Thursday, 31 July 2008

The 10 cheapest cars to run

Whatever type of car you need, choosing the right make and model could save you thousands of pounds in tax and fuel costs. Here are Money Central's top ten most fuel-efficient cars - whether you need a small runaround or a 4X4.
1. Small Runaround: Volkswagen Polo 1.4 TDI (80PS) with DPF BLUEMOTION
Price: £12,965
Verdict: Polos have a classy image, and because it is exempt from vehicle excise duty (VED) it is one of the cheapest cars to run. But be warned, What Car? says: “The ancient engines are noisy and gutless, prices are high and the drive is uninspiring.”
Co2 emissions: 99 g/km
Tax band/cost: A/ £0
Average petrol costs: £830 per 12,000 miles (the average distance travelled each year)

full article

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Replacing Fridges 'Can Save on Energy Bills'

Customers worried about rising energy bills should look to replace their fridge-freezers and reduce household costs, the Energy Saving Trust (EST) said today.

According to figures from the firm, which advises householders on how to boost their energy efficiency, a new cold appliance could save around £34 per year. Moreover, around £1 billion is thought to be wasted annually on customers leaving other appliances such as tumble driers and washing machines on standby rather than switching them off entirely.

The EST's recommendations come as rising wholesale prices spark a new round of price rises among Britain's energy firms. EDF became the first of the big six providers to hike bills last weekend, imposing 17 percent and 22 percent increases on electricity and gas respectively.

Other firms are expected to follow this lead over weeks to come, bringing annual fuel costs to well over £1,000 for most families.

Caroline Rams at the Energy Saving Trust commentedd: "Replacing an old, energy inefficient fridge-freezer with a new energy saving recommended one could save you up to £34 every year. If we all made the change to more efficient cold appliances this week, together we'd save around £700 million every year."

full article

Record rise for British Gas bills

Millions of homeowners will be forced to pay hundreds more to heat and light their homes after British Gas announced massive gas price hikes of 35 per cent.

Electricity prices will also rise nine per cent, meaning the average dual fuel bill will increase by a massive £262 per year.

The hikes are to come into effect immediately and are the second increase by the company this year. They come days after power giant EDF said it was increasing prices by 22 per cent and electricity by 17 per cent.

All the other main suppliers such as Southern Electric, Eon and npower are expected to follow suit shortly.

Consumer groups said it could push average fuel prices to more than
1,500 a year by Christmas.

Tim Wolfenden, head of home services at eSwitch, said today’s increases had
taken him by surprise, adding: 'It is
drastic news for a huge number of consumers.

'These are the highest rises we
have seen in gas prices in years, if not
ever. We could see prices going up for
the next five years.'

full article

Monday, 28 July 2008

Big rises in gas and electricity bills this year, MPs warn

The Government should introduce a windfall tax on utility companies to help hard-pressed families, MPs say.

The market in gas and electricity is not functioning properly and the dominance of six energy companies may be stifling competition and pushing up prices, according to the report.

MPs on the Business and Enterprise Committee have spent five months investigating the British energy market after consumers experienced inflation-busting increases last winter.

Today's report predicts that "gas and electricity bills for domestic consumers will rise significantly in the near future, over and above the increases already announced this year, with serious consequences for millions of households."

The Committee also warns that industry is paying more for energy than their European counterparts which is putting "many thousands of jobs" at risk.

full article

Sunday, 27 July 2008

How to drive down the costs of motoring

The message to drivers is increasingly clear - buy a car that emits low amounts of carbon dioxide and you will save on vehicle excise duty (VED) and running costs. With the price of petrol now averaging up to 119.5p a litre, and the Government determined to hit “dirty” drivers with increasingly high taxes, perhaps the time has come to trade in your car for something that is cheaper to buy, run and insure - and is better for the environment.

New VED bands will be introduced next April to ensure that the most polluting cars pay more tax. While cars produced before 2001 will not be affected by the changes, campaigners say that many newer family cars will be hit by much higher tax bills. For example, the owner of a Citroën C4 Picasso bought after 2001 paid £210 VED this year, but faces bills next year of £300, and £310 in 2010.

Ian Crowder, at AA Insurance, says: “The new bands will undoubtedly make VED more complicated and many drivers may be surprised at how much more tax they will have to pay. If you want to drive down the costs of motoring, your first priority will be to find the greenest car possible.

full article

Brown plugs into future of electric cars

THE prime minister has pledged £90m in government money to help make Britain “the European capital for electric cars”, a promise that has already sparked interest from motor-industry giants such as General Motors.

GM has already previewed its Flexstream concept car — a hybrid vehicle that is part of the company’s E-Flex programme — which it hopes to launch in America by the end of 2010. By 2011 it intends to sell the car in Europe as a Vauxhall or Saab. Although very cheap to run, the price will be high — about £32,000.

Like other carmakers, GM is faced with the high cost of reducing the fuel consumption and thereby carbon-dioxide emissions of its conventional cars to meet forthcoming European rules that are expected to require a fleet average of 130 g/km carbon dioxide.

Forster said that it was seeking a national sponsor for a “super credit” scheme that would allow ultra-low carbon-dioxide vehicles (below 50g/km) — like its E-Flex cars — to offset larger and more polluting models. If Britain was prepared to champion this idea within the EU, GM would consider making its electric vehicles at the Ellesmere Port plant on Merseyside.

The first E-Flex model will be based on the next generation of Vauxhall Astra, which will be made at Ellesmere Port. GM anticipates first-year production of 30,000 cars for Europe. Bob Lutz, GM vice chairman in charge of production development, believes that worldwide production of E-Flex cars could be 1m by 2020.

full article

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Brighton's finest try battery power

Villains were on the run yesterday - although it would have been enough to skateboard or stroll - as Sussex police unveiled their latest crime-fighting machine.

Propelling officers from 0-28mph in a matter of seconds, the two-seater electric patrol car radiated the intimidating power of a golf buggy or a milk float as it glided silently around Brighton.

With an impish twinkle in its headlights, the Gem did not emit much of an authoritative charge. Crucially, however, the nine eight-volt batteries stowed beneath its two seats did not emit any nasty pollutants either.

In full Sussex police livery - but minus the flashing blue lights - the Gem was overtaken on the promenade by bicycles, mobility scooters and cutting-edge electric technology from the 19th century - the Volk's train, the oldest working electric railway in the world.

full article

Friday, 25 July 2008

Renewable energy

As a social, economic, and political trend, the deployment of renewable energy technologies is accelerating at record rates, in part through government subsidy support fomenting the industry, with subsidies reaching $16bn (£8bn) worldwide in 2007. This remains trivial in comparison with fossil fuels, which is still the most heavily subsidised global energy source at $200bn for the same period, with oil comprising $90bn of this total.
Evidence of the durability of the clean technology sector lies in the investment going into clean technologies as they become institutionalised and politicised. The United Nations Environment Programme and New Energy Finance state that $150bn was invested in clean technologies in 2007.

Temporary setbacks will inevitably occur as supply chains build out, and as governments balance subsidy initiatives. However, the fundamental drivers of growth will remain intact.

The areas of greatest investor attention are mature technologies, both renewable energy generation and energy efficiency, that provide an alternative to the increasing cost of fossil fuel-derived energy sources. As an example, wind generation is competitive with oil at $70-$90 per barrel, and is therefore lucrative at today's oil price of around $130 a barrel. Given that wind is a zero-cost fuel source, the long-term economics of wind become increasingly attractive.

full article

Ofgem enforces 'social tariff'

Energy regulator Ofgem is forcing providers to cut charges for their poorest customers. It insists that their "social tariff" should at least match their cheapest deal.

Any of the 4.5 million households in fuel poverty - defined by energy bills swallowing over a tenth of their income - can ask to go on the social tariff. But most suppliers currently offer their cheapest deals to customers with bank accounts and internet access who can pay online or by direct debit.

This knocks at least a tenth off the average household's £1,058 yearly bill, but the choice is not normally open to the poorest with no bank accounts or computers. Instead, many of them pay most for energy because they're on prepayment meters.

Energy watchdog Energywatch welcomed the ruling but said those on the social tariff should be charged least.
Two providers, EDF Energy and Scottish & Southern, already offer that. Other providers' social tariffs are less generous or are restricted, for example, to pensioners only.

British Gas and Scottish Power are the meanest, according to Energywatch.

Call your provider to apply for its "social tariff", but you may save more by first switching to a cheaper supplier.

For advice on other ways to cut your fuel bills, call the Home Heating Helpline on 0800 336 699.

full article

Energy supplier hikes prices

Energy supplier EDF has increased its electricity prices by 17% and its gas prices by 22%, it announced.

The company blamed record wholesale energy costs for the increases, which come into effect immediately.

Eva Eisenschimmel, chief operating officer of EDF Energy customers branch, said: "Record world oil prices have continued to drive up wholesale gas prices.

"Alongside unprecedented rises in wholesale coal and electricity costs, this has impacted hugely on the cost of supplying energy to our customers."

The French firm is one of Britain's biggest energy suppliers with 5.1 million customers. Friday's increases will mean typical customers on a dual fuel tariff will pay £3.97 a week more for their energy, it said.

The company said wholesale energy prices had increased by 70% for coal, 63% for gas and 47% for electricity since it last increased its prices in January.

full article

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Price rise warning from Scottish & Southern

A fresh round of energy price rises looked inevitable today as Scottish & Southern Energy (SSE) issued a stark warning that its first- half profits would be substantially lower than the results achieved in previous years.

Ian Marchant, chief executive of SSE, said that it was becoming increasing difficult to keep retail energy prices down, as wholesale prices soar.

"The extent of the energy shock with which the entire global economy is having to contend has been well-documented, and its full impact on prices for electricity and gas in the UK has still to be felt. We are continuing to resist the pressure to put up prices for domestic customers, but doing so is becoming more difficult by the day," Mr Marchant said.

In previous years, SSE has made most of its pre-tax profits in the first six months of the year. However, this year the second half is expected to be stronger.
Angela Jameson

full article

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Britain set to become electric car capital of Europe if Brown seals deal with General Motors

Britain is to become the 'electric car capital of Europe' under a deal being hammered out between the world's biggest car company and Gordon Brown.

Bosses at General Motors want to build a revolutionary electric family vehicle at their factory in the UK - creating up to 500 new jobs.

It is part of the car maker's plan to make 1 in 10 of every vehicle they sell in Europe an electric version.
If a proposed deal between the car giant and Mr Brown is realised, all of them will be built in the UK.

By 2015 up to 220,000 electric cars a year - with batteries included - would be built at Ellesmere Port factory in Cheshire.

The factory would supply the whole of Europe with electric cars, of which 40,000 would be sold in the UK.

The new project from GM's British subsidiary Vauxhall would create 500 new jobs on top of the 2,200 people already employed there.

The 'green' car will be called the Flextreme - an electric hybrid which Mr Brown inspected for himself when he met company bosses today at the British International Motor Show.

Whitehall officials have said that the plan 'was of interest' and 'struck a chord' with Government thinking.

Details emerged as Mr Brown told car makers on the preview day of the show that he wanted them to build more electric cars to cut pollution.

In return for the massive investment, General Motors wants Mr Brown to honour his wish to have public charging points for electric cars on thousands of British streets.

full article

Monday, 21 July 2008

Retailers urge EU to scrap anti-dumping duties on energy-saving lightbulbs

Leading European retailers today urged the EU to scrap punitive anti-dumping duties on energy-saving lightbulbs from China, claiming the tariffs cost consumers billions of euros a year.

The retailers, including Sir Terry Leahy of Tesco and Sören Hansen of Ikea, said the tariffs of up to 66% ensured that prices were "artificially inflated" when they reached the shops and this depressed demand for energy-saving bulbs.

The European retail round table claimed that if only one extra low-energy bulb was purchased per EU household this would save €2bn (£1.6bn) in electricity consumption - quite apart from reducing CO2 emissions.

The European commission has imposed duties on imports from China for the last six years and extended them for a year in late 2007. But many of the contentious imports are made by European firms in China.

Dutch group Philips, the world's biggest lighting company, is pressing for the duties to be lifted while Osram, owned by Germany's Siemens, has campaigned for them to be retained. But Osram recently gave up a legal challenge to the EC.

The duties are seen as in flagrant contradicition of EU ambitions to reduce energy consumption by 20% by 2020 - a cornerstone of its claim to be leading the global fight against climate change.
David Gow

full article

Rubbish idea that could make driving cheaper

A British company may have the answer to soaring petrol prices after it claimed yesterday to have become the first to have found a way to make fuel from rubbish.

neos, the chemicals company, said that it had patented a method of producing fuel from municipal solid waste, agricultural waste and organic commercial waste.

The company claims that it can produce about 400 litres (90 gallons) of ethanol from one tonne of dry waste. The new process works by heating the waste to produce gases, then feeding the gases to bacteria, which produce ethanol that can be purified into a fuel.

Ineos plans to sell the environmental product in industrial quantities by the end of 2010. Peter Williams, the chief executive of Ineos Bio, said: “This should mean that, unlike with other biofuels, we won’t have to make the choice between food and fuel.”

The development of fuel from waste could be a relief for motorists who have watched pump prices soar in the past year to an average of 133.3p per litre of diesel.

The bioethanol that Ineos produces will have to be combined with a fossil fuel, however, because very few cars in Britain can run solely on bioethanol. Ineos has a large traditional refinery business. It owns the Grangemouth oil refinery in Scotland, where a strike resulted in petrol shortages this year.
Catherine Boyle

full article

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Ministers embrace electric car revolution

The scheme, which has already been taken up by Israel and Denmark, would sell heavily subsidised vehicles – or even give them away – in return for contracts to buy the electricity to charge them. Its inventor, a Silicon Valley software entrepreneur, believes it will at least halve the cost of motoring while dramatically reducing one of the main sources of the pollution that causes global warming.

The Prime Minister – who will reveal some of his thinking at the Motor Show this week – wants all new cars sold in Britain to be electric or hybrid vehicles by 2020, and is trying to enlist leaders of the motor industry because he wants "to see those cars manufactured in Britain".

motorists would be provided with cars just as mobile-phone customers now get their handsets. In return, they would take out a contract for a maximum number of miles.

The contract would entitle them to receive the electricity, either by plugging into any one of hundreds of thousands of recharge points across the country, or by exchanging flat batteries for fully charged ones. At present, the cars' range is likely to be only about 100 miles between recharges, which would take about two hours, so, on longer journeys, motorists would pop into filling stations for a three-minute battery exchange.
By Geoffrey Lean
full article

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Prepay energy meters are 'unjust'

Millions of UK households are paying energy tariffs that are "unjust", the Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks has said.

Mr Wicks said he would be prepared to legislate to force energy providers to lower their charges for the four million people on pre-payment meters.

Pre-payment tariffs can be up to 70% higher than the lowest rates available, said charity National Energy Action.

Mr Wicks said he had asked energy watchdog Ofgem to investigate the matter and report back.
Meter misery

The extra costs that people on pre-payment meters are now having to meet seem totally disproportionate
Malcolm Wicks, Energy Minister

Mr Wicks said: "The extra costs that people on pre-payment meters are now having to meet seem totally disproportionate.

"The gap between what they're paying and what other people are paying has grown to a very unjust extent.

"Depending on what the report says, we're well prepared to legislate to ensure this injustice doesn't occur in the future."

Soaring oil prices could push energy bills up by more than 60% within the next few years, according to a report for the energy supplier Centrica.

This has led to concerns that consumers are having pre-payment meters installed because they cannot afford their energy bills.

full article

Friday, 18 July 2008

Chemical breakthrough turns sawdust into biofuel

A wider of range of plant material could be turned into biofuels thanks to a breakthrough that converts plant molecules called lignin into liquid hydrocarbons.

The reaction reliably and efficiently turns the lignin in waste products such as sawdust into the chemical precursors of ethanol and biodiesel.

In recent years, the twin threats of global warming and oil shortages have led to growth in the production of biofuels for the transportation sector.

But as the human digestive system will attest, breaking down complex plant molecules such as cellulose and lignin is a tricky business.
Food crisis

The biofuels industry has relied instead on starchy food crops such as corn and sugar cane to provide the feedstock for their reactions. But that puts the industry into direct competition with hungry humans, and food prices have risen as a result.

A second generation of biofuels could relieve the pressure on crop production by breaking down larger plant molecules – hundreds of millions of dollars are currently being poured into research to lower the cost of producing ethanol from cellulose.

But cellulose makes up only about a third of all plant matter. Lignin, an essential component of wood, is another important component and converting this to liquid transport fuel would increase yields.

However, lignin is a complex molecule and, with current methods, breaks down in an unpredictable way into a wide range of products, only some of which can be used in biofuels.
By Colin Barras

full article

Burning desire to heat homes with wood fuel

Going back to basics by heating your home or business with wood could be cheaper than using fossil fuels.

Improvements in the efficiency of wood-burning technology means that biomass units are now a viable alternative to using gas and oil.

Forestry Commission Scotland has recently appointed biomass development officers throughout the country to encourage individuals and businesses to take advantage of the improvements.

Ian Cowe, who is responsible for providing support to people in the north-east, said: “The UK is playing catch-up with mainland Europe, where high-efficiency wood-fuelled boilers meet a large proportion of the domestic and commercial heating demand and biomass energy presents a range of fantastic opportunities.”

“With the increases in oil and gas prices, biomass is now competitive with most other forms of domestic heating.
By Leanna MacLarty

full article

Gas bills 'to top £1,000 a year'

Energy bills could rise by more than 60% within the next few years, a report for the UK's biggest domestic energy supplier Centrica has said.

It said annual average gas bills could rise from £600 to more than £1,000 early in the next decade.

Continuing high oil prices could lead to rises in the cost of both gas and electricity, it added.

Centrica managing director Jake Ulrich warned that gas prices were likely to continue rising "for some time".

"I think it is going to hit people hard," he said.

"I do think we will see people change their behaviour, I think people will use less energy and I hate to go back to the Jimmy Carter days in the US but maybe it's two jumpers instead of one.

"I think people will change the temperature they keep the house, they'll be more cognisant of energy waste, they'll buy better appliances."

full article

Thursday, 17 July 2008

The Landlord’s Energy Saving Allowance scheme (LESA)

The LESA is a tax allowance that lets landlords claim up to £1,500 on their tax return against the cost of buying and installing energy saving items, such as cavity insulatio

The Landlord’s Energy Saving Allowance scheme (LESA) allows landlords to claim the cost of buying and installing the following items:
• draught proofing
• loft insulation
• floor insulation
• cavity wall insulation
• solid wall insulation
• insulation for hot water systems

It’s simple to do. When filling in the Land and Property supplementary pages of your tax return, you should include the costs of these items in box 5.36C. Guidance on LESA can be found in the supplementary notes for the Land and Property pages of your main self-assessment return. Visit for further details.

If you haven’t done the work yet, you will need to do so by the end of March 2008 in order to claim LESA next time round.

“Insulating your property can increase its long-term value, make it more attractive to potential tenants and put your property on a good footing for the launch of Energy Performance Certificates later this year. Not only will it reduce tenant’s energy bills, it can also help alleviate damp conditions making your property a healthier and warmer place for your tenants to live in. It can also reduce unnecessary maintenance costs associated with damp and condensation.” Said Mark Brown, Director of the Energy Efficiency Partnership for Homes.

For more information and free, impartial advice on energy efficiency improvements call 0800 512 012 or visit

full article

Green shift in the balance of power

Already popular in Canada and many northern European countries, renewable energy systems such as solar panels and ground source heat pumps (GSHP) have found their way into nearly 3000 Scottish homes - and they look set to take off in an even bigger way, as the Scottish Government presses ahead with a grant scheme to help roll the technology out across the country.
Steve Macken, a 43-year-old father of two, was amazed to discover that by employing GSHP technology in his home he was able to reduce his annual power bill by around £1700 - despite having moved to a larger property.

Until last year, Mr Macken and his family lived in a Victorian villa near Loch Lomond, and spent around £2000 a year on heat and energy. Now, after relocating to a restored farmhouse nearby, the family pays just £300 annually.

The cost of installing their system wasn't cheap - around £11,000, two or three times the cost a standard oil boiler would have been with Mr Macken's home off the gas mains grid. But 30% of that total was covered by a grant from the Scottish Community and Householder Renewable Initiative (SCHRI), a Scottish Government-funded body.

The GSHP system provides the Mackens with all of their heating requirements, powering a boiler using energy harnessed from the ground by a network of underground coils, and the happy homeowners so far have no problems to report.
By Chris Watt

full article

EDF Energy – Powering a sustainable future

EDF Energy also plans to help its customers cut their carbon dioxide emissions by 15 per cent by 2020. The company sells energy to five million UK households a year. Currently, 300,000 customers have signed up to its “read, reduce, reward” scheme, a tariff that rewards customers with nectar loyalty card points for cutting their domestic energy use.

Ferguson says: “It’s quite weird for an energy company to reward customers for using less.” Customers benefit by giving the company accurate meter readings, meaning they get more accurate bills and so a better understanding of their energy use.

As EDF Energy encourages customers to use less energy, it is changing its business model by moving into energy services – advising corporate clients on how to cut their energy use to meet European energy efficiency laws. It also advises UK customers on how to prepare for the proposed carbon reduction commitment, the emissions trading scheme for non energy-intensive industries such as supermarkets, banks, hotels and hospitals.

Ferguson says: “We’re making small steps towards the energy services model. What it requires is much greater engagement of customers with energy, [and] between us and our customers, than is really there at the moment.”

EDF Energy does not know the exact number of its fuel-poor customers, Ferguson admits. He believes energy companies could do much more to share information on vulnerable customers. This could include gaining access to lists of benefits claimants, who tend to be in fuel poverty. The company says it will work with the regulator, Ofgem, and the government to find ways to better identify which customers should be on a “social tariff” – a cheaper energy rate for poor households.

The company was the first UK energy supplier, in 2006, to introduce a social tariff. The discounted rate saves 50,000 customers up to around £150 a year compared to standard rate electricity and gas customers. The company has helped a further 8,000 indebted customers pay fuel bills since 2003. Under its “social commitments”, a set of social targets launched earlier this year, EDF Energy plans to help another 15,000 customers who are in debt pay fuel bills from the fund by 2012.

According to Energywatch figures, the average annual fuel bill for an EDF Energy customer using a pre-payment meter would be £1,037 (based on June prices). That is £72 more than the £965 bill for an EDF Energy customer paying by direct debit. This is the lowest differential in the industry. The largest is charged by British Gas, whose pre-payment meter customers must pay £176 more a year than those that pay by direct debit.

EDF Energy has a leading position in addressing the needs of the poorest customers. But with average UK energy bills already over £1,000 a year and rising, all energy suppliers will be under pressure to cut margins by refusing to pass on soaring wholesale oil and gas prices to customers on all incomes. How EDF Energy responds to this much bigger challenge could be the real test of its social commitment.

full article

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Rocketing fuel prices inspire energy saving

More and more people are investigating energy saving measures as fuel poverty looms, according to the Northern Ireland Energy Authority.

As prices rocket, the number of calls to their energy helpline has doubled since this time last year — but the real surge in demand is expected to come this autumn as temperatures drop.

Director Nigel Brady said the number of inquiries to the helpline, a one-stop-shop where people can seek energy advice, rose from 4,241 calls in April, May and June last year to 8,800 for the same period this year.

Staff have kept tabs on what questions the callers are asking and it seems they are worried about the way energy prices are going, he said.

"But if we could make our housing stock more energy efficient and encourage people to use renewable technologies then we could reduce our reliance on fossil fuels like oil which are rocketing in price," said Mr Brady.

"If we made our homes more energy efficient then we would save up to about £250 a year. "
By Linda McKee

full article

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Car firm unveils green 4x4 with a unique celling point

This is the 4x4 of the future: fuelled by hydrogen and emitting just a few drops of water for every 300 miles travelled.

On the surface it looks much like an ordinary Nissan 4x4. But under the bonnet, engineers have installed one of the most advanced hydrogen fuel cells yet. A tank filled with hydrogen enables the vehicle to travel that far - and those water drops are said to be clean enough to drink.

The Japanese car giant unveiled the multi-million-pound research car at Imperial College, London, today and said it represents the way millions of motorists will travel by 2020. Work on the firm's Fuel Cell Vehicle programme began in 1996, reaching a pinnacle with this version of the X-Trail. Nissan says it is world's most advanced FCV.

Officials admit there is still "significant" development work to be done. But scientists expect to have cracked key challenges - such as the durability of the fuel-cell - by 2010. Then they must achieve "drastic" cost reductions and make breakthroughs in the storage of hydrogen before the car can go on sale, after 2015.

Already engineers have boosted fuel-cell performance so it is 40 per cent smaller than earlier prototypes. And they have developed a system to compress hydrogen that allows enough fuel to be stored for about 300 miles.
David Williams

full article

Will A Water Meter Save Money

The water watchdog suggests that the first thing customers can do is check whether they would save money by having a meter installed. People living alone or those who currently pay higher than average charges are most likely to benefit. Companies install meters for free and if customers see their bills rise they are able to switch back to their old charges within 12 months. A single person living alone in a property with an average rateable value could save around £100 by having a meter installed. A water meter calculator is available on the Consumer Council for Water’s website, where customers can work out if installing a meter could save them money.

Customers who already have a meter can cut their bill by taking simple steps to avoid wasting water they are paying for. Fixing dripping taps, installing a water saving device in toilets, taking showers rather than baths and collecting rainwater for use in the garden are all great ways to be water efficient. A household paying the average metered bill who reduce water waste by ten per cent could save around £25 per year on their water bill.

WaterSure is another money saving option for customers with a water meter and on income based benefits such as Income Support, Income based Jobseekers allowance, Pension Credit, Working Tax Credit, Housing or Council Tax benefits, and have either a large family (three or more children in full time education under the age of 19) or a medical condition which requires them to use more water. The programme caps a household’s water bill at the average rate for their area, allowing metered households to use the extra water they need without having to worry about a high bill. A low income household of five with a water meter could be spending as much as £600 to £700 per year on water. Customers who meet the criteria for WaterSure could end up saving hundreds of pounds over a year by signing up and having their bill capped.

full article

Monday, 14 July 2008

Green refurbishment could create a £3.5 billion market

Research from the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford University indicates that refurbishing existing housing in the UK to make it more energy efficient could reduce CO2 emissions by up to 75% versus current levels, as well as creating a £3.5-6.5 billion market for builders.

Homes in the UK account for 27% of the country’s total carbon emissions and the Government has set ambitious targets to make all newly built homes in the country zero carbon by 2016 to help tackle climate change. However, the vast majority of the country’s existing housing stock is already built and will still be occupied in 2050.
“UK housing is among the worst in Europe when it comes to energy efficiency,” says Killip. “Bringing British homes up to standard is possible using existing technology but the skills and industry base to deliver the necessary change is underdeveloped.”

The recommendations include new policies from the Government that commit to and support the refurbishment of existing homes to improve energy efficiency, cutting VAT on refurbishing work from 17.5% to 5%, introducing Council Tax rebates on energy efficient homes and feed-in tariffs to stimulate use of microgeneration.

full article

Sunday, 13 July 2008

The Great Biofuels Con

Rarely in political history can there have been such a rapid and dramatic reversal of a received wisdom as we have seen in the past 18 months over biofuels – the cropping of living plants, such as soya beans, wheat and sugar cane, to generate energy.
Two years ago biofuels were still being hailed as a dream solution to what was seen as one of the most urgent problems confronting mankind – our dependence on fossil fuels, which are not only finite but seemed to be threatening the world with the catastrophe of global warming.

In March 2007 the leaders of the European Union, in a package of measures designed to lead the world in the "fight against climate change", committed us by 2020 to deriving 10 per cent of all transport fuel from "renewables", above all biofuels, which theoretically gave off no more carbon dioxide than was absorbed in their growing.

Since then, however, the biofuels dream has been disintegrating with the speed of a collapsing card house. Environmentalists, formerly keen on this "green energy", expressed horror at the havoc it was inflicting on the world's eco-systems, not least the clearing of rainforests to grow fuel crops.

As the world suddenly faced its worst food shortage for decades, sending prices spiralling, experts pointed out that a major cause had been diverting millions of acres of farmland from food production to fuel. The damage this was inflicting on the world's poor led a United Nations official to describe the rush for biofuels as "a crime against humanity".

full article

Saturday, 12 July 2008

UK energy bills to rise by an additional £5.3bn to fund 2020 emissions targets

At a time when consumer energy prices are already rising, a new report from Ernst & Young - Costing the earth? - has estimated that the typical UK domestic energy bill will need to increase by an additional 20%, and probably more, to pay for the cost of meeting the EU's 2020 emissions targets. This will lead to a total annual cost of £5.3bn to UK consumers in 2020. The 20% rise is the minimum additional contribution each domestic household will have to make through their energy bill, to fund the £100bn plus capital investment required for the UK to meet emissions reduction and renewable energy targets for 2020. The rise (which does not factor in commodity prices and strips out inflation) equates to an increase of £213 per UK household on energy bills, leading to many more consumers being caught within the government's definition of fuel poverty.

He concludes, “There is no silver bullet to meeting the UK and EU imposed reductions in emissions by 2020. Successfully achieving those targets in the UK will require concerted action by energy suppliers working in partnership with government, little to no delays in the construction of low carbon generation such as new nuclear and renewables, clarity on policy mechanisms and better education for customers that they will have to pay for low carbon generation.”

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Warning on estimated power bills

Energy customers with estimated bills could be racking up debts of hundreds of pounds without realising it, according to Citizens Advice.
The charity says thousands of people have got in touch over their estimated gas and electric bills.
In the worst cases people have found they owed over £1,000 when they thought their direct debits were covering their energy costs.
It blamed the problem on spiralling tariffs and billing issues.

Tony Herbert, a senior policy officer with Citizens Advice, said with energy costs forecast to rise further this winter, the problem is likely to get worse.
"Families can rack up huge fuel bills without even realising it because the amount they're paying is actually based on estimated readings."

With energy bills set to rise sharply in the winter, both energy companies and advice organisations are recommending that people keep a close eye on their bills and check their gas and electricity meters themselves.
By Sarah Pennells

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Friday, 11 July 2008

Solar dyes give a guiding light

A new way of capturing the energy from the Sun could increase the power generated by solar panels tenfold, a team of American scientists has shown.
The new technique involves coating glass with a specific mixture of transparent dyes which redirect light to photovoltaic cells in the frame.
The technology, outlined in the journal Science, could be used to convert glass buildings into vast energy plants.
The technology could be in production within three years, the team said.
"It makes sense to coat the side of [very tall] buildings with these new panes," Professor Marc Baldo, one of the researchers on the team, told BBC News. "It's not far fetched at all."

Colour trick

The most advanced attempts to generate large amounts of electricity via the Sun require the use of a solar concentrator.
These are often bulky mobile mirrors that work by tracking the progress of the Sun and concentrating its beams on the cell at its heart.
The new technology does away with the need for mirrors and mobility
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) team has found a way to coat panes of glass or plastic with a mixture of several dyes that essentially do the same job.
"What we have is a piece of glass, with a very thin layer of paint or dye on top," explained Professor Baldo.
"The light comes in and hits the dye and which absorbs it and re-emits the light, but now it's inside the glass so it bounces along there until it gets to the edge. So you only need to mount the solar cells around the edge."
But there are downsides to this technology: the cells at the centre have to be constantly cooled, and each concentrator requires a large amount of space to avoid shadowing its neighbour

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British Gas Poised to Flick Price Hike Switch

Industry analysts are predicting the next raft of price hikes will take effect at the end of this month.

Rumoured energy price increases will be kicked off by British Gas ( in two weeks time according to industry insiders.

The price hikes, anticipated to be in the region of 15%, will be prompted by soaring wholesale energy prices, with gas prices having trebled over the past 12 months. The cost of gas is intrinsically linked to the price of crude oil, which leapt to a new record of nearly $146.69 a barrel yesterday.
Adding to the pressure on Britain's energy suppliers, wholesale coal prices were also driven to record levels last week.

Centrica, the owner of British Gas, finds itself especially stretched due to its reliance on paying premium prices for gas on the open market. Historically, Centrica has suffered from a shortage of its own gas and power supplies, and as result has to buy expensively from abroad.

BY Dan Drage
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'Green' car tax will hit poorest hardest

New "green" car taxes will hit hundreds of thousands of the poorest families, new figures show, as Labour backbenchers told the Government it was heading for a repeat of the 10p tax revolt.
About 400,000 of the lowest earners will pay an average of £80 a year more following changes to Vehicle Excise Duty (VED), according to calculations based on official Treasury data. Of those, 140,000 will pay at least £100 a year more in car tax and for some, bills will increase by up to £245.

This means that in total, Britain's poorest families - defined as those on an income of £15,000 or less - will pay a total of £32 million extra in VED in the next two years.

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Thursday, 10 July 2008

'Hundreds wasted' on energy bills

Households are wasting hundreds of pounds a year on gas and electricity bills - despite Government efforts to cut energy consumption, the Whitehall spending watchdog has warned.

The National Audit Office (NAO) said that while the Government is currently spending £2.6 billion-a-year on energy reduction programmes, household consumption has risen by 19% between 1990 and 2004. The increase came despite a 19% increase in household energy efficiency over the same period.

While energy consumption has started to fall since 2005, the NAO estimated that households could cut average bills by at least 30% - around £280-a-year for the typical household - if they adopted all the available cost-saving measures.

It pointed to recent surveys by the Energy Saving Trust which found that 71% of households leave electronic appliances on standby, 63% forget to turn the lights off in empty rooms, and 28% leave the heating on when the house is unoccupied.

At the same time, the NAO said that as the growth in consumer electronics, the emergence of more and smaller households and the tendency of people to keep their homes warmer had all helped to offset the gains in energy efficiency.
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Energy Saving Tips to cut fuel costs

With household energy bills on the rise, insurance broker, is offering the following tips to help consumers to reduce their monthly payments for energy in their home:
Consider capping: the wholesale cost of energy is almost double what it was last year - Centrica's Interim Management Statement on 12 May 2008 admitted, "On average the month-ahead prices for gas and power were 92% and 100% respectively above those for the same period of the previous year. Against this backdrop all major energy suppliers increased residential energy tariffs during the first quarter of the year. Further increases in gas and electricity prices are expected, which means that now could be the time to switch to a capped-price tariff. If utilities companies up their prices again - and rises of between 10% and 20% have not been uncommon - that mediocre capped rate from your energy supplier could suddenly be very reasonable. If you need some consistency in your monthly spending, consider capped rates.

Check your appliances: if you are looking to buy the latest plasma screen, or American- style freezer, take a moment to read the booklet that comes with it. Some household appliances guzzle up electricity so it is worth having a look around your home to see if there are appliances which might be significantly increasing your energy bills.

Check your meter regularly: energy suppliers are only legally obligated to read your meter every two years, which means that your gas and electricity bills are based on what they think you might use up. Make sure that you check your meter on a regular basis and let your supplier know the reading. Their lines are often open 24-hours-a-day and they will amend your bill accordingly.

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Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Hydrogen refuel station unveiled

A hydrogen refuelling station which could be installed in the home as an alternative to visiting a petrol station has been unveiled.
Users will need a hydrogen-powered car to go with it although the system can also be used for heating and cooking.
Hydrogen has long been touted as an alternative energy source to carbon-hungry fossil fuels.
One of the biggest obstacles to wider adoption of fuel-cell vehicles is the lack of hydrogen fuelling stations.
To be used as a fuel, hydrogen must first be produced using another energy source.
While some scientists are hopeful of the fuel uses of hydrogen, many others are sceptical because it is inefficient to produce, expensive to transport and to convert into electricity.
A home refuelling station could provide much needed infrastructure to kick-start a hydrogen-based economy, thinks Sheffield-based ITM Power, the firm behind the system.

Hydrogen fridge

The hydrogen home refuelling station works via an electrolyser which produces the gas from water and electricity.
An internal combustion generator converts the gas back into electricity to provide power for the home.
ITM Power has set up a showcase hydrogen home in Sheffield, where the gas is used for heating, cooking and to operate a fridge.
In terms of producing hydrogen to power a car, the unit can make enough gas overnight to provide fuel for 25 miles.The hope is eventually to have higher-pressure refuelling units in public places which would be capable of offering enough hydrogen for cars to travel 100 miles.
Such units would be more expensive as they would require a hydrogen compressor which costs around £20,000.
But ITM thinks its system has the potential to revolutionise the move to more green energy.
"Given the pressing need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, especially oil, and to cut CO2 emissions, the future for hydrogen as an alternative means of storing and utilising energy cost-effectively has never been brighter," said Jim Heathcote, chief executive of ITM.
David Hart, a research fellow at Imperial College, London studying hydrogen energy, questioned the cost involved and how energy efficient it would be.
"The critical element of this is how much it would cost to put such a refuelling station in your home. The technology is very plausible but there are some issues about public acceptance," he said.
The fact that the refuelling station uses electricity meant it would not be a much-sought after zero emissions system unless the electricity itself is produced in a more green way, he added.
According to Mr Heathcote, the unit - which is currently only a prototype - could be commercially available as soon as the end of this year.
If they were mass produced he estimates they would initially cost around £2000.
He see the first market for the product as being large companies which use a lot of vehicles such as the Post Office.
But eventually it will become common in homes, he thinks. He said that the next stage of the firm's work would be to produce a liquid fuel.

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Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Beware green energy tariffs

Signing up for so-called ‘green electricity’ doesn’t guarantee a cut in emissions. So what are the best clean energy options out there?

More electricity users are signing up to green energy tariffs every year, says UK electricity regulator Ofgem. But the truth is that if everyone on the national grid changed to a green tariff tomorrow, we wouldn’t have created any more green energy collectively. This, plus the growing uncertainty surrounding the role of renewables in the future UK energy mix, means it’s time for companies to start questioning the validity of their green tariffs.

In the UK, renewable energy generates Renewables Obligation Certificates (ROCs) that are sold on the market to electricity companies. By law, they have to buy a minimum 7.9% renewables into their energy mix in the year 2007/8. This figure will gradually increase to 15.4% by 2027, according to government targets.

At the moment, there aren’t even enough ROCs to go around the energy companies to satisfy these targets, says Ofgem. Companies could only buy 66% of the total ROCs needed to satisfy the 2006/7 target, down from 76% in 2005/6. The cost of the remaining deficit of green energy is paid into a buy-out fund, which is distributed to ROC providers for future investment.

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Monday, 7 July 2008

UK to slow expansion of biofuels

The UK is to slow its adoption of biofuels amid fears they raise food prices and harm the environment, the transport secretary has said.
Ruth Kelly said biofuels had potential to cut carbon emissions but there were "increasing questions" about them.
"Uncontrolled" growing of fuel crops could destroy rainforest, she told MPs.
A government-commissioned report recommends ministers "amend not abandon" biofuel policies. The Tories said policy had to change "right now".
'Important role'
Ms Kelly's statement comes as the European Parliament is about to vote on whether to scrap the EU's target of sourcing 10% of transport fuel from biofuels by 2020.
World Bank president Robert Zoellick has also called for reform in rich countries, urging them to grow more food instead.

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GORDON Brown provoked ridicule last night after chartering a luxury jet from America to fly to Japan for a conference discussing global warming.
The Prime Minister was flown on a gas-guzzling Boeing 767 private jet to attend the G8 Summit of world leaders in Hokkaido.
Downing Street’s choice of private hirers – MLW Air in Dallas, Texas – added over 9,000 carbon-emitting air miles to the journey.
MLW Air chief executive Martin Woodall confirmed last night that 767 flew 4,700 miles from Dallas to collect Mr Brown.
After the 12,000 round-trip to the summit it will drop the leader off in London, then have to fly all the way back to Dallas.

The whole exercise is thought to have cost the British taxpayer at least £500,000.

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British report calls for new look at biofuels

Steps need to be taken to ensure that using biofuels to fight climate change does not cause a surge in food prices, a British government report on food policy said on Monday.
"Some biofuels can potentially play an important role in tackling climate change, but we must ensure that they are sustainable and that they do not distort food markets," said the report, published as a summit of the Group of Eight rich nations in Japan discussed food prices.
Another British report on biofuels is expected to be released later on Monday, drawing more attention to the issue of diverting food crops to make fuel, which hunger campaigners say is partly responsible for a surge in prices.
The European Union's proposal to get 10 percent of road transport fuels from renewable sources, such as biofuels, by 2020 has faced growing criticism.
Biofuels are mainly produced from food crops such as wheat, maize, sugar cane and vegetable oils. The rush to grow crops for energy rather than food has pushed global food prices up by 75 percent, according to a confidential World Bank report published in Britain's the Guardian newspaper last week.
The food policy report said more research needed to be done to understand the link between biofuels and food prices.
"The government is taking steps to ensure that interactions between biofuel policies and food markets are better understood -- so that policies can be adjusted if necessary."
Less food waste was also essential to mitigate soaring food prices, added the report, published by the Cabinet Office.
As much as 40 percent of food harvested in developing countries can be lost before it is consumed due to inefficient processing, storage and transport.
By Katherine Baldwin and Nigel Hunt

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Saturday, 5 July 2008

Comparison Websites

Gas and electricity

When using a comparison site for a cheaper gas and electricity supplier it is important that you are searching all available tariffs, not just the ones that have commercial arrangements with the comparison site.

Last September price comparison website uSwitch risked having its Energywatch industry accreditation removed. The site had excluded British Gas, a company which pays no commission to uSwitch, from its default comparison tables.

When searching for switching deals users had to click 'No' next to the option to see 'only plans you can switch to with uSwitch' in order to see British Gas. USwitch relented and changed the default option from 'Yes' to 'No', but there is still room for confusion.

Another thing to watch out for is distortion of comparisons when energy companies are in a round of price changes. It usually tends to happen every three to six months. This is Money's fuel bills latest advice round-up will warn you of this.

In May, British Gas predicted that energy prices may rise, perhaps by as much as 30% in 2008. For this reason, fixed price tariffs, where prices are frozen for a period, could prove better value. However, many comparison websites do not differentiate between fixed price tariffs.

Suppliers often offer their cheapest prices through online tariffs. We advise that if you are looking to switch suppliers you use both comparison sites and energy suppliers directly when conducting research - start by asking your existing supplier to give you a better rate.
By Tara Evans

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Friday, 4 July 2008

Meet the underwater Anaconda snake that could solve our energy problems

Looking like something out of a Fifties B-movie, it slithers and slides through the waves.

But far from being a deadly predator, the 600ft-long rubber sea snake could one day be the answer to the country's energy crisis.

The device - named the Anaconda after the large snake that lives in water - is a wave power generator, which converts the rise and fall of the oceans into cheap, green electricity.
Its creators say it could offer a reliable alternative to the thousands of wind turbines due to be built in the next decade.

Professors Francis Farley and Rod Rainey, the snake's inventors, predict that, if tests continue to be successful, the first 'Anaconda farms' could be built within five years.

The device, which is 20ft wide, is made up of a long rubber tube, closed at both ends and filled with water.

Designed to be anchored with one end facing the oncoming waves, it should be used in water between 120ft and 300ft deep, typically about one or two miles from shore.

Because it is made of rubber - meaning it is lighter than other wave generators and does not need complicated hydraulic ramps, hinges and articulated joints - it is cheaper to build and needs less maintenance.

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Thursday, 3 July 2008

Biofuels are prime cause of food crisis, says leaked report

Biofuels have forced global food prices up by 75% — far more than previously estimated — according to a confidential World Bank report obtained by the Guardian. The damning unpublished assessment is based on the most detailed analysis of the crisis so far, carried out by an internationally-respected economist at global financial body.

The figure emphatically contradicts the US government's claims that plant-derived fuels contribute less than 3% to food-price rises. It will add to pressure on governments in Washington and across Europe, which have turned to plant-derived fuels to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and reduce their dependence on imported oil.

Senior development sources believe the report, completed in April, has not been published to avoid embarrassing President George Bush. "It would put the World Bank in a political hot-spot with the White House," said one yesterday.

The news comes at a critical point in the world's negotiations on biofuels policy. Leaders of the G8 industrialised countries meet next week in Hokkaido, Japan, where they will discuss the food crisis and come under intense lobbying from campaigners calling for a moratorium on the use of plant-derived fuels.

It will also put pressure on the British government, which is due to release its own report on the impact of biofuels, the Gallagher Report. The Guardian has previously reported that the British study will state that plant fuels have played a "significant" part in pushing up food prices to record levels. Although it was expected last week, the report has still not been released.

"Political leaders seem intent on suppressing and ignoring the strong evidence that biofuels are a major factor in recent food price rises," said Robert Bailey, policy adviser at Oxfam. "It is imperative that we have the full picture. While politicians concentrate on keeping industry lobbies happy, people in poor countries cannot afford enough to eat."
BY Aditya Chakrabortty

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Tuesday, 1 July 2008

The bulb hoarders

The government wants your old-fashioned energy-hungry incandescent tungsten light bulb gone, and gone soon. But some people are willing to go to great lengths to hang onto the lights they love.

Incandescent bulbs - that's the traditional kind to you or me - waste 95% of the energy they use, according to Greenpeace. They calculate that phasing them out in the UK will save more than five million tonnes in CO2 emissions a year.

And yet some households are so attached to them that they not only keep buying them - they're stockpiling them ahead of the day when they're no longer available.
In September last year, the UK government made a deal with major shops for the supply of traditional bulbs to be turned off. Some higher energy bulbs will be gone by January 2009, and all incandescent lights will be off by 2011.

The agreement is voluntary, but other countries have announced legal bans, including Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and the US.

The brighter bulbs are already fading from view, according to Glen Gotten of the light merchant Ryness. "100w and 150w are difficult to get hold of," he says. "The larger manufacturers have stopped making them. We still manage to get enough to supply our customers for now, but they will start drying up."

The 150w, in particular, is seriously rare. They're gone from Tesco. Morrisons have already chosen to ditch them, with 100w to follow in the autumn and 60w next year.
By Steve Tomkins

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