Diary

Lies Damned Lies Statistics, Never Trust Numbers You're Handed

Abuse of mathematics has to be one of the most pernicious ways of trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes and one of the most often abused. It counts on the fact that doing calculations is time consuming and for some people tedious, hence numbers can be thrown at an audience and they may well be accepted without question.  Do this often enough and the lie of the statistics becomes the reality which informs policy.

I see these attempts fairly often, the most recent one was on a web site called engineering.com that is aimed at engineers. You might think that engineers would be less susceptible to such a flim flam but they aren’t what’s more it just demonstrates the folly of trusting in “Experts”

Lets take a look at the piece and policy being pushed here.

Renewable Energy Supplied Nearly 25% of Global Electricity Needs in 2015

Followed by the key point

In 2015, renewables accounted for almost one-fourth of the global electric generating capacity, despite the fact that fossil fuels received nearly four times as much money in government subsidies.

Emphasis entirely theirs.

Reading the title and their emphasized lead in, the impression you get is that renewables are surging ahead and they doing it on their own with minimal subsidies , and less than what fossil fuels received to provide the same unit of energy.

As you might of guessed this is complete misdirection of the reader. Renewables account for less than 10% of the total world energy production, so when you compare kilo joule to kilo joule of energy and dollar of subsidy to dollar of subsidy you get best case renewables cost roughly 3 times the subsidy fossil fuels do.

This should make anyone wonder if something is rotten with this story ?

Turns out not only is the story deceptive, it has at best a tenuous connection to reality. Searching for what the actual subsidy numbers yields the following.

Institute for energy research

For subsidies related to electricity production, EIA data shows that solar energy was subsidized at $24.34 per megawatt hour and wind at $23.37 per megawatt hour for electricity generated in 2007.  By contrast, coal received 44 cents, natural gas and petroleum received 25 cents, hydroelectric power 67 cents, and nuclear power $1.59 per megawatt hour

Tabular form

Solar $24.34/MWH

Wind $23.27/MWH

Coal $0.44/MWH

Nat Gas+petroleum $0.25

Hydro $0.67

Nuclear $1.59

Hydro is over half the renewable electric power, so if you just look at solar and wind, it takes 50 times the subsidy to use solar or wind to light your lights than it does for coal.

For some reason though Hillary Clinton likes to brag about shutting down coal mines.  (note Google won’t autocomplete on this, and leads with politifact in the results)

This sort of thing is why the greens are so dangerous, and why having government subsidies for any particular form of energy is damaging. There’s nothing wrong with any of these as long as they pay for themselves. I can see subsidizing nuclear power as part of our defense needs (Plutonium doesn’t make itself) but the rest ? Clearly a case where market forces should dictate. It’s especially true with solar where all we do is create a windfall for China.