The Energy Bill

The United Kingdom Government has published its programme of legislation for this the last Parliament before A General Election. Many doubt whether any of the proposals will be enacted in law before Parliament is dissolved. Many of the proposals are simply window dressing but among the more useful pieces of legislation, if passed, will be some aspects of the proposed Energy Bill. Continue reading

Kingsnorth and a carbon sequestration competition

Kingsnorth’s proposed power station is not a carbon sequestration project. The government has chosen another way to get carbon sequestration technology. Mainly because it has nothing to do with carbon capture some environmentalists are suggesting that we should boycott the banks that are financing e.on’s new coal fired power station project at Kingsnorth. Continue reading

What the government knows about solar panels and Baldrick’s cunning plan

What do we as a country know about solar thermal systems and how many of them do we deploy, compared with other European countries? The answer to both questions is very little.

First the facts, and I now use figures for 2007. Continue reading

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

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  

Household carbon dioxide emissions and why government policy to reduce them is odd

Households are responsible for over a quarter of the United Kingdoms’ carbon dioxide emissions, without including transport and cars. It should be fairly easy to get the emissions figures from households down significantly but there appears to have been only tiny reductions.

The emissions come from energy use, usually gas and electricity consumption, but in some cases heating oil and liquid petroleum gas consumption. These are the figures for domestic carbon dioxide emissions from DEFRA – the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Continue reading

Oil prices rise as the economy falls

The price of oil still rising but the economy of the world is slowing down. This at first sight seems like a paradox. If the world’s economy slows down you would expect less energy to be used and therefore the price of oil should fall. Today oil stands at around $120 a barrel – it has never been higher, but businesses face fewer sales, lower profits or greater losses and people’s employment will be threatened as businesses reduce staffing levels.


We are told that this is the result of the sub prime lending foolishness which the world’s banks embraced to the extent of buying worthless securities; having done so they became afraid to lend each other money and are still so afraid. The rate at which UK banks lend to each other is known as LIBOR – the London Interbank Offered Rate, and banks in turn fixed loans they made by reference to LIBOR, giving themselves a small margin over it when lending to commerce.


It is worth noting that none of the recent three Bank of England interest cuts has had the normal knock on effect of reducing the LIBOR. The margin is now historically very high, reflecting the risks that banks feel they take if they lend to each other.


Also it is by no means clear to me that the banks actually have the money to lend. The Royal Bank of Scotland is short £12 billion and will seek to raise this money from a rights issue to their shareholders who must pay up or have the value of their shares diluted. In addition the banks are benefiting from a £50 billion loan being made by all of the taxpaying citizens in the UK.


So the economy is not healthy and at the same time oil price rises inexorably. It has always been thus. In his excellent book, “the Last Oil Shock” David Strahan points out that some analysts have found that movements in oil prices since 1954 have been closely mimicked by US unemployment figures after a time lag of around eighteen months.


Mr Strahan suggests that while oil consumption as a proportion of gross domestic product is falling, because we are increasing our population and driving more, flying more and living more comfortable lives oil consumption per person is increasing. We find more things to “spend” our energy on.


There is a relationship between the availability of energy and economic growth but somehow governments overlook this basic fact. Our present Energy Minister, Mr Malcolm Wicks, is a junior minister and he does not have cabinet rank. He also does not have complete jurisdiction over energy; his boss gets in on the act from time to time as do the people at DEFRA; the Treasury set the policies for energy taxation which further limits Mr Wicks’ brief. No-one it seems to me, is bothering to look at the whole picture and this is worsened by the fact that Energy Ministers in the past ten years have tended to come and go like the newspapers.


This means that we get a muddled energy policy; one day photovoltaics are in vogue, the next day wind turbines. Biomass then becomes fashionable and now nuclear is proffered as a solution. The Government is not joining the various energy dots together and even worse is not linking the energy picture to the economic picture.


The government’s main energy policy is to cause us to invest in insulation – first for lofts and then for cavity walls. This makes energy use more efficient but efficiency is often outweighed, as I explained in another post, by those with good insulation turning the thermostat up to enjoy a more comfortable home wearing lighter clothes. The efficiency gains end up with more economic growth in the sense that we spend the efficiency gains and more on other energy consuming practices.


Now an economic downturn may be caused by a high oil price, as businesses dependent on oil collapse. The oil price would then fall, reviving the economy but in the nature of the beast as the economy grows so the oil price would rise all over again. I am not an economist but it seems to me that a rising and falling and re-rising oil price (and coal prices and gas prices) would lead us through a series of sharp boom and bust cycles, with the bust cycle lasting longer each time until the energy finally runs out.


That, I think, is the fundamental problem that Governments have to solve. The solution must be to use whatever resources we can muster to produce benign energy ourselves. The Government needs to require us to invest in microgeneration and pay attention to the details– not throw money at grandiose schemes dependent upon depleting resources.


That means higher building standards, solar water and space heating for virtually everyone, more offshore turbines, taxation on fossil fuel energy to reduce demand and make people more careful about the energy they use, penal taxation on large-engined inefficient vehicles, as well as what they are doing now.


There will come a time when energy will be at the very top of the political agenda; the fuel duty strikes almost brought down the new labour government in 2000. The future position could be far worse than political inconvenience and far harder to solve.

Overhauling solar grants by leaving them “same old same old”

When is an overhaul not an overhaul? The answer is simple; when the Government of England and Wales adjusts an incentive program without really making any changes.


The Low Carbon Building Programme has been “overhauled”. The scheme is in effect a way of subsidising householders who want to install some form of microgeneration.  The most popular microgeneration of energy that householders want to undertake is to install solar water heating systems. It is also the most economically viable and the most useful, a fact recognised throughout the world. Continue reading

The new nuclear renaissance – an easy decision but…

John Hutton is Secretary of State for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. By training he is a lawyer, but he now is in charge of Energy for the United Kingdom. His problem is to set out an energy policy that will provide the nation over the long term with energy as cheaply and as low carbon as possible.  

This is a real hard problem because there is a natural conflict between cheap energy and benign energy that all the grandiose statements of intent cannot hide. Continue reading

Solar Planning Laws Change


I have been handing out plenty of environmental brickbats to Government Ministers so it is really pleasant to award an environmental bouquet to Caroline Flint, who is the Planning Minister and another to Malcolm Wicks, who is the Energy Minister.

They have instituted changes to the planning rules which will make planning permission for home solar thermal installations unnecessary from 1st April in most cases.Provided that panels do not protrude more than 200mm from the roof, householders will not have to suffer the expense and delay of applying for planning permission. Continue reading