Saturday, 31 December 2011

Postponement of solar tariff cuts welcomed

The region’s renewable energy suppliers have welcomed a High Court ruling which postponed planned cuts to solar tariffs – but warned uncertain times still lay ahead for the industry.
East Anglia’s domestic energy sector has grown dramatically in recent years as homeowners rushed to cash in on a government incentive guaranteeing a payment for every kilowatt generated by solar panels on their roofs.

But the burgeoning industry was thrown into panic on October 31 when energy minister Greg Barker announced the feed-in tariff (FIT) would be halved from 43p to 21p/kWh for systems up to 4kW registered after December 12.

The five-week deadline prompted an unprecedented rush for installations – and a legal challenge by Friends of the Earth and two solar companies who said it was creating “huge economic uncertainty”.

Last Wednesday, Mr Justice Mitting agreed the decision to set the deadline 11 days before the consultation into the scheme had finished was unlawful.

But after the government 
announced it would appeal against the ruling, the region’s suppliers are once again anxiously awaiting confirmation of changes which could affect their customers and employees.

full article

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Carbon monoxide is lethal because it hijacks haemoglobin, a protein found in red blood cells. This starves the body of oxygen, affecting vital functions, causing a heart attack, coma and ultimately death.

While most households have a smoke detector, less than a third have a carbon monoxide alarm, which cost from £10.

Even if you have no fuel-burning appliances in your home, you still need an alert because the gas can pass though walls from next door.

Tony Brunton, of CO Awareness, says always look for a UK certified alarm that makes a noise, rather than flashes, if the gas is detected. ‘Carbon monoxide can kill in three minutes,’ he says. ‘If it’s in the house, you want something that tells you to get out immediately, not flashes up a different colour.’

Beware if:
■  You see yellow or orange flames in boilers and heaters when there should be blue ones.
■ There is soot on the walls around fires and water heaters.
■  Your chimney is blocked by nesting birds or your exit flue or airbricks are covered by plants growing up the walls.


The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are, in many ways, similar to flu.

The key difference is that they tend to disappear as soon as you go outside and get fresh air as the oxygen levels in the blood are restored. That’s why it’s important to mention any concerns about ventilation or heating in your home to your doctor.

Symptoms to watch out for include:

Headaches
Anxiety and depression
Nausea
Tiredness and drowsiness
Dizziness
Vomiting
Heart palpitations
Chest pain
Personality change and clumsiness

full article

Monday, 5 December 2011

Fraudsters selling dangerous energy saving devices

More than 200 complaints about phone calls from fraudsters fooling people into buying dangerous energy saving devices are probably only "the tip of the iceberg" warned the Trading Standards Insitutute.

The victims are called by the fraudsters who claim to be their energy supplier or working in partnership with them. Victims are offered a £99 plug in device which the callers claims can save people 40 per cent on their energy bills.

But according to tests run by trading standards, a number of the items sold not only failed to satisfy electrical safety standards but do not deliver any tangible energy savings.

full article

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Surge in orders as householders cash in on solar power

Staff at a leading regional renewable energy company are working through the night to cope with a surge in orders as householders rush to beat a looming “cash” deadline.

Since the Government announced it was reducing the money it pays for electricity generated by solar panels on domestic properties, Harrogate-based Clean Energy (Yorkshire) have been working around the clock to cope with demand.

A month ago, the business, based at Pannal Business Park, was working on an average of 10 installations a week. But, when it was announced the feed-in tariff was to be cut from 43.3p per unit to 21p per unit from December 12, this number has now soared to more than 25 a week.

full article

Friday, 2 December 2011

Homeowners could get £100 energy bill reprieve

Energy customers could see their bills fall by £100 in the next year due to falling wholesale prices if the Eurozone collapses.
According to figures from comparison website Energyhelpline.com the wholesale cost of gas has already slumped 21pc since the peak in early September. Then, it was 78.3 pence per therm. It now stands at 61.5 pence per therm. During the same period, wholesale electricity prices dropped 15pc, falling from £5.62 per Megawatt Hour to £4.79 per Megawatt Hour.

Forecasts from the site indicate that, should the euro collapse, the impact on global energy markets is likely to be similar to the period 2008-09 following the demise of Lehman Brothers' when wholesale prices crashed by 66pc. This led to two years of tentative price drops in residential energy prices with reductions of 6.9pc in 2009 and of around 5pc in 2010.

Applied to the current average annual dual fuel bill of £1,345, a 6.9pc price drop would lead to residential price cuts of £93 next year.

full article

Friday, 25 November 2011

Ten money-saving tips for winter

1. It's NOT cheaper to leave heating on all day. The Energy Saving Trust says it's better to switch on for just an hour before you wake up and arrive home.

2. Anyone can get £300 of cavity wall and loft insulation FREE. This can cut your energy bill by £200 a year. EDF and Tesco Home Efficiency are offering the freebie even if you are not their customer, so long as you have a suitable home. British Gas also have a similar deal for their customers.

3. Find your stopcock and check how to turn it off. Damage from water when burst frozen pipes thaw can cost £25,000. If you go away, drain the water system or leave the heating on a little each day.

4. Switch your gas and electricity tariffs. It's the perfect time to shop around and you could even offset the past year's hikes. Switching takes up to six weeks, so act now. Use a comparison site approved by consumerfocus.org.uk. Or go to mse.me/gaselec for a top deal PLUS £30 cashback.

5. Claim your winter fuel payments. Households with someone born before January 6, 1951, are entitled to up to £200 tax-free (£300 for the over-80s). If you have never claimed before, register on 0845 915 1515.

6. Pre-payment meter users can save too. Ask to convert to a "credit meter", where you are billed. It works out cheaper. Some providers do this for free.
If not, or it's unaffordable, you can compare and switch tariffs and, when switching, see if your new supplier will let you switch to a credit meter for free. See mse.me/prepay.

7. Slash £100 a year off your boiler insurance. Don't always stay with your energy provider's cover, see comparison sites uswitch.com, energyhelpline.com and boilerchoices.co.uk — and check out those missed, including Npower's Hometeam 50 and Eon.

8. Chuck on another jumper. It's cheaper than turning up the heat — even adding just one degree can cost £60 a year. Full draught-proofing also helps, saving about £55 a year.

9. A monthly direct debit can save £100 a year. But do regular meter readings to keep your payment accurate.

10. Switch your nan's tariff! Many elderly people overpay. With their consent, sit down and compare prices for them — it could save them hundreds a year

full article

Thursday, 24 November 2011

British Gas has said it is simplifying its tariffs

Earlier this year, the regulator Ofgem told energy companies they must offer simpler tariffs.

Following a comprehensive review of the UK energy market sparked by claims that energy companies were making excessive profits, Ofgem said suppliers needed to change the way they operated by next year.

Ofgem welcomed the move, saying that British Gas had recognised that suppliers need an "open and honest dialogue" with their customers.

It said it would examine the company's proposals in detail to see how far they met its own objectives to simplify tariffs.

Earlier this week, E.On announced it had "pressed the reset button" on its relationship with customers, while other major energy suppliers have said they are working towards simplifying their tariffs.

"As part of urgently restoring confidence we are calling on all suppliers to get behind Ofgem's reforms to deliver what consumers tell us they want - a simpler, more competitive energy market," said Ian Marlee, of Ofgem.

"Without the decisive break with the past that Ofgem's reforms offer consumers will continue to mistrust energy suppliers."
'Complete breakdown'

Mr Bentley told the BBC's Newsnight that British Gas was making the changes because its customers had said they did not like the current pricing structures.
Continue reading the main story
“Start Quote

It is clear that we need to make things better for our customers”

Phil Bentley Managing director, British Gas

How to read your bill
How to switch suppliers

"We are very conscious of our social responsibility," he said.

He said bills were going up in part due to increasing transport costs and green levies.

He also admitted that British Gas had offered cheap deals at a loss to the company in order to attract customers because they would be at the top of price comparison tables. The company would no longer be doing this, he said.

"It is not right if we are charging honest customers more [to fund these deals]," he said.

The supplier is sending a letter to all its customers explaining its new policy, in which Mr Bentley says: "It is clear that we need to make things better for our customers. To make sure we do that, I am committed to having an honest conversation with [them]."

As well as offering just two tariffs, the supplier said that, from this month, it will include a "complete breakdown" of all the costs that make up its customers' bills.

Earlier this week, British Gas announced it had secured a £13bn gas supply contract with Norway's Statoil designed to help insulate customers from volatility in global gas prices.

Hundreds of tariffs

Watchdog Consumer Focus said there had been 70 new tariffs launched this year by energy companies, bringing the total to about 400. It said that simplifying tariffs would not have a direct effect on prices.
Gas ring The regulator Ofgem has told energy companies to make their tariffs simpler

"Energy is a simple product, it should also be a simple market. Reducing the number and complexity of tariffs will not bring prices down by itself, but it will help people understand their energy costs and get the best deal available," said Adam Scorer, of Consumer Focus.

Energy company E.On said its own review would take six months to complete, and would look at tariffs, bills, customer support and how it sells its products.

Ofgem has said that it wants to see one standard tariff per fuel per payment option - such as by direct debit, prepayment meter, or cash or cheque.

It said fixed-term contracts would also be allowed, where the price would be unchanged or track a particular index.

As well as calling for simpler tariffs following its review, the regulator said that it had found evidence the so-called big six energy firms had increased their prices in response to rising costs more quickly than they had lowered them in response to costs falling.

The suppliers, it said, should face more competition.

full article

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Keep Showers Short

A survey, using innovative technology, has offered an insight into people's showering habits.

The average shower lasted eight minutes - much longer than previous studies suggested, using almost as much water and energy as the average bath.

The information was compiled from "data loggers" that recorded 2,600 showers by 100 families over a 10-day period.

The survey was carried out by producer Unilever, which wanted to find out how people were using their products.

According to the data, an eight-minute shower used 62 litres of hot water, compared with an average bath's 80 litres.
And, it suggested, that if people were using a power shower - an appliance that adds extra pressure to the water flow - then an eight-minute shower would require twice as much water and energy as a bath.

"Most people have now got the message that, generally, taking a shower is more environmentally friendly than a bath, but what this research shows is this is not necessarily the case," she told BBC News.

Dr Owen, who produced "eco action trump" cards to help people understand the environmental and economic impact of everyday activities, said that she recommended that people took four-minute showers.

"People always consider the running costs of cars and phones, but no-one considers the running costs of everyday appliances such as showers, washing machines and TVs."

The survey suggested that taking eight-minutes showers would cost an average UK family £416 a year; using a power shower would see the annual bill soar to £918.

"Water companies often give away timers that help you limit your time in the shower and attachments are available to fix to your shower head that will reduce the flow but not the bathing experience," she explained.

"If you are partial to singing in the shower, pick a short pop classic to shower to; and when lathering up think about turning the flow off until you are ready to rinse."

full article

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Backlash grows over Cameron's green sell-out

David Cameron today faces a revolt of business leaders, councils, environment campaigners and unions furious at his decision to cut funding for household solar energy, severely undermining his claim that the coalition would be the "greenest government ever".

The funding for households who feed excess electricity generated by their solar panels into the national grid is to be cut from 43p to 21p per kilowatt hour (kwh) from next month, doubling the length of time people would have to wait before their solar panels became economically viable.

The feed-in tariff scheme is one of the most popular environmental measures introduced by any government. It has already been adopted by 100,000 private and housing association homes, and was championed by David Cameron within weeks of him becoming Conservative leader.

Yet last month ministers announced that, from 12 December, the subsidies would be cut in half, despite claims they were consulting on the plan.

full article

solar panels feed-in tariff halved

Householders who are in the process of having solar panels put on their roof have six weeks to complete the job or face seeing the predicted income they generate slashed after the government said it was cutting feed-in tariffs by 50%.

Despite pledging to be "the greenest government ever", the Tory-led coalition last week shocked the renewables sector by announcing that only installations completed by 12 December would get the full payments they were promised. Hundreds of householders who had signed contracts to have panels fitted have now pulled out and others are expected to follow.

More worrying, say installers, is a proposal to make future feed-in tariff (Fit) payments dependent on the home meeting tough energy performance standards. Around 85% of UK homes would need to spend around £5,600 to meet the requirements. Such a move, which is subject to the consultation exercise announced by ministers, would kill the solar industry, insiders say.

The much-trailed decision to halve the Fits – the amounts those installing photovoltaic panels on their roof get for each unit of electricity generated – sent the solar industry rushing for its calculators in a bid to work out whether solar panels will still be worth installing. It looks as though all but the most committed environmentalists will decide it is not worth the hassle.

Under the original scheme, householders had been promised the higher Fit payments provided they installed their panels before 1 April 2012. Since the scheme's introduction in 2010, around 100,000 householders have taken advantage of the generous terms.

So what do the changes mean?

• The feed-in tariff payable on installations of up to 4kW used to attract a generation rate of 43.3p per kWh. This will be reduced to a proposed 21p for all installations with an eligibility date on or after 12 December – unless the government relents voluntarily, or is forced to by a legal challenge. This slashes their viability; the financial return on the investment falls from around 12% to 5%-7%.

• If you are in the middle of an installation, you need to have it completed and registered with your power company by 12 December. If your supplier won't play ball and demands paperwork by 5 December (as some reportedly have), switch to Good Energy, which says it is planning to take registrations right up to the deadline.

• If you complete your installation between 12 December and 1 April, you will get the new Fit of 21p, but won't have to conform to any energy efficiency measures.

• Perhaps the biggest change, and the one that has attracted the least publicity, is the plan to make the payment of Fits dependent on other energy efficiency measures. Ministers have indicated they want only homes that have an energy performance certificate rating of C or better, ruling out many homes, as it will be prohibitively expensive. Most pre-1919 homes require the installation of some or all of the following measures: loft insulation, cavity wall insulation, heating controls, hot water cylinder insulation, replacement boiler and solid wall insulation – at a typical cost of £5,600.

Critics say that for the hardest-to-heat houses, solar PV is a practical way of reducing carbon emissions, and probably much less disruptive than solid wall insulation.

• The proposals are also expected to put an end to free solar installations (often called "rent-a-roof" schemes) through a new multi-installation rate – where an individual or company receives Fits from more than one installation. They will get just 16.8p per kWh for systems up to 4kW, a rate which the chief executive of HomeSun says makes the business no longer worth pursuing.

Friends of the Earth's energy campaigner Donna Hume says the changes have cast a shadow over the UK's thriving solar industry. "The government should be encouraging more people, not fewer, to save money by making their own electricity, freeing us from the stranglehold of the big six energy firms which are pushing up our bills."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change says it is consulting on proposed new tariffs to protect consumers from footing the bill for excessive subsidies: "The government stands by its pledge to be the greenest government ever. We are taking action to ensure that the Fits scheme stays within budget, and to put the solar industry on a steadier, clearer and sustainable growth path, avoiding boom and bust.

In 2010, anyone spending the typical £13,000 to fit an average sized (2.5kW) system would receive around £900 a year in payments, on top of a £140-a-year saving in reduced electricity bills. Feed-in tariffs are paid for 25 years, tax-free, and rise in line with inflation. To really make it work, you had to plan to stay in your home for at least 15 years. The price of installations has fallen by 20%, which is why the industry expected a cut to Fits from next April.

Gabriel Wondrausch, the man behind one of Britain's longest established installers, SunGift Solar, says investors will be still able to get an average 5%-7% return under the new rules. He says that by switching to cheaper Chinese panels (rather than the better European ones he favours), it is possible to make a decent-ish return. His estimates beat the government's claim that the return is now 4.5%.

However, he predicts the changes will lead to a return to pre-Fits days, which saw only the keenest "greens" making the investment – particularly if the government goes ahead with its plan to impose the energy performance requirement, which will rule out most potential buyers if they have to spend £5,000 on a new boiler and other measures.

full article

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Fuel poor could miss out on help

The BBC has learned that not everyone eligible for the new Warm Home Discount will receive it because of funding limits.

Warm Home Discount replaces the current social tariffs provided by the energy firms to help customers on low incomes.

More than half a million pensioner households will get £120 off their bills this winter.

But other people suffering fuel poverty may miss out because of caps imposed by other energy companies.

Changing subsidies

While many pensioners qualify automatically for fuel poverty subsidies, other people have to satisfy a number of other criteria.

To be eligible most firms require customers to be in receipt of a means tested benefit, and either have a child under 5 or in receipt of disability benefit.

But Radio 4's Money Box has learnt that the companies set limits on the number of people they are prepared to offer subsidies to.
Continue reading the main story
“Start Quote

We're looking for about 40 - 45,000 customers, so it's a case of first come, first served”

Valentine Mulholland Energy policy officer, EDF Energy

EDF Energy will offer subsidies to about 45,000 of its customers.

And according to EDF energy policy manager Valentine Mulholland, it will be a case of "first come, first served" for the rest.

Four of the other "big six" energy companies which Money Box spoke to said they too would be capping their fuel poverty funds.

Scottish and Southern Energy said it would help a minimum of 4,800 customers, although it expected to be able to help more.

Limited funds

However British Gas has a broader set of criteria than the other companies.

It is inviting applications from customers who have a household income of below £16,190 and spend more than 10% on fuel for adequate heating.

Ian Peters, the managing director of energy at British Gas, told Radio 4's Money Box programme "no eligible customer" would lose out:

"If they apply before the end of January for the first year, then I would have every confidence that they would get £120. I will guarantee we'll pay them," he said.
Continue reading the main story
“Start Quote

If they apply before the end of January for the first year, then I would have every confidence that they would get £120”

Ian Peters Managing director of energy, British Gas

Jonathan Stearn of Consumer Focus said he welcomed the move by British Gas to help all those eligible, but other companies needed to do more.

He said: "If energy firms are able to offer help to more people, as British Gas has said it will be doing, this would clearly be welcome.

"But there is a wider issue of how to fund helping more vulnerable households. This needs to be tackled as part of a comprehensive fuel poverty strategy."

BBC Radio 4's Money Box is broadcast on Saturdays at 1200 BST, and repeated on Sundays at 2100 BST.

full article

Energy companies' profit margins soar

Britain’s big energy companies are making profit margins of £125 a year from every household in the UK, up from just £15 in June, according to Ofgem, the energy regulator.
The eight-fold increase follows recent above-inflation rises in household energy bills and has led to accusations that the energy firms are profiting from consumers’ misery.

Ofgem, which said that the average annual gas and electricity bill is now £1,345 per household, has called for “radical reform” in the way that the so-called big six energy companies deal with their customers. The regulator has instructed the companies to make it easier for consumers to compare prices and switch suppliers

full article

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Energy suppliers and Government launch Warm Home Discount

EDF Energy last week became the final one of the Big Six suppliers to reveal inflation-busting increases.

Yet Your Money can reveal a bid to ease the pain of rocketing bills will ignore millions of families who need help the most.

Experts fear this year’s double dose has plunged another 840,000 ­households into poverty, leaving 6.9 million with a daily struggle to afford heating. Until now, suppliers tried to lessen the blow by offering ­cheap-rate deals – known as social tariffs – to those facing hardship.

In 2009/10, firms provided an average discount of £84 each to 1.6 million customers. But many people don’t know they exist and suppliers have different rules on who qualifies.

To tackle this, the Government has launched the Warm Home Discount, setting legal targets for suppliers to help the most needy.

Under the scheme, costing £1.1billion over four years, those deemed the most vulnerable will automatically get electricity rebates of £120 in the first year, eventually rising to £140.

You don’t have to apply, instead letters will be sent to those who qualify, with the money credited to accounts by next March. There are different arrangements for pre-payment meter customers.

The vast majority of people getting help – more than 600,000 households – are pensioners, the ­Department of Energy and Climate Change said.

Yet only ­households who get the guarantee element of pension credit will receive the money this winter.

Pensioners who only get the savings element, because they’ve put money aside, won’t get the rebate until later years, depending on age.

PAYMENTS

The boost is in addition to winter fuel payments for pensioners.

This will see households with someone under 79 get £200 this year, down from a temporary jump of £250 last year.

For those over 80, the amount is down from £400 to £300.

It’s also in addition to cold weather payments that older people (along with disabled households and ­families with children under the age of five on income-related benefits) get in extreme conditions during the worst months of the year.

But, while the scheme is a positive step, critics are worried about the many others facing a bleak winter.

Industry regulator Ofgem is talking to suppliers about how to provide emergency help but the DECC admits as few as 26,000 households in what it calls a “broader group” will get the £120 rebate this year.

This will rise to 650,000 by 2014/15 but they will have to apply rather than get the rebate automatically.

Yet it’s a fraction of those struggling to make ends meet, with campaigners fearing this year’s price hikes will leave as many as 12 million people in “fuel poverty” – defined as spending at least 10% of their income on energy.

The automatic rebates for pensioners came after the Department for Work and Pensions shared information with suppliers about who is in need.

DEAL

“We want to see more measures to protect the poorest from energy price rises so that families aren’t sitting in the cold this winter.”

Suppliers’ trade body the Energy Retail Association says social tariffs will be offered for the next four years, so those who don’t get rebates at first still benefit from cheaper deals. Policy adviser Alun Rees said: “The rebates are just one way of helping those in fuel poverty. Another is energy ­efficiency and suppliers will have invested £5.5billion in providing things such as insulation by the end of 2012.”

EDF Energy will raise gas prices by 15.4% and ­electricity by 4.5% in November, following recent hike announcements by British Gas, npower, E.ON, ­Scottish Power and ­Scottish & Southern Energy.

Since November, suppliers have increased average prices by £224, or 21%, leaving the typical family facing an annual bill of nearly £1,300.

Tom Lyon, energy expert at comparison website uSwitch.com, said: “You cannot have two ­consecutive rounds of energy price hikes in less than a year without seeing ­casualties.

“The visible victims are the 6.9 million, or over a quarter of all ­households, now living in fuel poverty, but they are more than matched by those who struggle to pay their bills and are starting to ­self-ration their usage.

“We are in danger of seeing energy becoming an ­unaffordable luxury instead of a ­household basic.

“My concern is the impact will really become apparent this coming winter.

full article

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Jelly batteries: Safer, cheaper, smaller, more powerful

A new polymer jelly could be the next big step forward for lithium batteries.

The jelly replaces the volatile and hazardous liquid electrolyte currently used in most lithium batteries.

Researchers from the University of Leeds hope their development leads to smaller, cheaper and safer gadgets.

Once on the market, the lithium jelly batteries could allow lighter laptop computers, and more efficient electric cars.

In 2006, Dell recalled four million laptop batteries because of concerns that they might catch fire. Dell replaced them with batteries that used lower-performance electrodes, but these batteries were significantly larger.

Battery size still dictates the size and weight of most laptops, say the developers of the new battery.

Electronics manufacturer Apple got around the safety problem for their lightweight laptops with a solid polymer electrolyte, but in doing so, the power output of the computers suffered.

Overheating is also an issue for electric cars. Developers have had to use reinforced, steel-clad battery housings, multiple fuses and circuits to protect the battery during charging. All of these contribute to the cost and weight, and hence efficiency, of electric cars.
Thermal runaway

The newly developed jelly batteries should prevent "thermal runaway", during which batteries can reach hundreds of degrees and catch fire.

The Leeds-based researchers are promising that their jelly batteries are as safe as polymer batteries, perform like liquid-filled batteries, but are 10 to 20% the price of either.

The secret to their success lies in blending a rubber-like polymer with a conductive, liquid electrolyte into a thin, flexible film of gel that sits between the battery electrodes.

"The polymer gel looks like a solid film, but it actually contains about 70% liquid electrolyte," explained the study's lead author, Professor Ian Ward from the University of Leeds.

"The remarkable thing is that we can make the separation between the solid and liquid phase at the point that it hits the electrodes.

"Safety is of paramount importance in lithium batteries. Conventional lithium batteries use electrolytes based on organic liquids; this is what you see burning in pictures of lithium batteries that catch fire. Replacing liquid electrolytes by a polymer or gel electrolyte should improve safety and lead to an all-solid-state cell," said Professor Peter Bruce from the University of St Andrews, who was not involved in the study.

Professor Ian Ward spoke to Quentin Cooper about his battery breakthrough on BBC Radio 4's Material World.

full article

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Dryer sales tumble

Families are switching off their tumble dryers and pegging out their washing to save money.
As a result, sales of dryers have slumped more than 30 per cent.
The tough economic conditions and rocketing energy prices have persuaded many people that there is no shame in hanging out their smalls to dry in public.
It seems people nationwide agree and it has had a dramatic impact on the sales of dryers, which are down from 1.3 million in 2006 to 900,000 last year.
Less than half of the country’s 27 million households now own a tumble dryer.
Supermarkets have expanded ranges of lines and pegs, fuelling a boom for manufacturers of traditional clothes lines, rotary lines and indoor airers
The Energy Savings Trust says using a tumble dryer for every wash costs more than £70 a year.
But pegging out the washing comes with its own cost. More than 400 people a year are admitted to hospital with clothes-peg related injuries

full article

China heats up solar market with new feed-in tariff

China is already the world’s biggest solar panel manufacturer, but now it is making a move to become a major solar energy consumer as well, with a nationwide feed-in tariff to pay people or businesses a subsidy for electricity they produce with solar panels. This follows on the heels of the country’s wind energy feed-in tariff in 2009, which led to explosive growth in their wind industry.

China had a mishmash of solar incentives before, but the new policy will give a clearer signal to the market and “encourage more companies to participate in the industry,” said an analyst from Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

China’s latest five-year plan, released in March, set the goal of using 20 percent renewable energy by 2020, and a solar feed-in tariff has been expected for months—so in anticipation many solar installations have already gotten rolling, and a flurry of projects may soon qualify.

Fast and Steady Wins the Race?

China, Germany and the U.K. have the most stable and consistent clean energy policies, which helps boost investment, according to a new report by Deutsche Bank Climate Change Advisors.

However, on the same day as China’s announcement, the U.K. put into place a cut in its solar power subsidy for installations over 50 kilowatts, “effectively ending solar farm development” in the country, Business Green argued.

There was a stampede of projects trying to get completed before the deadline, but some are planning more large installations nonetheless. Also, it turns out a loophole in the solar feed-in tariff would have allowed large projects to still get high subsidies—but the government is now moving to close that.

The U.K. had planned to raise subsidies for other clean energy—but it is delaying the raise in the feed-in tariff for anaerobic digesters.

Besides the U.K., a number of other European countries—including Spain, Italy and the Czech Republic—hacked away at their solar subsidies before, and now the Australian state of Western Australia has also eliminated theirs.

The Canadian state of Ontario, on the other hand, is trying to protect clean energy projects by changing regulations to make it harder to cut clean energy subsidies.

Meanwhile, solar installations have been rising fast worldwide as the price of solar panels has fallen about 20 percent in the past year. But manufacturer’s margins are also falling, so it is not clear how much longer these price trends can continue.

full article

Sunday, 24 July 2011

'Air-conditioned clothes' help Japan beat heat


As jackets go it looks far from fashionable, but its Japanese maker cannot meet sky-rocketing demand for "air conditioned" coats with built-in fans.

Kuchofuku Co. Ltd - whose name literally means "air-conditioned clothing" - has seen orders soar amid power shortages in Japan after the devastating March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

As parts of the nation sweat out an uncomfortable summer shackled by restrictions on electricity use, demand has grown for goods that provide guilt-free respite from the unrelenting summer heat.

Two electric fans in the jacket can be controlled to draw air in at different speeds, giving the garment a puffed-up look. But this has not deterred those happy to be cool rather than "hot" when it comes to fashion.

full article

Japanese firm perfects fuel cell for homes of the future

A Japanese company has perfected the technology that will store green energy in the homes of the immediate future and control where and when that power is provided to the building.

Other firms are working on similar storage and control systems for individual homes, but Japanese companies have redoubled their efforts in the wake of the massive earthquake and tsunami that devastated the northeast of the country in March and destroyed the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant.

NEC Corporation has made a breakthrough with the launch of its household energy storage system, which is equipped with lithium-ion batteries and can simultaneously control electrical power throughout the home.

The first 100 units of this industry first will be made available to home construction companies and businesses from July 18, NEC said.

The system automatically controls power to the building by connecting to the distribution panel and enabling interactive coordination with the power supplied by a commercial energy company and the home's electrical devices, its solar power systems and other equipment.

"This interactivity enables the system to store power during nighttime hours, when power consumption is low, then to use the stored power during afternoon hours, when power consumption reaches its peak," NEC said.

"This reduces both the demand on power companies as well as household electricity charges.

"Furthermore, households have become increasingly aware of the importance of access to electricity for essential needs in the event of an emergency or blackout, in addition to the necessity of power conservation," it said.

The model home incorporates solar panels, pipes that carry hot water beneath the floor in the winter and cool water in the summer and reduced-energy lighting.

Until now, however, the largest obstacle to such systems being introduced on a large scale to homes has been the lack of a reliable storage system for the energy that is generated, a problem that NEC appears to have overcome.

full article

Sunday, 10 July 2011

You have the power to slow the ever rising cost of energy

These latest increases will push the average annual household energy bill up to £1,193 from 18 August, taking bills to an all-time high. Incredibly, in just over five years energy bills have rocketed by £472 or 71 per cent.
These price increases have started to make affordability and fuel poverty a real issue. Fuel poverty levels in the UK are spiralling dangerously with 6.3 million or almost a quarter of all households now classed as fuel poor - this is where 10 per cent or more of net household income is being spent on energy.

Unfortunately, consumers are paying the price for an energy policy that is disjointed, incoherent and unaffordable. The problems with the market run deep. Massive investment of £200 billion is needed to keep the lights on and to reach the government's ambitious carbon emission reduction targets. This will see the cost of energy rise even further as cheaper, dirty sources are no longer an option.
t's more than likely that consumers will have to foot the bill, seeing the costs passed on through their energy bills. We already pay £84 a year in "hidden" green taxes or levies on our energy bills, but as the need for investment rises and suppliers struggle to hit green targets these taxes could go up, causing our household energy bills to keep growing.

There are discounts available for taking both gas and electricity (dual fuel) from the one supplier plus further discounts for paying by monthly direct debit.
The other key step for people to take is to reduce the amount of energy they use by being more energy efficient. Just doing simple common- sense things can save you money. Don't keep appliances on standby, don't leave mobile phones charging up all day and switch lights and gadgets off when no longer needed.

Households should also look to invest in longer-term energy efficiency measures such as insulating lofts and cavity walls, which can cut bills by up to 25 per cent.

Those who would struggle to afford this kind of investment in their home should contact their energy supplier to see whether they qualify for any energy efficiency grants or financial support. Suppliers have a pot of money available to help customers in this way.

full article

Solar panels 'save just £70 a year'

The benefits of solar panels have been called into question after the Energy Savings Trust (EST) reduced the estimated saving on electricity bills to just £70 a year.
The EST had previously estimated the savings to households at around £120 annually.

The admission will be a blow to the growing number of "rent-a-roof" schemes, where households receive free solar panels in return for savings on their electricity bill. However, as many of these schemes lock households into a 25-year contract, many householders are expected to be reluctant to take part for such paltry savings.

Under "rent-a-roof" schemes, the company that installs the panels, which typically cost around £14,000, keeps the income generated from selling the surplus energy back to the grid via the Government's feed-in tariff (FIT) scheme – typically earning more than £1,000 each year.

Launched last year, the FIT scheme means that home owners who install solar panels will receive money for any energy that is generated at home. Payments are index-linked for 25 years and at present generate 43.3p for every kilowatt hour produced by the system, plus an additional 3p per kWh as an "export tariff".

With free solar panel installations, the company that owns the panels will receive the income from the generation and export tariffs from your panels, while the homeowner will benefit from reduced energy bills.
Rosalyn Foreman of the EST said: "We followed trials of other technologies which you'd expect to export much less back to the grid than solar panels, but they showed lower levels of electricity used on site than expected, so we've altered our expectations of solar accordingly.

"While these are typical estimates, it's quite possible that someone could save more than £70 if they were at home in the day or set all their appliances to run in daylight hours."

The news comes after a Which? investigation found that three quarters of solar panel salesmen used "dodgy sales tactics" and misled customers on potential savings. In an undercover investigation, the consumer group found that 75pc of companies overestimated how much energy the solar panels would produce and most of them underestimated how long it would take for the system to pay for itself.

Which? found that the Government's rules to work out energy output did not take into account key factors such as where people live.

More than 28,000 households installed solar panels in the last financial year, with the number growing by 1,000 homes each week.

full article

Friday, 8 July 2011

'The Days of Cheap Energy Are Over'

Consumers last saw a year of double price hikes in 2008 when energy bills rocketed by £334 or 41% as a result of consecutive rounds of price increases.

For most of us though, today’s news tells us something really important – the days of cheap energy are over and it’s time that we all started to understand what this means for our bills and how we use energy.

Once these hikes kick in the average household energy bill will be an eye-watering £1,193 a year.

This is an all-time high and makes it imperative for customers to start thinking about how they can bring this cost down.
There are two key steps to this – pay the lowest possible price for your energy and cut down on the amount of energy you use.

To pay the lowest price you need to be thinking of going onto dual fuel (this means taking both gas and electricity from one supplier and paying by monthly direct debit.

Suppliers offer attractive discounts for customers doing this.

You could also sign up to an online energy plan – these are consistently the most competitive plans in the market.

In fact, the difference between the cheapest online plan and the most expensive standard plan will be £450 a year from August – that is the equivalent of saving around a third off your yearly fuel costs – an amount well worth saving!

That said, in the face of rising prices many of us will prefer the security of a fixed price energy plan.
Switchers are signing up to fixed price energy plans.
Energy deals can disappear swiftly from the market so people need to act quickly to secure the best deals while they can.

Having sorted out your energy tariff the next thing is to look at how much energy you use.

Energy efficiency is a real buzz term at the moment, but it is a powerful weapon in every household’s armoury when it comes to fighting off high energy prices.

The key thing is to start thinking of these things now and not to leave it until your bills have gone through the roof.

full article

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Green energy investment hits record global high

Global investment in renewable energy sources grew by 32% during 2010 to reach a record level of US$211bn (£132bn), a UN study has reported.

The main growth drivers were backing for wind farms in China and rooftop solar panels in Europe, it said.

It also found that developing nations invested more in green power than rich nations for the first time last year.

The Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2011 report was prepared for the UN by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

"The continuing growth in this core segment of the green economy is not happening by chance," said Achim Steiner, executive director of the UN Environment Programme.

"The combination of government target-setting, policy support and stimulus funding is underpinning the renewable industry's rise and bringing the much needed transformation of our global energy system within reach."
n 2010, developing economies spent more on "financial new investment", pumping $72bn into renewable projects compared with the $70bn outlay by developed economies.

China topped the table of investors again, spending $48.9bn - up 28% from 2009. There were also sizeable increases in investment from other developing or emerging economies:

South and Central America: up 39% (from 2009 levels) to $13.1bn
Middle East and Africa: up 104% to $5bn
India: up 25% to $3.8bn

However, the report stated, there was not growth in all sectors. There was a 22% decline in the investment in large-scale projects - such as windfarms - within Europe, where the funding fell to $35bn.

But there was a surge in small-scale projects, such as photovoltaic (PV) solar panels, especially within Germany, where investment in a "micro-solar boom" had increased by 132% to $34bn compared with 2009 figures.

As the renewable technologies continued to mature, the report added, the cost per megawatt (MW) continued to fall. It said that the cost of PV modules had fallen on a per-MW basis by 60% since 2008.

The authors forecasted: "Further improvements in the... cost of energy for solar, wind and other technologies lie ahead, posing a bigger and bigger threat to the dominance of fossil-fuel generation sources in the next few years."


full article

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Your definitive guide to turning your home into a power station

Solar power stations have, so far at least, proved expensive follies singularly incapable of producing anything like the energy we so hungrily need. But for ordinary home owners, matters are rather different, as the multitude of solar-panel firms proves.
Indeed, small solar panels on our roofs can actually be a solid earner. It's not that they are any better than their industrial cousins - indeed, the amount of energy they produce would ordinarily be too small to justify their existence. At best, you'll usually only produce half the energy your home requires.

But then the very generous 25-year government Feed-in Tariffs (FIT), or subsidies, come in. This means solar panel owners get paid to have them, to encourage 'green' power.

The government has been heavily criticised for its benevolence: taxpayer groups complain non-solar users - ie, the vast majority of us - are being made to subsidise solar users. Indeed, the first tariff system worked out as the equivalent to a savings account offering more than 11 per cent per year - far more than any bank.

'Had we not acted urgently to reduce tariffs, the whole Feed-In-Tariff scheme would have been entirely swamped,' Climate Change Minister Greg Barker admitted.

The cuts targeted businesses, but for homeowners, solar can still make sense, although set-up costs are high - an installed solar electricity system costs £4,500 to £8,000 per kilowatt of output (we'll come to what that means in terms of power later); which means a standard 2.2kW system is around £12,000 (including VAT).

You'll need to be confident that you're staying put, in other words - the systems only start to pay for themselves after a decade or so. You'll also need to be in the right place - a home in Plymouth produces up to 50 per cent more solar energy than less sun-drenched locations such as Lerwick.
WHAT YOU CAN EARN

Under the FIT scheme, when you install a solar system, you get paid for the amount of electricity it generates, regardless of whether you use that energy (thus reducing your bills), or you sell it back to the National Grid (making money in the process) - so the bigger the system you install, the more money you'll make.

The average home uses roughly 3,400kWh per year: the maths used to calculate output is rather complicated, but roughly a 2.5kWp (kilowatt peak) system will provide just over half your power needs. Average tax-free profits hover around £1,000 per year.

The FIT is fixed for 25 years at the rate they are offering at the time of installation. The price of electricity you 'sell' back to the grid goes up with along with the general price for units of electricity.

'Previously, solar panels did nothing to improve the appeal of a property, but if you can prove your solar panels make a tax-free profit each year, I can see them attracting more than just the sandals brigade,' says Trevor Kent, former president of the National Association of Estate Agents.

Indeed they have piqued people's interest, and companies looking to cash in on the FIT scheme are offering free solar installation to your home. They receive the profit from the FIT while you get a healthy reduction in energy costs. But buying your own panels - even with a loan - makes better financial sense.
THE TWO TYPES OF SOLAR

There are two types of domestic solar technology:
Solar PV (Photovoltaic)

This type generates electricity.
Solar Thermal

This only heats water.

At present, the solar tariffs only apply to solar PV systems, but there are plans to extend these to the simpler and cheaper solar thermal systems, which cost just £3,000-£5,000 each.
SOLAR AND YOUR HOME

So is your home suitable? South-facing is ideal - you'll lose 15 per cent for east or west - as is a 25-45 degree pitched roof and around 30 sq m of roof space (all the energy figures quoted for systems here refer to 'ideal' homes). Shade from trees or buildings will reduce performance.

Planning permission is not generally required as long as it doesn't protrude more than 200mm above the roof line. Restrictions may apply for listed buildings or conservation areas - visit planningportal.gov.uk for details.
HOW ELECTRIC SYSTEMS WORK

With solar PV systems, each panel houses a cell made from layers of semi-conducting material, usually silicon. When light shines on the cell it creates an electric field. Choose between standard roof-mounted panels (the cheapest), built-in panels which sit flush within the roof, or solar tiles, which completely replace traditional tiling. Tiles are more expensive, but costs can be offset if your roof already needs replacing. Prices range from £4,500 to £8,000 per kWp installed.

With either system, a wire leads to a 'solar meter' in your loft which shows you how much money you've earned, then the electricity travels to your home electrical system, or back to the National Grid, where you can profit.

Energy isn't usually stored or saved up for use later. If you don't use it, the energy is sold back to the National Grid. The money you get for this is - slightly - less than what you'll pay per unit on your bills, so if you've got solar, it pays to run high-drain appliances such as washing machines during the day, when your panels will be generating electricity.
HOW THERMAL SYSTEMS WORK

Solar thermal systems employ a series of tubes filled with anti-freeze that are mounted behind glass on the roof. The sun heats the liquid, which is pumped through a coil inside your hot water tank generating temperatures up to 60ºC - perfect for showering. A two-panel system (4 sq m) should provide around 50-60 per cent of your hot water needs.

Although final details are still shaky and subject to change, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has indicated that payments of £300 per system, and 8.5p per kWh of heat produced, could be o ffered to people installing solar thermal heating at home.

You'll have to choose between 'flat plate' and 'evacuated-tube' systems. Evacuated tubes are more expensive but o er greater e fficiency. Don't forget, you will still need a regular boiler to top up the hot water at night or on cloudy days.

Budget £3,000 to £5,000 for an installed system - kits start from £1,000, but you will need DIY experience and sca ffolding to install.


full article

Sunday, 19 June 2011

The giant 'anaerobic digesters' that will convert our slop buckets to electricity


They are set to divide our communities as efficiently as they break down our waste.

Huge ‘anaerobic digester’ plants the size of two football pitches will be built across Britain as a multi-million-pound industry develops to convert waste food scraps into usable electricity.

Fuelled by the Government’s drive to introduce kitchen slop buckets in every home, the units can transform 120,000 tons of scraps into six megawatts of power, enough to power 6,000 homes 24 hours a day.
Critics call them unsightly and smelly, but those in favour regard them as the ‘future of waste’.

Last week, rubbish disposal giant Biffa opened the country’s first ‘super’ £24 million plant in Cannock, Staffordshire, and the £800 million company is planning more.

Biffa chief executive Ian Wakelin said: ‘I am a man in a hurry. Over the next few years I would like to see these really large plants around London, the North-East, the South-West and the West. This is the future of waste. It is taking food that could once only be sent to landfill and turning it into something of value on a truly industrial scale.’

The Cannock plant, whose 60ft containers tower over the landscape, is based on an existing landfill site.

Spread over several acres, it includes a vast storage shed in which lorries can unload the waste, pipes to carry the methane gas it produces, and a balloon to store gas.

Cannock gets much of its waste from local restaurants, nightclubs and pubs, but increasingly such plants will use leftover food scraped by householders into ‘kitchen caddies’ for separate roadside collection.
The Government is pushing the fledgling industry because it is required by European legislation to reduce its use of landfill sites.

The Environment Department predicts the industry could produce enough energy for nearly a million homes within a decade.

Liberal Democrat peer Lord Redesdale, chairman of the Anaerobic Digestion and Biogas Association, said the industry would bring down gas prices by making Britain less reliant on imported gas.

He said: ‘It’s a big ask but the Germans managed to build 1,000 new plants in ten years. This is not new technology. We are building on what is already out there.’

full article

Friday, 17 June 2011

Eco charity boss travels length of Britain in electric car - for just £20


An eco-friendly charity boss has completed a gruelling end-to-end journey across Britain by driving 894 miles in an electric car using public charging points.

Kevin Sharpe, 51, stopped six times to charge his Tesla Roadster along the route, at a cost of just £20.

The electricity used by the car was a fraction of the £138 it would have cost in fuel in a typical family vehicle.
Each charge of his car cost Mr Sharpe £3 or £4 and allowed him 200 miles of travel at 70mph before he had to power his vehicle again.
The charity has created the network of nine public charge points in hotel car parks across the country.

They cost £250 to install and users are charged for the electricity they use.

Drivers can opt for a quick three-hour charge or an eight-hour overnight top-up using a 70 amp plug.

Mr Sharpe, of Bath, Somerset, and David Peilow, 34, a satellite systems engineer of Winchester, Hants, set off from John O'Groats in the £86,000 Tesla on May 21.

Mr Sharpe said: 'This is another landmark because these are production cars, not prototypes.

'Nissan has already produced the leaf which costs around £25,000 and Mitsubishi, BMW, Audi and VW are all set to go to market with affordable electric cars in the next two years.

'Tesla are planning a family saloon too with a 300 mile range and 45 minute charge time. 'You could coincide a trip with a meal at a service station say and make a long distance journey in the same time you would now.'

The Tesla Roadster, produced by Tesla Motors in California, is based on a Lotus Elise and is the first production automobile to use lithium-ion battery cells.
full article

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Geo-Engineering Elimate Solutions


Lighter-coloured crops, aerosols in the stratosphere and iron filings in the ocean are among the measures being considered by leading scientists for "geo-engineering" the Earth's climate, leaked documents from the UN climate science body show.

In a move that suggests the UN and rich countries are despairing of reaching agreement by consensus at global climate talks, the US, British and other western scientists will outline a series of ideas to manipulate the world's climate to reduce carbon emissions. But they accept that even though the ideas could theoretically work, they might equally have unintended and even irreversible consequences.

The papers, leaked from inside the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), ahead of a geo-engineering expert group meeting in Lima in Peru next week, show that around 60 scientists will propose or try to assess a range of radical measures, including:

• blasting sulphate aerosols into the stratosphere to reflect sunlight into space;

• depositing massive quantities of iron filings into the oceans;

• bio-engineering crops to be a lighter colour to reflect sunlight; and

• suppressing cirrus clouds.

Other proposals likely to be suggested include spraying sea water into clouds to reflect sunlight away from the Earth, burying charcoal, painting streets and roofs white on a vast scale, adding lime to oceans and finding different ways to suck greenhouse gases out of the air and deposit heat deep into oceans.

The meeting is expected to provide governments with a scientific assessment of geo-engineering technologies, but is widely expected to be in favour of more research and possibly large-scale experimentation despite an international moratorium adopted by the UN last year in Japan.

£120 heating discount for 2 million homes

Two million households will receive discounts to their heating bills this winter as the government forces energy firms to help pensioners pay soaring gas and electricity costs.
Ministers announced that 800,000 of the poorest pensioners will be among the first to receive the new Warm Home Discount, worth at least £120 this year.

Payments are also expected to be made to disadvantaged families, the disabled and the long-term sick.

Energy companies are to be required by law to give rebates totalling £1.1 billion over the next four years, three times as much as they provided under the previous voluntary arrangements.

The regulations introducing the new scheme are already in force, according to the Department for Energy and Climate Change. The Energy Secretary, Chris Huhne, said: “The Warm Home Discount will give the most vulnerable pensioners practical help to manage rising energy bills through an annual rebate. Energy companies will be required by law to provide this support.”

The move follows warnings that consumers face steep rises in fuel bills. Last week, Scottish Power announced that prices will rise by up to 19%, increasing gas and electricity costs by up to £200 a year. Other companies are expected to follow suit.
full article

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Why is it SO hard to find the cheapest energy deal?

WHICH TARIFF?

So who should you switch to? The very cheapest tend to be variable online tariffs.

The problem is that prices can go up. Your account must be managed entirely via the internet, so you input meter readings online and receive statements by email.

The cheapest way to pay is by direct debit. You will normally be charged more if you receive paper bills or have a prepayment meter.

You are also penalised if you don’t want to use direct debit and choose to pay quarterly by cheque.

With other suppliers set to follow Scottish Power’s lead, the biggest worry for people is that their new supplier will increase prices.

Therefore, it may be best to opt for a fixed rate. You will pay a small premium for fixing, but your bill won’t go up. The best is EDF’s Fix Saver v2 which the supplier says should work out at £1,009 a year for a typical semi-detached home.

This is £69 more expensive than its cheapest variable deal — but your costs will not go up until September 2012.

These fixed-rate deals have limited capacity and are likely to be snapped up very quickly.

If you are in fuel poverty — where one-tenth or more of your income goes on gas and electricity — ask if you are eligible for your supplier’s social tariff, which gives a discount to the most vulnerable customers.

Each supplier has different eligibility criteria for social tariffs. EDF, for example, requires people to be either in fuel poverty or receiving income support or pension credit.

Social tariff customers can normally save £150 per year.

full article

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Chris Huhne urges energy customers to switch suppliers

Consumers should vote with their feet and switch to a different supplier if their power company raises its charges, Energy Secretary Chris Huhne has said.

In an interview with the Observer, Mr Huhne said people did not have to take price increases "lying down".

He urged people to hit firms "where it hurts" by finding a cheaper supplier.

Scottish Power has this week announced big rises in gas and electricity prices and there are fears the other five major suppliers will follow suit.

Mr Huhne said: "Consumers don't have to take price increases lying down. If an energy company hits you with a price increase, you can hit them back where it hurts - by shopping around and voting with your feet."

Mr Huhne is expected to announce new measures this week to make it easier for smaller companies to compete in the energy market.

He said: "Right now, only one in five people switch suppliers. I want to see more switching, more competition and more companies in the market.

"The big six only have a few minnows snapping at them, who are kept artificially small. By scrapping red tape for small players they can become serious challengers and help keep bills down."
'Deep concern'

On Tuesday Scottish Power revealed price increases of 19% for gas and 10% for electricity from 1 August, affecting 2.4 million households in the UK.

The company blamed the rises on a sharp rise in the wholesale cost of gas.

Scottish Finance Secretary John Swinney has called for talks with the supplier over the move.

He said: "I am deeply concerned at the scale of Scottish Power's price increases and I am seeking an urgent meeting to hear why they think increases of this scale are justified.

"Any fuel price rises have an impact - yet these increases will leave many households, in particular vulnerable consumers, in real, real difficulty."

A spokesman for Scottish Power said the company always co-operated with parliamentary requests and it looked forward to the meeting with Mr Swinney.

full article

Saturday, 11 June 2011

It's a Swiss Army bike!


This extraordinary new electric bicycle looks sharp and folds out just like a Swiss Army knife.

The creation by Swiss brand Voltitude, has been dubbed the ultimate space saver.

Designed for city-dwellers, the compact 18.5 kilogram bike measures just under two feet in width, 2ft 7in high when folded and 3ft.6in when stretched out.
The bike can be charged by hooking it up to a standard mains socket and takes around four hours to reach full power.

It can reach speeds of around 15 miles per hour and can be ridden for 25 miles before needing to be recharged.
The bike, which is set to sell for around £2,650, is not yet in full production but it can be pre-ordered through the Voltitude website.

full article

Friday, 10 June 2011

Car-hire giants in U-turn over electric fleet

A pioneering scheme to provide cheap, "help yourself" electric cars for Parisian residents and tourists faces a last-minute legal challenge from the traditional car-rental industry.

The first 700 Autolib' cars – based on the city's successful bicycle self-hire operation, which inspired a similar scene in London – will appear in the French capital from December at a modest €5 (£4.40) for the first 30 minutes.

But a pressure group representing large car-rental firms such as Avis and Hertz has belatedly accused city hall of organising unfair and publicly subsidised competition. The administrative tribunal, which hears complaints against public authorities, must decide within weeks whether to abolish the scheme in its present form.

Manufacture of the first Autolib' cars – roughly the size of a Twingo or Mini, and with a battery life of 250 kilometres – has already begun in Turin. The Socialist Mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, is convinced that the scheme will be a popular and groundbreaking success like his do-it-yourself bike-hire programme, Vélib'.

The small, blue four-seater cars will be available from street or underground docking stations for €5 for the first half-hour for Parisian residents and €7 for visitors. As with the Vélib' bike scheme, long-term rentals will be more expensive. The idea is to offer a "green", cheap alternative for cross-town journeys.

Joining the scheme will cost a further €10 a day, €15 a week or €144 a year. "Autolibbeurs" will use a credit card to pick up a car from a docking station and leave it in a spare place at any other station when finished. Each car will have a radio, a GPS route-finding system and an onboard computer to direct the driver to empty docking spaces.

full article

Government subsidy cut prompts solar outrage

The Government's decision to cut subsidies for solar energy to all but the smallest projects will threaten investment and job creation in the alternative energy sector, environmental and industry groups warned yesterday.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) said the change to feed-in tariffs would maintain funding for households to put up panels by diverting them from larger projects.
But campaigners said the decision would kill off schemes planned by schools, housing associations and other community organisations.
Feed-in tariffs were launched in April last year and more than 40,000 installations have registered.

The change, trailed earlier this year, will prioritise domestic and other small solar power installations of up to 50kW, which typically cover several houses and will be unaffected.

Feed-in tariffs for bigger projects will be slashed. Installations between 50 kW and 150kW will get 19p per kilowatt-hour, down from 32.9p, and bigger installations will have their subsidies more than halved.

When the Government announced its review it said it needed to avoid large-scale solar "farms" squeezing out the domestic market. DECC said yesterday that every 5MW large-scale solar scheme would cost about £1.3m a year. That means that 20 such schemes would cost the same as installations for more than 25,000 households.

Friends of the Earth said the consultation had been "a farce" and that the results threatened the creation of thousands of new jobs in the fledgling green energy sector.

full article

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Green taxes make up 20 per cent of household energy bills

Families are being forced to pay an average of £200 a year in taxes on their energy bills to fund Britain’s investment in wind and solar power.

Campaigners last night demanded greater transparency from energy companies over the levies and accused the government of hiding behind suppliers to raise revenues by the back door.

The call comes amid mounting pressure on energy companies for a fresh inquiry into price rises after the latest round of increases led to accusations of profiteering.

Dr Benny Peiser, director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, said the rising price of fuel was partly caused by Britain’s “stubborn but wrong headed commitment to renewable energy”.

He said: “So called green stealth taxes are already adding 15 to 20 per cent to the average domestic power bill and even more to business users.”
British households spends £608 a year on gas and another £424 on electricity on average. Green taxes make up between £154 and £206 of that bill, said Dr Peiser.

“Despite the growing cost of these taxes, you won’t find any mention of them at all on your gas and electricity bills,’ he said.

“That, of course, suits the Government down to the ground. If it raised the huge sums required to encourage renewable energy and limit carbon emission through general taxation it would make the Government itself very unpopular.

“But by doing it through electricity and gas bills, the Government has cleverly ensure that it’s the power companies that take the blame.”

Under the Climate Change Act, the Government is legally bound to cut Britain’s C02 emissions by 34 per cent by 2020 and 50 per cent by 2025.

To meet its targets the Government is encouraging the building of 10,000 wind turbines. It also wants power companies to install £7 billion worth of smart meters in homes.

full article

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Consumer protection assurances added to Green Deal

04 June 2011

The government has assured the public that consumers will be protected under the Green Deal.

It has launched a Green Deal Code, which includes an advice line that will refer customers to accredited assessors, installers and providers undertaking the green home improvements and allow customers to complain if they need to.

The new Consumer Protection in the Green Deal document also sees the appointment of the UK Accreditation Service, which will ensure assessors and installers adhere to the standards for participating in the Green Deal.

"The Green Deal will be the biggest home improvement programme since the Second World War shifting our outdated draughty homes from the past into the future, so it's vital people can trust it," explained climate change minister Greg Barker.

Additional information on the scheme's plan to help vulnerable people retrofit their home has also been published, as well as details on hard to treat homes.

Each household undertaking the scheme when it launches next year will be able to access up to £10,000 upfront to pay for energy efficiency work and repay the cost through their energy bills.

Posted by Mark Stephens

full article

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Liverpool social landlords join £50bn retrofit scheme

A group of social landlords and four local authorities in Liverpool have launched a joint project to retrofit 100,000 homes. Project Viridis is being co-ordinated by Liverpool Mutual Homes and is estimated to be worth around £50bn to the city's economy. The first stage will be the installation of photovoltaic panels to make the most of the government's Feed-In Tariff scheme. It will be followed by a more comprehensive measures including energy-saving schemes, conservation, outsourcing and power generation.

full article

Saturday, 21 May 2011

France To Ban Fracking

The French Parliament has voted 287-146 to ban hydraulic fracturing or fracking, a crucial part of the shale gas extraction process that activists say is harmful to the environment, according to France24. The bill will be voted on by the Senate on June 1 before it becomes a law.

The bill to ban to fracking, but not shale gas exploration itself, was drafted by France's ruling UMP party and the vote comes after months of protests by environmentalists who are concerned that the process contaminates the water table. Earlier this year, the government granted energy giants exploration permits for work without public consultation, but announced a temporary freeze on shale gas exploration in February.

France could become the first country to ban the controversial practice that involves using 'slick' water a combination of water, chemicals and mud, to fracture the rock with hairline cracks and prop open underground fissures.
Fracking fluids can be fatal. In Louisiana fracking fluid made it to a pasture killing 17 cows at the farm.


full article

Friday, 20 May 2011

Neville out to make game greener

Gary Neville yesterday placed himself at the head of a campaign to make football more environmentally sustainable, declaring that he wants to drive change in fan behaviour in the same way that the Kick it Out campaign has driven out the scourge of racism.

Neville, who will devote a large slice of the revenue from his testimonial game against Juventus next Tuesday to the environmental cause, told The Independent that he would engage football's governing bodies to reduce carbon emissions and drive home an environmental message.
"Sport is such a powerful [vehicle for change]," Neville said. "If Manchester United want to get a message across in something, they will do, they have that power, and so do the Premier League. It is worldwide – watched by 1.15 billion people every week. While United have 75,000 people coming every week, there is an audience there that means sport can be at the forefront of this. We have a team of people behind this to make sure we can become as powerful as possible in the next few years."

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Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Is Britain really getting greener?

The Government yesterday signed up to cutting Britain's greenhouse gas emissions by nearly half – but with no clear agreement on how to achieve the target.

The Green Investment Bank

Unveiled in the budget, the Green Bank is the centre-piece of the Coalition's promise to be the "greenest government ever". It will invest exclusively in low-carbon infrastructure, renewable energy and financially support the development of new clean technologies. Current Government proposals stipulate it will not have powers to borrow or raise money (such as issuing ISAS and bonds) until 2015. Until then it has £3 billion of public money to invest. Not allowing it to borrow earlier, green groups say, is disastrous as investment decisions on replacing Britain's power generation plants need to be taken long before 2015.

The Green Deal

The Green Deal will allow 14 million UK households to apply for up to £10,000 to pay for energy efficiency improvements on their homes such as insulation, double glazing and energy-efficient boilers. The money will be provided upfront by the private sector and paid back in energy savings by homes over a 20-year period. The first Green Deals are expected to appear in Autumn 2012 after consultation and review, so for now it isn't working at all.

Investing in renewable energy

Greening our electricity is key to reducing emissions. The need for a shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy has long been accepted by everyone but the harshest climate sceptics, and in response the Coalition Government is pursuing multiple options including on- and off-shore wind farms and nuclear power subsidies. The CCC's report last week recommended developing multiple new technologies. Initially there would likely be a focus on cost-effective nuclear power plants and wind farms across the UK. The Coalition claims this could feasibly result in renewable sources providing up to 40 per cent of all our energy by 2030.

However, while Britain is locked in an ongoing battle between communities and environmentalists trying to protect the countryside, Germany has forged ahead with plans for a huge wind farm in the Baltic, and Denmark and Finland are aggressively pursuing alternative energy.

Green Transportation

The Coalition has put transportation policy at the heart of its pledge for energy and climate change. Fossil fuels would be restricted in the air by opposing a third runway at Heathrow; by the prevention of additional runways at Stansted and Gatwick; and by replacing air-passenger duty with per-plane duty. They would also be restricted on the ground by the Barclays' bike campaign in central London; by more emphasis on public transport; and by encouraging widespread use of electric cars.

Is it working? Aviation policies have had some success. The third runway at Heathrow has been scrapped. However, the per-plane duty promised in the Coalition agreement was not introduced, instead the Chancellor promised a "consultation on the reform of air-passenger duty", which had already risen by 55 per cent in the previous year.

Take-up of electric cars is still small – but the technology is rapidly developing and they are likely to be a familiar sight in the Britain of 2015.

However, rail fares rocketed and there is no sign that gas-guzzlers are on the way out just yet.

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Sunday, 15 May 2011

The electric scooter that costs only 1p per mile to run


Similar in classification to 50cc scooters, they can be driven by anyone with a pre-2001 driver's licence or who's taken the compulsory basic training (CBT) course.

The Scoot is very cheap to insure and exempt from road tax and the congestion charge, making it ideal for dodging commuting hell.

You'll have to supply your own helmet, but that could be the only thing about it which isn't impressively stylish.


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Saturday, 14 May 2011

Blackpool uneasy at prospect of 'fracking' boom on its coastline

The allure of Blackpool rock and the rejuvenating effects of its sand and water once made it a magnet for the toiling classes as they took a break from the drudgery of the Lancashire cotton mills.
Cuadrilla Resources, a British company specialising in the development of shale gas wells, has been hard at work in the resort's rural hinterland since August last year after being given permission by the Government.
But following claims over the safety of the process in the United States, some locals are concerned, with councillors petitioned to object. Blackpool's Green Party chairman Philip Mitchell said an industry was being introduced without adequate investigation by the authorities.

"The potential is catastrophic," he said. "We don't know the science of this or how it will affect people. We are introducing something that we do not know the full dangers of."

Greens claim that there is the risk of explosive well blow-outs, fire, traffic disruption and noise. They fear that, so significant are the deposits and so huge the rewards, the industry could be on the verge of major expansion not just across Lancashire but the whole of the UK.

How Hydraulic Fracturing Works

Fracking, or chemical fracturing, is the process by which water, sand and chemicals are used to increase the quantity of gas that can be extracted from the ground.

The mixture is pumped at high pressure into natural gas or methane gas fields, cracking open the rock deep beneath the surface to release trapped reserves.

Gas then flows out of the fissures, which are kept open by the sand and chemicals, and into pipes that lead to the surface.

Drilling companies claim that chemical additives make up less than one per cent of the liquid poured into the gas field. However, the quantities involved are so large that a typical well is likely to pump about 34,000 gallons of chemicals into the ground.

One of the chemicals used is diesel, which contains toxic substances. Other chemicals used can include hydrochloric acid, formaldehyde and arsenic.

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Tuesday, 10 May 2011

£10,000 payout for a green home revamp

Households will be given up to £10,000 to spend on home improvements under plans to be unveiled today.

The money can be used to install energy-saving measures such as roof insulation, double glazing and cavity walls.

But homeowners will also be able to benefit from desirable mod- cons such as under-floor heating and new efficient boilers. They could also get public cash to install water-efficient taps and showers, light fittings and draught proofing.

The Government says 14million homes will benefit. Homeowners will qualify if their houses can be made more energy efficient and energy costs can be cut, though not all will qualify for the full £10,000.

This will leave them with cheaper bills, warmer homes and potentially higher house prices.
Consumers will have no up-front costs. The scheme will see utility companies, High Street retailers and charities send advisers to houses to identify potential savings.
They can then re-fit the homes, bearing the initial cost.

The customer will repay the fee in small instalments levied on their electricity and heating bills over 25 years.




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Sunday, 8 May 2011

The Cube World’s Smallest Eco-friendly Home


Conceived, designed and managed by Dr Mike Page, engineer and Reader in Cognitive Psychology at the University’s School of Psychology, the Cube is said to be the world’s smallest eco-home, featuring an internal space of 3x3x3 metres. Built from sustainable materials with the predominance of wood, the Cube is designed to be comfortable and includes a host of advanced products with low energy use.

The Cube includes a lounge with a table and two custom-made chairs; a small 120cm wide double bed; a full-size shower; a kitchen with energy-efficient fridge, induction hob, re-circulating cooker hood, sink/drainer, combination microwave oven and storage cupboards; a washing machine; and a composting toilet.

The Cube is illuminated with ultra-efficient LED lights and heated using an Ecodan air-source heat pump with heat recovered from extracted air. It features cork flooring with two-metre head height throughout.

The Cube is insulated with a timber-frame shell, interior surfaces of birch plywood, and sweet-chestnut cladding on the exterior. It features a south-facing monopitch roof covered with solar panels. The south wall is also covered with solar panels. This generating capacity is expected to make the Cube carbon-neutral over the year.

If registered for the UK Government’s feed-in tariff, the Cube would have no utility bills and would raise around £1,000 ($1, 625.3) per year in income.


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Shortfall in electric car charging points

Just over a tenth of electric car charging points needed in the UK have been built so far, the BBC has learned.

Only 700 of the 5,000 required by the end of the year are in place and two-thirds of towns with a population of over 150,000 do not have any public charging infrastructure.

David Martell, of charging supplier Chargemaster, said the lack of points can be very stressful for drivers.

The Department of Transport said it plans to install 9,000 points by 2013.

It said it has also provided up to £30m to kick-start installation in 'test-bed' areas.

There are about 30 million vehicles on British roads - 3,000 of which are electric vehicles.

Mr Martell said many electric vehicle drivers suffer from "range anxiety", which concerns their fear that they run the risk of running out of power due to a lack of charging points.

"It's a concern. It's a barrier to some people," he said.

Experts say that nearly two million of the cars on Britain's roads will be electric powered by 2020.

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Saturday, 2 April 2011

UK shale plans target cheap gas




The land here in Lancashire's Fylde region was on the sea bed in the age of the dinosaurs. That was when the gas was formed, as fragments of organic matter ran off the hills, became squashed amidst grains of clay, and decayed. But the heavily-compressed shale rock trapped the gas molecules so tight that they can't escape into a conventional gas bore.

Now a controversial technique called fracking (fracturing) allows that gas to be extracted, by setting off small controlled explosions more than a mile below ground then pumping in water and lubricant chemicals to set the gas free.
Environmentalists want a delay in fracking until a major review of the practice by the US Environmental Protection Agency has been carried out - maybe sometime next year. The government believes its own safety regulations are strict enough.

So far, the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) appears to be cautiously welcoming the advent of shale gas in the UK. Shale's not anticipated to supply a large proportion of Britain's gas needs, but it is contributing to a worldwide flow of gas that has halved gas prices in the US domestic market, and led to a glut in world markets.

At the moment, gas producers are succeeding in pegging global gas prices to oil prices but some analysts say this will have to change if gas remains in such plentiful supply compared with demand.



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Thursday, 31 March 2011

Smart meters save just £23

So-called smart meters, digital devices which will be installed in all households and businesses, are designed to end unreliable estimated gas and electricity bills and stop the need for companies to send out meter inspectors. Instead, information about how much energy consumers have used will be sent electronically to their suppliers.

However, documents published by the Department for Energy and Climate Change (Decc) have confirmed that households will have to pay for the £11.3 billion roll out, and that they will only save £23 a year by 2020.

That saving equates to just 2 per cent of the current average household energy bill of £1,132 and does not take into account forecasts that gas and electricity bills will climb substantially over the next decade. Ofgem, the industry regulator, has predicted that bills are likely to rise by between £168 and £700 a year by 2016 because of the need by the energy companies to invest vast sums in new power stations.
Various green measures are likely to increase household bills even further. Tom Lyon, energy expert at uSwitch.com, the price comparison site, said:“The average household energy bill is already £1,132 a year with £84 of that made up by hidden taxes. Policies launched under the previous Government are expected to add a further 6 per cent or £72 in levies over the next decade – this means that the hidden taxes on our energy bills will add up to £156 a year, far outweighing the potential £23 net saving offered through smart metering.”

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Warm front contract extension for Eaga

Energy efficiency firm Eaga has negotiated an extension of its contract with the Department of Energy and Climate Change to deliver the department’s Warm Front Scheme across England.

The scheme will now run to 31 March 2013 on commercial terms in line with previous expectations.

Total funding allocated to the Warm Front scheme across the period to March 2013 is in the region of £210m.

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Monday, 21 March 2011

Safe nuclear does exist

This passed unnoticed –except by a small of band of thorium enthusiasts – but it may mark the passage of strategic leadership in energy policy from an inert and status-quo West to a rising technological power willing to break the mould.

If China’s dash for thorium power succeeds, it will vastly alter the global energy landscape and may avert a calamitous conflict over resources as Asia’s industrial revolutions clash head-on with the West’s entrenched consumption.

China’s Academy of Sciences said it had chosen a “thorium-based molten salt reactor system”. The liquid fuel idea was pioneered by US physicists at Oak Ridge National Lab in the 1960s, but the US has long since dropped the ball. Further evidence of Barack `Obama’s “Sputnik moment”, you could say.

Chinese scientists claim that hazardous waste will be a thousand times less than with uranium. The system is inherently less prone to disaster.

“The reactor has an amazing safety feature,” said Kirk Sorensen, a former NASA engineer at Teledyne Brown and a thorium expert.
“If it begins to overheat, a little plug melts and the salts drain into a pan. There is no need for computers, or the sort of electrical pumps that were crippled by the tsunami. The reactor saves itself,” he said.

“They operate at atmospheric pressure so you don’t have the sort of hydrogen explosions we’ve seen in Japan. One of these reactors would have come through the tsunami just fine. There would have been no radiation release.”

Thorium is a silvery metal named after the Norse god of thunder. The metal has its own “issues” but no thorium reactor could easily spin out of control in the manner of Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, or now Fukushima.

Professor Robert Cywinksi from Huddersfield University said thorium must be bombarded with neutrons to drive the fission process. “There is no chain reaction. Fission dies the moment you switch off the photon beam. There are not enough neutrons for it continue of its own accord,” he said.
Dr Cywinski, who anchors a UK-wide thorium team, said the residual heat left behind in a crisis would be “orders of magnitude less” than in a uranium reactor.

The earth’s crust holds 80 years of uranium at expected usage rates, he said. Thorium is as common as lead. America has buried tons as a by-product of rare earth metals mining. Norway has so much that Oslo is planning a post-oil era where thorium might drive the country’s next great phase of wealth. Even Britain has seams in Wales and in the granite cliffs of Cornwall. Almost all the mineral is usable as fuel, compared to 0.7pc of uranium. There is enough to power civilization for thousands of years.
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