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.

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.

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.

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 for details.

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.

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.

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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.
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Wednesday, 15 June 2011

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


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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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