Thursday, October 18, 2007

The energy hierarchy

Last week the Low Carbon Kid attended a seminar at the Energy Saving Trust as he is one of about 30 'Green Ambassadors' for energy efficiency.

Its director Philip Sellwood (an unusual bloke, previously director of off-licence chains Threshers and Victoria Wine, and a Home Office advisor) was offloading all sorts of gripes about goverment attitudes to energy efficiency. Here are three titbits:

1. Does the EST support new nuclear power?

Not as such - but in practice it works out that it doesn't.

This is because the Trust argues that all means of both saving and generating energy should be looked at for cost-efficiency and ranked accordingly.

You then proceed up the hierarchy until you've met everyone's needs. They've worked out that everyone's needs would be met before there's a need for nuclear new build.

(This chimes with CAT's analysis - Zero Carbon Britain.)

the energy hierarchy diagram
So, given that investment in energy efficiency is always more cost-effective than building new generating capacity, this comes first.

Then comes microgeneration - solar water heating, heat pumps, water power, wind power, biofuels (wood boiler), solar electricity (in that order and if available).

Then we have combined heat and power - still on decentralised energy. Gas for electricity and heat supplied locally.

Then clean coal.

Then large scale renewables (wind farms), then tidal and other marine energies.

Finally nuclear power stations. The total life cycle costs - including looking after that waste for thousands of years - make this the least cost-effective.

Unsexy cavity filling

The most cost-effective energy efficiency measure if you have a cavity wall in your house is to fill it with insulation. It takes a day for a contractor and pays for itself in about nine months.

Despite this, millions of homes have yet to be treated and yet it would go a long way to reducing our carbon emissions.

Philip has tackled the Treasury several times on providing funds to support this.

Treasury bright boffins: "Obviously it's perfectly the rational and obvious thing to do, so people will do it."

Philip: "But people aren't rational. They prefer to spend money on sexier things."

Treasury: "Then they should be more rational. Sorry, we've got a military machine to support."

So lots of money and carbon continue to be wasted.

Non-eco schools

The government is committed to rebuilding every secondary school in the country. A massive undertaking.

Several schools are now eco schools and have solar panels and wind turbines to educate the pupils. This is, you would think, (rationally?) a perfect opportunity to make every school an eco-school.

Clearly, if we teach children energy efficiency, it's the best we can do for our energy future. And what better way than for the schools themselves to demonstrate what it means?

But Philip has found out that:

a) No energy-efficiency or renewable energy features are in the specifications for the buildings

b) He asked all government departments to cooperate with energy efficiency week next week - they all signed up to help out - except the Department for Education and Skills. It said it had too many messages already to get across to schools.

I wonder how Philip keeps from tearing down the walls with his fingernails. Perhaps he has a few bottles left over from Threshers to calm his nerves.

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