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We are keen to receive review comments for our new paper which is now available for open peer review (pdf).

Martin Livermore: Picking Winners 

Nearly all successfully commercialised new technologies have achieved their success via market forces: they have provided consumers with some new or additional benefit at a price that offers value for money. Governments, on the other hand, are prone to pick on what they see is the best available technology to achieve a particular policy goal and back it to the exclusion of others. But picking winners is seldom successful. This study reviews a range of projects from the last few years – some successful, some not – and summarises the factors contributing to their success or failure.

Submitted comments and contributions will be subject to a moderation process and will be published, provided they are substantive and not abusive.

Review comments should be emailed to:

The deadline for review comments is 17 April 2024.


Dr John Cullen

1. General Comments

1.1  This short study provides a useful complement to GWPF’s recent paper on Improving Science Advice to Governments.  However, style could be improved and arguments strengthened in order to make the paper more academically sound and thus of greater gravitas and hence more consistent with other NZW/GWPF publications.

The study provides a good, concise review of several large technology projects (both government-led and market-led) taken from recent history, notably British history, and shows that the most successful new technologies have been market-driven while those that have been government-led have been less successful; I make few comments on these history sections.  There is, however, one section, namely Section 5 on Covid, that, for the following reasons, I feel should be completely excised from this paper.  The story of Covid and the vaccines developed to tackle it are both very much currently evolving topics and, as such, are much closer to current news than the well-established histories told in the other sections.  Hence this Covid section, as currently written, risks not ageing well and could, if left intact, significantly detract from the rest of the paper.  Hence also remove Covid references from the introductory Summary and from the final Summary & Conclusions (Section 11).

The paper also critiques topics that UK government is promoting in its drive towards Net Zero, namely technologies for electricity generation and storage (Section 7), carbon capture and storage (Section 8), heat pumps for domestic heating (Section 9), electric vehicles for road transport (Section 10).  Most of my comments are directed to these topics.

1.2  The paper would benefit from the addition of numerical values to highlight the often large differences between ‘renewable’ and fossil fuel technologies.  Several suggestions are given below.

2. Comments Specific to the Picking Winners Title

2.1  Any paper written on Picking Winners should consider quoting from prof. Dieter Helm’s ‘Cost of Energy Review’ from 2017 since he uses the term several times:-

2.1a Item 6, page xii, “Government has got into the business of ‘picking winners’. Unfortunately, losers are good at picking governments, and inevitably – as in most such picking winners strategies – the results end up being vulnerable to lobbying, to the general detriment of household and industrial customers.”.

2.1b Key Finding, page viii, “The cost of energy is too high, and higher than necessary to meet the Climate Change Act (CCA) target and the carbon budgets. Households and businesses have not fully benefited from the falling costs of gas and coal, the rapidly falling costs of renewables, or from the efficiency gains to network and supply costs which come from smart technologies. Prices should be falling, and they should go on falling into the medium and longer terms.”

2.1c Page 210, from items 1 and 2, “These [market] interventions keep on growing, as one measure is layered onto another, increasing costs and inefficiencies. The interventions have been wide open to pervasive lobbying and capture, and the result has been significantly higher costs. The current framework is not fit for purpose.  It is not stable: left alone it will get worse.”

2.1d See also: Dieter Helm, “The Carbon Crunch” (Yale, revised ed., 2015):-

  • Page 181 for authoritarianism, intolerance, and picking winners.
  • Page 7, “The British decided to push on with one of the most expensive ways of generating low-carbon electricity known to man – intermittent offshore wind – and, copying the Germans, found an even more expensive option: rooftop solar ‘farms’ for its northern climate.”

3. Comments on Section 7 (Electricity Generation and Storage)

3.1  In the real world, most countries are effectively betting the house on renewable energy could be better phrased as “In the real world, many (mostly Western) countries are …”.

3.2  Also, increasing energy efficiency is an entirely sensible thing to do”.

Efficiency is not the only key criterion; power density (W/m2) is also important, especially on land, as can be seen from the very poor power density of both solar farms and wind farms:-

Nuclear power station   ̴ 1000 MWe/km2, solar PV   ̴ 5-10 MWe/km2, on-shore wind   ̴ 2 MWe/km2.

These figures are taken from J. Andrews & N. Jelley, “Energy Science” (Oxford, 3rd ed., 2017).

3.3  A further very important parameter, which totally undermines the economic/sustainability case for adopting the current generation of renewables, is the energy return on energy invested (EROEI or EROI).  EROI is essentially the ratio of the ‘energy extracted from an energy source (measured over the lifetime of that source)’ divided by ‘the energy used to manufacture that energy extractor’.  In one sense human history is the search for higher and higher EROI in order to improve the quality of life over the pre-fossil fuel era when EROI was roughly unity for generation after generation.

EROI   ̴ 8 for economic threshold of a modern economy, whereas solar PV in Germany has EROI   ̴ 3.9 but that reduces to 1.6 when reliable back-up is included.  Also on-shore wind has EROI   ̴ 16 but this reduces to   ̴ 3.9 when back-up is included.  See the popular exposition of EROI by Turver and track back to the original (from over 10 years ago!) by Weissbach et al.:

Energy intensities, EROIs, and energy payback times of electricity generating power plants

David Turver: Why EROEI Matters

Thus current renewables are rather like the NHS, free at the point of delivery but nowhere else; they drive modern society over the EROI cliff towards immiseration.  Their further deployment must be stopped for the general good of society, although vested interests will protest.  And so it may be appropriate here to quote the hope of Dr John Constable, “Net Zero dies, not with a bang, but a whimper… But with a little courage all of this absurd cost could have been avoided. What a mess.” See

3.4  “Unfortunately, the lessons do not seem to be learnt and politicians of all stripes continue to back renewable energy despite the obvious drawbacks of the available technologies.”

Although this paper is not the place to answer the question, “Why have the lessons not been learnt?”, it may be appropriate to pose the question and indicate (perhaps in footnotes or a short appendix) some routes for further research, such as (from a large range of possible works):-

  • Jason Stanley, “How Propaganda Works” (Princeton University Press, 2015).
  • Tasmin Cave & Andy Rowell, “A Quiet Word – lobbying, crony capitalism and broken politics in Britain” (Vintage, 2015).
  • Lee Endress in a critique of current sustainable energy wrote, “A particularly powerful type of rent-seeking coalition, long studied in political science, is termed “the iron triangle,” because of the strength of the collaborative relationships among a triad of actors: politicians who seek campaign contributions, votes, and reelection; government bureaucrats who aspire to expand fiefdoms and budgets; and private sector interest groups who seek special privileges in the form of political access, favourable legislation, subsidies, protection of monopoly positions, and lucrative government contracts.  The iron triangle is durable and impenetrable because it functions as a highly efficient, three-cornered rent-seeking machine.”  See near page 58 in ‘Sustainable Economic Development’ (Academic Press, 2015) edited by Balisacan et al.
  • Rupert Darwall, “The Folly of Climate Leadership – Net zero and Britain’s DISASTROUS ENERGY POLICIES” (RealClear Foundation, December 2023)
  • For those who cared to look, the huge costs of wind energy have been in the public domain for over 15 years.  For example, in “The Revenge of Gaia” (Penguin, 2007) James Lovelock wrote at pages 106-107, “According to the Royal Society of Engineers 2004 report, onshore European wind energy is two and a half times, and offshore wind energy over three times, more expensive per kilowatt hour than gas or nuclear energy.  No sensible community would ever support so outrageously expensive and unreliable an energy source were it not that the true costs have been hidden from the public by subsidies and the distortion of market forces through legislation.”

3.5In tomorrow’s planned Net Zero world, societies will effectively rely on electricity to power everything …

When everything is powered by electricity then the whole of the economy is subject to the risk of a ‘single point failure’ of the electricity system.  This is a grave vulnerability – it is a very brave (or very foolish) government that puts all of its nation’s eggs in one energy basket. [As if to illustrate the point, albeit on a much smaller scale, the containership Dali appears today to have lost all power shortly before colliding with the Francis Scott Key bridge in Baltimore with both tragic and devastating consequences.]

3.6… it is global emissions that matter … In reality, we are demonstrating to the rest of the world how not to slash emissions sensibly.

Who is/are the “we” referred to here: the UK or the world?  UK annual emissions are now only about 1% of global emissions.  However, the UK’s imports from major-emitter China are considerable and yet China uses a large quantity of low-cost coal in its manufacturing/electricity sectors; so emissions are not being slashed, let alone sensibly.  Switching production back to the UK would eliminate the transportation emissions and, if gas was substituted for coal in manufacturing/generation, then CO2 emissions would be halved (other things being equal).

4. Comments on Section 8 (Carbon Capture and Storage)

4.1  “… CCS requires significant energy inputs to capture, release, compress (not always necessary) transport and inject the gas …

  • Comma after ‘compress’ or before ‘transport’?

4.2  “This more than simply picking a winner”.  Add ‘is’ after ‘This’.

4.3  “… pie in the sky to assume that this could happen without at least the imposition of swingeing levels of carbon pricing. It is extremely doubtful that citizens of democratic societies would be willing for that to happen …

Aspects of the democratic deficit surrounding the UK’s Climate Change Act/Net Zero have been known for some time – for example, given the enormity of the policy implications there has been very limited informed debate in the UK parliament, and very little public consultation.

Prof. Mike Hulme (professor of Human Geography at Cambridge University) has recently written the book, “Climate Change Isn’t Everything – liberating climate politics from alarmism” (polity, 2023) in which chapter 5 in entitled, ‘Why is Climatism Dangerous?’.  This recent book mentions, by my count, the word “totalitarian” twice and the word “totalizing” on nine pages.  This book should be contrasted with Hulme’s earlier work, “Why We Disagree About Climate Change” (CUP, 2009) wherein he encourages his readers (at page 340), “In order to get a better vantage point I suggest we change our position and examine climate change as an idea of the imagination rather than a problem to be solved.  By approaching climate change as an idea to be mobilised to fulfil a variety of tasks, perhaps we can see what climate change can do for us rather than what we seek to do, despairingly, for (or to) climate.”  So, is it that Professor Hulme now realizes what forces he has helped to unleash and that, at last, well over a decade later, he is trying to contain them?

In the wider world, Deutsche Bank’s Eric Heymann wrote that for the EU Green Deal to succeed then “a certain degree of eco-dictatorship will be necessary … Or will we adjust our climate policy ambitions if we find that (overly) ambitious climate policies are not acceptable to a majority of the people?”  Available in part on the web archive here:-

Or here:- Deutsche Bank: “A Certain Degree of Eco-Dictatorship Will Be Necessary”

5. Comments on Section 9 (Domestic Heating – heat pumps)

5.1 The more usual terminology is “air- and ground-source” (not air- and ground-effect) heat pumps.

5.2solution to the transition to low-carbon heating.

The heat-pump transition being promoted is not necessarily ‘low-carbon’, although it may appear so at first sight.  Thus it may be advisable to put the term ‘low-carbon’ in quotation marks so as to indicate its provisional status (cf. EROI in point 3.3 above, and see point 6.4 below).

6. Comments on Section 10 (Road Transport – electric vehicles)

6.1The other major energy-consuming sector of the economy due for decarbonisation to meet the Net Zero target …”

As per comment 5.2 above, I suggest placing ‘decarbonisation’ in quotes.

6.2there is to be a penalty of £15,000 per vehicle.”

This sounds very like the command/planned economy in action and thus contrasts with the first line of the Introduction.

6.3but the political consensus around the world has been that battery power is the future.”

Insert “much of the Western” before “world”.

6.4While new deposits will undoubtedly be found and exploited, there are doubts that extraction rates are high enough to supply the needs of the car industry if policy targets are to be met.

The executive summary of the IEA’s report [see IEA (2021), The Role of Critical Minerals in Clean Energy Transitions, Paris] on critical minerals says, “An energy system powered by clean energy technologies differs profoundly from one fuelled by traditional hydrocarbon resources. Solar photovoltaic (PV) plants, wind farms and electric vehicles (EVs) generally require more minerals to build than their fossil fuel-based counterparts. A typical electric car requires six times the mineral inputs of a conventional car and an onshore wind plant requires nine times more mineral resources than a gas-fired plant. Since 2010 the average amount of minerals needed for a new unit of power generation capacity has increased by 50% as the share of renewables in new investment has risen.”

6.5… given that they are charged with zero-carbon electricity …

As per comment 5.2 above, I suggest placing ‘zero-carbon’ in quotation marks both here and later.

6.6Chinese companies are taking an increasing share of both battery manufacture and car sales, largely by undercutting European, US and Japanese car makers.

As per comment 3.6 above, note that China uses a large quantity of low-cost coal in its manufacturing and electricity sectors which both reduces their production costs and also drives up CO2 emissions.

6.7Manufacturers will be fined £15,000 per vehicle that does not comply with the target.

This is largely a repetition; see comment 6.2 above.

6.8What the UK and other governments are trying to achieve now is an unprecedented change in types of vehicle, driven by top-down backing of a single technology, with little thought for consumer needs.

Change the full stop to a comma and add “nor little thought for consumers’ abilities to pay!” after ‘needs’.

As per comment 6.2, this sounds very like the command/planned economy in action with the democratic deficit writ large.

7. Comments on Section 11 (Summary and conclusions)

7.1 “… promoting what happens to be available …

Add “(and, by implication, what government hopes will become available e.g. large-scale, economic battery storage for the grid)” after ‘available’.

7.2The EU took the moral high ground …

Perhaps better expressed as, “The EU took what, at the time, appeared to be the moral high ground …” but later analysis of EROI, minerals requirements, and global emissions now suggests that the West in particular has taken a major wrong turning (i.e. made a serious strategic error) by trying to mandate immature technologies which, in the broadest sense, are extremely costly and thus uncompetitive, in addition to their limited popularity with the general public (as opposed to their popularity amongst activists and much of the media).

7.3The naïve assumption is that the rest of the world, including China and India will follow in our trailblazing footsteps.”

Add “hugely expensive, anti-competitive and immiserating but” before ‘trailblazing’.

7.4… to what exists …

Add ‘already’ before ‘exists’.


Professor Peter Dobson

It is always easy to find flaws in articles such as this, because much can be said with hindsight and this makes the historical decisions seem to be silly and irrational. The problem with this article is that it has not really dissected the topics very well and separated the technology advances from the need and the market forces. This is a shame because underlying much of the text there seems to be this intention. I will give a very brief comment on each of the subject headings:

Concorde: This was clearly a technological triumph, but no-one seemed to question the market need and cost to the users. The public needs were always going to determine that a Boeing 747 and similar aircraft to convey passengers over large distances effectively and cheaply, would win.  This was easily helped by the sonic boom effect that restricted routes for supersonic travel. 

Lamps to LEDs: This was not obvious at first because LEDs were specialised, expensive to make and low in their light output. The driver to improve them was not from the lighting industry at first, but from the electronics industry. The improvements in manufacture using high quality doped III-V semiconductors transformed the whole of the lighting industry. This took around 25 years of R&D.

Mobile Phones: This also relied on slow but successful technological development of the transmitter/receiver with miniature microwave technology and then miniature display screen technology, with incremental improvements for each generation of device. The innovation time scales for the overall system were again around 20-25 years. There was a high degree of market demand that drove technological innovation. 

Covid Vaccine development: This resulted from the good and deliberate funding of basic vaccine research so that there were already groups that were well-versed in viral-vector vaccine development and messenger RNA technology. This should be a lesson for other emerging healthcare issues such as antimicrobial resistance, but it is not obvious that the lessons have been learned. 

HS2: This is very different! It is an example of a flawed analysis of the need for public rail infrastructure. There is technology embedded in this project, but hardly any of it from the UK. The public needs were for better, cheaper and more frequent rail services to the North of England and with better interconnectivity. Instead, the Govt embarked on a “vanity project” with hardly any user group consultation and it is proving to be a disaster in every way. 

Electricity Generation and Storage: This is another failure on the part of Govt to analyse properly the problem. Worse still., it is against a backdrop of privatised energy utilities. The energy security of the country has now been seriously compromised by the rush to depend n the unreliable intermittent renewables. Furthermore, little or no attention was given to the needs for extensive new cable distribution infrastructure along with energy storage. This was all driven by a foolish desire to  “decarbonise” energy that seems to be more of a religion than a serious technological decision. The delays over new baseline energy generation are unforgiveable and will have serious repurcussions. 

CCS: This is also driven by the ideology that says that levels of carbon dioxide have to be reduced to avoid climate change, a concept that is unproven but is now a religion. The technical and engineering challenges to do this effectively and cheaply are huge and have not been properly accounted for. 

Heat Pumps: Although the technology is understood, the raison d’etre is again driven by decarbonisation and no proper costing has been given to the required building modification and increased electricity infrastructure needed. There is also a very large cost penalty involved for home insulation and a skill shortage of fitters and builders which is not being addressed. 

Battery Electric Vehicles: Yet another “decarbonisation” issue that is actually very marginal if considered over a vehicle’s lifetime. The UK has effectively lost the plot in making both the vehicle and the batteries. This is largely because of non-existent industrial strategy and is the same reason why the UK does not make any of the energy generating devices for this “green transition” 

Although there are many good sections of analysis, my conclusion is that the article does not really live up to its title and the choice of topics is not really a rational choice because it is a mixture of wrong policy decisions and technology advances that should guide market behaviour. 


Professor Gerald Ratzer

While I concur with the examples and the tone of the presentation, I do have some comments.

I understand that most of the examples are from the UK (or EU) experience – I think there is a high level misunderstanding of the Climate and the Net Zero Goal.

While the UK and the EU have some legally binding laws on achieving Net Zero, this is the wrong goal for Planet Earth.

The new film – Climate the Movie – explains very clearly that CO2 is the gas of life and reducing it makes no sense.

The movie has a Nobel Prize winner and several eminent academics as presenters, and covers the folly of governments trying to implement Net Zero.

Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS or CUCS) is down right stupid from a biological, economic and political point of view.

In the movie, we are told by several of the speakers that we should be increasing CO2 in the atmosphere and this has resulted in a greening of some 30% in the global Leaf Area Index over the last 30 years.

Why do commercial greenhouse growers raise their CO2 level from 420 to 1,200 ppm?  This increases their yields and profits.  World crop yields also increased for the same reason, with the rise from 300 to 420 ppm.

I think the new document in peer-review should at least have a section or paragraph on the current idiotic situation (with respect to CCS or CUCS) that is crippling the UK and EU economies.

There should also be a separate document for a proposed way out of this mess.  Do not reduce CO2 (not a pollutant) – but reduce pollution of all forms from burning fossil fuels.

Modern cars are fuel efficient and clean compared to decades ago.  This approach should be applied to power plants, including the burning of fossil fuels, like natural gas.

Natural gas is plentiful in the UK and the technology to extract it, with a small footprint – could completely turn the current energy policy around. This should be addressed.


David Wright

A great and eye opening paper. I have one suggestion: in the 4th paragraph of the CCS section it is stated:

“In many cases, companies have abandoned projects when it became clear that they were not viable”. 

This statement should be supported by naming companies that have abandoned such projects.


Pieter Bruinstroop

Firstly – you are BANG on the money; Even technologies that have been touted as “Government successes” (think of spin-outs from NASA) have not provided adequate returns to tax-payers and required private enterprise to commercialise; this is a true case of privatising the gains and socialising the losses.

Secondly – a stonkingly HUGE number of dollars has been thrown at Universities (I am in Australia and I have had to deal with Australian universities) – FAR beyond the point where the marginal benefit exceeds the marginal cost, and here Universities have a view of themselves that is an order of magnitude greater than reality and there is too many / much of them.  They also take WAY too long to achieve anything (due to teaching, writing up research, seeking publication and general lethargic environment) and their costs are WAY too high (due to overheads, and all the rentiers accommodated with “welcome to country”, DEI and other rubbish that takes time and money but does not have real or meaningful output).

Thirdly, there are technologies that, WITHOUT Government (probably despite Government) that will achieve a near carbon free future at costs comparable to current (or costs before some loonies decided that costs do not matter, which they don’t if it does not come out of your own pocket).  However, these technologies are not yesterday’s proven technologies, but tomorrow’s as yet commercially un-proven technologies.  

My company, Hydrogenus Energy, has one such technology and we have association with 2 other companies with complementary technologies that will provide electricity on demand at a lower cost (or no penalty) for many areas than current grid supplied electricity, plus, if our work comes together as we expect (take 18 to 24 months to prove this) a transport that combines the best features of EVs and ICEs, with a small battery (if the vehicle is small, then battery will be 100% of the energy source, but for larger vehicle, there will still be a small battery but  the true power source, like the Toyota Prius, will be an ICE for which the energy is carried as ammonia rather than gasoline, but with a simple split (device available commercially from Sept this year) of the N and H, and the ICE using the H (my company’s technology).  

There is an associated technology that will reduce the cost of “green” Hydrogen, and hence ammonia, on a distributed basis,  to current commercially traded ammonia.  This associated technology is proven at bench-top scale, but needs to be scaled up to commercial scale.  

Long story short – Government has no idea and stuffs it up as a result.


Dr John Carr

The paper has a clickbait title “Picking Winners” which does not really match what is presented. The subtitle “Learning the lessons of history: why technology transitions are best left to market forces” better introduces what is actually said in the paper. The paper uses five diverse examples of technologies, past and present, to illustrate the thesis in the subtitle. The paper then focuses just on four aspects of Net Zero leading to the conclusion: “The way to achieve global Net Zero, …., is to develop new and improved ways to decarbonise sectors of the economy in ways that consumers accept and that do not require ongoing taxpayer subsidy.” It is not clear why the five particular initial examples are relevant for this specific conclusion.

A comprehensive review of the ideas given in the paper would be very long, what follows are just a few thoughts.

The first example in the paper is Concorde. The text relate some aspects of the project but omits completely any discussion of the finances. It assigns Concorde to the non-winner classbecause of the ending of the programme but does not evaluate why it was cancelled. Was it because it was a financial failure, a technical failure or a safety failure? The paper does not consider the national prestige aspect of the project and that as such it might be considered a success. Did  the development of Concorde lead to spin-off technologies relevant for military aircraft? Does the national prestige brought by Concorde help current aircraft sales? I think it highly likely the Concorde achievement is used by President Macron in his world travels to sell the Rafale and other French technology, although It may be that Prime Minister Sunak does not do the same for the UK. Do opinion polls exist giving the public impressions of Concorde  in the past and present? Whatever the answers to these questions, the text in the paper has no relevance for current day actions for Net Zero.

The domestic lighting discussion is short and LEDs are defined to be winners. This subject has relevance for the Net Zero discussion but sadly the story in the paper lacks numbers. What are the savings in cost and electricity? What is the proportion of LED usage in the UK and abroad? What is the situation with industrial lighting and street lighting? How did consumers learn of the benefits of LEDs? Government actions or commercial  publicity? The support for the thesis of the paper lacks evidence.

Mobile phones are obviously winners. Did they happen with no government actions? What are the lessons to be carried over to Net Zero?

How is the COVID story relevant to NetZero? The paper seems to conclude that combined government and commercial actions can do anything fast. That conclusion is not demonstrated as applicable to everything and especially not NetZero.

HS2 is a very specific UK issue. A discussion aiming for general relevance must be on high speed railways not particular projects and ought to compare the situation in the UK with neighbouring countries. Any such discussion concerning the UK, should not omit the story of the Advanced Passenger Train development. Why did the UK choose tilting trains rather than new straight tracks? Why did it fail? How much did it cost? How much did it influence development of the railway industry in the UK? Is there a general conclusion to be made?Any conclusion concerning the extensive high speed railway networks in western Europe,must be that government interventions were paramount and so is opposite to the thesis of the paper.

The second half of the paper considers energy and NetZero. Section 7 introduces the technologies but goes into little necessary detail. The last paragraph refers to Prof David Mackay and his book. It would be very interesting to have a discussion of why politicians have been unable to take his work seriously.

Section 8 on Carbon Capture and Storage considers a massive issue but without any essential numerical details. I agree with the conclusion that this is pie-in-the sky but the report gives no significant evidence for this. This subject deserves a full report on its own.

Section 9 on heat pumps is an important issue where the UK appears to have a different opinion to the rest of the world. The short description goes into little detail and I disagree with the conclusion. The typical consumers is unable to make a sensible decision on this without expert advice. The advice should start with information from government and the “market forces” cannot work in a vacuum.

What is said in the section on EVs is perhaps reasonable, but again a very complex subject is summarized in a way which contains many opinions.

It is disappointing that there is not a significant discussion about nuclear power.

I recommend the paper is presented as an opinion piece. As stated above, I think the paperlacks logical connections and justification. A proper treatment of the ideas presented would require a full length book.


Roger Newman FRSC 


I have read the above article and add below some additional facts that could be added to the text. I did not find any thing that I would disagree with.

​Concorde Development

The 60’s and 70’s were a great period for technological projects in the UK but also a period when UK Gov often seemed frightened to take projects to a conclusion. The cancellation of the TSR2 by the Wilson Government would be a good example. In the paper the sorry saga of Concorde is dealt with at some length. In the early 70’s the Government backed the development of the aircraft and its expense but discarded another promising project the UK Space Industry. From 1967 to !971 I studied for my PhD as sponsored by the MoD (Rocket Propulsion Establishment Westcott) as a research assistant at Aston. Up to that period the UK had developed a series of successful launch vehicles e.g. Skylark a sounding rocket, Blue Streak, Black Knight and Black Arrow. They were partly taking a different route than the USA e.g. using high test peroxide and lean burn engines. On its 4th launch Black Arrow launched an all UK satellite, Prospero and then the whole program was cancelled as all development money was being taken up by Concorde. The USA promised to launch UK satellites at low cost but did not stick to the agreement. It’s ironic that it’s taken 50 years for the UK to return to launch vehicles. At the time we had a good record of successful launches at a lower unit cost than the USA.  

​Power Generation

The UK government has presided over a fairly muddled choice of nuclear power reactors The initial choice of enlarging the Magnox gas cooled reactors was probably excusable as it was the only type the UK had the time. However, they are very large structures with a low power density. When it came to choosing the second generation the UK Atomic Energy Authority backed the AGR ‘s (Advanced Gas Coole Reactors) whereas the CEGB and SSEB preferred the USA PWR. The AGR ‘s claim to fame was that it could carry out on load refueling but this was never fully achieved. The AGR’s won the day on the basis of   the PWR not being invented here, The UK AEA also proceeded with the concept of the Steam Generating Heavy Water Reactor as a future type but this was quietly dropped as a future contender. Later it was decided to develop our own version of the PWR (Sizewell B) as the first of a fleet but after a massive public inquiry and over budget construction only one was built. However we are now, many years later building Hinkley C PWR after dropping the Hitachi Boiling Water Reactor at Wylfa after Hitachi had spent £ 2billion on it. Funnily enough apart from Dungeness the AGR. fleet has been reasonably successful. So why did we not build more as a second generation rather than swap to Sizewell B as a one off.

The whole saga has been one of confusion and lack of clarity with some of the lack of direction coming from UK Gov.

The adoption of so called, renewables mostly leads to a heavy demand of energy/ electrical storage. I feel that although correctly mentioned in the text, some more details of possibly technologies could be included. What the public and UK Gov do not seem to grasp is the scale of the storage requirement. I have often tried to illustrate the amount of energy to be stored to cover just one day of current electricity production. This amount of energy is equivalent to the release of 50 Hiroshima bombs i.e. a huge amount of energy. Just suppose we had to provide cover for 2 weeks or more.

Many people have designed and costed possible systems based upon hydrogen or batteries and the costs could sometimes make the NHS look cheap. A recent proposal, funnily enough by UK Gov is to install a fleet of sleeping Combined Cycle Gas Plants linked to N Sea gas fields to cover gloomy windless events. It sounds expensive but it could be cheaper than huge stores of Lithium ion batteries with their habit of internal shorting and going up in flames!

​Carbon Capture Disposal and Reuse

I am not convinced that carbon dioxide dominated GHG’s are the major drivers of any observed global warming. Since we are discussing how sometimes governments are the last people who should promote technologies, who are the bodies who are promoting net zero CO2​? Why, the national governments and above them the United Nations of course. I don’t see that we should be necessarily follow what the UK Gov says. However, that is probably going too far in the context of the paper.

The paper mentions various processes e.g. carbon capture and storage and perhaps using captured CO2 as a feed stock. It is important to apply the 1st Law of thermodynamics to such processes to calculate that it does not use up more energy than is initially produced. This would apply to the CCS and CCUS processes. Generally, carbon dioxide is at the bottom of the thermodynamic chain and any thing requiring splitting the molecule requires an input of energy.

The final disposal step of storing carbon dioxide in ex gas fields seems to be a hostage to geological fortune i.e. how sure are we that some future geological event may not occur resulting in the catastrophic release of CO2. We should be reminded of the almost explosive release of CO2 from Lake Nyos in Cameroon in 1986 which killed some 2000 people and was triggered by a geological event.

Other processes might be mentioned in this section if not elsewhere.

Hydrogen is often mentioned as a fuel but it requires energy to produce it. Steam reformation requires CO2 produced by the process to be captured etc but there remains the question of the overall thermodynamics. Electrolysis of water can only give back what is put in initially and there is the question of required water quality to avoid producing unwanted gases. One better way to produce hydrogen is the thermal cracking of say methane which theoretically can produce a surplus of energy.  


Peter Gardner

Here are some general points: The case against Concorde was that its purpose was national prestige rather than commercial. I don’t believe that national prestige is always an inadequate reason to spend public money. Even in the case of Concorde, the project gained enormous respect for British engineering around the world. That is valuable, even if it is difficult to place a monetary value on it. Consider the impact had it failed even to achieve flight certification.

The obvious example is defence. One of the missions of the Armed Forces, the Royal Navy more than the other two, is to show the national flag. A particular case in that context is the Royal Yacht, which we have not got (to borrow from ‘Lessons of the War: I: Naming of Parts’ by the poet Henry Reed). 

The whole business of ‘soft power’  is one of prestige and influence. It is hard to link it to any economic gain. We know it works, if done well and there may not be any direct economic benefit but we know there may be indirect economic benefits from 1) cultivating good relations, 2) better understanding of and by countries with which we trade and 3) avoiding or reducing the risks of economically damaging armed conflict. An Armed Forces presence greatly enhances a civil trade mission and of course there are frequent international defence equipment exhibitions.

Space is another area where a developing industry justifiably needs public financial support to reach commercial viability – support for this purpose is protected in WTO rules – and Government led international competition, or prestige if you prefer, is a justifiable competitive stimulant to development.

Even in the case of Covid vaccines, described in the paper, international competition was a great stimulant to development and public subsidy of development and manufacture underwrote financial risk to the companies and delivered a great good in a) the country of development and b) faster supplying or establishing manufacture in countries that had neither their own suppliers nor the money to buy at commercial prices. There was an indirect benefit to UK in that the faster the world recovered the faster international trade and national economies could recover.

National autonomy or rather critical dependence on other countries is much in the news at present in connection with energy supply. Surely that is an argument for justifying expenditure on projects that are otherwise uneconomic in any commercial sense? Indeed there is a long standing discussion about what constitutes a strategic industry or strategically critical national infrastructure (eg. Chinese equipment in the UK’s national 5G Internet). The EU, learning from dependence on Russia, sees Green Energy as a route to energy independence. Its support of Ukraine, unlike that of the UK, is motivated by its desire to gain control of Ukraine’s vast mineral reserves of which lithium and rare earths alone are valued at up to US$12 trillion. It is now official EU policy that post war reconstruction shall be directed towards Green Energy (funded by international aid, of course, and hugely profitable for the EU’s, mainly German, industry).

That is why on 27 Feb 2022 Germany reversed its policy of not supplying weapons to Ukraine in exchange for Zelensky signing over the future sovereignty of Ukraine to the EU. Ironically, this may turn out to be an example of why governments should not pick winners because the world wide race for critical minerals for Green Energy has subsequently discovered and started to develop other sources outside both Ukraine and China. Nevertheless it was properly the state’s business to make the decision and commit public money. 

The UK, unlike the EU, quickly took a moral stand on Ukraine and is spending public money for that reason, rather than to gain control of Ukraine’s resources. Poetic justice is served in the form of recently announced commercial contracts for replacement munitions and weapons! And of course the experience of weapons in the field will feed back into many other areas of the defence industries of the countries supplying Ukraine’s military.

So there is another issue above and beyond picking winners here and that is that there are national interests that must be in the hands of the state and pursuing them may properly override commercial considerations or significantly curtail the scope for commercial viability – even though the state might pick the wrong answer. Even within defence procurement it can be difficult to get the balance right. The Picking Winners paper, I suggest, needs to draw this line and make the distinction clear. Part of the solution is to find ways to get the balance between state direction and free enterprise right rather than simply removing the government from the selection process.


Trevor Willard

Overall it is very good and very interesting. I would also say that it is quite ‘diplomatic’ rather than being ‘shocking’ or ‘punchy’ in any way. And the only points I would raise are regarding…

Ref. 5. Covid-19 vaccine development

I should start by pointing out that I am not a conspiracy theorist nor am I an anti-vaxxer? I had the vaccines, though I am somewhat concerned of the potential consequences? Whilst I appreciate that you’ve very nicely summarised this topic in a relatively positive manner, I would stress that it was not the success story that you perhaps portray. For example, there is an awful amount of evidence (not that it is being publicised by the MSM) to strongly suggest that the COVID vaccines have caused much more harm than good. Likewise, there is also the astronomical costs to the taxpayers (estimated at more than twice the annual cost of the NHS) and the economy that is still very much still trying to recover. Then there are those individuals and corporate businesses that have profited significantly from the pandemic and the way in which our government managed it. There are many unanswered questions regarding the pandemic, was COVID ‘really’ as bad as was suggested by the government and the media? Was the COVID death toll correctly accounted for, or was it vastly exaggerated to include ‘all’ deaths? Were the lockdowns and associated costs to jobs and the economy really necessary? My point being, it is very far from being as clear cut as your article might suggest and the full effects of the rushed COVID vaccines have yet to come to full fruition over the coming decades? I’m not going to give you any specific examples here, but would simply ask that you to refer to in the first instance where you can find many detailed articles on this matter with links to official medical reports from very many eminent medical scientists, many of whom have been silenced or even cancelled by the media and even professional bodies for speaking out.

Ref. 8. Carbon capture and storage

There is no issue with the levels of CO2 in fact, many scientist agree it’s the lowest it’s been for a very long time and if it gets any lower, it’ll cause even more problems. If fact, the current climate in generally considered to be in a cool period. We need more, not less CO2, so there’s absolutely no need to capture it and store it. Again, there is a lot publicity on this topic via TCW and many other sources.

Ref. 10. Road transport – electric vehicles

Public transport is so unreliable and expensive in many areas, it’s just not a viable option to compete with the car for convenience. You might want to consider adding a paragraph about the production of synthetic fuels from waste products as we have vast quantities of waste forever being deposited into landfill sites across the country, which would mean we could continue to use ICE (internal combustion engines) for the foreseeable future as EV’s are clearly not the answer for all the reasons mentioned?

Ref. 11. Summary and conclusions

I think you should add more regarding the Net Zero dream or rather scam as I would call it. Net zero policies are causing so much damage to ours and the Eu’s economy and cost of living and it’s all for nothing. The UK produces less that 1% of the worlds CO2, not that CO2 needs to be reduced anyway, but what difference will the UK make to the world emissions by reaching Net Zero (if it were even possible) when Asia, India and China will continue their use of fossil fuels for their ever increasing energy? None, whatsoever. We’ll simply be a much poorer country, more reliant on other nations to provide our everyday needs. Likewise, there is no need for any global Net Zero targets? As you suggest, just let commercial progress continue without government intervention and I’m sure we’ll all benefit from a cleaner world in the long term.


Simon Clanmorris

My general comment on Martin Livermore’s paper ‘Picking Winners’ is that it is very long on words but very short on statistics. You would of course expect me to take that view as I qualified as a Chartered Accountant. 

Page 8 para 3

The vaccine did not stop the spread. It merely reduced the effects of Covid. It is highly unlikely that deaths would have been as high as 1918. As was predicted by some the virus followed the normal path of viruses and soon became less deadly but more transmittable.

Page 11 

Penultimate para

It would be useful to add the wind variability statistics which I have attached in Appendix A.

Last para

It would be useful to add that solar power only provided 4.6% of grid demand in 2023. The load factor is approximately 10.5%.

Page 12

Para 3 

Some statistics would help. The two graphs in Appendix B differ as they are from different sources and at different dates but the broad picture is the same.

Para 4

It might be worth mentioning that Net Zero requires an enormous amount of minerals and rare earths and China has a stranglehold on many of them. Simon Michaux of the Finnish Geological Institute has produced a 1200 page paper on the subject. A summary is in Appendix C.

Para 5

Appendix D is a summary of the costs of battery storage. This is based on covering 220 hours of wind scarcity. Even if we just cater for 72 hours of wind scarcity (which happens 10-18 times every year) the cost is still £32,000 per household.

Page 13 

Para 3

Some SMRs will be cheaper to build than offshore wind. The estimated capital costs are in the range £1.1m to £4.3m/MW. The costs for offshore wind are in the range £2.0 to £4.5/MW. Bank of America has pointed out that if you use Full System Analysis i.e. if you take into account the costs of back up for wind a different picture emerges. A simple method is to apply a load factor. If we use load factors of 90% for  for nuclear and 40.5% for offshore  the capital cost for offshore wind is in the range £4.9 to £11.1m/MW and the capital cost for SMRs is in the range £1.2 to $4.8/MW.

Para 5

It is no longer true to state that nuclear cannot be easily ramped up and down. Several new designs (including Arc Cleantech, Terrestrial Energy, X Energy. EDF Nuward) can ramp up and down (from 25% of capacity) at a rate of 5% per minute or equivalent to that of gas turbines. These are not concepts some have already achieved design approval and others will achieve it in 2024. Some other designs which use salt as a coolant or a fuel have the capability to store heat to be used at times of high demand.

Page 14

Para 3

Capturing CO2 is not simple or cheap. See Appendix E

Last para

Net Zero is perfectly possibly with cheap SMRs replacing CCGT. The cost of retrofitting inefficient CCS to CCGT is about the same as the cost of an SMR. There is no reason why the UK should not be 70% nuclear like France.

Page 15 para 4

A recent report (I have no time to source it) said that hydrogen heating for homes is not a sensible option.

Page 19 para 5 

If all our cars were electric it would require us to source twice the current annual production of cobalt and 75% of the current annual production of lithium.


Mark Uffen

Herewith my hastily assembled comments on the draft paper. 

Top of page 3:

Oil prices were low (about $3 a barrel through the 1960s, an almost inconceivable 30 cents in today’s money).

The indexation is at best upside down – RPI was 50 in 1961 and is now 1500, or a factor of 30, albeit that the £/$ rate has cratered from about $2.80 to $1.25 so perhaps call it 13.3 to give a current equivalent of $40/bbl. 30 cents per US gallon was about the petrol price in the 1960s in the US.

Page 11

Conventional hydro and tidal energy are more concentrated and largely reliable sources but each generation site is unique and there are no economies of scale.

Tidal energy is reliably intermittent, and little different from solar in that regard, and also reliably costly and not without environmental impact. Long hours waiting for the difference in water basin depths to increase with no output at all, fairly close synchronisation of the high tide times at the major possible sites (Severn, Dee, Morecambe, Solway, Wash, Thames) that would get further synchronised were tidal schemes built. Huge variation in output between spring and neap tides every fortnight – a factor of ~8. Maximum total output from ebb only generation, leading to bigger gaps in output. Timing of peak output changes by 50 minutes a day in line with the orbit of the moon. Need to accommodate a rapid ramp from zero to almost maximum output at the start of generation, implying backup generation that has to be ramped down to offset. Fairly rapid tail-off late in the generation cycle, needing backup to fire up again – altogether a difficult grid integration problem. Still subject to unpredictability due to weather patterns – high pressure lowers tides, low pressure raises them, storm surges can alter tide timings. Attempts to bridge tide to tide output variation by twin basin storage designs reduce output by ~70% as well as adding to cost for barrages: completely ineffective for the spring/neap cycle. Barrage costs scale with length of barrage required and square of water depth (to build a triangular cross section). 

Tidal stream turbines suffer from many similar problems, but perhaps even more because their output is particularly flickery due to wave action and must pass through stabilisation (current projects are using batteries that eat up 20%+ of their input and add cost), and the turbines have to remain small (and thus uneconomic) to avoid being thrashed to pieces by the stresses of underwater shear in current speed – the cube law is unremitting in water that is ~800 times as dense as air.

Page 12

The US uses very little oil for electricity generation. Gas is supported by nuclear and coal and hydro (particularly in the NW and near Ontario where it is imported into New England). Wind is now typically larger than coal but less than nuclear.

Wind turbines are made overseas, largely in China, Turbines are typically assembled in Europe or the Americas, and blades likewise. Steel for jackets and towers and generator shafts increasingly comes from China, which also controls key resources such as neodymium used in generator magnets, vital to cutting weight. China is only beginning to market complete turbines.

Page 13

Microwave transmission has been suggested, but there are a number of obvious difficulties in managing this safely. This is not an approach likely to be utilisable in the near future, but that does not mean it might not be making a contribution in a generation or two’s time.

It really is a highly implausible source other than perhaps for a moon base to keep it powered during the lunar night, though finding a suitable orbit might be problematic.

Nuclear generating capacity is expensive to build, not least because of the cost of the safety systems required to reduce the chances of accidental release of radioactive material to as close to zero as possible.

It’s not really about accidental release as at Windscale, but about inventing apocalyptic scenarios with extremely low probability and likely simultaneous extensive other damage to our infrastructure. For example, a ML 9 earthquake that we will not see for 200 million years when perhaps Britain has been transported to the edge of a tectonic plate near a subduction zone somewhere near present day Siberia, or a massive Atlantic tsunami arising from the collapse of volcanic islands that would likely cause extensive damage to low lying areas of the country were it to occur that would be far more important, or impact from a large aircraft in a terrorist event (surely it would be shot down first).

Page 14

In the longer term, new technology to achieve this has great potential to reduce atmospheric CO2 levels, since it could be deployed anywhere and need not be associated with large-scale sources of the gas. 

It seems unlikely that this could ever be deployed at sufficient scale or low enough cost to make a meaningful contribution. Strictly virtue signalling only.

The section on carbon capture is incomplete without comment being passed on BECCS, the great hope of Drax to pretend to be carbon negative, instead of burning trees at an even faster rate to power its vanity scheme.

Page 15

The bigger problems are that the hydrogen not only has to be from a low-carbon source but that, as the lightest element, it is much more prone to leak from joints or flaws in pipework.

There are several other problems with hydrogen: it has a third of the energy density of methane at the same temperature and pressure, but safe bulk storage pressures are lower because of its leaky nature: the result is that you need perhaps 5 times the storage volume and hence cost. Moreover, with no easily turned up supply from fields and imports, that storage must cover the winter peak demand out of year round production, instead of providing incremental flex as at present. As the Llewellyn-Smith Royal Society study began to show, you need storage of well over 100TWh as hydrogen (4-500TWh as methane equivalent) to cover the seasonal flex and inter year fluctuations of variable renewables output. In practice, that is likely to be a lot higher given the optimism built in to heat pump assumptions. Another problem is that there is no adequate stenching agent for pure hydrogen, increasing the risk of dangerous accumulations that lead to explosions and fires. Moreover, the range of explosive mixtures in air is much wider than methane. This is only partly offset by the tendency of hydrogen to diffuse rapidly and upwards given adequate ventilation.

Page 15

The other main problem with heat pumps is that the maximum temperature they can heat water to is significantly lower.

Another significant problem is that the coefficient of performance varies with external temperature. When it is cold outside, the effective efficiency falls, reducing heat supply. The result is that heating demand increases quadratically – more than pro rata with falling temperature, with supplemental heating from electric fires and immersion heaters being needed, negating the savings in peak power requirements that that they were supposed to provide.

One is the relative cost of electricity and gas.

The government is of course mooting tilting the playing field by adding electricity costs to gas supply, which just leads to an uneconomic non-market outcome.

Page 18

Not only that, but recharging the batteries takes much longer than refuelling with petrol or diesel and, as importantly, the network of public chargers is growing far too slowly to give the increasing numbers of EVs on the road good access when needed.

The entire low voltage distribution network would need reinforcing, involving digging up every street and installing many larger transformers to supply the power demands of EVs and heat pumps under mass adoption. A ~£200bn item on its own. 

Page 19

Green’ hydrogen only really becomes viable with the availability of a supply of low-cost, zero-carbon electricity. This in principle could be from wind turbines or photovoltaic cells, where output greater than needed by the electricity grid is essentially worthless.

This fallacy is commonplace. Producing a surplus requires investing in the capacity to provide it, and that must be paid for. If you provide a supply at a near zero price, then the rest of the supply must pay for the cost subsidy, increasing the price that must be charged for it. Currently some of this is covered by curtailment payments. But as the proportion of “surplus” power increases, this cost escalates sharply. At the margin an extra wind farm may only have 10-20% of its output adding to “useful” supply replacing a dispatchable alternative, with the other 80-90% to be subsidised: the useful supply cost then becomes 5-10 times the average cost of supply.

Page 20

The way to achieve global Net Zero, the only target that means anything, is to develop new and mproved ways to decarbonise sectors of the economy in ways that consumers accept and that do not require ongoing taxpayer subsidy.

The only way for meaningful global progress to be achieved is for the low hanging fruit to be tackled in other countries. We are already on the upslope of sharply rising cost and increasing infeasibility.