The Energy Review

In May last year Alistair Darling, then Secretary of State for Trade put his name to a document published by his Department which comprised three hundred and forty three pages; it was the Energy White Paper. 

You will find that “solar” within the context of a heat creating technology occurs only two times, and once of those times is in a footnote. It was a depressing indictment of the Government’s thinking and competence.  

Heat is responsible for over a third of our country’s energy usage and water heating around 24% of an average homes’ energy use and carbon output. The Energy Review should have been renamed “the Electricity Review” and Energy Policy “Electricity Policy”. The Government had no heat policy and therefore no energy policy under Mr Darling’s stewardship. 

This is serious because of all the renewable technologies, renewable heat technology is the most mature and predictable and the only technology that enables the renewable energy created to be stored economically. Heat is important; in our country people still die of hypothermia: I know of no case of anyone dieing because they could not turn on their television. 

Mr Darling is now promoted to Chancellor of the Exchequer where he is bringing his talents to looking after the nations’ money and saving the Northern Rock Bank. I think he can do less damage there.

In the European Union the leading solar thermal country in terms of per capita installations is Cyprus. You might expect that. After Cyprus comes Austria and Germany. Austria is the EU’s leading exporter of solar thermal technology and Germany is the EU’s biggest market. Recently France, Spain and Portugal have increased demand for solar thermal by tax rebates, regulations and subsidies respectively.

The UK has the lowest solar thermal operating capacity in the entire EU, but clearly the UK government thinks it knows better than its European partners. Even the USA projects a 50% increase in solar thermal take up next year.

The Energy White Paper indicated a lack of clear thinking, in its failure to suggest measures on the scale that are needed. The energy utilities cannot be relied on to take up measures that are contrary to their core business and interests. Individuals are very keen to help but they have no real guidance, no real support.

At Genersys I find consumers very interested in solar water and space heating, where on an individual house basis they can save around half a tonne of carbon dioxide emissions for a solar water heating system if they are on the gas network but around twice that figure if they are not on the gas network. 

You cannot of course, and I do not suggest that one can build an energy policy solely around renewable heat but it is a critical component in any sensible energy policy and as such a component that is missing today. In this country our engineers are as competent as those of our European partners, our population as aware of global warming.

The reason why solar thermal in the UK is still a tiny industry is simply that we do not have the right policies in place to encourage its take up.  An energy policy that will provide us with secure energy, some degree of energy independence and which will address the real problem of climate change needs real measures that will see things like solar panels on every roof, not lengthy and expensively produced documents of pious hope.

Microgeneration and Northern Rock? Darling, it’s between a northern rock and a hard place

Gordon Brown has finally admitted it. He has not ruled out nationalising the Northern Rock. When you walk down a path putting one foot in front of another you should know where the path leads. When he and his chum Alistair Darling decided to rescue the bank, rather than the money of depositors of the bank, he started on the road that inevitably leads to nationalisation, whether he admits it or not. 

The bank is as good as nationalised now. Lots of people and institutions would like to get their hands on (sorry, buy) some of the bank’s good assets, especially if they are going for a song. No-one wants to underwrite the bank’s bad assets at any price, except Mr Darling and Mr Brown. We taxpayers have now pumped £57 billion into the bank, (£57,000,000,000) by way of guarantees and real cash and the only benefit has been to help confidence in the banking system, (although that is debatable), save a few jobs in the North East, and protect Nortehrn Rock shareholders and speculators.  He could have done all of that spending a lot less money by simply underwriting the ordinary depositors’ money and letting the rest take their chances.

If Mr Darling has a spare £57 billion pounds it would come in mighty handy in restructuring our country’s energy system so that we used less fossil fuel and had a great deal more microgeneration. We could have also cleaned up the coal burning power stations with smoke washing facilities, sequestrated carbon, insulated every home to high standards, and still had plenty of change. 

We could have also taken a few million and restructured the Low Carbon Building Programme. Under it today no one is bothering to apply for the £400 grant that you can get towards thermal solar panels because the grant is pitched too low and there is a rather tortuous set of conditions you have to adhere to before you get the money; none of these conditions relate in any way to solar water heating.

You can only get the grant if your home is “holistic” whatever that means. 

The money assigned for helping householders with all microgeneration technologies for the three years ended June 2008 was only £18.7 million – less than one third of one percent of the money used to bail out the Northern Rock. Expressed as a figure it is less than 0.33% of £57,000,000,000.  It is interesting to remember that the grants for microgeneration were conceived by Mr Darling when he was at the Department of Trade and Industry under a scheme called the Low Carbon Buildings Programme. All the failings of this scheme became well known before Mr Darling was promoted to Chancellor of the Exchequer, but despite my efforts and those of many others in the microgeneration industry, Mr Darling would not change the defects, denying, through his junior Minister, Lord Truscott (who?) that any defects existed. 

Mr Darling clearly has a talent for this kind of mess, as he showed with the Low Carbon Building Programme and now that he has been promoted he has made another mess on a much grander scale. 

While all the money used for the Northern Rock is being committed and more will no doubt have to be spent, so far less than a third of the microgeneration grants have been spent – a paltry £5.3 million. If the present rate of take up continues when the scheme ends in seven months time the government will have about £12 million spare unspent microgeneration money, which they could inject into the Northern Rock. That should be of immense comfort to the Bank’s shareholders and commercial depositors, but cold comfort to the planet.

Darling, you’re unlucky.

In January and February of this year I corresponded with Alistair Darling when he was Secretary of State for Trade about some serious failings and structural flaws in the Department of Trade and Industry’s Low Carbon Building Programme, which provided householders and not for profit organisations with some small grants to install microgeneration.  He never deigned to reply, although I did get a letter from Lord Truscott, a junior minister then, which was not a substantive reply but a boastful mini summary of what the letter writer obviously thought amounted to world beating climate change policies which involved the expenditure of £50 million of taxpayers’ money to support microgeneration. Continue reading