Green

Not down to us?

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I had an extremely pleasant evening last week at the Mattioli Woods charity dinner in support of Rainbows Hospice – a fabulous cause and hopefully one that benefited greatly from the night.

The guest speaker was Lord Lawson – known to the younger members of society as Nigella’s dad, but better known to the rest of us as the Chancellor during Maggie’s three periods in office. He is now in his early 80’s, so it was going to be interesting to see what his take on things as they are now was. And in many ways we were not disappointed – he is undoubtably a very bright man, and if I am half as active at this age I will be very happy!

However, there was one part of his speech that did worry me – he will always play to the ‘Daily Mail readers’ in a room, and the other night was no different. But his views on Global Warming I did find rather blinkered, especially after his comments about it being ‘a religion’ that no one was permitted to challenge anymore! He basically appears to believe that we are having no effect upon the planet and that burning fossil fuels is definitely the way forward!

I accept that it is not a clear-cut case – but the current extreme weather, the melting polar areas – not our fault?

The photo above is of my home town, Malmesbury in Wiltshire. As a family we have been there over 40 years and I cannot recall a time when the bottom of the High Street has flooded and blocked access into the town – even before all the flood alleviation work was done a good few years ago – so do we assume this is just a fluke event?

Trinity House

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This week I was lucky enough to have a brief tour of the new EON building – Trinity House – that sits at the corner of Trinity Square in the heart of Nottingham. Now this is the largest office building to be built new in the city for a number of years – the pre-let to EON ensured that it would happen.

The building is quite impressive inside, having a central full height atrium with glass lifts serving all 9 floors, it is also the greenest building in the city – holding a BREEAM excellent rating and an ‘A’ rating for its EPC. As an environment for its just over 1000 occupants it will be modern and comfortable. However, as a building it doesn’t really push any ‘boundaries’ for me.

Due to the fact that EON are tenants in the building and they don’t own it, the structure is actually quite ‘normal’. One might have expected there to be a raft of renewable elements, but in reality there is next to nothing – no PV’s, no water harvesting, and only a very small element of green roof. It is connected to the district heating scheme, which helps its cause, but that is really it for renewable energy.

Now, I am sure that if EON had more control over the building spec they might have added some renewables, but I do think this is a lost opportunity for the City. As a part of the street scene I think it looks well – it doesn’t ‘over power’ the surrounding buildings – something the architects should be proud of.

Yes, it is a green building, and it has managed this using existing technologies – which is impressive, but in my view it doesn’t push the envelope at all.

Renewables – it’s all about getting a balance

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Renewables are a great idea – once the method of extracting the energy has been built it is free – whether it is wind, sun or wave power is irrelevant, as long as there is a selection of types to provide general cover. This is the normal argument against renewables – what happens when the sun is not out or it’s not windy – hence the need for a selection of producing sources.

The Germans appear to ‘get this’ and have moved forwards in the quest for a replacement for their nuclear industry that is to be wound down following the Japanese disaster.

German solar power plants produced a world record 22 gigawatts of electricity – equal to 20 nuclear power stations at full capacity over a mid day period earlier this month. This is in response to Germany’s decision to abandon nuclear power after the Fukushima nuclear disaster last year, closing eight plants immediately and shutting down the remaining nine by 2022. They will be replaced by renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and bio-mass (a sensible spread).

The 22 gigawatts of solar power fed into the national grid met nearly 50% of the nation’s midday electricity needs, yes it was only for a short period, but it shows what can be achieved. Never before anywhere has a country produced as much photovoltaic electricity. The record-breaking amount of solar power shows one of the world’s leading industrial nations was able to meet a third of its electricity needs on a work day, Friday, and nearly half on Saturday when factories and offices were closed.

Government-mandated support for renewables has helped Germany became a world leader in renewable energy and the country gets about 20 percent of its overall annual electricity from those sources. Germany has nearly as much installed solar power generation capacity as the rest of the world combined and gets about four percent of its overall annual electricity needs from the sun alone. It aims to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 40% from 1990 levels by 2020.

All this at a time when our Government appear hell-bent on crippling our solar industry just as it was getting into its stride – time for a swift U-turn?

Water leaks – why aren’t they dealt with?

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At a time when we have seen some of the wettest weather for months, (but after two years of very low rainfall), we are as far as our water companies are concerned still in a drought situation. So it is perhaps worth looking at the water companies and how they manage the pipe work system they provide our water through.

Not all leaks are this obvious

Now you would imagine that it is in their interest to protect such a valuable resource? However every day, 3.4bn litres of water leaks from the system, almost a quarter of the entire supply. A drought has been declared across southern and central England, with no end in sight for the hose pipe ban imposed in many places, so one assumes this loss must be a worry to the water companies?

Since the privatisation of the water industry in 1989, Ofwat has set leakage reduction targets for the 21 water companies, which operate local monopolies across England and Wales. Analysis of the data, supplied to Ofwat by the companies themselves, reveals:

• Eleven companies have targets of zero reduction of leaks by 2015. They include Yorkshire Water, which failed to meet its 2010-11 targets and as a result was required to spend an additional £33m on leak repairs.

• Leaks have been reduced across England and Wales by only 5% over the past 13 years.

• The worst-performing company, Southern Water which supplies Sussex, Kent, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, missed its latest leak target by 16% and had to pay £5m back to customers, but will be allowed to increase its leakage by 6% by 2015.

• The 25-year management plans of the water companies envisage reducing leakage by only 10% in that time.

Ofwat and the water industry highlight a one-third reduction in leakages since privatisation, but over the past 12 years, year-on-year leakages have increased as often as they have fallen, suggesting no long-term downward trend. However, the average annual customer bill for water has risen by £64 since 2001 and is now £376, while the companies collectively made £2bn in pre-tax profits and paid £1.5bn in dividends to shareholders in 2010-11.

It costs more to repair leaks than the immediate value of the water itself, so while it makes financial sense for a water company to ignore leaks, it certainly doesn’t stack up in the long-term for us, the consumers, or for our environment. There are more than 210,000 miles of water pipes across England and Wales, a length equivalent to eight times the circumference of the Earth, which serve 23m properties. Ofwat say it would cost £100bn to replace all the pipes in England and Wales, and this would only half the leaks as new pipes start to leak quickly.

But surely some additional effort can’t be a bad idea – or is it all about profits?

Fish Finger sandwiches – the green food!

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I am quite partial to fish finger sandwiches – a throw back to my student days, so it is perhaps nice to see that a certain make of fish fingers are now considered to be environmentally friendly – I refer of course to Captain Birds Eye (who played a pivotal role in my childhood food – and still makes the best in my opinion).

Heaven

Birds Eye has announced that its entire cod and haddock fish finger range has been awarded sustainable fishing certification from the Marine Stewardship Council.The move will switch 5,200 tonnes of fish products to sustainably certified produce in the UK market, and increase the total weight of MSC-labelled products sold by 20%.

Birds Eye are the market leader in the manufacture of fish fingers, and the UK is the world’s second largest consumer of any cod, eating more than 185 million cod and haddock fish fingers each year. The MSC-labelled fingers will arrive in September .

Birds Eye helped rejuvenate depleting cod stocks in 2007 with the introduction of the Alaska Pollock Omega 3 Fish Finger – a move which encouraged 78% of consumers to switch from cod to Alaska pollock, resulting in a 3,000-tonne reduction in its yearly cod catch.

So next tim you are munching on your fish finger sandwich you can consider that you are helping the fish stocks of the world (assuming you eat Birds Eye fish fingers!)

When Apple do big they really do big!

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the bare earth area will be the farm

One of the major benefits of being one of the largest (and the richest) companies in the world is economies of scale. Apple can do things big when it does things and it has now revealed plans to build America’s largest private solar energy farm.

The farm will cover 100 acres of North Carolina, and produce enough power to supply thousands of homes. Apple will use the green energy to power its huge data centre where the servers for iTunes and iCloud services are held. When completed the 20-megawatt facility will supply 42 million kWh of energy annually, it is expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars to construct – a drop in the ocean for a company as rich as Apple.

‘Our goal is to run the Maiden facility with high percentage renewable energy mix, and we have major projects under way to achieve this – including building the nation’s largest end user-owned solar array and building the largest non-utility fuel cell installation in the United States,’

Apple has in recent months has come under increased criticism for working practices at its production facilities, so some ‘greening’ can only help – although in reality it is already far greener than most of its competitors;

  • It has reduced carbon emissions on a number of its products, most notably the Apple TV set-top box – from 2007 to 2011, carbon emissions with the Apple TV were reduced by 90 per cent.
  • The iMac has also seen a 50 per cent reduction from 1998 to 2011, while the Mac mini has dropped 52 per cent.
  • Apple has also reduced the packaging associated with the iPhone by 42 per cent from 2007 to 2011. That allows the company to ship 80 per cent more boxes in each airline shipping container, saving one 747 flight for every 371,250 boxes Apple ships – and when you consider they shipped 37 million in the first quarter of 2012 that makes a big difference!

However, Apple’s solar site is still dwarfed by the world’s largest array, Golmud Solar Park in China, which produces 200MW of power. Apple may have to play second fiddle on this one!

Wind farm tales….

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Nothing appears to get people’s bile rising faster these days than mentioning wind farms, certain national publications have also embraced this and are leading the fight against them (Daily Mail for those who don’t know).

Unfortunately because of this there tends to be a lot of ‘misinformation’ which really doesn’t help us move the renewables issue forward at a time when it needs to be gathering pace rather than stagnating. A classic example was the ‘burning turbine’ picture that did the rounds after the gales earlier this winter.

This dramatic picture of a wind turbine bursting into flames in Ardrossan was seized upon by opponents of wind energy as an example of ‘why wind doesn’t work’. But the same gales caused issues for other power sources as well – which wasn’t publicised by the papers.

The photo has become a somewhat defining image for the anti wind farm groups, but as the hurricane-force winds did this (they peaked at 165mph) they also brought down power lines which left around 60,000 people without electricity – far more significant than the loss of a turbine.

One of the downed power lines ran to and from Hunterston nuclear power station causing the 460-megawatt B-8 nuclear reactor to stop generating for 54 hours. This outage had a much greater effect upon the grid than the loss of the wind turbine – the estimate is that Hunterston lost around 17,388 MWh compared with the turbine’s 1,210MWh.

There are always two sides to an argument – let’s not kill off wind power before it is given a proper chance.