Solar power

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.

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.

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!

EPC rules are changing – finally!

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Some while ago I blogged about how the rules for the provision of energy performance certificates on commercial property were planned to be changed – but kept being delayed. Well finally the new rules are coming into force – from the 6th April 2012.

That is obviously good news for me as an energy assessor, but it will I hope also make people on both sides of property transactions far more aware of the effect of the energy efficiency of their properties on business generally.

At a business lunch I attended this week I was discussing ‘green buildings’ with a couple of banking clients. They still have to see this having any effect upon their lending – either from a security point of view or value stand point. What they are very aware of though is the long-term potential that the energy legislation may have on their security – the proposal that all F & G rated properties will become un marketable from 2018 is already on their radar. The ‘official line’ they have been told by the powers above is that the Government are unlikely to miss their proposed changes in legislation.

This highlights one of my pet hates – lazy landlords – get the easy things done to your properties in terms of ‘greening’ them before marketing. Things like low energy lighting, insulation and replacing old inefficient heating systems. It can make a huge difference to you epc rating.

You have been warned!

UK wind powers first real test?

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One of the anti wind power lobby’s cries is that there will be problems ‘when the wind blows too much’. The claim is that the ‘over powered’ turbines will cause damage either to themselves, people near by or the grid. Up to this point the level of capacity in wind generation in the UK has been too small to see any effect, and although there have been some wind failures there hasn’t been a ‘national’ test – but the winds around Christmas 2011 gave the first real chance to see what really happens!

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The answer?

Wind power production in the UK reached a record high as storms the hit the British Isles and powered onshore and offshore wind turbines, beating the previous high by nearly 20 percent.

Wind farms produced a record 12.2 percent of UK energy demand on December 28, (statistics provided by green energy association RenewableUK), displacing the previous record of 10 percent. And average wind power production between December 1, 2011 and January 5, 2012 covered 5.3 percent of UK power demands.

Wind power is considered a key energy resource to help Britain meet its legally binding target of cutting carbon emissions by 34 percent below 1990 levels by the end of this decade and UK wind power capacity is expected to grow by one-third this year, bringing total installed wind capacity to around 8,000 megawatts (MW).

So the good news is that the system didn’t fail – perhaps there is some potential in wind after all!

An interesting solar idea?

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a concentrated solar power plant

With the recent ‘killing off’ by the Government of the feed in tariff in its current form, and on the back of that the demise of the UK’s small solar install business, it is always interesting to see ‘interesting ideas’ for the future development of solar energy.

The latest idea (well it’s not particularly new to be honest) is to make use of one of the worlds sunniest locations – North Africa;

It is a beguiling idea – harvest sunshine, and a little wind, from the empty deserts of North Africa and the Middle East, and use it to produce clean power for the region and for Europe.

It’s not an idea by a group without some clout either. Desertec, a group based in Germany have heavyweight commercial backers including Siemens and Deutsche Bank, and believe the scheme would also bring the regions around the Mediterranean closer together, while providing jobs and stability for the countries in the south – not sure about that one (possibly gives them more to fight over?)

It has chosen Morocco, which is embarking on its own ambitious solar programme, for its first “reference” project – a plant meant to show that its grand vision is feasible. They expect to see the first electricity flowing through undersea cables from Morocco to Spain as early as 2014.

Its goal is to use desert power to supply up to 100% of local needs and up to 15% of European demand by 2050. But is this realistic?

According to a study by the German Aerospace Centre (DLR), a state agency that provided data used by Desertec, less than 1% of suitable land in the North Africa and the Middle East would be needed to cover the current electricity consumption of the region, as well as Europe. And of course many countries with intense sunshine also have large tracts of uninhabited land – so the model could work.

But creating the power is the easy bit – it’s the network to distribute it that presents a series of formidable problems, from nomads stealing solar components to the technological and political challenges of transporting and delivering electricity over such a vast area.

Desertec points to a pair of cables already installed between Morocco and Spain – though for now these are carrying power from north to south. It says it will work closely with Medgrid, a French scheme to enable the construction of a Mediterranean transmission system.

The technology exists, and is getting cheaper, but it is untested on an intercontinental level.

The technology that will initially be used in Morocco is concentrated solar power (CSP), a process in which sunlight concentrated by mirrors heats water, which produces steam to drive a turbine. Crucially, the heat can be stored, allowing a secure supply even when the sun is not shining.

CSP has been getting cheaper, but not as quickly as photovoltaic (PV) power – the use of solar panels to convert sunshine directly into electricity. The DLR estimates that solar thermal power stations will become competitive with their fossil fuel equivalents between 2020 and 2030.

With the current instability in the Euro Zone it would take a lot of common thinking for the agreement to be reached to pull this type of development together – unlikely at this time. But it is a very clever and sensible way to progress renewable production – but it may need to wait for better financial times.

Solar heating – the way forward?

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A year-long study by the Energy Saving Trust has revealed green energy devices should save home owners 50% of their water heating costs on average – on the face of it a good result, but there is more to the story!

The year-long study, undertaken at 88 homes by the Energy Saving Trust, also revealed that solar water heating systems are costing between £3,000-5,000 to install – so a £55 a year average saving looks poor without some Government funding to help ‘sweeten the deal’.

Residential payment levels under the government’s £860m renewable heat incentive (RHI) scheme, announced in March, are not due to be announced until 2012. But if on a par with those for large-scale solar heating systems, householders could expect payments of around £96 annually. The true figure may well be higher because smaller installations will probably attract bigger subsidies.

The government has put aside £15m for the renewable heat premium payment (RHPP) scheme, which runs until March 2012 offering grants for a range of green heating technologies including groundsource heat pumps and biomass boilers. The separate RHI payments, similar to those made to owners of solar panels and wind turbines under the feed-in tariffs for green electricity generation, will launch after the RHPP.

Solar water heating systems work by using the sun’s energy to heat water (or anti-freeze) in collectors on the roof of a building. The heated water or anti-freeze is then usually pumped to a hot-water cylinder to be stored until the hot water is needed.

One of the usual call by detractors to this type of technology is that we don’t get enough sun in the UK to make it worthwhile – well the field study found the systems provided a median of 39% of households’ hot water needs, rising to 60% for the best and plummeting to 9% for the worst-installed one. The trust had previously believed around 35-40% would be a typical figure, based on laboratory tests – so perhaps this does have some potential in UK homes.

The market for solar water heating in the UK has continued to grow despite the economic climate – up 18.1% in 2010, compared with 13.1% for Europe overall, though the trust said that was largely because the UK was starting from such a low baseline. There are an estimated 140,000 homes with solar water heating in the UK.

The way forward is obviously for this technology to be built into new housing stock – but the Government also need to act to allow existing properties to be included.