Leverage, confidence and the credit crunch

My proposition is about the economic circumstances that now prevail. I think lack of confidence created a fall in prices, which by the process of leverage operating more quickly in reverse in turn created a lack of liquidity (or money) the so called credit crunch, which is really a confidence crunch. Continue reading

Can plankton help us fight climate change?

The planet is now only able to store away half the carbon dioxide that is put into its atmosphere each day. The carbon dioxide that is not stored remains in the air for around a hundred years, creating an ever increasing barrier of insulation around the planet that prevents heat from escaping, causing global warming.  A moment’s thought tells us that we must not hold emissions at any level, but constantly decrease them to below 80% if we are to reverse climate change. Continue reading

Carbon trading – should we bother with an Emissions Trading Scheme?

The European Commission thinks that a global market for trading carbon should be part of a way to tackle climate change and is working to create a worldwide carbon trading market. Climate change is so serious that we should welcome anything that we help reduce carbon dioxide emissions, but I have fears that global or indeed any market in carbon dioxide emissions will not help reduce emissions but will have the opposite effect. Continue reading

Has the climate changed irreversibly?

Whether the changes to our planet’s climate become irreversible is not a question that has until recently bothered too many people; most scientists have been warning that the climate changes are in a process which, if nothing is done to arrest or reverse them will become irreversible and most agree that we have not yet reached a “tipping point” beyond which the changes cannot be reversed by human intervention.

Continue reading

Lord Truscott and the scandal of Phase 2 Low Carbon Building programme

Lord Truscott has been in the news recently. He is not terribly well known and I had not heard of him when I made a complaint to Alistair Darling about Phase 2 of the Low Carbon Building programme two years ago. Mr “framework” concept of approved suppliers but did not bother to notify the solar thermal industry’s trade association, the Solar Trade Association that a framework was being initiated and companies could submit a tender. That Darling was then Secretary of State at the Department of Trade & Industry and the Department had devised a scheme to provide 30% subsidies for renewable energy for not for profit organisations. They had decided on a meant that most of the solar thermal industry was unaware of the framework until it was too late. Genersys found out after the framework had been decided and I wrote to Mr Darling complaining and Mr Darling referred my letter to his then almost anonymous Energy Secretary, Lord Truscott. Continue reading

Who regulates the climate change regulators

When he wrote about the great crash of 1929, Professor J K Galbraith wrote (and here I paraphrase his words) that it is always hard to find a way of regulating the regulators, but even harder to impart wisdom in those who should be wise. I am not going to write about the credit crunch – far too much is being written and broadcast about it in the United Kingdom, it is almost as if the journalists and broadcasters are creating a self fulfilling prophesy for the sake of a good story that sells media. No, I am going to look at Galbraith’s comments in the context of climate change. Continue reading

A renewable heat consultation and the renewable heat expertise of the Energy Research Establishment

When I started Genersys I used to do many presentations of solar thermal to a wide range of audiences. My last slide has a simple slogan “We need an energy policy, not an electricity policy”, because then, only four or so years ago, energy, climate change and emission discussion, legislation and policy centred wholly on electricity. That demonstrated a lack of common sense; heating produces 47% of the United Kingdom’s carbon dioxide emissions and renewable heat technologies are both more cost effective and more mature than renewable energy technologies.

I questioned Ministers about their approach Continue reading

British Gas reduce their prices by 10% for gas but for the poor it will make no difference

Gas prices have risen and risen and risen again, and in the past few months the natural gas whole price has fallen and the United Kingdom’s six energy suppliers (I know there are a few more than six but six have 98% of the market) have come under pressure to reduce consumer gas prices. British Gas, one of the big six, has announced that it will cut its standard tariff gas prices by 10%, which is much less than the increases in 2008. British Gas put their standard prices up by 35% in 2008. Being aware of the commercial position, British Gas will introduce the price cut from 19th February.

For those of you on quarterly billing you may want to check your meter at this date and provide the gas company with a reading, otherwise you might lose out when they apportion the price decrease over a single billing period. Continue reading

Zero Carbon Homes

It’s a nice catchy phrase, “zero carbon homes” but what does it mean? The phrase was invented by a Government Minister as a short pithy explanation of a policy which was to ensure that one day in the near future all United Kingdom homes that were built would be built in such a way so that the homes, when occupied would not emit any carbon dioxide. At first sight it sounds like a good policy, but when you think about it, it is deeply flawed as a policy; it is really not possible to design a home where all the energy used by its occupants when they occupy it is produced without producing carbon emissions.

Certainly the home can be designed to be a low user of energy, which will save plenty of emissions. It can be built to very airtight, high insulation standards, so that there is very little call for space heat. There might be health issues on building too airtight a home, and this needs to be very carefully considered. It can power its electricity by wind or solar energy, and can heat its water by solar panels. These are not 100% solutions. The wind does not blow constantly and there is night, when the best solar panels will not work.

Storing electricity cannot be done in a way that is environmentally friendly, although heat from solar panels can be stored, there will not produce much heat in winter when daylight hours are short. I know that the government has experimented with biomass; you can burn biomass to produce electricity and heat by using a Sterling engine or Combined Heat and Power device, although the heat is produced as a waste product in summer when there is no call for heat. That means dumping the heat in summer, which you have created by burning biomass. In any event burning biomass is not carbon neutral, but is an excellent way of pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Biomass supporters claim that the carbon expelled by burning biomass is offset by carbon stored in new growth. They are wrong; it is not as simple as that. First, when you burn anything, including biomass the carbon dioxide created stays in the atmosphere for a hundred years or so. It is extremely unlikely that the new growth with remain for a hundred years and it is also unlikely that the new growth with sequestrate all the carbon dioxide emitted by large scale biomass burning.

We would need to create huge forests in order to achieve anything like a biomass balance and I see no government policy for this. No, we will simply import most of the biomass, probably from Russia, Canada and Scandinavia, and the cost of importing biomass, in carbon dioxide emission terms. Biomass is usually reduced into small pellets. It is very bulky compared coal, oil and gas, in relation to the energy it produces. You need a large volume of biomass to produce the same energy that a small volume of fossil fuel will produce. That means that there will be an expensive transport and storage bill for biomass, in terms of carbon emissions and in money terms.

There are also concerns, real concerns, about the lowering of air quality that biomass burning will almost certainly bring.

The Housing Minister is Margret Beckett who has said “Climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing the world, and introducing zero carbon homes is an important part of our plans to tackle this”. She said these words when launching a consultation to discover what is exactly meant by a Zero Carbon Home. The consultation has already removed cooking and electrical appliances from the definition of Zero Carbon Homes, concentrating only on the matters covered by existing building regulations, so the definition becomes even more misleading than when it was first announced.

The idea is to allow house builders to choose from a list of “allowable solutions”. Some of the suggested solutions are quite sensible; smart energy controls, insulation and the like are already available. Curiously solar thermal does not yet appear on the list which is a foolish omission; why burn anything when you can heat water using sunlight?

If you read the consultation document at http://www.communities.gov.uk/planningandbuilding/theenvironment/zerocarbonhomes/ you might feel that there seems to be plenty of back tracking on what should constitute a Zero Carbon Home. It seems likely that property developers will, when they get planning permission, pay for some wind turbines or other means of renewable energy nearby, or in another county or even in another country. That does not make the homes they build Zero Carbon.

It seems that the Government is trying to be able to boast that new homes will by 2016 be Zero Carbon, by introducing other measures, not related to new home building, which should be done in any event, as part of a low carbon energy economy. This will lead to double counting and double boasting. Unfortunately it will not make a difference in emission terms. I would prefer that the Government called the new homes “very low carbon homes”. It would be more honest and would actually explain what is happening.

What should a very low carbon home have as its features? Certainly the Government will not adopt of of the designs that it used recently when building the MPs office opposite the Houses of Parliament, or the Scottish and Welsh Assembly buildings. These are high carbon buildings. For very low carbon homes you have to not have allowable solutions but mandatory minimum requirements, with rewards for doing more.

I suggest these are good starting points for a list of what should be mandated.

1. Thermal solar panels for water and space heating feeding under floor heating

2. Photovoltaic panels feeding into the grid

3. High insulations standards, but not too air tight; people and buildings both need to breathe

4. South facing roofs

5. Very small patios and drives designed to allow surface water to drain through them

6. Brown water recovery systems

7. Smart meters and smart energy controls

8. Small garages for small cars

9. Large gardens

10. The fabric should be built of wood, which will store carbon rather than cement which is made creating large amounts of carbon.

I suppose that the concept of a Zero Carbon Home, however deeply flawed, is too embedded in Government propaganda to be changed. I would much prefer attaining what is possible, rather than what is impossible, and measuring the emissions from homes without including reductions off site. That would be more honest, and we need honesty about what we are really doing to alleviate climate change. The figure that you cannot spin is the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. No matter how many grandiose schemes and concepts you have, they will all fail unless atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and all other green house gases fall.

Why a free energy markets prevent us from reducing emissions

I wrote yesterday about who controls Europe’s natural gas (the answer was Gazprom, in turned controlled by the Russian Government).

There are problems of energy security, which impact direct on prosperity, heath and well being, which arise if a nation is not in control of their own energy. I do not think that such nations can ultimately be safe and prosper. However, there are also a adverse effects on climate change and carbon dioxide emissions that the free market creates, as well as adverse effects on fuel poverty, caused by a free market. Continue reading