Working to cut UK carbon emissions, it’s easy to forget the effect that moves on the continent have on making our homes greener.
We’re ahead of the game in phasing out old, inefficient light bulbs, thanks to a voluntary agreement between UK retailers that they will stop selling standard bulbs in line with an agreed timetable.
But for those lagging behind, the EU has produced a new cartoon extolling the virtues of the latest generation of energy efficient lighting in line with its compulsory phase-out.
While it would be sensible to take the ‘buy bulbs – turn into superhero’ message with a note of caution, it seems an excellent way of eliciting a bit of parental pester power from energy-aware children. After all, modern energy saving light bulbs last up to 10 times longer than ordinary bulbs, and using one can save you around £45 over the lifetime of the bulb.
Perhaps inspired by the 9,000-plus people who’ve signed up to generate their own energy under the Feed-in Tariff scheme, now even Barack Obama’s installing microgeneration at home. Though it’s up for debate whether it counts as ‘micro’ when your home is the White House.
A quarter of a century after Jimmy Carter’s solar panels were removed by Ronald Reagan, Solar PV and thermal panels will be installed on the White House roof in spring 2011. That’s serious south-facing roof space.
The nature of the technology being installed is still to be confirmed, but it could be assumed that, if an incentive like the UK’s Feed-in Tariffs came into force in the States, the Obamas would be reaping rich rewards.
But while he’s boiling the kettle for his morning solar-fuelled coffee, the President may well be deep in thought about the challenges he’s facing in trying to push through legislation on sustainability. A climate bill to cap emissions was dropped earlier this year, but efforts are ongoing to push through a renewable energy standard that would require utilities to source three per cent of their energy from green sources such as wind and solar power by 2012.
With this in mind, alternative energy advocate and writer Bill McKibben was cautiously pleased: ‘It's great news…he listened to the American people, who clearly want far more progress on energy than a paralysed congress has provided. We'd rather have a climate bill, but under the circumstances it's a great win.’
It’s unknown whether further presidential inspiration came from Prince Charles, who recently set about installing a 4000kWh a year solar panel system on Clarence House. Our data team have calculated that Charles would receive up to £1,900 a year from the Feed-in Tariff and from the money saved off his electricity bill – while also reducing his CO2 emission by 2.2 tonnes.
Scotland's world-leading carbon-emission-reduction target (no less than 42 per cent by 2020) just got a bit more achievable: on Wednesday the first national target on energy efficiency was set, as part of the first Scottish Energy Efficiency Action Plan.
Existing commitments by the Scottish Government already include an ambitious aim to generate, within the next decade, 80 per cent of Scottish electricity from renewable energy. The new plan aims to reduce total energy consumption by 12 per cent in that time, which will mean less energy to generate.
Mike Thornton, Director of the Energy Saving Trust in Scotland, commented:
"Setting a target for maximum energy consumption is encouragingly ambitious and we also welcome the Scottish Government's commitment to energy efficiency as a cost-effective contribution to meeting climate change targets. We will continue to help Scottish consumers stop wasting energy and save money on fuel bills by providing free and impartial advice through the network of Energy Saving Scotland Advice Centres which we manage on behalf of the Scottish Government.
“This network already reaches more than 250,000 households each year and we look forward to it making a significant contribution to achieving Scotland's new energy efficiency targets."
First Minister Alex Salmond said:
"Today’s Action Plan reaffirms our ambitious energy efficiency and microgeneration agenda for Scotland. It will play a key part in meeting our world-leading climate change targets and in so doing create employment, promote new technologies, reduce costs for consumers and secure wider economic benefits from the transition to a low carbon economy."
Along with the launch of the plan, the Scottish Government also announced its new Universal Home Insulation Scheme, a £10 million programme to support new area-based, free-to-all energy efficiency schemes, delivered by local authorities. Around 100,000 homes across Scotland will be contacted with advice on energy efficiency measures and offered the opportunity to participate. This is in addition to last month's announcement of £15 million for the Home Insulation Scheme – delivered by the Energy Saving Trust – which offers householders a mix of free and discounted energy-saving measures, according to income.
42 per cent carbon-emission reductions by 2020? 80 per cent renewable energy by 2020? 12 per cent less energy consumed by 2020? It's a 'triple 20' that could save an estimated £2 billion by 2020, through smaller energy bills – and investment in energy efficiency over that period could directly support around 10,000 jobs.
That can only be good news.
Picture: Christian Gidlöf, Wikimedia Commons
Of course, those with knowledge of the finer things in life may be raising eyebrows at the thought of the 17th-century monk making a 21st-century appearance in the name of grooming. But the shave in this case is happening to the glass bottles that bear his name.
The legendary cellar master at the Benedictine Abbey in Hautvillers thickened the champagne bottle over 300 years ago (along with other innovations) to quell the rash of explosions that gave bubbly the unfortunate nickname, ‘the devil’s wine’.
Now, in the name of reducing the champagne industry’s carbon footprint, technological developments are enabling the trade to safely slim back. The move comes in response to a study of champagne’s carbon footprint in 2003, and will cut the company’s carbon dioxide output by 8,000 metric tons a year – equivalent to taking 4,000 small cars off the road.
The industry aims to cut 25 percent of its CO2 emissions by 2020 and 75 percent by 2050, and 65 grams – just over seven percent – will be shaved off this ‘green bottle’. Big names including Veuve Cliquot, and Dom Pérignon’s parent company Moët & Chandon, have already switched to the new bottles, although they are currently still under fermentation; other brands are still deliberating.
Of course, there are even lighter alternatives; many wine producers are using plastic bottles and box containers to reduce their carbon footprint. Could it be argued that, if Dom Pérignon truly wanted to reduce its carbon impact, they should stop using energy-intensive glass altogether? Would the innovating monk approve? Or is the tradition of the iconic bottle too valuable to lose?
With the brands beloved of society high-flyers and rap stars the world over taking a serious look at their carbon emissions, one might say this is the ultimate in eco-bling.
Jay-Z and Usher: Green pioneers?
Feed-In Tariffs are here now, but are they just another way in which the middle classes can use their houses to generate cash? Not necessarily: we’re involved in a project that shows the real social potential of Feed-in Tariffs.
We recently received funding from the Technology Strategy Board to trial a system that will enable people who are in fuel poverty – that is, who spend 10 per cent or more of their disposable income on fuel – to get involved with Feed-in Tariffs.
The project – SHIMMER – will provide low-income, fuel-poor households with solar photovoltaic panels, and pay for the kit with the revenue generated by Feed-in Tariffs.
The solar panels are likely to generate more electricity than is needed by the household, so those taking part will be able to make a bit of money if they are careful with their energy use. Any energy left over after repayments on the solar panels will be sold to the national grid, and under the Feed-In Tariffs the money will be paid into a PayPal account, for them to spend on other things.
To help people with this, we – along with partners London Rebuilding Society and Easy Town – are giving participants smart energy management tools so they can monitor the energy they use in their homes on their phone or computer.
So: free fuel (reducing their fuel poverty), detailed control of their energy use, greater disposable income and a stake in the low-carbon economy.
Now, that IS gold!
Our first households will be getting their kit installed soon. Stay tuned to see how they get on.
It's been a week of good broadcast coverage for our expert spokespeople. You can hear Harry Mayers from Energy Saving Trust Scotland giving energy tips in the home on BBC Radio Scotland show MacAuley and Co here
Keep your eyes peeled for Sarah Compo from our London office talking solar panels on The One Show in the next couple of weeks...
The UK’s first solar farm has been granted planning permission, and it is hoped that it will produce £462,000 a year from the Feed-in Tariff incentive.
35 Degrees, a Slough-based company, is planning to build the 1.5-megawatt peak capacity farm at the former Wheal Jane tin mine, near Truro in Cornwall. The plan is ambitious: there are plans for some 5,760 panels, standing in frames two metres above the ground, at a cost of £4 million.
Even though this is the first largest-scale solar farm to be built, planning permission was granted a mere 13 weeks after the application was made – fast by any standards. This nicely highlights the importance of local authorities in smoothing the path of a renewable future.
It’s not all sunshine though; there are potential problems that could result from light reflection, and numerous reports will have to be submitted to show how these problems will be mitigated.
There could be another issue: how will people take to solar panels on the landscape? Some people view wind turbines as being not aesthetically pleasing, and indeed the world’s largest windfarm has just been sited offshore. Will solar panels en masse prove any more acceptable to the public?
There is one school of thought that views solar panels and other renewables as things of beauty – even as art – so perhaps these solar farms might even become desirable landmarks in the unused ‘back yards’ of the UK.
This question could also just be one of familiarity. Some argue that electricity power lines are ugly, but that because we are used to them we rarely complain. Indeed, in the children’s book The Iron Man, by the poet Ted Hughes, an electricity pylon becomes a magical live being for a little boy; the animated film The Iron Giant, based on it, was very popular and sparked no protests against pylons.
One thing is for sure, one way or the other: this solar farm in Cornwall is just the start. With a target of producing 15% of our energy through renewables by 2020, we are going to have plenty of chance to get used to renewable energy on our doorstep.
Anyone with at least a passing interest in energy efficiency who read Thursday’s Guardian may have had their interest piqued perhaps more than usual by the supplement slipped between the paper’s sections.
The Energy Saving Trust was high profile in Energy Solutions, which took a broad look at various elements of sustainable homes and products – our Chief Executive Philip Sellwood even providing the introduction.
“Energy prices are rising, so we have to become more self-sufficient; not only through simply using less energy in the first place, but also by selecting the most efficient appliances and products, and even becoming energy generators in our own homes through cash incentive schemes like feed-in tariffs,” said Philip.
The supplement also featured our very own Peter Bromage giving insight into the workings of the Energy Saving Trust Recommended (ESTR) scheme: “because of improving technologies, a product that is ESTR today may not pass muster in two years’ time. But that’s a healthy progression. It means we’re constantly reviewing our standards to ensure the consumer is getting the best value for money.”Remaining on the money theme, Philip discussed the potential economic advantages of a shift to a more energy-savvy economy. While he stated that “a little investment now can make a big difference in the future,” he added that steps must clearly be in place make sure barriers to people joining the ‘green economy’ are tackled.