Friday, October 27, 2006

Cracks in the cores of nuclear reactors in the UK

A Nuclear Installations Inspectorate documents publicised yesterday state that cracks in the graphite cores of nuclear power stations across the UK are leading to serious safety concerns.


Dr John Large report:

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

£60m solar energy boost for Wales

G24i - one of the global leaders in the production of solar energy - is investing £60 million in a revolutionary solar panel production plant that will create 300 highly skilled jobs at Wentloog Park in Cardiff.

The plant will be the UK 's first zero carbon manufacturing facility.

Cardiff Council has signalled that it wants to make the city a world-class centre for renewable energy technology. The Welsh Assembly government has given much support but the project does not involve any public money.

It is the biggest single investment in Wales since 1999.

The plants's product, thin film dye sensitised solar cells for which G24i has bought the licence, can be made into small plastic foil or film patches for use on clothing or products, or into much larger surface areas up to the size of a roof top. Tthe initial market is expected to be for mobile consumer led products such as mobile phone chargers, smart textiles (incorporating the technology into fabrics), emergency and homeland security applications, MP3 players, laptop computers and handheld game consoles.

G24i plans to begin manufacturing early in 2007. 200 Megawatts (MW) of production capability will be on stream by the end of 2008.

Paul Turney, Chief Executive of G24i, said: “With the tremendous global explosion in the use of mobile electronic devices, there is a huge untapped market for G24i’s ground-breaking technology and products that will provide individuals with the opportunity to personally contribute to mitigating climate change on our planet.”

> G241

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Thursday, October 19, 2006

The naked truth about renewables

Women come clean - calendar girls go naked for green power

Awel Aman Tawe 2007 Calendar - naked women

Awel Aman Tawe is launching its 2007 Calendar. AAT is a community energy project in the Upper Swansea and Amman Valleys. It aims to contribute to local regeneration and implementation of Agenda 21 objectives through the development of 'Community Energy Schemes'.

It is in the style of Calendar Girls - nothing too rude, but it's fun, informative, practical and a little bit saucy. Each month features a different renewable energy or energy saving technology.

The naked truth is that climate change is the biggest threat we face, and the most important cause is our burning of fossil fuels for energy. The time for action is now. Make 2007 your year for clean energy and enjoy 12 months of saucy yet informative displays of renewable energy and energy effi ciency measures that you can implement. Are you ready to embrace the revolution?

‘Natural Power’ Calendar 2007.

> AAT website

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Nuclear - bad for business?

British Energy shares have suffered dramatically in the last two days as reports confirm multiple problems affecting most of its plants across the UK.

This is heaping even more pressure onto the already shaky financial status of the company, and casts further doubt on the viability of an industry already hugely subsidised by the taxpayer.

British Energy has confirmed that it is to close some of its nuclear plants, including Hunterston, due to cracks in boilers and in coolant pipes. The company has admitted that only one of its plants, Torness, appears to be working 'normally'.

British Nuclear Group which operates Sellafield, was also fined £500,000 yesterday for pollution.

For further information on the impact these multiple problems are having on the viability of the nuclear industry see: The Guardian and Reuters.

South Scotland Green MSP Chris Ballance has demanded a report on the state of Torness nuclear plant in East Lothian. Although not as old as Hunterston it is the same reactor design. He is calling for the company and the Nuclear Inspectorate to make the latest results publicly available as soon as possible.

Chris Ballance MSP, Green speaker on nuclear issues said: "This incident, the latest in a long string of problems, emphasises the cost and dangers of relying on nuclear power for electricity needs. When something goes wrong, it really can go badly wrong, both in terms of the environment and for the already disastrous finances of nuclear power. I want assurance that checks are being made at Torness, and for a report to be made publicly available without delay."

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Renewables - good for business?

A study into the performance achieved by investors in low-carbon energy technology companies in Europe has shown an average annualised return of 86.7% per annum.

The European Clean Energy Venture Returns Analysis (ECEVRA), which was commissioned by the organisers of the European Energy Venture Fair, looked at the returns achieved by a sample of 19 investors who had invested in 57 companies in the sector since 1999. Among the other key findings were the following:
  • Of 57 portfolio companies sampled, five had completed an Initial Public Offering (IPO) and three had been sold to a trade buyer. This group of companies had produced an average annualised return of 476% for their investors
  • A further nine had undergone a second or subsequent venture investment round at a higher valuation, yielding an average annual return (on paper) of 14.9%.
  • Six companies had been liquidated, with the majority of money invested being lost.
  • The remaining 34 portfolio companies had not undergone any subsequent investment round, and so were valued for the purpose of the study at the same value as at the time of the initial investment. Many of these were quite recent investments, and could prove highly attractive.
  • The 57 companies in the sample had raised a total of €130.8m of venture capital money, and €449m in follow-on funding from the public markets.
  • The companies in the sample have created a total of 2,700 direct jobs.
  • It is estimated that in total European venture capital-backed clean energy companies have created a total of just under 9,000 direct jobs and a total of 24,000 direct and indirect jobs in the European economy.

On the other hand, in the States, whereas in 2005 solar stocks outperformed the average NASDAQ stock by an amazingly wide margin -- almost 100 times, despite California passing major pro-solar legislation and state after state following suit, as of the end of the 3rd quarter, solar has been was one of the worst market sectors to be invested in.

- Average Loss for US solar stocks in 2006 = -11.98%
- Average Gain for Leading US Indexes in 2006 = +6.13%.

According to Wall Street analyst J. Peter Lynch "the solar sector is currently oversold and is certainly due for at least a technical "bounce" up. But it is still suffering from short-term emotions and fears. There is no doubt in my mind that the future of the solar industry is brighter than ever. As with any new industry, there will initially be greater volatility and will more than likely be more losers than winners."

In the longer run the Low Carbon Kid expects a shake-out rather as has happened in the internet sector - small companies pioneering the way, but we end up with a few giants at the end, and these may well be the traditional oil giants, reconfigured. After all, they've got the capital and muscle.

The question is, how green will they really be?

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Can biofuels reduce climate change emissions?

It is often claimed that biofuels are carbon-neutral because when they are burnt they only release the CO2 that was already in the atmosphere.

There are, however, considerable CO2 emissions from the refinery and distillery process needed to produce biodiesel or bioethanol, as well as from transport, the use of farm machinery, and fertilizer production.

Biodiesel in particular is linked to high emissions of the potent and long-lasting greenhouse gas nitrous oxide, which is released by microbes when nitrogen fertilizers are applied to soils, and also during the production of nitrogen fertilizers. Some, though not all studies, also link biodiesel to higher tailpipe emissions of nitrous oxide and nitrogen oxide. Nitrogen oxide is a precursor to tropospheric ozone, a strong but short-lived greenhouse gas.

And, finally, there are emissions of CO2 from soils as more land is put under the plough.

SE Asia Peat Fires

An urgent email alert run by Ecological Internet urges people to support strong international action against the destruction of peat forests in south-east Asia. Peat drainage and burning is linked to palm oil and timber expansion and logging and is a major contributor to global warming. Emails must be sent before 4th November.

NPower and Palm Oil

Npower (RWE) want to burn palm oil from SE Asia - linked to deforestation, evictions, human rights abuses, and to peat and forest fires causing around three times the greenhouse gas emissions that the Kyoto Protocol is meant to save. Tell Npower to drop their plans!

Thanks to email and letter-writing campaigns, all major UK supermarkets have now agreed to join Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.


Parliamentary Lobby 28 November 2006

Oppose the Government’s proposal that ‘nuclear has to play a role in the future UK generating mix’.

Come to the mass lobby and join some of the leading experts on nuclear issues in persuading MPs to oppose some of the provisions in the forthcoming Energy White Paper.

Mass Lobby of Parliament : 28 November 2006
- Book to see your MP in Portcullis House (or Houses of Parliament)
- Invite her/him to listen to presentations in:
The Boothroyd Room, Portcullis House, Westminster, 1-5pm
Full lobby information available from:
Tel. 01603 631007
The Greenhouse, 42-46 Bethel Street, Norwich NR2 1NR.

Four Crucial Themes

Introduced by Ian Gibson, MP
- The Way Forward: decentralisation, renewables and energy conservation (1-2pm): Allan Jones, MBE, Prof Sue Roaf and Dr Rajat Gupta; chaired by Michael Meacher MP
- Nuclear Economic Liabilities (2-3pm): Antony Froggatt and David Lowry; chaired by Chris Huhne MP
- Nuclear: not the solution to climate change (3-4pm): Dr Kevin Andersen and Dr Bridget Woodman; chaired by Tim Yeo MP
- The Nuclear Nightmare: contamination and proliferation (4-5pm): by Dr Frank Barnaby, Dr Kate Hudson and Dr Rebecca Johnson; chaired by Hywel Thomas MP

Friday, October 13, 2006

Low energy lighting - the challenges

The energy used in lighting worldwide could be 80% higher in 2030 than today if no action is taken to hold back the expected surge in demand, according to the International Energy Agency.

But, says its executive director Claude Mandil, "if we simply make better use of today's edition lighting technologies and techniques, the global demand need be no greater than today."

Lighting currently consumes more electricity than is produced by either hydro or nuclear power and results in carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to about 70% of the world's cars.

At the G8's Gleneagles summit of July 2005 the IEA was asked to come up with recommendations for lighting efficiency. It found in a report published a year later that lighting is routinely supplied to spaces where no one is present and/or far brighter than it needs to be.

Even more savings could be realised through the intelligent use of controls, lighting levels and daylight. Mandil says that following such simple measures would save more than 16,000 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 and 2,600 billion US dollars through reduced energy and maintenance costs.

The International Compact Fluorescent Lamp (CFL) Harmonisation Initiative is seeking a single international testing method to measure energy efficiency, which will reduce manufacturing cost, make it easier for manufacturers to sell their products throughout the world, and facilitate more effective regulation.

This should help promote universal market penetration of the bulbs.

Light Emitting Diodes

Light emitting diodes (LEDs) are much more efficient than even CFLs, and will last a lot longer. The Market Transformation Programme (MTP) has estimated that LED lighting in homes could save 12.7 terawatt hours per annum by 2020.

Despite this, in countries like the UK, the choice of which lamp to buy is not so much based on running costs as on style. If LEDs are to make an impact on the domestic lighting market policies will need to be developed that will encourage synchronous development of them together with the luminaires that use them.

Manufacturers will not start to use LEDs in their designs unless they are encouraged to.

LEDs have several major benefits: they are long-lived, they provide the kind of sparkle light effect popular in the home, and they already exceed the energy efficiency of tungsten filament and trunks and halogen lamps.

If a luminaire is well-designed, the bulbs can last for all the usable lifetime of the luminaire itself. This means from a builder's point of view, they can be placed in inaccessible places. Even fittings used for six to eight hours a day would last between 17 and 20 years.

The drawback with CFLs is that even the "warm white" lamps have a colder appearance than GLS bulbs. It is partly for this reason that tungsten halogen lamps have made large intrusions into domestic lighting, and also office lighting.

However the newest white light LEDs are giving about 70 lumens per watt, expected to rise to 160 by 2020.

The MTP hopes that the Lighting Association's DEELs programme can be extended to include LED luminaires.

A good DEEL in the UK

Over £3,500,000 of The Lighting Association's DEELS (Domestic Energy Efficient Luminaire Scheme) subsidies have been claimed so far, equivalent to over 706,000 energy efficient products in the marketplace.

DEELS enables the retail of energy efficient luminaires at the same competitive price as conventional (GLS) luminaires. This gives the more energy conscious customer an increasing variety of designs at realistic prices, whilst saving on their energy costs. The manufacturers of the lights are subsidised per lamp and ballast used in each approved product.

In addition, over 928,000 energy efficient lamps have been supplied by the Energy Efficient Lamp Scheme (EELS) for independent retailers. This is because independent stores could not compete with major retailers on price where compact fluorescent lights are concerned. The Lighting Association therefore purchases them wholesale just like a large company such as IKEA, which is able to sell them for under £1.

This scheme establishes a competitive route to market for energy efficient lamps. Assured that the lamps are of the highest quality, retailers also have a large choice of styles, including stick, look-a-like, candle look-a-like, halogen and a variety of wattage and cap types.

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

Stop Climate Chaos march/cycle protest timetable

10.00am Cycle protest assembles at Lincoln's Inn Fields, South side (Holborn/Temple tube). Goes via ExxonMobil offices, Australian Embassy and Downing Street to arrive at US embassy at 11.30 am.

11.00am Rally opens : Messages from around the world, performance poetry & musical protest with "Seize the Day" and others.

12 noon Main Rally at US Embassy, Grosvenor Square. Speakers include George Monbiot, Colin Challen MP, Caroline Lucas MEP, Norman Baker MP, Zac Goldsmith.

1.00 pm March for Global Climate Justice from US embassy to Trafalgar Square

1.45 - 2.00 pm March joins i-Count's Mass Gathering in Trafalgar Square

1.00 - 3.00pm i-Count Mass Gathering in Trafalgar Square

Stop climate chaos are limiting their activities to the UK but the march organisers, CCC, are keen on international solidarity, more on:

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

From cardboard to caviar - an exemplary sustainable winner

A novel closed-loop project, which converts waste cardboard into valuable Siberian sturgeon and caviar with the help of socially disadvantaged groups and energy from a renewable source, has won an award and is the type of project that warms the carbon-free cockles of the Low Carbon Kid's heart.

The Green Business Network’s (GBN’s) ABLE project at Caldervale sewage treatment works in Wakefield is a partnership with Yorkshire Water, East Wakefield Primary Care Trust, and West Yorkshire Probation Service for the regeneration of a 34 acre former landfill site. It has won the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management’s (CIWM) inaugural ‘Innovative Practice in Wastes Management and Resource Recovery Award 2006’.

Siberian sturgeon and caviar are produced from waste cardboard that is first shredded for animal bedding. The used bedding is composted using worms, and excess worms are fed to the sturgeon. In the future, worms from food composted on site will also be used. The project provides training to aid in the rehabilitation of offenders recovering from substance misuse.

The output of composted sludges from the sewage treatment works will be used to grow willow, which will then be burnt as a biofuel to heat water in the fish tanks, saving Yorkshire Water and the environment the cost of its transport. In addition, along with many other activities, the project will create a 3km wildlife trail using recycled plastic groundblocks, manufactured by Intruplas Ltd, a recycling company previously set up by the GBN. The path will also use recycled glass substrate.

The project is a superb win-win-win demonstration of sustainable development, providing training and development of job skills for groups from the probation service and youngsters from across the West Yorkshire area in danger of being excluded from school. They will receive training in aquaculture, horticulture, land and countryside management and will grow plants and vegetables in planters made from recycled plastic again from Intruplas. Fencing from the company will also be used around the site.

Project Manager, Graham Wiles explained: “The project conserves the resources of today for use tomorrow. At the same time it uses those resources as a catalyst for the training and education of disadvantaged people, enabling them to be integrated back into society. Some of these people have severe learning difficulties and the horticultural side is extremely beneficial”.


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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Micro CHP - bringing power to the masses?

Those in favour of Micro CHP argue that it has the power to be a disruptive heating technology, because of its revolutionary impact in getting so much more for less. But how effective is it?

Micro CHP is considered to be anything up to about 10kW, although the larger models are generally sold to small businesses such as restaurants. At the lower end, a 1kW model called Ecowill has sold very well in Japan -- in the last financial year 10,000 units were shipped. Manufacturer Delta estimates that 16,000 units were sold in 2005, representing about 31MW of generating capacity. Although only five companies offer products on a commercial basis, several others express confidence that they will have a product ready for the market by next year or the following year. Micro CHP markets may see an exponential growth over the next three to five years, enthusiasts say.

But critics argue that the technology is still untested. Units, typically the size of a fridge, can sit in the kitchen and run continuously in order to provide heat and electricity. Running on gas, they share the same advantages as large scale CHP -- in other words more benefit for the same amount of gas. Nevertheless, the units are expensive with a long payback time, although recent legislation in the UK may help to reduce this is especially if surplus electricity can be exported back to the grid.

Does it really save carbon?

A study at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh of residential micro CHP (Stirling engine) in four different climate conditions concluded that there was a slight benefit - 0.4 to 0.8 tonnes per year of carbon per kilowatt, depending on the technology. This depended to some extent on the coincidence of the demand for heat and the demand for electricity; and whether it was possible to store excess electricity or export it to the grid and gain carbon credits for doing so. This was highlighted as being particularly desirable for future policy change. The tick-over gas usage and power management regime would also need to be tightly controlled in order to ensure the carbon benefits required.
Jon Slowe of Delta argues that a Stirling engine product costs around £600 more than a conventional boiler but will save between £100 and £200 a year.

Looking slightly further into the future, fuel cell driven micro CHP will be a more efficient option, and is being introduced in Japan now. This is likely to have a much better carbon impact. Government support is required to encourage mass production of units and therefore bring the price down.

Mark Hinnells, at the Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford, has modelled a whole series of policy initiatives leading to a 60% reduction in the carbon impact of our homes by 2050 which include the promotion of fuel cell powered CHP.

Additionally, if you think about it, running one of these units is like leaving the motor of car running continuously -- therefore in an expected lifetime of say 13 years, if it were a car, it would be travelling many hundreds of thousands of miles – like going to the moon and back several times. Moving parts wear out, and therefore maintenance might be expected to be expensive (accelerated testing is being conducted). Service agreements will therefore need to be entered into by consumers with a cost impact similar to those currently used for gas combi boilers.

Micro CHP in the short term is therefore expected to establish itself only in niche markets. More aggressive growth is possible towards the end of the decade if HVAC manufacturers engage more firmly with the technology. Hinnells argues that the only way this is like this to happen on a large scale is if energy service companies (ESCOs) take up the management of energy in the home and implement Micro CHP on a wide scale. They should see the technology as a good investment.

Virtual power plants

However, an experiment in the Netherlands shows a slightly different model. Drawing on a real-life research that used 15 Stirling engine power micro CHPs in the same housing estate, Renee Kamphuis of the Netherlands’ Energy Research Centre argues that in the future such clusters can be aggregated to create what they call 'virtual power plants'. These intelligent clusters can draw power on demand as the grid requires it.

Householders would receive the benefit of selling their surplus electricity drawn in this way, but would have to accept that for some of the time their units might be remotely controlled. Naturally such a system implies the introduction of an IT network into every home.

However such networks are likely to be introduced into homes anyway in order to roll out so-called smart meters, which can be read remotely by the electricity or gas utility company. It is a small leap from this to imagine that they could actually draw power from your unit and pay you for it when they needed it. This would create a truly distributed decentralised grid.

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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Blow for community renewable energy

Awel Aman Tawe community wind farm has lost its appeal against an adverse planning decision by Neath Port Talbot County BoroughCouncil.

It has been in development for six years. As the Inspector himself says, "it It has been highlighted as an example in a number of case study documents, awards and at conferences" as a good example of community involvement.

But the inspector said the size of the turbines and their location, and the fact that the community was deeply divided, plus the relation of the proposal to national policy, were reasons to turn the appeal down.

Project Manager Dan McCallum expressed his disappointment saying "The decision seems an extremely conservative interpretation of TAN8 planning policy which we feel may have serious implications for the development of the wind sector in Wales."

The long-winded nature of the whole processs leaves no doubt as to why there are so few community-based renewable energy projects in the UK, and why we are so slow to meet our targets on renewables.

The Inspector criticised the community aspect by saying that the rewards to the community "do not relate to such matters as highway improvements, mitigation for any adverse impacts from construction activities or payments to overcome adverse implications for telecommunications. In consequence any community benefits that would arise from this development cannot be a consideration in any assessment of the acceptability or otherwise of the proposed scheme in planning terms."

It would seem that more coperation from the Council in the spirit of the enterprise would have saved everyone a lot of time and money.

The inspector's conclusion is particularly sad:

"I accept that renewable and sustainable energy development is to be generally supported and encouraged and that the Assembly Government is committed to playing its part by delivering an energy programme which contributes to reducing carbon emissions.

"However such support is not, in relation to this particular type of development in this location, unqualified. I am not convinced that, in this case, the environmental impacts arising from this proposal can be avoided or minimised or that the proposed development would accord with local planning policies in the development plan or emerging UDP.

"In this connection I have had regard to the planning conditions discussed at the inquiry and to the Section 106 unilateral undertaking relating to funding for the restoration of the site. I have noted all the other matters raised, including general observations concerning the desirability of urgent action in relation to climate change issues, but find that none are of sufficient weight or importance to override the considerations that have led to these conclusions."

In other words, go away, put it somewhere else, and I don't care if it takes another five years.

Will our children thank us in 50 years time for the wisdom of decisions like this?

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