Thursday, 30 August 2007

20 ways to go green at home

You don't have to live in the latest concept house to help save the planet. Donnachadh McCarthy has transformed his leaky, draughty Victorian terrace into a zero-carbon triumph – and he's set out this simple plan so that you can do it too.

20. Power to the people

The biggest investment in the creation of my retro-eco home was installing a solar panel for electricity (a solar photovoltaic system). That was way back in 1997. As I have learnt to be more efficient in how I use electricity, it has provided an increasing proportion of my power.

A few years back, I finally succeeded in exporting more electricity to the National Grid than I imported, which was a cause for much celebration. Today, a similar 2KwH solar system will cost about £12,000, and the government grant (which was slashed in Gordon Brown's last Budget) now stands at £1,500 per system.

By the way, the domestic wind turbine experimentally installed on my roof 18 months ago has been a failure, producing just enough power for one energy saving bulb.

For advice visit


Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Demand for 'green home' rebates

Households should receive council tax rebates to encourage them to install solar panels and wind turbines, an independent think tank claims.

The New Local Government Network says planning laws should be relaxed to increase the take-up of green energy.

It also suggests local authorities could offer interest-free loans towards the cost of installation.

But the Campaign to Protect Rural England says precious landscapes must be safeguarded.

Currently the government offers a grant of up to 30% towards the cost of installing wind turbines or solar panels.

It has also been consulting on whether they should be permitted without planning permission where the impact on neighbours is minimal.

full article

Sunday, 26 August 2007

Hybrid Solar House

Enertia® is a new technology for building houses so that they heat and cool themselves. This is achieved from the design, the orientation, and the materials of the home, rather than a furnace, heat pump, or air-conditioner. Three basic, millions-of-year-old principles of nature, combined with state-of-the-art windows, radiant coatings, and prefab manufacture, make it possible, and practical. The principles are inertia, thermal currents, and the energy capacity of wood.

The goal is a comfortable living space - in an often hostile environment. Remarkably, our planet Earth achieves this, in the absolute-zero temperature of space, by weather patterns and thermal inertia. This "ecological balance" is possible because Earth has an atmosphere that traps and distributes the sun's energy by thermal currents. Enertia® Building Systems has applied this concept to Architecture.
Enertia® is among the first, and perhaps most life-changing, practical inventions to come from the modern science of BIOMIMICRY. It is an incredibly simple, foolproof natural concept - and it can solve one of the greatest problems of all mankind: how to comfortably house a growing population without straining the world's material resources, or dwindling energy supply. Until now, "Natural Architecture" has been about using natural materials, like wood and stone, for aesthetic reasons only. Enertia® is a performance-based "Natural Architecture," going a step further, using these materials as energy carriers, in a dynamic new design with a life of its own.

full article

Solar panels - the new double-glazing

Saving the planet, or saving on power bills - either way there is powerful motivation for harnessing solar energy to heat your home, even after this dismal summer. But it is all too easy for persuasive sales people to hijack the green energy message and leave customers, often elderly or vulnerable, with a system that can cost them a year's pension or more. It might only prove worthwhile for their grandchildren or great-grandchildren.

Purchasers could end up paying substantially over the odds - up to twice as much as a competitive quote in some cases. And they are often left confused by double-glazing-style sales methods such as "drop closes" - offering a big reduction on an inflated price but only if you sign up there and then.

full article

Saturday, 25 August 2007

Ground Source Heat Pumps

Recent environmental and energy issues have begun fueling more interest in renewable energy sources, such as geothermal, which takes advantage of nature. The temperature of the earth a few feet below ground is a constant 50 to 70 degrees everywhere in North America. A geothermal system uses that constant temperature to heat and cool homes.

The system contains hundreds of feet of polyethylene coils buried about five feet beneath the ground’s surface. These coils act as a huge radiator. They contain water with an antifreeze solution that is circulated under 60 pounds of pressure.
The system absorbs and exchanges heat in the ground. The fluid circulating in the pipes absorbs the ground’s heat when the weather is cold to produce warm air for the house. When the weather is hot, the system reverses. Heat is pulled from the building and deposited in the cooler ground to create cool air for the house.

These systems do not burn fossil fuel, so they don’t emit greenhouse gases or contribute to global warming. They are quiet, easy to maintain and extremely efficient. Ritchey said the WaterFurnace system achieves 500 percent efficiency.
Geothermal systems typically deliver four times as much energy as it takes to run the system. In other words, for every one kilowatt-hour of electricity used to run the equipment, four kilowatt-hours of energy are pulled from the homeowner’s backyard. Electricity is needed mainly just to run the unit’s fan, compressor and pump.

This efficiency results in savings for consumers. According to Ritchey, the cost to heat and cool an average 2,500-square-foot home in Fort Wayne with a geothermal system would only be $780 a year. The same home with a high-efficiency natural-gas system would cost $1,497 to heat and cool, he said.

Even homes that already have a traditional furnace system can take advantage of “green” geothermal technology. WaterFurnace’s newest system, called Envision Split, can save homeowners up to 70 percent on their heating and cooling costs, Ritchey said.

It has the highest heating and cooling efficiency rating of any other split product in its class certified by the Air Conditioning & Refrigeration Institute. It is dubbed a “split” system because it works with existing fossil-fuel furnace systems. A split system uses an existing gas furnace for its air handler and forced-air distribution.

Split systems typically handle all of the cooling demand and all of the heating demand, except for extreme cold, when conventional furnaces operate most efficiently. Geothermal units on split systems are typically smaller, and the return-on-investment time is shorter.
full article

Tidal power project

The UK's first working tidal power project, which was supposed to begin construction this week, has suffered a delay.

Marine Current Turbines (MCT), a Bristol-based company developing tidal power machinery, had planned to commence installation of its initial SeaGen system in Strangford Lough, Northern Ireland.

SeaGen turbines are basically simple propellors, mounted in pairs on a heavy pile sunk into the seabed. The big props are driven by fast-flowing tides, generating potentially useful amounts of electricity. Underwater maintenance is expensive even in benign conditions and prohibitively difficult in fast tides, so the propellor assemblies are designed to be raised out of the water for maintenance or repairs.

MCT says the turbine blades spin slowly enough that they won't be a threat to sea life, and the company extols the zero-carbon, environmentally friendly nature of its power. The company, whose shareholders and partners include venture capitalists, offshore engineering concerns, and power companies, receives substantial government funding for its ongoing research programme, in line with the UK's aims of reducing carbon emissions.

full article

Solar photovoltaic panels

Paul Norris has the kind of power bill we all dream of - his electricity supplier sends him a cheque.

He generates so much electricity from the solar photovoltaic (PV) panels on the roof of his three-bedroom house in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, that he not only satisfies his own needs but also exports excess supplies to the National Grid.
Since Chelsfield Solar ( installed the system in April last year, he has been able to wave goodbye to his £300 annual power bill and now receives a cheque for £200 from his electricity company, Scottish and Southern Energy (
Paul could also make more than £130 per annum, if he was prepared to endure the Government's convoluted support system. This involves Renewable Obligations Certificates (ROCs), which are accrued by those generating renewable energy and are purchased by suppliers so they can meet their eco-obligations.

Although the value of a ROC is set by the market, it is typically around £45 and a large PV system like Paul's can amass three a year, which should sweeten the move to renewable energy considerably.

Alas the process, which was originally designed for large-scale enterprises, is so bureaucratic it is likely to deter the average homeowner.

"I intended to register but I haven't been able to face the red tape," he says.

Even without the ROCs, Paul has estimated that his PV system - which cost him £8,500, because he received a 50 per cent grant from the Government - will pay for itself within 14 years. However, the grant has now been capped at £2,500.

full article

Friday, 24 August 2007

Thin-layer Solar Cells

Enough solar energy falls on U.S. soil to provide 500 times the country's energy needs – but the cost of harvesting this free and sustainable resource is preventing people from using it to power their homes. That’s why scientists in the sunny U.K. are excited about the possibility of thin-layer photovoltaic cells that could bring the price of solar energy down and make solar cells a viable addition to the average home.

Current commercially available solar cells are frequently silicon-based and contain indium, a rare and expensive metal that contributes to the high cost of solar panel installations – but a new research project at Durham university in Britain aims to find cheaper and more accessible alternatives, focusing on developing thin-layer PV cells using materials such as copper indium diselenide and cadmium telluride.

It’s hoped that the development of more affordable thin-film PV cells could lead to a reduction in the cost of solar panels for the domestic market and an increase in the use of solar power, which currently provides less than one hundredth of one percent of the UK’s home energy needs.

The thin-layer PV cells would be used to make solar panels that could be fitted to roofs to help power homes with any surplus electricity being fed back to the National Grid, leading to cheaper fuel bills and less reliance on fossil fuels for energy.

Professor Ken Durose, Director of the Durham Centre for Renewable Energy, who is leading the research, said: “One of the main issues in solar energy is the cost of materials and we recognize that the cost of solar cells is slowing down their uptake.

“If solar panels were cheap enough so you could buy a system off the shelf that provided even a fraction of your power needs you would do it, but that product isn’t there at the moment.

“The key indicator of cost effectiveness is how many pounds do you have to spend to get a watt of power out? If you can make solar panels more cheaply then you will have a winning product.”

full article

Don't scrap green housing rule, urge campaigners

A coalition of renewable energy and green groups yesterday urged the government not to scrap a key plank of local authority policy that has been credited with boosting the use of renewable energy.
The call came after the leak earlier this week of a draft planning policy statement which local authorities said would undermine their ability to insist that developers use green technologies.

The Home Builders Federation and British Property Federation oppose the so-called "Merton rule", which requires builders to obtain at least 10% of a building's energy from sustainable sources such as solar or wind power.

Sustainable Energy Partnership organiser Ron Bailey said: "The current campaign by the British Property Federation and Home Builders Federation to overturn this modest yet proven and highly successful policy in the climate change policy planning statement is nothing short of scandalous bearing in mind the urgent need to reduce CO2 emissions."
full article

Garden of the future

Out go the delphiniums, aster and lupins..... in come the oleander, cactus and bougainvillea.
Concrete patios and wooden decking will be replaced by more environmentally friendly porous gravel.

Hardier Bermuda grass will take the place of green sward lawns and palm trees will sway in the breeze.

This is the vision of Chelsea Flower Show gold medal winning designer Andy Sturgeon who has designed the Garden of the Future.

It was commissioned by the National Gardens Scheme (NGS) to mark 80 years of opening gardens to the public to raise money for charity.

The design reflects the fact that by 2087 the environmental impact of climate change, increased energy prices, urbanisation and recycling will all have a direct impact on how our gardens will look.

"The next 80 years will see the biggest change in gardening ever, as we move from a temperate climate towards a sub-tropical one," said Sturgeon.
" Frosts are already virtually non-existent in the south and we need cold winters to stimulate flower buds on things like blackberries and cherries, otherwise they won't fruit.

"Rhododendrons and birch which need cool summers will gradually die out and traditional cottage garden favourites like Delphiniums, Aster, Lupin and Phlox which need a moist fertile soil will also disappear as they can't cope with drought."

The garden has a distinct Mediterranean feel and takes into account that temperatures in the summer in 80 years time could hit the 42°C mark - the same sort of heatwave that has struck much of southern Europe this year.

If as expected temperatures remain higher in the winter it could lead to a year round growing season for plants and lawns. This will increase maintenance time and costs making smaller gardens more desirable.

Sturgeon's vision takes in as much sustainability and recycling as possible.

With waste collection now taxed by the local authority compost bins will be a must for the recycling of garden and kitchen waste.

And with water at a premium during the long dry summer months it will be compulsory to harvest and recycle what little rainwater there might be and to make further use of grey water. A huge underground tank will be fed by drainpipes from the roof and overflow water from a pond.

Because of the colossal CO2 emissions caused in the manufacturing process, the use of cement will be frowned upon if not banned altogether.

Rammed earth walls will be used to make raised plant beds and instead of large paved patios and driveways which allow valuable excess water to run off into the drains, there will be porous gravel to soak up the overflow.

Similarly the use of expensive stone imported from far flung corners of the world and hardwood timber from endangered rainforests will cease, to be replaced by reclaimed and recycled local materials.

High energy prices will lead to the use of photo-voltaic cells placed on top of walls to capture the sunlight to provide power to pump water and illuminate the garden.
full article

Thursday, 23 August 2007

Developers are in for a bit of a rough ride if they are to meet government standards for sustainable homes.

The Code for Sustainable Homes (CSH), which aims for all new homes to be zero-carbon by 2016, is currently not mandatory, but the Government is reviewing the option to make it so from April 2008.

This must surely be good news for the environment: stopping the ice caps from melting is, after all, the very point of the zero carbon agenda.

But new research from Savills wonders whether developers will be able to deliver the CO2 targets, and, more to the point, whether Joe Bloggs buying a new home will be willing to foot the bill.

Which leads on to the next question: will buyers be prepared to pay more for a completely kitted out carbon no-go home?

Savills found that homeowners are certainly eco-savvy, but not necessarily keen on the eco-medicine being prescribed by the Government. In a nut-shell: they're all for it if it saves them money, but less enthusiastic if they have to pay more..

As the report notes: "The importance that occupiers attach to various green features seems to be largely related to saving money rather than saving the planet."

Energy saving features were rated as important by 74 per cent, low running costs by 77 per cent and good thermal insulation by 84 per cent.

But when it came down to whether buyers would pay more for these green enhancements the figures melted away like ... well, like icebergs on the fringes of Antarctica.

Energy saving features were the biggest draw, as around 25 per cent of buyers conceded they would part with more cash for these.

Clearly, developers are facing something of a dilemma if they are to invest in carbon-neutral housebuilding that will carry overheads that cannot be passed onto the buyer.

While lower levels of sustainable living have been estimated by English Partnerships to average between £3,000 and £6,000 per dwelling, the holy grail of carbon-free homes, level 6, could pile on a potential £26,000 to £36,000 to building costs.

The Government is waiving stamp duty on zero-carbon homes up to £500,000 starting from October to help offset building costs. But things will be far tighter at the top end where the stamp duty exemption will be capped at £15,000.

So there's a lot of horse-trading to be done between the Government, the developers and homeowners on who will shoulder the costs. The alternative is that the specs for truly zero-carbon homes are downgraded – watch this space.

full article

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Micro-chipped bins

Families have been warned they would be charged more for their rubbish under plans unveiled for a series of "pay-as-you-throw" schemes.
Wheelie bins with microchips that weigh the contents, pre-paid waste sacks and charges based on the size of bins were all suggested by the Local Government Association in an attempt to encourage more recycling.
The association said that using a "pay-as-you-throw" incentive to encourage recycling was backed by two in three, based on a survey it commissioned.

But opponents cast doubt on the poll and claimed the schemes could cost taxpayers around £20 a month, leading to more fly-tipping.

The first of the three proposals put forward by the LGA is for a system in which householders buy pre-paid rubbish sacks of different sizes, aimed at urban areas where wheelie bins are impractical.

The second would be the use of microchips in wheelie bins which would allow the amount of rubbish to be weighed as it was loaded on to the dust cart. Residents would then be billed for the amount of waste they created.

The third option for councils would be a scheme in which householders choose the size of the wheelie bin they use, based on how much rubbish they think they will generate, and are charged accordingly.

The LGA described the plans as "save as you throw" and pledged not to use them as a stealth tax to raise extra money.
But the association warned that taxpayers would bear the brunt of fines of up to £3 billion which will be imposed on councils over the next four years if they did not meet European targets for reducing the amount of waste which ends up in landfill.

England currently recycles around 27 per cent of its household refuse, compared to more than 50 per cent in Austria and Germany.

Its survey of 1,028 people by Ipsos Mori found 64 per cent of people either "strongly supported" or "tended to support" a system in which they paid a reduced council tax rate and were charged directly for the amount of rubbish they produced.

Cllr Paul Bettison, chairman of the LGA’s environment board, said: "If councils introduce save-as-you-throw schemes it will be to promote recycling, not generate extra cash through an extra stealth tax.
full article

Barclays and HSBC happy with HIPs

Two big mortgage lenders, HSBC and Barclays, have denied that they are unhappy with the recently introduced Home Information Packs (HIPs).

The packs require sellers to provide information such as planning permission and copies of title deeds to buyers.

Law society
Despite these assurances, the Law Society renewed its warnings about HIPs that contain personal searches of council information.

It said solicitors, when acting for home buyers, should always point out to their clients that official searches provided a higher level of protection than personal searches, if any of the information in them turned out to be wrong.

"If you are buying a house for half-a-million pounds and you are mortgaging yourself to the hilt for the next 25 years, you can either have a search carried out by the council staff, on which you can rely, or one provided by someone you don't know - the search company," said Paul Marsh, vice-president of the Law Society.

"There is a degree of risk between the two but the buyer's solicitor has a search thrust on them now," he added.

The Law Society said it would like lenders to specify exactly which personal search companies they would be happy with, to remove a lawyer's current responsibility to vouch for a search company's work.

The local authority search has been a compulsory feature of the conveyancing process since 1925.

It involves a buyer, or their solicitor or other representative, asking a set of standard questions about a property, covering local authority plans for the street or area, and any planning permission granted for the building or neighbouring ones.

This should also show up any restrictions on the way the property can be used, for instance the existence of smoke control orders, conservation areas, tree preservation orders, and any financial charges where the council could recover money owed to it.

The aim is to make sure that the buyer does not get a nasty surprise once they have bought the house or flat.
full article

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Building straw houses

Fuelled by a growing demand for environmentally friendly buildings, hemp, wheat, flax and other grains are now being touted as emerging raw materials in the construction industry.

The merits of these so-called "biofibres" and their applications in Canada, the United Kingdom and other parts of the world was the basis of an international symposium that wrapped up in Kingston yesterday.

The group's tests look into what type of fibre bale, including flax, hemp or wheat, works best. They're also looking at what types of plaster, including clay or cement, applied over top of the bale, are more durable. They're even looking at the placement of the bales - flat or on edge - to find out which design is more stable.
United Kingdom-based Mike Duckett spoke about his company's work with hemcrete, an environmentally friendly building material that combines hemp and lime. It's already used in various parts of Europe.

His presentation revealed the environmental and practical benefits of using the material, including the fact that it's sustainable, lightweight, a good insulator, airtight, easy to use, and fire and pest resistant. The material also absorbs carbon dioxide, one of the greenhouse gases.

Duckett said that each house constructed with hemcrete walls, roof and floors could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 50 tonnes.
Hemcrete, which costs roughly the same as conventional building material, has been used to construct homes, office space, a warehouse and a theatre in Europe.

A building in England that has been touted as the most environmentally friendly warehouse in Europe doesn't require an air-conditioning system because the hemcrete material makes it possible to regulate the temperature inside at 14 C.
full article

Green energy set to be compulsory in new homes across Britain

Green energy devices such as wind turbines and solar panels are to be made compulsory on millions of new homes and offices under government plans to boost green energy.

Housing minister Yvette Cooper is determined to push ahead with moves to force developers to cut their carbon emissions by using renewable sources of power.

New planning policy guidance will make clear that ministers stand by council planners who refuse permission for buildings which fail to generate their own energy.

The House Builders Federation, which fears the measure will be applied to housing, has been lobbying strongly to abolish it, claiming it imposes unnecessary costs on developers and is too heavy-handed.

Renewable energy companies say the rule is much more important to them than the Government's low carbon buildings programme, which provides grants but has run out of money repeatedly and had its rules changed.

But according to the Standard, ministers intend to "widen, not abolish" the rule. "In some instances, we want to see councils going way beyond 10 per cent," a Whitehall source said.

full article

Housebuilders want greener standards - but not just yet

House-builders share a common objective with local and national government - to make new homes greener (Housebuilders win battle against green technologies, August 20). We may not want soviet-style planning, but a nationally agreed framework is the best way of ensuring all new homes are zero-carbon by 2016. Staged national delivery of improved levels of the code for sustainable homes will ensure pioneering technologies are robust, meet customer expectations and are backed by proper warranties. This phased increase in energy efficiency will also ensure the extra 240,000 homes a year to meet demand are not jeopardised. A multitude of differing targets around the country put these efforts at risk. In their dash to reach short-term targets, local authorities should not put the objective of more and greener homes at risk.
Stewart Baseley
Chairman, Home Builders Federation
full article

Merton Rule

A measure introduced by local councils aimed at cutting carbon emissions in new housing is coming under pressure from building groups.

Under the so-called Merton Rule, named after the council which introduced it, new buildings must find 10% of electricity from renewable sources.

While the rule has been welcomed by green groups, it has been criticised as a costly burden by the building sector.
Under the Merton rule any new building is required to cut emissions by 10%, through various means including insulation and renewable sources, in order to prepare the ground for homes to meet European Union targets of being carbon neutral by 2016.

According to government proposals, a new framework would steer away from a "one-size-fits-all" approach and expand the scope of the Merton Rule, allowing councils to set their own goals and bring in their most ambitious targets for renewable energy.
full article

Monday, 20 August 2007

Willows builder harvests success using rice straw

Two of the large buildings Benchmark constructed for the Desert Living Center were built of rammed earth, a process taking quarter-inch particles of rock from a gravel pit, and mixing it with a small amount of dry cement and enough water to where it will hold together when it's packed. Green said he has also added beach sand to the mix on a project on the coast.

The mixture is then dumped into wooden construction frames, similar to concrete forms only stronger, and pounded into short layers. Benchmark developed special equipment for the process.
Green said he can do a lot with rammed earth because of the colors of various materials. The final effect is that it looks like concrete, only it's slightly rougher and contains wavy, multicolored patterns after it has dried.

One of the challenges Green faced was transplanting all his equipment and crews to Las Vegas, along with the truckloads of straw bales. Working with large pieces of equipment and with more than 100 subcontractors in the area at once also meant he had to spend a lot of time scheduling and planning ahead.

Building with straw bales or rammed earth is more expensive, Green said. Rammed earth takes roughly four times as much labor to build with as concrete does, he added. Straw bale buildings are also more time consuming and expensive to build with than a normal stick-frame house because the framework also has to be built. More materials and time are also used to cover the straw bales with plaster or stucco, inside and outside.

Straw bales have an advantage in that they are self insulating. Green said most bales are rated at R-54, though it performs considerably beyond that. It also cools so well that at the Desert Living Center, air conditioners aren't needed, he said.

He also said it's fire safe once its built, especially after it has been covered with stucco or plaster on each side. He compares it to trying to burn a phone book all at once. It isn't easy to ignite because the bales are so compacted, and fire can't get much oxygen. A typical bale is 75 pounds of tightly compacted straw.

To illustrate how tough it is to burn a straw bale structure, he told of a police building in Visalia he built that someone attempted to burn down by pouring gasoline on it. Green said they tried three times, and either the fire went out or it didn't burn enough to cause much damage.

He said the only time he has heard of a straw bale structure burning was a home in an area that was caught in a fire storm. The fire in that case was so hot, houses exploded from the inside, out.

full article

Structural Insulated Panels

A newer material Peak has already used in several homes is called SIPs or Structural Insulated Panels made by a company in Charleston. The panels are engineered “sandwiches” made from two pieces of Oriented Strand Board (OSB) -- a plywood-like substance -- and foam core in the middle.

“One of the things that turned us on to it is because it’s so much more energy efficient,” Burkes said.

The large panels are also extremely strong, which means they can be used to erect a building’s shell without having to use the conventional method of stick framing using lumber. SIPs shells can be put up quickly, saving labor costs, and they are stronger than stick frame walls.

Homes built with SIPs are better insulated and much more airtight than in regular construction. SIPs homes conserve energy by keeping air conditioning and heating costs down while creating better indoor air quality.

“Oakridge National Labs certified that with a 4-inch stick frame wall and a 4-inch SIPs frame wall, the SIPs were 50 percent more energy efficient,” Burkes said. “We love it because it’s easy to build with.”

The product is about 10 percent more than costs for stick framing a house, but Burkes said the extra cost will quickly be recouped through energy savings.

“We were shocked with how well it holds temperature,” Burkes said of the first time he used SIPs in a building.

There are other options available for people thinking about going green, or at least a little greener, in their homes.

An instantaneous water heater or a tankless hot water system is a good energy saver, Burkes said.

Normally water heaters heat and store water in tanks to be ready for use, but with an instantaneous system, no tank is necessary, and the system doesn’t use a lot of energy trying to keep the tank hot all the time.

Another method for creating hot water more efficiently is a solar hot water system, Burkes said. With these systems, cold water is piped up to solar panels on the roof where it is heated and then pumped into a storage tank.

“It’s using the sun’s energy basically for free hot water,” he said.

While solar panels are expensive, Burkes said he’s seen a homeowner get paid back in energy savings within three years.

Energy savings can be found right under the feet, too.

Installing radiant heat floors in a home under construction or in an existing home is proven to cut heating costs, Burkes said.

It works by putting water lines in the home’s concrete floors or under existing floors and running hot water through them. Radiant heat helps to keep the whole house at a more constant temperature, so heaters don’t have to do as much to keep things warm and toasty during the winter.

It might take a little effort, but being more environmentally friendly doesn’t have to involve major renovations.

Burkes said many people waste a lot of energy by not sealing cracks, doors and windows. Checking to make sure a home’s insulation is in good shape and replacing it if it’s not is another good way to stop energy waste.

Switching to energy efficient fluorescent light bulbs and replacing old heating and air conditioning units with a more efficient system can help to make a home a little greener, too.

“We can always be more energy conscious,” Burkes said. “It’s going to take a homeowner who’s willing to push to have a green house. (It takes) somebody who is going to look long-term.”
full article

Rammed Earth Bricks

New homes built of mud or straw, with a lawn on the roof, sheep fleeces for insulation and heat from the ground or a boiler fired with sawdust – this is one vision of the future for our green and pleasant land.

The Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) in Machynlleth, the ancient Welsh capital, opened in 1975. The centre, in a former slate quarry, is blessed with mountain streams, which help fire up some of the energy projects.

Many of the techniques currently being explored are not new – indeed, much of the work at CAT revolves around materials and methods that have been used for centuries. It is often a case of "looking forward to the past".

There's nothing new about rammed earth walls, for example. Ancient cob cottages built by labourers trampling mud and straw have survived for hundreds of years, provided they had "a good hat and boots" (roof and footings).

Among the energy-saving building techniques being developed and used in public buildings are grass roofs and rammed earth bricks covered with hemp and lime render. These, unlike traditionally fired bricks and clay tiles, use hardly any energy in their manufacture.

Traditional bricks may become museum items and housebuilders will have to use other materials to give their properties what estate agents call "kerb appeal".

Indeed, the production of cement for building is known to account for more than five per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions. CAT recommends 'limecrete' be used instead of cement-based concrete.

full article

Saturday, 18 August 2007

Those in straw houses

Owners of Austin-area homes built with bales of straw and other natural materials like the idea that they are having less of an impact on the environment, and they're getting health and economic benefits as well.

The bales for the 18-inch walls have been covered with stucco on the home's exterior and smooth adobe plaster on the interior, helping to keep the home earthy, comfortable and quiet. His average monthly utility bill is about $55. And the large, deep window sills are perfect for his two kids to sit and read their favorite books.

In addition to straw bales, green builders also are using rammed earth, or dirt compressed into building blocks; cob, a mixture of adobe and straw; and aerated concrete blocks.

The building project started last fall, with carpenters erecting the post-and-beam structure that would support the weight of the roof. Then on a sunny November day, people came to the Rainey's bale-raising party from as far away as Houston and Oklahoma. News of straw-bale raising workshops is spread through word-of-mouth and Internet message boards.

For six hours, everyone worked to raise the walls, using more than 300 bales of straw. Some stacked the bales, some droves stakes through the bales to anchor them together. Others tied bamboo stakes together on both sides of the bale wall, giving it stability until plastering.

Rainey estimates it will take three more months for contractors to finish the electrical wiring and plumbing. Then the Raineys will hold another workshop, led by a local contractor, this time covering the topic of plastering interior walls. Before the walls are plastered, Rainey must trim the edges of the straw bales to ensure a smooth wall surface. Small recesses will be cut into the walls for niches, and wood studs will be added in preplanned areas in order to have wall support to hang pictures.

So far, the biggest surprise in the building project was related to insurance coverage. In short, his insurer told him it wouldn't cover a straw-bale structure. But Rainey said he talked with other people in town who know about sustainable building and found a carrier who covered such homes.

Obregon said that many people wrongly think that straw bales are highly flammable, and that this leads some insurers to refuse coverage. But Obregon said that structural engineers have tested straw for fire safety and discovered that when properly installed, these structures do not burn easily.

"The heat transfer is not an issue. It's great," Obregon said. In fact, densely packed bales limit oxygen flow.

"The biggest concern for our area can be the moisture level in straw bales," he said. It's important to keep the bales moisture-free, especially before the wall-raising, he said. It's also important to waterproof the exterior walls, to create wide roof overhangs and to seal the doors and windows tightly.

Vicki Howard of Austin chose an alternative to straw-bale construction. She decided that living in a house built of dirt would be a clean, although counterintuitive, solution to her health problems. So she lives in what's called a rammed-earth home.

full article

Green Earth Fuels' Facility Goes Beyond Two Million Gallons

On Thursday, Green Earth Fuels announced that to date its new Galena Park facility on Houston's Ship Channel, which opened for operations on July 24th of this year, has produced 2.4 million gallons of biodiesel fuel, with all of the fuel meeting the rigorous quality control requirements of ASTM specifications D6751.
Green Earth Fuel's first process line, capable of producing 45 million gallons per year (mmgpy) of quality biodiesel produced its first two batches of biodiesel from Soybean oil, and these met the national ASTM (American Society of Testing and Materials) specifications. This first of two planned trains was, according to the company, completed on schedule and on budget.

Biodiesel is the fastest-growing fuel in the U.S. according to the Department of Energy. Biodiesel is a renewable fuel derived from natural sources such as vegetable oils and animal fats which can be blended seamlessly into diesel fuel. U.S. biodiesel production last year reached an estimated 225 million gallons. The federal government wants biodiesel to account for five percent, or an estimated 3 billion gallons, of all fuel produced in the U.S by 2015.

Critics say that we have a long way to go toward refining and making cost-effective biofuels such as biodiesel. A study published last year by Oregon State University backs up this critical stance. The study shows that industry has yet to develop biofuels that are as energy efficient as the gasoline we make from petroleum. Energy efficiency is the measure of how much usable energy for a given purpose is derived from a certain amount of input energy.

The OSU study discovered corn-derived ethanol to be only 20% energy efficient. Biodiesel fuel was found to have 69% energy efficiency. Gasoline made from petroleum has an energy efficiency of 75%.

Critics also are concerned that putting too much emphasis on biofuels will result in too little space for food-purpose agriculture, disrupting the environment and sharply driving up food prices.
full article

Friday, 17 August 2007

EU biofuel policy is a 'mistake'

The EU target of ensuring 10% of petrol and diesel comes from renewable sources by 2020 is not an effective way to curb carbon emissions, researchers say.
A team of UK-based scientists suggested that reforestation and habitat protection was a better option.

Writing in Science, they said forests could absorb up to nine times more CO2 than the production of biofuels could achieve on the same area of land.

The growth of biofuels was also leading to more deforestation, they added.

"The prime reason for the renewables obligation was to mitigate carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions," said Renton Righelato, one of the study's co-authors.

"In our view this is a mistaken policy because it is less effective than reforesting," he told BBC News.

Dr Righelato, chairman of the World Land Trust, added that the policy could actually lead to more deforestation as nations turned to countries outside of the EU to meet the growing demand for biofuels.

full article
Marko Spiegel wants to help people design houses that are heated with one watt of energy per square foot of space - a mere tenth of what's normally needed.

That means the energy equivalent of three 100-watt light bulbs could heat your 300-square-foot living room on a very cold day.

Spiegel, an engineer based in LaFox, will talk about his One-Watt-House at 9:30 a.m. Saturday at the Sixth Annual Illinois Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair, which will continue Aug. 12 in Oregon, Ill., southwest of Rockford.

These homes currently cost 10 percent to 40 percent more than regular construction, Spiegel said.

He emphasizes that the homes are not only less expensive to operate, but are more comfortable and healthier, too.

One-Watt-Houses are so energy efficient that they do not require conventional furnaces, said Spiegel, and these homes use one-tenth the energy of an average Midwest building.

Consumers are ready to build energy-efficient houses, said the engineer, because energy is becoming more expensive and people are learning how pollution damages the earth.

Zaderej, a mechanical engineer, hopes to develop modular systems for the key elements of the house.

This could reduce the costs of the house by as much as 40 percent, he said.

Like Zaderej's home, these houses would be built with structured insulating panels, which are a sandwich of a boardlike material with solid foam insulation in the middle.

Homes and components would be designed to fit with standard items like windows.

Although existing buildings cannot be retrofitted to the same energy standards as new construction, auditing the energy lost from buildings and designing solutions is part of Spiegel's business.
While One-Watt-Houses can be built with a variety of styles and materials, there are minimal standards and characteristics.

• The home design is simpler and compact.

• Walls and foundation are super-insulated and spots that leak cold or heat are eliminated as much as possible.

The walls' R-value, a measure of resistance to heat flow, is about 40, compared with up to 28 recommended by the Energy Star program, a federally sponsored system to let consumers know how efficient products are.

• Windows have three panes and are gas filled and are very efficient. The home's north side has fewer windows.

Other features of these well-engineered houses include being airtight and a heat transferring ventilation system.

Methods that can be used to heat the house include a hot-water heater, bringing in air heated or cooled from underground, solar power, wood-pellet ovens or geothermal systems. Backup air conditioning should be provided by the smallest unit possible, he said.

One of the features Zaderej is testing on the Oregon house is a metal roof that acts as a solar collector to help warm part of the building.

Metal roofing also reduces air-conditioning needs, he said.

The house is heated with an electric hot water heater and also has a basement designed to pre-heat or pre-cool air for the home.

full article

Water firms to force meters on clients

Water companies are to be given new powers to force meters on millions of families amid claims it is necessary to cope with droughts.
New powers to adopt compulsory metering are to be given to those companies which can show they are in so-called 'water stress' areas.

However, the Government plans to direct every water company in the country to consider imposing meters on customers to solve water shortage problems. The most immediate impact is likely to be felt across southern Britain, where as many as eight m homes, housing 18.9m people, could be required to have meters within ten years.

Compulsory metering is highly controversial for the cost of installation, which is likely to be more than £1.3bn, will be passed on to householders in the form of higher bills.

There are fears that metering is a particular burden for large, low-income families. To date the introduction of meters has been sold to consumers on the promise that they can save money compared with the traditional payment system linked to a property's rateable value.
full article

Govt ready to extend Hips scheme

Homeowners marketing a three bedroom property will need a Hip, including Energy Performance Certificate (EPC), from September 10, the communities department confirmed today.

Through EPCs, each home is given an energy efficiency assessment, modelled on the A-G rating applied to consumer goods such as fridges.

The government hopes this will encourage homeowners to improve their home's energy efficiency, working to reduce bills and cut carbon emissions.

To help homeowners the communities department has made available 'green grants' of up to £300 to fund improvements such as insulation.
full article

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Persuading Britons to cut back on flying will be an uphill struggle

A FIELD next to Heathrow—the world's busiest international airport—does not seem an appealing place for a spot of camping. The roar of jet engines is ever-present, and the only significant landmark is the airport's new control tower. Yet on August 12th dozens of people gamely began erecting tents. They were not there to admire the scenery: this was the Camp for Climate Action, and they had come to protest against aviation and its contribution to global warming.

The camp illustrates just what a nightmare climate change has become for those who are charged with putting the aviation industry's best public-relations foot forward. Defenders of the business argue that aeroplanes are being unfairly singled out for criticism. Air travel is thought to account for just 6.3% of Britain's greenhouse-gas emissions, compared with around 20% for road transport and 37% for power generation. But high-altitude carbon emissions are reckoned to be more damaging than low-level ones, although nobody is sure by exactly how much. Airlines are exempt from emissions laws now and pay no fuel tax, and whereas demand for cars and electricity is predicted to grow only slowly, demand for flying is forecast to rise hugely over the coming decades.

Britons do seem to regard climate change as a problem, but there is little appetite for big lifestyle changes. One recent poll by Ipsos MORI found that most respondents were doing nothing to reduce their carbon emissions. In another survey, for the Sunday Times, 70% of people reckoned that greenery would drop right down the political agenda if economic growth stalled.

full article

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Pulling the plug on wasting water

Some consumers simply don't understand the environmental impact of their water usage.

A report by the Earth Policy Institute last year revealed that we consumed 154bn litres of bottled water a year, 25% of which was imported.

Nor do consumers fully appreciate the costs and technological challenges of providing and maintaining water supply and treatment infrastructures.

Regulatory changes are an important requirement in promoting a more responsible attitude towards water usage, but perhaps the greatest progress will result from greater acceptance of the concept of water reuse, particularly by Western consumers.

Huge advances are being made in water treatment by chemical engineers across the world. But ironically, it is currently cheaper to use treated water for non-drinking purposes, such as washing vehicles or watering our gardens, than to introduce methods that use alternative sources. This has to change.

Charging for water usage will not only help provide the funding we need to take these technologies forward, but will also help to instil a sense of responsibility among consumers.

Although, in the UK, we currently pay our water companies for our supplies, the majority of consumers do not think twice about the actual volumes of water they're using, or indeed, wasting.

Inevitably there will be opposition. Asking people to pay more for their water supplies will not be popular, but it is essential.

The word supplies is a key one. This is not about asking people to pay more for water per se, it is about asking people to pay for the water they use.

Appropriate pricing for water use will encourage consumers to take a more sensible and considered approach to water consumption and help us to reinforce the crucial three Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle.

This maxim underpins sustainable chemical engineering in the 21st Century and features heavily in our Jubilee report, which celebrates 50 years of IChemE's chartered status.
full article

Paper battery offers future power

Flexible paper batteries could meet the energy demands of the next generation of gadgets, says a team of researchers.
They have produced a sample slightly larger than a postage stamp that can release about 2.3 volts, enough to illuminate a small light.

But the ambition is to produce reams of paper that could one day power a car.

"The devices we're making are only a few inches across. We would have to scale up to sheets of newspaper size to make it commercially viable," he said. But at that scale, the voltage could be large enough to power a car, he said.

However, carbon nanotubes are very expensive, and batteries large enough to power a car are unlikely to be cost effective.

"I'm a strong enthusiast of electric vehicles, but it is going to take time to bring the costs down," said Professor Sperling.

But Professor Linhardt said integrated devices, like the paper battery, were the direction the world was moving.

"They are ultimately easier to manufacture, more environmentally friendly and usable in a wide range of devices," he said.

The ambition is to produce the paper battery using a newspaper-type roller printer.

full article

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

energy policy lacking

Environmental groups and the renewables industry yesterday urged Gordon Brown to overhaul government energy policy if Britain is to have any hope of meeting its EU targets to combat climate change.
Green groups argue that Britain could achieve 20% by 2020 if it really wanted to. Adam Bruce, chairman of the British Wind Energy Association, said: "It is simply wrong for civil servants to now suggest that the 20% EU target cannot be met - the UK wind energy industry is confident that it can meet these new renewable objectives if the government takes the necessary measures to support it."

He said 40% of the EU's entire potential wind energy blows across Britain, but a lack of government action was preventing its proper exploitation.

Andrew Simms, head of the New Economics Foundation, said: "If renewable energy in Britain had enjoyed for decades the blank cheque that was written for the nuclear industry, today most of our electricity would be coming from a combination of wind, wave and solar power.

"If the DBERR continues to undermine progress toward the new, renewable energy economy it will potentially do even more damage than a leaky reactor."

The energy minister, Malcolm Wicks, told BBC radio that the government was on course to meet its own target of generating 15% of Britain's electricity from renewable sources by 2015. He acknowledged the EU target was more demanding.
full article

Four in five homes using energy-saving bulbs

The extent of the green revolution in Britain’s households will be revealed today with figures showing that more than 80 per cent of people believe they have a “duty” to recycle household waste.

The findings, to be published by the respected Office of National Statistics, also show a dramatic increase in the number of people who say they have at least one energy-saving light bulb in their homes.

The survey found that 81 per cent of people say they have at least one low-energy light bulb at home compared to just over 30 per cent a few years ago.
full article

Solar cells that can be printed

The development of a new solar cell may provide consumers a way to harness solar rays as a form of renewable energy, inexpensively.

Researchers at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) have developed an inexpensive solar cell that can be painted or printed on flexible plastic sheets.

The new solar cells use a carbon nanotubes complex, which is a molecular configuration of carbon in a cylindrical shape. These nanotubes are about 50,000 times smaller than a human hair.
"The process is simple," said lead researcher and author Dr. Somenath Mitra, professor and acting chair of NJIT's department of chemistry and environmental sciences.

He foresees the day when consumers will even be able to print sheets of these solar cells with inexpensive home-based inkjet printers.

"Consumers can then slap the finished product on a wall, roof or billboard to create their own power stations," Mitra said.

How they work

While the new solar cells are very thin, just one nanotube can conduct current better than any conventional electrical wire, Mitra said.

"Actually, nanotubes are significantly better conductors than copper," he added. Mitra and his research team took the carbon nanotubes and combined them with tiny carbon "buckyballs" (carbon molecules in a hollow sphere configuration), to form snake-like structures, also called polymers.

Buckyballs are able to trap electrons, although they can't make electrons flow.

When the polymers are exposed to sunlight, and the buckyballs will grab the electrons.

The nanotubes, on the other hand, behave like copper wires, and so are able to make the electrons flow, Mitra explained.

"Using this unique combination in an organic solar cell recipe can enhance the efficiency of future painted-on solar cells," Mitra said.

"Someday, I hope to see this process become an inexpensive energy alternative for households around the world."

Renewable energy challenges

Harvesting energy directly from abundant solar radiation using solar cells is becoming increasingly for future global energy strategy, Mitra said.

But when it comes to harnessing renewable energy, challenges remain.

Expensive, large-scale infrastructure such as windmills (for wind power) or dams (for hydroelectric power) are necessary to drive renewable energy sources.

Even when solar power is being considered, there is the challenge of obtaining enough materials. Purified silicon, already in high demand for making computer chips, is a core material for fabricating conventional solar cells.

Moreover, the processing of purified silicon is beyond the capabilities of most consumers, Mitra notes.

"Developing organic solar cells from polymers, however, is a cheap and potentially simpler alternative," he said.

When contacted by In.Tech, Mitra claimed the process is commercially viable.

"We foresee a great deal of interest in our work because solar cells can be inexpensively printed or simply painted on exterior building walls and rooftops.

"Imagine some day driving in your hybrid car with a solar panel painted on the roof, which is producing electricity to drive the engine," Mitra said.

However, he concedes that the NJIT cells need improvement in the area of energy conversion efficiency, a measure of the power converted from absorbed light.

The NJIT cells currently run at only around 1% efficiency, compared to more than 25% efficiency for the best conventional solar cells.

"We should be able to improve (the cell efficiency) as we do more research, but the advantage is in the low capital investment required for this technology, which is significantly lower than for conventional solar cells."

Current silicon-based solar cells in use are relatively complex; they share many of the same processing and manufacturing techniques used for other semiconductor devices such as processors and memory chips.

Mitra's work was first published in the June edition of the Journal of Materials Chemistry.

full article

Sunday, 12 August 2007

What’s the future for eco tech? Come travel with us to 2012

Home energy monitoring
By 2017, every home in the country will be equipped with a ‘real-time’ electricity meter that tells you exactly how many pounds and carbon you’re burning in electricity right that second. It’s hard to say how many of these so-called smart meters will be in homes by 2012, but you can safely bet there’ll be a few: from May next year, all new meters will be of this ‘smart’ variety, which usually consist of a wireless transmitter by your fuse box and a wireless display that sits somewhere prominent like your kitchen or living room.

Judging from previous studies, you’ll save anywhere between 3 and 15 per cent on your electricity bill by virtue of having it in your face every day rather than on a piece of paper four times a year. The result? Lower carbon emissions: a good thing considering over a quarter of the UK’s CO2 comes from our homes. Gadgets that monitor your water and gas consumption are in the (ahem) pipeline too. [more news here]

Biodegradable plastics
If you’ve bought a bottle of Belu’s plastic water or own one specific Sony DVD player already, biodegradable plastics are in your home right now. Usually made from a corn starch, the idea behind the plastic - which you might also have encountered on your organic veg wrapping at Sainsbury’s - is that you can compost it instead of adding to the landfill that’s forecast to be full within a decade.

Fast forward five years and many everyday products could be made from the stuff. In Japan, NEC has a phone with a biodegradable case already, while over here the University of Warwick have a similar concept that Green Mobile one day hopes to make a reality. The amount of biodegradable plastic in our 2012 lives, however, really depends on how well the plastic ages - Belu’s bottles eventually leak holes if you leave them long enough - and how easy it is to compost the stuff.

Energy-saving white goods
No one likes talking about boilers, washing machines and fridge-freezers. They’re boring. But they do use lots of energy - your fridge-freezer’s on 24 hours a day,

365 days a year - which is why it’s so important to buy energy efficient ones. The big energy-saving developments have happened in the past decade, with the EU energy label getting left so far behind on refrigeration that there’s now an A++ rating. So today’s C-rated fridge-freezers are effectively E-rated ones in modern terms. Efficiency improvements by 2012 are likely to be fairly minimal - the big change will be A and A++ appliances becoming cheaper.

One exciting development on the boiler front is the prospect of combined heat and power (CHP) ones going on sale in the UK. Such boilers, like the Whispergen, generate electricity while buring natural gas, which the Energy Savings Trust reckons could cut your home’s CO2 emissions by 20 per cent. Powergen’s planning to sell the boilers in 2009.

Personal gadgets
You might think the notion of green gadgets an oxymoron. And, to an extent, you’d be right. The Energy Saving Trust reckons our consumer electronics - broadband boxes, set-top boxes, iPods, flat screens - will account for more than 12 per cent of our electricity bills by 2012. But all we need do is adapt to our gadgets: don’t upgrade your phone every eighteen months (if you’re on O2, you can already get calling credit instead of an upgrade); don’t get seduced by extra megapixels; do sell stuff on eBay, give it away on Freecycle, use rechargable batteries and get stuff recycled.

By 2012, our gadgets should be inherently greener. Solar chargers for gadgets are already on sale for less than £30 and Motorola’s just filed a patent for screens that double as solar panels, so it’s not too hard to envisage future portable gizmos that power themselves.

Micro renewables
Wind turbines and solar panels are the pin-ups of the eco tech world. They’re sexy, talked about, and everyone wants one. Well, David Cameron wants one, and so do we - one of our few things in common. But despite the enthusiasm for the technologies, price is still a major obstacle. A wind turbine will set you back £1,500 and provide about 10-20 per cent of your electricity needs if plonked in the right place, solar thermal around £3,000 for just over half your annual hot water needs and an £8,000 solar photovoltaic setup could generate roughly half your electricity needs.

Even with grants, those are big price tags, and they’re unlikely to drop rapidly by 2012. Most solar PV panels, for example, are made from silicon, which is expensive because of its scarcity and demand for making computers. The major change by 2012 should be planning permission - if Ruth Kelly’s proposals this year go ahead, putting a solar array or turbine on your roof will be as easy as getting a satellite dish installed. [more on turbines] [more on solar electricity] [more on solar water heating]

full article

Saturday, 11 August 2007

Now it's green grow the houses

In the future, we will live in homes made out of straw. If we're serious about minimising the carbon footprint of our homes, then straw bales, coated in plaster, are the way to go - and the Clark Government does seem serious.

If you thought the food miles debate was global warming moved too close to the sun, the Government's sudden focus on the embodied energy in our homes is even more esoteric. Embodied energy is the energy used to produce a final product from raw materials, from reinforced concrete to taps.

It's the front end of a bid to put a carbon footprint on our homes by calculating their whole-of-life energy output. It's a whole new way of looking at a plank of wood.
It promises much: lower greenhouse gas emissions, lower household energy bills, healthier homes and, some say, cheaper homes. Manufacturers will need to adapt products to minimise their carbon cost or face extinction. Our homes will be rated according to their lifetime carbon output - the more efficient, the higher the market value.

Sustainable housing is a path we're already some way down, and law changes require double glazing and more insulation in most areas, energy efficient lighting in new commercial buildings and incentives on offer for solar water hearing. Many homeowners and some property developers are voluntarily going further, aiming to reduce a building's operational energy output.

But lifecycle assessment goes the whole buffalo: considering the energy used in the manufacture of components, and the transporting of materials, through to the energy used in the building's eventual demolition.

What's envisaged is a time when houses will be rated according to their lifetime energy consumption, or carbon output. Architects will design to a carbon maximum, choosing long-lasting materials with low-embodied energy. Potential for end-use recycling will be factored in.

The manufacture of a cubic metre of baled, compressed straw consumes 31 megajoules. A cubic metre of ready mix concrete uses 2350 megajoules. Convert that to carbon-equivalent emissions and the obvious conclusion: concrete bad; straw bales good. But it's not that simple - what, for instance, if the concrete is recycled?

Last year, Scion looked at the energy required to build and run an average house for 50 years. The study concluded that operational energy use was more significant over the life of the house. But embodied energy is still significant and can be as high as 30 to 40 per cent of carbon equivalent emissions over the 50 years, says Nebel
"The more insulation you put into the house, obviously the higher the embodied energy will be. So it's not necessarily a bad thing to have high embodied energy. You have to take the two in combination - you need quite a lot of insulation before you reach the tipping point."
"Designers and regulators will have to be particularly careful in their decision making in this area if they are not to push housing and material costs to higher levels and cause confusion in the marketplace.

"The key will be to ensure that regulators and policy makers adopt an approach based on proven methodologies, not unsubstantiated theories."

Green Building Council chief executive Jane Henley is worried the Government is too focused on emissions. "From a sustainability perspective we risk losing sight of other environmental impacts such as waste and water." The biggest issue seems to be where to draw the line.
full article

Friday, 10 August 2007

The even darker side of brown clouds

Atmospheric aerosols compete with carbon dioxide as an agent of warming.

In the charge against global warming, carbon dioxide has long held sway as public enemy number one. But now, less-recognized molecules are entering the fray as significant agents of global warming. Aerosols emitted from smokestacks, exhaust pipes and domestic cooking fires consist of substances such as sulphates and nitrates that scatter light and have a local cooling effect; they also contain black carbon — or soot — a byproduct of incomplete combustion, which absorbs light.

Scientists modelled the behaviour of the cooling particles years ago, but so few direct measurements have been made of the heat-absorbing effects of black carbon that, even now, models do not adequately represent their influence. The most recent assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change1 reported that the total contribution of aerosols to climate warming since the onset of the industrial era was about 20% of that caused by greenhouse gases. As much as half of the recent warming trend attributed to CO2 and other greenhouse gases is thought1 to have been cancelled out by cooling from aerosols. But new observations show that in some regions black carbon is as culpable as CO2 for the warming, and in some cases, has a greater effect.

full article

Prepare for another ten scorching years

Temperature records will be repeatedly shattered over the next few years, say researchers behind the first rigorous look at how global climate will change during the next decade.

The prediction comes from an innovative technique that combines the approaches used by weather forecasters, who typically look a few days ahead, and climate modellers, who produce projections that run up to the end of the century. The result is a model that can project as far as 2015, filling in a long-standing gap in climate predictions.

Although average global temperatures have been relatively flat in recent years, the model says they will start rising again next year. At least half of the years between 2009 and 2015 will exceed the current warmest year on record. By 2015, global temperatures will be 0.5 °C above the average value for the last 30 years.

full article

Eco-friendly and energy-efficient home building

Just finished five months ago, the Martin family home northeast of Edinburg is part of a new generation of energy-efficient and eco-friendly homes. The trend is gaining traction across the nation, not only because of the environmental impacts but because the technologies are becoming cheaper both up front and in the long term.

Even with 5,000 square feet of home, the Martin family pays the same for electricity, about $425 in July, as it did in its 3,000-square-foot McAllen home. And it all happened with a few careful choices during the home’s construction.

Special thick aerated concrete walls and high-tech insulation keeps heat out of the loft-style home while specially oriented windows let in light.

A geothermal piping system helps keep the air conditioning unit working more efficiently and a propane water tank heats faster and cuts down on waste.

“I get 70 percent more house for the same electricity bill,” said Martin, 32.

Green building

The payoff can be big for both homeowners and builders. Homeowners can save anywhere from 20 to 70 percent on electricity costs, while builders can net a $2,000 tax credit for building a green-certified home.

“I don’t consider myself an environmentalist. I drive an SUV,” Bill Martin said. “But I can save money by building this house the way I did, and I can help the environment while I’m at it.”

With “green building,” some homeowners go as far as using recycled materials, air-quality-conducive carpeting and paint. Others, like the Martins, simply use low-power lighting and heating.

Building a green home can add anywhere between 5 and 30 percent to a home’s up-front construction cost, said Mike Krismer, owner of Krimser Consulting.

“The whole green concept is very much environmentally friendly in terms of the materials that you use,” Krismer said. “But it’s also energy efficient.”

Homeowners can go green for as little as 5 percent more by adding energy efficient appliances, insulation and lighting; and as high as 30 percent with solar panels, high-efficiency building products and eco-friendly materials.
“I think people are ready here,” said Gayle King, a real estate agent and developer with Falling Water Realty. “Who wants to have a $500 electric bill.”

By 2010

The 9.24-acre Bentsen Lakes subdivision is set up with rules that encourage home purchasers to employ energy efficient design and use eco-friendly materials, such as insulated concrete forms and high-tech plastic foam insulations.

With increases in technology and lower costs for energy-efficient materials, some estimate that all American homes will be built “green” by 2010, said Jeffrey Dandeneau, chief operating officer of Valley-based Crossover Homes.

“There is a lot of product available here already and what we don’t have we can get very easily,” he said. “There is very little that we can’t already do.”

In the Valley, a key to building a green, high-performance home is making sure homes are sealed tight, Dandeneau said.

With high heat and humidity here, homebuilders can install better windows, insulation and wall materials to keep a home cooler and dryer during the day.

For his new home, Martin chose high-performance windows for most of his home — except for the massive windows in his kitchen, which provide much of the area’s evening light.

Martin also used high-tech blown foam insulation instead of standard fiberglass.

That helps seal the home better than normal porous fiberglass. It also doesn’t need to be replaced like other blown insulations.

The airtight home keeps the family cool during the day and comfortable at night.

“Sometimes it gets so cold at night that we have to turn off the air conditioner,” Laura Martin said.

full article

Thursday, 9 August 2007

Congestion charge for gas guzzlers could be trippled to £25

The first official shots have been fired in the battle to force gas-guzzling cars off the road.

Drivers of 4x4s and high-powered sports cars will have to pay up to £25 a day to drive in the London congestion charging zone, it was confirmed.
This is expected to be followed by similar schemes across Britain - with cars charged according to how much carbon dioxide they emit from their exhaust.

London mayor Ken Livingstone announced a consultation starting tomorrow into higher charges for vehicles which "make the biggest contribution to global warming".

Under his proposals, drivers will pay £25 a day if their road tax falls into the top band G.

This will hit obviously thirsty cars such as Bentleys and Rolls-Royces.

But it will also affect school-run favourites such as the new Land Rover Discovery, BMW X5 and Jeep Cherokee.

Winners will be drivers of "lowemitting" cars in bands A and B, who will pay no congestion charge at all.
full article

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

New Skinny Apple iMAC Green

August 8, 2007 -- Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs introduced three thinner versions of the iMac desktop that may push computer sales to a record during the back-to-school shopping season.

"The iMac has been really successful for us - we'd like to make it even better," Jobs said yesterday at an event at Apple's headquarters in Cupertino, Calif.

The two 20-inch models and the 24-inch version, slimmed down to about an inch thick, are made of aluminum and glass, which is easier to recycle, he said.
full article

Green with BioPower

BY 2020, the Swedish Government wants every new car on the road to run on fuels that can be replenished, and one of its car companies is already speeding towards the ambitious goal.

That means fossil fuels such as petrol and diesel will be out and biofuel — ethanol — will be in. Already, Saab has bought into the Swedish mandate, and so have many Swedish drivers. Ninety per cent of the popular Saab 9-5s sold in Sweden this year, for instance, bear Saab's BioPower badge, which signifies it burns some ethanol. BioPower cars seem ubiquitous in Sweden. Eventually, all Saabs sold here will run on ethanol.

For now, so-called flex-fuel cars can run on a mix of petrol, diesel and ethanol, with blends ranging from 10 per cent ethanol to 100 per cent. The Swedish Government has eliminated the tax on renewable fuels, cut sales tax for biofuel vehicles, offered free parking for cars using biofuels, and set aside separate lanes for bio-taxis at airports.

Kjell Bergstrom, Saab's engineer in charge of powertrains (a car's engine and driving mechanism), said a problem with ethanol cars was they had a 25 to 35 per cent shorter travel range than petrol cars. Saab and other car makers hope to close that gap by using ethanol in applications with cleaner diesel, hybrid petrol/electric engines, and turbocharged smaller engines.

Swedish officials have also ruled that the fertilisers used to grow ethanol sources cannot create more pollution than the fuels eliminate.
full article

Clean Energy: It's All About Scale

The American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) likes to say that we are in Phase II of renewable energy development. In this worldview, the past 30 years were about developing core clean-energy technologies, and the next couple of decades will be about focusing the nation's efforts on putting (as ACORE says on its web site) "these new technologies to use in our society, with benefits for energy supply, national security, economic growth, investment, jobs, a cleaner environment, reduced risk of climate change, and improved health."
I couldn't agree more. We are moving into the next stage of clean-energy technical, financial, and policy development. And I believe it will be all about scaling up.

Clean energy is moving so far beyond the "alternative" moniker that many regions and states are now targeting 20 percent or more of their energy from clean-energy sources within the next decade or two—representing more electricity generating capacity than natural gas in many regions. Even China is targeting significant amounts of renewable energy. China's Renewable Energy Law is targeting 120 GW of new renewable by 2015 (representing three times the amount of nuclear power currently on the drawing boards).

So, will clean energy technologies like solar, wind, and biofuels and its efficiency brethren like green buildings, light emitting diodes (LEDs), and the smart grid be the dominant form of global energy generation (and conservation) by 2020? Perhaps not. But will they represent the highest growth and innovation opportunity in the energy sector and double-digit chunks of our energy infrastructure? Absolutely!

I firmly believe that scaling up manufacturing and driving down costs is not a luxury for the clean-energy sector—but a necessity. Wind, after 30 years of significant gains is now cost competitive in most markets in the world with limited subsidies.

Solar, while still 2-3 times more expensive than most of its energy competitors on a pure cost basis, can compete economically at the retail level in many markets when modules and systems integration are packaged with government incentives and financing schemes. As installed solar system pricing reaches $3.50 per peak watt in the next five year s or so—we'll see solar competing in most utility markets without the need for significant subsidies.

As I look out over the next 5-10 years I'm confident that the most important development in the clean-energy sector will be the scaling of manufacturing, systems integration, and equally important, technology deployment. Millions of jobs and billions of dollars will be generated in the process if policymakers, investors, corporations, and innovators get this right.

It won't be easy. Many core technologies, like solar cells and wind turbines and LEDs, will become commodities—making the business proposition more difficult for players that don't innovate and capture a larger portion of the value chain. But it represents the natural "growing up" of the clean-energy sector. And, as we move into this next stage of clean-tech development, the economy will be sustainably transformed in the process.

full article

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Cheap, clean housing from the Co-op

The Co-operative bank has launched an eco-friendly house building scheme in tandem with developer Space 21.

Targeted at addressing the twin problems of global warming and housing shortages the scheme aims to create eco-friendly properties within the price range of first-time buyers.

Set up in response to the government's Housing Green Paper the homes will feature timber frames, facilities to store and recycle rain water and sloped roofs to maximise solar efficiency.

The houses will be priced from £59,950, excluding land, allowing first-time buyers to take their first step on the housing ladder.

It is hoped the venture will assist the government in meeting targets to reduce property carbon emissions by 25 per cent by 2010 and increase the UK's house building programme by twenty per cent.
full article

Monday, 6 August 2007

'Sunshade' for global warming could cause drought

Pumping sulphur particles into the atmosphere to mimic the cooling effect of a large volcanic eruption has been proposed as a last-ditch solution to combating climate change – but doing so would cause problems of its own, including potentially catastrophic drought, say researchers.

Sulphur "sunshades" are just one example of a "geo-engineering" solution to climate change. Such solutions involve artificially modifying our climate to counteract the effects of human greenhouse gas emission. Other examples include space mirrors and iron fertilisation of the ocean (see also Sunshade for the planet.

Recent research has suggested that sulphur sunshades could rapidly cool the climate back down to pre-industrial temperatures (see Solar shield could be quick fix for global warming).
Sulphur sunshades are inspired by the cooling effects of large volcanic eruptions, which blast sulphate particles into the stratosphere. The particles reflect part of the Sun's radiation back into space, reducing the amount of heat that reaches the Earth. In 1991, the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines cooled Earth by a few tenths of a degree for several years.
full article

Government energy policy a total sham

Last week's news that widening a stretch of the M6 motorway will cost £3bn, or £1,000 an inch, was depressing not just because of the huge sum but for what it says about the government's spending priorities.

It is 40 times what the government is spending on its low-carbon buildings programme aimed at boosting the take-up of renewable energies.

It is also what the government will reap from its recent rise in air passenger duty over three years. That, though, will do nothing to deter air travel because it only adds a few pounds to a ticket.
Instead of using the £3bn to widen a road, spending it on railways, solar panels, wind turbines or insulation might have been more sensible.

So many things make a mockery of the government's claim to be leading the world on climate change that this latest news hardly comes as a surprise.

Professor Nicholas Stern's review of the economics of climate change emphasises that Britain is talking the talk, not walking the walk. His call for extra spending now was not heeded.

What the government has also not done is send out new "price signals", as economists call them. If as a country we want to reduce carbon emissions in a serious way, those emissions have to be made more expensive. The government has long urged people to get out of their cars and on to trains and buses. But there is no price signal.


Motoring has got cheaper under Labour while train travel has shot up in price. So expect no change in habits, with car use continuing to grow. But if the cost of petrol was, say, doubled over a few years, that is a price signal people would respond to.

The government's problem is easy to see. It put up petrol duty by more than inflation until the fuel duty protests of 2000, since when it has backed away from any action in that area.

There are already two cars out there doing more than 70 miles to the gallon and there will soon be a diesel Mini that will join them. But people won't move over en masse with fuel at 95p a litre. They would at £2 a litre.

Another price signal would be a much bigger rise in air passenger duty than the recent increase. The absurdity that airline fuel is not taxed can at least be partly compensated for by raising APD. People could still fly, but would pay some of the cost of the carbon they emit.

Another price signal could come from a feed-in tariff (FIT) for renewable energy, used so successfully in countries such as Germany. The FIT sets a guaranteed price a consumer will get for any electricity he or she generates and exports to the grid.

At present, the government is running the ineffective low-carbon buildings programme, providing grants for things such as solar panels and wind turbines. But it keeps changing the system and recently slashed the grants to ensure that the £80m allocated for the three years to 2008 does not run out. Britain's nascent micro-generation industry is suffering as a result.

Some readers may recall that I installed a solar photovoltaic system on my house in the spring. I heard last week that the small company which fitted it has gone bust for lack of cash flow. Another company, Thermomax, the country's largest maker of solar thermal panels, has just gone into administration. Britain's climate change strategy, such as it is, is crumbling.

The problem is that the government has helped create monopolies by restricting its lists of approved suppliers for projects to a handful of companies, ensuring that the small guys go the wall and prices to consumers remain higher. My solar PV system, for example, would be more than 30% cheaper in Germany than it was in Britain.

The government's other support mechanism, the renewable obligation (RO) system, which requires energy producers to use a growing proportion of renewable sources, is hardly working. The government is planning changes but they won't come until 2009.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Britain's use of renewables rose about 10% last year to 4.6% of all energy use. And the pace of increase slowed. In Germany it is rising much faster and is already at 13% of all energy, a share Germany proposes to double by 2020. Germany now has 200 times as much installed solar energy capacity as Britain, for example.

Britain's chances of achieving the EU target of a 20% cut in emissions by 2020 are negligible. Indeed, the government has acknowledged it will not achieve it. Germany plans to over-achieve it.

The RO's essential problem is that it does not send a clear price signal and is aimed only at producers rather than consumers as well. The FIT gives a very clear price signal. It works because it is clearly understood by producers and consumers. Rather than going bust as in Britain, German renewables companies are some of the fastest expanding on the planet.

Early adopters

In the case of solar electricity, you get about 35p per kilowatt hour, four times the market rate, for 20 years. This puts the return on your investment up towards 10% - four times that in Britain - and brings the payback time below 10 years. The cost of the FIT is spread by the electricity companies among all consumers and has added about £1 a month to the average electricity bill.

The FIT for solar will be cut by 5% a year over the next 20 years, the idea being to encourage early adopters and give a boost to production levels so that costs will fall rapidly and eventually make the FIT unnecessary.

With a FIT, a company can expand knowing that the demand for its products is there. Banks will lend on projects because of the secure flow of finance. The market still works because consumers shop around for the best and cheapest products so firms have to innovate and compete. Prices of renewable technologies in Germany are much lower than the UK and it has 250,000 jobs in the industry - 10 times the total of the UK and a number expected to double by 2020. I don't think Germans will tell you that going green is damaging their economy.

The FIT brings ordinary people into the fight against climate change and reinforces the notion that something can and is being done. Governments, except ours, like the FIT because it does not cost them anything.

Thus, while in Britain you have to be mad to get into renewables, in Germany you are mad not to. That is what a price signal does. At the latest count, says Miguel Mendonca of the World Future Council, 47 other countries or states have brought in FITs.

Academics like it. "There is a lot of theory and evidence showing that large volumes of renewable energies are delivered cheapest under a feed-in tariff," says David Toke, senior lecturer in environmental policy at Birmingham University. "The RO system is a cumbersome, expensive and opaque way to finance renewables."

Other political parties are supportive. The Lib Dems are calling for an FIT. The Tories say the current system needs to change. But the chancellor, Alistair Darling, told the Guardian recently the government could not keep chopping and changing, even though it has been doing exactly that with its grant system.

So next time you hear the government claim it leads the world on climate change, do as the Germans do: burst out laughing.
full article

Sunday, 5 August 2007

Funeral bosses plan to boil bodies to dust

First we had burials in the garden, then in your favourite car...but if you really want to be different - and green - how about your remains being boiled in water?

Cemetery bosses are in talks with a British firm which plans to turn bodies to dust rapidly by submerging them in water and heating them to 150C (302F).

The process - called resomation - is similar to cremation but the company claims it is better for the environment.
This is because it uses less energy and does not emit any harmful chemicals.

When a body is cremated, it is heated to up to 1,200C (2,192F) and lets off a number of harmful gases, including high levels of mercury. With resomation, there is also no wooden coffin to be destroyed.

It would cost up to £300,000 to install a machine and the cost per funeral would be around £300 - about the same as a cremation.

While the process is not yet a legal alternative to burial or cremation, the Government has said it will consider any application.
full article

Energy group blows £500m

International Power, which operates several gas and coal-fired plants in Britain, has splashed out €868m (£500m) in cash for a portfolio of wind farms in Germany and Italy.
The deal, announced last night, is a clear sign that the company expects power prices to rise.

Under the terms of the deal, International Power is buying the Trinergy wind portfolio from a group of private investors connected with the Matrix Group and CJS Capital Partners.

The wind portfolio has a total capacity of 648 megawatts and the deal more than doubles International Power's current wind capacity to over 1,000 MW.
full article

Saturday, 4 August 2007

Solar Tower

Buoys flex artificial muscles for renewable energy

Artificial muscles are being used to turn the ocean's waves into electrical power in a novel pilot project off the coast of Florida, US.
The "muscles" produce electricity as they bob up and down attached to buoys. Although they only generate enough power to light a small light bulb currently, the scientists involved see it as a first step to implementing a new, cheap technology for harvesting renewable energy from the ocean.
The artificial muscles are made from electroactive polymers, a material that can be physically activated with a jolt of electricity.
Electroactive polymer artificial muscles (EPAMs) are heralded as a key technology for powering future robots and other machinery. The design is remarkably simple – essentially several sheets of specialised rubber sandwiched between two elastic, oppositely-charged electrodes. When an electric charge is applied the electrodes squeeze the rubber. When the charge is dropped, the rubber relaxes.
Crowded fieldRoy Kornbluh of Stanford Research Institute International in California, US, and colleagues simply reversed the process. They rolled a sheet of EPAM into a cylindrical shape, and attached a weight to one end. They then fixed it to a weather and navigation buoy inside a watertight capsule.

As the buoy floats on the ocean surface, the force generated by the wave action stretches and relaxes the rubber, oscillating the distance between electrodes and generating electricity .ANIMATION

With an average 0.8-meter wave, each stretch of the muscle can generate as much as 20 watts of power. Since waves tend to come about every 4 seconds, though, the sustained energy output is closer to 5 watts.
"Right now we're just powering lighting systems on a buoy," Kornbluh admits, "but we want to scale up by orders of magnitude, and you can imagine hundreds or thousands of these thing scattered in the ocean."
In the last year, nearly 40 applications were filed with the US Federal Energy Regulation Commission for installing the ocean energy systems along the US coastline. It is a crowded field, but Kornbluh believes the simplicity and low cost of his design could give it advantages over competitors.
No adverse affects"Most wave systems are more complicated, they use flowing hydraulic fluid to turn a transmission, which then spins a turbine," Kornbluh says. "We're just stretching our generator. It's hard to imagine anything more simple."
The US energy market could welcome ocean energy technology with open arms. A recent report issued by the Electric Power Research Institute suggested that ocean energy could expand to meet 10% of the total electricity demands of the US without any measurable adverse effects on the environment.
"Either way it's encouraging that someone is working with artificial muscles and moving in a direction that is really our problem now – energy," says Yoseph Bar-Cohen of Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
full article