The World’s Largest Solar PV Array

While the United Kingdom’s renewable energy sector is losing business, due to uncertainty about government policy and the administration’s poor understanding of renewable energy the renewable energy sector in India looks as though it will become increasing prosperous and increasing important to the economic development of India. Continue reading

A Walk through London in December

I set off from my office in Queen Anne Street yesterday evening and walked down to Oxford Street, cut through Hanover Square and walked down Regent Street. The streets were full of people but the shops, well lit and bright, were almost empty. The people I passed seemed happy; they had the look of being happy this Christmas time. There were people of all kinds, shapes, colours and languages. This is my city today, full of people from many places and today they seemed to all be happy to be here. Continue reading

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.

Planning permission for solar – Waiting for change

On 26th June 2006 Sam Greenhill reported in the Daily Mail that the Government was thinking of making changes to the planning laws to make sure that there was no need to obtain consent to put up solar panels and wind turbines.

He quoted the Housing Minister Yvette Cooper as saying

 “it is patently absurd that you should be able to a satellite dish on your house but have to wrestle with the planning process for small scale microgeneration (sic), which is no more obtrusive and can have a real impact on tackling climate change.” 

The microgeneration industry has been agitating for this change to the planning laws for several years before 2006. I would have thought that changing planning regulations in such a small and obvious way is a very easy thing for a government to do once the Government Minister in charge of such things recognises that a change is needed to alleviate climate change.

Certainly in the case of solar panels which fit at or very slightly above the roof line, there can be no aesthetic objection. The case for small scale wind turbines has yet to be entirely made; if they are sited so that they do generate useful power then the aesthetics have to come after the carbon savings. In any event climate change alleviation is more important than contemporary taste in urban design.

Changing the planning regulations for solar panels should have been easy for Yvette Cooper. She is a clever person who has had a good education – at Oxford University, Harvard and the London School of Economics. Her job officially requires her to take “lead” responsibility for housing policy and programmes including low and zero carbon housing and eco homes. She also has responsibility for climate change. 

Her quotation that I have set out indicates that the change is so obvious so simple to her that in a matter of months we should all have been living under a planning regime where the rules for installing solar panels would be relaxed and as simple as those that relate to satellite dishes. 

Well, that was in June 2006. It looks like the rules will finally be created in April 2008 – nearly two years later. I cannot think of a simpler thing for such a clever person to do or one that fits more vitally into her responsibilities. There is therefore a real puzzle; why is it taking her so long?

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.

Energy Savings Trust – Trusting to save energy with a green barometer

The Energy Savings Trust is the United Kingdom’s agency for helping individuals (as opposed to businesses) to save energy. It does focus on energy savings, as its title suggests) but has some expertise in renewables. There is no specific government agency that promotes the use of micro generated renewable energy, but you would expect that in a government that straddles responsibility for energy, renewables, and climate change and carbon emissions over many different departments and whose energy minister does not have cabinet rank. Continue reading

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

Parliament makes another statement on Microgeneration!

Parliament sits in the Palace of Westminster, which is a series of neo gothic buildings with courtyards and of course the famous clock known as Big Ben, that is at the top of a clock tower. This group of buildings are also known as the Houses of Parliament and comprises many meeting rooms offices and chambers where the elected 646 members of the House of Commons and unelected 731 members of the House of Lords carry out their work of writing the laws of our democracy.

I have been urging Parliament for years to show some environmental leadership by example, and a good place to start would be with the Palace of Westminster itself. Today a plan has been announced to shrink Parliament’s carbon footprint by using microgeneration at a cost of £20 million, which is only £5 million more than the government allotted for microgeneration for the whole of England and Wales for two years.

The centrepiece of these microgeneration plans is a 35 metre high wind turbine. Politicians like wind turbines because they are obvious; the 1.65mW turbine would be visible on nearby Victoria Gardens sticking out like a sore thumb but it would, we are told,“make a bold statement to the nation on government commitment to renewable energy”. Oh dear, here we go again. We are told that this is a bold statement. The environment of our legislature is full of bold statements; we need some real life measures offering reasonable value for money instead.

This present bold wind turbine statement will be located, if plans go ahead, in a place where wind speeds are usually right at the edge of what makes a turbine work and the turbine will only reduce the electric bill and carbon footprint modestly. I wonder what bold statement will be made when the blades are not turning. I think that the turbine plan will be a foolish waste of money. Let us put the money into a turbine where it will generate more electricity, rather than where it will make another untrue boast for the government.

There are also plans for rainwater harvesting and for boiler upgrades. These are cheap and easy to do, but I guess they don’t make bold statements. There are also plans to sink some underwater turbines alongside parliament to take advantage of a six metre tidal difference. This might work, provided the tides are not too strong; if they are too strong the blades might shear off on the turbines.

This plan for the pseudo greening of Westminster largely ignores heat. Electricity usage has increased by 86% in the last ten years according to Norman Baker MP (and he knows his stuff on this) and I imagine that the authors of the plan thought that there is quite enough hot air produced in the Palace of Westminster already.

A far better use for the £20 million would be to write a new law requiring every new building in the country to have thermal solar panels installed and provide a £20 million fund for house buyers to top up a mortgage (for those who needed it) to pay the additional costs of the solar panels on the new build. These green loans could be interest free and £20 million a year would more than cover what is needed for interest free loans for solar panels on new build. The carbon dioxide savings would be at least 37,500 tonnes a year, which is about 37 times more than the estimated the carbon dioxide savings  for the Palace of Westminster’s grandiose scheme.