Saturday, 29 November 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

full article

Friday, 28 November 2008

Nokia launches Home Control centre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

full article

Thursday, 27 November 2008

The 10 big energy myths

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

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

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

Myth 2: wind power is too unreliable

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

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

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

full article

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Retro-green your house

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

full article

Smart meters: are they the answer to big bills?

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

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

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

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

full article

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Baxi takes bow with CHP champions

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

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

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

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

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

full article

Friday, 14 November 2008

British Gas boosts micro-energy strategy with eco boiler launch

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

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

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

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

full article

Thursday, 13 November 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

full article

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Fish tank toilet 'will cut water use'

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

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

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

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

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

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

full article

Monday, 3 November 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

full article

Are you covered if your boiler breaks down

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

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

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

full article