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

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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

Biomass or biomess?

I wrote the article below for the Building Services Journal, who have kindly allowed me to reproduce it here.

Biomass is on everyone’s list of an environmentally friendly and sustainable energy sources, even though it involves burning fuel.  Many developers these days have to comply with the Merton Rule, whether they are environmentalists or not. This requires a percentage of the energy used by a new development to be generated on site.

In developments everywhere, developers and local authorities working together believe that the way to comply with the sustainable on site generation required by the Merton Rule happens also to be the cheapest way – installing a biomass boiler. The theory goes that when you burn biomass to create heat all you are doing is accelerating the release of carbon that would happen if the biomass were left to decay. I am not so sure. Continue reading

Taking the carbon out of home heating – Mr Wicks wants evidence

Malcolm Wicks is the Energy Minister. He has called for evidence on the best way to “decarbonise” the way we heat our homes. He is specifically asking for evidence about existing technologies mentioning combined heat and power, renewable heat, heat from waste and district heat.

I shall be responding to his call for evidence in terms that the lowest carbon way forward is solar thermal systems for water and space heating and that the best way to incentivize this will be a long term council tax discount.

I suggest that no one holds their breath for too long while Mr Wicks is making up his mind; we are already stuck with the almost unused LCBP offering of a £400 grant (which costs most households £600 to qualify for), and because hardly anyone uses it we shall be stuck with it for some years to come. Continue reading

EU renewable energy targets – renewable heat is part of the solution, not the problem, dummy!

The European Union will legally require each country in the Union to meet a certain fixed percentage of its energy by renewables by 2020 if plans announced yesterday are approved, as they are likely to be. In the case of the United Kingdom that fixed percentage is 15%. The United Kingdom has got off very lightly; Germany, which has a much larger uptake of renewables than the UK must produce 18% of its energy by renewables, and Sweden a whopping 49%, presumably because they will burn their forests.  Continue reading

New nuclear power stations and Gordon Brown making tough decisions

There has been a lot of news in the past day. The race for presidential candidates in the United States has got very interesting, particularly with Mrs Clinton making a strong showing to win New Hampshire. In the United Kingdom there are new measures that will be introduced in an effort to halt or slow down the worrying amount of people infected in hospital where they go to get better.

Somehow, amidst all this news the announcement that the Cabinet had unanimously agreed to approve new nuclear power generators has gone relatively unnoticed, although in the longer term it is probably the most important piece of news this week. 

Gordon Brown claims that this decision is a “fundamental precondition of preparing Britain for the new world”, but has refused to answer questions about the detail of what will happen. It is nice to see Mr Brown is concerned about preparing Britain for the new world, but his rhetoric is empty. I have news for him; the “new world” that he seeks to prepare us for already exists. His party has been in office for ten years and have in that time neglected the issue of energy and in particularly neglected to secure any long term energy independence for us in a world where nations are competing for limited supplies of fuel. 

Apparently this decision will be announced not by the Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks but by the Business Minister, John Hutton tomorrow; odd, that, to announce the decision twice – once to the media and once to Parliament. They can save a lot of time by only announcing it once; I am sure that Parliament follows what is in the media and that the media follows what is said in Parliament. This double announcing seems a gross waste of energy. 

The decision to build new nuclear power stations is incompetent, dishonest and dangerous. It is incompetent because nuclear fuel is a finite resource which will probably last no more than seventy years, and possibly less as China and India build new nuclear power stations that will draw on the world’s supply of uranium. In these circumstances by the time the power stations are built we will have only secured some electricity for a limited period. Nuclear power will only secure electrical energy supplies, and although electricity can be used to create heat that is a very expensive way to use it. 

It is dishonest because the decision will be dressed up as an environmental decision, and all kinds of claims will be made that nuclear energy (when they mean nuclear electricity) does not emit carbon dioxide. The process itself does not; the nuclear fission provides heat which drives turbines which generate electricity but mining the uranium is a carbon intensive process, particularly in places like India where when they mine uranium and then process it the overall carbon foot print is as big as an oil burning power station. It is also dishonest because decommissioning will involve building huge underground concrete bunkers to store the waste fuel which in itself is a very carbon intensive programme. 

It is dangerous because the new generation of nuclear power stations will be over twice the size of existing power stations and will contain a great deal of dangerous material. It is also dangerous that we are going to build more nuclear power stations without having invented a process for disposing of the waste safely, other than by burying it for tens of thousands of years. 

This decision is being dressed up as the government making a tough long term decision. Balderdash. It is an easy option – the only tough part about the decision is the need to explain it to a sceptical public and trying to figure out how we can pretend that the decommissioning costs will actually be paid by the plant operating companies when in reality they will be paid by the public purse. 

A tough long term decision would be to require every home to have some form of microgeneration from a non carbon or a low carbon source, now. A tough long term decision would be to build a tidal power station in the Severn Estuary. A tough decision would be to require all new homes built to have solar water heating. A tough decision would be to tax the people that use the most energy by having progressive energy price bands. A tough decision would be to ban car engines above a certain size. Gordon Brown is not making any tough decisions about these and a host of other measures relating to energy. 

So when you hear the spin that the government will put on this decision ask them why they are making easy short decisions not tough long term ones. And also ask them why, if the nuclear power stations that they will be building will be so safe why they won’t site them next to the Houses of Parliament, so that they may deliver the electricity that they produce quickly to high population centres without suffering the low transmission losses, and use the surplus heat generated to provide people nearby with a district heating scheme.