Energy Saving

All new homes to be “zero carbon” by 2016 1

The Government has released a white paper that calls for all domestic buildings to be zero carbon by 2016. There isn’t a definition for “zero carbon”, however, though it’s likely to mean buildings which are net-zero carbon over a year. New public buildings will be held to similar standards within a few years.

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Dick Strawbridge on how it’s easy to be green

Top eco-warrior Dick Sytrawbridge addresses some of the common misconceptions about making your home low energy and eco-friendly.

4) Most eco-renovation take decades to pay back the cost

Every time we decide to make an investment in an eco-project, the subject of payback comes up. It is possible to do the sums, and before we spend any hard earned cash I like to make sure that it’s a good investment. For example, loft insulation can pay for itself in two winters, and with the 2010 feed-in tariff I would expect solar PV to pay for itself in about seven or eight years, and a DIY solar thermal system to heat your hot water should have paid for itself in four or five years. But surely this is missing the point: when it comes to environmentally friendly projects we seem unable to accept the fact that it can be an investment and will add to the value of the house. What is the payback time for a new bathroom or kitchen? If you install solar photovoltaic panels you can reasonably expect them to easily last 25 to 30 years. Everyone knows a new kitchen makes a house more saleable, but in the current economic climate, how much more saleable is a house that will cost the new owners very little to run or may even generate an income?

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Advice for Gordon- save the world by bribing the voters

I don’t have any particular interest in Gordon Brown staying on as Prime Minister, he’s possibly worse than Blair because he’s too much of a coward to actually do anything radical. If he were, however, to suddenly develop a spine and display some of the savvy he claims to have there are ways he could get re-elected, boost the economy and start taking big steps towards hitting carbon dioxide reduction targets.

All he has to do is bribe the electorate.

A small number of people choose to ignore the evidence on global warming and will shout about any environmental initiatives no matter that they often have benefits beyond the green. Let’s just ignore them. Others are determined to cut their footprint no matter what. These converts deserve rewarding, and will be as a bonus of what I’m suggesting. The largest number of people, across a range of scepticism to understanding, aren’t going green because of the initial expense. Also for many of them when Gordon says “Green” they hear the word “Tax”.

Give these people the money to go green.

The recent announcement of a £100billion green initiative by Brown did mention solar power and other grants. What’s needed is for these to be big enough to cover most of the cost of installing panels, insulation or whatever is needed, because at present the payback in reduced bills isn’t enough. Most people would be better off leaving their money in the bank and earning interest. It would also help the uptake if the rates to sell electricity back to the suppliers were better. Let’s say that power companies should write off one unit of power consumed for every unit generated- in summer or on a windy day the house could pay for the electricity it used when it was cloudy or still. After the bill balances then the microgenerator can still sell to the power company at, say, half the price per unit they were being charged.

As important as increasing the grants and improving buy back is selling them properly. Emphasis should be put on giving money back to the consumer and making them independent of big suppliers. Gordon’s too dull to do this well, so he’d have to hope he could find a minister who could do it for him. The Tories have already figured out that this is a good sell, with proposals for feeding landfill savings back to households that recycle more. Their ideas about modifying the tax on petrol are based on a similar idea but seem half baked at best.

Of course, per kilowatt generated and ton of CO2 saved an increase in the scope and size of grants for microgeneration will be far more expensive than offshore wind or any other scheme. But no-one ever seems to think about where this money will go. The workers who install photovoltaics, groundsource pipes etc. will all be based in Britain. With a bit of encouragement the companies creating the equipment could all be British as well. They’ll all pay tax on their increased income, and boost the economy with their spending, as will the households now with extra cash from the electricity they’re saving and generating.

Of course the main reason a scheme like this won’t go ahead is because it will do the one thing all politicians are terrified of- it will allow the electorate to become less dependent on the state and the big businesses that pay for all the lobbying.

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Energy independence begins at home

Gordon Brown has announced a £100billion renewable energy plan. The Daily Mail and its readers have reacted as you’d expect, ignoring the boost to the economy from all the jobs created and the opportunities through grants to go energy independent.

So, those of you who can, I’d recommend stealing a jump on the whingers and using their tax money to go off grid. When I researched grants for solar panels last month I found that the existing scheme had been phased out, which was annoying. I’m now willing to give Brown the benefit of the doubt and hope this was because they were gearing up to a new and improved scheme. It isn’t easy. I’m not as obnoxiously and knee-jerkingly anti Brown/New Labour as the Mail’s readers, but past performance does mark the Government as untrustworthy.

The schemes for householders will be announced later this Summer. I’ll be looking out for them and will try to do some number crunching on them when they arrive.

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Hello, Gordon here

If Gordon Brown phoned me I’d have a few suggestions for him. And not the calls to resign, which he must hear all the time. For a start he could can his predecessor’s plans for nuclear power and spend the money on expanding grants for energy saving schemes and installing solar equipment (and wind power, but not for people in built up areas where it’s not really effective). Rejig the benefits system so that claimants who get part time jobs are rewarded rather than punished. Give extra bonuses to companies that make biodiesel from recycled cooking oils and punish those that use palm oil.

And more. I’d probably get cut off when it became obvious that I’m more interested in giving advice than receiving spin, but it would be worth a try.

The Virtual Forest

The Virtual Forest is a Spanish endeavour to get people cutting their greenhouse gas emissions by appealing to their wallets. The energy saving questionnaire it offers stresses the financial benefits of saving energy as much as the environmental. They also promise to plant trees for you, in Second Life and real life.

The site is bilingual and there are phrases that seem imperfectly translated, but not as badly as I’ve seen elsewhere. The questions on your energy consumption are also formed from a Spanish perspective. For example, here in Manchester I find I never have need for any form of sun shade to keep the house cool. The cultural differences don’t minimise the message however, and I’d really like a Second Life tree.

This review was paid for through ReviewMe.

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The power of cheese

An Austrian cheese factory now gets some of its power from a gas burner that uses methane released when whey is heated. The system, created by a Rochdale business, is dual fuel, switching to piped natural gas when methane production is too low, and has helped the factory cut its carbon footprint by 30%.

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C8 – "green influentials"

From the inbox-

Forget the G8, Gordon meets the “C8” for fresh thinking on how to tackle climate change

To mark this year’s Energy Saving Week, the Energy Saving Trust has assembled the “C8” to start one million conversations on climate change during the Week. Like the G8, the C8 is made up of important leaders – but these leaders represent the everyday influential communities in the UK that have the most potential to drive mass adoption of energy efficient behaviour and reduce the UK’s carbon footprint.

The C8 includes leaders from the likes of the Women’s Institute and the Church of England as well as a leading green blogger, Adam Vaughan. During Energy Saving Week, the C8 is urging people within and beyond their networks to take action to reduce C02 emissions. Women’s Institute groups will be holding electrical appliance amnesties and climate coffee mornings while priests up and down the country will be putting climate change at the heart of their Sunday sermons.

C8 members were selected by the Energy Saving Trust on the back of the launch of the world’s first ever climate change Influence Index that measures potential to influence large numbers of people through understanding of green issues, social networks and their community connections. Membership of the Women’s Institute and religious groups was each made up of 72% ‘green influentials’ – the most persuasive and powerful group on the Index – busting the national average of 38%. Shopkeepers were also shown to be a key community, with 61% falling into the green influential category.

Following a summit on Monday to discuss the best ways to spread the word about climate change through their organisations and networks, representatives from each community visited Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, yesterday to secure his backing for the campaign.

Gordon Brown said: “Energy efficiency is firmly on our agenda here and we value the great work that the Energy Saving Trust has done in this area and the potential of its ‘C8’ partners to spread the message. As the ‘C8’ has stipulated, saving energy and fighting climate change isn’t solely about the Government taking action, it is also about what we can all do as individuals and in our communities.”

Philip Sellwood, Energy Saving Trust Chief Executive, said: “If all 211,000 members of the Women’s Institute boiled only the water they needed rather than overfilling the kettle each time, collectively they would save around £1,000,000 in annual fuel bills and more than 5,600 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. The message is – individual actions do make a difference and encouraging communities to club together motivates people to do their bit.”

To find out whether you’re a green influential, take the test at:

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Heywood Gardens low energy homes

Seddon Homes have put some serious thought into this new development, turning cookie cutter looking homes into energy efficient buildings. The designs have been thought through from first principles, with well planned insulation and energy saving measures so that the houses require less (solar and wind) power in the first place. I’m not in the market, so I don’t know if the £245,000 asking price is comparable to similar mundane homes, but Manchester Confidential seem convinced.

Most of us are still ignorant to the fact that energy efficiency doesn’t mean compromising standard of living. Yes you can give up your car and wash the dishes as oppose to using a dishwasher, but where eco-homes are concerned there really aren’t any sacrifices because the changes are already in place and finely tuned to provide maximum comfort.

Seddon Group’s case study on Heywood Gardens

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Manchester's Green King and Queen

A couple from Hulme have won £1500 to spend on energy or wasyte saving work on their house after making great changes to help tackle climate change. Alan and Shelley Heckman lowered their energy and water consumption over eight months whilst taking part in MAnchester’s Eco-Diet Challenge.

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Wythenshawe's carbon neutral festival

Wythenshawe is to hold the “Party without Pollution” festival next month, and is encouraging local residents to save enough energy to make the whole event carbon neutral. The headquarters for the festival are in a building made from shipping crates that incorporates a number of energy saving, if gimmicky, devices such as a cycle powered photocopier.

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Denial begins with a lightbulb

Cheaper bulbs have some of the problems attributed in this article to all Compact Fluorescent Lights, but to pretend they all do is as lazy and shortsighted as they’re accusing the politicians of being. Better quality CFL bulbs (the ones from Philips are highly recommended) light up as fast as incandescents, have a pleasant colour and, even with normal switching on and off, last far longer then old style bulbs. And they pay for themselves within a year in normal useage.

Most of the people I know have houses lit with low energy bulbs and not a one of them has ever commented on problems fitting the lights. Now that everyone else is into CFLs I’m thinking of moving to LEDs, which are even more efficient.

As for China, so what if they’re not making changes right now? They will in the future. If your neighbour told you they hadn’t fitted smoke alarms, would you endanger your family by removing the ones in your house?