Some ‘other’ cuts to think about?

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With the Emergency Budget presented yesterday, the word ‘cuts’ is set to become very un-popular. There is a lot of pain we need to go through, but perhaps don’t feel it is all our fault?

Perhaps we should also be looking at some other cuts which could further benefit the country, but would actually affect more positive changes for the man on the street?

A new report released this week says Britain could cut greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2030, creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs and regaining energy security.

 The report published by the Centre for Alternative Technology, includes input from thirteen universities, twelve research bodies and eight key industry players and highlights a path for a zero carbon transition by 2030. This is therefore the first time a comprehensive energy strategy has been produced from such a broad base that suggests ways we could reduce emissions to zero for all greenhouse gases and across all sectors.

The report  shows how the right mix of wind power, hydro, solar, biomass – plus an intelligent grid to manage demand, can ‘keep the lights on’ and supply the energy the country needs.

The report, aims to integrate thinking across a range of sectors and identify potential for what is termed ‘Powering Down’ through reducing demand and ‘Powering Up’ renewables to 100% by 2030 with no requirement for nuclear energy.

It could be argued that we have the lifetime of this parliament to start to break Britain’s fossil fuel ‘addiction’. The BP spill in the Gulf has further highlighted this and may well have opened some eyes in the US and the rest of the World in relation to the broader issues. If we can act now and reduce our reliance on fossil fuel, we can enjoy greater energy security and a more sustainable economy. If we don’t we will lurch from one energy and environmental crisis to another on a downward spiral. The report suggests to us how to begin the transition.

Key aims from the report include the following:

A 63% reduction in energy use for transport to be achieved by:
-Switch from petrol / diesel-powered vehicles to electric / battery-powered vehicles.
-Rail and bus services replacing domestic and short-haul flights.
-Two- thirds reduction in long haul aviation using kerosene fuel produced from coppice in the UK.

A 50% reduction in heat and electricity demand could be achieved by:
– Insulating all of Britain’s un-insulated cavity walls and lofts.
-Using natural construction materials such as wood, straw and other natural materials (will lock away C02).

It also suggests possible (but controversial) changes to land use:

– Britain can grow most of its own food whilst still producing biomass for heating, electricity and transport fuel.
– Land can be used to mop up residual emissions through sequestration.
– A 80% reduction in livestock products that generate 82% of green house gases in the agricultural sector. Non-livestock products generate more food and have a higher nutritional value.

The report does recognize that action in the UK alone is not enough, making any transition would require unprecedented collaboration on a global scale. The report emphasises the urgent need for an international agreement – there, you knew there was a catch!

This is all very well in principal, and I applaud the thinking behind the report. Unfortunately I cannot see some of the more ‘extreme’ ideas being accepted for a long time! Many require a substantial change to life style, both in terms of transport and diet – very unlikely at this time!

However, this does provide an interesting opportunity to start an earnest debate again on this subject. With President Obama now looking more to reducing the US dependency on fossil fuels perhaps we have a chance to move things forward again globally? The Government target is a 20% cut by 2020 and this was always going to be difficult without some ‘drive’ behind it. This may well help?

Certainly these are potentially far less painful cuts than the others we heard about this week!

National Trust win Renewable Energy award

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The National Trust are probably not the first name that springs to mind when it comes to being ‘green’ (apart from their logo). However over the last few years the Trust have been making serious efforts to improve their green credentials, and also as a byproduct save money.   

Their new headquarters building in Swindon ‘Heelis’ was a brave move for such a ‘conservative’ organisation. It is architecturally very modern, but also extremely ‘green’ – being expected to generate just 15kg of carbon dioxide per square metre per year compared to 169kg for a typical air-conditioned office.    

This, and the trusts other work has now been acknowledged by the Renewable Energy Association (REA) at its annual awards event in London.    

The Trust has been awarded the ‘Pioneer Award’ (made to an organisation outside the sustainable energy industry, pioneering the use of renewable fuels, heat or power) from a shortlist of four high-profile contenders. The trust were recognised for 140 renewable projects already installed at its properties, and for its  new energy commitments;   

1. To reduce  reliance on fossil fuels by 50%  by 2020.    

2. To reduce overall energy consumption by 20% by 2020 (from 2009 levels).     

PV's at Kynance


Renewable energy projects that are already in place include innovative photovoltaic solar slates at Kynance Cove in Cornwall and an Archimedes screw hydro turbine at Bonfield Ghyll in the North Yorkshire Moors.   

More impressively they have also successfully managed to install 24 photovoltaic panels on the roof of the Grade I listed Dunster Castle in Somerset which in sunny weather provide most of the castle’s daily electricity requirements.   

PV's on Dunster Castle


Biomass boilers have also replaced oil-fired boilers at 44 sites of their sites, including the new visitor reception and tea-room at Scotney Castle in Kent.   

 The new energy commitment, announced in February this year, will be achieved by continuing to use a mix of solar, hydro and wind and replacing oil-fired heating with wood fuel bio-mass boilers and heat pumps, even in sensitive locations (as evidenced by the solar panels at Dunster Castle).   

Each property is accessed to find the best energy solution, tailor it to them, and make the most of their own natural resources.    

Head of sustainability and environmental practices at the Trust said:    

‘Winning this award is great recognition for what we’ve achieved so far, and how we’re using cutting edge technology in the most unlikely places. The aim to become self-reliant on our own energy sources for heating and electricity, providing renewable energy to our communities and neighbours where we can. Our overwhelming desire is to come off oil completely.
We care for some of the most iconic and sensitive buildings in the UK, so if we can achieve our goals, anyone can. We’ve achieved our desire to use renewable technologies through the careful selection of technologies, and considering the conservation of the building, aesthetics and performance. 
That is why, for example we have been able to install solar panels on the roofs of some of our Grade 1 and 2 Listed Buildings or a ground heat collector in a Site of Special Scientific Interest tidal mudflat or small wind turbine in a National Park.’ 

This is an excellent example of a business looking to its current property portfolio and seeing how it can make it greener and better managed. Most of the  projects have also been funded either by npower or the Big Lottery Fund, thereby saving the Trusts reserves for large capital repair and maintenance projects.

Could something positive come out of the BP spill?

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On Tuesday night President Obama addressed the nation (one of those oval office ‘today we have invaded….’ type addresses). He was confirming his proposed actions with regards to BP and the Gulf oil spill, but also suggested a move towards a greener USA.    

As expected he drew no punches and has subsequently met with BP and ‘agreed’ that they will put $20 Billion into a reparation fund to make amends for their damage. The spill is appalling and the matter needs sorting in as efficient a way as possible – but as the old advert said – ‘lets not make a drama out of a crisis’! Hopefully things will now progress in a more positive manner.    

For me however this was not the most interesting aspect of his initial broadcast and the subsequent events.    

Time to work together on emissions?


 America is currently more dependant upon fossil fuels than any other country in the world. Partly due to its massive size, and partly due to historic government policies. Who has not had a smile on their face after filling up their huge gas guzzler hire car at a US service station and had change from a $20 bill!    


America has for too long had an ‘un-real approach’ to energy costs. Their fuel is very cheap and their cars are appallingly uneconomical. Their idea of progress (in California where they have no choice) is the Toyota Prius – need I say more!    

In Europe manufacturers are being forced by legislation to get their average emissions down – we are seeing BMW, Volvo, Mercedes etc all producing lower emission cars. This also feeds through as more economical cars. This is not happening in the US though. The Americans have a love of all things large (apart from the rest of the World, which they don’t appear to need).    

Using data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, the average fuel economy of new petrol cars in the UK is approximately 42 mpg and for new diesel cars is 48 mpg, in the USA the average is still in the mid 20’s!    

If all cars on US roads simply met President Obama’s plan for a minimum efficiency of 35.5 miles per gallon, the country could potentially save its entire Saudi Arabian import bill!    

China and India are however the next big potential user of oil.    

As recently as 1990, China got through around two million barrels of oil every day, it is now pushing seven million, and set to rise to twice as much again by 2030. As America’s Energy Information Administration points out, that extra demand alone will add 10% to the world’s consumption.    

Another way of looking at it is that the Chinese currently consume just one litre of oil a day per head, compared with 11 litres in the United States. If the country’s oil demand were to reach US proportions, total world consumption would double. Such levels of production would be impossible to achieve, now that the rate of worldwide extraction is already in, or close to, terminal decline. It is for this reason BP and other oil companies are off shore drilling through almost a mile of water and pushing current technology to the limit. The potential profits are huge – but so are the risks.    

In Europe we have targets for moving to renewable energy sources – the aim is 30% by 2020. Most European countries have signed up to this and are moving towards it. Unfortunately the US have always found an excuse or changed the ground rules to get around this, and for a country that uses 20-25% of the Worlds oil, but produces only 1% now, that is not an intelligent move!    

So President Obama’s announcement that he is looking to push the US into embracing renewables etc is very good news for all of us.    

“I say we can’t afford not to change how we produce and use energy – because the long-term costs to our economy, our national security, and our environment are far greater,”    

He said it demonstrated the need to end the US “addiction” to fossil fuels.It remains to be seen if he can pull it off (generally Americans seem too insular to realise what is happening in the rest of the World), but if anything positive is to come out of the Gulf spill this may be it.    

We will still need petrochemicals, even if we go massively over to renewables, so a reduction in demand is essential.    

Perhaps this is also the opportunity for President Obama to sign up to emission cuts and get China and India on board as well?

It’s Wind Week!

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On Monday Energy secretary Chris Huhne visited Leicester Square in London to see a fully functioning 13.5 metre (43 ft) wind turbine, which was installed by SIAC Wind Power for one day, from 10am to 4pm.  The unit was fully functional and formed a centre piece as part of the Wind Week celebrations.  

The turbine in the square

Speaking during his visit to the turbine, Mr Huhne said:  

“Wind energy is at the heart of our plans for renewable energy. This week will see thousands of people visiting their local wind farms and events around the country raising awareness of the opportunities there are for energy security, jobs and business from the industry.”  

Wind Week 2010, is a UK-wide celebration of wind energy organised by RenewableUK in partnership with the Scottish Renewables Festival, The events started on Saturday 12th June and will run until 20th June . Various wind farm sites around the UK will open their doors to the general public this week to ‘get the message’ out about wind energy.  

The events are being held in an attempt to develop a majority in favour of wind farms and ensure that ‘ WIMBYs’,( those that support wind in their back yard), become more vocal at the local level. Currently, only 25% of applications for wind farms are approved at the local level, and are often rejected by council planning bodies. The aim is to try to dispel some of the myths around wind energy, by letting people get up close with wind turbines and wind farm sites.  

This in a week that has seen the Daily Mail publish a letter by Michael Cole attacking wind power, following Miriam Durantez, the wife of the deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, taking up a job in the renewables industry. Unfortunately for Mr Cole, it appears his research is somewhat flawed.  

One of his many inaccurate statements included the claim wind turbines can’t run without power from the National Grid and need their own generator for a constant electricity supply. The truth is, wind turbines use an induction generator, which could be considered a form of reversed electrical motor. When the wind turbines’ blades are turning faster than the speed of the equivalent electrical motor, the generator produces power. When wind speed is low, a turbine might need a jump-start, which some take directly from the grid.  

Mr Cole also stated billions of pounds have been spent in Britain on more than 2,000 turbines – and yet they contribute barely one per cent of the electricity the country needs. This is simply wrong. Owing to wind’s variability, wind turbines typically produce about 3 per cent of the country’s electricity – and this figure is set to increase as more wind farms are approved and built.  

Lastly, Mr Cole blames wind farms for killing bats and birds that accidentally fly into them (a common claim). Bird enthusiast and television presenter Bill Oddie has commented on this topic. He fully supports wind farms, and states the danger they pose to birds is minimised due to the considered approach to construction taken by wind farm developers. In fact, cats pose a much more significant threat to birds than wind turbines!  

Wind farms are coming, this is a good opportunity for the technology to be publicised – but so far I have not seen ‘wind week’ mentioned on the TV news. I wonder why?

Some Positive Wind Farm News?

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I have blogged previously about my belief that we need to start to embrace alternative forms of energy production sooner rather than later. Wind farms have been one of the types of generation that I have looked at and consider a sensible option in our windy country! 

The Department of Energy and Climate Change have today produced their ‘updated energy and emissions projections’ which provide a view on how we are doing in relation to the targets set by the Government, where we are going, and what is required to meet our energy needs in the long term. 

The document (as with most of this nature) is rather hard going, but there is a section which indicates the projections for future electrical energy supply and demand. This indicates that demand has dropped back in the short term (due to the current economic climate), but is set to rise again as the market returns and the population grows. 

Certain assumptions have also been made by the Government in producing the figures, one of which is that by the year 2020, 30% of UK electricity will need to come from renewables. When factoring in the increasing cost of fossil fuels (assumed but also highly likely) one arrives at a graph like the one below, showing the areas of growth and decline over the next 15 years; 

Electricity Supply by Fuel


A few things stand out for me; 

Firstly the decline in Fossil fuel use, partly due to cost but also to reduce emmisions, although the arrival of CCS (carbon capture and storage) coal will keep it around. 

Secondly the significant increase in renewables. 

Thirdly the replacement of Nuclear due to the decomisioning of the current aged nuclear supply. 

Finally the continued reliance on gas – which will become very expensive as it will all be imported! 

This highlights the need for renewables and fast! 

It is therefore good news that RWE Innogy have confirmed this week their commitment to development the Gwynt y Mor windfarm off the Welsh coast. This £2bn development will become one of the largest in the World and is expected to be producing power by 2013 and complete by 2014. Development of the farm will start in 2011 and when completed will cover an area of 79 square kilometres with 160 wind turbines capable of producing 576 megawatts of power – enough to supply 400,000 homes annually. Its location in Liverpool Bay offers shallow water (good for the construction phase) and high average winds making it ideal for this level of development. 

I do hope that this announcement will be met with some enthusiasm in the UK, the location off shore means it is not in anyones back yard so should be far less of an issue for most people! 

I personally think they look rather elegant, but that is a personal view! 

If nothing else, this is a positive step forward in the development of renewable energy in the UK, with as a by product some serious investment and job creation (1000 construction jobs plus 250 permanent jobs) which is good news in this current economic climate. 

The figures I believe speak for themselves, we will suffer a power shortfall if we don’t invest in alternative forms of generation in decent quantities soon. 

We are likely to have wind farms everywhere eventually, what ever people think, so perhaps it’s time to start to accept them!