vicinity of wind turbines outweigh the impact on the development of renewable energy policies in the WHO European Region”.

Significant negative impacts are occurring on rural populations from the impacts of high-energy sources of low frequency sound (infrasound). There are legal liabilities, as the required Strategic Environmental Assessments and associated monitoring for unforeseen adverse environmental effects never occurred. 

Sunday 1 March 2020

The Secret to Kepler's Harmony of the Planets

This article is somewhat of a departure from the usual article on this blog, anyone interested in physics, astronomy or mathematics might find it interesting. 

by Owen Martin

The solar system is based around circular motion , but as I will now demonstrate, the mechanism by which it's bodies move in relation to the Sun is based on the triangle. Astronomer and mathematician, Johannes Kepler, stumbled upon the idea that a trianglular mechanism governed how the planets moved in 1595 while in the middle of a lecture on the conjunctions of Saturn and Jupiter. Each set of three points he wrote on the blackboard corresponded to a conjunction and formed almost  precise equilateral triangles. These triangles rotated around the board to form two circles, with the radius of one half that of the other one, approximating to the distances of Jupiter and Saturn. 

Image result for kepler triangle saturn

Thus, a triangular pattern determined the distances between two planets moving with a circular motion. This may have something to do with the fact that a circle is constructed using three points just like a triangle. He was then inspired by this discovery to attempt to fit the five Platonic polyhedra solids into an arrangement that corresponded to the known distances at the time between the six known planets. His completed model, published in Mysterium Cosmographicum, was magnificent but a little bit on the complex side (and proven to be a failure over time when greater measurements were found). He actually missed out on something much simpler and even more remarkable. He could have realised this after 1619, when he discovered his third law, published in Harmonices Mundi, the Harmony of the Planets,  but at that stage his focus had shifted to the musical harmony of the planets. 

Keplers Third Law, arguably his greatest discovery, states that the ratio of the squares of the orbital periods of two planets is proportional to the ratio of the cubes of their average distances from the Sun. This applies to all bodies in the solar system, including the moons on Jupiter. It became an accepted law of physics and Isaac Newton later used it to derive his laws of gravitation. It means that the planets do not move in an arbitrary way, but rather according to a finely tuned mathematical formula. 


So if the distance of a planet from the Sun is doubled,

2³ =

= 8

T = 8

The change in the orbital period is the square root of eight or 2.82. The planet will take 2.82 times longer to travel around the Sun.

Now we can work out the change in velocity. Remember the formula, speed equals distance over time from school ?

V = D / T

V = 2 /  8

V = 2 / 2.82

V = 0.707

This means the velocity of planet B will be around 70% that of planet A, if B's distance is double that of A's from the sun. In the solar system, Mars is approximately double the distance of Venus, and Uranus is double the distance of Saturn from the Sun and we see that their respective orbital periods and velocities differ by the above ratios.

So, to sum up when:

Distance = x 2

Orbital Period = 8

Velocity = 0.707 

The great beauty of these numbers is that they are represented perfectly by Pythagoras's famous right angle Triangle. Once again, remember from school, the square on the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares on the other two sides. If the two sides are both two, then the longer side (hypotenuse) is equal to the square root of  2² + 2², i.e.  8, thus representing the change in orbital period.

The connecting line between the 90 degree angle and the centre of the hypotenuse is equal to half of  8 or 1.41.

1.41 divided by the side representing distance 2, equals 0.707. Thus this centre line represents the change in velocity.

Also, interesting to note that Sine 45 degrees also gives 0.707 ( sine equals the opposite line over the longer line, the hypotenuse).

So, the solar system is not based on a complex polyhedral system as Kepler believed, but is actually based around the much simpler Triangle. The secret to the Harmony of the Planets and the Mysterium Cosmographicum lies not with Plato and his solids but with the first known Greek mathematician and philosopher, Pythagoras of Samos, and his right angled triangle.

This means that the mechanics of celestial motion has been fine-tuned in accordance with the dimensions of a right angled triangle. The builders of the pyramids (which Pythagoras may have visited) would surely have been satisfied.