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Professor David Mackay

Professor David Mackay 

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Renewables expert David Mackay appointed to Government

Ecologist

3rd September, 2009

In a surprise move, the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has appointed Cambridge Professor David Mackay as its Chief Scientific Adviser

Mackay, author of the highly influential book Sustainable Energy: Without the Hot Air, has won plaudits from both environmentalists and policymakers alike for his no-nonsense, science-based approach to dealing with renewable energy technologies.

Environmentalists will hope that Mackay's appointment heralds a new phase of thinking at DECC on coal power, particularly because Mackay is adamant in his book that avoiding dangerous climate change will require the end of unabated coal burning:

'Solving climate change is a complex topic,' he writes, 'but in a single crude brush-stroke, here is the solution: the price of carbon dioxide must be such that people stop burning coal without capture.'

Track record

Mackay was one of eight renewable energy experts brought together by the Ecologist in April for a roundtable discussion on the future of clean power technologies.

At the meeting, Mackay argued that our current attitude towards heat generation was seriously flawed, saying that it is 'a crime to take a chemical and set fire to it simply to generate low temperature heat'.

In place of the inefficient combustion of fossil fuels, Mackay advocates the widespread use of ground-source heat pumps, which concentrate residual heat in the soil using electrical pumps to generate hot water for domestic heating.

Mackay also recommended at the meeting that a new political body be established 'with long-term responsibility for renewable energy' - avoiding the four-year politics and promises of the electoral cycle.

Many will hope that his role at DECC may allow him to push forward such policies.

Nuclear


Some environmentalists may worry however that nuclear power plays a significant role in most of the scenarios of the UK's future energy mix which appear in Mackay's book.

When challenged on this position during the Ecologist roundtable, Mackay said:

'The only thing that really scales up apart from nuclear is solar power from other people’s deserts. If we imagine having a choice between 50 nuclear power stations – 50 Sizewells – which would cover current electricity consumption in Britain… If we say “No, we don’t want that”, the alternative is we go to Libya, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and talk about building five Greater Londons’ worth of solar power stations.'

Scientific Advisers

The role of the Chief Scientific Adviser is defined as ensuring 'that the Department’s policies and operations, and its contributions to wider Government issues, are underpinned by the best science and engineering advice available'.

Previous Scientific Advisers, such as Sir David King, have proved highly influential in shaping Government policy. Sir David's legacy was world-leading policy on climate change, but also building the case for weaker regulation on GM crops.

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