What is AeroBarrier and how can it help your home?
June 16, 2023
AeroBarrier is an innovative technology designed to enhance airtightness. It has been successfully implemented in the USA, Canada, and the UAE, and has now been introduced in the UK.
AeroBarrier functions by sealing air leaks in buildings with a specific mist that consists of tiny particles that form an airtight barrier. This mist is spread inside the building, and as it moves, it detects and seals any openings or leaks in the building’s structure. The mist particles are driven by air pressure and accumulate to form a continuous seal, effectively blocking unwanted airflow.
AeroBarrier guarantees its efficacy up to a certain level of airtightness, either aligning with the UK building standard of 8 m3/hr.m2 or the Passivhaus standards of 0.6 m3/hm3.
Why is controlling airflow in a home important?
Airflow is essential in maintaining a healthy and energy-efficient home. It can be divided into two categories: intentional and unintentional airflow.
Intentional airflow is designed to provide ventilation to the interior of a home. This is a critical aspect of maintaining indoor air quality. Ventilation helps to:
Bring in fresh air: Homes need a constant supply of fresh air for the occupants to breathe. This fresh air replaces indoor air that has been depleted of oxygen and accumulated pollutants, odours, and moisture.
Remove pollutants: Everyday activities like cooking, cleaning, and even breathing release pollutants into the indoor air. Intentional airflow through ventilation systems helps remove these pollutants, preventing them from reaching harmful concentrations.
Control humidity: Moisture is continuously produced inside a home through activities like cooking, bathing, and breathing. Too much humidity can lead to condensation and mould growth, while too little can cause discomfort and health issues. A proper ventilation system balances humidity levels by expelling moist indoor air and bringing in drier outdoor air.
Unintentional airflow, or air leakage, happens when outside air enters and conditioned air leaves your house uncontrollably through cracks and openings. These can occur around windows, doors, electrical outlets, plumbing points, and where the structure is not entirely airtight. Unintentional airflow can lead to several issues:
Energy loss: When heated or cooled air escapes the home, or when outside air infiltrates, the HVAC system has to work harder to maintain the desired indoor temperature. This increased workload leads to higher energy consumption and utility bills.
Decreased indoor air quality: Air leaks can allow outdoor pollutants like dust, pollen, and car exhaust to enter the home. They can also create pressure imbalances that draw pollutants from the attic, basement, or crawl spaces into the living areas.
Compromised thermal comfort: Air leaks can cause drafts and uneven temperatures, leading to discomfort despite your HVAC system’s best efforts.
Airflow Management in Homes:
There are several strategies homeowners can use to manage airflow effectively:
Air sealing: This involves identifying and sealing the places where air leaks are likely to occur, using caulk, spray foam, weatherstripping, or other suitable materials.
Insulation: Insulation not only prevents heat transfer through the building envelope but can also help control air movement, especially when it’s installed in conjunction with an air barrier.
Mechanical ventilation: While air sealing and insulation can reduce air leaks, they also reduce the home’s natural ventilation. Thus, most energy-efficient homes require a mechanical ventilation system to provide controlled ventilation without energy loss.
Air filters: Good quality air filters in your HVAC system can help remove airborne pollutants and improve your home’s indoor air quality.
Regular maintenance: Regular checks and necessary repairs of all elements contributing to the airflow in the house are key to ensuring optimal performance.
By combining these strategies, homeowners can control airflow in their homes, improving comfort, indoor air quality, and energy efficiency.
What are the building airtightness regulations?
In the last year, new building regulations have been put in place in England and Wales to enhance the requirements for airtightness in new constructions.
These regulations have reduced the air permeability limit in new buildings from 10 m3/hr.m2 to 8 m3/hr.m2. Other significant updates have been made to airtightness regulation as well.
While these changes are not overly strict, they signify the start of a process predicted to lead to even stricter standards in the future, as the UK aims to lower carbon emissions and increase energy efficiency in homes.
By enhancing airtightness, the regulations aim to reduce heat loss and improve the overall energy performance of new and existing buildings, a goal shared by AeroBarrier. Tim Crump, the founder of Oakwrights, the company that introduced AeroBarrier to the UK, claimed, “Britain has some of the least efficient and oldest housing stock in Europe, and there is a real and growing interest in improving energy efficiency and reducing environmental impact.”
Is AeroBarrier suitable for your project?
AeroBarrier is incredibly versatile and can be used on various types and sizes of buildings, making it suitable for both new constructions and renovations of existing structures. It has been widely used across the United States by architects, builders, and homeowners.
While AeroBarrier is highly effective at sealing air leaks, it is important to protect surfaces during its application. The sealant may not stick easily to vertical surfaces but settles well on horizontal surfaces.
As a safety measure, windowsills and finished floors should be protected during application to avoid any undesirable contact with the sealant.
How much does AeroBarrier cost?
The cost of AeroBarrier can vary widely depending on a variety of factors. These include the size and complexity of the building, the level of airtightness required, the current state of the building, and the location of the project. A typical residential application in the U.S. could range from a few thousand dollars to over $5,000.
However, prices might have changed since then and may be different in the UK, so it’s advisable to get in touch with a local AeroBarrier installer or Oakwrights for the most accurate quote for your specific project.
It’s also worth noting that while the upfront cost may seem high, improving a building’s airtightness can result in substantial savings on energy bills in the long run. The energy saved by reduced heating and cooling requirements can offset the initial investment over time. Moreover, enhanced indoor air quality and comfort are also significant benefits of airtight buildings, which are not directly quantifiable in monetary terms but contribute to overall well-being.
Fuel Poverty in the UK
May 19, 2023
Fuel poverty is a critical issue because it has direct implications for people’s quality of life. Not being able to afford to heat your home adequately can have serious health implications, particularly for vulnerable groups such as the elderly, children, and those with pre-existing health conditions. Cold and damp homes can increase the risk of respiratory problems, exacerbate existing health conditions, and increase stress and anxiety levels.
What is fuel poverty?
Fuel poverty is a term used to describe the situation where a household is unable to afford to keep its home adequately heated. The term originated in the UK in the 1970s during a time of rapidly increasing energy prices. It was first used in the academic context by Brenda Boardman in her 1991 book “Fuel Poverty: From Cold Homes to Affordable Warmth”.
Since then, fuel poverty has become a recognized and defined term in social policy, particularly in the UK and Europe. The term is not as widely used or recognized in some other countries, such as the United States, where similar issues might be discussed in terms of energy insecurity or energy burden.
In the UK, a more precise definition has been used. A household is considered to be in fuel poverty if they have required fuel costs that are above the national median level and, were they to spend that amount, they would be left with a residual income below the official poverty line.
The concept of fuel poverty highlights the intersection of several important social issues, including income inequality, housing, and energy policy. It is a reminder that while energy prices and energy use have important environmental implications, they also have direct and significant impacts on people’s quality of life. The ability to heat one’s home adequately is a basic necessity, and when people are unable to afford this, it can lead to significant hardship and health problems.
Causes of fuel poverty
Fuel poverty is a multifaceted problem that can be influenced by a variety of factors. Here’s a more detailed look at the main causes:
High Energy Costs: The price of energy is a critical factor. If energy prices increase significantly, it can push more households into fuel poverty. Factors influencing energy costs can include global oil and gas prices, renewable energy subsidies, and the operating costs of energy companies. Additionally, those on prepayment meters, often the most financially vulnerable, usually face higher tariffs.
Low Income: If a household has a low income, it can struggle to afford the energy it needs to heat its home adequately. Income might be low for many reasons – the household members might be unemployed, underemployed, or working in low-paid jobs, or they might be reliant on social security payments. Economic factors like inflation, wage stagnation, and high living costs can also contribute to low disposable income.
Energy Inefficiency of Homes: The energy efficiency of a home can have a significant impact on the cost of heating it. Older homes, in particular, can often be poorly insulated or have outdated, inefficient heating systems, leading to high energy costs. The cost of improvements can be prohibitive for low-income households, creating a vicious cycle where they cannot afford the upfront investment needed to reduce their ongoing energy costs. Inefficient homes are not only a problem for those living in them but also contribute to higher carbon emissions.
Lack of Affordable Housing: The lack of affordable, energy-efficient housing can contribute to fuel poverty. If people can’t afford to live in homes that are well-insulated and have efficient heating systems, they will end up spending a higher proportion of their income on energy.
Lack of Consumer Awareness or Engagement: Sometimes, households may be on a more expensive energy tariff than they need to be, either because they are not aware of the cheaper options available or because they find the process of switching suppliers too complex or daunting.
Social Factors: Certain groups may be more vulnerable to fuel poverty, including the elderly, those with disabilities, single-parent families, and people living in rural areas where homes may be off the gas grid and thus reliant on more expensive forms of heating.
Policy Factors: Government policies can influence fuel poverty levels, either positively or negatively. For example, social security policies can affect people’s incomes, while energy and housing policies can affect the cost of energy and the energy efficiency of homes.
Addressing fuel poverty requires tackling these issues in a holistic way, as they are often interconnected. For example, improving the energy efficiency of homes can reduce energy costs, but this might require government support or incentives, particularly for low-income households who cannot afford the upfront costs. Similarly, policies to increase incomes, whether through higher wages or more generous social security payments, can also play a role in reducing fuel poverty.
How can we address it?
Addressing fuel poverty is a complex challenge that requires a mix of interventions. These might include:
Energy efficiency measures: Improving the energy efficiency of a home can significantly reduce the cost of heating it. This might involve installing better insulation, upgrading to a more efficient heating system, or even smaller measures like draught-proofing.
Financial support: This could involve direct financial support to help with energy bills or broader measures to increase household income, such as increasing social security benefits or wages.
Fairer energy pricing: Interventions in the energy market could also help to reduce the cost of energy for those in fuel poverty.
Education and advice: Providing advice on how to reduce energy consumption and switch to cheaper tariffs can also help.
Each of these interventions can play a role in reducing fuel poverty, but it’s likely that a combination of measures will be needed to address the problem fully.
Fuel poverty is a significant issue, not just in the UK but in many other countries too. It’s closely linked to wider issues such as income inequality, social justice, and climate change. Addressing it is therefore a key part of creating a fairer and more sustainable society.
How Is The UK Getting To Net Zero By 2050?
February 24, 2023
The UK government has set a target to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, which means that the country will emit no more carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases than it removes from the atmosphere. Achieving this ambitious target requires a wide range of measures across all sectors of the economy, including energy, transport, industry, agriculture, and buildings.
What is Net Zero in global terms?
Net zero refers to achieving a balance between the amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced and the amount removed from the atmosphere. The goal of net zero is to reduce the overall level of greenhouse gas emissions to limit the increase in global temperatures and mitigate the impacts of climate change.
Achieving net zero involves reducing greenhouse gas emissions through various measures, such as transitioning to renewable energy sources, improving energy efficiency, and implementing carbon capture and storage technologies. Any remaining emissions that cannot be reduced must be offset by removing an equivalent amount of emissions from the atmosphere, such as through reforestation or other forms of carbon sequestration.
The concept of net zero is increasingly being adopted by countries, cities, and businesses as a way to address the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change. Many countries have set targets to achieve net zero emissions by mid-century or earlier, and there is growing momentum for a global transition to a net-zero economy.
Strategies for getting to Net Zero by 2050
Some of the key strategies that the UK is adopting to reach net zero by 2050 include:
Investing in renewable energy sources: The UK government has pledged to increase the proportion of electricity generated from renewable sources to 50% by 2030 and is investing in offshore wind, solar power, and other clean energy technologies. As a result of the war in Ukraine, this push for renewable sources has grown, as the supply of fossil fuels has been cut.
Phasing out fossil fuels: The UK is gradually phasing out the use of fossil fuels in power generation, transport, and industry. The government has announced plans to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans from 2030 and is investing in public transport infrastructure, cycling, and walking. The UK’s fossil fuel dependency is gradually dropping, however, the dependency was still at 78.3% in 2021, as per Statista. The drop is significant compared to the 96.5% in 1970 but needs to accelerate significantly to achieve the net zero target by 2050.
Improving energy efficiency: The UK is taking steps to improve the energy efficiency of buildings, appliances, and industrial processes. The government has introduced regulations requiring all new homes to be built to a high energy efficiency standard and is offering financial incentives to homeowners and businesses to upgrade their properties. Previously, the Green Homes Grant was available to homeowners, however, it was vastly unpopular and ineffective. Much of the funds were redistributed at the end of the scheme, and it was replaced by the ECO4 scheme, which is due to be supported by the ECO Plus scheme.
Carbon capture and storage: The UK is investing in carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, which captures carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and other industrial processes and stores them underground.
Tree planting and land use: The UK is increasing tree planting and other land-use measures to absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide. The government has targeted increasing tree planting to 30,000 hectares per year by 2025.
The seminal resource for the current state of the Net Zero objective is ‘MISSION ZERO, Independent Review of Net Zero’, conducted by Rt Hon Chris Skidmore MP. He makes several conclusions that indicate what has been achieved and where more significant action is required:
‘However, the need for further action is clear. For all the UK’s successes and clear ambition shown by government, it is not on track to deliver on all of its commitments according to the latest progress report by the CCC, which shows risks across most sectors – but particularly agriculture, aviation, waste, and buildings decarbonisation.’ MISSION ZERO
‘Similarly, we must invest in nature restoration and protection as part of our plans for climate recovery and economic growth. Our economies are embedded within nature,90 and sustained economic growth requires the recovery of nature. A report by the World Economic Forum and PwC found that “$44 trillion of economic value generation – over half the world’s 33 total GDP – is moderately or highly dependent on nature.”91 In particular, the Review sets out a clear call to action to drive progress on nature restoration and nature-based solutions to deliver net zero. When well-implemented in the right places, investment in nature can help us mitigate and adapt to climate change, support the recovery of the natural environment, and provide multiple other benefits to people.’ MISSION ZERO
So what are the benefits for the public?
The drive toward Net Zero is a goal that requires total participation amongst the public. Encouragingly, around 50-60% of the UK is already taking steps to reduce its carbon emissions in some way. If that figure continues to grow in line with increased efforts by the Government, the goal is achievable. As a result, the public can reap significant benefits, including the following:
Cheaper bills and warmer homes as a result of more use of renewable energy and better-insulated homes. British homes are the least well-insulated homes in Europe, so the focus on insulation, especially external wall insulation is crucial. Up to 35% of heat is lost through walls, therefore insulating external walls is the best policy.
Jobs will inevitably follow in the form of long-term employment in the industries supporting energy efficiency.
Access to nature will increase by planting trees and the creating larger green areas. Nature brings benefits to people’s health, especially about lower pollution levels.
Cleaner air is a direct result of moving away from fossil fuel use and internal combustion engines. Electric vehicles provide a cleaner form of transport, making a material difference in long term health.
Sustainable travel can also reduce congestion and noise pollution. Electric vehicles, public transport, and cycling can all lead to a healthier, quieter environment.
What if we don’t reach Net Zero?
The major risk of failing to reach Net Zero is the increased impact of climate change. We are increasingly likely to see changes in temperature, rainfall, and sea-level rise.
Temperature – Increased chance of summers like 2018, wherein extra energy is required to power fans and refrigeration.
Rainfall – More rain in the winter and less rain in the summer, resulting in different water management, and potential droughts.
Sea-level rise – Continue to rise under all emission pathways.
Our partners at EWI Store post new technical, practical, and theoretical blogs about external wall insulation every Tuesday! Link below.
Could Negawatts revolutionise the Energy Industry?
September 9, 2013
What exactly is a Negawatt?
Coined by famous economist Amory Lovins, the term simply refers to avoided energy use, or saved energy.
The simplest way of illustrating this is to imagine a 60-watt incandescent bulb producing light. If you replaced this with an 8-watt LED bulb you have saved 52 watts that can be used elsewhere. With your energy efficient bulb you are producing the same amount of light, but using less energy to do it. The 52 watts you are freeing up are referred to as negawatts.
The great thing about this is that every time we produce a negawatt, the amount of capacity in the grid can in theory decrease. But the idea is that we are not forcing people to cut their energy usage per say, but instead improving the energy efficiency of the appliances they use, which frees up the energy anyway.
For example a new energy efficient appliance should do exactly the same job as its older less efficient predecessor, but it should do it using less energy and hopefully to a better standard providing a better experience / greater comfort etc.
As we have seen in the UK with the proposed new Hinkley nuclear power plant, building new power stations from scratch is incredibly expensive. Producing negawatts is a much cheaper way to go. In fact, they have determined in the US that energy saving programmes have proved to be three times cheaper to implement than installing new capacity.
The importance of Negawatts to the Energy Companies
Historically energy companies have aimed to maximise their profits by producing electricity from the cheapest source available and then selling this at the highest price they can without dampening demand from consumers. Unfortunately the cheapest electricity comes from coal and gas.
This is a problem since the Government are now under a legal obligation to decarbonise our economy as a result of the Kyoto Protocol, therefore they need to exert regulatory pressure or provide an incentive to the energy companies to help achieve this.
Imagine then if negawatts were given a monetary value?
If this were the case, then capacity in the grid would not need to increase despite our energy demand continuing to rise. The theory goes that if one customer uses less energy, then the energy company can use this ‘saved energy’ to service more customers, and they would also still be financially rewarded as a result of producing the ‘negawatt’ for that individual.
In addition, giving negawatts a monetary value would be a far quicker way to resolve the diminishing headroom in our energy producing capacity, as well as being far cheaper than installing new capacity.
The ability to reduce peak demand means less reliance on importing costly electricity from our European neighbours. If you can forego producing a unit of electricity during peak times, and produce it another time, or not at all, you are being far more effective than simply saving energy generally over the course of a day. This is due to the peak load effect – 10% of the grid energy is used providing for the last 1% of demand, and by cutting that peak 1%, we are saving much more nationally than turning our lights off at night, even though as an individual you may save the same amount of money.
Encouraging Consumers to produce Negawatts
For a consumer though, they need an incentive too – this could be via an electricity efficiency Feed-in Tariff. So, similar to the feed-in tariffs paid to households who have installed solar PV, a payment would be made for every unit of electricity they saved. This should encourage unilateral take up of energy efficiency measures and things like the Green Deal would suddenly take off like a run away train. However this obviously kicks up the question of how we measure the amount of electricity saved. It appears we are putting an awful lot of faith into the smart grid! This is simply another requirement of the technology before it gets rolled out across the country.
So to summarise, in March 2013 when Greg Barker announced that ‘The era of the Negawatt has now arrived’ it was welcome news indeed – the only issue is how on earth we go about implementing it!
James and Nick discuss the potential impending energy crisis!
August 13, 2013
So last week, Nick and I sat down and he asked me my thoughts on this much discussed impending energy crisis. If you can’t stand to watch us on video (can’t blame you!) then read the two of these blogs below – they should give you a flavour of what we discussed.
We would love to get your thoughts – so please comment below or share this video.
The Digest of UK Energy Statistics 2013 – my thoughts!
July 25, 2013
The Digest of UK Energy Statistics was today released by DECC and in the following blog I am just going to briefly detail the three take home messages and my personal take on them.
Energy production is down, but demand is increasing
Firstly energy production fell by 10.7% on the previous year as a result of declining oil and gas production. Final energy consumption however rose by 1.7%, further denting our energy ‘headroom’. This has been the 14th consecutive year of falling energy production – scary stuff indeed!
Just to put this in perspective, if peak energy demand is higher than peak supply then people have to go without electricity. The way to counter this by the energy firms is to charge more for electricity to force people to use less, therefore those who can afford it get it, and those who can’t go without.
This production drop is already happening, so if you factor in the closure of the coal power plants in 2015 and the nuclear plants at the end of the decade we could be in serious serious trouble.
Electricity Generated from Renewables is up 19% on the previous year
This is great as a standout headline, so I shan’t expand on this further!
In addition, renewables accounted for over 11.3% of our total electricity generation during the year (up from 9.4% a year earlier) – also great to hear!
The issue is capacity is not being installed fast enough, so the Government need to act now, pushing forward with a mixture of new nuclear plants, CCS coupled gas plants and renewables. The issue is that nuclear will take 10-15 years to come online and gas 3-4 years so are only viable option is really to push renewables that can be rolled out in a matter of months.
I personally think that a Severn tidal barrage is a cracking solution but I have been attacked for suggesting that previously, although it would deliver 5% of our energy needs and is so predictable it could be used to support our base load.
High Gas Prices pushing the UK back onto Coal
No shit Sherlock! I pay my gas bills and can see they are skyrocketing! But the reason for the move back to coal is mainly because the US now has so much shale gas it has a surplus of coal (which makes it cheap for us to buy). In addition we don’t have North sea gas anymore so any gas we use tends to be imported. The main issue with moving back to coal is that burning it is as dirty as hell.
What makes the issue worse for you and me is that we used to have vast North Sea gas reserves, so everyone was encouraged to install gas central heating systems. Now we don’t have any left (and don’t get too excited shale is going to solve all the problems – it worked in America, but it is unlikely to work so well here due to the size of the country and how we as a population are spread out).
Unfortunately trying to put a block of cheap coal in your boiler is going to do nothing, so we are going to have to suck up the extra costs of gas through our gas bills!
So there you have it! Let me know if you agree with anything I have written in the comments below!
Who turned all the lights off?
November 21, 2012
Our Current Energy Picture
In September 2012, the UK Energy regulatory body, OFGEM, speculated that the UK might suffer from blackouts as soon as 2015 – but why?
The UK recently signed up to the Large Combustion Plant Directive (LCPD), which is an EU directive introduced to cut the amount of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide entering the atmosphere. All combustion plants built after 1987 must comply with the emission limits set out in the LCPD. They can do this by installing solutions to reduce the emissions, or they can opt out of the directive. If they chose to opt out of the LCPD, then since 2007 they would have been operating under restricted conditions and by 2015 they will be required to close altogether (either that or be restricted to a lifespan of 20,000 hours in operation – whichever comes first).
Seven power plants have chosen to opt out of the LCPD, so will need to close in the near future. These seven are: Didcot, Fawley, Littlebrook, Tilbury, Grain, Kingsnorth and Ironbridge. As a result OFGEM has forecast that the reserve margin (the difference between supply and demand) will therefore be between 0 and 9% in winter 2015.
0% is not good news! That means that within three years there might not be electricity available for you to watch the Queen’s speech on Christmas Day (maybe not such a bad thing). To bring this even closer to ‘home’, this is not some doomsayer predicting this event from occurring, but actually it is coming from our national energy watchdog!.
Furthermore, if we take into account the number of nuclear power plants in the UK that are due to be decommissioned by the end of the decade, then it all paints a very bleak energy picture in terms of electricity supply being able to meet energy demand.
How Can we Keep the Lights on?
So there are four options that we may be able to take to prevent this situation from occurring:
Fight this EU ruling.
Increase new capacity (build more power stations).
Decrease national demand.
Better manage the current supply and demand.
Option 1 – Overturn the EU ruling
Fighting the EU ruling might be the short-term answer, but what if doesn’t work? The UK will be forced to pay out further money in fines that it can ill-afford and we are already resigned to handing over an increased contribution to the EU budget (despite austerity measures being in full swing in the UK). Our Prime Minister clearly doesn’t want to rock the boat in terms of our relationship with the EU.
If we were to overturn it, it would be a short-term fix and would also come at the expense of the environment. The plants that are due to be closed are being closed because of the amount of pollution they create, so allowing them to stay open will be detrimental to the UK reaching the ambitious emission reduction targets agreed to under the Kyoto Protocol.
Option 2 – Introduce new capacity
Perhaps the most obvious long-term solution would be to increase capacity in the grid. How do you meet increased demand? Well you can simply build more power stations. This seemed to be the thinking behind the 2012 budget, when the UK Government turned its back on its election slogan of being ‘the greenest ever’ and proposing that we install a new generation of gas power plants.
Although combusting gas is slightly cleaner than burning coal and oil, we should really hold onto more of these natural resources as they are vital to produce goods like plastics, which we are so reliant on in the 21st Century.
New nuclear plants are also being planned – with Hitachi taking over the Horizon nuclear power contract (which is also bringing in UK companies such as Rolls-Royce as part of the deal). I believe that nuclear power is an important element of our energy mix, but there are two issues. Firstly, it needs to be economic and decommissioning costs need to be factored in prior to any contracts being signed off. Secondly, installing a nuclear power plant takes time – it may be as much as twelve years before we see any power being produced from the proposed Wylfa plant on Anglesey, North Wales, and the Oldbury plant in Gloucestershire.
Renewables are obviously not universally popular (just see the Telegraph comments section!), but they are a becoming a proven viable solution and producing just over 10% of the UK’s energy in 2011.
What’s more, many renewable sources can be installed rather quickly. For instance, a wind turbine can be installed in a matter of months. Homeowners can install a solar PV installation on their roof very easily, which will cover the vast majority of their electricity requirements. Installing solar PV can be seen either as increased capacity for the grid (since you can sell it back) – or a reduction in demand, since the homeowner requires less energy. However, producing energy from renewable sources works, and renewable energy is here to stay.
Option 3 – Better manage demand
The best short-term solution in my view is to reduce demand, since many of the solutions can be installed very quickly and simply. There is also funding available for installing these measures, with initiatives such as the Green Deal that is set to launch at the end of January 2013. But even if you don’t get funding, walking to your local DIY store and picking up a couple of rolls of loft insulation for a few pounds should see you save that money by reducing some of your heating bills in the first year. If all homes and businesses were to increase their energy efficiency by installing things like energy-saving light bulbs, energy-efficient boilers and insulation, then the issues of decreased supply in the grid would become irrelevant.
If we reduced the overall UK energy consumption by 20% through installing energy efficiency measures, then the Government wouldn’t need to react with extreme measures such as suggesting using gas to meet our energy shortfall. It would also give us more time to make slightly more educated decisions. The technology involved with things like solar panels is improving rapidly, so with this extra time, the logical economic choice could become more obvious in the next five years.
Option 4 – Utilising the existing grid
The final way to reduce the chances of these outages is to move from a centralised grid (such as the one we have now), to a more decentralised smart grid, where we better manage the supply and demand that we currently experience.
Energy is produced in the middle of the night at the moment, simply because we can’t turn off power stations very easily (nuclear mainly). At these times demand is incredibly low, because the vast majority of us are tucked up in bed, and we have all this energy produced, but we can’t store this power in an efficient way.
We already have things that take advantage of this ‘spare capacity’ such as pumped storage, where the electricity is used to pump water back to a top reservoir (see the Dinorwig case study), where spare electricity is cheap. Also in the home, there are things like night storage heaters, where electricity is used at night (since demand is low and cheap) to heat clay bricks that then release the heat energy during the day.
But what if things were taken to the next level, by using new technologies in appliances and altering some of our day-to-day behaviours.
For example, by doing things like turning your fridge off for three hours at peak electricity demand times. The fridge is well insulated and it wouldn’t warm up much internally, your food wouldn’t be spoiled, and if you opened the door it would have an override function that would switch it on and cool it down.
Imagine you drive an electric car that takes six hours to charge. At 6pm you arrive home and plug it in, but you don’t decide at what point it is charged over night. You simply set the fact the function, that is needs to be fully charged by 7am the next day. Through smart meter technology you could then use your energy operator to send instructions and decide when best to charge you car. This would all be affected by existing demand load on the grid.
Or what if your house ‘learned’ your energy usage patterns? For example, it knows when you are there (from sensors in the house), it knows when you normally take showers – so it can ensure there is only hot water as and when you need it, or it turns off your heating when you open a window to conserve energy.
These are just a few examples of where, with technology and better data about supply and demand, we could better utilise the electricity in the grid.
The problem is – as we saw when we went to EcoIsland a few weeks ago – this technology is still a long way off. We know how we want it to work, but the technologies that will enable it need to be agreed across the industry (does anyone remember Blu-Ray versus HD-DVD?). Despite the Government’s intention of installing smart energy meters across the country by 2019, it still seems a long way off.
Without wanting to sound too negative, I think it is fair to say that the UK is due to head into energy difficulties in the near future. Therefore in the short term we need to go about decreasing energy demand through efficiency and simple education (turn lights off when you leave a room). In an effort to decarbonise our economy and the country as a whole, I think we should look to install cleaner, renewable electricity generation solutions. These will not only provide a boost for the Green economy (which is one of the major growth areas in the UK), but it could help us become world leaders in the industry and allow us to export our expertise.
It will take time for the smart grid to become established, but it will come and will certainly make a big difference. But what’s evident, by some of the negative press in the USA, is that it needs to be done carefully and the Government need to make it clear what they are going to be doing with it. For example, it cannot be seen as a way of energy companies and the government invading people’s lives by exploiting their personal data.
It’s quite evident that the Government can’t simply just do one of these things – it needs back a sensible blend of all of them (except maybe fighting the EU ruling), but they need to quickly establish a plan of action and stick to it to avoid the power shortages. The reasoning? Well I, for one, am looking forward to my 2015 Christmas movie (provided the BBC hasn’t completely disintegrated by then).
Author: James Alcock
Forget about a third runway at Heathrow – let’s improve our railways!
September 27, 2012
Why might we need to build a third runway at Heathrow?
The first public railways opened in the UK during the early 19th century, and ever since, they’ve been a key part of our transport infrastructure, allowing us to ferry people and freight all around the country. In the early 20th century, when the railways became electric, trains also became a more environmentally-friendly mode of transport.
Shortly afterwards, KLM and Qantas launched the world’s first commercial airlines, making travel quicker and cheaper, and expanding globalised trade. The subsequent growth of the industry changed the lives of ordinary people, allowing them to travel to any destination they desired. In the past 20 years, air travel has become common in our lives due to lower flight costs, and with the growth of budget airlines, now demand is higher than ever.
In this blog, we look at some of the factors that the government should consider prior to building this additional runway.
The current state of Heathrow airport
The first point to consider is whether building a third runway would actually create more problems that it would solve. Sure, it would allow more planes to land and take off, but as anyone who has travelled at peak times knows, Heathrow cannot even manage current demand well due to poor infrastructure and staffing. In other words, the project would need to go far beyond simply building an additional runway – it would need to completely upgrade the entire infrastructure supporting Heathrow.
Secondly, by expanding the existing terminal buildings and runways at Heathrow, the government will be once again focusing the main economic infrastructure of the UK on London, at the expense of supporting more balanced economic growth in our more northern cities.
Thirdly, those living beneath an already crowded flight path would have to suffer further noise pollution from the additional runway, as well as more air pollution. It was revealed on Saturday that the US Senate has already passed a motion allowing US airlines to bypass EU emission reduction targets, which means that the planned reduction in plane emissions is unlikely to become a reality.
How can we still promote the UK as a global transport hub, while not damaging other parts of the nation, or the countryside around Heathrow?
You may have noticed when looking at the arrivals / departures board that there are an awful lot of internal flights between the major cities in the UK. So, there’s clearly a potential case for improving rail connections between major cities in the UK. This would reduce the need for internal flights, and allow these slots to be replaced with the international flights, thereby improving the efficiency of operations.
It is already possible to jump on a train at King’s Cross and travel 280 miles to Newcastle in under three hours (which works out at roughly 100mph). Could we build super-fast railways to alleviate some of the pressure on airports in the Southeast? There are trains in Japan and France that go in excess of 200mph, which means the journey from Kings Cross to Newcastle would take just 1hour 30mins. This compares favourably with air travel when you take into account the tedious check-in and security procedures.
Could this work in the UK?
The current state of our railways
In the early 1960s, the Beeching Report identified 5000 miles of railway line for closure due to the vast cost maintenance. Since then, railways have been in steady decline, not only in terms of physical degradation, but also in terms of the number of passengers enjoying the service. This led to governments in the 1980s and ‘90s trying to dispose of these loss-making assets through privatisation.
The production of new rail services has been sparse. After the Channel Tunnel ended up far over its original budgeted cost, the proposed High Speed 2 rail link between London and Birmingham has lost some support, partially due to the fear of costs spiralling out of control.
Moreover, cheaper car production has led to more people owning cars. This in turn gave travellers and commuters more independence from both train schedules and the limited destinations offered by rail companies. During the 1990s, the cost of flying fell dramatically, and at the same time our roads and airspace have become ever more gridlocked.
For much time, successive governments have taken on a rather laissez-faire attitude to transportation infrastructure improvements, backed up by public opinion that was against expenditure, as it did not guarantee a fair deal for the tax payer. Yet public opinion was also happy to support airline and road traffic expansion, despite the fact that this expansion has proved costly due to congestion and environmental pollution, which we all now know is unsustainable.
So what next…
We currently find ourselves at a crossroads. On the one hand, there is an argument to raise taxes on polluting air travel. On the other hand, air travel is still considered strategic to ensuring the UK trades successfully with the rest of the world and maintains its status as an international tourist destination and business hub. I don’t think the answer is really building more runways and terminals but it is to effectively use the current assets that we have, such as Birmingham/ Midlands, Manchester, and Glasgow airports, to take some of the burden out of the south east. I think linking all these places by a high speed rail service would really help to achieve this. The argument against a third runway isn’t just environmental: it’s also about fairly distributing the opportunities of international trade to the rest of the UK.
As a nation, we have to try to spend sensibly in these current economic times, with the limited resources we have. The best way to shift stagnant economic growth is to drive infrastructure-led spending on such things as high speed railways and potentially green energy projects such as solar commercial power plants, the Severn Barrage, wave energy hubs and offshore wind.
In addition, we need to introduce specific railway measures:
(1) We need to really back High Speed 2, just as we did when delivering the Olympic Games. If we can divert some airline traffic to the Midlands to relieve congestion in the Southeast, then surely it is a good thing.
(2) We need to back other railway projects that have already started, such as Crossrail. The prospect of making east and west of the city more connectable will make sure that London remains competitive and a good place for business. It also means we can cut some of the road traffic pollution that would have otherwise existed if this piece of infrastructure weren’t planned.
(3) By creating a superfast railway service between Heathrow and Gatwick, we would make the existing airport resources even more efficient and reduce the immediate need to make the airports any bigger.
(4) Expand the current London Overground network to cover the lack of public transport rail from the north-west of the city to the west and south-west, as there is a current lack of coverage in these areas.
(5) Innovate a railway solution that would divert transportation volumes from the centre of London.
If all else has fails and some of these projects become too expensive to carry forward, then why not look at making the existing airports more energy-efficient and less polluting? New greener fuels are the focus of much research, and this could lead to a massive reduction in air pollution going forward. In addition, the airports themselves could be targeted with sustainability measures to increase their energy efficiency.
What the Latest Cabinet Reshuffle Means for the Environment
September 7, 2012
Why Did the Cabinet Reshuffle Occur?
On the 4th September, the Prime Minister announced the first major cabinet reshuffle of the coalition government with the intention of getting the economy moving. While nervous cabinet ministers and their junior colleagues were anxiously waiting for that phone call on Monday, the government had already announced over the weekend that it had hired the CEO of the London 2012 Olympics delivery committed, Paul Deighton, to become the new Minister for Delivery.
In newspaper columns and sofa interviews this week, the Prime Minister emphasised that infrastructure, delivery and investment were key to getting the economy moving. But will these cabinet reshuffles and initiatives be at the expense of the environment and developing the green economy?
View on Cabinet Appointments
One of the key movements in the Cabinet was to replace Caroline Spelmen with Owen Paterson as Secretary of State for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs.
Caroline Spelmen has led DEFRA (the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs) for just over two years and despite being marred by several controversial policies – the proposed sell-off of large sections of the nation’s forests, High Speed 2 Rail (HS2) environmental impact and the badger cull initiative – she has done some good things, including the introduction of mandatory carbon reporting rules and making a viable case for green growth as a mechanism to help drive the economic recovery. That said, by cutting 30% of her department’s budget in 2010, her ability to make more of an impact was seriously reduced.
Her replacement, Owen Paterson, has never hidden his contempt for wind farms. In May it was reported that he told the cabinet to “end all energy subsidies”. In addition, like the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he is a big supporter of shale gas and now both will be pushing to fast track its exploitation.
With this reshuffle going through, it’s easy to wonder whether David Cameron really believes his pledge to make this coalition government “the greenest ever”. This appointment has served to significantly weaken the green voice at the cabinet table and leaves the Liberal Democrats trying to reinforce their influence in this area.
Justine Greening also lost her job as Transport Secretary as a result of the reshuffle. The MP for Putney was one of the strongest voices opposing the third runway at Heathrow, and both Zac Goldsmith MP and Mayor Boris Johnson have been quick to come out in her support. Grant Shapps, the new Conservative Party Chairman, admitted this week that the new runway was back on the table as a serious option towards airport expansion in the southeast of England. This was then confirmed on 5th September when the Prime Minister announced an imminent review on Heathrow and other airports.
Concluding Impact on the Environment & the Green Economy
While the expansion of Heathrow will not be legislated on this Parliament, the review announcement yesterday clearly demonstrates that the government wants to solidify a team that will support the creation of big infrastructure projects quickly to stimulate the economy. However, the case of Heathrow, this will come at the expense of the environment and noise pollution for surrounding residents.
Another negative impact of this weeks’ reshuffle is the announcement to accelerate planning permission and potentially build on ‘green belt’ land. This is especially disheartening as we have yet to exploit the opportunities of making use of ‘brownfield’ sites or work on sites that already have planning permission.
So, to summarise, a few negative clouds this week have descended on moving environmental and green energy policies forward. What we need to turn this around is a clear delivery plan on how existing initiatives like the Green Deal and Renewable Heat Incentive will be launched and made successful. We also need more openness and transparency on how further reviews on feed-in tariffs will be undertaken.
With the Green Investment Bank set be fully operational by the end of this parliament and private sector investment increasing on clean energy generation projects, the government needs to be more supportive of these schemes. They need to be less willing to go for the easy choices that may have detrimental environmental impact and may cost us all in the long run.
Let’s get Paul Deighton to help bring in funds to deliver new railways, industrial scale energy efficiency initiatives and large green energy investment projects, and less ‘fracking’, new runways or new roads.
Why Should 3rd World Countries Give a Hoot About the Environment?
June 10, 2012
Rio+20 summit is only days away, and hopefully we will see a way forward in the form of a joined-up, global agreement on emissions. However, I was reading about the reluctance of Asian countries to accept the EU’s air-traffic carbon emissions charges and was reminded of the same tired old arguments.
Why should countries that are less developed take orders now from countries that started polluting the world with such intensity since the Industrial Revolution? Especially now too, as much of the developing world like Brazil, China, India and the Middle East is showing the Western countries the way forward for economic growth
And the arguments go on and on like this till we all breathe a collective sigh. Perhaps, from some angles, it is hypocritical, but that doesn’t mean that the argument doesn’t stack up and it is the right thing to do for the world as a whole.
The EU has come up with an emissions law (2012) where airlines are charged for their carbon emissions. January 2012 was the first instance where all airlines that use EU airports had come under the European Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). This has been called a ‘deal breaker’ by the Indian environmental secretary, a view shared by many Asian countries. From here, we have an example of the old chestnut, mentioned at the top of the article. The West had its industrial revolution, profited and polluted the world. Who are they to lecture the developed countries, who, after all, want to emulate them and their success? Is it a form of tacit colonialism?
However, it is my firm belief that if an action is the right one, then it is right, regardless of who said it. Environmental action is needed urgently and this tit for tat argument isn’t very helpful to anyone. When William Wilberforce helped end slavery in Britain he didn’t countenance the argument that the Egyptians and Vikings had done it before. In the days of the industrial revolution we simply didn’t know the affects of our actions. We woke up to the fact, late, but better late than never.
Collectively we have made progress, if you look at the Kyoto protocol; there was a very real sense of the world, as a whole, acting for the common good. Although the treaty on its own was not a panacea, it was nevertheless significant. Let’s hope we can drag that spirit with us into Rio+20. It would be a real shame if that progress was stunted at such a crucial time. I would, however, concede that the West has yet to fully shed its polluting ways. The US, for instance, is still environmentally sinning and if Mitt Romney was to become victorious, may renege on the positive overtures it has made so far. However the current Obama administration at times has shunned green policies to the back pages of its legislative programme.
Britain too, is all too inert when it comes to green issues, despite all the right noises coming out of Number 10 (‘greenest government ever’). If one is to take a fine tooth comb to the draft energy bill, it would not be too difficult to find fault with it. For instance, there has been no date set for switching from gas and coal for renewables. Renewable energy is something the UK is still to get to grips with, woefully lagging behind the European average. And with the current economic crisis in Europe, the last thing the EU will be looking to enact is more regulation and taxes, environmental or otherwise.
We now see pollution, carbon emissions and such like as a crime. In effect those who do nothing about it are breaking nature’s laws. If two people rob a bank and only one is caught, is the person who is caught any less of a criminal? Thus, just because western countries got away with polluting heavily in the past it doesn’t follow that it is morally permissible for developing countries to do the same.
Now of course, we should try to make the whole idea more appealing. A possible solution to any impasse is to strive for a global agreement on carbon pricing. Why not introduce a system where a country could trade it like we trade things like gold and silver. Thus, more investors would take notice of countries in the developing world and importantly there would be incentives for reducing emissions and becoming more energy efficient.
Apart from the moral imperative, there is also a practical one. If you like these environmental measures be assured that they work both on a deontological and a teleological level. As time goes by, more and more of the developing world is becoming uninhabitable, there are more floods (however see what happened to Wales this week) in these areas and a lack of suitable living space. It is in the interests of the very countries opposing these measures that we take them.
Also from a practical viewpoint, many refugees will be created by these environmental changes. So it would be much better for the West to nip these problems in the bud and solve or go to some way of solving these problems rather than dealing with the consequences. Prevention is better than cure. It’s pro-active rather than reactive.
There’s one world not three so let’s adjust our environmental policies to that. Yes, the West was the first of the big polluters, and yes, it realised the impact it had a bit late in the day, but that doesn’t change the fact that environmental measures like those mentioned above are right. They are right from both a practical and moral point of view, so let’s forget the tit for tat and get down to it.
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