Wednesday, 29 July 2009

High-tech Mini-allotment

A 'mini allotment' designed by Nasa scientists to grow fruit and vegetables in space goes on sale today.
The gadget will allow residents of the smallest flats to grow their own food without a garden - or even soil.
The Power Plant Growing Machine uses hundreds of tiny jets to constantly spray nutrients on to the roots of plants. Scientists say this leads to far quicker growth than normal. It is suitable for fruit, vegetables and herbs.
The growing technique, aeroponics, was designed by the American space agency’s scientists to help astronauts get their five-a-day while on missions.
Oakthrift, supplier of the £34 device, claims it makes a bigger and stronger crop than if the plants were grown outside.
Guy Barter, head of horticultural advice at the Royal Horticultural Society, said: 'Some people don’t like the thought of dirt and insects in the home. This could be a way of overcoming that.'
The system is already used on a larger scale by commercial growers.
Power Plant is installed with a nifty internal microjet system with super-oxygenated, nutrient rich water to make the crops grow bigger and stronger.
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Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Rainwater Harvesting kits.

With unpredictable weather patterns wreaking havoc on the country’s water supply and utility companies ramping up costs, it’s no wonder rainwater harvesting systems are becoming increasingly popular. Marley Plumbing & Drainage sets out an overview for installing its kits.

The Marley rainwater systems are available in two versions:
USW100: Garden irrigation. The controls and hose tap are wall mounted and can be situated up to 17 metres from the installation. Pipework and power connections are made to the pump via a service duct to the inlet chamber, which provides access to the tank.

USW200: Garden use and domestic back-up. This kit is constructed in the same way as above, but is additionally connected to a storage tank, situated in the loft, to provide a supplementary water supply for non-potable applications (i.e. toilet flushing). A mains water supply back-up is required in case of power failure or the depletion of the recycled water.

The kits are provided with or without an infiltration (soakaway) facility. If the version with a built in soakaway is installed, it must be located a minimum distance of 5m from any building boundary in accordance with Building Regulations.
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Tuesday, 21 July 2009

The Stormsaver Rainwater Harvesting System

The Stormsaver domestic system is suitable for use in private family homes and can be installed individually or on a large scale.

Rainwater harvesting in domestic properties

Option 1: garden irrigation and outside use only

Rainwater is collected from the roof area of the building. This is channelled through a filter integrated in the underground storage tank to remove large debris, leaves etc. Rainwater then enters the storage tank through an inlet calmer, which prevents the rainwater from disturbing the sediment that settles on the base of the tank. Excess rainwater can flow out of an overflow to the storm drain or to our soakaway or attenuation system. Inside the tank is a small submersible pump, which takes water through a floating suction filter.

On demand, rainwater is pumped to the Stormsaver control panel which is installed under the sink or in the garage area and houses all the electrics. During periods of low rainfall and if the tank is empty, the pump will be disabled to prevent a run dry situation
full article

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Fuel-Cell Power

Richard Hollingham reports from California on how technology that took man to the Moon could soon take shoppers regularly to the mall.

It looks like an ordinary SUV (Sports Utility Vehicle), the sort of chunky 4X4 you'll find jamming American roads.

It's only when you take a drive that you realise that this is something very different.

I'm no motoring correspondent but, as we pull out of the parking lot, it's difficult not to be impressed by this car's smooth acceleration.

What's even more disconcerting is that the vehicle is almost totally silent - the only noise comes from the wind buffeting the windows and the squeal of the tyres as we bomb down the freeway.

"The car drives with electricity but - unlike a battery-electric car that you need to plug in to charge - the fuel cell vehicle makes electricity on-board from the hydrogen stored in a tank," explained Catherine Dunwoody, executive director of the California Fuel Cell Partnership.

"The fuel cell is a fuel conversion device that converts hydrogen to electricity," she told the BBC World Service's One Planet programme.

The only byproduct is water - the ultimate 'zero-emission' vehicle.
Like a battery, a fuel cell uses a chemical process to generate electricity. Inside the fuel cell, a catalyst strips hydrogen into positively charged hydrogen ions and electrons. The positive ions pass across a special membrane and react with oxygen (from the air) to form water. The electrons have to take the long way round and flow through a circuit to generate electricity.

full article

Friday, 17 July 2009

Sorption-Enhanced Steam Reforming

Could the cars and laptops of the future be fuelled by old chip fat? Engineers at the University of Leeds believe so, and are developing an energy efficient, environmentally-friendly hydrogen production system. The system enables hydrogen to be extracted from waste materials, such as vegetable oil and the glycerol by-product of bio-diesel. The aim is to create the high purity hydrogen-based fuel necessary not only for large-scale power production, but also for smaller portable fuel cells.
The system being developed at Leeds – known as Unmixed and Sorption-Enhanced Steam Reforming - mixes waste products with steam to release hydrogen and is potentially cheaper, cleaner and more energy efficient.

A hydrocarbon-based fuel from plant or waste sources is mixed with steam in a catalytic reactor, generating hydrogen and carbon dioxide along with excess water. The water is then easily condensed by cooling and the carbon dioxide is removed in-situ by a solid sorbent material.
full article

Thursday, 16 July 2009

World's largest wave farm

South-West England will become the world's largest wave farm under government plans to create a new leading centre in wave and tidal technologies.

The Wave Hub project will see a giant national grid-connected socket built on the seabed off the coast of Cornwall in a pioneering energy project.

Announcing an investment of £9.5 million for the scheme, Business Secretary Lord Mandelson said it would create up to 1,800 new jobs.

The project will see infrastructure built including a sub-station building and an adjacent connection point to the distribution network.

From there, a cable will be taken through a duct beneath the sand dunes and then across the seabed to an eight square kilometre area within which the devices will be moored.

The European Regional Development Fund Convergence Programme also announced it would invest £20 million in Wave Hub, which will be commissioned next summer.

The first equipment orders for the project were placed this week.

full article

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Low carbon way 'to reshape lives'

Ambitious plans to generate one third of UK electricity from renewables by 2020 form the centrepiece of government plans for a low carbon future.

Financial packages for wind and wave energy and changes to planning procedures are among key components of the Low Carbon Transition Plan.

"Smart" meters are to be deployed in 26 million homes by 2020.

The government says the plan will create up to 400,000 "green jobs" without a major hike in energy prices.

"The strategies we are launching today outline the government's vision for achieving a low carbon future for the UK, reshaping the way we live and work in every element of our lives," said Business Secretary Lord Mandelson.
Many observers believe the targets are stretchingly ambitious.

"We need a sixfold increase in renewable energy generation in just 11 years," commented Tom Delay, chief executive of the Carbon Trust.

"This can be achieved but will require not just a transformation in technology, but in political, economic and industrial thinking."

The government says these measures, when combined with an expansion in home insulation and smart meters, will not raise energy prices up to 2015, though probably will do by 2020.

From 2011, the poorest households will receive mandatory help with fuel bills.
full article

Sunday, 12 July 2009

'Cashback' pledge for green power

Households that contribute electricity to the National Grid are to receive payments under a new government scheme.

Towns and villages will be encouraged to generate their own power with wind, water and solar energies, and then be paid for how much they produce.

Critics warn that small-scale production is expensive and projects may require government subsidy.

But Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband said the project will "help create the clean energy of the future".

Similar "clean energy cash back" schemes already operate in 19 European countries including Germany.

'Feed-in tariffs'

At present, anyone in the UK who feeds electricity into the National Grid can get a reduction on their fuel bills through smart meters.

But ministers hope that the promise of cash in people's pockets will encourage them to seek new ways of generating their own power.

In Germany, whole towns have grouped together to buy wind turbines, build biomass plants and erect solar panels on all private houses.

They are then paid a guaranteed fixed price for every kilowatt of energy they produce - a higher sum than for electricity made from fossil fuels in traditional power stations.

Three wind turbines can make £15,000 a year for a single village.

Since so-called "feed-in tariffs" were introduced in Germany, some 400,000 homes, particularly in the sunnier south of the country, have installed solar panels.

But the government has had to subsidise such projects in order to keep them viable.

At present, only about 2% of Britain's energy comes from renewable sources, but the government has pledged to increase that to 15% within the next 12 years.

full article

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Low-carbon strategy will raise household energy bills by £200 a year

Household energy bills will rise by more than £200 a year under the Government’s low-carbon strategy being announced next week.

Meeting Britain’s targets for cutting emissions could push another 1.7 million households into fuel poverty, meaning that seven million homes would be spending more than 10 per cent of their income on fuel.

The Renewable Energy Strategy, to be published on Wednesday, will state that more than £100 billion will have to be invested in renewable energy infrastructure, including 7,000 wind turbines, by 2020.

The Government has bound itself legally to cutting CO2 emissions by 34 per cent by 2020 and 80 per cent by 2050. To achieve this, it must increase the amount of energy generated from renewable sources from 2 per cent at present to 15 per cent by 2020.
The strategy estimates that energy bills will have to rise by about 20 per cent to pay for the investment. The average household currently pays about £1,150 a year for electricity and gas, a small decline on last year but still double the amount paid in 2003.

The cost of converting to renewable energy and modernising Britain’s power supply would add about £230 to annual bills. Costs are likely to ratchet up quickly as the investment is made, with the increase reaching 20 per cent within three years.
full article

G8's climate change targets

Because the leaders of the rich countries, at their meeting in Italy, have just made a great headline-grabbing pledge to cut their emissions of carbon dioxide, in the fight against climate change, by 80 per cent by 2050.
How would we go about an 80 per cent C02 reduction once it was properly agreed?

This will be the greatest common enterprise on which humanity has ever embarked. To bring it about you might instinctively think windfarms, or solar panels, or electric cars, and they're all on the way and important, but the basic tool is really a more abstract one: the price of carbon, as determined by markets such as that of the European Union's Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).

Why is that so important?

Nicholas Stern, in his groundbreaking report on the economics of climate change, said that global warming represented the greatest market failure in history: the true cost of emitting carbon dioxide was not remotely reflected in its price. As the governments in the ETS (and later, we hope, the US and elsewhere) squeeze the amount of CO2 companies are allowed to emit each year, the rising price of permits will drive the efforts to do without it, throughout society; it will drive the necessary behaviour changes by consumers, from transport, to heating choice, to diet (Oxfam points out, for example, how large is the carbon footprint of a steak compared to the same amount of calories produced from vegetarian sources).

Behaviour change is one of the two ways forward, yet despite the fervent hopes of "deep greens", it will need state or market intervention to make most people change their ways. The ultimate (and fair) way of doing it would be to give everyone the same personal "carbon allowance" which they can use as they wish; this is a long way off in practical terms, but as global warming gets worse, it may yet appear on the agenda.

What's the other way forward?

Technological fixes. Nuclear power and the coming technology of carbon capture and storage may – stress the "may" – mean we can carry on with our electricity-based lifestyle while slashing our emissions, as renewable energy on its own is unlikely to be sufficient. Electric motors and hydrogen fuel cells may allow us to maintain private car mobility, carbon-free, on the roads.

Aviation is a lot more difficult: the aviation industry sees biofuels as its get-out-of-jail card, but their expansion shows every sign of drastically pushing up food prices, never mind wrecking the rainforest. Getting aviation emissions down may ultimately mean restricting people's ability to fly, a very difficult job for any politician to undertake. It is becoming obvious that technological fixes are much preferred by politicians to asking people to change their behaviour; it is dawning on them that no one ever got elected by asking voters to make do with less.

Is an 80 per cent cut in emissions just pie in the sky?

full article

Friday, 10 July 2009

Gas firms fail to pass price cuts

Consumers are being denied the benefits of a sudden collapse in the price of natural gas that is bringing a profits surge to gas utilities.

Margins in the gas industry are reaching record levels, experts claim, because of an emerging glut of fuel in the wholesale markets caused by the recession and new supplies.

But utilities are failing to pass on the benefit of a fall, by two thirds, in the wholesale price. The gap between the retail price and the wholesale cost is expected to boost the profits of the residential business of British Gas by more than 50 per cent this year.

Wholesale prices are tumbling and are expected to fall further, says Niall Trimble, director of The Energy Contract Company, a gas consultancy.
full article

Tuesday, 7 July 2009


Find out how much carbon dioxide you create and get a simple, personalised action plan to reduce your carbon footprint.
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Sunday, 5 July 2009

the zero-carbon home

This is because its super-insulation (three times as much as a normal house) means that, other than in exceptional circumstances, it will not need heating in January, or air conditioning in August. One small radiator and a tiny cooling system are optional extras for days of extreme weather.

The electricity that it will use, to power its state-of-the-art energy saving domestic appliances, is generated by the house itself from an array of solar panels on the roof. If you are in a suitable site for a roof wind turbine, you may be able to generate enough surplus energy, say the manufacturers, to run an electric car for 10,000 miles.

Water heating will be from other roof panels, backed up in winter by a biomass boiler (fired by wood chips) which can serve half-a-dozen houses at a time. The house itself is based around a very strong timber frame, supplied as a flat-pack kit, "a bit like a sofa from Ikea", according to Bill Dunster, the director of ZEDfactory, the architectural firm behind the project.

The cost for a three-bedroom version, including setting up, which will take about three weeks – and ruralZED will erect it for you – will be about £150,000. Note that this is not the finished house price. It does not include the price of the land, or installation of the surrounding infrastructure.

But to get an idea of comparative costs, the build price of a three-bedroom home put up according to current building regulations – which will soon be out of date – is about £100,000. On the other hand, the build price of the only other Code 6, zero-carbon home so far designed in Britain, the Lighthouse, created by the building materials firm Kingspan Offsite, is about £180,000, Kingspan say – and you have to erect it yourself.

This cost differential makes the ruralZED house a practical proposition, especially for housing associations, the consortium says. The first six homes are being built, 24 more are in the planning stage, and the finance director, Anthony Dickinson, said he expects to sell "thousands" in two to three years – "mainly to self-builders and local authorities, but looking to market them to commercial house builders".

The key to the house is that it has high levels of "thermal mass" – the ability of a material to absorb and release heat slowly. This is provided by the extremely thick insulation around the walls. Further temperature control is provided by a heat exchanger in the ventilation system, which does not require any power.

full article