David MacKay – last interview and tribute

I had the honour of recording David MacKay’s last interview, on 3 April 2016. The idea was to present him with the Breakthrough Paradigm award because due to his illness he was unlikely to be able to travel to the awards ceremony in June 2016. However, we talked about a lot of different things, and together with David’s wife Ramesh I wanted this video and tribute to appear beforehand in full and unedited. David obviously knew he didn’t have long, and was consequently more forthright than he had perhaps been in previous interviews. Please do not quote him out of context or sensationalise what he said.

David died soon aftewards. You can read my personal thoughts about David in this blogpost, read David’s own final blogposts here, and also find the obituary I wrote for him in the Guardian newspaper. You’ll see he also mentions the Global Calculator, which you can find here. My thanks go to Davin Yap, who did the cameras, and Robert Stone, who put the different feeds together and stitched it into a remarkable piece of film and I hope a fitting tribute to David MacKay. Thanks are also due, as you will see, to The Proclaimers.

David MacKay memorial video from Robert Stone on Vimeo.

See you in 500 Miles!


  1. Ali Walmsley

    Thanks Mark
    Great to hear your interview, genuinely touching and understated in a very British way.

  2. Robin Curtis

    Mark / Davin / Robert / and The Proclaimers – thank you for making and posting this. A fitting tribute.

    Very difficult to think that his bright flame went out so shortly afterwards.

    We must not lose sight of his legacy to the energy scene in our new post-fact world: the basic physics and the numbers.

  3. Liz Crosbie

    I didn’t know David’s work directly before this interview but I will read his book now with real interest. Thanks for him and for his life well lived. Also thank you for this touching tribute to a man that shined integrity and was obviously so well loved. We all need to be prepared to walk 500 miles or more to address climate change.

  4. James Davey

    Mark – Thank you for posting this. As someone who worked with David at DECC I appreciate very much the effort you have gone to in paying tribute to him. Keep fighting the good fight.

  5. Euan Mearns

    Well done Mark! A lot of it is electrifying stuff. I am thinking I’ll post the video Saturday, obviously with full credits, if that’s OK.

    I wish David was still around because I would dearly like to have a discussion with him about CCS that I have long argued is bonkers unless used along with EOR.



  6. Scott Murray

    Thanks Mark a great interview, I am looking forward to reading David’s book

  7. Pete Best

    I cannot believe that he passed away so quickly or was even ill. He even replied to my emails as he had the time for people.

    Great bloke, a sad loss 🙁

  8. Robin Curtis

    A tribute from Bill Gates with a wonderful sketch of David Mackay – one begins to realise how far and wide David’s work on energy reached:


  9. John Twidell

    The video of Prof David MacKay’s interview honours him greatly as his friendly and expressive personality shines through. But this is not a reason to fail to take issue with his opinions on energy, so firmly stated and, as he says, because of the circumstances. His policy for the UK centred on mid winter energy needs and supplies, for which his only answer is nuclear power. Consequently, he said, wind, solar etc are too expensive and in any case unnecessary. Amazingly the expensive cost of nuclear is not mentioned, nor such matters as radioactive waste disposal, security and how to cope with a supply that cannot be turned of. He ignored, for instance, the year by year increase in renewables generation and cost reduction, both for the UK and worldwide. How one wishes that discussion and examination of modern energy related technology could continue with him, since there are so many other aspects to consider. The stimulating contribution of such a reasonable and pleasant person is much missed.

    1. Joris van Dorp

      Sir David has addressed all these issues in his book.

      Far from ignoring these issues, it is precisely his quantitative, evidence-based assessment of these and other generally misunderstood issues which convinced MacKay that nuclear energy – not renewable energy – is the primary enabler of sustainable energy development.

      Read his book to find out more.

    2. Alistair M.

      Prof. Mackay will be sadly missed, because it was exactly this sort of attitude his work critiqued. It’s an attitude which thinks an argument consists of making a big list of unquantitifed and unstructured variables and favouring solutions without any idea, even to an order of magnitude, as to their physical practicality or cost.

      David Mackay’s great contribution was his rigorous maths and engineering approach, especially on the cost estimates. He ignored none of the things in your list.

      Too many greens talk endlessly about renewables but can’t come up with a cost and engineering-feasible plan that keeps the lights on for the UK. Some of these greens are innumerate, literally unable to add up, and hence disqualify themselves from any real policy debate. But in my experience a great many just “don’t want to know” the engineering and economics and physics reality, because it’s just too emotionally painful for them.

      One of the reasons I respect Mark Lynas and his work, is his ability to reason and be persuaded by the numbers, even when that leads him to confront environmental shibboleths.

  10. Pingback: Idea of renewables powering UK is an ‘appalling delusion’ – David MacKay | NOT A LOT OF PEOPLE KNOW THAT

  11. Pilgrim Beart

    David understood that the numbers have to add up (nature cannot be fooled). I haven’t seen any viable solution for the vast amounts of storage that would be needed during lulls in winter wind if we are to avoid CCS or nuclear.

    Wish there was, and I’m always interested in pursuing ways for technology to change the game, but we’re talking basic physics here.

    Maybe there is some other scenario, e.g. a huge increase in inter-connectors to foreign nuclear – but that would be 10x what we have today (and won’t they be using it too?).

    And of course another solution is for us to accept being more supply-led, i.e. if the wind ain’t blowing in the winter, then the UK stops until it starts blowing again. But what about heating?

    Insulating our homes properly seems to be the #1 “no regrets” domestic policy intervention, yet we seem to fail to have the political will to do this.

    1. Robin Curtis

      Pilgrim – you are correct on all counts. David would be the first to point out where the numbers don’t stack up.

      The requirement for storage is huge – and there is a monumental amount of activity going on – both with thermal and electrical storage. In addition you will have seen the announcements re proliferating inter-connectors.

      However – “reduce / reduce /reduce” should be the mantra – and yes we should be insulating the lousy UK housing stock on a street-by-street basis asap. (Only about 20 million plus households to deal with). That programme seems to have collapsed in flames.

      As you suggest – it would all be a lot easier if society would agree to modifying their demand profile to meet supply. Regrettably I can’t see that being a vote winner – without large financial inducements to the end-user.

      We wait with interest to see what the new “BICCIES” department comes up with as a plan (Business, Industry, Climate Change, Infrastructure and Energy Strategy). Very sadly – David will not be there to help them out with the numbers.

      Forkandles ?!

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