REVOLT opposing unnecessary, excessive and intrusive powerline development

opposing unnecessary, excessive
and intrusive powerline development

REVOLT Newsletter 335

Revolt news 2/08/2011 Print (pdf) Version

1. Angela Ovenston draws attention to theoretical developments in high-temperature super-conductors (HTSC). HTSC offers potential for cheap and efficient underground cables (with some small installations existing, mainly at the prototype stage) and also for efficiency in converters, transformers and other equipment. Revolt highlighted the progress with HTSC in the early 1990s but developments have been slow since then. In news221.5 of 21-3-07 we noted assessments of lifetime cost-ratio about 3 compared with overhead lines. A new paper describes advances with cuprates where bad metal for normal conducting may become good for super-conducting. [Science 22 July 2011: Vol. 333 no. 6041 pp. 426-430 DOI: 10.1126/science.1201082]

2. Andrew Hope draws attention to European grid visions emerging from the industry representative body ENTSO-E (European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity, see news318, 321 etc, < >) working closely with the EU Commission. An 83-page draft 3P “study road map” was published May 2011 for consultation, on a Modular Development Plan on pan-European Electricity Highways System (MoDPEHS). Especially for acronym lovers? It’s mostly study project management, responding to renewable energy polices and variability, mainly for wind power, with the driving theme of very large increases in pan-European power lines. Andrew says google "eu electricity highway" for a range of documents.

3. Andrew also highlights an ENTSO-E strategic conference of Feb 2011. The papers can be accessed at The paper by Jean Verseille, Chairman of the ENTSO-E System Development Committee, and Director, RTE, calls for an integrated North Sea grid instead of piecemeal “radial” connections of offshore wind to shore plus interconnectors between countries. There is a map on page 12 of strategic interest to the UK as it indicates large scale transmission implications, though in broad terms. A “first comprehensive concept” of the Electricity Highways System (showing important corridors) is intended to be available by 2014. Page 15 says the “enormous investments need more TSO equity + debt” and cites 100 billion + increasing demand and ageing assets.

4. Radical approaches to integrated North Sea transmission are to be encouraged, as they can get away from piecemeal local development with the risk of “stranded assets” and excessive grid. There is an opportunity to use offshore transmission and interconnection to better effect. However the overall scale required, as a result of intermittent offshore wind power, is formidable. Verseille’s page 12 map shows 24GW of new generation connecting on England’s east coast from Dogger, Hornsea and Norfolk, in excess of Round 3 allocations.

5. New research from De Kun Li shows increased incidence of childhood asthma associated with maternal exposure to power-frequency magnetic fields during pregnancy. This prospective cohort study followed 626 children for up to 13 years. [Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. Published online August 1, 2011. doi:10.1001/archpediatrics.2011.135]

6. A “Review of impartiality and accuracy of the BBC’s coverage of science” has been published July 2011. It was carried out for the BBC Trust with an “independent assessment” by well-known broadcasting biologist Professor Steve Jones. Given the topicality of trust (news334.9, 333.10) this is a timely report. The BBC comes out well, and by and large compared with others that is probably right. However even the BBC has a long way to go, as the problems of centralising on establishment positions are very difficult, as we have found with EMF.

7. The report and the BBC Trust response to it call for differentiating between “opinion and well-established fact or consensus”. There are real problems with “well-established” and “consensus”, since they are about status rather than content. We would like to distinguish between sound science and dubious objections; but there is a problem when established authorities have their own built-in prejudices. Fair enough, it is not always best simply to give equal time to mainstream and dissenting voices. But the BBC should beware slipping into establishment = sound science and dissent = unsound science. The BBC may know this, but don’t know how to achieve it. Some steps are recommended to improve scientific competence in the BBC.

8. The BBC review and response use climate change for illustration, rather poorly. The Comment by Alison Hastings, Chair of the Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee, confuses and conflates the very different questions of how much climate change is caused by humans and whether climate change exists. A year or two ago, Roger Harrabin did a great piece for the BBC on the different views on climate change and showed that when you get down to careful definitions and precise questions there is broad agreement.

9. Care with definitions and questions, tedious though it might seem, can help identify common ground and legitimate dissent. That surely should be at the heart of media reporting of science. It was partly the SAGE approach to stakeholder dialogue, though sadly that was outweighed by political interests in the end.

10. Shortcomings in media scientific competence are inevitable. It would seem sensible to have some differentiation between alleged “opinion” and “well-established fact or consensus”, but with moderation and “due weight” reflecting both ubiquitous uncertainty and the value of scientific dissent. Fear of giving “free publicity to marginal opinions” should not take over; avoidance of excessive publicity for marginal views might be more reasonable, without wholly suppressing them (the way the Royal Society seemed to demand).

Statements made by the editor or by other parties and quoted for information do not necessarily represent the views of Revolt. Criticism of government and industry, and grievances from members of the public, are in the nature of Revolt's work, though we try to give credit where it is due. Revolt is strictly non-party-political and regrets any offence which may be inadvertently caused.




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