Wednesday, 31 December 2008

The cement that eats carbon dioxide

Cement, a vast source of planet-warming carbon dioxide, could be transformed into a means of stripping the greenhouse gas from the atmosphere, thanks to an innovation from British engineers.

The new environmentally formulation means the cement industry could change from being a "significant emitter to a significant absorber of CO2," says Nikolaos Vlasopoulos, chief scientist at London-based Novacem, whose invention has garnered support and funding from industry and environmentalists.

The new cement, which uses a different raw material, certainly has a vast potential market. Making the 2bn tonnes of cement used globally every year pumps out 5% of the world's CO2 emissions
- more than the entire aviation industry. And the long-term trends are upwards: a recent report by the French bank Credit Agricole estimated that, by 2020, demand for cement will increase by 50% compared to today.

Making traditional cement results in greenhouse gas emissions from two sources: it requires intense heat, and so a lot of energy to heat up the ovens that cook the raw material, such as limestone. That then releases further CO2 as it burns. But, until now, noone has found a large-scale way to tackle this fundamental problem.

Novacem's cement, based on magnesium silicates, not only requires much less heating, it also absorbs large amounts of CO2 as it hardens, making it carbon negative. Set up by Vlasopoulos and his colleagues at Imperial College London, Novacem has already attracted the attention of major construction companies such as Rio Tinto Minerals, WSP Group and Laing O'Rourke, and investors including the Carbon Trust.

The company has just started a £1.5m project funded by the government-backed Technology Strategy Board to build a pilot plant. If all goes well, Vlasopoulos expects to have Novacem products on the market within five years.

Jonathan Essex, a civil engineer at the building consultancy Bioregional who also sits on the environment and sustainability panel for the Institution of Civil Engineers, welcomed Novacem's ideas to tackle the carbon impact of cement. "In the UK the climate bill commits us to reduce CO2 emissions, and every sector should play its part. The construction industry
needs to take greater responsibility for its own environmental impact." Essex said that, if Novacem can make their cement at a competitive price, the next step could be to take even more CO2 emissions out of the process by using renewable energy to fire the furnaces.

According to Novacem, its product can absorb, over its lifecycle, around 0.6 tonnes of CO2 per tonne of cement. This compares to carbon emissions of about 0.4 tonnes per of standard cement. "From that point of view, it's attractive," said Rachael Nutter, head of business incubators at the Carbon Trust. "The real challenge is what is the supply chain, who do you need to partner with to take it to market? The million-dollar question is what are the applications of it? If it ends up as decorative applications such as floor tiles, it's quite interesting but not as much as if you get into load-bearing structural stuff."

Previous attempts to make cement greener have included adding more aggregate to a concrete mixture, thereby using less cement. But this still does not tackle the problem of the carbon emissions from making the cement in the first place. Other systems use polymers in the mix, but none have yet made a significant impact on the market.

full article

Monday, 29 December 2008

When does an appliance reach its eco break-even point?

In the manner of a game show, I'm calling this week's ethical dilemma 'scrap or save'. Given that the new year sales are likely to feature tons of cheap-as-chips white goods, scrap seems the obvious conclusion. Except that the smart eco (and fiscal) thing to do is to wait until your current appliance has reached its break-even point - the juncture at which it becomes less efficient to keep it running than to replace it with a new one, factoring in all the resources needed to make and transport it. Unless you're an expert on lifecycle cost analysis, you'll need to make an estimate here. In the 'current climate' where energy prices are high, energy efficiency is the consumer's best bet. Therefore the payback period for installing a more efficient appliance is shorter than usual. Add in the fact that your old machine will be recycled (now EU law) rather than dumped in landfill, and give or take the vagaries of the global recyclates market, white goods are stuffed with metals such as copper cooling lines that can be recovered and reused, this also brings forward the break-even point.

Fifteen years is the usual break point for boilers and fridges. This may sound arbitrary, but remember energy labels for household appliances didn't even exist before 1992/93. They've encouraged manufacturers to prioritise energy efficiency (and lately, resource use), making it the new competitive advantage.

In short, if your washing machine looks like it belongs on Antiques Roadshow, you are missing out on €10bn-worth of innovation (the amount manufacturers are estimated to have ploughed into energy-efficiency research and development over the past 10 years). This translates into cash savings in the home: the Energy Saving Trust (energysavingtrust.org.uk) estimates that replacing an energy-inefficient fridge-freezer with a energy-saving version will save you around £34 a year. However, energy labels need a makeover - too many appliances are A grade. Certainly the best appliances are now so way over the standards required for A that they need to be followed by a line of plusses. Two new schemes are now vying to become the energy label of choice: a calibrated A-G that offers a less generous idea of what constitutes an A grade, or - preferred by the European Manufacturers of Household Appliances group - a numerical system that specifies the eco nuances of water saving and steam drying. When you opt for a new model, avoid deferring all eco responsibility. Researchers have found consumers get complacent once they buy a top-flight appliance - for example, the consumer who washes single socks at 90C in their eco-efficient washing machine. Buy the most eco-efficient appliance you can afford and use it well. Then you'll have the save of the century.

lucy.siegle@observer.co.uk

full article

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Doctor used 'human fat to power car'

A Beverly Hills plastic surgeon who claims to have turned fat, extricated in liposuction, into biofuel for his car has skipped town after US officials raided his surgery in an investigation into his procedures.

Dr Craig Alan Bittner, who runs the Liposculpture clinic on Rodeo Drive, said that he had created “lipodiesel” with his patients’ excess subcutaneous fat.

The cosmetic surgeon told Forbes.com that he used the blubber to power two cars including his four-wheel-drive Ford.

Dr Bittner is under investigation by the California Department of Public Health because it is illegal in the state to use human medical waste to power vehicles.

In addition, WIRED magazine cast doubt on Dr Bittner’s claim that he used the lipodiesel to power his girlfriend’s Lincoln Navigator – which it said does not have a diesel model.

It said the whole scheme could be a hoax inspired by the film Fight Club, in which Brad Pitt’s character Tyler Durden uses waste from liposuction to make soap.

Dr Bittner left a message on his clinic’s website on November 20 to tell clients he was moving to South America to volunteer at a small clinic “where I can help those most in need.”

full article

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

'The time of cheap gas is coming to an end'

Russian premier Vladimir Putin sent shivers down the spines of Western consumers today with a chilling warning that gas bills are set to soar.

To ram home the point, he oversaw the setting up of a new international Opec-style 'cartel' of gas producers - unofficially led by Moscow - which critics fear will seek to fix output and prices paid by users.

'Costs of exploration, gas production and transportation are going up - it means the industry's development costs will skyrocket,' said Putin.

'The time of cheap energy resources, cheap gas is surely coming to an end.'

It was the second day in succession that the Kremlin hardman entered the fray in what Western diplomats increasingly see as a policy of 'gas imperialism', holding consumers to ransom because there are often no other available sources of cheaper energy.

On Monday, his government warned that gas supplies to Britain and the rest of Europe could be disrupted during the New Year as part of a battle by Moscow to force its neighbour Ukraine to pay off debts and accept a huge hike in prices for the future.

full article

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

ScottishPower to Cut Energy Bills for Ages 60 and Over on Welfare Benefits

ENERGY provider ScottishPower has announced a new social tariff for its most vulnerable customers.

The firm said it will offer annual savings of up to GBP211, available from January and the social tariff will be open to customers who are aged 60 or above and in receipt of a social welfare benefit.

The saving was announced with a range of measures, including spending GBP10m on the tariff programme over the next 14 weeks - which will help an estimated 230,000 customers this winter.

ScottishPower said the tariff was part of a GBP240m investment over the next three years in social measures and energy efficiency programmes that will deliver "a comprehensive range of fuel poverty and energy efficiency initiatives that will help lift customers out of fuel poverty and reduce bills".

Willie MacDiarmid, ScottishPower's retail director, said: "The social tariff is an important part of our combined approach to help our most vulnerable customers.

"We believe discounted prices, together with access to energy efficiency measures and benefits health checks, will provide customers with a sustainable approach to address each element known to contribute to fuel poverty - the cost of fuel, the energy efficiency of the property and the household income.

full article

Friday, 12 December 2008

We must turn up the green heat of technology

The idea of being able to solve both our economic problems and climate change by building a low-carbon economy is enormously attractive. But it looks as though some countries had their Green New Deal years ago.

Take wind power, a huge growth area. We don't make a single wind turbine in Britain. We import from Spain, Germany and Denmark, which got the wind in their sails long ago and now have 90 per cent of all the industry jobs. Or nuclear. We have only one postgraduate nuclear engineering course - at Manchester University. Our nuclear engineers are as few and ageing as our nuclear plants. The consensus seems to be that any new plants will be built mostly with French and American components, and French labour.

Even solar energy is dominated by Germany, where nearly half a million houses have solar roofs because its Government pays above-market rates for individuals selling power back to the grid. You can argue about the specifics of the subsidies. But they have given Germany a market lead. Britain has ambitions to becoming the leading exporter of carbon capture and storage technology. But the kind of demonstration plant it wants to build is already being constructed in China.

Wave and tidal power are a better bet: Britain has some of the world's leading marine engineering companies. Bain & Co, the consulting firm, thinks that the UK could create 2,100 tidal jobs by 2020. That is a trickle, though the export potential must be higher. Offshore wind might generate 57,000 UK jobs, according to Bain - but the Danes are ahead of us there too.

Behind the audacity of hope lies the prosaic reality that green jobs in Britain may be few, at least in the short term, and most will require the kind of brawn that is needed to insulate people's homes, not the kind of brain that generates high-value exports. We still have clever designers and scientists, but someone else is making the kit. John Rose, the chief executive of Rolls-Royce, said recently that we have acted “as if innovation and creativity were not words appropriately associated with manufacturing”. Britain thinks of itself as “post-industrial” - but the energy revolution will involve enormous amounts of manufacturing, which we should be part of.

Britain is behind the green curve for two reasons: lack of funding and lack of clarity for investors. In a paper published this week by the think-tank Policy Exchange (of which I am a trustee) Dieter Helm, Professor of Energy at Oxford, argues that Britain's energy policy is no longer fit for purpose. Britain's liberalised energy markets were created in the 1980s when we produced more oil and gas than we needed. The main objective was to bring prices down. Today we need energy supplies to be secure and low-carbon - not something that the liberalised market will naturally create. Ed Miliband, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, said this week that the Government must be more interventionist. He is right. But the Government needs to stop dithering on regulation and set a clear price for carbon - the price of pollution - beyond 2020. That will give businesses the certainty they need to invest in green technology.

full article

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Ten ways to cut your energy bills

Energy companies say they may pass on the price reductions, but not until spring at the earliest – and even then, cuts may only be in the order of 10pc. This will hardly make a dent in the punishing 47pc price increases seen so far this year in gas bills and the 29pc rise in electricity costs, which have added £381 to the average household bill.

SHOP AROUND

This is the easiest way to cut bills, yet latest figures just released by energy watchdog Ofgem show that more than a third of households have never switched suppliers for any type of fuel.


CHECK YOUR BILLS

One-in-20 of us never checks their bills and so could be in for a nasty shock.

Estimated bills – where the meter has not been read – can hit householders in two ways. Either they pay too much, effectively giving their energy supplier an interest-free loan, or they have a shock when a massive bill arrives that they struggle to pay.

PAY THE RIGHT AMOUNT

Almost 6m British households who pay their energy bills by direct debit are in credit to their gas supplier by an average of £79. However, before everyone rushes to ask for a refund – there is a reason for this.

Energy price rises mean that householders need to build up an even bigger credit in the summer months to cover the extra costs of winter heating bills.

REDUCE YOUR CONSUMPTION

Some energy-saving measures, including turning off lights when you leave a room and not heating an empty home, are obvious. However, others may be harder to identify.

Go online and fill in a free Energy Savers Report at britishgas.co.uk and find out how to cut your energy bills by up to a third. For free energy advice, talk to your supplier or visit energysavingtrust.org.uk or call your local Energy Efficiency Advice Centre on 0800 512 012.

WASTE LESS

The biggest energy savings come from insulation, as nearly 50pc of all the heat lost in the average home is through the roof and walls. A further 20pc is lost through ventilation and draughts and a fifth through window panes and frames.

Installing 270mm (10 inches) of loft insulation can save up to 15pc on your heating costs and cavity wall insulation can save up to £160 a year on heating bills. Every energy supplier has been mandated to help customers improve energy efficiency and many give discounts to customers towards the cost of insulation.

In addition, there are also grants (under the Warm Front scheme in England, Warm Deal in Scotland and Warm Homes in Northern Ireland) for cavity wall and loft insulation. Visit energysavingtrust.org.uk, eaga.co.uk, www.scotland.gov.uk or warmfront.co.uk for details.

Pensioners over 70 and anyone on income or disability-related benefits can claim up to £2,700 of energy efficiency improvements (or £4,000 if oil central heating is recommended). The over-60s can receive £300 towards central heating installation if they do not have any or their current system is inoperable.

Even those who do not qualify for government help can save by using low-cost insulation. Fitting a jacket to a hot water tank can cut wastage by three-quarters – a cash saving of around £40 a year – and insulating hot water pipes can save a further £10 a year.

Other low-cost measures include installing draught excluders on doors, windows and letter boxes and it costs nothing to close curtains at dusk and shut windows when the heating is on.

TURN IT DOWN OR OFF

"Energy efficiency advice is beginning to filter through to consumers," said a spokesman for npower. "Gas consumption has fallen by around 12pc as a result. Electricity is the next biggest challenge."

Paying to keep electrical items on standby when they are not in use is unnecessary waste and accounts for 8pc of the average household's electricity bill. So much of modern technology – from the TV and DVD player to games consoles – is left permanently switched on, wasting an average of £37 a year.

BE BOILER AWARE

Heating and hot water account for around 60pc of the average fuel bill and unless your boiler is relatively new it is unlikely to be running as efficiently as it could.

Replacing an old gas-guzzling boiler that is 15 years old with a new highly-efficient condensing one along with some heating controls could save around £275 a year in a three-bedroom semi. A lower cost option is to install heating controls and room thermostats so that empty rooms are not heated and each room is temperature controlled.

BUY ENERGY EFFICIENT items

If you are replacing any electrical item from a lightbulb to a washing machine – or a games console or new TV for Christmas – check its energy efficiency. All products must carry a rating.

There are two logos to look out for: Energy Saving Recommended – this is on the most energy-efficient products. The EU energy label – this grades products from A (for the best) to G (for the worst) for energy use. For fridges and freezers there is a new A++ rating.

Also consider size. The bigger the appliance, the more electricity it is likely to need.

MONITOR IT

Buy a monitor to record energy usage – it is the easiest way to see how much each appliance costs to run. Turn off everything that is not essential and see instant savings.

KEEP THE HOME FIRE BURNING

Soaring energy bills have led to a resurgence in real fires – even in urban areas. Sales of wood-burning and multi-fuel stoves are up 40pc on last year, according to the Solid Fuel Association (www.solidfuel.co.uk).

Smokeless fuel will keep you in compliance with the rules in a smoke-control area and those worried about green issues should bear in mind that wood as a fuel is considered carbon neutral in that it is only releasing the CO2 captured by the growth of the tree. An efficient multi-fuel fire (half wood and half smokeless fuel) also produces less carbon dioxide than a gas condensing boiler.

Green fuels, such as the Green Dragon logs made as a bi-product of oil-seed rape, are proving increasingly popular. The briquettes burn three times as long as wood and give off twice the heat (greendragonfuel.co.uk).

Stoves are more efficient than open fires, which send most of the heat up the chimney. Before using a fireplace ensure the chimney is swept and is lined, if you are having an open fire. Wood-burning stoves, which can cost £1,000, must be fitted by a HETAS qualified fitter (hetas.co.uk).

full article

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

‘Green’ hotel aims to cut energy use by 80%

The 20-room Premier Inn Tamworth in Staffordshire aims to reduce energy use by 80% against a standard hotel through new approaches to heating, cooling, lighting and ventilation.

Features include:

*Ground-source heat pumps use the earth’s natural energy to cool and heat rooms and provide hot water.
*Toilets flushed with recycled water from showers and baths will save 20% of the hotel’s entire water usage and will provide 100% of the hotel’s toilet water usage
*Sustainable wool from British sheep used in the walls to create efficient thermal and acoustic insulation
*Low energy Light Emitting Diode (LED) lighting with motion sensors to ensure lights are only on when needed to give an energy saving of 80%.
*Solar panels will heat bath water

Staff will be trained to understand the technologies behind the design and to help with minimising everyday energy and water consumption, such as in washing, water usage, excessive heating or cooling.

Guests, who will pay from £53 a night, will be able to see the energy saved as part of a visual display in the hotel lobby, as well as learn about the technologies that have gone into the new building.

The property being seen as a flagship site for the company to trial the best green technologies available, to see which are viable for their hotels in future.
full article

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Fleeced by the power giants

Power companies are under increasing pressure to pass on the benefit of the plummeting price of oil.

Watchdogs are angry that domestic energy bills have continued to rise sharply since the summer even though wholesale prices have nearly halved.

Millions of families are desperate for gas, electricity and heating oil bills to fall as their household incomes are squeezed elsewhere.

Despite falling inflation, families still face rising food costs and hefty council tax increases next spring.

And pensioners, who already spend a major proportion of their cash on heating their homes, are seeing their savings income slashed by interest rate cuts.

Yesterday oil closed at below 45 dollars a barrel, more than 100 dollars below its July peak, and experts predict that it could drop as low as 25 dollars.

David Hunter, of energy consultants McKinnon & Clarke, said the 'big six' firms - British Gas, E.ON, Scottish Power, Scottish & Southern, EDF Energy, and npower - enjoy a 'stranglehold' on the power market, and claimed: 'The market isn't working.'

He insisted the firms should have room for 'double digit' cuts as soon as next month.

Mr Hunter said: 'It is clear there will be room for reductions in prices, and there will be huge political pressure for them to act.'

Gas and electricity prices are inextricably linked to the price of oil, and utilities say it takes time to pass on lower wholesale costs to customers because they buy power and gas several months in advance.

But the cost of wholesale gas and electricity has tracked the fall in oil prices.
full article

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Scheme to help homes save energy

Plans to equip 40,000 homes with energy saving equipment aimed at cutting bills and creating jobs, have been unveiled by the assembly government.

The £12m programme is also designed to tackle child and fuel poverty in the Heads of the Valleys area.

Leighton Andrews, deputy minister for regeneration, said it was anticipated the 15 year initiative would attract millions of pounds of investment.

It is hoped the measures will make the area Europe's first low carbon zone.

The programme aims to install sustainable energy measures into 40,000 socially owned homes, have 65,000 homes assessed for energy efficiency and 39,000 energy reduction measures implemented.

It is hoped this will result in the reduction of domestic energy bills of £1.7m and reduce emissions of at least 139,200 tonnes of CO2 a year.

Mr Andrews said the programme was designed to tackle fuel poverty and create a new industry base in the region linked to job creation, skills development and the development of local businesses in the sector.

Details of the first round of investment and the first low carbon town will be unveiled in the New Year, he said.

"Energy costs have a disproportionate impact on household income in deprived areas and less money spent on fuel bills means more money available to spend in the local economy," said Mr Andrews.

A pilot project in Ebbw Vale saw the United Welsh Housing Association getting help from the programme to fund the installation of a range of measures to tackle carbon emissions in 28 new homes.

Exhaust air recovery heating, under floor heating, rainwater recycling and thermal water heating systems have been among the measures introduced.

The pilot will test the effectiveness of these systems.

Further projects have been undertaken with Rhondda Cynon Taf Homes and Bron Afron Homes to introduce energy-saving technologies including solar power during the refurbishment of existing homes.

Leighton Andrews said these projects formed part of the wider economic and social regeneration of the Heads of the Valleys region.

"They are taking forward several strands of our environmental theme with the ultimate aim of adding value to the fuel poverty and economic regeneration agendas," he said.

"These projects are leading the way in delivering a step change in the economy of the region."
full article

Monday, 1 December 2008

Climate change targets will push up energy prices

Household electricity bills will rise by a quarter over the next decade to pay for sharp reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, the Government's climate change advisor has warned.

Lord Turner recommended the UK reduce output of carbon dioxide and other gases linked to global warming by more than a third in the next 12 years.

He admitted the cuts will be tough, shrinking the economy by one per cent by 2020 and demanding big changes in consumer behaviour.

The biggest impact will be on energy prices which are expected to rise by 25 per cent for the average family, pushing 1.7 million people into fuel poverty.

Britons will also notice a change in everyday life. It is estimated 40 per cent of cars will be plug-in hybrids or electric, smart meters that ensure more efficient use of electricity will be installed in every home and the cost of "carbon heavy" goods and services that use a lot of energy are likely to go up.

The key points

  • Power

+ Renewables will have to generate at least a third of electricity, with the majority of growth in the short term expected in onshore and offshore wind.

+ Nuclear will form part of the mix, with the possibility of new stations being built in the future.

+ Coal will continue to be used but will only be viable in the long term if technology is developed to store the emissions underground.

  • Transport

+ Cost of flights expected to go up as airlines face penalities for producing emissions.

+ Increased use of public transport through Government policy to cut carbon.

+ At least 40 per cent of cars will be hybrid plug-ins or completely electric as taxes increase on polluting cars and new technologies come online.

  • Agriculture

+ Increased use of feed additives that increase productivity of cattle but decrease methane produced.

+ Reduced use of fertiliser by using organic alternatives or different plants.

+ More energy efficient machinery for example hybrid tractors.

  • Consumer

+ People will be expected to eat less “carbon intensive” meats like beef and lamb.

+ Carbon heavy products such as vegetables transported from abroad will increase in price with energy prices.

+ People will be expected to turn off lights and cut down on air conditioning or heating as electricity becomes more expensive.

full article

Saturday, 29 November 2008

More than 195,000 wind turbines to appear outside homes by 2020

A "feed-in tariff" will be introduced to ensure any household generating power through renewable power sources like wind, solar or biomass will be paid for the energy they produce, as part of measures to tackle climate change.

The Energy Saving Trust, the independent body in charge of improving energy efficiency in the UK, predicted that the introduction of the tariffs could persuade 8.6 million people - around a quarter of households - to invest in combined heat and power, wind turbines or other low carbon technologies.

Most of the "micro-generation" will be done through installing combined heat and power (CHP) boilers that heat the home by generating electricity from fuel or gas.

However, wind turbines and solar panels are also expected to become part of the landscape in the rush to "micro-renewables".

The EST study predicts 195,100 wind turbines will be installed over the next 12 years. Some 112,000 will be small enough to be attached to the roof, while 83,000 will be bigger free-standing models.

A further 921,000 households will install solar panels to heat water and generate electricity. And 805,000 will invest in air source heat pumps, usually installed outside the home.

Environment campaigners said the expected boom in microrenewables will help the UK to meet ambitious targets to cut greenhouse emissions by 80 per cent by 2050.

However, heritage groups said the rush to build micro-renewables like wind turbines must be done sensitively to protect historic buildings and the countryside.

At the moment just 100,000 homes in the UK have installed microgeneration, which is thought to be partly because there is no guarantee of payment for electricity produced.

In Germany, where feed-in tariffs have already been introduced, more than one million households generate their own electricity.

Earlier this month, Ed Miliband, the new energy and climate change minister, added feed-in tariffs to the Energy Bill currently going through Parliament.

The EST predict that if the tariffs are introduced by the end of next year and offered high enough rates per unit of electricity fed produced, 8.6m people would install micro-generators.

If other measures were introduced, such as advice for home owners, improved technologies and a requirement for new zero carbon homes to produce their energy on-site, the number of British homes producing their own clean energy could multiply to ten million – about one in every three households – within 12 years.

This would save 10m tonnes of carbon emissions and help the UK towards its 2050 target.

Dave Timms, of environment campaign group Friends of the Earth, said micro-generation must be a key part of the UK's drive to cut carbon emissions.

He said the tariffs must be introduced as soon as possible and the price per unit of energy produced set high enough to make investment in the technology worthwhile.

Also, larger microgenerators should be paid to encourage communities and businesses to invest in the new technology.

full article

Friday, 28 November 2008

Nokia launches Home Control centre

It is the stuff of science fiction: house lights, ovens, televisions and even security systems that can all be remotely operated and controlled at the touch of a button.

But now a new type of smart technology from mobile phone maker Nokia looks set to turn that fantasy into a reality.

The Home Control Center, which will go on sale at the end of next year, will mean British consumers are one step closer to living in "networked homes", where everyday systems and devices are connected to the internet, allowing the home owner to monitor and activate them remotely using their mobile phone.

Nokia's platform will run the open-source Linux operating system, meaning that third-party manufacturers that make fridges and televisions, will be able to build compatible technology into their devices at minimal cost. The Home Control Center will enable other smart-home solutions to be connected together, and provide users with a single, consistent way of controlling all their gadgets.

The system will initially be used to help people control heating in their home. Nokia has signed an agreement with energy company RWE to work on building compatible systems that can be operated remotely by mobile phone or through a computer.

In future, however, it's likely that many more systems will be able to connect up to the Home Control Center, giving users the chance to measure their electricity usage, preheat an oven before they arrive home, and adjust the temperature of their house.

While Nokia acknowledges that so-called "smart home" technology has been available for years, it argues that the biggest barrier to mainstream adoption is pulling all of the systems together.

"Building blocks for an intelligent house are readily available in the market. Putting it all together is, however, like trying to build a house from blocks that do not fit with each other," said the company. "There are smart refrigerators, energy-saving washing machines, heating systems that can adjust the room temperature with one-celcius-accuracy, security systems with touchpanels, low-energy walls, programmable thermostats, self-adjusting curtains, configurable set-top boxes, self-operating yard lights and much more.

"The problem is all these systems are separate and you end up having a dozen remote controllers and miles of cables in the living room.

"Nokia’s aim is to integrate state-of-the-art solutions from each area to the framework so that the systems can be controlled via mobile device. This provides the systems with remote access via the same user interface regardless if you use a mobile phone, web browser or an internet tablet, also enabling the different home systems to talk to each other."

full article

Thursday, 27 November 2008

The 10 big energy myths

Myth 1: solar power is too expensive to be of much use

In reality, today's bulky and expensive solar panels capture only 10% or so of the sun's energy, but rapid innovation in the US means that the next generation of panels will be much thinner, capture far more of the energy in the sun's light and cost a fraction of what they do today. They may not even be made of silicon. First Solar, the largest manufacturer of thin panels, claims that its products will generate electricity in sunny countries as cheaply as large power stations by 2012.

Other companies are investigating even more efficient ways of capturing the sun's energy, for example the use of long parabolic mirrors to focus light on to a thin tube carrying a liquid, which gets hot enough to drive a steam turbine and generate electricity. Spanish and German companies are installing large-scale solar power plants of this type in North Africa, Spain and the south-west of America; on hot summer afternoons in California, solar power stations are probably already financially competitive with coal. Europe, meanwhile, could get most of its electricity from plants in the Sahara desert. We would need new long-distance power transmission but the technology for providing this is advancing fast, and the countries of North Africa would get a valuable new source of income.

Myth 2: wind power is too unreliable

Actually, during some periods earlier this year the wind provided almost 40% of Spanish power. Parts of northern Germany generate more electricity from wind than they actually need. Northern Scotland, blessed with some of the best wind speeds in Europe, could easily generate 10% or even 15% of the UK's electricity needs at a cost that would comfortably match today's fossil fuel prices.

The intermittency of wind power does mean that we would need to run our electricity grids in a very different way. To provide the most reliable electricity, Europe needs to build better connections between regions and countries; those generating a surplus of wind energy should be able to export it easily to places where the air is still. The UK must invest in transmission cables, probably offshore, that bring Scottish wind-generated electricity to the power-hungry south-east and then continue on to Holland and France. The electricity distribution system must be Europe-wide if we are to get the maximum security of supply.

We will also need to invest in energy storage. At the moment we do this by
pumping water uphill at times of surplus and letting it flow back down the mountain when power is scarce. Other countries are talking of developing "smart grids" that provide users with incentives to consume less electricity when wind speeds are low. Wind power is financially viable today in many countries, and it will become cheaper as turbines continue to grow in size, and manufacturers drive down costs. Some projections see more than 30% of the world's electricity eventually coming from the wind. Turbine manufacture and installation are also set to become major sources of employment, with one trade body predicting that the sector will generate 2m jobs worldwide by 2020.

full article

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Retro-green your house

Later this year, the Government is launching a consultation document, to see how our country's historic period homes can be made more energy-efficient – but many home owners are starting to act now.

Pioneers like Michael are testing new methods of energy saving, and, like all pioneers, there have been some disasters along the way. "Rosewood has solid walls, so I couldn't put in cavity insulation," says Michael, a financial markets consultant. "But with small room sizes, I didn't want to lose any space with internal insulation."

Michael decided to render the exterior walls, adding an inch of lime-rich mortar. "The quantities of lime need to be exactly right, otherwise it just falls away from the wall – which it did, several times." The extra thickness now acts as a thermal barrier, keeping warmth in during the winter and heat out in summer.

The old floorboards, like those pictured above, were lifted and a layer of polystyrene and concrete laid beneath them – with added vents to make sure the old oak can still breathe. Michael also added a new type of breathable insulation to the roof slats, and installed wind-operated ventilation to help air circulate in the extra-sealed space.

With a pole-mounted wind turbine, solar panels and solar hot water, the house generates more energy than it uses. "My major expense was the wind turbine and solar panels," says Michael. "The insulation itself only cost about £2,000."

It is possible to retro-fit even further. In a pilot project in south east London, a 1930s terrace has been transformed into a super-efficient home, scoring an A on the energy performance certificate ratings – which even new homes struggle to achieve. Its heating requirements have plummeted by 80 per cent – from 223 kW/h per sq metre per year to just 32 kW/h per sq metre – thanks to new insulation for the cavity, internal and external walls, space-age insulating materials in the roof and
low-energy LED lighting.

The project is the brainchild of the Hyde Group, an affordable housing provider. It uses the latest eco technology, including the world's first breathable foil insulation under the rafters, new flat-roof insulation for the rear extension and low-energy LED lighting. Each LED bulb lasts 50,000 hours, compared to 10,000 hours for fluorescent bulbs and 3,000 hours for tungsten ones.

Another homeowner, Philippe Bassett, lifted his 1960s house in Esher from a G to a B/C rating on its Energy Performance Certificate, using a new technology called Bolix (www.studiocelandine.com) – polystyrene panels stuck onto his external walls, which are then rendered.

"There is a huge range of materials at home owners' disposal now," says Simon McWhirter, homes campaigner for World Wildlife Fund. "Sadly, builders are not yet familiar with many of them and stick with inefficient methods. But with new slimline wall insulation, people living in older, single-skinned homes really have the materials to be able to insulate them."

full article

Smart meters: are they the answer to big bills?

With energy bills at a record high, millions of Britons may be worrying about how they are going to pay to heat and power their homes this winter. Cutting back on energy use is one way to limit the financial damage of wintertime, but so few of us know where to start. This is where the new generation of "smart meters" can come in.

A smart meter is a small wireless transmitter that receives signals from your gas and electricity meter about your energy use. This information is then forwarded to a portable display that can be prominently placed in the home, which can be read by the customer. The idea is that if you can clearly and easily see how much energy you are using and how much it is costing then it should prompt a change of behaviour. In other words, customers will become more energy-conscious and this in turn will see them take steps to reduce their power bills. "Smart meters will help people understand energy better. Standard meters were hidden away in a cupboard not telling you much, but smart meters can show you how much you are saving by turning down the thermostat in an instant. In addition, smart meters make deals more transparent – if you can see your pattern of energy use, you can see what tariff suits your needs," said Marian Spain, director of strategy at the Energy Saving Trust.

A one-off £49 installation fee is charged, but savings soon start to be made.

The Energy Saving Trust reckons that the gadget can help knock 5 per cent off the average household energy bill. That equates to an annual savings of between £50 and £70. The theory is that those who use a smart meter would be more inclined to make energy saving decisions such as insulating their lofts, turning down their thermostats and switching appliances off rather than leaving them on standby. The meters can also help reduce inaccurate billing – a big bugbear among consumers. This is because, since the meters can be read remotely by providers, bill accuracy is assured.

full article

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Baxi takes bow with CHP champions

For its work in developing the micro-CHP unit Baxi Ecogen, as a direct replacement for a wall hung gas boiler, Baxi won the Innovation category at the CHPA awards, held on November 19.

Baxi Ecogen's engine generates up to 1kWh of electricity for use in the home. Field trials carried out in homes with different energy demands, where the units provided heating and hot water in some cases for more than a year, show the units consistently producing two thirds of the households’ electricity requirements, of which one third was used in the home and one third exported back to the national grid. The Ecogen boiler could make substantial savings on energy bills and could cut CO2 emissions by 20%

Mark Kelly, CEO Baxi Group UK and Ireland, said: “Our extensive field trials have shown that Baxi Ecogen is a natural successor to the conventional boiler – as a direct replacement for a wall hung gas boiler, it is readily accepted by the householder".

He added: “We are pleased that the government has recognised the importance of micro-CHP as a microgeneration system and has included it, along with other products such as solar and wind turbines, in the Energy Bill.”

The Baxi group recently signed a preferred supplier agreement with British Gas to distribute Baxi Ecogen micro CHP units to British Gas customers from the second quarter of 2009. The agreement could generate revenue for the group of up to £40m per annum.

full article

Friday, 14 November 2008

British Gas boosts micro-energy strategy with eco boiler launch

Utility giant British Gas is launching the UK's first micro-combined heat (micro-CHP) boiler in the consumer market. The utility company will market it as a unit that can generate electricity and as a result heat, therefore helping to make savings on energy bills and cut CO2 emissions by 20%.

The boiler will be available from 2009, and will join a portfolio of "microgeneration" products that the company plans to market next year. British Gas has signed a distribution deal with its maker, Baxi Group.

British Gas launched a range of wind turbines and solar panels to allow consumers to generate their own energy in March this year. The products can now be installed without planning permission after changes in legislation that came into force on April 6. The company is also launching smart meters, which tell consumers how much energy they are using.

The utility giant says about 1.5 million boilers are replaced every year in the UK. It forecasts the new boiler could take up to 30% of the market.

full article

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Amid the gloom of the recession...at last, a cut in energy bills is in sight

Britain's second-biggest power supplier has promised to cut bills early next year in response to sharp falls in wholesale gas and electricity prices.

Scottish and Southern Energy, which is regularly among the cheapest suppliers, is the first to indicate a drop in tariffs.

The Bank of England’s Monetary Policy committee said yesterday that it is expecting price falls across the industry of 10 per cent – or around £140 a year.

Other analysts suggest there will be scope for even bigger reductions in 2009.

SSE’s move follows pressure from ministers, MPs and consumer groups who are angry at delays in passing on falls in wholesale prices to homes and businesses.

The wholesale price of gas has fallen by a third since its summer peak and electricity is down 28 per cent.

In a statement to the City, SSE said: ‘If wholesale prices for electricity and gas maintain a downward trend, SSE is optimistic that it will be able to deliver reduction in prices for domestic customers during the early part of 2009.’

Ann Robinson, of uSwitch.com, said: ‘This is welcome news indeed. However, I urge consumers not to become complacent about energy usage this winter because this is still not a done deal.’

full article

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Fish tank toilet 'will cut water use'


The cistern may look like an aquatic torture chamber, but it is actually completely safe, both for humans and the fish.

The toilet has three separate tanks – one for water flowing in, one for water flowing out, and a third for fish and underwater plants - ensuring that the fish always have enough water to swim in, and are never sucked into the bowl.

The firm behind the toilets say they are ideal for Chinese families seeking company for their only children, but without the room for a stand-alone fish tank or bigger pet.

They are also environmentally friendly, the Runto Sanitary Ware claims. Because the flushing tank has been reduced to make space for the fish tank, the toilet uses far less water than similar models.

The LED device that lights the fish tank can also be used instead of bathroom lighting, cutting electricity bills.

The toliets have been on display at a building materials market in Shanghai.

full article

Monday, 3 November 2008

Snow fell during October for the first time in decades across many parts of the country this week, reminding householders that winter is on its way.

According to Energyhelpline.com, the price comparison and switching service, the cost of gas and electricity will rise to an eye-watering average of £1,500 for each household by early next year, so it makes sense to use any means available to cut these bills.

There are grants and discounts towards loft and wall insulation under the Government's £1bn package to help people cope with rising energy bills. This is one of the most efficient means of reducing energy usage, as 50pc of a house's heat is lost through the roof and walls.

Rob Bell, advice manager at the Energy Saving Trust, said: "If you own your home and have a cavity wall or loft, then it is more than likely you will be able to get a grant or discount of some sort. To find the best one for you ring our helpline and we will get details and give advice on what's available.

"Energy suppliers will run their own discount schemes under the Government's programme, but the money that they provide can also be available through locally based council schemes.

"The standard cost is about £500 for cavity wall insulation and £500 for a loft for a three-bedroom semi, and discounts range from a few hundred pounds to about 60pc, with more or the full sum paid for pensioners and those on benefits."

Tesco announced this month that it is offering cavity wall and loft insulation free to the over 70s and to those on qualifying benefits. For others, it will install either for a subsidised fee, reclaiming additional costs through the government's grants.

If you already have between 6cm and 15cm of insulation you will pay a subsidised fee of £149, or £199 if you have 15cm and want to increase this to the recommended 27cm of insulation.

The supermarket giant insulated 50 homes in a trial over the summer and hopes to insulate half a million British homes in the next three years. The subsidised price for loft or cavity-wall insulation is subject to a free survey and may be higher for particularly large properties or those requiring additional work. The service is open to homeowners, residential landlords and private tenants.

However, Friends of the Earth and Help the Aged have pointed out that government measures do little to help anyone whose home was built before the 30s and does not have cavity walls. Yet there are other means of fighting rising energy bills.

Mark Todd of Energyhelpline.com said: "If you're going on a freebie hunt for cheap energy efficiency items the best places to start are the Energy Savings Trust and your supplier. Both tend to have funds available to homeowners who want to become more energy efficient, so give them a call and you could benefit from free energy saving light bulbs, for example."

At energysavingtrust.org.uk you can receive a report telling you how you can save up to £250 a year on your household energy bills. The tips may include turning your room heating thermostat down by 1C to cut your heating bills by up to 10pc, for example, saving you around £40 per year.

full article

Are you covered if your boiler breaks down

An alternative to buying boiler cover is 'self-insuring' to make sure you have funds available if your boiler does break down. This simply means paying a small amount each month into a savings account so that if you do run into difficulties, you have the money available to pay for repairs.

If you have to get your boiler mended frequently, then it may be worth replacing it. Choosing an energy-efficient condensing model will help you keep energy bills down, and while the initial outlay might be expensive, it should pay off in the long run.

According to the Energy Saving Trust, an A-rated condensing boiler will also use a third less fuel than an older boiler to provide the same amount of heat – potentially cutting heating bills and CO2 emissions by a third too.

full article

Friday, 24 October 2008

UK to train army of energy advisors

The UK Government is to train hundreds of workers from Citizens Advice Bureaux, Housing Associations and other organisations to advise low income households on energy efficiency.

The advisors will be able to give individuals tips on switching suppliers to get the best energy deal, how to insulate their homes and other energy efficiency measures that they can take.

Energy and Climate Change Minister Joan Ruddock announced the Energy Best Deal campaign yesterday, which is being funded by the Department of Energy and Climate Change and rolled out by Ofgem.

“This new army of energy advisors that we are training will be on the frontline helping people find the best energy deal available and giving energy efficiency advice that will make a real difference to their bills, their homes and their carbon footprint,” said Ruddock.

The new scheme will provide advice on getting support for heating and energy efficiency improvements through the Government’s Warm Front programme and the recently announced £1 billion Home Energy Saving programme.

For further information:
www.decc.gov.uk
www.warmfront.co.uk/
www.ofgem.gov.uk/Pages/OfgemHome.aspx

full article

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Eco-double glaze your home for £700

It was Mrs O'Kelly's determination to double glaze the sash window of the bathroom that turned me into an enthusiast for cutting carbon emissions...and our £1,200-a-year fuel bill.

The estimated cost was £700, and she was saying we 'might as well' do the 18-odd other windows in our 1885 South London Victorian terrace house for about £12,000 - an outlay that would take decades to pay for itself.

Furthermore, it would look vile.

Like so many others who own period properties - 20 per cent of the 22 million homes in England and Wales are pre-1918 - we have only slowly got to grips with our profligate energy consumption.

We have followed the fashion of recent years, making our house less insulated than when we moved in 12 years ago: carpets have been taken up in favourof draughty floorboards and old curtains replaced with blinds.

Last year, I made a start by buying three sets of heavy, interlined curtains, which instantly warmed up the house on winter nights.

Gordon Brown's visit to the nearby Sheehan family in Balham last month to unveil his £910 million energy aid package goaded me to further efforts.

Sue Sheehan saved 42% on her heating bills - £300 to £400 - by rigorously draught-proofing a house little different to ours.

Most interestingly, she had double glazed her pleasant old sash windows with clear plastic secondary glazing attached to the window frame with magnetic tape.

'I did get a quote for glass but it was £7,500, while the plastic panels cost £700 for the entire house,' said Sue, 43, an avowed eco-evangelist who is, ironically, a motoring journalist.

'They made more difference than anything else in keeping the house warm and after two winters they will pay for themselves.' They are also unobtrusive, being clearer than the original 1880s glass.

full article

Monday, 20 October 2008

Energy firms 'failing to pass on falling oil prices to consumers’

The Prime Minister and Ed Mayo of Consumer First are putting public pressure on power companies to cut their gas and electricity prices in line with falling world oil prices.

A series of sharp price rises by the big energy suppliers earlier this year have left the average household facing an annual gas and electricity bill of more than £1,300.

Some companies put gas prices up by more than a third, blaming the rise on soaring world oil prices.

But oil prices have now fallen by half after it reached an all-time high of $147 a barrel earlier this year. A barrel of North Sea oil now costs $73.02.

Some big European gas suppliers’ contracts tie gas prices directly to oil. As oil prices peaked in the summer, wholesale gas prices also rose. They have now fallen by more than quarter, but household bills have not come down at all.

Mr Brown is now piling public pressure on energy firms to start cutting consumers’ bills.

”What we have seen is prices going up for fuel and energy when the oil price went up and now that the oil price has come down, the public would naturally expect retail prices for fuel and household energy to come down as well,” said a spokesman for Mr Brown.

Ed Miliband, the new Energy Secretary, last week met executives from the “Big Six” energy retailers to underline the Government’s desire for prices to fall quickly.

Ed Mayo, the chief executive of Consumer Focus, accused the industry of delaying price cuts.

full article

Monday, 13 October 2008

Energy saving tips for businesses

1. Look around you

If you see a load of people wearing tee-shirts you could probably afford to turn the heating down a bit. Notice a light on in a rarely used meeting room? Think about installing a sensor (or, as a short-term solution, simply switch it off). Go for a walk and you'll also spot machinery that is left on when not being used and other areas of waste. Equally importantly you'll prove your environmental creds to your colleagues if you do this regularly - and you'll need to inspire others if change is going to happen. Speaking of which …

2. Consult your colleagues

It's no good fighting a lone battle; you'll need everyone on board if savings are to be made. If you're the boss, consider appointing an 'energy champion' to find new ways of reducing energy use. They should report any waste that they notice and contribute ideas for improving the way things are done. Share the environmental love around.

3. Conduct an energy audit

Taking regular meter readings and comparing consumption over a number of months is a good idea (as long as you remember to take into account such factors as that cold snap last November). As the Carbon Trust notes, if your business manufactures something tangible try to measure energy use per product item. This will allow you to spot patterns and identify areas where savings could be made.

4. Switch things off (part 1)

Make sure that, where possible, all machines and equipment are switched off overnight. It's an obvious one, but doesn't happen often enough. A single computer and monitor left on 24 hours a day will cost a business over £50 a year. Switching it off out of hours and enabling standby features could cut this to £15 a year, according to the Carbon Trust. That's the kind of saving that will prick up any FD's ears. For shared equipment such as photocopiers and water coolers, why not fit a timer to ensure they are switched off out of hours? There are products available for larger organisations which enable network administrators to power down PCs remotely (and automatically) when they're not needed. But it's cheaper to shame people into pressing the off button. Get in early for a week, see who's left their PC on and attach a huge arrow to the ceiling above their head with the words "environmental criminal" (or similar) scrawled on it in large letters. Behaviour will swiftly change.

5. Switch things off (part 2)

Turn off any air-conditioning, extraction, compression or ventilation units whenever there's nobody in the workplace to benefit from their use. Curiosity may have killed the cat but it's laziness that's helping kill the planet.

6. See the light ...

Fit lights that sense movement and link motion-activated lights in toilet facilities to the extractor fan (if you have one). Label equipment and control switches so that it's clear how to switch something on when it's needed. Some people need a little nudge to get them heading in the right direction.

7. Turn the heating down

Unless it's too cold for comfort, try to keep your thermostat at 19C (66F). Your heating costs will go up by 8% each time you increase the temperature by just one degree. Encourage your employees to wear warmer clothing if they are feeling the cold. That may sound like a leaf from the Victorian Workhouse Manager's Textbook, but does anyone really need the air around them to be warmer than 19°C? Really?

8. Get the boss on board

If you're not the boss, ensure he or she is on board (and make friends with the FD). Securing some energy savings will inevitably require capital outlay so you may need to develop a business case to get hold of the necessary funds. This should focus on cost and financial return (eg payback period, based on energy and other cost savings), but may also include other benefits such as meeting regulations, improved environmental performance and corporate reputation, or better staff working conditions. The least you can do is investigate getting your electricity from a renewable source. And don't forget that you may qualify for an interest-free loan from the Carbon Trust http://www.carbontrust.co.uk/energy/takingaction/loans.htm.

9. Explore tax incentives

You could claim tax incentives if you're prepared to invest in energy saving technologies and products. The Enhanced Capital Allowance scheme (ECA) enables you to claim 100% first year capital allowances on investments of qualifying equipment. You could write off the whole cost of your investment against your taxable profits for the period in which you make an investment. Now we really are talking the FD's language.

10. Be realistic

Energy-saving measures that are difficult, inconvenient or impractical to implement are likely to be ignored or withdrawn. This will undermine any future attempts to reduce energy use. So don't be too ambitious. Suggesting your business installs solar panels on the roof tomorrow may meet with some resistance; asking people to equipment off when they go home this evening will not.

There are loads of things you can do to reduce your organisation's energy consumption. The Carbon Trust website provided some of the tips above and contains many more. The government's Business Link service also has some good advice.

full article

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Planning for an EPC

Q: I am a landlord with a small number of properties in the North East. I understand there are new regulations coming in concerning Energy Performance Certificates. Please can you explain what I need to do in order to be compliant?

A: With effect from 1 October, Energy Performance Certificates ("EPC's") must be provided by any seller or landlord on the sale or letting of any non-domestic building or part. The legislation has been in place since April this year, but it has been introduced gradually on the basis of larger buildings first. Now it is applicable to all sales and lettings, regardless of size.

An EPC will show the building's energy rating, based upon its performance potential, on a scale between A (excellent) and G (poor). It will be accompanied by an advisory report containing recommendations. Only people who have undertaken suitable training and are registered as approved assessors can produce EPCs.

You will need an EPC before your premises are marketed. The idea is to inform potential buyers or tenants about the energy performance of a building, so that they can consider energy efficiency as part of their investment or business decision to buy or occupy the building.

You must provide the EPC free of charge. Any non-domestic building on the market before October 1, and remaining on the market will need an EPC by 4 January 2009 at the latest. If it is sold or rented out in the meantime, an EPC must be commissioned and handed over as soon as possible. This is intended to make it easier for owners and landlords to comply with the legislation.

In general, an EPC is intended to reflect whatever accommodation is being sold or let. In the case of a multi-occupancy building, if the building has a common heating system, when the building or any part is sold or let an EPC can be produced for the whole building or of the relevant part.

If however the building does not have a common heating system, then you need an EPC for each part being offered for sale or let (or of the whole if you are selling or letting the whole). Once an EPC is obtained, it lasts for 10 years.

The penalty for failing to comply is 12.5pc of the rateable value of the premises, with a minimum of £500 and a maximum of £5,000.

You need to plan therefore for the cost of obtaining EPCs, and allow additional time for gathering data and appointing an assessor.

full article

Eco cars: the ten best

This might sound like jam tomorrow, but there are only limited measures you can take to save CO2 when you buy a new car. It might even be the best thing to hold on to the car you have and use it less, as according to Volvo, the amount of CO2 expended in making a car is some 13 to 15 per cent of its lifetime emissions and that doesn’t count the CO2 released when scrapping.

Nevertheless, if you need a new car, here’s our guide to what we think is the most practical environmental cars in every class. These might not be the cheapest or the most frugal, but in our opinion they offer the most practical driving utility and pleasure for your money while doing the planet the least amount of harm *.

Utility

Citro├źn Berlingo Multispace from £11,495 for 1.6 HDi 110 model, 41.5mpg/147g/km. Reviewed motoring July 11 2008.

Supermini

Volkswagen Polo Bluemotion, from £12,120 for the Bluemotion 1, three-door model 72.4mpg/99g/km. Reviewed in motoring May 12 2007.

Small hatchback

Honda Civic from £15,050 for a five-door S model, 53.3mpg/135g/km. Reviewed in motoring December 3 2005.

Saloon

Skoda Octavia 1.9TDi from £13,605 for Class model, 44.8mpg/132g/km. Reviewed in motoring May 22 2004.

Estate

Volkswagen Passat Bluemotion, from £19,000, 55.3mpg/137g/km. Reviewed in motoring May 7 2007 also see telegraph on same date.

Convertible

Ford Focus CC, from 19,287 for a 2.0-litre diesel model, 48mpg/156g/km. Reviewed in motoring September 23 2007.

Multi-purpose vehicle

Vauxhall Zafira from £17,290 for seven-seat 1.9 CDTi model 47.1mpg/162g/km. Reviewed in motoring July 23 2005.

Sport Utility Vehicle/4x4

Fiat Panda 1.2 4x4 from £9,885, 43mpg/156g/km. Reviewed motoring October 9 2004.

Executive

BMW 520d, £27,190 for SE model, 55mpg/136g/km. Reviewed motoring May 24 2003.

Luxury

BMW 730d from £54,160, 30mpg/192g/km. Reviewed motoring 11 October 2008.

Supercar

VW’s one-litre experimental car capable of 292mpg and valued at £2 million. Reviewed motoring July 5 2003.

* Toyota’s Prius is not included because it is being revamped at the end of the year with a claimed 99g/km carbon dioxide emissions - the new car will debut at the Detroit Auto Show in January and goes on sale next spring.

full article

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Fireplace Heatsaver – Helping British households tackle fuel poverty


An English mans’ home is his castle, or so it seems when it comes to paying for the heating bill! Most hard-pressed British households have just received their latest fuel bills and as winter approaches the need to heat the home becomes more apparent. What more can one do, all the appliances are off but the heating bill is only getting bigger. Help is at hand in the form of a deceptively simple device from Wakefield-based business, Environmental Fireplace Solutions. The Fireplace Heatsaver could save the average household a small fortune on its heating bill – and cut its carbon footprint by as much as half a ton - in just one year.

Over seven million properties in the UK have fireplaces which act as a ‘vacuum cleaner’, constantly sucking warm air up the chimney and out of expensively heated rooms, drawing cold air in from the outside which then has to be reheated. The Fireplace Heatsaver is a lightweight and totally transparent acrylic shield that sits in front of an open fireplace or fitted gas fire when it is not in use, preventing heat from escaping up the chimney.

Launched in January 2008, the demand for Fireplace Heatsavers is growing daily, and the energy saving product has also been commended in Environment UK Magazine as a “simple and effective way to cut your outgoings and protect the environment”.

Alex Stacey, editor of Environment UK Magazine, says: “The Fireplace Heatsaver epitomises the old adage that the simplest ideas are the best. (It) is the best thing I never knew I needed. I am convinced that if this product had a money-back guarantee, no one would ever claim it.”
full article

Sunday, 5 October 2008

The house doctor calls

EVEN though many of us try to save energy at home, often it’s the little things that are right under our noses, or above them as this family found out, that could save the most money.
One of the simplest suggestions for ways to make big savings was Alan’s recommendation to switch to low-energy light bulbs, which could save £35 a year. Mum-of-two Lucy said: "I have low-energy bulbs in the main lights of the house, but I didn’t realise that you can now get low-energy bulbs for other types of fixtures, like the light in our lounge, which holds five little bulbs.

While Alan praised Lucy for not using a tumble drier, despite having plenty of washing to do with two young children, he warned that clothes should be dried on a rack if the home’s radiators are to work to maximum potential.

"Tumble dryers are a massive drain on the energy meter as well as the finances, so it’s best to dry clothes outside where possible," he said

As 35% of heat escapes through walls, the savings on their energy bills would cover that cost within a year. As Lucy and Dave bought a new boiler recently, this has taken a huge strain off the amount of energy they use.

Highly efficient condensing boilers, like the one in the Rhodes family home, convert more than 90% of fuel into heat, compared with just 55% for some old boilers.

As the family are finding out, a new boiler could cut heating bills by up to 40% straight away, so you make further savings and help the environment over time.


Survey results

HOW energy efficient is your home right now? (Rating A-G, with A= very energy efficient)

The house is currently rated as C in terms of its energy use. It is thought this could be improved to a B rating with some simple improvements.

What do you already have installed?

Heating provided by a condensing combination boiler;

A room thermostat on the heating system;

A timer on the heating system

full article

Friday, 3 October 2008

Italian car designer unveils electric power


Italian contract carmaker and engineering firm Pininfarina has unveiled an own-badged electric car.

For decades, the firm has built some of the most stunning cars known to man, without getting much credit for it beyond petrol-head circles.

"This car is real," declares Paolo Pininfarina, grandson of the company's founder, as the covers are whipped off the sleek vehicle at the Paris motor show.

Pininfarina's electric car, which has been built in partnership with battery producer Bollore, is set to hit the road by the end of next year and should go on sale in the US, Europe and Japan by the end of 2010.

"It's 90% similar to how it will be built", which in turn, he insisted, means it is "the only real electric city car at the motor show".

Cost or technology

And so the electric motoring debate continues, with an abundance of yay and nay-sayers, so far achieving little more than confusing drivers who want solutions yet remain wary of cons.

Yet, amidst it all a consensus is emerging.

Cars run purely on battery power are unlikely to become mainstream for years to come, mainly because of their cost.

"It's not about technology," insists General Motors' chief operating officer and vice chairman, Fritz Henderson. "Its all about cost."

But petrol-electric hybrid versions that can be charged from the mains for most journeys are arriving quickly, and even Dr Paefgen is full of praise.

So expect niche electric cars to make inroads, and even more plug-in hybrid solutions to hit the road in the years ahead.

And if a plug-in hybrid emerges with a Bentley badge long before they become mainstream, do not be shocked.
full article

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Number of homes in fuel poverty rises by 1 million

The number of UK households in fuel poverty rose to 3.5 million in 2006, the latest official figures showed today.

The data, released by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, showed an increase of one million on 2005 levels. They include around 2.75 million homes classed as "vulnerable" - those that contain a child, elderly person or someone with a long-term illness.

To be classed as being in fuel poverty, households have to spend more than 10% of their income on gas and electricity. In England, 2.4 million fuel-poor households had fallen into fuel poverty by 2006, of which 1.9 million were vulnerable.

This was 900,000 more households than 2005, of which 700,000 were vulnerable.

The government attributed the rise to a 22% increase in consumer energy bills between 2005 and 2006.

Although the major suppliers cut their tariffs early last year, they increased them early this year, and again in the summer, which could mean the number of homes in fuel poverty today is actually much higher than 3.5 million.

full article

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Do you have cash to burn?

Switching suppliers can save you money but simple things can also help. UK Energy Saving suggests turning off the tap, lowering the thermostat by 1 and filling the kettle with only the water you need.

The Energy Saving Trust will give you a home energy check, which may save you up to £270 a year. For an online report, visit www.energysaving trust.org.uk, or call 0800 512 012 for a paper version.

High domestic fuel prices mean there's one financial certainty this winter - it's going to cost a bomb to keep warm. Shopping around for the best fuel tariff now, however, can give householders the best chance of keeping their energy costs as low as possible.

No amount of home insulation is going to protect you from high bills if you are stuck on an expensive tariff. And come January 2009, it's likely that consumers may face further price hikes from the energy companies so it will pay to plan ahead.

If your budget is already feeling the strain, consider fixing your fuel price for a few years. Capped or fixed-price tariffs work by guaranteeing your monthly or quarterly bills won't rise for a set amount of time. A key drawback, however, is that you won't benefit if prices fall during that time without pulling out of the deal and paying a penalty charge.

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Saturday, 27 September 2008

Heating plan attacked by charity

A charity for the elderly says it has received an increasing number of complaints about the government's Warm Front home heating scheme.

This provides money for elderly and vulnerable people to help keep their homes warm in winter.

But the charity Age Concern says it has received more than 5,000 complaints about it in the past year.

These have focused on delays, poor workmanship and the need for pensioners to make contributory payments.

The government is expected to announce extra measures on Thursday to help poor people stay warm in their homes.

Problems

The charity said the government had admitted to MPs earlier this year that funding for the scheme would be cut by a third between 2007/098 and 2010/11, to just £295m.

Meanwhile complaints it had received highlighted other inadequacies.

Among them, pensioners complained they could not afford the top-up payments that were often required, sometimes reaching £2,000, because government grants under Warm Front were limited to £2,700, regardless of the actual cost of the work.

The charity added that the experience of complainers, and others who asked for advice, was that delays to work left some people without heating or warmth in their homes, while others had to pay more for extra work due to poor workmanship.

The charity said that simply putting more money into Warm Front and CERT would not help all those who needed it.

"Wide-ranging reforms are needed to address pricing inequalities which are leaving many of the poorest households paying more for their energy than wealthier customers," said Mr Lishman.

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Lofty plans to keep the nation warm

As Tesco announces a surprise move into the insulation business, Miles Brignall reveals how many of the grants on offer are nothing more than hot air

The supermarket says it will reclaim the cost through the government's recently announced programme of grants to tackle fuel poverty, which now affects 5.4m homes.

However, questions are already being asked about who the real beneficiaries of the programme will be. It has been suggested that when a profit-driven company such as Tesco becomes involved, the installers may be getting more out of it than the "fuel poor". Tesco admits this is a revenue-generating exercise, though it declines to say how much it will receive for each installation.

The main problem is that, in keeping with all the other government-backed insulation schemes, Tesco will not offer the service for free where the householder already has 6cm of loft insulation in place.

The Energy Savings Trust recommends that all households have 27cm of loft insulation. Because it is now almost impossible to find UK homes with no loft insulation, many question the value of the scheme in its current form. Up to 25% of a house's heat is lost through the roof.

A 70-year-old living on state pension would have to pay Tesco £149 to top up her loft insulation if she has more than 6cm in place. And the supermarket won't install anything if your roof has 15cm of insulation - just over half the recommended amount. Also, it has been pointed out by Friends of the Earth and Help the Aged, that these measures do little to help anyone whose home was built before the 30s and does not have cavity walls. They estimate that neither measure is possible in one-third of UK homes.


Add up all these points, and Gordon Brown's claim that up to 11 million low-income households would qualify for free insulation looks distinctly unlikely.

Ever since the government introduced the Carbon Emissions Reduction Target (Cert) scheme, which requires power companies to invest in improving their customers' homes, Guardian Money has been contacted by unhappy readers turned down for extra loft insulation because of the 6cm rule.

The problem has been caused by the way the Cert scheme is calculated. For every home the power companies insulate they save an amount of carbon towards their three-year target. They get three-and-a-half times as many "points" if they can insulate lofts with fewer than 6cm in place.

With shareholders to please, there's little financial incentive for the power firms to top up a pensioner's home from 7cm to 27cm.

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Friday, 26 September 2008

Killacycle Throttles Petrol Power

In the past, their relatively low speeds and lack of range mean electric vehicles have suffered from some less than glowing press.

But now, Iceland is trying to convince the rest of the world that the future of driving is electric, after all.

With 99% of its electricity provided by renewable energy, Reykjavik is the ideal setting for the Driving Sustainability 2008 car show.

Among the mean, green machines on display, is the fastest electric motorbike in the world.

The Killacycle has a top speed of 168mph and goes from 0-100 in a second.

For a typical run, it needs only as much energy as a hair dryer would use over 15 minutes, while its batteries recharge in just four minutes.

It is the brain child of Bill Dube, who invented the Killacycle in his garage in Colorado.

He told Sky News: "It's just a giant cordless drill with wheels, a 500 horse power cordless drill with wheels. It has a battery, motors and a throttle, just like you'd have a trigger on your drill. And there are no carbon emissions.

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Solar panels are new hot property for thieves

Glenda Hoffman has an answer for the thieves, should they choose to return to her home in Desert Hot Springs, California. "I have a shotgun right next to the bed and a .22 under my pillow."

Hoffman was the victim of a theft that one industry professional has dubbed "the crime of the future". Another observer has come up with the term "grand theft solar" to describe the spate of recent burglaries in sunny California.

In May Hoffman lost 16 solar panels from her roof in three separate burglaries, one while she slept below. Happily for Hoffman her insurers have agreed to pay the $95,000 (£48,000) cost of replacing the panels. But as energy prices soar, and solar power takes off - at least in California - so opportunistic thieves have turned to the lucrative, and complicated, business of dismantling solar panels.

"I wouldn't say it's pervasive, but it's going on," California Solar Energy Industries Association executive director Sue Kateley told the Valley Times.

California is the leader for solar installations, with 33,000 across the state. Unsurprisingly, it is also the market leader for thefts of solar installations, although figures are hard to come by.

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Energy firms condemned for 'abysmal' customer service

Gas and electricity companies have been criticised for their "abysmal" customer service, by a leading consumer watchdog.

No other industry fares so badly when it comes to billing their customers correctly, answering their calls promptly and offering value for money, according to Which?.

Insurance companies, mobile phone operators, supermarkets and even banks beat energy companies, the hard-hitting report says.

Npower, with 6.5 million customers, emerged as the worst performer from the survey of 8,600 Which? members, with the report calling the company's performance "abysmal".

The report comes just a few weeks after the leading providers raised their prices for the second time this year to take the average annul dual fuel – gas and electricity – bill to more than £1,400.

Jess Ross,editor of Which said,: "This is the first time that we've asked members about their energy suppliers and we're shocked to see the results – too many suppliers are letting customers down and charging them more and more for the privilege.

"These companies are providing essential services that people can't live without, but this isn't an excuse to offer poor value for money."

Only a quarter of households have been told by their supplier that they can save money by switching their payment methods. Paying by direct debit, rather than by cheque, can save the average customers as much as £200 a year.

Less than a third – 32 per cent – of Npower's customers were prepared to say they were "satisfied" with the service they received, with one customer Julia Macphie saying, "The customer service is a farce. Despite 30-odd phone calls, eight visits by different meter readers and several letters Npower hasn't sent me a correct bill for nearly two years."

British Gas only fared slightly better with 40 per cent of customers saying they were satisfied. The highest-rated company was Utility Warehouse, a relatively small supplier that is run as a discount club, which charges a small membership fee.

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Thursday, 25 September 2008

Save money with eco gadgets


A recent Mori poll revealed that just 10 per cent of those questioned last month put worries about the environment at the top of their list of concerns – a year ago, that figure was closer to 15 per cent.

Yet investing in eco-friendly gadgets can help save money as well as protect the planet, says Adam Vaughan, editor of The Green Guy, an environmental website. "Saving the planet often means saving cash, and green gadgets are a great example," he says. "Unlike most gadgets, they effectively appreciate in value as they age, since the more energy prices jump, the more money they’re saving you. Gadgets that save or generate energy may not be cheap to buy, but take a long-term view and consider the total cost of ownership. Energy-saving bulbs are the classic example. Though more expensive than old-fashioned incandescents, they’ll save you £40 or more over their lifetime."

So, with the nights drawing in, the central heating creaking into action, and pennies being watched before Christmas, we present our guide to the gadgets that could help save you money – and the planet.

1 A real turn-off
Everyone knows that one of the quickest and easiest ways to save money and energy is to switch electrical appliances off at the wall every night before going to bed.

Realistically, though, turning off a hundred different plugs is not part of most people’s nightly routine, a fact that manufacturers seem to be catching on to – Sky has updated its set-top boxes so that they automatically switch to standby when left idle for a period of time, while TVOnics’s personal video recorders also have a standby mode, as well as reduced power consumption when performing scheduled recordings.
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Gas and electricity bills could climb yet higher this winter

Gas and electricity bills could climb another 15 per cent, leaving customers facing bills of £1,500 this winter, a report has warned.
he increases would deal another blow to families who have already been hit with increases of 40 per cent so far this year.

The prediction, from price comparison website energyhelpline.com, comes as electricity prices on the wholesale market hit a record high.

National Grid, the company in charge of distributing electricity around the country has warned that there is less surplus electricity in the system than previously thought. Even if just one of the UK's 38 major power stations fell out of action – as often happens – it would cause serious enough shortages for factories to be forced to shut down to save energy, it said.

Britain's ageing power plants have struggled this year, with record numbers falling out of action for emergency repairs.

National Grid's grim warning caused winter electricity baseload power prices – the key benchmark used by the industry – to increase by 2 per cent percent to £105 a megawatt hour, a record level.

Escalating gas and electricity prices this year are one of the reasons why inflation has hit a 16-year high of 4.7 per cent.

The forecast came despite the Met Office predicting that this winter could be much milder than average, which would mean power stations were put under less pressure.

Alan Asher, the chief executive of energywatch the consumer watchdog, said there was little reason for fuel bills to increase, saying the energy industry too often "talked up" price rises. "I think people have just lost their patience. The public are revolting. If we see rise of any significance in the New Yea the public will take to the streets."

Electricity can't be stored, so production needs to continually meet demand. The power grid has spare plants that only run at times when demand and prices are at their highest.

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Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Portugal embraces wave power


Suddenly a lonely spot on the Portuguese coast has become the centre of the wave power industry.

The beach at Agucadoura, just north of Porto, is where electricity from the world's first wave farm is being cabled ashore. Five kilometres out to sea a Pelamis wave machine is gently riding the Atlantic swell, generating power for the Portuguese grid.

The wave farm has just been officially launched after a frustrating delay of more than a year. "We had an issue with the underwater connections", explains engineering manager, Ross Henderson. He is sitting with me in the beachfront substation which takes in the power. "I can't believe such a small thing cost the project a whole year."

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Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Tesco launches home insulation service

Homeowners wanting to reduce their fuel bills can now add low-cost loft and cavity wall insulation to their supermarket shopping lists after Tesco launched an energy efficiency service for customers.

The supermarket giant is offering insulation for loft or wall cavities for a flat rate of £199, although this price is subject to survey and may be higher for people in unusually large properties or those requiring additional work.

The new service is open to all homeowners, residential landlords and private tenants, and will be free to customers aged 70 or more and those on qualifying state benefits.

Council or housing association tenants wanting their home insulated are advised to put a request to their landlord and ask them to contact Tesco directly.

Tesco said it had insulated 50 homes in a trial over the summer and now hoped to insulate half a million UK homes in the next three years.

Customers can book a free survey by phone or online.

If they agree to go ahead with the work Tesco says it should be carried out within six weeks of making the initial contact. Loft insulation takes less than three hours to install while wall cavity insulation takes up to four hours.

Customers paying for the service will receive 199 Clubcard points per insulation measure on their Tesco loyalty cards.

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Monday, 22 September 2008

Electric Range Rover with zero emissions to be unveiled

A prototype Range Rover capable of going 200 miles on a single electric charge is to be unveiled this week.

It has been designed by a team working in Oxford and could be on sale next year.

The bill for driving an environmentally friendly Range Rover will be a hefty one, with the prices ranging from £95,000 to £125,000.

However, unlike the car's conventional equivalents, the tax bill for running the car will be minimal.

Electric cars on the market, such as the G-Wizz have a range of around 50-60 miles - but are also on sale at a fraction of the proposed price for the Liberty Electric Range Rover.

It is the latest in a series of alternative powered cars being designed by the motor industry which has come under intense pressure to reduce emissions.

The European Union has told car makers that they must bring their average CO2 output down to 130 grams per kilometre by 2012.

According to the company, this car will offer swift acceleration and a high top speed, while costing 80 per cent less to run than a petrol equivalent.

Other innovations include roof mounted solar panels, which will provide additional charge for the batteries as well as powering some of the car's electrics while it is stopped.

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