David MacKay, DECC’s chief scientific advisor

Shortly after his appointment to DECC, The Engineer published a concise interview with Dr. MacKay.

There are some topics that seem to turn placid engineers into passionate politicians and hard-nosed politicians into expert engineers. At the top of the list are energy and climate-change issues, which, according to David MacKay, have been responsible for fuelling some of the most emotionally charged and misinformed scientific debates of the current decade.

As the chief scientist at the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), MacKay is on a mission to bring some clarity to the haze of misinterpretation and hyperbole surrounding the energy debate. ’A lot of the things that are being held up as part of the “green” solution are just fluff,’ he said. ’My impression is that lobbyists, some governments and some people in industry often say misleading things, either deliberately or academically.’

The issue, believes MacKay, is that many things that allegedly make a difference just don’t add up. He cites the example of the BBC’s advice to unplug mobile-phone chargers when they are not in use. In reality, a typical charger consumes only 0.01kWH a day – equivalent to the energy used by driving a car for one second. ’The debate on energy is fundamentally about numbers,’ he claims. ’But numbers are rarely mentioned.’

MacKay seems as amused as anyone to be at the heart of government machinery that has contributed to the misinformation on climate change. ’I wasn’t trying to become a senior civil servant,’ he said. ’But about five years ago, I started paying attention to the excitement, debate and emotional conversations on the radio about energy and a lot of what I heard just drove me crazy.’

(…) What I wanted to do was to get all the options on the table,’ he said. ’Today’s [UK] energy consumption in all forms is 300GW. That’s 300 Sizewell Bs. The exchange for one nuclear power station is around 2,000 wind turbines, but you have to consider where you would put all those. If people want to be anti-nuclear, that’s fine with me. I don’t mind what solution we end up with, but it has to add up.’


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