Renewables

Double standards?

Posted on

The news this week that included in the Queen’s speech is the  provision for a 5p charge to be levied on plastic carrier bags at English supermarkets has to be applauded. We are way behind Europe on this (even Wales are ahead of us!) Bags for life are the way forward, and if the European offer is any example to go by they do indeed last for years (I have a collection from France, Italy and Spain).

BpPBMCpCUAAeYxk.jpg-largeWhat did make me laugh however is the Daily Mail’s claim that this change is down to them and that they have fully supported the drive to adopt this. They may well have been behind the campaign (they no doubt believed it appealed to the average Mail reader).

However, this is the same newspaper that has been telling its readers not to adopt energy saving lightbulbs and to stockpile all the old tungsten bulbs!

Proof if any was needed that newspaper campaigns are about selling newspapers – and nothing to do with saving the environment or even changing society for the better.

The EPC – now over 5 years old…..

Posted on Updated on

Local-EPC-graph-3D-chart-300x300The Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) has been with us now in one form or another for over 5 years. Initially introduced to the residential market and then into the commercial property market it is fair to say they have not been universally popular! But how are they now viewed, and how much impact (if any) have they had on the market?

My personal involvement relates purely to the non domestic market – which arguably has been most resistant to their adoption. Within the residential market EPC’s are now accepted by purchasers and vendors alike, they actually appear to like the information it provides them with. Whether or not it actually affects their decision process is not clear – the market may not be that intelligent yet.

In the commercial property market I think it is fair to say that owners and purchasers have all come to accept that the EPC is now a legal requirement, the number of transactions that occur now without one appears to have dropped to almost zero, and the last-minute EPC ‘just before exchange’ is getting far less common.

However to date there are only 472,962 non domestic properties registered on the Landmark Database for England and Wales as having EPC’s – somewhat short of the total domestic registrations of 10,665,662! And a long way short of the England and Wales total property stock which is in the region of 25 Million homes and 1.8 Million commercial properties (VOA data).

What hasn’t changed sadly (from the point of view of an assessor) is the level of fees  – these still don’t reflect the work involved in a non domestic assessment – and I don’t see this changing anytime soon. But lets hope activity will continue to rise.

So we still have a long way to go on adoption, but as can be seen from the residential statistics much is down to the market activity – so with more activity in the commercial market adoption should increase. Time will tell if the EPC actually sees its 10th anniversary, what is clear is that the UK is slowly building a database of energy information – what it does with it is another matter.

Time for a new look….

Posted on Updated on

This year has been rather busy at work and at home, consequently something had to give, and it was my blog….

Well I am intending to address that and fully intend to ‘get back on the blogging wagon’ for 2014 – and as a first step I think it’s time for a redesign to something more contemporary…..

A better approach?

Posted on Updated on

As one of the Worlds major economies we are used to hearing the mantra about growing GDP (gross domestic product) in the UK – if it falls it is apparently ‘the end of the world’. But what if there is a ‘better way’?

The tiny country of Bhutan measures prosperity by gauging its citizens’ happiness levels, not GDP.

r733829_5941383Since 1971, the country has rejected GDP as the only way to measure progress. In its place, it has championed a new approach to development, which measures prosperity through formal principles of gross national happiness (GNH) and the spiritual, physical, social and environmental health of its citizens and natural environment.

Less than 40 years ago, Bhutan opened its borders for the first time. Since then, it has gained an almost mythical status as a real-life Shangri-La. For the past three decades, this belief – that wellbeing should take preference over material growth – has remained a global oddity. However in the current world which is beset by economic and environmental disasters this approach is beginning to interest the larger world players, and will be discussed in Doha at the UN climate change conference.

Bhutan’s stark warning that the rest of the world is on an environmental and economical suicide path is starting to gain traction. Last year the UN adopted Bhutan’s call for a holistic approach to development, a move endorsed by 68 countries. A UN panel is now considering ways that Bhutan’s GNH model can be replicated across the globe.

Bhutan is also being held up as an example of a developing country that has put environmental conservation and sustainability at the heart of its political agenda. In the last 20 years Bhutan has doubled life expectancy, enrolled almost 100% of its children in primary school and overhauled its infrastructure. At the same time, placing the natural world at the heart of public policy has led to environmental protection being enshrined in the constitution. The country has pledged to remain carbon neutral and to ensure that at least 60% of its landmass will remain under forest cover in perpetuity. It has banned export logging and has even instigated a monthly pedestrian day that bans all private vehicles from its roads.

We all hark back to simpler times at some point in our lives, perhaps this is a further example that some of the ‘old values’ are perhaps even more valid today than they were then?

A very impressive hotel!

Posted on

We are very lucky in Nottingham to have two first class universities – both very different in terms of their campuses. Nottingham Trent is a city centre university and so visiting people have all the usual city centre facilities. Nottingham University has a wonderful landscaped campus, on the edge of the city. Consequently it has the potential for conferences, but limited local hotel accommodation – until now as a £20m eco-friendly hotel – The Orchard – has opened its doors right next door to the conference centre in the centre of the University main campus.

20121118-140049.jpgDesigned to complement the university-owned De Vere Venues East Midlands Conference Centre, The Orchard features technology to minimise carbon emissions, including a green roof, solar panels and energy-efficient lighting, heating and ventilation systems.

The 202-bedroom hotel also features a roof garden, brasserie and gym. It is also a quite stunning piece of design and is something the University can be justifiably proud of. It is just a shame that we don’t have such ‘interesting’ buildings being built in the city centre.

A challenge for our local architects and developers perhaps?

Left high and dry?

Posted on Updated on

20121026-202046.jpgI am a Chartered Surveyor – and proud of it. My membership of the RICS allows me to do my job and satisfy my clients that I have the necessary knowledge and qualifications to do it properly. So why does the RICS make it so difficult for me to consider them my ‘friend’ in business?

Let me explain – a few years ago I undertook the RICS accredited Energy Assessors course to qualify as an RICS accredited energy assessor – this would allow me to prepare EPC’s for my firm and clients and then lodge them. The training was quite intensive and not cheap, but I was proud to be accredited by the RICS as they were considered to be one of the better managed schemes – so perhaps of a better quality?

So all looks rosy – until Friday when I gathered (second hand) that the RICS are going to withdraw their accreditation scheme – so I will have to register with another body. This will possibly entail doing further exams – despite being qualified already, and more importantly if I don’t act quickly, might cause a break in me being able to provide the service.

I picked the information up from an RICS forum, from other equally confused assessors. I have subsequently spoken to the RICS by telephone and they have confirmed the news, and told me the letters are in the ‘process of going out’ – have they not heard of email? I have however been told officially by the software provider I use for EPC calculations and lodgment (Lifespan) and have also received an email from an alternative accreditation scheme (Elmhurst Energy) offering a free transfer.

So why if they can all contact me so quickly and efficiently, cant the RICS (who are supposed to look after my interests for me?)

Oh, and the notice that the RICS has given its members? Five weeks (and that is for the ones that have heard officially – I still haven’t). So am I to believe that this decision was only taken a few days ago – I think not!

Now do you see my issue with the RICS?

Trinity House

Posted on Updated on

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.

Italy – ahead of us in renewables?

Posted on Updated on

This week I am away on my summer vacation in Italy, two weeks of sun and great food. We are in the hills just outside Sienna for the first week in a complex of nine units spread over a hillside with a shared pool – nothing unusual there, but what is interesting is the use of renewables.

20120807-172108.jpgOur villa is separate from the rest (which suites us well), but all of the units are linked up to a solar array on the hillside adjacent, I am assuming this feeds into the local network as well although I haven’t been able to confirm this. In addition to this all the villas have solar heating, there are large panels and tanks on each roof – not obvious unless you get at the right angle to see it.

Internally there is a water heater, but it appears to be a high efficiency one which is also linked up to the heating system – there is no air conditioning. So all in all the development appears to be fairly low impact in energy terms. Seeing this makes me realise just how far behind we are in the UK with getting renewables into our housing stock.

Yes we are moving forwards with wind farms and similar things, but our housing stock is old and inefficient, we need to address this sooner than later.

Don’t underestimate your local school!

Posted on Updated on

20120704-185757.jpgWe are all used to the area we live in having its ‘favoured’ school – it may be due to a well-earned reputation – but could well be historical and irrelevant! In West Bridgford we have a number of excellent Primary schools, and some that are favoured more than others. I am a Governor at one which has perhaps been out of the limelight for too long and without doubt its day has come – Edwalton Primary school.

The school has for a long time been at the forefront of the green agenda – it has a farm, a wood and it’s pupils are fully involved in following a ‘green curriculum’. It also forms the centre of an ‘eco hub’ serving other schools who wish to learn from its years of experience in the Eco field! As a by-product it also produces very nice kids!

20120704-184128.jpgIt’s latest achievement however really needs shouting from the roof tops – it is one of 8 schools in the country to be chosen to meet Royal Highness The Prince of Wales at the first ever WWF Green Ambassador Summit at Highgrove House in Gloucestershire on Thursday 5 July. Over sixty young Ambassadors, including 8 from Edwalton Primary School will attend the two-day event (4-5 July) with teachers Hugh McCahon and Laura Paget and Head Teacher Brian Owens, along with WWF representatives and special guests.

On the second day, Ambassadors will take part in a series of creative workshops, including a food-growing session and art- and writing-led workshops, aimed at encouraging visions for a sustainable future. The schools will also be given a special tour of the gardens and experience the Prince of Wales’ own personal vision of a sustainable environment at Highgrove.

Brian Owens, Head teacher said:

“This is a marvellous moment in the history of our school. It’s a wonderful recognition of the many outstanding contributions from staff, children, parents and governors to make the school a better place. I am so proud of everyone who has help in whatever way to make our school such a special, unique place to be”

WWF has long recognised the importance of young people and the Green Ambassador scheme is specifically designed to empower, engage and enable young people to take a leadership role whilst developing skills in team work and communication. The ‘Champion Schools’ were specially chosen by WWF for their commitment to environmental action and willingness to help other schools get involved.

Amazing what your local school can achieve!

Renewables – it’s all about getting a balance

Posted on Updated on

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?