Renewables

Italy – ahead of us in renewables?

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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!

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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

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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?

Have LED lights come of age?

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An LED with a UK fitting – you can get them….

I have blogged previously about the effect that ‘good old’ tungsten bulbs (as favoured by Daily Mail readers) can have on energy consumption and energy efficiency ratings – in a word HUGE. The usual argument against is that the alternatives cost too much and give a ‘nasty’ light. As far as compact fluorescents (CFL’s) go that is far from the truth now – they start and warm up quickly and you can even get dimmable ones now. Yes they cost more but the payback on them now is probably in the region of 6 months – and then you are into savings for the remainder of their lives (which is normally years).

However for the CFL haters there has been an alternative for a while – the LED bulb – but they are expensive which has proved highly popular with the flat earth brigade (i.e. Daily Mail readers).

With prices up to £25 per bulb, the received wisdom that LED lighting is too expensive seems deserved. But rising electricity prices and falling LED costs mean that for homes with a large number of halogen or tungsten bulbs, the new generation of low-energy lighting finally makes financial sense.

Concerns over the ‘weak or cold quality’ of LED light have abated. Despite usually costing more than six times as much as halogens, the payback for LEDs now comes in 15 months or less – and for homeowners changing dozens of halogen bulbs, the savings can be in the hundreds of pounds every year afterwards.

So to a degree it is a matter of re-educating our buying habits. Lighting has always been about the fitting rather than the bulb, the days of the cheap low efficiency bulb are thankfully coming to and end. If consumers are prepared to pay the up-front higher cost they will quickly calculate that they will see a return on their investment within the first couple of years – and will go on making financial savings for many more years. Users will also not have the hassle of continuously replacing burnt-out halogen lamps – LED bulbs come with advertised lifetimes of 10,000 hours and up, compared to the typical 1,000-hour lifetime of hot-running halogen bulbs.

LEDs, or light-emitting diodes, are semiconductors that make old-fashioned lightbulbs (incandescents) and even “energy savers” (compact fluorescents) look incredibly inefficient. A typical 35W halogen replacement LED will use as little as 4W, considerably less than the 10W or so a CFL would use to produce the same level of light. They also have the advantage of being “instant-on” and do not suffer from warming up slowly like some CFL replacements for halogens.

Using the Energy Saving Trust’s typical use figure for a bulb in a kitchen or living room at an average of 2.7 hours a day – and assuming 40 bulbs in a house  – running costs would be reduced to £23 annually compared to £287 for sticking with traditional bulbs.

I haven’t swapped to LED’s in my home yet – because I still have a large number of CFL’s that are still working fine, but before next winter I think the change will occur. It is now well worthwhile – give it some thought next time you have to buy a bulb!

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?

Convenience stores – heating and cooling

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We have a very good local store in my part of West Bridgford, I am not going to name it, but it is part of a large chain famous for its local stores. There has been a major refurb of the store in recent months and it now offers a very pleasant environment to shop in.

You get the idea....

As part of the refurbishment the fridge units have been replaced to the now very popular tall open fronted designs – great from the point of view of selling produce it would appear. But not good from another point – more on which below.

the fridge units occupy the entire rear wall of the shop and they have a return leg up one side, so they form a significant percentage of the walls of the shop. I am a regular visitor to the shop as it is great for those last minute items that you forget from the weekly shop. However, this weekend is the first vaugly warm weather since the refurbishment. On walking to the rear of the store I was amazed to find the air conditioning units in the ceiling pumping out hot air (it was warm outside). I assumed this must be a mistake and mentioned it to the manager.

His reply? “No I have to have it on, otherwise the fridges make it so cold down here that the shoppers complain”.

So here we have a totally refurbished shop from a chain that prides itself on being greener than most supermarkets and cooperating with the locals – but they have not considered the impact of the design of the shop on the green aspects. I hate to think how much electricity the airconditioner is using to heat the cooled corner of the shop.

A definite own goal – surely the shopfitters should be aware of these issues when they design stores?

Sort out your boiler!

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Not an exciting subject – but one which can save you money – your boiler.

20120324-102144.jpgOk, it’s not the sexiest subject in the world, but you can’t argue with the numbers – the Carbon Trust’s experts estimate that UK organisations could save more than £400m a year by making simple, low-cost tweaks to their heating systems. Some larger landlords caught onto this a few years ago, British Land being an example.

Saving of up to 30% on heating costs are potentially achievable on most systems – how?

The Carbon Trust’s top tips for boilers

  • Keep them maintained – Over time mechanical components can become worn which can affect combustion efficiency. Therefore burners and their controls need to be checked at regular intervals and adjusted as necessary.
  • Minimize heat losses – Keep boiler insulation in good condition. All pipework, valves, flanges and fittings in the boilerhouse should be adequately insulated and valve mats/covers should be replaced after maintenance work.
  • Implement effective water treatment – Impurities and contaminants in water can really hit a boiler’s efficiency, so a proper treatment and conditioning regime is essential.
  • Produce a maintenance manual – Detail records of work done, the person responsible, and when they were completed. Formalising maintenance in this manner should help ensure that routine tasks aren’t neglected and will highlight ongoing problems.
  • Consider boiler replacement – In the longer term, if a boiler is more than 15 years old, or if it is showing signs of inefficient operation, it may need replacing. Make sure you think about capacity/size requirements, boiler compatibility and financial and environmental impact in the process.

With rising fuel costs this all makes common sense – either for a commercial or private heating system.