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!

A wind farm on our doorstep!

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I commented here about wind farms in France and the French view of them as a ‘generally welcome’ addition to their skyline. Obviously the French have a much more rural and spacious country which may well have a bearing on their views. Also they don’t appear to have the NIMBY attitude that we have in the UK.

This week I have become aware of the Severn Trent proposal for some large wind generators on the Trent next to Burton Joyce. The local council have been very proactive in relation to the proposal (for that is what it is at the moment – planning has not been applied for yet). They have prepared a report which is available from their website, it makes very interesting reading and highlights a number of issues common to this type of proposal. And also highlights the issues in this country caused by our compact size and dense occupation!

I have sympathy with the residents of Burton Joyce as it is clear that the proposal from Severn Trent is a ‘maximum’ size scheme created with a view to it being ‘down sized’ following consultations. It is unfortunate that the providers of such schemes feel they have to do this to get schemes past the locals. I can understand why they do it, but it ensures renewable energy gets negative press rather than assists it.

A planning application by Severn Trent is apparently expected any day – we will no doubt all hear about this on East Midlands Today and in the Evening Post!

Reading some of the comments on the Burton Joyce website by locals does depress me though. Many comments are valid, but the ‘unhealthy for our children’ comment also appears (as is common in cases like this). How is it unhealthy? Are they going to fly into the blades? I am not aware of any evidence to support this?

Let’s all try to work together to build some renewable energy in Nottinghamshire! Yes it’s not great to have things in our back yards, but perhaps we have had too much say on things over the last 20 years. Perhaps it’s time for more power for Government to push through ‘sensible’ schemes? Otherwise little will happen in the renewables area – and then it will be too late!

Let’s push the offshore wind farms forward as well – no one can complain about them – can they?

Eco Living & Development

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A number of recent articles in the press and visits to some ‘eco’sites has set me thinking about what we really need to achieve in the way of ‘eco’ living from a residential standpoint.

Last summer I went to visit the Hockerton Housing Project in Nottinghamshire. This is probably one of the UK’s more established residential ‘eco’ developments and an attempt (successfully) to achieve as close to a zero carbon footprint as possible.

The residents have made a number of decisions about the way theywish to  live, and the properties they have constructed to achieve this aim reflect this. The reality of their way of life borrows more from a commune lifestyle, than a ‘traditional’ modern way of life. Some of the sacrifices they have made I believe are further than the average person would be willing to go, but have been adopted as a final way to reach ‘zero carbon’. But equally there are many parts to their way of life that can and do translate to everyday life for the wider population.

If we consider the housing that has been constructed, this has been designed to be very fuel efficient, but still comfortable to live in. We were allowed access to one of the residents homes (doing tours for outsiders is part of their agreement for living there). The buildings are partially ‘buried’ and are constructed with a high thermal mass (lots of concrete) and a ‘greenhouse’ section along the front which acts as a thermal barrier and store. Each house has an active ventilation system and is fed heat via a ground source heat pump and via the ‘green house’. We were told that the internal temperature of the properties is maintained to within a few degrees all year round – at no cost!

The small payback is in relation to the layout which is quite linear with all rooms leading off each other in most cases.

To enable the community to try and take no energy from the national grid photo voltaic cells have been added to the roofs of the houses, and more importantly wind turbines are on site – not the small pointless B&Q style units. But two mast mounted units now providing spare capacity to the National Grid!

As you might expect obtaining planning for the masts was painful – even though they are almost invisible from most viewpoints! However they have now been in situ for a number of years and their efficiency is constantly monitored. By using two competing turbine suppliers the community has managed to get free upgrades to their blades which has increased efficiency greatly!

So far then we have mainly positives and things that I think most people would accept in some way or other. Now for the ‘downside’.

To buy a property on the site a purchaser has to enter into an agreement to undertake certain tasks etc for the good of the community and to limit their life in other ways. The most relevant to this piece are as follows;

  • Only one car per household
  • Spending a number of hours a week helping the community
  • Working on the allotment
  • Tending the livestock
  • Servicing the water filters (the site is self sufficient on water)
  • Tending the reed filter bed (the sites sewerage system)
  • Doing tours around the site and promoting it.

All of the above rely on residents ‘buying into’ the way of life. Not an issue on this scale and on such a pioneering scheme. But I would suggest not something that the general public would buy into?

So, what type of people live on this scheme? Vegetarian tree huggers who wear rough hand made clothes and preach
to everyone about how they are saving the planet?

No, the residents are a quite diverse bunch, and properties have changed hands since the first build. There are architects, engineers and teachers on site as far as I am aware. Yes, they are proud of what they do and promote it. However they are also keen to show that to achieve what they have done does not make them live like hermits!

I was very impressed with what they have achieved. There are a number of lessons to be learnt from their work many of which can be filtered into current design and lifestyles.

 What has been done recently in the Nottingham area which potentially builds on this work?

Abel Collins Almhouses - photo Tim Garratt

The recently constructed Abel Collins homes in Nottingham utilise some of the features of the Hockerton Housing Project, particularily the thermal mass and green roof. My colleagues blog has more information on this scheme.

Green Street - Blueprint Regeneration

Blueprint are also shortly to commence work on the ‘Greenstreet’ development in the Meadows area of Nottingham. This is a low energy scheme of 38 residential properties, and another great step forward.

It will be interesting to watch the effect upon the market of these two very different schemes.

“Energy Labelling” and Property

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A recent visit to Sherwood Energy Village in Ollerton has set me thinking about design and sustainable development. The RICS have also recently published some research from the USA studying the effect of what they term ‘eco-labelling’ on office occupancy rates.

There are a variety of ratings around the world for energy labelling buildings, but the two most well known are BREEAM (BRE Environmental Assessment Method) and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). BREEAM is the European standard, LEED the USA version. Both are fairly similar in nature and are in effect best practice for sustainable design.

Both in principal aim to provide the following:

  • market recognition for low environmental impact buildings
  • assurance that best environmental practice is incorporated into a building
  • inspiration to find innovative solutions that minimise the environmental impact
  • a benchmark that is higher than regulation
  • Its implementation attempts to;

  • use a straightforward scoring system that is transparent, easy to understand and supported by evidence-based research
  • has a positive influence on the design, construction and management of buildings
  • sets and maintains a robust technical standard with rigorous quality assurance and certification
  • Consequently as agents we would look to promote a BREEAM building as more attractive to occupiers due to its lower carbon footprint, lower running costs etc. The question however is – does the market see this as a benefit, and is it shown through occupancy and voids data?

    This is not been easy to assess, particularly in a poor market. So the RICS data is interesting (despite it being US based). The data suggests that there is an 8% difference in occupancy for LEED buildings (in their favour). At this time this is not particularly ‘definative’ in my view. It suggests a trend but perhaps no more.

    If green issues remain at the forefront of peoples thinking this type of building may well become more popular. But there is a cost factor which will deter developers. Yes a BREEAM building may win awards, but it will cost a lot more to build and may not be as attractive to the market due to certain ‘design’ features. There is another angle as well – the desire of the developers and architects to make a statement, this may have a detrimental effect on the scheme in my opinion.

    Sherwood Energy Village demonstrates this I believe;

    E Building, Sherwood Energy Village

    Sherwood Energy Village had a ‘difficult birth’ being born out of the sudden closure of the Ollerton Pit (even by the standards of the day) and the locals desire to help prevent the death of the town. Initially seen as a bunch of lunatics the town created an Industrial Provident Society to manage the site. Against all the odds they managed to purchase the site from British Coal for £50,000 and then proceeded to fund a £4.2M clean up of the site before agreeing a planning strategy for the development with the local council.

    They have through careful management retained overall control of the site and therefore kept speculative developers at arms length. Consequently any development has to follow their design principles and ethos. Buildings are built to a high standard from a sustainability point of view, plus recent business units are achieving BREEAM excellent. But they are generally designed to be practical and not ‘design statements’. All sites are sold on a 125 year ground lease, acceptable to funders but enabling further control to be maintained over the site (for example requiring development within 2 years of site acquisition).

    The site now has a diverse collection of occupiers all (with the exception of Tesco) in sustainable buildings offering the users various financial and ethical benefits. Over 1000 jobs have been created in the last 13 years on the site, more than were employed at the pit in its heyday.

    photo: Tim Garratt

    Contrast this with No.1 Nottingham Science Park. An award winning design with very high environmental credentials (seen as the definitive way forward for science park design in respect of sustainability). But, this is a very striking building, very much an architects view of what we need! It remains to be seen whether occupiers will buy into the architecture. But as a showcase of what can be done with a building (together with the Toyota Building on the same site) this has put Nottingham on the map architecturally for the first time in years. Without doubt No1 needed to be built to show what can be achieved and Blueprint the developers should be applauded for this. It has had a difficult birth into the worst market we have seen for decades, I am sure it will succeed with the fullness of time.

    I believe what is needed is a middle course, the practical Ollerton approach with an element of Architectural flair. Hopefully we can move forwards in this manner in the next decade.

    More Climate Change Issues!

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    Do we have a problem?

    It seems that not a day goes past at the moment without Climate Change issues hitting the headlines – unfortunately this seems to be for all the wrong reasons in most cases! 

    Earlier this week we had the debunking of the Himalayan Glaciers melt issue, then the comments following that from the top of the IPCC stating that they still stood by their figures “and no damage had been done”. 

    Prior to that we had the leaked emails from the University of East Anglia and their effect upon the Copenhagen Conference. 

    Now it would appear that the University of East Anglia were in breach of the Freedom of Information Act and questions under its remit were “not dealt with as they should have been”. The passage of time will allow them to get away without being prosecuted, but someone needs to get a grip of these issues! 

    I believe there is a genuine willingness for people to start to give ‘Green Issues’ some consideration. Any way this can help people save money will be a further incentive – the current economic climate undoubtably helps. But every ‘dropped ball’ by the climate change fraternity makes it less likely to happen. 

    One has to ask the question “are these people really this inept or are they being set up?” 

    Unfortunately I think it’s the first – most of these people are either scientists or idealists – perhaps not the best at dealing with the press or managing their ‘images’. It is time for someone to step up to the plate and take control of the management of this issue – for it is definitely an issue – before it all gets totally discredited. 

    I know they say that any media coverage is good, but surely this is just making the issue a laughing-stock?

    NESTA’s Big Green Challenge

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    This week has seen the announcement of the three main winners of NESTA’s (National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts)  Big Green Challenge. This has produced some interesting winners – all of whom receive £300,000 prize money to allow them to continue or expand their work.

    With the recent issues over wind farms and pylons being positioned in the rural areas of the uk it is good to see one of the prize winners being ‘ The Green Valleys project’ in Wales’ Brecon Beacons that currently generates power from 10 mountain streams.

    Normally hydro-power schemes rely on dams, but The Green Valleys Project uses micro-hydro, which involves diverting up to 50% of a stream’s flow into buried pipes which lead to camouflaged generators the size of a garden shed. The project is planning 40 more of such micro-power stations.

    With extra help from energy advice surgeries, super-efficient vehicles and wood-burning stoves, 13 local communities in Brecon have cut carbon emissions by about 20% in a year, according to Nesta.

    This is being achieved within a National Park and frankly with few people being aware of its existence. Consequently no one has complained, surely this small scale generation is the way forward in suitable areas?

    The second winner is the Household Energy Service – a volunteer run service based in Shropshire that helps  households  reduce carbon emissions, improve energy efficiency and save money on fuel bills. It manages this by providing free energy surveys (conducted by volunteers) that identify practical energy-saving measures along with estimates of the financial savings they could generate.

    HES now covers four counties and has helped 15,000 homes so far, it is estimated that it has reduced emissions in these homes by an average of 10%. This is obviously small beer, but is an indication of what can be achieved – perhaps the Government should take note and start a similar national scheme?

    The third and final winner is the the Isle of Eigg, where 38 families are working together in a bid to halve their carbon emissions. This initiative is being led by the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust and involves a wide range of projects from installing insulation and solar panels to producing local food and developing low-carbon community transport. All the families are trying to live within a five kilowatt per household energy cap. The group has a blog which makes interesting reading!

    Eigg are obviously trying to achieve something far more significant than most communities would be willing to attempt at this time. But there are undoubtably things to be learnt from their work. Another very worthy winner and perhaps a look at how we may be living in 20 years from an energy point of view?.


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    In the current economic climate it could be argued that as a nation we are as receptive to new ideas that may save money and the planet as at any time in the economic cycle (what ever that is now). 

    There have been two Government announcements this week relating to the supply and generation of power for the UK. These announcements have provoked a variety of responses, many of them sadly only too predictable. 

    The first announcement related to the construction of 137 miles of new power lines across Scotland, my colleague blogged about this yesterday and was somewhat ‘in line’ with the current attitude to this type of thing in the UK – Not in my backyard!

    I am not surprised by this attitude, as a nation we seem to have lost any personal drive for the national common good. Britain experienced massive growth in Victorian times – partly due to the industrial revolution but also due to the ability for things to happen – how many years did it take to get the high-speed rail link agreed through Kent? I am sure it would have happened quicker in the 1900’s!  

    We seem to be alone in the World in trying to stop this type of development at every turn. Drive across Europe or the USA (California especially) and you will see large wind farms producing very cheap energy. Personally I don’t have an issue with their appearance, but I am a country lad more used to making the land provide, rather than a towny who just wants it to look pretty! 

    We are going to have a major power issue in this country within our lifetime, forget global warming (I know you want to) – we need alternative power sources because fossil fuels will run out! As a nation we are at the forefront of alternative energy, we need to develop this expertise, the alternative is Nuclear! Do we want that? 

    The Wind Farm Locations

    The announcement today relates to the successful bidders for 9 new wind farm sites located off shore around the UK.  

    Turbines in the nine zones could generate up to 32 gigawatts of power, a quarter of the UK’s electricity needs. 

     Lets hope that these receive a slightly more positive reaction from the public (no back yards out there!)