Friday, August 26, 2011

Construction industry and public "not ready" for the Green Deal

Externally insulating a concrete, hard-to-heat house in Wales
The UK construction industry is largely unaware of - or unprepared for - the opportunities which the Green Deal represents, and the Government has a long way to go to convince the public to take part, according to two new pieces of research.

A survey by the Chartered Institute of Marketing Construction Industry Group has found that only 35% of product manufacturers believe that the Green Deal - due to be implemented in under 14 months - represents an “important opportunity", and only 31% have suitable products ready to meet the demand.

Organisations surveyed - 100 manufacturers and 15 installers, who will be required to renovate the nation's 29 million homes - appear unclear as to what opportunities the Green Deal represents for them and what they should be doing about it.

Yet the Government believes that by 2017 there will be a workforce of 100,000 qualified installers. Furthermore, the products and systems supplied to home owners will need to be approved by the UK Accreditation Service in just over a year.

Moreover, these products must not disappoint the home owner once installed but must work effectively. The British Standards Institute is developing a Publicly Available Specification (PAS 2030) for this purpose.

Installers must also be fully trained and home owners must know how to take advantage of their new products in a year's time.

What motivates the public?

When questioned, suppliers said they believe that home owners' reasons for installing energy-saving services are mostly driven by financial considerations: reducing energy costs (33%), for generating extra income (22%).

They see the principal benefits being reducing energy bills (55%) and generating renewable energy at home (45%).

This is backed up by a second report, The Green Gap, by YouGov for utility and environmental consultancy Gemserv, which found that 61% of homeowners would consider installing technology such as solar PV panels, hydro power or using biomass fuel to generate their own energy.

However, over half said the technology is too dear, a third didn't know how much cash they would get back, and over half - 54% - didn't know that the Green Deal is about energy efficiency in the home.

14% thought it was to do with protecting outdoor spaces like forests, and 9% thought it was about encouraging take-up of low carbon cars.

Chris Ashworth, author of the CIMCIG report, Taking Sustainability To The Consumer, said this was a wake-up call to installers and manufacturers who seem to be failing to grasp the enormous earning potential of the Green Deal.

He said: "The main challenge for manufacturers in this sector is to understand the motivations of the UK consumer.

"As a committee, (the institute) is dedicated to helping marketers in the construction industry develop best practices and capitalise on opportunities.

"In the current market conditions it takes initiative and imagination to create sales."

The need for the right marketing

The report found a disconnect between the sales and marketing departments of manufacturers, while marketing did not seem aware of initiatives being taken by the sales departments.

The Institute recommends that marketeers change the language they use in communicating with the public. “The language of low carbon is not seen as relevant to the choices people make in their everyday lives" says the report.

It is for this reason that the Zero Carbon Hub, which supports the building of new zero carbon homes, is recommending the use of the term “a new way of living".

The Institute has recognised that the Zero Carbon debate is actually impeding progress in motivating the public.

Currently, DECC's Behavioural Insights Team is researching how people can be influenced by incentives, joint action in their communities, and by behavioural feedback.

So far, it has found that homeowners need simple, clear and powerful information to help them make decisions.

The barriers for them include: a lack of understanding, lack of awareness, a conservative attitude to change, mistrust of installers, and cost.

The CIMCIG report breaks down the public into different segments who need to be approached in different ways: 'positive greens' make up 80% of the population; 'waste watchers' make up another 12%; ‘concern consumers’ make up 14%; ‘sideline supporters’ are 14%; ‘cautious participants’ are 14%; ‘stalled starters’ are 10%; and the ‘honestly disengaged' make up the last 18%.

The report concludes by saying the entire construction industry must work together - trade associations, manufacturers, contractors, wholesalers and installers - in an effective supply chain, in contrast with others such as energy companies and major retailers who have recognised the opportunity and are starting to act. Otherwise, traditional retailers risk being marginalised as the Green Deal becomes mainstream.

Installers of solar electricity systems for the Feed-In Tariffs have already shown how to take advantage of government support. For example, the Green Home Company has secured private finance to allow it to install free solar photovoltaic systems in the Kent area.

One positive initiative is where energy companies have been partnering with merchants to make it easier to buy insulation at subsidised prices, by creating online calculators so that homeowners can work out how many rolls of insulation to buy, and by offering free delivery.

The Energy Saving trust's website Think insulation is also a useful one-stop shop for consumers.

To help stakeholders DECC has set up four forums through which it is developing support for accreditation, capacity and innovation, and how to maximise energy efficiency.

It is political will that prevents the dawning of the long-predicted solar age

Augustin Bernard Mouchot's parabolic solar collector in 1880, powering a printing press
Here is an intriguing question for anyone interested in tackling climate change: who said this, and when?

"Eventually industry will no longer find in Europe the resources to satisfy its prodigious expansion... Coal will undoubtedly be used up. What will industry do then?"

Well, it was a man named Augustin Bernard Mouchot, speaking in Paris after he had successfully demonstrated an early industrial application of solar thermal energy - as long ago as 1880.

Two years earlier, this pioneer of solar energy had demonstrated the use of solar power for cooling, by making a block of ice. He employed a parabolic dish that focussed the sun's rays onto an 80-litre boiler and made the ice by use of what is now a standard compressor-evaporator process.

His audience at the Paris Exhibition of 1878 must have been astounded. But so are people today when I tell them that it is perfectly possible to cool homes using solar energy; it just seems counter-intuitive.

This month, the American southern state of Texas has been sweltering under record-breaking high temperatures and its electricity supply system has almost collapsed due to the demands of the state's air conditioners working overtime.

Yet of course, because it is so hot it has abundant solar power. If only the state were using this to keep cool they would not need to burn so much oil and close schools!

It's almost as if the potential of solar cooling is being deliberately kept secret. And this is despite the efforts of the International Energy Agency to propagate the information with best practice case studies and R&D.

The solar age is undoubtedly coming – it's just having a very slow dawn. The fact that after 130 years we're still amazed by Mouchot's demonstration is testimony to the fact that solar power's cause has been continually frustrated by the aggressive marketing of cheap fossil energy.

I cover all of this topic and much more in my latest book, which is published this week, The Earthscan Expert Guide to Solar Technology for Power, Heating, and Cooling.

In writing it, I have discovered many more astonishing facts about just how long some solar technologies have been around... and how different the twentieth century would have been if we had been forced to rely on solar and other renewable sources of power instead of fossil fuels; if we hadn't been cursed - as well as blessed - with nature's bequest of such huge quantities of oil, gas and coal.

If, in fact, peak oil had been reached in 1890.

Because from the time of the First World War - which was partly fought over access by European nations to the newly discovered oilfields of Iraq, a country that was itself created as a result of that war - through Israel's Six Day War and the recent Iraq wars, not to mention hundreds of other conflicts, access to fossil fuels has been the cause of millions of casualties.

Yet fossil fuels' apparent relative cheapness and high energy density have made them seem more favourable and convenient than solar and other renewable sources of energy, and held back their development.

This topic is documented, at least from an American perspective, in Alexis Madrigal's excellent book Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology.

But with growing awareness of the impact of climate change, the negative impacts of fossil fuels on a global scale have become increasingly apparent.

Frank Schuman, who designed the world's first solar power station - used in Egypt in 1913 - dreamt of a completely solar powered world. It was theoretically possible then, as indeed it is today.

Nowadays, the phrase “energy security" is being used by those who want to see sustainable sources of clean energy replace dirty fossil fuels.

This is because the sun, wind, tidal and other renewable sources of energy are available abundantly, everywhere on the planet, with no need for conflict over their use.

Humanity - or its leaders - are now faced with a clear choice: whether to stick with the status quo and vested interests; or whether to accelerate the deployment, research and development into solar and other renewable, sustainable technologies and practices.

My new book makes the case for the latter, looking at all the available solar technologies in a way that is hopefully easy to understand and inspiring to read.

Many people think only of solar electric modules when considering solar energy. But the sun's heat and light can be deployed to generate power in many more ways, such as passive solar architecture, water heating and solar thermal electricity generation for a great many applications.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of the technologies included among 'solar power' from the point of view of their end use:

  • Heating and cooling space: passive solar design, urban planning, passive stack ventilation, phase change materials, unglazed transpired collectors, solar-powered chillers and coolers
    Lighting: glazing, special glass coatings; sun pipes

  • Heating water: solar water heating systems; evacuated tubes; swimming pool heating; active solar cooling; applications for large buildings and districts
    Cooking, food drying, desalination and water treatment

  • Electricity: thermoelectric devices, photovoltaic modules, system design, process heat, concentrating solar power

  • Transport: solar vehicles, hydrogen production.

The potential of these technologies is completely clear and proven, and many more exciting ones are in development. The scientific case for the likelihood with business-as-usual of a runaway greenhouse effect has been conclusively established.

What is still lacking is the political will to implement solar technologies on a wide scale, in the face of continuing lobbying by fossil fuel companies to determine energy policy in many places - like Texas - to the detriment of its wider economy and the comfort of its inhabitants, and against simple common sense.

The Earthscan Expert Guide to Solar Technology for Power, Heating, and Cooling is aimed at a professional audience, and can be bought here.

Friday, August 12, 2011

All non-domestic buildings should have Display Energy Certificates

sample Display Energy Certificate
Forcing all commercial buildings to display data on their energy performance would bring huge economic as well as environmental savings.

The Government's Energy Bill is in its second Report Stage, prior to its Third and last Reading.

Its flagship policy is the 'Green Deal', which would give householders, private landlords and businesses free finance to improve the energy efficiency of their buildings, which would be repaid from savings on the energy bills.

The Bill will also amend the Energy Performance of Buildings Regulations 2007, which restricts access to emissions performance data of households and businesses. Presently, this data can be seen only by owners, operators of accreditation schemes, and government officials – not the wider public.

By making this data - from Energy Performance Certificates, Display Energy Certificates and Air Conditioning Reports - freely available online, it will help Green Deal suppliers to market their services better, allow everyone to see who is performing better or worse than they are, and vastly improve research and analysis.

At the Bill's Second Reading in June, Tory MP Zac Goldsmith proposed a new clause - 22 - on Display Energy Certificates. This would give the Secretary of State the power to initiate the roll-out of Display Energy Certificates (DECs) to the commercial sector.

Currently, DECs only need to be displayed in public sector buildings or offices larger than 1000 m² that are visited by the public.

The certificates display the rate of operational energy efficiency and the performance of the building rated from A to G, so that visitors can see how much value for money they are giving.

Failure to display a DEC at all times can incur a fine of up to £5000.

Since the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive was introduced into UK law in 2007, there has been conclusive evidence that DECs have given rise to substantial year-on-year improvements in emissions performance and cost-reductions in the public sector.

If DECs were to be displayed in all commercial buildings as well, then this would be a terrific source of information and stimulus for the energy managers of these buildings to make more effort to improve their energy performance.

The Carbon Trust estimates - in its report, Building the Future Today - that the carbon footprint of the country’s 1.8 million non-domestic buildings could be cut by 35% by 2020 compared to 2005 levels, with a net benefit of £4 - 5 billion to the UK economy through energy savings.

It is well known that what is not measured or monitored cannot be managed. Imperfect - and a blunt instrument - though they are, DECs provide a baseline from which to start.

Proposing the clause, Goldsmith pointed out that non-domestic buildings currently account for up to 17% of the UK’s carbon emissions.

He said, “the carbon plan published in March this year already includes a commitment to extend display energy certificates to commercial buildings by October 2012, but to fulfil that commitment the Bill must be used to introduce the necessary enabling legislation, which would simply give the Secretary of State the power to extend display energy certificates through regulations".

This clause has widespread support, and there is no sensible reason why in some form it should not remain in the final third version of the Bill and become enshrined in law.

It supporters include, among others, the UK Green Building Council, the British Property Federation, the Association for the Conservation of Energy, the CBI, Hammerson, Siemens, and Marks & Spencer.

Paul King, Chief Executive of the UK Green Building Council, has said: "there is widespread business support for the extension of DECs to commercial buildings because they help companies save money on energy bills and they provide a level playing field for comparing the market."

He fears that if the Energy Bill is not used to introduce DECs it will impair the chances of reaching the Government target - enshrined in the Climate Change Act 2008 - of reducing carbon emissions by 50% by 2025 and by 80% by 2050.

Members of the UK property industry also support clause 22. They include the British Property Federation, British Land, Land Securities, commercial property agents Colliers International and International Sustainability Recruitment Consultancy, Allen & York, who specialise in recruiting for the energy and building services industry.

Their Senior Recruitment Consultant for Energy Management, Nikki Clark, has commented that "rolling out DECs to all public buildings could provide better data on energy use in non-domestic buildings, enabling better building management and energy, carbon and financial savings".

Both Construction Minister Mark Prisk and Energy Minister Greg Barker have hinted that the Government will back the new clause 22.

But this is far from certain. Given the Government's record on "slashing red tape" and Treasury opposition to many of DECC's policies, it is quite likely that they may insist on a voluntary approach.

But as Green MP Caroline Lucas points out, business wants the legislation.

An open letter was sent from businesses that would be affected by the legislation to the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, signed by the British Property Federation, the chief executive of Siemens, Marks and Spencer and others.

In it, they stated that they were absolutely delighted when the Government’s carbon plan committed to extend the DECs to commercial buildings by October 2012.

They said, “a voluntary approach to take up in the private sector will not work, because without that level playing field there is a reputational risk for those businesses that voluntarily adopt certification and achieve poor ratings”.

They go so far as to say they do not believe this will provide an undue burden on businesses of any size, "as evidence demonstrates that savings resulting from the application of this scheme significantly outweigh any costs, from year one".

"Indeed," they propose, “DECs for small businesses could be automated and even provided free of charge, based on existing energy bills.”

Whether the clause makes it through to the final Bill in its current form is immaterial as long as its the intention is carried through in one draft or another.

Readers might want to consider lobbying their MP to ensure the rollout of Display Energy Certificates to all non-domestic buildings.

Community hydroelectric scheme share issue opportunity shows how to do it!

Te weir on the River Esk at Ruswarp, near Whitby, Yorkshire, where the turbine will go
A community renewable energy scheme is offering the chance for investors to get 5% dividend as well as helping a rural area become more energy efficient.

The share issue is being launched by a community co-operative, Esk Energy, to raise £320,000 to install a 50kw hydroelectric turbine, using an Archimedes screw, on the River Esk at Ruswarp, near Whitby, that will generate 200,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity a year, enough for about 60 houses.

The story of the scheme illustrates how hard it has been to get a community energy scheme like this off the ground, but shows that it is getting easier,

It also offers encouragement and hope for others wishing to do the same, since the rewards for the whole community will be greater than either individuals pursuing their own schemes, or outside companies undertaking fully commercial projects.

The project also illustrates the particular difficulties faced by hydroelectric schemes I highlighted recently, despite there being up to 4,190 eligible hydro sites in England and Wales alone.

Uphill struggle

“The Esk project began 6 years ago, and 2 years later we set up the Esk Valley Community Energy, following it up by creating an Industrial Provident Society, Esk Energy Yorkshire Ltd.," says Colin Mather, a technical director on the project.

“We originally had the help of the North Yorkshire National Park and the parish council. We began by encouraging energy efficiency in homes, and then did a survey of sites for the best renewable energy. We did look at wind power, but being in a national park, large turbines were not an option.

“Within surveyed a few potential hydroelectric sites before finally settling on this one."

The story of how the project gained approval illustrates the changing attitude that has happened in the last few years at the Environment Agency.

Initially, the organisation found it almost impossible to deal with the Agency. "They were against the scheme to start with," says Colin. “They had no staff who knew anything about hydroelectric power - all they knew about was fish.

“Then, between 2 and 3 years ago, they were getting so many enquiries about water power they realised they had a problem. So they organised a conference. We were among about 40 different groups invited.

“The Agency listened to their feedback and changed their attitude. They reorganised themselves and now deal in a more constructive manner with hydroelectric power," he says.

"At a more local level," Colin continues, "the Environment Agency people again were not cooperative. But when we reminded them that, in fact, it is part of the brief of the Agency to support hydropower they changed their tune too, especially since we were able to reassure the that we were not harming fish."

The turbine is situated next to the fish pass because fish swimming upstream automatically look for the fastest flow, and this is also where one wants to situate the turbine.

“We also had to negotiate hard to extract as much water as we could. We will be using 4m³ per second. The Environment Agency wanted to use less water, but we said 'you have more than the minimum amount of flow you need for the fish, why not let us have more?' and eventually they saw sense in our argument."

The turning of the screw

An Archimedes screw generator works by using the weight of water entering it at the top to turn it at a much lower rotation speed - under 100rpm - than other water turbines such as the Pelton wheel. The generator itself is situated at the top of the screw.

It is the preferred water turbine of the Environment Agency, because it is extremely fish friendly. This was an important consideration in obtaining approval from the Agency. Colin says that the River Esk is an important one for salmon and trout, being in the North Yorkshire National Park.

Since the device is 2.9 m wide, and a body of water entering the top of the screw is taken down without rotating itself, any fish entering it emerges unscathed at the bottom.

This particular type of device is also ideal for low heads; the head at the weir where it will be installed is only two metres.

The screw will have to be fabricated specially in Germany or Holland, since no one in the UK has the ability to make one. It will take 5 months, and so the group expects construction to begin next March and the project to be operational by the summer.

The share offer

The scheme will benefit from a rate of about 20p per kilowatt-hour from the Feed-in-Tariff, yielding a projected income of £40,000 per year.

Details of the share issue are on the Whitby Esk Energy website. The minimum share purchase is £250 (up to a maximum of £20,000).

Investors will receive a dividend from year three, rising to 5% by year five and shares are withdrawable from year five. Shares can be purchased through to Sept 2011.

A loan obtained from the Yorkshire National Park will be repaid in 12 years.

A surplus from the income will be retained by the co-op to run more energy saving projects such as solid wall insulation in the community's hard-to-heat solid walled properties.

In the past the group has benefited from a £40,000 grant from the National Park's sustainable development fund and £50,000 from the N. Yorkshire county council community fund.

A £20,000 grant from Yorkshire Forward had to be repaid when they found they could not spend the money soon enough to satisfy the grant conditions.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Tea Party tycoon in battle to halt vital £150m Scottish offshore wind test centre

I'm your man...if I run: Donald Trump told hundreds of supporters at a Tea Party rally in Florida that he had the 'qualities needed for the White House and the conservative ideals necessary to seal the Republican nomination'

A climate-sceptic tycoon who has told a Tea Party rally he might stand for President has vowed to oppose a key part of UK plans to become a world leader in offshore wind power.

Last week, utility company Vattenfall, engineering firm Technip and Aberdeen Renewable Energy Group (AREG), together submitted a planning application to Marine Scotland to begin construction of a £150 million development - the European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre.

But US real-estate tycoon and developer Donald Trump - who last April told a cheering Tea Party rally in Florida he would be the ideal man to run for US President, and who is host of the US version of The Apprentice - has promised to fight it "on every possible front".

His organisation, which operates numerous casinos, hotels and golf courses worldwide - is building a controversial £750m development on the Menie Estate near Aberdeen on the North Sea coast and has previously objected to the wind farm.

His development - featuring a luxury hotel, Trump Boulevard, a golf academy, a second course and timeshare apartments - is obliterating a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) on 4,000-year-old sand dunes. It was only approved against bitter opposition from locals, in a controversial planning inquiry ordered by the Scottish Government in June 2008, at which Trump himself testified.

In June this year, bulldozers began work tearing up grasses from the dunes. Trump is spending up to £60m of his own money turning the dunes into the course, which is scheduled to open in a year.

In a statement, the Trump organisation said: "We are opposed to the siting of this wind farm and will fight the proposal on every possible front."

His objection is ostensibly to the view. Yet the turbines would be 1.5 miles away from the development, and the Tea Party is famous for its opposition to climate change and renewable energy.

The European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre

Eight years in preparation and containing 11 wind turbines - shrunk from an original 33 to address safety concerns from shipping agencies and the Aberdeen heliport - the planned wind farm and test centre would stretch across Aberdeen Bay.

It will form a major plank of Scottish and UK-wide efforts to win a share of the huge and valuable construction work which will follow the granting of consent for the Round 3 offshore wind farm zones which are expected to deliver up to 25GW of new offshore windfarm sites by 2020.

The project has already received significant support from the Scottish European Green Energy Centre and was awarded a grant by the European Commission of up to forty million Euros in December last year.

The Deployment Centre is being developed by Aberdeen Offshore Wind Ltd, comprising Vattenfall Wind Power UK and Aberdeen Renewable Energy Group (AREG). Technip will also play a major role in the delivery of the project.

In a classic example of the old technology fusing into the new, the EOWDC will tap into the experience of the 900 engineering companies in Aberdeen that have been associated with the offshore oil and gas industry.

When operational it will be a test bed for offshore wind farm developers and associated supply chain companies for the next generation of designs. It will also allow existing technologies to be monitored and receive independent validation and accreditation ahead of their commercial deployment.

For this reason, if the windfarm is delayed or halted by Trump it will be a major block to the UK's expansion plans for offshore wind.

Results from the research which the project would generate are regarded as vital in the drive to make the industry more economic, and to deploy the 7,000 offshore wind turbines deemed to be necessary to keep the lights on in the future.

EOWDC also has the backing of local business leaders - but so does Trump's development. And in some cases they are the same people - such as the Wood Group, founded by the oil services magnate Sir Ian Wood, and Aberdeenshire council itself, which approved Trump's resort and is a partner in the Aberdeen Renewable Energy Group (AREG).

Squaring up for the coming fight, the UK manager of Vattenfall, David Hodkinson, said: "We believe we have made a good case for the development, which places Aberdeen at the heart of the development of new technologies to serve the growing European offshore wind sector."

Niall Stuart, Chief Executive of Scottish Renewables, said: “Offshore wind is especially important as it has the potential to deliver more than 28,000 direct jobs in Scotland by 2020 and contribute up to £7.1 billion of investment to the economy, breathing new life into our manufacturing sector.”

But Trump is having none of this. "We are here to stay and I don't think it's a good idea to interfere with our investment," George Sorial, managing director of the Trump Organization, has told a local paper. "We are not going to support a project that compromises what we have done. We will use any legal means in our jurisdiction."

The fight will be long and aggressively fought, and will begin as soon as the schedule for the consultation process is issued.

A neighbour of Trump's development, David Milne, who lives in a former coastguard station at Hermit Point next to the golf course, has had his view over the dunes and the sea blocked by a 20-foot high wall and a row of trees as part of the construction of the golf course.

"How can a man who has just destroyed a site of special scientific interest and is in the process of despoiling an area of outstanding natural beauty with his golf course, comment on the view? It's laughable," he asks.

The conflict over Trump's own development is the subject of a revealing and hilarious documentary, You've Been Trumped.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Government should think again about supporting air source heat pumps

Last week, a company that installs air source heat pumps was censured by the Advertising Standards Authority for making misleading claims about this technology. But is the Government itself guilty of the same sin?

In a mailshot, ACS Renewable Solutions had said that its air-source heat pumps could "reduce winter fuel bills by 40%", and that they are "over three times as efficient as a traditional heating system".

Energy supplier Calor Gas challenged these and three other assertions, and three of its challenges, relating to winter fuel bills and efficiency, were upheld by the ASA.

Given that off-gas-grid householders are currently able to apply for £12 million-worth of Government £850 vouchers under the Renewable Heat Premium Payment (RHPP) scheme to buy air-source heat pumps, suppliers are falling over themselves to offer the devices.

The RHPP will be replaced from autumn 2012 by the Renewable Heat Incentive, which will pay a fixed tariff for heat pumps, depending on how much heat and hot water they produce.

Ground and water source heat pumps will be eligible for the RHI provided they have a coefficient of performance (COP) of 2.9 or above; this will usually be part of the equipment documentation supplied by the manufacturer.

Some feel that sellers like ACS should not be able to claim that heat pumps are a renewable source of energy. After all, they require electricity for the pump to work, which may not itself be renewable.

The argument is that the heat they pump - from the ground, water or air - is renewable however, as it is ultimately heated by the sun. They are classed as renewable in the EU's Renewable Energy Directive for this reason.

It is right that air source heat pumps will not be supported by the RHI at least to start with, pending further research by the government to better understand the costs, real world performance and benefits. The government will announce the result of the research and how much support will be given in a year's time.

But they need wait no longer for some vital clues. Installers and potential customers now have the benefit of peer-reviewed analysis conducted for the Association of Energy Conscious Builders by the veteran of the industry, John Cantor.

John has been working with the technology for 30 years and no one knows how heat pumps work better than he does.

The first point he makes is that the real value of a heat pump is given not by its COP – which is measured in laboratory conditions - but by its SPF (seasonal performance factor). This is the total useful annual heat produced divided by the total electrical input.

For the SPF, 'real world' measurements need to be done, and these are much harder to standardise.

Crucially, this should include any direct electric 'top-up' heaters which might be necessary to cover any short-fall in the heat output, or to elevate the hot water cylinder temperature.

The new report says that an SPF of 4 is certainly achievable for space heating with a good GSHP (ground source heat pump), connected to a well designed underfloor heating system in an insulated building.

But for ASHPs (air source), results of trials conducted last year by the Energy Saving Trust showed that of 22 evaluated, half fell within the range of 1.6 to 2.2, with one as low as 1.2, and only one achieving a measured efficiency of 3.

This report has been widely interpreted to mean that ASHPs are best avoided. But Cantor's analysis says the EST's results are not the end of the story.

Firstly, he criticises the poor quality of many system installations of heat pumps in the UK (they're better at it in Germany). Installation requirements for heat pumps are "exacting", and the industry is on a learning curve.

This means that if ASHPs ever do get support from the RHI, then installers who want to be accredited under the MCS should have to pass strict tests to make sure they do install them properly.

Secondly, Cantor says that EST should have measured the seasonal performance factor, SPF, not the COP.

Any heat pump, he says, is very sensitive to the way that it is utilised. Its real-world performance will only be as good as the system it is part of.

"A heat pump only has a potential efficiency. The actual performance is that of the entire system, of which the heat pump is only one element," Cantor says.

His best guess for the efficiency of an ASHP installed in the UK is an average SPF of around 2.6. In a new-build dwelling, with a lower heat load, and more freedom to specify a heat-pump friendly system, it might be reasonable to expect SPFs of around 3.0.

The key difference between a heat pump and any other heating system is that a heat pump's energy efficiency is affected greatly by the temperature difference between the source and heat sink. It is at its most efficient when heat is supplied at a relatively low temperature.

If the pipes from the heat pump are hot, the COP is likely to be low, while a heat pump operating at a very high COP will have relatively cool pipes.

An ASPH is not a replacement boiler. You can't expect it to supply heat at 70°C for central heating or 35-40°C for the taps. It works best with ambient, or underfloor heating.

It will also operate at its lowest efficiency - reduced by a third - when we need the most heat – when the air is coldest.

Since the COP of most ASHPs will approach 1.0 when integral direct-acting electric heaters (if fitted - they help defrost the pipes) are engaged, at times of extreme cold and peak demand on the grid, they may pose a real problem if they are large numbers installed in the future.

Ground source heat pumps are around 20% more efficient at these times.

It seems that the Government might be anticipating 150,000 new ASHP installations by 2030, and 425,000 by 2050 (cited by National Energy Action in their paper 'ASHPs – assessing the impact for the electrical distribution system').

And here is the killer argument against air source heat pumps.

Many of these installations might be expected to be replacing gas boilers.

Gas boilers in the home are up to three times more efficient in their use of carbon than electricity supplied to a home from a gas-burning power station, due to inefficiencies in the combustion process and transmission network.

Therefore, there will be no carbon saving, and even a possible increased carbon cost, from installing an air source heat pump to replace a gas boiler – with a COP of 2.6 it will be using the same amount, roughly, of carbon. Add to this the carbon cost of the embodied energy of the installation and there is clearly no carbon benefit.

If the COP is any lower, especially if it is as low as 1.0, then the ASHP will be using more carbon than the gas boiler it is replacing!

The RHPP is a chance for the Government to obtain real-world measurements on the performance of ASHPs. This is why it is specifically targeted at off-gas-grid households.

But given all of the above, the Government needs to take a long hard look at whether there is real benefit for the overall carbon-intensity of the energy mix of encouraging this marginal technology, or whether it's better putting its money into subsidising more carbon-efficient modes of heating.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

The $1bn contract to connect North Sea windfarms

BorWin Alpha wind farm in the North Sea
What is possibly the world's largest ever order - at $1bn - for grid connection technology for offshore wind farms has been signed, an indicator of the coming huge expansion in wind capacity in Europe.

Dutch-German transmission grid operator TenneT has commissioned ABB, a power and automation technology group, to supply a power link connecting offshore North Sea wind farms to the German mainland grid.

The initiative will form part of Germany's plans to meet its carbon reduction targets while phasing out its nuclear power plants.

When completed, it will be the world’s largest offshore HVDC (high-voltage direct current) system - rated at over 900 megawatts (MW) - and will be capable of supplying over 1.5 million households with wind-generated electricity.

It will utilise ABB's HVDC (high voltage direct current) Light technology. This means that by transmitting the power at high voltage in direct current (DC), rather than alternating current (AC), electrical losses over distance can be kept to below 1% per converter station.

The technology is well proven and ten years old - ABB has previously used it to connect the BorWin1 windfarm and last year won a contract to connect the 800MW Dolwin1 windfarm, both also in the North Sea.
Map of DolWin windfarm in the North Sea
The cables can transmit power underground and underwater over long distances with the other advantages of having neutral electromagnetic fields, oil-free cables and compact converter stations.

The company claims that it is economically feasible to expand transmission capacity using this system, to minimise the visual and environmental impact of the grid and improve the quality of the power supply.

The expense and visual intrusion of overland grid-connection cables has become a focus for opposition to the expansion of wind power in the UK , particularly in Scotland.

The planned connector will link the 400 MW Gode Wind II and other wind farms in the North Sea, sending DC electricity at 320 kilovolts to a converter station at Dörpen on the German coast, via another station offshore, along 135 kilometers of underwater and underground cables. It will then feed AC electricity into the mainland grid.

It should be completed by 2015, so that by 2020 Germany will have more than doubled its offshore wind electricity generation, from its present 8% of total supply (a capacity of over 27 gigawatts).

Britain and Germany are both competitors and partners in the race to establish windfarms in the North Sea. Wind energy is expected to more than triple its power output by 2020 in the EU.

Energy and Climate Change Minister Chris Huhne, on a visit yesterday to the Vestas wind turbine facility in the Isle of Wight, spoke enthusiastically of the UK leading the world in the area, with some 1.5GW of wind capacity installed.

"Last week’s new European Wind Energy Association numbers found almost all turbines installed in the first half of this year were in the UK: 101 off the UK, compared to just 7 in the rest of Europe," he said.

Justin Wilkes, Policy Director of the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA), believes that 194 billion Euros will be invested in European onshore and offshore wind farms in this decade. "This success is mainly driven by a strong EU regulatory framework to 2020, which we need also after 2020," he said, as he launched a new EWEA report on scenarios for onshore and offshore wind power deployment in the EU.

This says that electricity production from wind power is expected to increase from 182 Terawatt hours (TWh) or 5.5% of the total EU demand in 2010, to 581 TWh or 15.7% of the total demand in 2020. At this point it will be equivalent to the combined electricity consumption of all households in France, Germany, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom.

Chris Huhne would like to see many more of the turbines that are erected around the UK being built in this country, which was a motivation for his visit to the Vestas facility in Newport on the Isle of Wight. This was a turbine-making factory that Vestas closed two years ago despite attempts by the government to dissuade its Danish owner.

Huhne said that he believes "Vestas are one of a number of companies who have announced intentions to open turbine manufacturing plants in the UK. I very much hope to see that intention become reality.”

Despite not making wind turbines, the factory still employs 220 people. It is testimony to efforts by islanders to attain its council's goal of being carbon neutral by 2020.

Huhne saw how the facility now designs and tests wind turbine blades. “Innovative new components, including those likely to be tested and developed here in these very facilities, will play a crucial role in bringing [future wind power] costs down," Huhne said. "As will new, high yield, multi-megawatt turbines of the type Vestas have recently announced."

Council representatives and members of the Eco Island community group then discussed with Chris Huhne proposals to create an ocean energy centre to test tidal and wave technology off the west and south coasts of the island.

UK businesses are no more energy aware in their PC use than five years ago

UK businesses are wasting about £30.8 million a day by leaving their PC equipment on standby, according to new research from energy company E.ON – which, depressingly, establishes that nothing has changed in five years despite the huge amount of advice and support available.

E-ON, which itself offers energy efficiency advice, including online management tools for its business customers, says that more than one third of UK small businesses fail to power down computers at the close of day, and one in five only do so fully at the weekend.

It costs 1p per hour on average to keep a PC on standby, a seemingly insignificant sum, but one which can add up.

"10% of small business owners wrongly assume that leaving computers on standby at night uses the same amount of energy as shutting them down completely,” said Iain Walker, Head of Business Sales at E.ON.

“Introducing small changes into the culture of your business, like turning equipment off fully at night, can have a significant financial impact on your energy bills.”

The research suggests that there has not been much improvement in energy awareness in the last five years, since a similar survey was conducted by the National Energy Foundation.

This asked the same question of a representative sample of the general public's behaviour at work in 2006 and found more or less the same result: that as many as one-sixth of work computers are never switched off at night or weekends, with a further seventh not switched off on some days each week.

There is simple software available to automatically manage the power consumed by PCs or power down networked PCs centrally.

The NEF suggested that using this could save up to 1.5TWh (1.5 billion kWh) per year, with a value around £115 million, and 700,000 tonnes of CO2 (equivalent to almost 0.2MtC).

The question is – why has no one paid any attention to this information?

E.ON's research shows the retail sector includes the biggest culprits, with over two-thirds admitting that they do not switch off work computers at night. Even more worrying is that 59% only do so at the weekend, meaning that they stay on all week.

The farming sector contains the best performers, with 69% shutting down every night.

There are regional variations: small businesses in the North were found to waste the most money and energy, with 23% of small businesses in Yorkshire and 21% of small businesses in the North East believing that leaving computers on standby uses the same amount of energy as switching them off.

Those in the South were most energy aware, with only 4% from the South East, and 5% from London, believing the same thing.

It suggests that the Carbon Trust ought to target its work more in the worst-performing regions.

It also suggests that PCs should be shipped with a default setting that shuts them down automatically if not used for a couple of hours or so, which has to be disabled by the user - rather than the other way round, as it is at the moment.

As with the phasing out of incandescent lightbulbs, removing the choice to be inefficient from users without compromising the service they get, saves busy people from having to think about these things.

Efficiency help for businesses and data centre operators

In a related field, further new research from Analytics Press shows that the energy usage of data centres worldwide is increasing, but the rate of increase is slowing - at least up to 2010.

The total global electricity use by data centres in 2010 was about 1.3% of all electricity use for the world, and 2% of that for the US.

It increased by about 56% from 2005 to 2010 (instead of doubling as it did from 2000 to 2005), while in the US it increased by about 36% instead of doubling.

While Google is a high profile user of computer servers, less than 1% of electricity used by data centres worldwide was attributable to that company’s data centre operations.

Part of the eason for the slowdown in the rate of increase may be that there is now an increasing number of green data centres that are powered by renewable electricity or employ efficiency measures.

One pioneer in this area is Interxion, whose engineer, Ali Moinuddin, is co-chair of The Green Grid’s European Communications Committee and helps to spread awareness of advanced energy efficiency in data centres and the broader impact of business computing amongst the European community.

The Green Grid is a nonprofit network aiming to improve the resource efficiency of data centres and the general business computing ecosystem.

Many of Interxion's data centres now use 100% renewable energy as well as free cooling as standard and have cold aisle containment as a mandatory configuration.

Commenting on the research, he offered the following advice, not just for data centre managers but for all companies: "The Green Grid has developed the Data Center Maturity Model (DCMM), which provides clear goals and direction for improving energy efficiency and sustainability across all aspects of the data centre as well as clear metrics and guidance on what all organisations need to address within the whole ICT infrastructure in order to be more sustainable".

It allows users to benchmark their current performance, determine their levels of accomplishment, and identify the ongoing steps and innovations necessary to achieve greater energy efficiency and sustainability.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Government cheats to meet its greenhouse gas emission targets

What is believed to be the UK’s largest ever electricity supply contract by annual volume has been awarded by the Government Procurement Service to EDF Energy (Electricité de France).

This French-owned company will supply an annual electricity consumption of about 7.6TWh over four-years to a "a vast range" of public buildings across England and Wales, from inner city academies to museums like the British Museum and the National Gallery, from central Government departments to major hospitals.

Why did EDF get this lucrative contract?

Well, the service agreement does not just include the supply of power but helping the Government meet its self-imposed target of a 25 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2015 from a September 2010 baseline.

Given that EDF manages eight existing nuclear power stations at sites across the country, by switching to a high proportion of nuclear electricity supply, greenhouse gas emissions from these public buildings will automatically be reduced without the need for other remedial action.

Bingo! The Government can claim it has reduced its emissions - without it making any difference to those of the country as a whole!

Vincent de Rivaz, CEO of EDF Energy, said "As the UK’s largest supplier of electricity to businesses and the leading generator of low carbon electricity, we have the expertise to support the Government in its sustainability agenda, improve energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions.”

No wonder!

See the previous post about EDF's new nuclear plans.

EDF supremely confident Hinckley Point C nuclear plant will get full planning approval

Last Friday French power company EDF received permission from West Somerset district council to carry out new preparatory groundwork for Hinckley Point C power station which would, if it were to go ahead, be the first nuclear power station to be built in the country for over 20 years.

EDF already manages eight existing nuclear power stations at sites across the country and has published plans to build four new nuclear plants.

The decision follows the publication of the White Paper on Electricity Market Reform on July 12 and ratification of the National Policy Statement for Nuclear by Parliament on July 18.

EDF, with its partner Centrica, has also submitted applications for a Nuclear Site Licence and for environmental permits from the Environment Agency necessary to operate a nuclear power station, and begun the procurement of some major components from the French state-owned nuclear power company Areva.

The planning application includes the clearing of 420 acres of land, drilling boreholes and concreting the site, but this work will precede any decision by the Infrastructure Planning Committee on whether the full construction can proceed. An application to the IPC will be submitted later this year.

Crispin Aubrey, of the Stop Hinkley campaign and a veteran of the anti-nuclear movement, told EAEM that "It is unacceptable to do all this work before the Infrastructure Planning Committee have given permission to build the station itself".

He said that "even the council officers presenting the report said that if permission is not given it would be impossible for the land to be returned to its former state, as the company promises it would do in its application".

He said that EDF's given reason for starting the work now is that it will save a year of construction time. However he himself believes that the true motive is to influence the IPC decision by giving them less reason to oppose the construction on grounds of preserving the natural environment of the site.

Gordon Bell, a spokesperson for EDF's press office, would give no further comment than that they were "looking at the conditions given by the council before commencing work," and were "keen to proceed".

He refused to be drawn on EDF's degree of confidence that the IPC will approve their plans. But they must be suprenely confident otherwise they would not be spending so much now, ahead of the decision.

Where doies there confidence coe from? What do they know that we, the public, do not?

Nor would Bell be drawn on whether they will be in a strong position to finance the construction of the complete plant given their experience of building the one at Flamanville, France, which is four years behind schedule, has had two fatalities and is currently estimated to cost twice as much as the original price tag.

All he could do was parrot what is in their press release: "The experience at Flamanville is invaluable as we progress in the UK. Each time EDF builds the EPR, our expertise increases.″

Translation: we have made a lot of cock-ups. Hopefully, this means it won't be worse next time. Or, we'll make different cock-ups.

"We have already said publicly that we will publish an adjusted timetable in the autumn. We have also said that this adjusted timetable will take account of the final report from Chief Nuclear Inspector Dr Mike Weightman and the lessons we are learning from experiences and challenges at our new build projects in China and in France," EDF adds.

EDF says the preparatory work includes commitments for more than £25 million worth of measures to mitigate the impact of the new build project. This sounds like a lot of cash, especially to put up if you "don't know" you're going to get planning permission, but when you're dealing with the potential impact of a core meltdown...