Thursday, 31 January 2008

E. Coli Bacteria: A Future Source Of Energy?

For most people, the name "E. coli" is synonymous with food poisoning and product recalls, but a professor in Texas A&M University's chemical engineering department envisions the bacteria as a future source of energy, helping to power our cars, homes and more.
By genetically modifying the bacteria, Thomas Wood, a professor in the Artie McFerrin Department of Chemical Engineering, has "tweaked" a strain of E. coli so that it produces substantial amounts of hydrogen. Specifically, Wood's strain produces 140 times more hydrogen than is created in a naturally occurring process, according to an article in "Microbial Biotechnology," detailing his research.

Though Wood acknowledges that there is still much work to be done before his research translates into any kind of commercial application, his initial success could prove to be a significant stepping stone on the path to the hydrogen-based economy that many believe is in this country's future.
Renewable, clean and efficient, hydrogen is the key ingredient in fuel-cell technology, which has the potential to power everything from portable electronics to automobiles and even entire power plants. Today, most of the hydrogen produced globally is created by a process known as "cracking water" through which hydrogen is separated from the oxygen. But the process is expensive and requires vast amounts of energy -- one of the chief reasons why the technology has yet to catch on.

full article

Rising from stormy seas, the giant turbine towers of an offshore wind farm seem almost miraculous to the untrained eye. But how do you put them there?

Most boats do not have legs. But a jack-up barge has six, protruding high into the air when the ship is in transit.

Extending to a length of 48m from the bottom of the ship, and penetrating up to 5m into the sea bed, the "legs" of these ships provide a stable "ground" in a place where there is only roiling water.

As the legs push down, the ship is lifted above the waves. Purpose-built at a Chinese shipyard, the £60m jack-up barge MPIO Resolution is an extraordinary piece of engineering in itself.
If government targets are to be met, the UK could have as many as 7,000 offshore wind turbines by 2020. In the process, it would increase the amount of energy produced by that means about 60-fold.

By Giancarlo Rinaldi
full article

Euro MPs back patio heaters ban

A call for a ban on outdoor heaters has been backed by the European Parliament.

MEPs voted to endorse a report that says a timetable should be set to phase out patio heaters, as well as standby modes on televisions.

Report author Fiona Hall - a British MEP - says significant steps have to be taken to cut CO2 emissions, and a ban should at least be considered.

But experts disagree about the impact outdoor heaters have on the environment compared with other appliances.

'Very minimal' emissions

A climate change expert commissioned by the UK's biggest supplier of one of the fuels used by patio heaters, liquefied petroleum gas, Calor, said the overall impact of the heaters on emissions was "very minimal".
Dr Eric Johnson, National Expert Reviewer for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, said that plasma TVs produced more carbon than patio heaters under normal usage patterns.

But Fiona Hall told the BBC that figures she had seen showed that if a car was run for a year it would emit three tonnes of carbon dioxide, while the figure for an outdoor heater would be four tonnes.

"Many people are already aware that patio heaters produce significant amounts of carbon dioxide," she said.

"It's important that we at least look into taking them off the market."

Standby mode

The report also calls on the European Commission to restrict electrical appliances to a maximum one watt standby, or phase out the standby mode altogether.

The commission already has a timetable for increasing energy efficiency for a wide range of appliances from light bulbs to TV set-top boxes.

Ms Hall said her recommendations would now go to the European Commission, although she realised its priority was to deliver on the energy commitments which it had already agreed.

full article

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Alternative energy sources

The need to find a new generation of fuels has never been greater. Earlier this month, the cost of oil hit $100 a barrel for the first time, leading to sky-high prices at petrol pumps all over the world. And consumption shows no signs of slowing as the new economic powerhouses of China and India continue to develop a seemingly insatiable thirst for the black gold. In smog-choked Beijing alone, more than 1,000 new private cars hit the roads every day – that's about one every 90 seconds.

No surprise, then, that in recent months the race to develop alternatives to four-star and diesel has really started to hot up. Some of the solutions proposed by white-suited engineers in the world's fuel labs sound closer to science fiction. Take the Counter Rotating Ring Receiver Reactor Recuperator (CR5), for example. The prototype, unveiled in the desert of New Mexico, has an eight-metre-wide dish of mirrors that focus sunlight on a "solar furnace". There, the heat from all that energy breaks down carbon dioxide into oxygen and carbon monoxide.

The CR5 was developed by scientists at Sandia, a US government-funded laboratory. If the dish goes into production, the C02 fed into the furnace would come from power stations run on fossil fuels. And perhaps, Sandia hopes, it may also come straight from the air around us.

In the race to find a practical and renewable fuel, producing carbon monoxide from air – without having to plug any equipment into the grid – is a significant achievement. Carbon monoxide is a building block for hydrocarbons, the key compounds in crude oil. Petrol from thin air? No wonder the US government is backing that idea, although it could be 20 years before the CR5 hits the market.

Meanwhile, in Hawaii, the petroleum giant Shell has more immediate plans. Its ingenious system aims to produce biodiesel from pond scum. It might sound outlandish, but algae has become something of a buzzword in future-fuel circles. If Shell, the first oil major to invest in algal oils, can show the technique to be a viable alternative to standard diesel and existing biofuels, algal fuels could soon appear on a forecourt near you.

Of course, biofuels – fuels produced from crops – aren't new. Henry Ford designed a car to run on ethanol 100 years ago, but gasoline made from oil became the fuel of choice thanks to its low price. But today, sky-high prices caused by the combined threats of emptying oil wells, climate change and Middle East instability mean that production of biofuels has soared in recent years.

Even President George Bush, a notorious heel-dragger on environmental issues, said in 2006 that the US should replace 75 per cent of imported oil with biofuel by 2025. The UK Government wants 5 per cent of transport fuel sold at the pumps to be biofuel by 2010. Biofuels now comprise 1 per cent of global transport fuel and its share is growing fast.

But in recent months, a growing band of experts has raised doubts about the biofuels bandwagon, and about the environmental credentials of these supposedly "green" new fuels. Problems include the demands they make on arable land, the need for water for irrigation, and the amount of energy they actually produce.

Across the US and Brazil, among other countries, crops such as sugar cane, maize, rapeseed and palm are being grown to produce millions of gallons of biodiesel and bioethanol (an alternative to petrol). Globally, about 12 million hectares – or about 1 per cent of the world's fields – are devoted to biofuel crops. In many cases forested areas, as well as land that could be devoted to producing food, are being stripped to make way for biofuels.

That cannot continue, researchers say. The International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria has estimated that there are no more than 300 million hectares of land in the world that could be used for biofuels, but that it will require 290 million hectares to meet one-tenth of global energy demands in 2030. But by then, a further 200 million hectares will be needed just to feed the three billion more people in the world. The figures don't add up.

And then there is the water needed to cultivate these thirsty crops. Scientists at the Stockholm Environment Institute in Sweden predict that switching just half of the fossil fuels that will be needed for transport and electricity by 2050 to biofuels would use up to 12,000 extra cubic kilometres of water per year. That almost matches the annual flow of water down all the world's rivers.

Also, producing biofuels soaks up generous quantities of nitrogen-based fertilisers. Some of the nitrogen is converted into nitrogen oxide, which, in the long term, has 300 times the warming effect of carbon dioxide. Factoring in these emissions, scientists have shown that some biofuels produce more – not less – greenhouse gases than their oil-derived predecessors. The warming caused by nitrous oxide emissions in rapeseed biodiesel, for example, is up to 1.7 times as much as the cooling effect of replacing fossil fuels.

A slew of such studies has led to a demand for genuinely sustainable, or "second generation", biofuels. Shell thinks the answer could lie with algae. "I think we should be very excited about this kind of technology," says Darran Messem, Shell's vice-president of fuel development. "It's very important that we diversify oil supply away from food sources."

Unless you are a goldfish, algae are not a food source, which is one of their biggest advantages as a biofuel source. Another is low demand on land. "We estimate we can achieve 15 times the biofuel yield per hectare using algae rather than conventional crops," Messem says. Algae achieve this thanks in part to their remarkable growth rate; they can double their mass several times a day and can be grown in high density in man-made coastal ponds that don't compete with agricultural land.

An acre of maize can produce just over 1,000 litres of ethanol a year, and an acre of soybeans just 227 litres. In theory, an acre of algae could produce 19,000 litres of biofuel a year – and the organism can be harvested daily rather than annually. What's more, algae have an extraordinary capacity for absorbing CO2, owing to the organism's ultra-efficient photosynthesis. This efficiency is also the reason for the rapid growth.

Like the CR5 dish, it is hoped that algae farms could use the CO2 waste from power stations, creating the possibility of power plants that produce fuel simply as a by-product of electricity, rather than pumping tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. Shell says a 1,000-hectare algae facility would absorb 300,000 tons of CO2, which, even factoring in the fossil fuels that would be consumed in processing algal oils, would be the equivalent of taking 70,000 medium-sized cars off the road.

To test these impressive statistics, Shell's pilot facility in Hawaii will measure just 2.5 hectares in area – about the size of three football pitches – and will produce biodiesel for two years. If the trial is successful, a 1,000-hectare facility will follow. "A full-scale commercial facility would need to be much larger, at around 20,000 hectares," Messem says. "Those are big numbers, but not in the context of overall agricultural production, particularly in the US."

Shell isn't yet explaining exactly how its Hawaii plant will turn algae into fuel, but it goes something like this: natural algae, which flourish in the warm sea off Hawaii, are fed sea water in concrete pools. Carbon dioxide is bubbled through the ponds, and a small amount of proprietary fertiliser is added. The fully grown algae are then skimmed off the surface and processed into biodiesel. "I can't go into details, but we want to work on low-energy methods that extract oils from the lipids in algae and convert them into biodiesel," Messem says.

Shell is by no means alone in these plans. There are small-scale pilot plants in the deserts of Arizona and Utah, where algae are grown in sealed bags or on hi-tech solar racks and flushed with water. This means that algae fuel plants might not need to be beside the sea.

At the Science Museum in London, a small algal system is the centrepiece of an exhibition titled Can Algae Save the World?. "The area's really blown up again just in the past six months," says Dr Geraint Evans, head of biofuels at the National Non-Food Crops Centre in York.

While the techniques sound hi-tech, the fuels derived from algae are not new. The US Department of Energy began researching them in the 1970s as the oil price rose, but abandoned them in the 1990s as the cost of a barrel fell again.

Dr Evans is upbeat about algae's potential as it comes back into vogue. "If algal oils can show they are genuinely sustainable, I think they could be a very attractive alternative."

But Evans predicts that it will be at least 50 years before petrol and diesel are replaced, whether by fuels from solar furnaces or algae beds. "I think of these things as wedges," he says. "Conventional biodiesel is a wedge that I don't see providing more than 10 per cent of transport fuel needs. Oils from maize, say, might be another 10 per cent, with algae providing a further wedge. Oil will be replaced eventually, but not by one thing."

by Simon Usborne

full article

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

'Action needed' on home emissions

European governments and the European Commission are being urged to hasten the development of housing that produces no greenhouse gases.

The European Energy Network (ENR), which includes energy advisory bodies across the EU, says better enforcement of green building codes is also needed.

Less than a quarter of EU states have introduced certification schemes for houses, as required under EU law.

European governments have agreed to boost energy efficiency by 20% by 2020.

The ENR report, a snapshot of legislation and other action across member states, will be formally released on Tuesday.

"One implication of our findings is that the European Commission needs to take some leadership and set a timetable for all new buildings around Europe to be zero-carbon," said Philip Sellwood, chief executive of Britain's Energy Saving Trust (EST), an ENR member.

For national governments, ENR says, a priority should be to introduce energy performance certificates that give houses an "energy rating", a key requirement of the Energy Performance in Buildings Directive.

The report describes lack of progress on this issue as "disappointing".

Simple savings

Some countries, the report says, are making considerable progress on improving energy efficiency, which many experts agree is the simplest way to slash fossil fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions.

Britain has introduced energy performance certificates and set a target of building only zero-carbon homes from 2016.

Even so, Mr Sellwood says the government has not set up the support mechanisms needed to encourage householders to invest in energy saving measures.

"In the UK, the average home has the potential to save £300 per year by just installing the most effective measures such as loft insulation and modern heating controls," said Mr Sellwood.

"Energy supply companies are under an obligation to help their customers become more energy efficient; but lots of householders don't trust their energy companies.

"So we have these schemes within national government, local authorities and supply companies; what we don't have is a long term strategy for sustainable housing."

Where the UK has fallen down in the past, EST notes, is on the enforcement of building codes.

In Germany, economic factors meant that until recently, energy efficiency was not generally a priority, according to Markus Kratz of Project Management Juelich, a research consultancy engaged by the national government.

"Industry did not want to lose any of its market, and there was some public resistance against energy efficiency when energy prices were low," he said.

"Now prices are rising, and that is changing."

Regional differences

Few European countries have seen such rapid economic growth in recent times as Ireland, where the "Celtic tiger" phenomenon stimulated the house-building industry, with demand and prices quickly rising.

Joe Durkan from the House of Tomorrow Programme, a project of the government agency Sustainable Energy Ireland, believes the introduction of energy performance certificates in this thriving house-building sector has raised the profile of energy efficiency.

"There's lots of information about it, and lots of excitement," he told BBC News.

"Builders are now using it as a marketing tool; the certificates have a sliding scale from A to G, and developers are now competing to offer A1 certificates on the properties they have for sale."

The ENR report comes at the beginning of European Sustainable Energy week, which will see a series of events and seminars on various aspects of the issue convened by the European Commission.

By Richard Black
full article

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Households' £730 bill for green energy

Households will have to pay up to £730 a year to fund plans to tackle climate change, it was claimed yesterday.
Under laws proposed by Brussels, Britain will be forced to generate 40% of its electricity from green sources within 12 years. Currently, the figure for wind, wave and hydroelectric power is just 2%.
To meet the target - and avoid hefty fines - energy experts say thousands more wind turbines will be needed. The move would anger anti-turbine campaigners and represent an enormous engineering challenge.

Brussels says the proposals are essential to curb global warming even though environmentalists say they do not go far enough. The European Commission claimed the package would cost the average European citizen £115 a year. Britons will pay far more because the country lags in the green energy stakes.

Open Europe, a Eurosceptic think-tank supported by Marks & Spencer boss Sir Stuart Rose, said a typical family would be paying a £730 levy by 2020.

In order to produce enough green energy by that date, Britain would need to build two giant wind turbines every day. 'Britain has such a low level of renewable energy right now, the cost of meeting this target will be higher than for most other EU countries,' said Open Europe spokesman Hugo Robinson.

The climate change plans were unveiled by Jose Manuel Barroso, the Portuguese European Commission president. The commission pledged last year to generate 20% of Europe's energy from renewable sources - such as wave, tidal, hydroelectric and wood burning - within 12 years.

Europe is demanding that 15% of all the energy used in Britain for electricity, transport and heating comes from renewables - a rise of 13% on the current level. No other country faces such a large increase. Britain is already committed to ensuring that 10% of the energy used for transport is biofuel - produced from crops rather than oil - so further opportunities for green transport fuel are limited.
David Derbyshire, Daily Mail

full article

Monday, 21 January 2008

Abu Dhabi plots hydrogen future

The government of Abu Dhabi has announced a $15bn (£7.5bn) initiative to develop clean energy technologies.

The Gulf state describes the five-year initiative as "the most ambitious sustainability project ever launched by a government".

Components will include the world's largest hydrogen power plant.

The government has also announced plans for a "sustainable city", housing about 50,000 people, that will produce no greenhouse gases and contain no cars.

The $15bn fund, which the state hopes will lead to international joint ventures involving much more money, is being channelled through the Masdar Initiative, a company established to develop and commercialise clean energy technologies.

"As global demand for energy continues to expand, and as climate change becomes a real and growing concern, the time has come to look to the future," said Masdar CEO Dr Sultan Al Jaber.

"Our ability to adapt and respond to these realities will ensure that Abu Dhabi's global energy leadership as well as our own growth and development continues."

Technology bridge

The portfolio of technologies eligible for funding under the Masdar Initiative is extensive, but solar energy is likely to be a major beneficiary.

The hydrogen plant, meanwhile, will link the world's currently dominant technology, fossil fuel burning, with two technologies likely to be important in a low-carbon future - carbon sequestration and hydrogen manufacture.

Hydrogen will be manufactured from natural gas by reactions involving steam, producing a mixture of hydrogen and carbon dioxide.
The CO2 can be pumped underground, either simply to store it away permanently or as a way of extracting more oil from existing wells, using the high-pressure gas to force more of the black gold to the surface.

When hydrogen is burned, it produces no CO2. Eventually hydrogen made this way could be used in vehicles, though in Abu Dhabi it will generate electricity.

"It's important because it shows that you can generate hydrogen without carbon release from fossil fuels," commented Keith Guy, an engineering consultant and professor at the UK's Bath University.

"When you look at how hydrogen could be made economically, the route that many people have been looking at, through electrolysis of water, is incredibly expensive."

The Masdar Sustainable City, another component of the Abu Dhabi government's plans which is being designed with input from the environmental group WWF, is envisaged as a self-contained car-free zone where all energy will come from renewable resources, principally solar panels to generate electricity.

Buildings will be constructed to allow air in but keep the Sun's heat out. Wind towers will ventilate homes and offices using natural convection.

full article

Saturday, 19 January 2008

Sun setting on solar power?

There are fewer solar panels in the UK than anywhere else in Europe - and no one's blaming the weather. Sarah Lonsdale spotlights a national disgrace
David Street's house in Nightingale Road, Stoke Newington, is the kind of new home all builders should be constructing.
That is if we are to stand any chance of meeting the Government's target to reduce carbon emissions from housing by 60 per cent by 2050. And Friends of the Earth say that is too low - it should be 80 per cent.

Unlike its wasteful Victorian neighbours, Mr Street's home consumes approximately two thirds less energy than a conventional house, has super-insulation, carbon- neutral windows, is built from recycled materials and most of its roof is covered in electricity-generating (PV) solar panels.

The house is not completely carbon-neutral, however, owing to the Government's mismanagement of the renewable energy grants system. The whole of the recycled rubber roof should have been solar-panelled but the owner-builder, college lecturer David Street, could not afford that.

This is because the Government's grants procedure for installing wind and solar energy systems in houses, under its Low Carbon Buildings Programme, is so complicated and inadequate that few homeowners feel the expense is worthwhile.
Despite Gordon Brown's positive talk about reducing carbon emissions, the UK's production of solar electricity remains extremely low - about 3 per cent of our electricity comes from the sun, compared to up to 20 per cent in other European countries.

Figures for per capita production of solar electricity show that the UK is 15th in Europe, behind Spain, Greece and Italy. These countries have more sun but, to our shame, we lag behind Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Holland.

"I missed out on £5,000 of grants because as I was building the house, the Government was in the process of changing the grants system," says Street.

By the time he managed to obtain his grant, it had become a flat rate of £2,500 per household, and as a result he had to cut back on the number of panels he installed.

"The Government is boasting about being green but is doing very little to help homeowners reduce their reliance on fossil fuel." Research by Labour MP Lynne Jones reveals that until March 21, 2007, 3,988 households had been awarded grants under the Low Carbon Buildings Scheme.

But in the six months from March to September, only 113 households had applied, because of the £2,500 cap. "Applicants are abandoning the scheme," says Dr Jones.

In a recent report, Dr Brenda Boardman, of the University of Oxford's Environmental Change Institute, blamed the "abysmally slow" rate of installations not only on the grants system, but on the amount paid to home generators who sell "green" electricity back to the National Grid.

In Germany and Spain, whose governments are actively encouraging micro- production of solar electricity, homeowners are paid about 30p per kWh (kilowatt hour) for electricity they sell back to the grid. In the UK, there is no national policy and the amount homeowners are offered for their clean, green electricity varies from a low of nothing to a high of 18p per kWh, paid by Scottish and Southern Energy.

Unsurprisingly, because the system costs more to install, and the payback time is more than three times as long than in other countries, UK homeowners are giving it a wide berth.

Since the government reduction, says Dave Timms of Friends of the Earth, the uptake of grants has "fallen off a cliff".

"It must be some kind of record that a grants system aimed at supporting a fledgling renewable energy industry has actually resulted in the shedding of jobs," he says.

"In Germany, the industry employs more than a quarter of a million people."

The Government's Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform counters: "By introducing a maximum grant level, we can use the funds to support an increased number of installations. We believe the £2,500 cap will still make a useful contribution to PV installations going forward."

Launching the Conservatives' Green Paper Power to the People last month, David Cameron said: "Once people start generating their own electricity they will become far more conscious of the way in which they use it. A new system of tariffs, by which people are paid for the energy they produce, will stimulate diversity of power supply."

Juliet Davenport, chief executive of Good Energy, says: "All governments need to do is put their support in the right place and stop being part of the problem and become part of the solution."
full article

Inquiry demand after third energy price rise

British Gas said yesterday it was raising gas and electricity prices by 15% with immediate effect, meaning most of its 16 million customers will pay around £130 more over the coming year. The inflation-busting rise is expected to take customers' total spending on heating and lighting to more than £1,050 for the year - and add £1bn to British Gas coffers this year.

The government was coming under renewed pressure last night to launch an investigation into the home energy market after Britain's biggest supplier became the third power firm to raise prices substantially. The move, which was blamed on higher wholesale costs, prompted consumer groups to demand a Competition Commission investigation into whether the big six power firms that dominate the market were acting in "tacit collusion".

They say in other European countries recent price rises have been substantially less than the 15%-plus increases heaped on UK consumers - evidence that the UK market is not working. In Germany some bills have been falling, while in France gas prices have risen by 4%.

British Gas said yesterday it had been forced to put its prices up due to a 51% increase in wholesale gas prices, and to pay for new environmental charges. Much of Britain's gas is sourced from the North sea, Norway and continental Europe.

On Tuesday rival EDF claimed wholesale gas prices had risen by 117% when it raised its gas prices by almost 13%. Two weeks ago npower argued they had risen by 66% as it put 19% on gas prices.

The industry regulator, Ofgem, this week contradicted all three claims, saying one-year forward wholesale gas prices had in fact risen by 31% over the same period. The correct figure for electricity was 40%, it said. In the last three weeks oil and wholesale gas prices have been falling.

"I'm sick and tired of hearing energy companies try to justify the latest bout of pain they are inflicting on their customers," said Allan Asher, chief executive of consumer body Energywatch. "This increase piles on even more agony for consumers - particularly those on lower incomes. It is obvious to anyone who looks at it, this market is not delivering good value to consumers. The reasons are well known and explain why Energywatch has been calling on the government to call in the Competition Commission. The commission is a fantastic resource to be used in precisely these issues of market structure. It is a mystery to me why neither Ofgem nor the government want to use it."

Miles Brignall

full article

Sunday, 13 January 2008

The energy offer that really is a dead Cert

It's not often Guardian Money reports a genuine giveaway with no strings attached, but this is one. Starting this week, British Gas is offering anyone over 70 free home insulation worth around £600.

Amazingly, the offer is made regardless of income and you don't even need to be a British Gas customer. The initiative, which is part of the government's carbon emissions reduction target (Cert) scheme, will offer both cavity wall and loft insulation entirely free of charge to every homeowner in the UK who is either older than 70, or receiving certain benefits.

Parliament was told about the scheme in December and it came into effect at the beginning of this year. Cert obliges energy suppliers to promote reductions in carbon emissions for households. The companies are required to spend £1.5bn over the next three years to install energy efficiency measures in the homes of people on low incomes and the elderly.

Until now, grants to improve household energy efficiency were means tested. But now anyone who qualifies can apply to have their home insulated for nothing.

British Gas is the first to launch its scheme, and its measure is expected to be copied by the remaining big six power firms over the coming months.

Crucially, you don't have to buy your energy from British Gas to take up the offer, which is worth around £600 if you get both loft and cavity wall insulation fitted - more if you have a big house.

British Gas estimates that £1 in every £3 currently spent on heating UK homes is wasted due to poor insulation. Almost 9m UK homes have cavity walls that are waiting to be insulated. In England alone, around 40% of homes either have no loft insulation, or have less than 100mm (3.9in) of heat-retaining material in place, it says.

The Energy Savings Trust warns that around a third of a home's heat disappears through the walls. Good cavity wall insulation will save around £90 a year on heating bills, while proper loft insulation - 270mm deep - should save an average of £110 a year.

To take up British Gas's offer, simply ring 0845 6052535 (quoting code JOU). The firm will send a surveyor to establish whether your home has cavity walls and measure the thickness and quality of any insulation already in place. If your insulation is not up to modern standards British Gas will pay for further insulation material to be installed. If it is very old, it may replace the loft insulation entirely. There are no fees to pay, and Money has been assured there is no limit to the funds on offer and no risk that the offer will close a few months down the line.

The company says anyone installing both cavity wall and loft insulation will save up to £200 a year in energy bills, reducing CO2 emissions and helping the company hit its target.

At the end of the year Ofgem, the energy regulator, will calculate how much energy has been saved by each firm. It said this week that around £38 is being added to each household's gas and electricity's to pay for the Cert scheme.

A spokesman for British Gas says this is a no-strings offer available across the UK as long as the recipients fit the criteria. "Everyone over 70 is immediately eligible where they are a British Gas customer or whether they get their energy from one of our rivals. The same goes for those on particular benefits - regardless of their age. The aim is to improve the insulation of the homes in most need. If you think you may qualify, give the call centre a call and our staff will be able to talk you through the process."

Benefits include disability and attendance allowance, and income support. People who get working tax credit and earn less than £14,600 also qualify.

The scheme is not restricted to homeowners. Anyone living in social or privately rented housing, and getting the benefits can also apply - with the landlord's approval.

Meanwhile, if you live in London and want to start using low-energy light bulbs, British Gas is offering to do a swap. Anyone turning up at a B&Q store in the London area is being offered the chance to trade two conventional bulbs for a low energy model. The scheme, which is being run in conjunction with the mayor's office, ends tomorrow.

· Following npower's price increases last week - almost 20% for gas and 13% for electricity - its 4m customers are being advised to switch to another firm as "wherever they go they'll save money". If you want to insulate yourself from future rises, go for Scottish Power's PriceFall tariff, which guarantees prices will not rise before November. You'll have to be quick as it's now only available from the company's subsidiary website ( and is likely to be pulled soon.

full article

Energy rip-off exposed

BRITAIN’S biggest energy companies have stifled competition to raise prices and make record profits of more than £4.5 billion, a Sunday Times investigation has found.

The six companies that control Britain’s gas and electricity are now facing demands that they be referred to the Competition Commission.

Executives in charge of the six major companies were last week confirmed to be holding confidential meetings at least every two months to discuss market strategy. Smaller rivals are excluded.

The new disclosures come as a YouGov poll for The Sunday Times reveals that more than eight out of 10 customers believe they are being “ripped off” by the energy firms. Alistair Darling, the chancellor, is to meet Sir John Mogg, the head of regulator Ofgem, tomorrow for an explanation of the latest round of price rises.

Industry insiders said they are ready to give evidence about how the “big six” have driven up prices and boosted profits by:

- Keeping each other’s prices in step by raising and lowering tariffs within a few weeks of each other.

- Denying smaller rivals fair access to energy from their own power plants at affordable prices.

- Charging loyal customers significantly more than those who switch, so keeping up profits.

- Stifling competition by supporting laborious and expensive accreditation for new companies.

Allan Asher, chief executive of Energywatch, the consumer watchdog, said: “The problem with the energy market is that it’s lazy, complacent and uncompetitive. It has been able to drive out the possibility of any vigorous challenge to the prominence of the big six energy suppliers.”

The companies enjoyed a “bumper year” in 2007, profiting from a dramatic fall in the wholesale price of gas amid allegations they failed to pass on savings to householders. Analysts believe the companies are now poised to report record annual profits of more than £4.5 billion.

The companies last week confirmed that they were meeting regularly under the auspices of the Energy Retail Association. The association says market-sensitive issues are never talked about and pricing policies are discussed only in the context of a public debate about best practice. Rival energy companies say the association is a “closed shop” for the dominant companies and the minutes of meetings should be published.

The Sunday Times YouGov poll found that 85% of customers felt they were being ripped off by the energy firms. This compares to 76% of people who felt they were being ripped off by the railways; 74% by the petrol companies; and 59% by the banks and financial service industry.

Steven Swinford and Jon Ungoed-Thomas
full article

Saturday, 12 January 2008

Insulate yourself against rising energy prices

The average household energy bill is already close to £1,000 a year, and with a new round of price hikes currently underway, 2008 could well be the year when the cost of heating and powering your home finally smashes through in to four figures.

Last week, Npower welcomed in the new year by unveiling a 13 per cent rise in its electricity prices, and an eye-watering 17 per cent hike in its gas prices – with some regional prices increasing by as much as 27 per cent. The other major suppliers are expected to follow suit imminently.

The Npower move was the latest increase in what has been a rollercoaster year for energy prices. Scottish & Southern Energy (SSE) was one of many suppliers to up their costs early in 2006, increasing rates in January by 12 per cent for gas and 9.4 per cent for electricity. But these were later followed by headline reductions of 16 per cent in gas costs by all of the bigger providers.

In fact, according to the independent watchdog EnergyWatch, the average gas and electricity user typically paid less for energy in 2007 than they did in 2006. Only Npower customers paid more,around £20 more in electricity and £3 in gas.

The rise in prices has been driven by the increase in the price of crude oil and a 60 per cent increase in coal prices over the past year. And, according to, wholesale gas prices have continued to rally since the start of 2008.

Suppliers have been accused of profiteering from energy price changes, by passing on price increases quickly to consumers but neglecting to do the same when the cost of wholesale energy falls., the comparison site, claims that suppliers failed to pass on cuts worth £177 for every household last year.

"The prospect of being able to raise prices has had suppliers champing at the bit, so it was always a matter of time before one of them made the move," says Tim Wolfenden, the head of home services for "Npower has now given the other suppliers the green flag they've been waiting for. The coast is clear for a general price hike and energy bills can be expected to top £1,000. Consumers are going to be in for a rough ride this year."

That's the bad news. The good news is that there are still ways to ward off the effects of those increasing costs without digging up the road outside your home or getting used to sub-zero temperatures in your living room.


The big debate is whether to sit tight and see what price changes the "big six" suppliers inflict, or whether to bite the bullet and switch now. Switching energy suppliers could cut your bills by up to a third, especially for households who have never switched before. According to new figures, consumers can save up to £325 on their annual electricity and gas bills by choosing a different supplier.

Price comparison sites such as, and, as well as specialist sites such as, can all provide you with a league table depending on your needs. A full list of suppliers in your area is available from Changing suppliers usually just means making a few phone calls. You may even find that your new supplier is willing to pay you a cash incentive to switch.

Before you do, though, find out whether your new supplier has a high number of complaints, and watch out for any extra or hidden charges. The golden rule is that "dual fuel" deals – where customers buy both their gas and electricity from one supplier – tend to be the cheapest. Paying by direct debit is also essential, as many providers levy an additional charge for customer who don't.

Finally, don't relax once you have made the switch. Be sure to check on a regular basis that your tariff is still the most competitive.

Price caps

Capping the price of your energy is another attractive option in the current market climate. Suppliers have traditionally offered a deal for consumers to fix or cap energy prices over a specific period – usually a few years – in return for the consumer paying slightly above the standard energy unit rate at the time. But move quickly if you are planning to go down this route. With significant price hikes ahead, demand for these deals has been high, and they are quickly becoming harder to get your hands on.

Scottish Power is the latest supplier to close all its price-fixing products this week. In fact, as we went to press, just one price cap deal was left – E.ON's Price Protection 2009, fixed until 1 October 2009. At its standard rate, an average household in London would pay around £881.52 per annum. In contrast, the same household on one of the best current tariffs – British Gas Click Energy 4 – would pay annual energy bills of around £739.66.

Energy Use

We know that turning off lights and only boiling the water we need can reduce both our energy costs and carbon emissions. But once you've turned your plugs off at the wall, removed phone chargers after use, stopped using your tumble dryer, and turned down the thermostat and washing machine temperature by a few degrees, there are still other measures you can take.

Simply placing a "jacket" around your boiler could reduce bills by £20 a year. Upgrading your boiler or even your whole central heating system, though pricey, could save a packet over the long haul. Insulating your loft space, adding cavity wall insulation, and putting in double glazing can also be expensive – but at today's prices, you could recoup the costs within 10 years. When you replace electrical goods, look for the energy saving logo. An efficient fridge freezer will cut £40 off your bill.

There are also a number of little-known grant and incentive schemes available, depending on your financial situation and where you live. The Government provides grants of up to £2,700 for households to improve their heating and energy efficiency.

Most local authorities have similar programs. The Energy Saving Trust ( has a comprehensive list of available funding and discounts, or contact your supplier.

The Government's Energy Efficiency Commitment means that energy suppliers with a certain number of customers operating in Great Britain are obliged to achieve targets for improving home energy efficiency. The suppliers therefore provide a range of offers that significantly reduce the cost of installing energy efficiency measures. And you can take up offers from any of the energy companies, regardless of who supplies your energy.

Meanwhile, if you qualify, don't forget to claim your winter fuel allowance.

The green way to cut bills

* Replacing an old dishwasher with an Energy Saving Recommended (ESR) version could save you £16 per year and £145 over its lifetime.
* If all the UK's dishwashers were upgraded to ESR, in a year we could save £80m from electricity bills and 400,000 tonnes of CO2.
* Replacing an old washing machine with an ESR version could save you £80 over its lifetime.
* If all the UK's washing machines were upgraded to ESR, in a year we could save £84m from our electricity bills and 440,000 tonnes of CO2.
* Replacing an old fridge with an ESR version could save you £16 per year and £145 over its lifetime.
* If all the UK's old fridges were upgraded to ESR, in a year we could save £145m from electricity bills and 570,000 tonnes of CO2.
* Replacing an old freezer with an ESR version could save you £26 per year and £200 over its lifetime.
* If all the UK's old fridges were upgraded to ESR, in a year we could save £275m from electricity bills and more than a million tonnes of CO2.

Do it yourself

Another, increasingly popular way to cut your energy bills is to generate your own energy. Known as 'micro-generation', this really is a long-term commitment for homeowners, and the cost takes many years to recoup. But grants are often available for it, providing that the product and installation are certified and recognised by the grant board.

The savings on your energy bills can be substantial. For example, a biomass-powered boiler, fuelled by organic materials or even industrial and commercial products, costs between £5,500 and £12,000 to install – but could save you around £200 a year on your bills and around 8 tonnes of C02 per year.

A small wind turbine like David Cameron's is another option, particularly in urban areas and very remote locations. Assuming that planning permission is not a problem, a roof-mounted wind turbine could cost as little as £1,500. Solar photovoltaic panels are fairly expensive to produce, but costs are dropping as the technology improves. If you find a spot for the panels within 90 degrees of the sun's rays, you could be saving up to 1.1 tonnes of CO2 a year, and this could mean £150-£200 off your electricity bill (albeit for an initial outlay of between £5,000 and £8,000). If you're really successful you could even start selling your energy back to the national grid.

full article

Friday, 11 January 2008

Dash to go nuclear 'will add £250 to energy bills'

A new generation of nuclear power stations will be in place within a decade, the Government promised yesterday.

MPs were told that the technology was "tried and tested, safe and secure".

John Hutton said nuclear power would also mean Britain would not have to rely on oil and gas supplies from unstable regimes in the Middle East and elsewhere.
The Business Secretary said he had invited energy firms to build new reactors and the first could be in place "well before" 2020.

Critics said the move would see household electricity bills rise by up to £250 a year, partly because of the cost of dealing with waste. They said plants would be built only with taxpayer subsidies.

However, EDF, a French nuclear power giant, said yesterday it would submit plans to build four reactors by 2017.

full article

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Energy firms keep £1bn cost savings from customers

ENERGY companies have been accused of overcharging customers by more than £1 billion by exploiting changes in gas and electricity prices.

Millions of households are paying an estimated £200 a year over the odds for fuel because firms are quick to pass on price increases when their wholesale costs rise but slow to cut prices when costs fall.

Last week Npower, Britain’s fourth largest supplier with 6m customers, raised the price of gas by 17.2% and electricity by 12.7%, blaming the sustained rise in wholesale energy costs since September. All the other big suppliers, including British Gas, the market leader, are expected to follow suit with increases of 10% to 15%.

However, when wholesale prices started falling in January 2006 it took the energy firms more than a year to start cutting customers’ tariffs - and, according to analysts, they did not reduce bills by as much as they ought to have done.

Joe Malinowski, of price comparison website TheEnergy, said: “This industry has never passed on the full benefits of the falls in 2006, but has been very quick to pass on the latest increases.”

Analysts at another price comparison website,, said consumers should have benefited from an additional 10% price fall last year, before tariffs started to increase again.

They calculated that household gas bills ought to have fallen by 30% in 2006, while electricity rates should have been cut by about 8%. In fact, gas bills went down by an average of 12.3%, while electricity costs fell by 3.8%.

Mark Todd, of, said: “With the suppliers having failed to pass on the price drops from the wholesale market in 2006, the latest increases are not justifiable. Consumers are already paying at least £1 billion more than they should be.”

The disclosure comes as John Hutton, the energy secretary, said consumers faced the prospect of long-term rises in power bills as a result of measures to curb climate change emissions and improve energy security.

“A lot of what we are proposing will depend on the European emissions trading scheme, under which power generators will pay a price for emitting CO2,” said Hutton. “If the price is high enough then that will change the economics of nuclear power. There are likely to be long-term increases, but our power prices are among the lowest in Europe.”

Prices in Britain have, however, been rising much more rapidly than in the rest of Europe and Energywatch, the consumer watchdog, said comparisons between price levels in different countries were notoriously difficult.

The comparison firm uSwitch says suppliers withheld £177 in price cuts from every household in Britain last year. Npower, whose average dual-fuel bill now costs more than £1,000 a year, did not start cutting tariffs until April 2007 – a year after wholesale prices started falling.

The cut itself was announced in February 2007, so it took the firm almost 10 weeks to pass on the savings. The latest price rise - announced on Friday - came into effect a day later.

Malinowski points out that Centrica, the parent company of British Gas, announced a £533m operating profit in the first six months of 2007 and was making a 15% mark-up on wholesale and supply costs.

“This is an extraordinary margin which suggests it kept a large chunk of the wholesale market falls for itself,” he said.

A spokesperson for the Energy Retail Association said: “Britain’s energy suppliers buy their stock of electricity and gas years and months ahead of the day that they sell it to people’s homes.

“This is the reason that we have a time lag before changes in the wholesale price are fed through to customers. Let’s remember there was a substantial delay before energy suppliers passed on the rises which started four years ago.”

Ali Hussain and Jonathan Leake
full article

Gas giants find new way to push up prices

A round of punishing gas and electricity price rises has been set in motion, but reports of a 15% rise across the country do not tell the whole story. Some consumers will pay much more purely because of where they live.

Npower was the first supplier to raise prices, but the remaining members of the 'big six' – British Gas, Scottish & Southern Energy, Scottish Power, Powergen, and EDF Energy – are expected soon to follow suit.
The headlines were grabbed by Npower's 17.2% increase for gas and 12.7% increase for electricity, but hidden within the new pricing structure were regional variations that mean some regions will pay much more.

Users in London will pay an extra 21.7% for combined gas and electricity, while those in the North West will pay 20.8% more. Other regions, including the Midlands and Yorkshire, will pay less than the reported increase.

The discrepancies in price are due to suppliers applying, for the first time, regional variations in gas prices. Npower joined Scottish Power and Scottish & Southern Energy, who were each charging more to customer in the North West and less to those in Scotland.

Suppliers have justified the change by arguing that it costs more to deliver gas to some regions than to others. The distance the gas needs to be piped and the state of the pipes that carry the gas accounts for the differences.

However, consumer groups - who point out that changing suppliers does not mean a change in the gas that flows through the pipes - suggest that new pricing strategy is more to do with exploiting regions where customers have shown themselves to be reluctant to switch supplier. Suppliers see they can charge more in these regions with a lower risk that customers will seek a cheaper alternative.

Energywatch, the independent consumer watchdog for the energy industry said that the Npower move would create confusion. A spokesman said: 'Npower's move is likely to mean the development of regional gas markets with consumers having different unit costs for gas depending on where they live. This means more confusion for consumers in an already complex marketplace.

'To get a better deal, it is vital that they use postcode-based internet comparison sites to be certain they're getting advice specific to their location. Consumers should use the price comparison sites accredited by the energywatch Confidence Code.

Whatever the reasons for the differences the industry regulator, Ofgem, is reluctant to step in to prevent potential inequities in the system.

A spokesman for Ofgem said: 'We are not in the business of dictating how suppliers should set prices. If they become uncompetitive in a region they stand to lose customers.'

The increases applied by Npower will only affect its 6m customers, but customers of other suppliers could see similar regional variations if they apply the same logic when raising prices.

Ed Monk
full article

Ten myths about nuclear power

The UK government is expected to announce tomorrow that it will give the green light to the building of new nuclear power stations in the UK - the first since the Sizewell ‘B’ station was completed in 1995. These are urgently needed to make up the shortfall in power supply as older nuclear stations are closed over the next few years.

Yet the decision is bound to be controversial - not helped by widespread misinformation about nuclear power. Greens opposing nuclear power muddle every issue from terrorism to uranium supplies, in order to besmirch the only proven safe and cost-effective way to generate large amounts of electricity that won’t produce large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. One would think that greens don’t want a world with abundant energy and a stable climate!

These are some of the myths we are likely to hear from greens debating nuclear power over the next few weeks:

2) Nuclear is not a low-carbon option

Anti-nuclear campaigners claim that nuclear power contains ‘hidden emissions’ of greenhouse gases (GHGs) from uranium mining and reactor construction. But so do wind turbines, built from huge amounts of concrete, steel and plastic.

The OECD analysed the total lifetime releases of GHG from energy technologies and concluded that, taking into account mining of building materials, construction and energy production, nuclear is still a ‘lower carbon’ option than wind, solar or hydroelectric generation. For example, during its whole life cycle, nuclear power releases three to six grams of carbon per kiloWatthour (GC kWh) of electricity produced, compared with three to 10 GC/kWh for wind turbines, 105 GC/kWh for natural gas and 228 GC/kWh for lignite (‘dirty’ coal) (6).

Greens, exemplified by the Sustainable Development Commission, place their trust in ‘carbon capture and storage’ (CCS) to reduce the GHG emissions from coal and gas plants (7). But carbon capture is, at present, a myth. There is no functioning power station with CCS in the world – not even a demonstration plant – and if it did work, it would still greatly reduce the energy efficiency of any power station where it is installed.

4) Reactors produce too much waste

Contrary to environmentalists’ claims, Britain is not overwhelmed with radioactive waste and has no radioactive waste ‘problem’.

By 2040 there will be a total of 2,000 cubic metres of the most radioactive high-level waste (9), which would fit in a 13 x 13 x 13 metre hole – about the size of the foundations for one small wind turbine. Much of this high-level waste is actually a leftover from Britain’s atomic weapons programme. All of the UK’s intermediate and high-level radioactive waste for the past 50 years and the next 30 years would fit in just one Royal Albert Hall, an entertainment venue in London that holds 6,000 people (and which seems, for some reason, to have become the standard unit of measurement in debates about any kind of waste in the UK) (10).

The largest volume of waste from the nuclear power programme is low-level waste – concrete from outbuildings, car parks, construction materials, soil from the surroundings and so on. By 2100, there will be 473,000 cubic metres of such waste from decommissioned plants – enough to fill five Albert Halls (11).

Production of all the electricity consumed in a four-bedroom house for 70 years leaves about one teacup of high-level waste (12), and new nuclear build will not make any significant contribution to existing radioactive waste levels for 20-40 years.

Rob Johnston
full article

Sunday, 6 January 2008

An energy saving bulb has gone - evacuate the room now!

Energy-saving light bulbs are so dangerous that everyone must leave the room for at least 15 minutes if one falls to the floor and breaks, a Government department warned yesterday.

The startling alert came as health experts also warned that toxic mercury inside the bulbs can aggravate a range of problems including migraines and dizziness.

And a leading dermatologist said tens of thousands of people with skin complaints will find it hard to tolerate being near the bulbs as they cause conditions such as eczema to flare up.

The Department for Environment warned shards of glass from broken bulbs should not be vacuumed up but instead swept away by someone wearing rubber gloves to protect them from the bulb's mercury content.

In addition, it said care should be taken not to inhale any dust and the broken pieces should be put in a sealed plastic bag for disposal at a council dump – not a normal household bin.
full article

Saturday, 5 January 2008

Q&A: Switching energy suppliers

Energy firm Npower has announced double-digit rises in the price its domestic customers will have to pay for gas and electricity - with industry observers saying that other companies are likely to follow suit.
So is now the time to reconsider who provides your energy?


I am an Npower customer. Should I look to change providers?

Not necessarily. Before the price rises, Npower was seen as one of the cheaper providers.

The independent watchdog Energywatch has said that, given other firms are likely to also raise their prices, it may be worth waiting to see what Npower's competitors do.

If you switch to a cheaper supplier today, you may well find that they too put up their prices, as all of the companies have to buy gas in exactly the same international market.

So switching is a waste of time then?

Not quite. The argument goes that savings can still be made, especially if you have never switched before and are still with either British Gas or the company that took over from your regional electricity board.

In those cases, you are likely to be on their highest tariff.

So you may still be able to achieve a significant relative cut in your bills.

How common is energy switching?

The full figures for 2007 are not yet available, but in 2006 about 4 million households changed their gas or electricity supplier, according to the energy regulator Ofgem.

In April 2006, when wholesale energy prices were last at very high levels, and price increases were starting to bite, a record 900,000 customers changed supplier.

However about 50% of UK households have never taken the opportunity to switch their provider and it is these people who are likely to have the best opportunity to make hefty savings.

How do you switch energy companies?

In theory, it is relatively easy to switch your energy supplier - and should certainly be less arduous than changing, say, a mortgage provider.

Regardless of where you live in the UK, there are several suppliers to choose from.

You can opt to have separate firms supplying your gas and electricity - or choose one company to supply both, commonly known as dual fuel.

The most common and effective way is to firstly identify the company which can offer the cheapest deal is to use a price comparison service.

Energywatch has approved 13 companies providing price comparison services both via the internet and on the telephone - and it lists these firms on its website.

Most of these companies will deal with your new supplier on your behalf, and also contact your old supplier to organise the switch. It does not cost the consumer anything - with the firms receiving a payment from the energy company which has won the new business.

However if you would rather go it alone, you can talk with the firm you want to be your new supplier and agree a contract. Then you tell your existing provider that you wish to end the service - usually having to give about one month's notice.

What if I use a pre-payment meter?

You too can also change suppliers.

People using pre-payment are often on low fixed incomes and could really benefit from moving to a less expensive provider, Energywatch says.

But despite this, industry figures suggest that just over a third of pre-payment gas users and four out of 10 electricity customers have changed supplier.

This compares with more than half of those who pay by direct debit and monthly bills.

How much can I save by switching

This depends on how much you are currently paying and on your personal circumstances - for example where you live and your level of usage.

Firms often offer discounts if you buy both gas and electricity from them.

But the industry regulator Ofgem has said that households changing their supplier for the first time can save an average of £100 per year.

Besides switching supplier, how else can I reduce my energy bills?

Changing your method of payment is one way that you may be able to save money.

If you can afford to pay by direct debit rather than by cash or cheque, this typically can knock about £40 off your annual bill, Energywatch says.

The other key thing to think about is reducing the amount of energy you use and the Energy Saving Trust has plenty of advice about this.

Tips include:

Don't leave appliances on standby

Unplug chargers for mobile phones, MP3 players etc. when not in use

Turn off lights when leaving a room

Wash clothes at lower temperatures

Turn the thermostat down

full article

Friday, 4 January 2008

Grate Expectations for Energy Saving Product

January 03, 2008 - Press Dispensary - A Wakefield-based business, Environmental Fireplace Solutions, is launching the Fireplace Heatsaver ( ), a product that is expected to slash householders’ heating bills and reduce their carbon footprint by as much as half a ton a 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, leaving cold air behind which then has to be reheated.

Recognising this problem, George Baker - managing director of Environmental Fireplace Solutions, who has over 25 years experience of working in the flue and chimney industry - came up with the concept of an attractive, lightweight, transparent shield which is easy to place over open fireplaces or fitted gas fire appliances and remove when they are in use.

Following months of painstaking research and development by the company, production of the Fireplace Heatsaver is now in full swing and an application has been made for a UK patent, along with product recognition status from the Energy Saving Trust. The company is also in discussions with Warm Front, a body funded by DEFRA which provides households with grants for heating and insulation. Environmental Fireplace Solutions is also supported by business incubator, West Yorkshire Ventures.

Daniel Shute, a director of Environmental Fireplace Solutions, said: “Bringing a new product to market is both challenging and demanding and having the backing of West Yorkshire Ventures has been beneficial.”

He added: “As winter approaches, we are confident that the Fireplace Heatsaver, which really does make homes warmer, is a winner on both the environmental and fiscal front. Our sales target over the next 12 months is 5,000 units.”

full article

Will a £4000 grant make you go green?

HOUSEHOLDERS are being encouraged to get their hands on some cash and save the environment in the process.

The Energy Saving Trust is pushing for more people to apply for a £4000 grant to make their houses more energy efficient.

Already the organisation has given £19million to homeowners across Scotland for systems such as solar hot water systems, ground source heat pumps, biomass heating systems and wind turbines.

Gill Davies of the Energy Saving Trust says: "What better time of year is there to nail your green credentials to the mast and reduce your carbon footprint?

"We work closely with applicants and it takes only 15 working days from grant application to knowing you'll get the cash."

The Energy Saving Trust - an independent advisory organisation - has approved close to 2300 grants during the past four years to Scots householders to make their homes more environmentally friendly.

It has seen a 1000% increase in the uptake of such grants over the past four years under the Scottish Community and Householder Renewables Initiative, which is funded by the Scottish Government and managed by the Energy Saving Trust.

Grants are capped at £4000 and limited to two per household and have been given for renewable technologies such as solar hot water systems, ground source heat pumps and biomass heating systems.

Also eligible for funding are micro hydro-electric, automated wood fuel heating systems and wind turbines made by firms such as Glasgow manufacturer Windsave, which has sold 200 micro-wind turbines in Scotland.

Retired city solicitor Alan Barwell took advantage of a grant after moving to a new home in Blairgowrie.

He was given £4000 towards the cost of a £12,000 biomass boiler. Alan, 70, said: "Without the grant we would not have been able to afford to install the biomass boiler. The boiler has been in place for almost a year and we are very pleased with it."

For more information call the Energy Saving Trust's SCHRI on 0800 138 8858 or see
full article

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Row over plan for new coal-fired power station

A furious row has erupted over a plan to build Britain's first coal-fired power station for more than 20 years.
The energy company E.ON UK wants to replace existing coal-fired units at Kingsnorth power station in Medway, Kent, with two new cleaner units.

The company claims the £1 billion project would produce power from coal more efficiently and more cleanly than ever before in the UK providing enough energy to supply 1.5 million homes while cutting carbon emissions by almost 2m tons a year.

Councillors in Medway have backed the plan but the final decision will rest with the Government.

If the plans are approved the plant could be up and running by 2012. But the proposals angered environmental groups who said a new coal-powered plant would inevitably damage plans to cut the UK’s CO2 emissions.

They said it would be better to invest the money in more sustainable energy projects such as wind power.

Paul Golby, E.ON UK's chief executive, said the company was committed to reducing its carbon emissions by half by 2030.

"This particular investment is significantly more efficient than conventional coal plants and that is equivalent to taking about half a million cars off the road," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

As well as building the new plant the company is hoping to design and build a carbon capture demonstration scheme where greenhouses gases would be stored in disused North Sea oil and gas fields rather than being pumped into the atmosphere.
By Paul Eccleston

full article

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Eco-homes forest plan put forward

Plans to restore the ancient tradition of living and working in woodland areas are being submitted in the Highlands later this month.

Scotland's largest public landowner, the Forestry Commission, is behind the scheme to build 32 "eco-homes".

It has chosen Kilnhill wood, near Nairn, for the demonstration project.

However, some locals have expressed concern over a new distinct community in their midst. Highland Council will decide whether the project goes ahead.

The idea is to have small groups of low-energy mixed housing, including some affordable and some holiday homes, made, where possible, from local timber.

Intimate connection

Anyone buying a home in the Scots Pine forest would also have to join a trust, signing up to common values, which could include elements such as shared cars and non-car transport.

Phil Whitfield, of the Forestry Commission, said: "We're clearly interested in the idea of people becoming much more intimately connected with trees.

"Living in a forest, as opposed to some landscaping around a housing development, is really where this idea came from."

Plans for Kilnhill wood
The plans are for a community of about 30 homes in the woods

But the Friends of Kilnhill group has concerns over the impact on an area used by locals.

Chairman Stephen Gray said: "Our community, which is using the woodland, and the Nairn people, who are using the woodland, are going to get that taken away from them and replaced by a community of a certain way of thinking."

Other opponents have also claimed the plan could severely disrupt animals and birds in an area home to badgers, roe dear and red squirrels.

However, the Forestry Commission has stressed that its planning application is aimed at creating a sustainable lifestyle and ensuring that the concept of "living in a forest" has minimal impact.
full article