Saturday, 29 September 2007

Is this Britain's greenest house?

Anywhere else in Britain it would not seem unusual. But this is on the border of Norfolk and Lincolnshire, by Holbeach Marsh, where hillocks hardly ever happen.

Might the periwinkle-clad mound be an ancient barrow, or spoil from some long abandoned mine? Well no.

What you see is the home and workplace of the Harrall family, probably the "greenest" house in the country.

Jeremy Harrall, a doctor of architecture, runs his practice SEArch (Sustainable Ecological Architecture) in an earth-covered building, beside the one that now houses his family; and in the oneacre grounds he grows fruit and vegetables for the family and no fewer than 17,000 trees and shrubs.

David Hoppit
full article

Buyers kept in the dark about green issues

Eighty per cent of consumers say that they are not given enough environmental information to make informed choices about electrical products.

The latest in a monthly series of surveys for The Times by Populus, charting consumers’ social and environmental attitudes, finds that while many want to make ethical choices, they are frustrated by a lack of information.

The findings follow growing calls from across the political spectrum to make consumer electricals more environmentally friendly. Despite proposed measures such as banning standby buttons and forcing manufacturers to print carbon footprints on their packaging, the survey shows that an information gap is driving a wedge between consumers’ intentions and their actions. Electrical goods are on the frontline in the battle against carbon emissions, according to campaigners. While it is estimated that household appliances become on average 2 per cent more energy efficient every year, the fall has been more than offset by the soaring number of electrical items in homes.

The Energy Saving Trust says that the average number of electrical goods in British households has risen from 17 in the 1970s to 42 now. Appliances on standby comprise 8 per cent of Britain’s domestic consumption of electricity. A ban on standby buttons was mooted in a recent Conservative Party policy review and had been suggested already by Gordon Brown.

Marcus Leroux
full article

Friday, 28 September 2007

'Green roofs' could cool warming cities

Covering city buildings in vegetation – creating “green roofs” and walls – could substantially save energy by reducing the need for air conditioning on hot days, say researchers.

Green roofs and walls can cool local temperatures by between 3.6°C and 11.3°C, depending on the city, suggests their new study.

Eleftheria Alexandri and Phil Jones at the Welsh School of Architecture, at the University of Cardiff in the UK, mimicked the microclimate around and inside buildings using computer modelling. They compared local temperatures when buildings were made of bare concrete with when the concrete was covered in vegetation.

Such green surfaces are already in use – roofs that are strong enough to take the additional load can be covered with mosses, turf and even trees. In Switzerland, roofs covered in alpine plants that require little soil are becoming increasingly common. Walls can also be greened, often by climbing plants planted at ground level.

Temperature drop
The researchers compared the effects of green surfaces in nine cities around the world, including subarctic Montreal in Canada, temperate London in the UK, humid Mumbai (India), and tropical Brasília (Brazil). In all cases, they studied the month during which that city sees its hottest temperatures.

They found that green walls and roofs would cool the local climate around a building in all of the cities – and the hotter the climate, the greater the cooling effect.

If, for example, a group of buildings in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, is entirely clad in vegetation, the gap between the buildings will become 9.1°C cooler during the day, according to the researchers' model. The gap's peak temperature of the day is brought down by 11.3°C. And in London and Montreal, the peak temperature drops by just over 4°C.

Greening the walls only, and not the roofs, results in smaller effects. Maximum temperatures in London and Montreal, for example, drop by between 2.5°C and just over 3°C between the buildings.

Green surfaces cool local temperatures in two ways. Firstly, the green surfaces absorb less heat from the sun. Hot surfaces warm the air around them, so by cooling the surface, the vegetation also affects air temperatures. Secondly, the plants also cool the air by evaporating water in a process known as evapotranspiration.

Lowering demand
Being dense regions of concrete and paved surfaces, cities and towns lose the cooling effects of vegetation. This generates what is known as the "urban heat island" effect.

Alexandri and Jones say their results suggest the urban heat island effect could be countered by introducing green roofs and walls in cities.

They point out that, other than making cities more comfortable and safer to live in, green roofs could also significantly reduce the demand for electricity – most of which is generated by burning fossil fuels and therefore contributing to man-made global warming.

In recent years, Europe and North America have been hit by severe heatwaves, the effects of which are often most extreme in cities. In 2003, a heatwave in Europe is thought to have killed 35,000 people and hundreds died this summer in Eastern Europe. Research has shown that the frequency of extremely hot days has nearly tripled in Europe since 1880.

Eliminating air-con
"In addition to the fact that they add a further insulation layer to the building, the green surfaces can decrease air conditioning demands inside the building," says Jones.

In Brasília and Hong Kong, he and Alexandri found that the need to air-condition a building during the hottest month of the year is eliminated if it is given a green roof and green walls. Buildings in these cities would normally need air conditioning in the afternoon and early evening.

In hotter cities, such as Riyadh, the number of hours when air conditioning is needed would be cut from 12 hours to just 5.

Some air conditioners still use chemicals that deplete the ozone hole and demand for air-conditioners is expected to rise as a result of global warming, so green buildings could help counter this demand.

Journal reference: Building and Environment (DOI: 10.1016/j.buildenv.2006.10.055)

Climate Change – Want to know more about global warming: the science, impacts and political debate? Visit our continually updated special report.

Energy and Fuels – Learn more about the looming energy crisis in our comprehensive

Catherine Brahic
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CFLs to replace traditional lightbulb by 2009

In a drive toward more energy efficient lighting, Mr Benn said 150 watt bulbs would not be replaced by retailers from January next year.
Then from January 2009, 100 watts bulbs would be unavailable – followed by the disappearance of 40 watt bulbs in 2010.

Earlier this year Tony Blair signed up to EU plans that signalled the death knell across Europe of old style incandescent filament bulbs.

The aim is to switch people as quickly as is feasible to more energy efficient compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), which consume a fifth of the energy used by old-style bulbs.

The Government calculates that if every British household were to replace three 60 or 100 watt light bulbs with CFLs the energy saving would be greater than the power used by the country's entire street lighting network.

But there is a price for consumers because CFLs are more expensive and require more energy to make.

Mr Benn told the Labour Party conference: "The major retailers and energy suppliers are now leading a voluntary initiative, with the strong support of the lighting industry and the Government, to help phase out traditional high-energy light bulbs. We need to turn them off - for good."
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Sustainable Energy Network

Edward Hyams chairman OF The Energy Savings Trust

Good Energy doubles ‘pay back’ to 9p a unit

On 1st October Good Energy the 100% renewable electricity supplier is launching its new ‘pay-back’ tariff to its customers generating their own electricity. Good Energy will pay 9 pence for every unit their customers generate.

Good Energy, in their on going work to nudge the Government toward supporting renewable microgeneration, have taken the rumour that the Renewable Obligation Certificates may be doubled some time in 2009 and decided to offer essentially a double ROC rate from 1st October to people who sign up with their Home Generation product. Juliet Davenport, Chief Executive of Good Energy stated why the company is launching the new Home Generation product. “Good Energy believes that climate change is the biggest challenge we face as a society. 30% of the UK’s carbon emissions come from our homes - this is where we need solutions and home owners using wind, solar and wood energy are providing those solutions. Good Energy wants to actively support these home owners producing their own power and by offering the highest payment for electricity generated at home, that is exactly what we are aiming to do.”

The move to increase the support for microgeneration has been welcomed by environmental groups, John Sauven Executive Director of Greenpeace, said“Good Energy is showing the way with their new Home Generation scheme. The government is dragging its heels on climate change and its support for small scale renewables is shameful. Microgeneration in mainland Europe is booming - if they can do it so can we. The UK government should now follow the lead of Good Energy.”

One of the barriers to wide spread micro generation by home owners is the low level of return on particularly photovoltaic solar generation. Income from home generation at the moment is in three parts, firstly the cost saving, depending on your energy demands, and with wind and solar your location, the average house hold can expect to save between £90 and £120 per year off their bills, the second part is the ‘feed in’ component of selling electricity back to the grid, the third part of the Renewable Obligation Certificates were by home generators are rewarded for generating carbon free power.

Chris Goodall, in his book “How to Live a Low Carbon Life” calculates that the average return on a 2 kilo Watt system, around 12 square metres of panels, is around 4% a year. He calculates this by adding up the average amount saved by home generation, around £120 a year plus around £24 earned by feeding electricity back into the grid at present feed in prices of 4p, plus around £72 of Renewable Obligation Certificates. This gives around £216 of savings and revenue for an installation cost of £5000. Put in straight forward terms its gives around a 4% return over the 25 year life of the system based on present energy costs, ROC allowances and price, and feed in prices. With the Good Energy scheme the slight increase in ROC equivalent payments, averaging around £158, the payback rises to 5%.

According to anecdotal evidence from Solarcentury installing a solar system on a house should not just be seen as an investment in cleaner energy but also an investment in the capital worth of the building itself. The Energy Saving Trust estimate that a solar home is worth 10% more than a traditional home, Jerry Newman, COO of Solarcentury told naturalchoices in a recent interview “We already have seen that a home fitted with solar achieved an 8% higher price that an otherwise identical adjacent home”.

Which is very valuable given the Government’s vacillation on supporting home generation. Going back to Chris Goodall’s calculation the installation of a solar system, which he prices at £5,000 is in reality closer to £8,000. The price is brought down by the assumption that a grant from the Low Carbon Building Programme which has now been capped at £2,500. The programme has been suspended, played around with and is in fact barely functioning with a mere £19 million behind it this year. Seen in isolation without the increase in value to the home itself microgeneration would remain the domain of the convert and not a viable option for many who remain Return on Investment driven.

Sadly at this moment in time, despite the huge increase in interest in sustainable and low carbon homes, the Government has still to lay out a clear system of support, at a grant level, a feed in payment level or at a ROC level. Hopefully Good Energy’s initiative will go some way to providing an incentive to policy makes to pull their heads out of the sand and get behind renewable and home micro generation.

Peter Shield
Good Energy press release

full article

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Eco-homes moving up homebuyers wish list

Up to 85 per cent of homebuyers in the UK would consider purchasing an eco-friendly home, according to new research published by Legal and General.

On Monday the prime minister Gordon Brown pledged to build ten new 'eco-towns' in the UK - doubling the previous commitment made during his election to the leadership of the Labour party earlier this year – and demand looks set to be high.

The undertaking comes on top of a proposal to build 240,000 new homes "in places and ways that respect our green spaces and the environment" - again made during his leadership campaign.

"There is clearly a demand for the green homes proposed by Gordon Brown, showing the environmental agenda is starting to influence the choices people make with respect to their homes," commented Ruth Wilkins, head of communications for Legal & General.

According to the Changing Face of British Homes report released by Legal and General, Brits are becoming more environmentally savvy.

As many as 59 per cent of homeowners would now consider purchasing a property with solar panels, whereas 40 per cent would opt for a carbon neutral home.

A further 33 per cent said they would like a property made entirely from local materials and 32 per cent would opt for a timber framed property.

The strongest demand for these eco-improvements was among those over 45 years of age according to Legal and General.

Only 18 per cent said they were not interested in an eco-friendly home.

One further interesting trend the Legal and General research reveals is in the north-east, where 18 per cent of those questioned stated they would consider a house with livestock.
full article

Lovelock urges ocean climate fix

Two of Britain's leading environmental thinkers say it is time to develop a quick technical fix for climate change.

Writing in the journal Nature, Science Museum head Chris Rapley and Gaia theorist James Lovelock suggest looking at boosting ocean take-up of CO2.

Their idea, already being investigated by a US firm, involves huge flotillas of vertical pipes in the tropical seas.

The two scientists say they doubt that existing plans for curbing carbon emissions can work quickly enough.

"We are taking the very strong line that we are not going to save the planet by the regular approaches like the Kyoto Protocol or renewable energy," Professor Lovelock told BBC News.

"What we have to do is to look at it in a systems sense, or a Gaian sense, and see if it's curable by direct action."

Natural cycles

Professor Rapley, who has just moved to head up the Science Museum from a similar post at the British Antarctic survey, said the two men developed the ocean pipes concept during country walks in James Lovelock's beloved Devon.

Unbeknown to them, a US company, Atmocean, had already begun trials of a very similar technology.

Floating pipes reaching down from the top of the ocean into colder water below move up and down with the swell.

As the pipe moves down, cold water flows up and out onto the ocean surface. A simple valve blocks any downward flow when the pipe is moving upwards.

See how the pumps would work
Colder water is more "productive" - it contains more life, and so in principle can absorb more carbon.

One of the life-forms that might benefit, Atmocean believes, is the salp, a tiny tube which excretes carbon in its solid faecal pellets, which descend to the ocean floor, perhaps storing the carbon away for millennia.

Atmocean CEO Phil Kithil has calculated that deploying 1.3 million pipes could potentially sequester about one-third of the carbon dioxide produced by human activities each year. But he acknowledges that research is in the early stages.

The scheme could pose problems for marine creatures such as whales
"There is much yet to be learned," he told BBC News. "We need not only to move towards the final design and size (of the pipes), but also to characterise the ecological effects.

"The problem we would be most concerned about would be acidification. We're bringing up higher levels of CO2 along with the nutrients, so it all has to be analysed as to the net carbon balance and the net carbon flux."

Atmocean deployed experimental tubes earlier this year and gathered engineering data. The pipes brought cold water to the surface from a depth of 200m, but no research has yet been done on whether this approach has any net impact on greenhouse gas levels.

The company says a further advantage of cooling surface waters in regions such as the Gulf of Mexico could be a reduction in the number of hurricanes, which need warm water in order to form.

And Professors Lovelock and Rapley suggest that the ocean pipes could also stimulate growth of algae that produce dimethyl sulphide (DMS), a chemical which helps clouds form above the ocean, reflecting sunlight away from the Earth's surface and bringing a further cooling.

Ethical fix

In recent years, scientists have developed a wide range of technical "geo-engineering" ideas for curbing global warming.

Seeding the ocean with iron filings to stimulate plankton growth, putting sunshades in space, and firing sulphate aerosols into the atmosphere from a giant cannon have all been proposed; the iron filings idea has been extensively tested.

But the whole idea of pursuing these "technical fixes" is controversial.

"One has to understand what the consequences of doing these things are," commented Ken Caldeira from the Carnegie Institution at Stanford University in California, who has published a number of analyses of geo-engineering technologies.

"There are scientific questions of safety and efficacy; then there are the broader ethical, social and political dimensions, and one of the most disturbing is that if people start getting the idea that technical fixes are available and cheaper than curbing carbon emissions, then people might start relying on them as an alternative to curbing emissions.

"So I think it's worth investigating these kinds of ideas, but premature to start deploying them."

Chris Rapley does not believe ideas like the ocean pipes are complete answers to man-made global warming, but may buy time while society develops a more comprehensive response.

"It's encouraging to see how much serious effort is going into technical attempts to reduce carbon emissions, and the renewed commitment to finding an international agreement," he said.

"But in the meantime, there's evidence that the Earth's response to climate change might be going faster than people have predicted. The dramatic loss of ice in the Arctic, for example, poses a serious concern for the northern hemisphere climate."

High stakes

Professor Rapley said the letter to Nature, one of the world's most prestigious scientific journals, was intended to get people thinking about the concept of technical fixes rather than just to advocate ocean pipes.

"If you think of how the science community has organised itself," he said, "with the World Climate Research Programme, the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, International Polar Year and so on - you've got all this intensive interdisciplinary collaboration figuring out what Earth systems are up to and figuring out how they work, but we don't have a similar network working across the entire piece as to what we can actually do to mitigate and adapt."

He said there was a need for some sort of global collaboration to explore potential climate-fixing technologies.

"Geo-engineering is one of the types of thing that are worth investigating," opined Ken Caldeira, "and yes, the amount of effort going into thinking of innovative solutions is far too little.

"If we can generate 100 ideas, and 97 are bad and we land up with 3 good ones, then the whole thing will have been worthwhile; so I applaud Lovelock and Rapley for thinking along these lines."

He observed that human emissions of greenhouse gases are bringing huge changes to natural ecosystems anyway, so there was nothing morally difficult in principle about deliberately altering the same natural ecosystems to curb climatic change.

But changing patterns of ocean life could potentially have major consequences for marine species. Whales that feed on krill, for example, could find their favourite food displaced by salps.

These would all have to be investigated, James Lovelock acknowledged.

But, he said, it is time to start. "There may be all sorts of ecological consequences, but the stakes are terribly high."
full article

New study for Severn energy plan

The government has announced a fresh feasibility study into the Severn Barrage, a tidal power plan that could provide about 5% of UK electricity.

Speaking at the Labour Party's annual conference in Bournemouth, business and enterprise secretary John Hutton said the concept was "truly visionary".

Some environmental groups have warned the barrage could affect wildlife.

The idea was first floated about 150 years ago, but environmental and cost concerns have always blocked approval.

It was last seriously considered in the 1970s and 80s.
full article

Tuesday, 25 September 2007


Imagine a 'flat pack' home that can be built in five days, which recycles the bath water and has walls that store heat.

That dream is becoming a reality on the campus of the University of Nottingham where the eco-home is being built by students.

But far from being a house of the distant future, this new technology should be seen across the country in less than a decade.

The Government has a long-term goal to reduce carbon emissions - 'greenhouse gas' - by 60% by 2050. It wants all new homes in England to be carbon neutral by 2016.

With Gordon Brown announcing that he wants 200,000 new homes built, the challenge will dominate the sector in the coming years.

As the National Housing Federation warned that the target will be missed, the university was hosting a two-day conference on zero carbon sustainable homes.

Professor Brian Ford, head of the School of the Built Environment, said: "The move towards zero carbon housing is a major challenge, but recent changes in legislation and the move towards modern methods of construction have created a significant shift in the industry."

Experts toured the eco-house which is under construction and afterwards Phil Holliday, director of building conservation company Stoneguard, and Dr Mark Gillott, associate professor of the Institute of Sustainable Energy Technology at the university, explained some of its key innovations.

Central to the energy use of the house is its ten-fold more efficient insulation and ventilation. This includes roof insulation, triple-glazed windows and walls that contain a gel which absorbs heat when it is hot, stores it and sends it back into the room when the temperature cools.

On average, everyone uses 125 to 140 litres of water per day. This needs to fall to 80 litres, so the house includes automated taps and lower flush toilets. A water management system reduces water consumption by 30%.

But most significantly, the main sections of the home are built away from the site and are driven in on a single lorry.

With skilled labour at a premium, this 'flat-pack' can be put together by general labourers in five days, and be ready to live in after ten or 12 days. Only four skips, instead of the usual 12, are being used for waste materials - primarily packaging.

Researchers will live in the house, monitoring the energy use and conducting tours.

Eventually six houses will be built on the campus - at least one of which will meet a £60,000 price limit.

Public tours of the building have been arranged before a public meeting and latest in a lecture series on climate change. The tour starts at 6.30pm and the talks and meeting are at 7.30pm on Thursday.
full article

Monday, 24 September 2007

Time for the IT crowd to go green

Despite the many benefits they bring, society's growing dependence on computers is taking its toll on the environment, says Steve Nunn. In this week's Green Room, he calls for a "strategic shift" in mindsets to curb IT's growing impacts.

For most people, using complex technology has become a part of daily life. Yet many people do not seem to understand the green issues that arise from the increase in computing power.

In a world where cutting energy costs and achieving efficiencies are important to both households and companies, this situation has certainly emerged as a priority in boardrooms.

Unsurprisingly, it is the energy consumed by companies and their "data centres" that is causing the bulk of the power consumption.

As IT managers today grapple with trying to deliver value, boost efficiency and reduce costs, they now have to consider their green footprint too.

Consequently, there is a continual quest to identify ways in which these goals can be achieved - a quest which is currently driving the trend towards consolidating, streamlining and simplifying data centres
full article

Solar Energy…as Cheap as Growing Grass?

Doctors in various fields have been telling us that solar energy is the way to go. But, up until this point, changing our way of lives to using solar energy would have been too expensive for most of us to handle. Nanotechnology researchers are bringing about a revolution when it comes to solar energy, wanting every household to be a part of it.
California Institute of Technology professor Nate Lewis is helping bringing about the change. He's working on nanoscale materials that will mimic the makeup of grass and photosynthesis as a way to capture and store the energy of the sun.

Professor Lewis and his team are trying to find ways to put nanoparticles into things we need around the house, like paint on the walls and the roof tiles of the house.

Dr. Lewis says, "More energy from the sun hits the earth in an hour than all the energy consumed by human beings on our planet in an entire year. So, if we are going to find an efficient, environmentally-friendly substitute for fossil fuels, it makes sense to exploit the sun. Nanotechnology offers us a way, in principle, to make very cheap materials-like the paint you buy at Home Depot-act as solar cells and batteries."

This is very interesting, and the possibilities are seemingly endless. This ground-breaking technology could someday power our laptops, cell phones, and even our cars! This is something to think about folks.

full article

Saturday, 22 September 2007

Eco house opens to public

Improvements included insulating the walls externally, fully insulating the loft and replacing windows with high performance double glazing in wooden frames.

The heating system was also fitted with the environment in mind, with a space and water heater, both fed by a large water thermal store tank.

This is maintained at a temperature of 45C by a combination of solar and heat pumps - costing £3,100.

Heat pumps are electrically powered compressors that extract heat from the local environment and concentrate it at the temperatures needed for heating. Normally this would work from a ground water source, but the Hammonds' system draws its heat from the nearby River Thames.

The couple also replaced large areas of the roof with solar panels above the south-facing side and rear of the kitchen - at a cost of £3,600.

Mr Hammond said it would be unrealistic to expect people to do all the work in one go as he had.

He said: "It is expensive, but if people carry out little jobs when they are doing work, they can do it bit by bit. The savings you make in the long run far outweigh the cost of the work, provided you have it done by qualified builders."

full article

Friday, 21 September 2007

Ice withdrawal 'shatters record'

Arctic sea ice shrank to the smallest area on record this year, US scientists have confirmed.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) said the minimum extent of 4.13 million sq km (1.59 million sq miles) was reached on 16 September.

The figure shatters all previous satellite surveys, including the previous record low of 5.32 million sq km measured in 2005.

Earlier this month, it was reported that the Northwest Passage was open.

The fabled Arctic shipping route from the Atlantic to the Pacific is normally ice-bound at some location throughout the year; but this year, ships have been able to complete an unimpeded navigation.
full article

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Climate change clues emerge from swamp

An ancient British bog that pumped out high amounts of greenhouse gases during a period of global warming 55 million years ago may offer clues about future climate change, said researchers.

An analysis of sediments from the bog suggests that global warming caused methane emissions to rise in the wetlands, which in turn sent temperatures there even higher, said the researchers.

Scientists are interested in this period because the Earth warmed fairly quickly as increased amounts of carbon dioxide entered the atmosphere at a pace similar to what is happening today, said Richard Pancost, a geochemist at Bristol University, who led the study.

Greenhouse gases such as methane and carbon dioxide are widely blamed for global warming. Scientists say average temperatures will rise by 2-6C by the end of the century, causing droughts, floods and violent storms.

"It is in the same ballpark of what we have done over the past 100 years and what we might do over the next 100 years," said Dr Pancost.
The team analysed sediments taken from a wetland in southeast England that was unearthed during construction of a rail link between London and Paris.

This section of exposed rock offered a clear sediment record of changes in vegetation and indicated how global warming affected the area tens of millions of years ago, said Dr Pancost.

The researchers looked at molecular fossils that came from bacteria and found that, as temperatures rose, the organisms switched to a diet of methane - probably because there was more of it around, said Dr Pancost.

"Methane is a very powerful greenhouse gas," he said.

"So if the processes at [the bog] were widespread, then the increase in methane emissions could have caused further warming, amplifying the climate change at this time."

The bog became part of a vicious cycle; warmer temperatures caused higher emissions of methane and drove temperatures even higher, he said.

"The main event made it warmer and wetter. What we are talking about is a response to the system."

The researchers, who published their findings in the journal Nature, cautioned that the data was only from a single site but said it nevertheless shows how some ecosystems might respond to rapid climate change in the future.

full article

Have you got green fatigue?

Recent environmental messages have made such an impact on a friend of mine that, a couple of weeks ago, he broke a four-year prohibition and walked back into Burger King. "Intensive beef production, clone town Britain, just so much blah," he said, by way of explanation. "Nobody else really seems to be doing much about it, so why should I bother?"

My friend is the embodiment of one of the great fears of the environmental lobby. Fifteen years ago, the term "compassion fatigue" indicated a general disillusionment with fund-raising concerts and famine appeals. The cause was too hopeless, governments too apathetic, and individuals too impotent. Slowly, and for similar reasons, the term "green fatigue" has started to creep into the dinner-party conversations of the composting classes.

And, if anything, with more reason. Environmental campaigners worry that individuals see their actions as largely irrelevant when set against the enormity of global climate change. While famine appeals parade a simple, striking message – send a tenner, save a child – no such easy cause and effect exists for global warming. By contrast, the solutions to climate change seem hugely complex and controversial.

"The problems we face are of a magnitude no one has seen in at least two generations," says Alex Steffen, the executive editor of WorldChanging, a website and book that promote innovative solutions for sustainable living. "The scale of the actions people are being told to take by green consumerism groups and businesses, on the other hand, are so small as to seem meaningless. I think that more and more people see this widening gulf and lose hope."

And if we're not all losing hope just yet, many of us are becoming increasingly cynical. To campaigners, that's not surprising. As Steffen suggests, businesses have turned environmentalism into a marketing strategy. A new term, "green-washing", describes companies that paint a superficial green gloss on conventional business practices. When firms such as BP and Wal-Mart parade their environmentally friendly credentials, scepticism is not only inevitable, says Steffen, it's "a necessary antidote".
full article

The Wattson (Eco Meter)

Technology companies really seem to be getting to grips with the idea of "green gadgets" and "carbon footprints" this year, but we could all be doing more to help. Step forward the Wattson, a lovely looking device that could help you save money as well as the planet.
Simply clip its transceiver to the cable between your electricity meter and your fuse box, and the wireless Wattson will display the amount of electricity being used in your house in real-time. It's frightening to see the read spike and then plummet as you turn light switches, televisions and kettles on and off. It will even display an estimate of your annual energy bill. With its compact dimensions and lovely, glossy white finish, the Wattson suits even the most minimalist decor, and you can enable LED warnings to give you a visual clue of sudden spikes in energy use: it glows red when energy use is high, and blue when it is low.

There is even an online community of Wattson users: hook your device up to your computer's USB port to download a record of your energy use, calculate how you could save money on your energy bill, and see how your energy consumption compares to other Wattson owners. Educational and illuminating
full article

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

UK Wave Farm Gets Government Go-Ahead

Wave Hub, a large scale wave farm being developed off the coast of Cornwall, England, has cleared its last major regulatory hurdle. Yesterday, the British Government gave planning approval for the GBP 28 million [US$55 million] project, which is scheduled to come online in 2009.

The consent announcement was made by John Hutton, Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. Funding for the project has already been approved by the South West of England Regional Development Agency (RDA), which is investing in a range of demonstrator projects in the wave, tidal and biomass sectors to promote the development of renewable energy in South West England.

"This is a fantastic confidence boost for this emerging industry," said Maria McCaffery, Chief Executive of BWEA, the trade and professional body for the UK wind and marine renewables industries. "Wave Hub will be a crucial part of the learning curve for everyone with an interest in wave energy development around the world and will underpin the growing confidence in these exciting technologies."

Wave Hub will include an onshore substation connected to electrical equipment on the seabed about 16 kilometers (10 miles) offshore via a sub-sea cable. The Wave Hub project will cover an area of sea measuring four kilometers by two kilometers—and give companies developing wave energy technology the ability to plug into Wave Hub to test their devices.

Each wave device developer will be granted a lease of between five and 10 years in an area of approximately two square kilometers.

Four wave device developers have already been chosen to work with the South West RDA on the project. They are Oceanlinx, Ocean Power Technologies Limited, Fred Olsen Limited and WestWave, a consortium of E.On and Ocean Prospect Limited, using the Pelamis technology of Ocean Power Delivery Ltd.

Up to 30 wave energy devices are expected to be deployed at Wave Hub and will float on the surface of the sea. The water at the deployment site is approximately 50 meters deep.

Matthew Spencer, Chief Executive of Regen SW, the renewable energy agency for South West England, added: "This is great news. Wave Hub is the right idea, in the right place, at the right time. Now the engineers and the developers can get cracking and make Cornwall the place where wave energy comes of age."

A new independent economic impact assessment, commissioned by the RDA, has shown that Wave Hub could create 1,800 jobs and £560 million in the UK economy over 25 years. Almost 1,000 of these jobs and £332 million would be generated in South West England.

Wave Hub could generate enough electricity for 7,500 homes, directly saving 300,000 tons of carbon dioxide over 25 years. This would support South West England's target for generating 15% of the region's power from renewable sources by 2010.

Tim German, Director of the Cornwall Sustainable Energy Partnership, which has been focusing on the benefits of Wave Hub to Cornwall, said, "We have been eagerly awaiting this news which clears the way for this exciting project, casting the world's eyes on the UK's green peninsula. It will be a key feature of the industrial revolution of the 21st century, playing an important role in Cornwall's economic and low carbon future."

The Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform has committed £4.5 million towards the cost and the RDA has already invested in excess of £2 million to get it to this stage. In April the RDA approved £21.5 million of funding for Wave Hub.

Half of this is expected to come from the European Regional Development Fund through the Convergence Programme for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

full article

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Would You Pay More For An Eco Home?

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.

Build Vs Buy

First off, says Savills, developers have been subject to rising costs thanks to heavy competition for land.

Even without the CSH being made compulsory, quantity surveyors estimate that new building regulations relating to "sustainable communities" policies and other green measures could add 5.5 per cent to build costs each year.

Using the Savills long-run average of 4.6 per cent capital appreciation in house prices, it's easy to see that there will be a shortfall between property prices and building costs.

What Buyers Want
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.

The Cost of Going Green

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

Wave power

What is wave power?

It is energy captured from the power of waves to create electricity.

How does it work?

Wave power can be captured in many ways, including anchored offshore devices pitching back and forth or up and down over the waves or fixed onshore installations using the waves to drive air through a turbine.

What are the challenges facing wave power?

It can be difficult to convert a slow, oscillating, choppy wave motion into electricity. There are also issues about too much energy being available during storms. This and the corrosiveness of saltwater challenge engineers.

Where is the best place for wave power in Britain?

West of Scotland and Cornwall have the best potential.

Will wave power work in shallow water?

Waves lose their energy in shallow water due to friction with the sea floor, so devices are best placed where the shore drops steeply.

How much of our energy needs could wave power meet?

The technology has only been available for a few decades, yet we could meet almost 10% of our energy needs from wave power, at a cost similar to current prices. An assessment can be found in CAT's Zero Carbon Britain project and at the British Wind Energy Association .

Are we anywhere near that percentage?

The main issue now is getting the devices developed, tested and in place. Wave energy was first researched after the energy crisis of the early 1970s. A new impetus, due to the need for renewable alternatives to fossil fuels, has prompted the development of many new devices.

What was the earliest wave energy project?

One of the earliest projects was the "Edinburgh Duck", conceived by Prof Stephen Salter in the early 70s. It is a deepwater device, designed to match the orbital motion of the waves. This is in theory the most efficient way to capture wave energy.

What happened to the Duck?

The Duck principle has been taken up by a new project. The Pelamis (sea snake) has a similar design, and has undergone extensive testing since the prototype launch in early 2004. The 750kW device could power about 500 households, at a competitive tariff.

Has the sea snake been installed?

Two 750kW prototypes have been set up off Islay, in the Hebrides. Each device will generate more than 2.5m kW of electricity a year. The developers are now building the first ever wave farm, off Portugal.

Will the sea snake be installed at this new Cornish Wave Hub?

Yes, there are plans for seven.

Are other hubs/wind farms planned in Britain?

A 3MW wave farm is planned off Orkney in 2008. Scottish Power wants to build a further four sea snakes at the Orkney site..

Are there any wave power stations in operation?

A Tapchan (short for Tapered Channel) built on a small island near Bergen, Norway, in 1985 was for many years the largest wave power station in operation, producing enough for a small, 40-home community.

Is the government putting more money into wave power?

Yes. A £50m Marine Energy Fund administered by the Carbon Trust was set up a few years ago to help businesses develop wave power
full article

Monday, 17 September 2007

How this 12inch miracle tube could halve heating bills

Amazing British invention creates MORE energy than you put into it - and could soon be warming your home
It sounds too good to be true - not to mention the fact that it violates almost every known law of physics.

But British scientists claim they have invented a revolutionary device that seems to 'create' energy from virtually nothing.

Their so-called thermal energy cell could soon be fitted into ordinary homes, halving domestic heating bills and making a major contribution towards cutting carbon emissions.

Even the makers of the device are at a loss to explain exactly how it works - but sceptical independent scientists carried out their own tests and discovered that the 12in x 2in tube really does produce far more heat energy than the electrical energy put in.

The device seems to break the fundamental physical law that energy cannot be created from nothing - but researchers believe it taps into a previously unrecognised source of energy, stored at a sub-atomic level within the hydrogen atoms in water
The system - developed by scientists at a firm called Ecowatts in a nondescript laboratory on an industrial estate at Lancing, West Sussex - involves passing an electrical current through a mixture of water, potassium carbonate (otherwise known as potash) and a secret liquid catalyst, based on chrome.

This creates a reaction that releases an incredible amount of energy compared to that put in. If the reaction takes place in a unit surrounded by water, the liquid heats up, which could form the basis for a household heating system.

If the technology can be developed on a domestic scale, it means consumers will need much less energy for heating and hot water - creating smaller bills and fewer greenhouse gases.

Jim Lyons, of the University of York, independently evaluated the system. He said: 'Let's be honest, people are generally pretty sceptical about this kind of thing. Our team was happy to take on the evaluation, even if to prove it didn't work.

'But this is a very efficient replacement for the traditional immersion heater. We have examined this interesting technology and when we got the rig operating, we were getting 150 to 200 per cent more energy out than we put in, without trying too hard.

People are sceptical - but somehow it works

'We are still not clear about the science involved here, because the physics and chemistry are very different-to everything that has gone before. Our challenge now is to study the science and how it works.'

The device has taken ten years of painstaking work by a small team at Ecowatts' tiny red-brick laboratory, and bosses predict a household version of their device will be ready to go on sale within the next 18 months.

The project, which has cost the company £1.4million, has the backing of the Department of Trade and Industry, which is keen to help poorer families without traditional central heating or who cannot afford rocketing fuel bills.

Ecowatts says the device will cost between £1,500 and £2,000, in line with the price of traditional systems.

full article

Community will have green power

A country house in Devon which is part of the communal living movement will soon be powered by three forms of renewable energy. Beech Hill, a community of 14 residents near Crediton, has installed a 15 metre-tall wind turbine to generate electricity, four solar panels to heat water and a log-fuelled boiler to provide heating.

The new equipment means the community will no longer use oil-fuelled heating systems. It will provide all the heating and hot water and approximately a third of the electricity for the house, saving the annual emission of about 26 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

Funding for the £90,600 energy project has been provided by £35,600 from the EDF Energy Green Fund, £7,000 from the Low Carbon Buildings Programme and the remainder by the Beech Hill Community, which has taken out a 25-year loan to get the project started.

The project builds on the work at the community where residents share a common belief in environmentally-conscious living. Residents grow their own fruit and vegetables, share regular communal meals, host a village composting site, car share, recycle waste, keep chickens and use a natural sewage treatment system.

Sue Chantrey, one of the project co-ordinators, said: “The focus at Beech Hill has always been ecological. We are always working towards being more sustainable so we have been talking about renewable energy for a long time. With climate change becoming such an issue it became more urgent and the grants made it possible. We felt it was now or never. We didn’t want to carry on using oil and we wanted to produce our own electricity.

“We have had fantastic showers since the solar panels were installed. When it’s all done the house will be warmer, as well. Only a very small part of the house was heated for the courses we run here. Others had no heating or just inefficient wood-burning stoves. The corridors were unheated and cold. Now we will have radiators everywhere powered by a log-fuelled boiler.

“Everyone can make a difference to the environment by taking small steps towards becoming more sustainable. You don’t have to put up a wind turbine to make a difference. For example, everyone can think about how much they travel and how they do it and they can conserve energy.”

EDF Energy has awarded £3million to nearly 170 renewable energy projects since the Green Fund was launched in 2001. Its purpose is to showcase renewable energy projects which produce power from the sun, wind, water and geothermal sources that reduce the greenhouse gases linked to global warming.

Awards of up to £30,000 are available for projects in England, Scotland and Wales and such funds have helped schools, charities, local authorities, churches, water mills and other non-profit organisations to generate clean, green energy in their own community.

Beneficiiaries have installed a wide range of technologies, including wind turbines and solar panels, along with less well-established technologies such as biomass boilers, ground source heat pumps and micro hydropower generators.

The awards are provided in partnership with customers who choose renewable energy for their home through its Green Tariff. This tariff gives consumers an active choice in driving demand for renewable energy as EDF Energy purchases renewable energy to the value of their consumption. Customers who join the tariff pay an extra 0.4p per unit of electricity they use, which is less than £15 a year for the average household. This money is matched pound for pound by EDF Energy to provide the grants awarded by the Green Fund.

Green Building Press

full article

Top 10 tips for environmentally friendly landlords

landlords are being urged to to take a look at their green credentials. As part of the newly introduced Home Information Pack legislation, an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) that is less than 10 years old must be available to prospective tenants each time the property is rented.

The aim of this is for both social and private landlords to improve the energy efficiency of the property.

To improve the rating of your property, has identified 10 ways landlords can improve the energy efficiency of their properties.

Insulate your property: Roughly half the average home's heat is lost through its walls and loft. Cavity walls can be insulated for a few hundred pounds, and lofts can be lagged with an eco-friendly insulation such as recycled newspaper. Landlords can use their landlord’s energy saving allowance (LESA) to insulate the property.
Draught proofing: Up to 20 per cent of all heat lost in the home is through windows and doors. Draught proofing can reduce the costs of heating for the tenant and is also covered by the landlord’s LESA.
Use low energy bulbs: Fit the property with energy saving light bulbs. Not only are you doing your bit for the environment, they last up to 12 times longer than ordinary light bulbs.
Consider renewable energy sources: One way to reduce CO2 emissions is to consider using solar panels or even wind turbines to generate energy for the property. These are a real selling point for potential tenants as reduces the costs of their utility bills.
Foil panel radiators: Reflective foil panels help use the heat most radiators lose from their backs. This is cheap, and the panels can be found at most DIY shops.
Install a new boiler: Boilers are also a culprit when it comes to CO2 so when it comes to replacing this choose a high efficiency-condensing boiler with heating controls.
Fit A-rated appliances: Electrical appliances such as washing machines and dishwashers use up an enormous amount of energy. By choosing A–rated appliances this can cut the carbon emissions from the appliances you install in the property.
Fix leaking taps: A dripping hot water tap wastes energy and in one week wastes enough hot water to fill half a bath, so ensure all taps are in good working order.
Timed heating: Have the heating on a timer so that it is only one whilst tenants are in the property, and not wasted when there is no one home.
Give tenants green guidelines: This can be anything from ordering a green recycling box from the local authority to a fact sheet on how much tenants can they save on their utility bills with various energy, cost and time savings tips.

Lee Grandin, Managing Director of, said: “In the current climate, it is important that landlords take heed of the need to improve their environmentally friendly credentials. There are many advantages to going green as a landlord. Not only can you save money in the long run, but this also attracts a whole new calibre of tenant.
“In 2004 the Government announced a landlord’s energy saving allowance (LESA), which applies to England, Wales and Scotland. This scheme provides all private landlords who pay income tax and let residential property with upfront relief on capital expenditure for installations of draught proofing, loft, cavity wall, solid wall and hot water system insulation in rented accommodation. LESA allows landlords a deduction for income tax purposes up to a maximum of £1,500, so is definitely worth looking into”

full article

Sunday, 16 September 2007

How do we build a green extension?

'Dwelling envelope' is by far my favourite term of the week, used liberally in lieu of 'house' in the latest research papers on sustainable building. Upsizing your 'dwelling envelope' in a non-sustainable way would mean another significant contribution to the building sector's 33 per cent share of man-made global emissions. A low-carbon extension won't completely negate your impact (unless you are a very brilliant eco builder), but experts insist homes could achieve a 60-70 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions with 'plausible combinations of existing and/or emerging technologies'.
But decarbonising our living space is partly dependent on scaling back energy consumption. So while nobody will expect you to enjoy your new room sitting in the dark, hold back on the gadgets and halogen bulbs and remember that compact fluorescent lamps provide four to five times the lumens per watt of the incandescent variety.
Talk of fixtures and fittings is, however, a bit previous, because first you need to build the thing. You should have high aims. All new homes are supposed to conform to those set by the PassivHaus system by 2013, and be zero carbon by 2016 (

You can start now. While you should not expect to find fleets of eco builders waiting to chat through plans for a straw bale extension, the Sustainable Building Association ( may put you in touch with one or two. If your extension is of the DIY variety, the Centre for Alternative Technology runs a wide variety of courses (

A more mainstream route is to buy a timber-framed extension, as long as the company can prove the wood is from a renewable and sustainable source (English Heritage Buildings, at, specialises in renewable English green oak). A timber structure built instead of a masonry home saves about four tonnes of CO2.

But timber is far from the complete solution - and on a massive scale it would be unsustainable. Neither is it the only way of 'decarbonising' your home. The Building Services Research and Information Association suggests vacuum insulation panels (, daylighting systems and controls ( and photovoltaic and solar thermal systems (

Begin with an online trip to the Green Building Store ( and order your insulation pronto. The word on the street is that European manufacturers are struggling to keep up with demand.

Will it be worth it? Well, according to the Commission for Architecture and the Built environment ( 84 per cent of buyers would pay an extra two per cent on the purchase price for an eco-friendly home. You can expect some fiscal gain for pushing that green dwelling envelope.

full article

Friday, 14 September 2007

Green measures can put you in the black

The Conservatives made a clarion call to purify our environmental standards this week when they unveiled their report on how to turn Britain into a green economy.

Their proposals include a plan to reduce stamp duty for those who have made their homes more energy- efficient and the extension of rebates on council tax and low-cost loans to people taking steps to cap their properties’ carbon ratings.

This is the most thorough review of environmental policies ever conducted by a political party. It is radical but practical, pioneering but realistic, and shows how the next Conservative government can deliver the change we need,” said Zac Goldsmith, editor of The Ecologist magazine, who played a leading part in writing the report.

However, there is no need to wait for David Cameron to win an election before you put a wind turbine on your roof. There are savings to be made already if you aim to convert your flat or house into a environmentally-friendly zone.

The Energy Savings Trust – the organisation launched by the government to reduce carbon emissions in the UK – estimates that Britons could save hundreds of pounds a year by following a few procedures. The group offers advice and a list of savings and discounts available to those who bolster the standards of their properties on its website (

A simple tip is to eliminate draughts by putting seals on doors, letterboxes and keyholes; sealing gaps in floorboards prevents heat escaping as does double- glazing windows.

Energy-saving lightbulbs, which last 10 times longer than standard ones, can lead to savings of £60 on electricity each year. And thermostatic valves on radiators – which control the temperature in individual rooms – are also important tools for cutting costs.

Á jacket for your hot water tank costs less than £5 and could save about £20 a year, according to the Trust. Insulating walls as well as your loft could save about £200 a year.

If the boiler in your home is more than 15 years old, you should consider buying a new one. New gas boilers on the market are quite efficient and could save you up to a third of what you pay for heating. If appliances such as dishwashers, fridges, boilers, and washing machines carry an “Energy Savings Recommended” label, they offer more value.

Interested in putting up solar panels or a wind turbine? The government may subsidise your plans. The Low Carbon Buildings programme ( offers grants of up to £2,000 to fund solar panels and up to £2,500 for wind turbines. A wind turbine which provides between one and six kilowatts of energy and can be mounted on a roof costs a minimum of £1,500. Solar panels are more expensive and can cost more than £9,000 to install.

“People need to view wind turbines or solar panels as an act of commitment not as an investment with a strong return,” says Dave Timms, economics campaigner at Friends of the Earth.

For those on benefits, the “Snug as a Bug” home insulation scheme is a good deal as it offers grants of up to £1,500 to support insulation.

A number of utility providers such as Powergen and British Gas, also have programmes which might save you money. And local authorities extend one-off rebates of £50 to £100 on council tax for insulating home walls.

Finally, those looking to avoid using standard electricity might want to consider buying solar and wind energy which is available at rates slightly higher to those paid for standard electricity and gas. Ecotricity and nPower Juice are two of the more established green electricity groups.

Energy Performance Certificates, which are part of Home Information Packs, detail how energy-efficient the home you are buying is on a scale of A to G.

“In this country, there is a plethora of different schemes to promote energy efficiency which exist. It’s just that people need to know where to go to get them,” says Dave Timms, economics campaigner at Friends of the Earth, the charity.

full article

Thursday, 13 September 2007

'Too few' incentives to go green

Ministers are making lots of speeches urging people to adopt greener lifestyles but are "doing little" to help them do so, says a report by MPs.

An MPs' committee said "much more" needs to be done on green taxes, making homes energy efficient and to help people generate their own power.

Where information and help is available it is often too complicated, they said.

The government said helping people do their bit was a priority and efforts were underway to improve co-ordination.

The report by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee says making households most efficient is the single most cost-effective way of cutting carbon emissions.

Standby waste

It points out research suggesting household equipment like stereos, TVs and DVD players on standby produces 3.1m tonnes of carbon dioxide a year and calls on the government to work towards an "end of standby" with manufacturers.

The "zero carbon" standard for new homes should be brought in well before the current target of 2016, the report said.

It added that home owners were often put off on installing solar water heating, wind turbines and photovoltaic systems by the cost, planning restrictions and confusion over what grants were available.
It also says people who do generate their own energy can find it difficult to sell it back to the National Grid - only Npower buys energy back for the same price at which it sells it - elsewhere there is a "large disparity" in prices, the report said.

The government should adopt a "feed-in tariff" system similar to that used in Germany and Denmark, which pays a premium fixed rate per kwh (kilowatt hours), the report says.

Green taxes

MPs say the credibility of "green taxes" needs boosting and should be used to invest in other carbon reducing measures.

"Revenue-raising taxes should not simply be put in a "green wrapper" to make them more palatable for the public," the report said.

Other suggestions include - a stamp duty rebate for home-buyers who improve energy efficiency within a year, tougher carbon reduction targets for energy suppliers, more detailed energy billing within 12 months and more demanding building regulations.
It wants the government to help councils develop their own carbon reduction programmes.

"At present, community and local government initiatives are often taking place in spite of, rather than because of, government activity," said the report.

The report concludes the government "is doing little to help the many individuals and community groups keen to make an effort".

The committee's Conservative chairman Michael Jack said the government had to empower people to play their part in reducing emissions and wasted energy.

He said: "Ministers need to make less speeches on climate change and do more to enable individuals, local authorities, house builders and power suppliers to maximise their contribution to emissions reduction as quickly as possible."

Defra minister Joan Ruddock said helping people to do their bit in tackling climate change was a priority - highlighting the government's "Act on CO2" campaign.

She added: "The positive response we've had to our CO2 calculator and other activities shows that people are ready and willing do their bit. We're committed to harnessing that interest and doing more to help people make a difference.

She added: "However we can always do more and efforts are already underway to improve co-ordination across government. We will of course look very carefully at all the suggestions made by the committee. "
full article

Housing future in Upton

Over seven acres of land in Upton, Northampton, has become the home of a housing development that embodies 21st century living. Barratt Northampton’s NU@D2 includes an innovative mix of eco technologies, cutting edge design and revolutionary layouts. It also reflects an emerging residential planning philosophy, New Urbanism (NU), which has proved popular in America.

The ethos is based upon sustainability, with everyday amenities on hand for residents and efficient housing being key criteria.

Homes are currently on sale and offer layouts with roof terraces and winter gardens, and eco features1 such as green roofs and solar panels.

The development will include 165 homes in one and two bedroom apartments, and two, three, four and five bedroom styles, in two, three and four-storeys.

The Barratt plan for Upton includes courtyards, tree planting, mews courts and attractive block paving, all creating a feel good factor. In addition, walkways and cycle stores offer residents a healthy and environmentally friendly access to amenities, without having to rely on a car.

Homes also offer a range of eco devices. These help to make NU@D2 a sustainable development, and one that echoes New Urbanism. Barratt state that 85 per cent of materials used are from a sustainable source.

Eco features available include sedum roofs which help to absorb rainfall and alleviate storm water run off. There are two forms of roof panels – solar, which provide hot water, and photovoltaic, which supply electrical power.

There is also an advanced heating system to 30 plots which in addition to providing hot water and warmth, generates electricity to power points. Any excess electricity goes back to the National Grid.

Barratt aim to help with the environment; reduce the homeowners’ annual running costs2, and lower carbon emissions. Because of the eco features, NU@D2 has achieved an impressive ‘Eco Excellent’ rating with the EcoHomes Standard – Excellent being the highest mark.

The exterior design of many housetypes is revolutionary. Terracotta and rendered panels have been used with full height glazing, which offer a contemporary feel, and an abundance of natural light.

Internally, many layouts are also innovative. Three-storey living is available, but now Barratt are introducing four-storeys, and a new way of living.

Four levels offer even greater flexibility, with a bedroom on the ground level and living areas on the first floor, reflecting a reversal in layouts and living. These homes also offer useful and luxurious outside space – a roof terrace, which leads from the master bedroom.

Other homes include unique design features, in particular, open plan kitchen, dining and family areas. These ‘zones’ provide individual living in a vast space, which is both light and welcoming.
full article

Scientists charged with developing giant 'green energy' battery

Eon UK is developing a giant battery designed to store electricity generated by wind farms and solar panels.

Scientists at the energy group's technology centre in Nottingham aim to build a large-scale prototype that would be able to store one megawatt of electricity for four hours - the equivalent to 10m AA batteries and the same size as four articulated lorry containers.

"Green power is only generated from wind farms when the wind blows and that might not be when the power's needed by customers," said Bob Taylor, managing director of energy wholesale and technology. "By researching and developing this battery we can store the power generated by wind farms any time and then use it when our customers need it the most.
full article

Green policies: how the three parties compare

Emissions: The Conservatives say that they want to achieve a reduction in CO2 of at least 60% by 2050, but unlike the government they say they would have annual targets for the cuts, set and monitored by an independent climate change commission.

Liberal Democrats

Emissions: The party's current long-term target is a 60% reduction from 1990 levels by 2050 - the same as Labour's - and the Lib Dems also share the government's target of a 20% cut in CO2 emissions by 2010.

But a proposed policy to make Britain carbon-neutral by 2050 will be discussed at the Lib Dem conference next week.

The Lib Dems back a policy of "contraction and convergence" which would set up a global framework to cap CO2 emissions at a per-person level which is the same for all countries.


Emissions: The draft climate change bill, published in March, set down a target to reduce CO2 emissions by 60% on 1990 levels by 2050, and an interim target of a 26%-32% reduction by 2020. There is no annual emissions target. Instead, the government has committed to setting five-year "carbon budgets" and reporting to parliament on its progress every year. Initially budgets will be set for 2008-12, 2013-17 and 2018-22, but in future they will be set 15 years in advance.

full article

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Developing the UK’s zero-carbon homes

The reaction from property developers to the low carbon homes promise has varied. Barratt Homes has come up with small experimental “eco-villages”. Other developers, such as Bovis, have taken things a step further by implementing low-carbon technology in all their new housing developments.
The zero option

Zero-carbon houses are hard to come by, but there are a few developers taking the initiative. Independent sustainability consultants BioRegional Development aim to make zero-carbon housing and sustainable living an easy and viable option for future homebuyers.

BioRegional, together with London charitable housing trust Peabody and eco-architect company Bill Dunster Architects (also known as ZEDfactory), initiated the UK’s largest eco-village in 2002.

The Beddington Zero Energy Development – or BedZED – is a mixed-use development in south London, comprising 82 residential properties and 100 workspaces and community facilities. All are intended to be carbon neutral.

BedZED homes feature high levels of insulation, passive heating and ventilation systems, photovoltaic panels (which generate electricity from the sun) and design utilising as much natural lighting as possible.

An on-site combined heat and power plant – which uses wood waste from street tree pruning as its energy source – was built to supply the remaining heat and power needed in the homes. BedZED houses are, however, connected to the national grid in order to manage fluctuations in energy generation.

Extra cost

BioRegional claims that the cost of building an eco-home, such as those in BedZED, is around 2% more than properties developed in accordance with 2002 building regulations. But the company’s research shows, it says, that the higher price does not deter homebuyers, primarily because their new eco-home will save them up to £500 a year in fuel bills.

As a prototype for zero carbon homes in the UK, BedZED is not without its problems. A major downfall has been the on-site combined heat and power plant, which stopped functioning over a year ago, meaning that the houses in BedZED no longer qualify as zero-carbon.

BioRegional claims, however, that even without the power plant in operation there is still a 57% reduction in BedZED’s carbon emissions.

A report by BioRegional admits that generating all energy on-site is not always a feasible option. This may be due to the limited space of a development (such as high-rise flats), or because the local renewable energy supply is not accessible from all parts of the site. Using off-site energy generation in these cases, the company claims, would make resources more easily accessible and thus more effective.


If – or perhaps, when – new houses become zero carbon, that still leaves a vast number of existing properties that will continue to leave a large carbon footprint.

Current housing stock is predicted to make up to two-thirds of the homes that will be occupied in 2050, according to researchers at Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute. If the UK is to significantly reduce carbon emissions from housing in the next few decades then it seems the focus will have to be on retrofitting existing homes with better insulation and renewable power sources.

Tough target

With very few fully functioning zero-carbon houses in the UK at the moment, the government’s objective for zero carbon homes to be mainstream by 2016 seems a long way off.

BioRegional agrees that 2016 is a “stretching target” but says it is nonetheless possible. “When more renewable energy systems are installed … the costs should come down,” the company says, making eco-newbuilds a more viable option.

But as newly built homes comprise just 1% of UK housing stock each year, the government will need to tackle the carbon impact of existing homes.

Retrofitting presents huge opportunities. British Gas, for example, have already teamed up with local government to offer council tax incentives to homeowners in exchange for buying insulation.

To make any home zero-carbon – and not just low-carbon – however, accessibility to significant renewable energy sources will also be required. Not only will the government have to improve the economic incentives for householders to install domestic renewables. Utility companies, it seems, will also need to become more engaged if any zero-carbon scheme is to ultimately be viable.

Facts: Zero carbon housing in the UK: what’s being done

BioRegional Development Group: A registered charity and sustainability consultancy, BioRegional works on various projects that are aimed to make sustainable living in the UK a reality. BioRegional has formed a strategic partnership with WWF under the name One Planet Living. BioRegional co-founded BedZED, the UK’s largest zero-carbon development to date.

BioRegional Quintain: A company currently working on the development of large-scale mixed-use zero-carbon communities in Middlesbrough, Brighton and London’s Thames Gateway.

Barratt Homes: A major UK builder, the company has developed the EcoSmart Show Village, an experimental low-carbon housing development comprising seven residential properties. Horthram Village, a low-carbon housing development located just outside Bristol, will be the live result of EcoSmar
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Eco-motoring 'to help save planet

Is it possible to save the planet by sticking to the speed limit? The government's transport advisors think so.
The Commission for Integrated Transport argues that emissions from cars and lorries still outweigh by some way those from air travel, though aviation is growing as a source of carbon dioxide.

One remedy, the authors conclude in a report published on Wednesday, is for us drivers to have state-sponsored lessons in eco-motoring, an idea that would cost the government little but benefit the planet a lot.

The theory is that the way you drive can be as important as what you drive, and how much you drive it.
Research suggests turning on the air conditioning uses 10% more fuel, therefore producing CO2.

Unfortunately keeping cool by lowering your car windows also increases fuel consumption, as does keeping the roof rack on after that family holiday.

Most of all, driving smoothly is the key to an environmentally-friendly motoring life.

Gentle on the accelerator, thinking ahead, judging the distance to the lights, and stopping without a jolt.

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Hydrogen-Based Power Offers Green Alternative for Homes

In a development that marks another step towards the vision of a sustainable, clean future for home power generation, UK company ITM Power has announced the upcoming release of a device which can generate hydrogen in the home to fuel central heating boilers and cookers while drastically cutting CO2 emissions. Set to go into production next year, the ITM electrolyser is designed to utilize off-peak or renewable electricity sources to create its own hydrogen fuel which can then be stored and used as a conventional gas to burn in central heating boilers as well as a fuel for cooking.
Unlike gas and oil, when hydrogen burns it releases no CO2 emissions, merely water vapour, offering the opportunity to significantly cut Britain’s domestic carbon footprint. Stored hydrogen can also be reconverted to electricity using domestic fuel cells or generators to power lighting or other electrical appliances, removing the inconvenience of power cuts for homes and serious supply interruptions for hospitals, schools and businesses.
The system is aims to use a totally ‘green’ supply of electricity (available from wind, wave, solar or hydro-electric power) or alternatively, low cost off-peak electricity

This device depends upon an electrolyser stack of 10kW electrical input operating at pressures of 75 bar.

The company sees this as a major breakthrough in sustainable, non-polluting hydrogen technology and a major advance towards the UK Government’s goal of achieving a zero carbon new housing market by 2016. Currently domestic consumers account for over 20 per cent of the UK’s CO2 emissions.

Like the “Home Energy Station III” developed by Honda R&D and technology partner Plug Power, the ITM electrolyser system can be used to power a family car in addition to its use in the home. Later this year ITM Power plans to unveil a hydrogen home refuelling station for the automotive market and a converted bi-fuel petrol/hydrogen car based on the Ford Focus. The company aims to demonstrate that the car can be refuelled using hydrogen generated by a home electrolyser and can complete an average daily commuting journey without the need to utilize petrol.

“ITM Power is developing products which will not only revolutionize energy sources for the home but make a significant contribution to cutting CO2 emissions,” explained the company’s CEO Jim Heathcote.

“With stored hydrogen’s ability to provide not only fuel for heating and cooking but power, either through a conventional generator or a fuel cell, the prospect of energy self-sufficiency without the dependence on fossil fuels has moved dramatically closer,” he added.

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Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Concrete House

Australian Architects Peter Poulet and Michael Harvey contemplate concrete’s green side with The Concrete House, a free-flowing assembly of gravity-secured precast columns and slabs that the designers call a “commitment to living sustainably”. With renewable energy systems, a green roof, rainwater harvesting and waste minimization, the design tries to prove that concrete is an environmentally appropriate choice.
The challenge is part of an ongoing debate. Worldwide, concrete is the most widely-used construction material with over ten billion tons produced annually. In the US, the dubious manufacturing process churns out over two tons of concrete per person per year with a heavy CO2 burden – in total about 7% of global CO2 emissions come from concrete production.
At the same time, the material possesses a unique structural efficiency and inherently green qualities like a capacity to reduce recurring embodied energy, high solar thermal performance, low maintenance requirements and high durability. Variations of concrete with high solar reflectance are considered for heat island mitigation, and with no-offgassing, concrete is an interior finish that meets IAQ standards. Substituting Portland cement with fly ash, using recycled aggregate and a locally fabricated supply can reduce concrete’s environmental impact.
In The Concrete House, curvilinear thermal mass on the southern exposure transfers constant temperatures to open spaces on the north where folding doors allow natural ventilation and daylight. A green roof helps increase the structure’s thermal performance and is central to on-site graywater recycling and rainwater harvesting. The water can be stored in the precast concrete columns.
Intended for solar thermal hot water and solar photovoltaic power, the pavilion-like design creates an immediate connection with the environment that carries through to energy and resource consumption. Based on an inexpensive, widely available and easily applied material, The Concrete House can be assembled in less than a day.
Poulet and Harvey’s design puts concrete in its best light with a concept that highlights the energy laden material’s role in green building. In a minimalist application such as The Concrete House it seems that concrete’s greenness is not cemented in black or white but filled with innovative shades of gray.
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FactCheck: zero-carbon homes

How realistic are government promises for zero-carbon homes by 2016? The FactCheck Green series continues.

The claim
All new homes will be zero-carbon by 2016
Department of Communities and Local Government

The background
It's generally accepted - and not just by the front pages of the Daily Mail - that decent housing is in short supply.

The number of households in the country is, according to government projections, set to increase by more than 223,000 each year until 2026 - partly because people are living longer, and in smaller units.

Just over a quarter of the country's carbon emissions - scourge of climate-change campaigners everywhere and something the UK is committed to reducing in accordance with the Kyoto protocol - come from our households.

At the moment around 160,000 new homes are being built a year - a number the government plans to increase to 240,000 a year by 2016.

Government policy now states that all new homes will be zero-carbon by 2016. But can so many new houses really be as cosy as they sound for the environment?

The analysis
Before we can work out how helpful the policy is, it's important to see exactly what it means. Zero-carbon is not to be confused with "carbon neutral", which is to do with offsetting the impact of emissions by other - arguably less useful - actions, such as planting trees, rather than blitzing the source of the carbon.

Instead, over a year, the house needs to have zero "net emissions" of carbon dioxide from all energy use - including hot water, cooking, and the powering of TVs, computers and other appliances - in the home. How does it work?

Energy-efficient design means the house produces as few CO2 emissions as possible. Top-notch insulation could keep it heated by the warmth from other appliances, and rain water could be collected.

As it's not possible to produce absolutely no carbon, the house would "give something back", perhaps excess energy produced through microgeneration such as solar panels may be stored up over the year, and then sold back to the National Grid. It's not strictly true, however, to say that every single house would be zero-carbon; generally, a development or community would be carbon-zero overall, perhaps sharing renewable energy sources such as wind turbines.

Currently, there are a handful of carbon-zero houses. So how do we get from this situation to making them the norm, in just a decade?

The government has set interim targets, tightening the energy-efficiency building regulations in 2010 and 2013. A host of key players, including the Home Builders' Federation and a number of builders and developers, have signed up to a pledge of support for the 2016 target.

Some campaigners, such as Friends of the Earth, say that houses should be made carbon-zero sooner or by 2010 at latest.

As well as greenifying the homes, the people who live in them also need to be targeted. To put it crudely, there's little point in building a beautiful, energy efficient house if the owners are then going to fill the garden with outdoor heaters and gas-guzzling 4x4s.

"It's known as the rebound effect - if something is seen to be more efficient, people just tend to use more of it," says Yvonne Rydin, Professor of Planning and the Environment at UCL.

"Consumer acceptability and compliance is an important issue: there's no point providing homes that people don't want to live in."

It is important, she says, to give financial incentives to keep people living low carbon lives. The removal of stamp duty - the tax paid by buyers - on zero-carbon homes is a good start, but needs to be stepped up.

This brings us onto the question of how much impact these new homes have on household carbon emissions.

On the one hand, each year new homes account for only one per cent of the housing stock. A drop in the cul-de-sac on an annual basis, but by 2050, the government points out, the new carbon-zero additions will make up one third of the housing stock in existence.

On the flipside, of course, that means two thirds of the predicted housing stock in 2050 are already up and emitting. What about those two-thirds? Shouldn't we be more concerned about this greater number?

It's easier, and cheaper, to focus on new homes rather than trying to update existing homes; house builders and developers can be targeted, rather than trying to persuade a far greater number of individual homeowners to take action. It's also a good way of trail-blazing, and inspiring people to change.

As Sue Innes, Director of Sustainability at industry improvement body Constructing Excellence in the Built Environment, says: "It's really important that the target doesn't slip. Now it's been set, it's something that we should aim for. Relaxing it would send out the wrong signals to the industry and to everybody."

This isn't to say that the new plans are so good that the environmental effect of existing homes can just be written off - in fact, the Communities and Local Government select committee has just launched an enquiry into the role of existing housing stock in climate change.

It's also important to remember that, under the current plans, even the best-behaved houses are only counted from the time they are born as the carbon-zero promise doesn't include the impact of the construction of the house. This, says Innes, should be the next step.

The verdict
With household emissions making up such a large part of the UK emissions, the Government is taking a relatively bold move to cut one if the sectors responsible for many of our carbon emissions.

At first glance, it can be easy to say that new housebuilding - any kind of building - must be bad. However, short of turfing everyone out of their homes to live in teepees, houses are something that the UK needs, and so setting strict guidelines for new homes seems a step in the right direction.

There's still an element of wait-and-see about the whole thing, however: if the government's target is to be met, it calls for a wide stepchange in behaviour in the people living in homes as well as their makers.

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Monday, 10 September 2007

Eyesores and noise wrecking our rural communities

From the roar of aircraft to the drone of giant wind turbines, it is getting harder to find peace and quiet in the countryside.

Now a map reveals just how much our rural communities are being spoilt.

It shows that more than half of England is now disturbed by the sight and sound of nearby roads, towns, electricity pylons, aircraft and trains.

Northumberland remains the most unspoilt county in England, with just 17 per cent of its land ruined by buildings, transport and noise.
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Solar plane flies into the night

A lightweight solar-powered plane has smashed the official world record for the longest-duration unmanned flight.
UK defence firm Qinetiq, which built the Zephyr unmanned aerial vehicle, said it flew for 54 hours during tests.

The researchers believe it is the first time a solar-powered craft has flown under its own power through two nights.

The previous unmanned endurance record was set in 2001 by a jet-powered US Air Force Global Hawk surveillance aircraft which flew for more than 30 hours.

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