How to become an installer of solar systems

Malcolm Wicks, the Energy Minister, recently announced that there would be seven million solar thermal systems in the next ten or so years. It is a wonderful aspiration because in the long run it will save us money, stop us emitting as much carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases as we do and lower airborne pollution. The aspiration will, if fulfilled, improve our lives immeasurably but it needs people to turn dreams into reality.

The solar manufacturers will be able to keep up with demand. At Genersys we can ramp up production to fulfil a genuine large scale demand of 200 times our existing UK market.

But it will take much more than the panels and all the ancillary equipment that a solar system needs to get seven million systems on roofs throughout the United Kingdom; it will take the men and women who will be the installers. Continue reading

Suddenly, renewable energy is important, say the Government

There have been many new “green energy” policies announced recently; we have heard about £100 billion that will be spent on green energy in the next ten years, the forests of wind farms that will be built in the United Kingdom and solar thermal systems for seven million UK homes by 2020.

Suddenly we are faced with so many Government proposals to build up a UK wide renewable energy network that we do not know where to start. I can barely believe it to be true because this is some of what I have been urging for ten years. Continue reading

Exxon Valdez, punitive damages and the environment

Nearly twenty years ago, in the Prince William Sound off the Alaskan coast, the Exxon Valdez super tanker struck a reef and disgorged eleven million US gallons of crude oil into the sea. Eleven million is the generally accepted figure; the Exxon Valdez was carrying 53 million gallons and some believe that far more was spilled.

It was an accident which Exxon did not intend. Later, an American Court held that Exxon had been negligent and ordered it to pay various Alaskans (both individuals and companies) who suffered loss around $507 million to compensate them for the losses that they have suffered. Most of the money was paid by Exxon’s insurers and what was not paid was probably written off the tax, as is the wont with multinationals like Exxon.

As is the way in the United States of America damages often extend beyond the compensatory principle. In virtually every country in Europe when you sue for damages from a piece of negligence the courts adopt almost exclusively a principle that the purpose of damages is to compensate the person who suffered a loss, for that loss, not to punish the wrongdoer for the accident.

It is an odd thing, that a country like the USA which prides itself on self reliance should have adopted punitive damages so enthusiastically.

In the USA courts punitive damages were awarded against Exxon in the amount of $5 billion. That is to say after all the plaintiffs in the case were compensated for the actual losses that they had suffered they were awarded ten times that amount in order to punish Exxon.

That makes no sense to me; it is not possible to fix an amount of money for every wrongful act for which you can sue; some amounts – such as for hurt feelings, distress and so forth have to be awarded on a basis that is not as scientifically calculable as say loss of earnings. Punitive damages transcend all that. They become a nice little earner for the Plaintiffs and their lawyers.

In Exxon case punitive damages reward people in an unmerited way. If Exxon had be so negligent so as to deserve punishment their officers should have been prosecuted under the criminal law and if a financial sanction was thought appropriate Exxon should have been fined.

Obviously Exxon (or their insurers) baulked at the prospect of paying punitive damages of $5 billion and they appealed and as appeals go it wound its tortuous route through various courts until it reached the United States Supreme Court. Last Wednesday that august body decided that $5 billion was stretching things too far and they reduced the punitive damages to the same amount as the actual damages. This means that the average Alaskan Plaintiff who has already got $15,000 will now get another $15,000 instead of $150,000.

If you do business in the USA the existence of punitive damages makes it costly to insure. Although in the UK we are becoming more litigious (and will continue this trend) we should not compensate people beyond the losses that they have suffered in order to punish someone. If someone needs punishment then the criminal law is the place for that.

In the case of the Exxon spillage it seems that the ship’s captain was an alcoholic who downed plenty of vodka on the fateful night and as a result crashed his ship, damaging 1300 miles of coastline and its wildlife.

In the meantime we should remember that the Exxon spill damaged one party that cannot sue – the environment.  The clean up operation cost $1.28 billion, sea otters and sea birds were saved but it is believed that the oil still lies at the ocean bed and is damaging the wild life there.

As for punitive damages – the environment has been punitively damaged, but for the oil we burn to make electricity, to make fuel and to provide us with luxury. It is not surprising that ultimately we will suffer the punishment, no matter who pays the dollars.

Carbon trading does not reduce carbon emissions

The carbon trading scandals under the Kyoto Clean Development Mechanism continue to grow. The original point of the Clean Development Mechanism was to reward environmentally friendly energy projects with valuable “carbon credits” in order to create an incentive for them, so that they could take place. The clean project earns carbon credits which can be traded for real money on the artificial carbon market.

Obviously there is no point in awarding carbon credits for projects that are not genuinely “clean” but that are exactly what is now going, and it is happening on a grand scale. Instead of acting as the incentive to make clean projects viable the Clean Development Mechanism and its associated carbon credits are quickly becoming a way for large companies to clean up, in the financial sense rather than the environmental sense. Continue reading

Increased methane in the atmosphere – what is the cause?

For the past ten years methane levels have remained rather stable, while carbon dioxide levels have risen. Now it seems that methane levels are on the rise, especially around the Arctic region.

Methane, you will remember is a greenhouse gas which is about forty times more potent than carbon dioxide but fortunately it is no where near as long lived in the atmosphere as the dreaded CO2. Methane is present in very small quantities, measured in nanomoles per parts billion (carbon dioxide is measured in parts per million) but so potent is it that it is estimated to be responsible for 20% of the greenhouse gas direct radiative forcings. Currently methane is in the air at around 1770 parts per billion although the concentration varies according to latitude. Continue reading

How to get the best out of your solar water heating system

You can get more free energy from your solar system they will involve some modest adjustments to your style of living, but it will provide you with more free energy if you can follow these tips.
If you cannot follow these tips because of the way you have to live – do not worry – your system will still provide loads of free energy, but with fuel prices rising and energy becoming less affordable, why not make your thermal solar system work harder for you? It won’t cost you a penny more and will add to your savings and payback. Here are some simple tips. Continue reading

Mundra’s new coal power station – built with “green” subsidies

How do you get to a position when public money and international programmes devised to reduce carbon emissions is earmarked to build and continuously subsidise a 4000 megawatt power station that burns coal? The answer lies in the advice that you get.

If you go to someone for advice, they will advise what they know. A physician will advise you to take medicine, a surgeon to undergo surgery, a physiotherapist to exercise; a lawyer will advise you about a legal solution and an economist about an economic solution.

Advisers perceive that the only solution there is to any given problem is that which is within their own expertise. The solution that an expert proffers will be the best the expert knows about, but that does not mean that it is the best solution.

If you look to bankers economists and the like for a solution to the problem of reducing carbon emissions you will end up with what looks credible, seems workable but in practice proves not a solution to the problem of how to reduce carbon, but a way for the opportunistic to make money in a rapacious and unscrupulous market.

When the solution is adopted and enacted by politicians the solution becomes set in stone, no matter how much damage it does. Reputations are at stake, and this makes politicians and civil servants who have approved these failed programmes close their eyes to the environmental reality of them. Indeed genuine solutions are not allowed to stand in the way of their beloved trade and cap schemes.

The carbon cap and trade schemes are blindly supported by the European Union and the United Nations. We have been told by bankers such as Mr Nicholas Stern that these emission trading schemes are the way to reduce emissions. It is now apparent that these schemes are actually contributing to emissions throughout the world.

The case of what is happening in Mundra, in Gujarat in India is a case in point. The Tata company will build a coal fired power station there, which will be completed in 2011. It will use technology that will reduce emissions compared to a conventional coal powered power station by around 20%. Under the curious rules that have been devised following the Kyoto Protocol, this is classed as a source of clean energy, notwithstanding that the emissions will be double those from a similarly sized natural gas power station.

Being classified as a clean power project Tata will obtain $450 million in soft loans from the World Bank (the same World Bank that Mr Stern worked for) and it will be able to sell under the cap and trade scheme carbon credits to power stations elsewhere in the world for around $60 million a year, which is quite a comfortable income for a carbon credit that arises because a coal fired power station is being built.

If the project used technology that captured and sequestrated the carbon dioxide emissions then it should qualify for soft loans and should be allowed to trade its carbon credits. However, this project will not do that – it will create huge amounts of emissions, but everyone at the World Bank and in governments across the world are pretending that this is a carbon saving scheme.

India needs power. Genuinely green power is expensive because of an uneven playing field; those that burn coal do not pay the true cost of their emissions.

We cannot stop coal power stations being built in India but we do not need to facilitate them with soft loans and fictitious subsidies from failed emission trading schemes. The $460 loan would be better employed building wind farms, putting in microgeneration and solar power in the Gujarat region. The $60 million a year in carbon credits would be better used to install solar panels in Gujarat.

India will need, it is estimated, an additional160,000 megawatts of power to come on line in the next decade. That is another forty plants the size of that which will be built in Mundra each emitting at least 25 million tonnes of carbon each year with the aid of World Bank soft loans and additional income form selling fictitious carbon savings.

If we go to bankers and business people for advice about carbon emission reduction can we be surprised that the result is a subsidised coal fired power station built in India from which money will be made?

Solar heating panels will come on 7 million homes

Malcolm Wicks, the energy minister whom I have much maligned in these posts, told the BBC radio 4 programme that green energy targets to meet at least 15% of the UK’s energy from renewables would lead to over seven million homes being fitted with thermal solar systems in the next 12 years.

Of course the plan will cost money – the overall costs of the renewable energy strategy is set at £100 billion, which will amount to by my calculations around £350 per annum per household, but that will include not just solar panels but also wind turbines and other measures.

In a year when household energy bills are set to increase by £500 and with further increases certain in the pipeline an investment today will pay the nation real dividends in the future.

There will also be included plans to force householders to insulate more, but there is only so much that you can save with insulation, and saving energy, as important as it is does not generate energy.

The announcement is very welcome. We shall have to see what the detail holds because that it where the plan for renewables will succeed or fail. I expect that the plan will involve plenty of compulsion. Householders will be forced to install solar systems and the government will be forced to install large scale wind farms by virtue of its membership of the European Union.

I hope that it will abandon some specific policies – like the Zero Carbon Home policy, which diverts attention into a policy where very little is to be gained in terms of carbon and energy saving in new build, where the real problem lies not in the 75,000 new homes every year but in the 26 million existing homes that use energy.

Some people may not like the idea of solar panels on seven million roofs, but do not be put off by the BBC’s pictures on their web site. They are not like any solar panels that I know, and I do run the company that has 25% of the UK’s solar thermal market. If you want to see how unobtrusive they are put “solar panels” into the search engine in this site or look at some examples at  

Civil disobedience and protests at coal deliveries to power stations

Environmentalists have been in the news recently for stopping a coal train in Yorkshire, on its way to the Drax power station near Selby. A small group of protesters stopped the train, draped a banner reading “leave it in the ground” and delayed the coal train for several days. They wanted to talk to the power station operators about the amounts of carbon dioxide that they were releasing into the atmosphere.

The operators were not too interested in talking to the protesters. They issued a statement explaining that in terms of unit of electricity generated Drax releases less carbon dioxide than any other UK power station. They just release loads of the stuff because they are the biggest coal fired power station in the UK and they are investing in technologies to reduce emissions.

Of course, being the cleanest coal power station in the UK is not necessarily something to be proud of, and the investment is not, I am sure, entirely voluntary for the good of society but new laws and regulations may have something to do with it.

Is it legitimate for protesters to target a coal train? To my way of thinking it is the wrong target. Energy companies do no more than provide people with the energy that people want, for a profit. Targeting them is a bit like treating the symptom of a disease, rather than the cause.

Protests like this are a form of civil disobedience. The protesters were acting as they did as a matter of conscious. They have to look beyond the coal train, beyond the power stations to find the true cause of emissions. Those causes are you me and virtually everyone else in this land. Those should be the targets for the protesters, because unless you target your civil disobedience at the cause, you are not excluding your own actions for the injustice that the emission do to the earth, but are doing no more than banging the drum.

Birds – why we are losing more species and what it means for us

As far as we know since 1500 over 134 species of birds have become extinct. Birds are an important part of the biodiversity of the planet. Losing birds species is not just a matter of concern to bird watchers, zoologists and sentimental folk, it is important to all of us because if we lose species of plants and animals we never know what effect it will have on the rest of our food chain, upon which we depend, except that we know the effect will rarely be beneficial. Continue reading