Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Late entry by The Times for the 2009 Hot Air Oscars


In July 2009, I nominated two newspapers for the Hot Air Oscar for Most inaccurate numbers in a right-wing newspaper.
A late submission has arrived, nominating The Times for their laughably inaccurate statement about solar power.
The US Energy Department has calculated that a 62-square-mile (160 sq km) parcel of the Mojave [desert]... receives enough sunlight to power the entire country.

Anyone who has seen SEWTHA page236 will know this statement is wrong. The average power of tropical desert sunshine is about 250 W/m2 [see page 46]. Multiply by 62 square miles and you get 40 GW. That is far smaller than US power consumption, which is about 3700 GW (if they mean power in all forms) or 420 GW (if they mean electricity only).
Being more realistic, we should use a power per unit area of 15-20 W/m2, since that's what real solar power stations offer. At that power per unit area, 62 square miles would give you just 2.4-3.2 GW.
What is it about journalists, areas, and squares? One of the ealier nominations for this Hot Air Oscar also featured an incorrectly reported area!

4 comments:

Andrew Smith-Gibbs said...

They've presumably done the same thing as the previous paper - confused "N miles square" with "N square miles". In this case, 62 miles square (=3844 square miles) should be enough, given that in general, switching to renewables will remove huge inefficiencies. Current estimates are that this would reduce USA final energy demand to 1.78TW (figures from Jacobson & Delucchi)

tom said...

I know it's off-topic, and I apologize for straying from the point, but I found this article in The Times even more delightful:

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/scotland/article6961153.ece

The readers' comments show that they, unlike the journalist who wrote the piece, were quick to notice the reference to "cubic litres".

I wonder if there is opportunity for a book showcasing such ridiculous oversights about units of measurement?

Gavin McP said...

On the subject of off-topic, pedantic, unit-based, anti-Times rants, here's one from the archives:

"We already import 2GW a year of nuclear electricity from France through an undersea cable."

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/camilla_cavendish/article3162679.ece

And they gave her an award. Oy vey.

jeremy996 said...

Could I please make a nomination for the 2010 Hot Air Awards. An eco-house in California that isn't. Reported in The Register, http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/04/28/zero_energy_house_not_so_much/

Isn't marketing wonderful?