Monday, 30 June 2008

Green target 'to hike fuel bills'

UK households could see their annual energy bill rise 20% to pay for the cost of meeting the EU's 2020 emissions target, Ernst & Young has predicted.

The accountancy firm's report estimates that the UK would have to stump up £100bn for the capital investment needed to satisfy Europe's green goals.

The EU wants European countries to cut carbon dioxide levels by 20% by 2020.

It also wants member states to raise the proportion of renewable energy they use to 20%.

The report, called Costing the Earth, says UK households could not
easily afford higher energy bills at a time of record food and fuel bills.

The potential rise in utility bills would push more consumers into fuel poverty, according to one of the report's authors.

"Customers face a triple whammy - rising fuel and oil prices, the cost of climate change mitigation, and on top, the additional investment required to become more energy efficient, for example by insulating the home," said Simon Harvey, of Ernst & Young.

full article

Sunday, 29 June 2008

How far will Renault's hydrogen fuel cell Scenic go?

The hydrogen fuel cell car is also electric, but it has more oomph and more range than the usual milk float. You pump some hydrogen into the car much as you’d refill your car with petrol or diesel, and the gas chemically reacts with oxygen from the air. That takes place in the “fuel cell” or stack, and the electricity generated amounts to 90kw - enough to tug a medium sized car around.

The power is stored in lithium batteries, of the kind you have in your laptop, which is both good and bad for PR, given the incidents of spontaneous combustion that were reported a while back. There is also a conventional 25kw back-up battery on board. That lot powers an electric motor and that moves you and your Scenic along at up to about 100mph. It has a range of perhaps 150 miles. Both are far in advance of anything the conventional electric car scene can provide. Your hydrogen fuel cell Scenic sometimes leaves a little trail of water from the exhaust, like an incontinent spaniel. Very clean.

So as Honda, Mercedes-Benz, Opel, and now Renault have shown, the technology is out there, and it works well. The car felt fine to me; very quiet, obviously, with the traditional engine removed. It is noticeably heavier in the handling, as the Scenic ZEV has gained some 300kg of weight in the conversion, an issue for the engineers. Yet it stopped OK, accelerated briskly and went round corners at moderate speeds in a predictable fashion. As far as the safety of the tank is concerned, this pressurised unit has apparently had grenades thrown at it and survived, so it is probably more secure than most petrol tanks of today. But such concerns as this, and vague memories of the Hindenburg disaster will, I fear, prevent the public from taking to hydrogen fuel cells without a great deal of persuasion.

Trickier though is the whole question of whether this great leap forward is actually worthwhile, on environmental or economic grounds. The technology is there; but that doesn’t mean we have to use it. For a start there’s the cost. Economies of scale would soon kick in, but it may well be that there is still a cost penalty compared with the old-fashioned petrol or diesel car. Will we want to pay that?

By Sean O'Grady

full article

Homes that produce their own energy



Welcome to the new eco-industrial revolution. Until now, many people who have installed solar panels, wind turbines or other such green paraphernalia have done so largely out of ideological conviction. Increasingly, though, it can make economic sense, too, thanks both to the rising cost of energy and to a series of financial incentives, unveiled by the government last week, that will allow householders to sell surplus energy to the grid at premium prices. The proposals, which include the building of 3,500 onshore wind turbines, are designed to ensure that Britain hits its EU target of generating 15% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020.

Companies producing solar panels and turbines, or converting redundant water wheels, are reporting a sharp rise in sales as more and more of us try to move partially or completely “off grid”. Even Prince Charles is said to be looking at plans to dig 600ft down to install a ground-source heat pump beneath the gardens of Highgrove.

Such is the rise in demand for energy-sufficiency that County Homesearch, a property-finding company, has launched a specialist service, in conjunction with Gage Williams, a former army officer turned micro-generation consultant, that helps buyers to locate homes capable of producing enough surplus power to generate a considerable income. The company’s Cornwall office has identified 800 promising mills in the southwest, in various states of ownership and repair. If converted, they could produce enough electricity to pay back the cost of a turbine in as little as four years.
Using renewables to heat your home will not produce an income in the same way, but can reduce your energy bills. The main methods are solar thermal collectors, which heat water in pipes on your roof; heat pumps, which extract warmth from the ground; and wood-burning boilers. A basic solar thermal system should cost about £1,800 and provide about 80% of a typical family’s hot water during summer months - and make a useful contribution at other times. A typical ground-source heat pump - which requires either a deep hole in the ground or a large horizontal area - could cost between £6,400 and £12,000, while you could buy a 20kW boiler for £5,000.


John-Paul Flintoff

full article

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Britons' energy bills may jump on Government's renewable energy plan

The Government's plans to increase the amount of energy from renewable sources could mean higher bills for customers.
John Hutton, the Business Secretary, will today unveil a new "blueprint" which will lead to 15 per cent of Britain's energy coming from renewables by 2020.

There will be a shift away from fossil fuels to wind, solar and tidal power, which will mean 7,000 new wind turbines being built.

Mr Hutton warned it could mean householders facing higher utility bills at a time when energy costs are already riding.

However, homeowners will be given financial incentives to fit their roofs with solar panels.

Mr Hutton said: "There is a cost of going green. But there is a greater cost if we don't. The challenge is to make this change in the most effective way possible.

"We have little real choice. The option of making no change is not available."
Mr Hutton said the plans, which will need £100 billion of new investment, were the biggest shake-up in Britain's power generation since the Industrial Revolution.

By Andrew Porter

full article

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Get the cheapest 'green' energy deal

Switching to a ‘greener’ energy tariff may cost you more than a conventional deal but it needn't cost the earth, Which? Money says today.

The magazine has compared green gas and electricity deals from 10 energy suppliers to find the best available.

We found that Npower was the cheapest green option for gas and dual fuel tariffs (a gas and electricity package), while for electricity Scottish Power was the best value.
Renewable energy

Using a variety of addresses around the UK, our researchers posed as a customer currently paying £720 a year for gas and £480 a year for electricity from different companies.

We found that green energy tariffs are still significantly more expensive than the cheapest non-green options.

But the prices of green tariffs also vary hugely, and some are more eco-friendly than others.
Dual fuel discount

Which? Money editor Martyn Hocking said: ‘Many companies offer a dual fuel discount if you buy both gas and electricity.

‘Consider carbon offsetting as a potentially cheaper alternative to green energy. But if you are buying green energy, check the company’s fuel mix to see how much renewable energy it produces overall.’

Which? runs an impartial energy price comparison site, Switch with Which?.

full article

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Why UK Natural Gas Prices Will Move North of 100p/Therm This Winter

WHERE IS UK NATURAL GAS PRICES HEADED AND WHY
In 2007 the UK natural gas market became flooded with natural gas thus depressing prices. This flood of natural gas resulted from several sellers, like Norway, Holland (BBL) and LNG traders, had perceived an increased tightness in the UK market (due to declines in UK indigenous supplies and expected growth in consumption) for the heating season 2006/2007 and positioned them to reap the profits from this tightness. What happened, as these players seems to have been unaware of each other (which should be the case in an ideal liberalized marketplace), was that supply increased more than demand grew and in addition the weather became milder than normal, a combination and a recipe for depressing natural gas prices.

UK will increasingly have to cover their natural gas consumption through imports, which suggests that an era of cheap natural gas, which has also acted as a competitive edge, increasingly will have to become harmonized with natural gas prices on Continental Europe which UK increasingly will have to bid against to secure supplies. Indirectly this may now be observed as less natural gas is exported to Continental Europe in the summer months through the Interconnector.

The above points suggest that natural gas prices on average in 2008 in UK will have to put on 150 - 200% resulting in average prices through 2008 of 75 - 90 p/therm at the beach. Recently natural gas is now trading at 60 - 65 p/therm.

It is difficult to predict the weather for the upcoming heating season and this is often the one factor having the greatest effect on short term natural gas prices. Given the seasonal nature of natural gas consumption it should come as no surprise if UK natural gas prices at the beach move north of 100 p/therm before the upcoming Christmas.

For an average household consuming 600 - 700 therm/annually (18 - 21 000 kWh/a) this would translate into an increase of the households natural gas bill of £3 - 400 this year relative to 2007.
SUMMARY
In this post it has been shown why UK households and industries should expect to increasingly be hammered by growing energy prices.

In less than ten years UK went from being a considerable energy exporter to becoming in size a similar energy importer. In 2007 UK imported more than 20% of its energy needs. This import is now forecast to grow at an annual rate of 13 - 15 MTOE (250 - 300 kboe/d; kilo barrels of oil equivalents a day) or 6 - 8% in the years ahead. What makes UK such an interesting subject from an energy standpoint is that the UK has had to transit from a major energy exporter to an energy importer with a speed never seen before for any other comparable economy. There are economies that are and have been more reliant on energy imports than UK (like Germany, France, Italy, Japan to name a few) and these have from these realities developed (seemingly) long term successful strategies involving central government’s involvement to cope with this energy reality.

This post has further shown that the UK energy mix is dominated by natural gas and thus made it vulnerable for potential future supply crunches. To revise the energy mix is a time consuming process and if the world has passed, is on or close to its apex for liquid energy supplies, these will not constitute a sustainable alternative to natural gas for the UK energy mix.

I have been informed that after a coal mine has been closed it may take ten years to recommission it for operations. Coal is mainly used for electricity generation and could of course be used for both heating and cooking purposes, which suggests changing housing appliances and stoves to accommodate this. To base the future UK energy mix on more coal results in future growth in coal imports.

Nuclear energy comes with delicate political maneuvering as the public needs to familiar itself with this alternative. Further needs nuclear plants a lead/construction time of approximately 10 years from approval have been granted.

I have not presented anything about renewables.

(I consequently refuse to use the expression “renewable energy”, as people who are familiar with the laws of thermodynamics know that energy by nature is NOT renewable. Energy may be transformed from one form into another.)

So called renewables will play a role in the future energy mix, but their impact on energy supplies must realistically be viewed against the potent and versatile nature of oil and natural gas.

Like USA talks about its oil addiction it looks like UK needs to talk about its natural gas addiction.

Given the time frame and not least options available to redesign the UK energy mix it looks like the UK “energy supply war” may have been lost before most people became aware that there was one on.

Nature enforces its own limits and a realistic look on the future energy options available for UK, energy conservation and power down now seems the most likely. This is of course a harsh message for any politician to convey to the public as it requires talent and leadership which there generally seems to be a universal deficit of......even in good times.
BY Chris Vernon

full article

Cut heating bills without feeling the draught

Householders feeling the squeeze will be alarmed by news that gas and electricity bills could rise by a further 40 per cent this year. This will push the average cost of heating for the UK's hard-working families up to almost £1,500 a year – a rise of nearly £500. This comes on top of sharp price rises since the start of this year.
The price of oil has doubled in 12 months while wholesale gas has climbed by 75 per cent this year, rises that have prompted all the major energy companies to bump up prices by an average 15 per cent. Consumers have been warned to brace themselves for price rises in August, with further increases expected later in the year.
1 OPT FOR A FIXED-RATE

Most of the big energy companies offer fixed- or capped-rate deals, where prices are guaranteed not to rise for at least a year (and often more). Historically, fixed-rate deals have rarely been the cheapest available, meaning customers have been paying a premium for peace of mind.

At present, fixed-rate gas and electricity bills average out at £1,036 a year. While the exact price will depend on where you live and the amount of energy you use, this compares surprisingly well with standard energy tariffs, which now charge an average of £1,048 a year – leaving you £12 worse off.
2 MOVE TO AN ONLINE TARIFF

Georgina Walsh, of EnergyWatch, the gas and electricity watchdog, says:"Customers don't have to move suppliers to save money, they can often cut bills simply by moving on to a cheaper tariff with their existing company."
3 TAKE SOME SIMPLE ENERGY-SAVING STEPS

You don't have to resort to turning your heating off completely and wearing an extra sweater to save money. Nor do families have to spend thousands to make their homes more energy efficient. The simplest step is to switch off all your electrical equipment rather than leaving it on standby.

According to the Energy Saving Trust, this could reduce your electricity bill by 8 per cent a year. And turning your thermostat down by 1C will cut heating bills by up to 10 per cent, saving the average customer £40 a year.

If you draught-proof your home, as well as fitting covers over letterboxes and keyholes, this should make you feel warmer, even with the thermostat turned down. Likewise, fitting a cover over the hot-water tank should cut £20 off your annual bill, according to British Gas. And make sure that next time you replace a light bulb it is with an energy-efficient one. Replacing all your bulbs will save you about £45 a year.

4 DO YOU QUALIFY FOR HEATING GRANTS?

Those on certain benefits (for example, pension credit) will be able to claim up to £4,000 to make their home warmer and more energy-efficient. These grants can pay for loft-insulation, installing central heating, a new boiler and wall insulation.

To check your eligibility for the government-funded initiative, known as Warm Front, go to www.warmfront.co.uk, or call the Energy Efficiency Advice Centre on 0800 512 012.

full article

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Dyson working on new generation of fast, green cars

Britain's most famous inventor, Sir James Dyson, is working on a project that could lead to the creation of a fast, green car.

Engineers at his research laboratory in Wiltshire are developing a powerful lightweight motor that could enable electric cars to zoom along for hundreds of miles without causing pollution. Solar panels on their roofs or in garages would charge them with renewable energy.

In an interview with The Independent on Sunday, the scientist forecast that electric cars would be "the future" of transport, and predicted they could outnumber petrol vehicles in as little as 10 years' time.

"They're quiet and they're pollution free," enthused Sir James, whose bagless vacuum cleaner cemented his reputation as an innovative risk-taker and earned him an estimated £700m fortune.

The 61-year-old inventor also expressed his belief that the cars could overcome their current drawbacks – their short range and slow speed. "An electric car doesn't go far enough. It could do. Electric motors can do that," he said, adding that there were "fantastic opportunities" to make electric vehicles lighter.

"At the moment, electric cars are seen as city cars and to go 30mph is quite enough, but in the future that will change. An electric motor can go to very high speeds."

full article

Friday, 20 June 2008

To fix or not to fix - that is the question

With the daunting prospect of further energy price hikes this year, some Brits may wish to take a gamble to fix now and be quids in later. However, price comparison website moneysupermarket.com, urges people to consider their actions carefully, as making the wrong move could prove costly.

‘Fixed' and ‘capped' tariffs offer customers the financial security of knowing their energy costs will not rise above a set level. Four of the big six UK utility providers offer these tariffs, with the latest offerings from British Gas Price Guarantee December 2009 tariff available from 1st June and Scottish Power Fixed Price 2009 tariffs available from 4th June.

At £1071 a year, British Gas Price Guarantee December 2009 is more than £200 more expensive than the cheapest online dual fuel tariff from British Gas, Click Energy 5 at £845.

Scott Byrom, utilities manager at moneysupermarket.com said: "Fixing your energy tariff, could be an excellent option for those looking to protect their payments against future price hikes. However, there will be a premium to pay for this peace of mind

"Brits looking to stay on the cheapest deal available should consider dual fuel online products. We have already seen rises of 15 per cent this year; customers should note that it would only take a 20 per cent increase in energy prices by the end of next year for the cheapest online dual fuel deal to become more expensive than the fixed options currently available."

Bill payers should be aware that fixed price tariffs may charge a termination fee and, as the table above shows, this can be as much as £75.

full article

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Soaring fuel prices spark LPG boom

The spiralling cost of standard fuels is driving a ten-fold increase in the number of people asking about conversion to liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).

While individual car owners and public bodies such as the police and councils try to identify ways of cutting fuel bills, the option of LPG is becoming increasingly popular.

Cromer business Jaymic Systems, which provides conversions and distributes equipment nationwide for other businesses involved in conversion, has been on the frontline of the peak in interest.

"We have gone from about 10 phone calls a week from people asking about conversions to about 100 a week," said company director Martyn Soer.

"The reasons are pretty simple, you can achieve an approximate 40pc saving in your fuel bill and reduce your carbon footprint by around 20pc. The emission gains don't seem to be the thing which gets people to do this. It is the financial saving which makes the real difference. When there is a financial crisis, people look to how they can save and going to LPG is an obvious option."

A one-off bill of between £1,500 and £2,000 is the typical cost, but Mr Soer said the easier way to view the cost was to realise that at a yearly 15,000 mileage, it would take 18 months to "get your money back".

Further savings can be had, with the London congestion charge allowing certain vehicles to drive into the charge areas free if they run on LPG and many permit-parking schemes in cities across the country also operating similar discounts.

The reason even more people were not going got for LPG conversion was because the process had a historic - but now incorrect - reputation as having serious flaws, said Mr Soer.

"The old systems weren't up to scratch, there were problems of unreliability, people said you had to service the systems all the time and the set-ups could damage the exhaust valves. But the technology now means it is way ahead of where it was just half a dozen years ago and these problems simply don't happen."

It was vital to use professional converters approved by the Liquefied Petroleum Gas Association, said Mr Soer. He added that only petrol cars were suitable for conversion, and although diesel technology existed, it wasn't a route he would suggest.

The current price of LPG is about 53p a litre, although using the fuel leads to a loss of about 15pc economy per litre.

About 130,000 vehicles in the UK operate on LPG. The figure in Italy is 1.6 million and in Germany a million.

full article

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Scientists find bugs that eat waste and excrete petrol

“Ten years ago I could never have imagined I’d be doing this,” says Greg Pal, 33, a former software executive, as he squints into the late afternoon Californian sun. “I mean, this is essentially agriculture, right? But the people I talk to – especially the ones coming out of business school – this is the one hot area everyone wants to get into.”

He means bugs. To be more precise: the genetic alteration of bugs – very, very small ones – so that when they feed on agricultural waste such as woodchips or wheat straw, they do something extraordinary. They excrete crude oil.

Unbelievably, this is not science fiction. Mr Pal holds up a small beaker of bug excretion that could, theoretically, be poured into the tank of the giant Lexus SUV next to us. Not that Mr Pal is willing to risk it just yet. He gives it a month before the first vehicle is filled up on what he calls “renewable petroleum”. After that, he grins, “it’s a brave new world”.

Mr Pal is a senior director of LS9, one of several companies in or near Silicon Valley that have spurned traditional high-tech activities such as software and networking and embarked instead on an extraordinary race to make $140-a-barrel oil (£70) from Saudi Arabia obsolete. “All of us here – everyone in this company and in this industry, are aware of the urgency,” Mr Pal says.
What is most remarkable about what they are doing is that instead of trying to reengineer the global economy – as is required, for example, for the use of hydrogen fuel – they are trying to make a product that is interchangeable with oil. The company claims that this “Oil 2.0” will not only be renewable but also carbon negative – meaning that the carbon it emits will be less than that sucked from the atmosphere by the raw materials from which it is made.
Chris Ayres


full article

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Fuel poverty has become a burning issue

Rising energy prices have left some households with the choice – heat or eat, writes Kara Gammell

Britain's gas and electricity prices are rising at the fastest rate in Europe, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has said, pushing 4m households into fuel poverty, according to the Citizens' Advice Bureaux (CAB).
"Utility bills are already up 15 per cent in the first four months of this year and if the gas and electric companies deliver the tariff increases they are threatening, of a 15 per cent increase at minimum, then they will rise by that much over the next six months. So annual increases could reach 30 per cent by the autumn, as it did between July 2006 and April 2007."
Dual fuel plans are one way to provide relief for those struggling to pay their bills and finding those deals online will make it even cheaper.

As you can see from our table, British Gas has an online dual fuel offer of £845 compared with its standard £1,055. However, while Scottish and Southern Energy comes in most expensive at £925 a year, it is not cheaper to get an online tariff.

The deregulation of the gas and electricity markets has meant customers can switch suppliers and are not forced to buy from the regional supplier of electricity in their area and gas from British Gas.

You can change your gas or electricity supplier by signing a form from the new provider, which will then sort out everything on your behalf.

full article

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

how to save £500 a year (even if it does mean driving at 20mph)

Record prices at the pumps could succeed where 6,000 cameras and millions of pounds in road-saftey advertising have failed for decades – by securing compliance with the speed limit.

Driving more slowly will save drivers up to £500 a year in fuel costs, according to a study, which reveals that the most efficient speed is much lower than most people think.

With the average price of petrol at £1.17 a litre and diesel at £1.30 – 20 per cent higher than a year ago – the financial incentive to obey the speed limit has never been greater.

Car manufacturers suggest that the optimum speed for fuel efficiency is between 50mph and 60mph and a recent survey found that two thirds of drivers believe this to be the case. But the study, commissioned by What Car? magazine and based on five cars of different sizes ranging from a 1 litre Toyota Aygo to a 2.2 litre Land Rover Freelander, found that the most efficient speed was below 40mph for all five and as low as 20mph for two.
Above 40mph, fuel consumption increased sharply and by 90mph the miles per gallon had halved on average.

The study comes as the Government prepares to put in place emergency measures to prevent a strike by Shell oil tanker drivers from creating fuel shortages across the country. Downing Street urged drivers yesterday not to panic buy, which would cause shortages even if fuel deliveries continued as normal.

The study, by Peter De Nayer, a former AA fuel efficiency expert, involved fitting cars with a fuel flow meter and testing them at Millbrook proving ground in Bedfordshire. He found that a Citro├źn C4 1.6 diesel achieved 99.6mpg at 20mph but only 29.3mpg at 90mph.

The average car consumes 38 per cent more fuel at 70mph than it does over the same distance at 50mph. At 60mph it uses 34 per cent more than at 40mph.

The average driver travelling at 90mph on a motorway will spend £1.20 more on fuel every eight minutes than a driver travelling at 70mph. The 90mph driver will have travelled farther in that time but will still be spending 40 per cent more per mile than the 70mph driver.


Ben Webster,

full article

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Fuel savers: how to beat the soaring cost of petrol and home heating

With a full tank now costing many drivers more than £60 and the average domestic energy bill forecast to reach £1,300 this year, Lisa Bachelor offers tips from industry experts on ways in which you can reduce the growing financial burden
A debt charity that helps professionals who have fallen on hard times has raised how much it gives out for transport costs in the last month by more than half, entirely because of rising petrol prices.

Elizabeth Finn Care, which says its clients are typically those with good qualifications and responsible jobs, spent a total of £17,000 on transport in March, which includes petrol, tyres, servicing and MoT. In April, this amount shot up by 53 per cent to £26,000.

The charity gives to those who have suffered from events that have left them struggling to cope on very little money, including things such as long-term physical or mental illness, family breakdown, bereavement or redundancy.

'This rise in the amount we have paid out in the past month is entirely to do with the increase in the cost of fuel,' says Rebecca Ward of Elizabeth Finn Care. 'Our clients tell us that without our help they now wouldn't be able to afford to take their kids to school.'

The charity's spending reflects the rise in fuel costs affecting the whole of the country. According to comparison website Uswitch, petrol prices are up 31 per cent since last year, with the average driver now paying around £64 for a full tank. Last month oil prices broke through the $125 mark, fuelling a near-record rise in petrol prices, according to the AA. The average petrol price - at the time of writing - is 116.3p per litre, while diesel is 129.8p.

Domestic energy prices are also at record highs, with experts predicting that gas and electricity bills could rise a average energy bill in the UK to around £1,300. Heating oil users, typically those who live in rural areas and have no access to mains gas, have been hit even harder. The average price for heating oil has almost doubled over the past year, from 32p a litre to 60p a litre last week, according to supplier website Boilerjuice. So what can you do to keep costs down?
Lisa Bachelor

full article

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Gas bills to soar by another 40pc

Gas bills will rise by 43 per cent in the next 12 months and electricity by 21 per cent, an average £360 per home, because of a sudden surge in market prices, industry experts are warning.

Wholesale gas prices, the prices energy companies buy at, soared to a record high on Friday, taking the increase since the beginning of the year to 76 per cent.

To restore the balance between wholesale prices and those that householders pay, the average gas and electricity bills a year will have to increase to £1,410, almost £500 more than a year ago.

'The last time wholesale gas prices broke above retail gas prices was three years ago, in June 2005,' said Joe Malinowski of TheEnergyShop.com. 'In the following 18 months energy bills rose by a record 47 per cent. A very similar thing is going to happen this time around, except that the money value of the increase is going to be even higher.'

The surge came on the same day that the price of oil shot up by its biggest one-day advance ever to hit a record of more than $139 a barrel. The rise staggered Wall Street, causing the Dow Jones Index to close 3.1 per cent down, its eighth-biggest point drop ever.
Yesterday energy officials from the world's biggest consumer nations started two days of talks in a bid to tackle the growing global economic threat of soaring oil, coal and natural gas prices.

New highs in food and energy bills have been a particularly heavy burden for pensioners in recent months, with eight out of 10 admitting that they have already cut back on their spending this year.

full article

Water is the new oil

So what will be the next hot commodity?
Goldman Sachs, the investment bank that coined the term Bric (Brazil, Russia, India and China) and was talking about $100 oil when everyone else was stuck at $40, thinks it has found the answer: water.
It has called the commodity the “petroleum for the next century” and says it has been grossly undervalued for years. The story behind it is the same for every other commodity: demand is soaring while supply is tight.

In the United States, water demand has tripled in the past 30 years, while the population has grown just 50%. Globally, water consumption is doubling every 20 years, more than twice population growth.
Given current trends, it is estimated that by 2025 about a third of the world will not have access to adequate drinking water.

On the flip side, supply is fixed. Only 2.5% of all water is fit for human consumption and around two-thirds of that is locked away in icecaps and glaciers. That percentage is not about to change.

Even if there were enough to go round, piping it to those who need it is getting harder. America desperately needs to upgrade its water infrastructure, a job that will cost between $300 billion (£153 billion) and $1 trillion (two-thirds of which is for distribution pipes and pumps).

An estimated 60% of America’s water main pipes will be classified as substandard by 2020.

And the water supplied is deteriorating. American companies test for nearly 100 known contaminants, and a disturbing number of new compounds are being found - a glass of water could contain aspirin, caffeine, and even animal growth hormones from farm-water run-off.

One solution to the global problem is desalination, which is already popular in the Middle East. It is an expensive solution - 100m gallons of seawater produce just 50m gallons of desalinated water - though costs have fallen three to four times in the past 30 years.

The problem for investors is that the world leader in water and desalination, American giant GE, gets only 2% of its revenues from this area, so it hardly offers pure exposure.

Goldman tips smaller companies such as filtration specialists Clarcor and Pentair. They should benefit from the recent backlash against bottled water and are likely takeover targets as the $425 billion industry consolidates.

by Kathryn Cooper

full article

Friday, 6 June 2008

Green energy 'revolution' needed

A leading energy body is calling for a $45 trillion (£23 trillion) green revolution to tackle global warming.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) said nations must spend 1% of annual economic output on new technology to halve carbon dioxide emissions by 2050.

It warned that without action, CO2 emissions would rise by 130% and oil demand would jump by 70% by the middle of the century.

But the IEA added that meeting the new target would be a formidable challenge.

full article

Drivers pay price of great diesel 'rip-off '

Millions of drivers are being 'ripped-off' by oil firms which have not passed on a 10% drop in diesel prices.
The AA said the savings should be worth around 7p a litre at the pumps. And it warned that it will call on the Government to investigate if diesel prices continue to climb.

Energy experts Platts said the wholesale price has significantly fallen in the past fortnight.

On May 23 - the day after oil hit a record $135 a barrel - diesel was selling at $1,342 a ton, but yesterday the price had dropped to $1,203. On May 23 the average cost of a litre of diesel was 126.7p per litre. Yesterday it stood at 129.9p.

Andrew Bonnington, a spokesman for Platts, said: 'The wholesale cost of diesel cargo delivered into the UK has fallen by 10% in two weeks.' The union Unite accused Shell of 'profiteering' after the company announced record profits of nearly £ 14billion in January.

Shell denied the claim. The AA said disquiet over rising prices would prompt anger from millions of diesel car drivers if the drop in price was not passed on.

full article

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

You can blame the European power giants for sky-high bills

Foreign power firms are buying cheap North Sea gas from Britain in the summer and putting it into vast storage facilities on the Continent.

They then refuse to pipe it back to the UK when it is needed in the winter, effectively rationing supplies and pushing up prices.

The UK is vulnerable to these strong-arm tactics because we have such tiny gas holding facilities that we cannot store cheap North Sea gas in the summer for use in the winter.

There is enough storage to supply the country with gas for only 13 days, compared with 99 days in Germany and 122 in France.

Yesterday large-scale gas users warned the Commons Business and Enterprise Select Committee, which is investigating the reasons behind the price rises, that Britain's energy needs were at the mercy of foreign suppliers.

Jeremy Nicholson of the Energy Intensive Users Group told the MPs that foreign energy companies are failing to sell gas to the UK when we need it.

full article

Plans for huge rise in wind farms

Plans for a massive increase in offshore wind power are set to be announced by the government.

The new turbines could more than treble the amount of power already generated by wind power.

The British Wind Energy Association (BWEA) told the BBC it hoped about 7,000 new turbines would be built around Britain's coastline by 2020.

Offshore wind farms have come under fire for spoiling the landscape and over the rising cost of making them.

British Gas parent firm Centrica, one of the UK's biggest energy generators, has warned that the opportunities of making money from them look slim and that the rising costs of making the turbines could end up ruining the government's renewable energy targets.

Royal Dutch Shell recently withdrew from a project that was set to become the world's largest wind farm in favour of investing in renewable energy in the US.

The BWEA said the planned expansion of UK wind farms would generate enough electricity to supply all UK households.

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Tuesday, 3 June 2008

OECD boss hails high oil prices

The soaring cost of oil is welcome as it sends a clear signal to consumers and firms to curb their use of fuel, the head of the OECD has said.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the world's richest nations, Angel Gurria said it would be "disastrous" if they cut fuel taxes or subsidised prices.

"The best solution to high oil prices is high prices" to cut demand, he said.

OECD members are trying to agree plans to tackle climate change and lessen the effects of the world financial crisis.

Time is running out to negotiate a new post-Kyoto treaty on climate change.

'Key challenge'

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's annual meeting comes as the world is facing a sharply slowing economy and soaring oil prices, which recently rose above $135 a barrel.

The OECD is uniting business, pressure groups and governments in an effort to find common ground on how to cut greenhouse gas emissions and slow global warming.

The meeting will examine the feasibility of increasing nuclear energy and bio fuels to meet growing energy needs.

And it will look at the role companies can play in encouraging clean technology.

But Mr Gurria's comments on the cost of oil will prove controversial at a time when the UK government among others is under growing political pressure to drop plans to tax the most-polluting cars more heavily.

By Steve Schifferes
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Monday, 2 June 2008

Push for sustainable energy from householders

As many as 9m microgeneration units such as solar panels and wind turbines could be in place within 12 years if the Government provides the financial and legal support.
They could produce as much energy as five large new nuclear power stations and by 2030 would be saving as much carbon as if all HGVs and buses were taken off the road.

The independent report, prepared for the Government, is claimed to be the largest piece of independent consumer research ever conducted into the market potential of microgeneration.

Its publication led to calls for the Government to bring forward strong policy measures underpinned by legally binding Government targets to encourage people to switch to mass-produced sustainable energy schemes.

Currently there are about 100,000 home energy installations but this could increase to 9m by 2020 if consumers are given a financial incentive and the confidence to make the switch.
Legally binding Government targets for microgeneration, backed up by concrete policy measures, would also encourage investment in the market, the report says.

Small-scale energy units would include solar panels, wind turbines, combined heat and power boilers, and ground and air source pumps.

It says take-up could be boosted by so called feed-in tariffs - allowing householders to sell any electricity they do not need in their own home to the big energy companies at a fixed price.
By Paul Eccleston

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Ten easy ways to drive down your petrol costs

1. Find your cheapest station. Go to www.petrolprices.com to find the cheapest fuel in your area. It covers 9,704 petrol stations and has 8,000 daily updates. The difference between the most expensive and the cheapest price per litre can be as much as 15 pence.

2. Pump up your tyres. Under-inflated tyres create more rolling resistance and so use more fuel. Go to your local petrol station and use their pump – it is normally free.

3. Lose weight. Every extra 50kg will increase your petrol consumption by an average of 2 per cent, according to www.save-petrol.co.uk. So keep all your golf clubs – or anything else littering your boot – at home.

4. Streamline. Roof racks and bicycle carriers create extra wind resistance and so increase fuel consumption. If you do not need it, take it off.

5. Turn off the air-conditioning. It increases your petrol consumption by as much as 10 per cent – so if it is only mildly warm, put the fans on or wind down your window. That said, if you are travelling over 60mph having the window down increases drag which increases your fuel consumption – so air conditioning would be better.

6. Stick to the limits. The faster you go, the more fuel you use. Driving at 70mph uses up to 9 per cent more fuel than at 60mph and up to 15 per cent more than at 50mph, according to the Department of Transport.

7. Change your oil. Clean oil reduces the wear caused by friction of moving engine parts, helping to improve fuel consumption. You should change the oil in a petrol car once a year or every 7500 miles. For a diesel engine it is recommended you change the oil every 6 months or 3000 miles.

8. Drive Smoothly. Acceleration and deceleration is what uses most fuel – so try to slow down gradually at lights, avoid heavy braking and try not to rev too much.

9. Avoid rough surfaces. Gravel or heavy dirt surfaces can increase your fuel consumption by up to 30 per cent – not to mention the affect on your paintwork. If there is a route involving smooth tarmac, even if it is slightly longer, then take that.

10. Rather obviously… use your car less. Combine short trips – such as buying the paper, dropping-off the recycling, or collecting the kids – rather than making multiple short trips.
By Lauren Thompson

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Sunday, 1 June 2008

Greener power to the people: the real energy alternative?

Ministers could avoid building nuclear reactors by encouraging families to fit solar panels and other renewable energy equipment to their homes, a startling official report concludes.

The government-backed report, to be published tomorrow, says that, with changed policies, the number of British homes producing their own clean energy could multiply to one million – about one in every three – within 12 years.

These would produce enough power to replace five large nuclear power stations, tellingly at about the same time as the first of the much-touted new generation of reactors is likely to come on stream.

And, it adds, by 2030, such "microgeneration" would save the same amount of emissions of carbon dioxide – the main cause of global warming – as taking all Britain's lorries and buses off the road.

The conclusions of the report – approved and partly financed by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (DBERR) – sharply contrast with initiatives hurriedly launched by Gordon Brown last week in reaction to the lorry drivers' fuel-price protests.

In his most pro-nuclear announcement to date, the Prime Minister indicated that he wanted greatly to increase the number of atomic power stations to be built in Britain. And he met oil executives in Scotland to urge them to pump more of the black gold from the North Sea's fast-declining fields – even though his own energy minister, Malcolm Wicks, admitted that this would do nothing to reduce the price of fuel.

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