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Friday, 27 January 2012

Ecologist article on the Green Deal

Written by Hannah Kyrke-Smith in The Ecologist

The Green Deal and Energy Company Obligation (ECO) have the potential to reduce emissions from the UK’s ageing housing stock, create warmer homes and new jobs, says Hannah Kyrke-Smith. But will there be enough uptake?

The Green Deal and the ECO are the government’s flagship carbon reduction policies, aimed at reducing carbon emissions from homes and small businesses. We are now one step closer to their launch this autumn, with the government’s consultation on the policies now closed.

Greg Barker, the minister for climate change, said in the Guardian earlier this month that the Green Deal will be ‘the biggest home energy improvement programme of modern times’, but we’ve been around the country and found that on the ground there is still a big risk of low uptake unless the needs of local economies and the fuel poor are ignored.

Our travels took us three constituencies where we ran workshops with MPs and local stakeholders: Hexham with Guy Opperman MP, Bristol North West with Charlotte Leslie MP, and Redcar with Ian Swales MP.

These are three distinct constituencies, differing in character and the issues they face. Hexham is a large rural constituency in the north east with high levels of fuel poverty and many off-grid properties; Bristol North West is a diverse constituency in the south west consisting of affluent areas, council estates, and heavy industry; and Redcar is a small north east constituency suffering from high levels of unemployment, people on low incomes, and vulnerable households in fuel poverty.

We brought together local people – businesses, community groups, local authorities, housing associations and more – and asked them what they see are the key challenges and opportunities for the Green Deal to help local energy saving, to give their views on the proposed policy design, and suggest improvements.

It was encouraging that most people could see the potential of the Green Deal, and are prepared to try to make it work in their local area: some local authorities are considering becoming Green Deal providers; community groups want to help encourage take-up and raise awareness; housing associations plan to continue to ‘green’ their housing stock; and local tradesmen aim to become accredited installers.

But with the proposals as they currently stand, there were many questions about how it will actually work in practice, and the workshop participants were not convinced that the Green Deal could be the whole solution to reducing energy use and creating warmer homes in their areas.

A number of problems came up in all three workshops, which need to be tackled before the policy can deliver on its promise. The details are in our latest policy insight, Getting a good deal from the Green Deal: views from local communities, but the headlines are:

· Social issues: participants in our workshops felt the schemes aren’t yet designed to support the fuel poor.

· Imbalance: tenants, rather than landlords, are the ones being given responsibility for upgrading properties, even though they are not the long term beneficiaries.

· Local economy: in the current design, local economies are unlikely to see the benefits of new business generated.

· Trust: people are wary of how the scheme will work in practice. Public trust in energy companies is very low and they are likely to be one of the main delivery agents.

· Incentives: even schemes delivering free energy efficiency improvements have found it hard to attract takers, so the Green Deal, which is based on loans, has an even steeper hill to climb.

We came away from the workshops with five key recommendations to tackle the problems and make sure the Green Deal works for those that need it:

· Help to encourage take-up, particularly by using the Green Investment Bank to help deliver preferential 2 per cent interest rates on loans.

· Give more support to the fuel poor, by increasing funding through the Energy Company Obligation.

Some of my articles for Solar Pages from last year

Green energy causes utilities to lose money:

Sunways Inverters:

Solar 'gold rush' last year

Online retailer Trueshopping invests in solar PV

Government considers a 'capacity trigger' system for UK solar PV

IMS predicts UK to be one of the top solar PV markets in Europe:

Innotech Solar PV modules

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Germany considering solar subsidies cut

From Bloomberg

Germany may see a rush of solar panel installations in the coming weeks after lawmakers from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition failed to agree on an overhaul of the country’s clean-energy subsidy system.

A proposal backed by Economy Minister Philipp Roesler to limit total installations and introduce a quick one-time subsidy cut of about 35 percent found support in both parties but didn’t achieve unanimous backing, said Klaus Breil, a lawmaker with the Free Democratic Party junior coalition partner.

“The meeting ended without result,” Breil said by phone after the meeting last night. “This delay means we’re headed toward installations of 4 gigawatts through April as subsidies are currently way too generous.”

The comments underscore tensions inside Merkel’s government over support for renewable energy, which provides a fifth of Germany’s electricity. Roesler’s proposal goes too far for Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen, of Merkel’s Christian Democrats, who is seeking to increase the frequency of subsidy cuts but has in the past opposed a fixed limit.

Germany last year installed a record 7.5 gigawatts, more than double the government’s target, making the nation the world’s largest market for the technology.

An installation cap may threaten German solar companies such as Q-Cells SE (QCE) and Conergy AG, which are already struggling with rising competition from China where the world’s three largest panel makers are based. Reducing support also may undermine the government’s efforts to develop more low-carbon power sources to replace nuclear stations that Merkel plans to close by 2022.

“If the government implements Roesler’s plans, the energy transformation is bound to fail,” Carsten Koernig, head of the BSW-Solar lobby, said in an e-mailed statement.

Horst Meierhofer, another Free Democratic Party lawmaker, said a majority of coalition lawmakers would back incentivizing solar power for own consumption instead of feeding it into the grid, cutting support for large-scale solar power plants and setting a fixed end date for solar subsidies.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

What do we know about HS2 so far?

I've been struck by the amount of controversy which has been generated by HS2, the High Speed Rail link from London to the West Midlands, so, not knowing that much about it, I've decided to write a few passages about it on this blog in order to try and gather my thoughts and learn more about the main issues involved.
Rather than a straight A-B, the line stretches from London to Manchester with a branch extending from the main route to Leeds via the East Midlands. Apparently, there won't be any immediate calling points between London and the West Midlands apart from a spur to Birmingham, which immediately raises questions in my mind about what precisely is the business case for this project, as it seems to me that completely misses a lot of local business located between the two destinations.
In principle the project is supported by the three main political parties. The government's case is that it will provide additional capacity on the rail network to the Midlands and the North, despite the fact that the West Coast Main Line was upgraded as recently as 2008 and plans for longer trains and improved signalling on that route. A member of the HS2 Action Alliance has criticized the government's projections as well as the assessment methodology. In addition the HS2 proposals have been opposed by numerous local authorities along the route. The Green Party support High Speed Rail in principle if it is restricted to 190 mph which would enable it to use existing transport corridors, however the current proposals were opposed by the party at their Spring 2011 conference. The Wildlife Trusts have criticised the scheme because of the effect on 4 SSSI's and over 40 other types of nature site along the route.
The first phase of the project will involve the demoliton of over 400 houses including nine which are Grade II listed. David Lidington the MP for Aylesbury has raised concerns that the line could damage the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Colne Valley Regional Park on the outskirts of London and various other areas of Green Belt.
A report commissioned by the Department of Transport in 2007 found there were no significant carbon reductions obtained by building a line from London to Manchester and that in fact carbon emissions would be greater than if no new line was built at all. The High Speed Rail Command paper published in 2010 found that carbon emissions would be increased by 440,000 tonnes per year.

Additional Information:

High Speed Rail, The National Interest and the North South Divide

HS2 - A summary for MP's

Financial analysis of HS2 by Action Against HS2 Chiltern Routes

Stop HS2 Arguments:
Myth 1: HS2 is green
  • HS2 will increase carbon emissions, but the Government say the project is carbon neutral. We are committed to 80% reduction in emissions by 2050.
  • 400kph trains use 3 times the power that 200kph trains do.
  • Even HS2 Ltd don’t know how much landtake will be needed for HS2
  • The 72 metres ‘vegetation management’ width is wider than Wembley (69 metres).
  • HS2 will encourage extra journeys. It assumes that 22% of the projected passengers, almost 40,000 people per day, will only travel because HS2 is built.
  • HS2′s case ignores the environmental costs.
Myth 2: HS2 will deliver regional benefits
  • The benefits will mainly go to London. Three times as many passenger journeys will be towards London, not away from it, so redistribution will end up there.
  • The limited regional benefits will be sucked to the few stations.
Myth 3: HS2 is a sound investment returning over £2 for every £1 spent
  • It overestimates the value of time savings.
  • It originally assumed 133% background growth in demand. This is a huge increase in demand, and is double that of other reputable forecasts. When the new economic case was produced, HS2 Ltd simply extended the forecasting period.
  • It also assumed an additional 133% increase in demand due to HS2 itself. This is much more than the West Coast Main Line upgrade, which delivered a bigger service improvement.
  • It ignores competition from conventional rail. Failure to realistically assess the competition was a mistake made by HS1 and the Channel Tunnel.
  • It ignores the impact of new technologies, which are reducing demand for travel.
Myth 4: Only HS2 can solve our capacity issues
  • The DfT’s own alternative, Rail Package 2, delivers all the capacity requirements.
  • Rail Package 2 is designed to meet demand incrementally, has a superior rate of return, and costs just £2bn. Clearly better value for us all.
Myth 5: HS2 will greatly reduce domestic air travel
  • HS2 argues for a modal shift, based on unrealistic demand for domestic air travel. It assumes an increase of 178% by 2033, whilst today the domestic air travel market is in decline.
Myth 6: The UK lacks fast connectivity between our cities
  • Journey times between our major cities are faster than our European competitors. We already have an extensive fast rail network.
Could HS2 have used the route of the old Great Central Railway Instead?

North of the Chilterns the line would follow the main road past Aylesbury before making use of the largely preserved track-bed of the former Great Central railway until Brackley. There is at least one petition which advocates rebuilding the Great Central instead of building HS2:

Opportunities and challenges for green business in 2012

This story copied from the Greenwise website.

GreenWise Poll: What are the opportunities and challenges for green business in 2012?

9th January 2012
As business optimism in the general economy falls, GreenWise asks business leaders, NGOs and academics what are the opportunities and challenges for green business in 2012?
On business sustainability

Jon Bentley, Smarter Energy lead, IBM Global Business Services

2012 will continue to offer opportunity for green businesses, but it is clear that success will rely on their ability to translate sustainable outcomes into cost savings. A year ago, I was optimistic for 2011 because major corporations were beginning to bring sustainability into the mainstream business agenda. I believe this continues to be the trend, but as sustainability becomes business-as-usual, the imperative for it to align with and reinforce other priorities becomes ever stronger. There is no doubt that businesses are expecting to face difficult times next year, so the spotlight will be on costs.

Capital will remain difficult to secure and there will be intense competition between alternative projects. Minimising up-front investment and securing a reliable flow of benefits that can be monetised will be vital. So, projects that foster the efficient use of resources, reduce waste and avoid taxes, penalties and mitigation costs from whatwaste does remain will be the most attractive. Unfortunately, cleaner sources of energy that are also more expensive are likely to suffer with less generous Government support.

Despite the gloomy outlook, the essential energy challenges remain and billions will be spent in the coming decade as we address them. Our economy remains energy dependent, yet the UK is committed to its carbon targets. We have no choice but to replace much of our existing generation capacity as it reaches the end of its life and a smarter end to end energy system is needed to secure supply and deal with the variability of renewable generation and electric vehicle charging. The government is pressing ahead with the nationwide smart meter programme and is bringing in the Green Deal to foster energy efficiency.

With the amount of change and investment in the energy sector, there are opportunities for businesses large and small. The winners will be those that can combine innovation and collaboration with practical, efficient execution. Results will count more than vision in the years to come.

Tom Delay, chief executive, Carbon Trust

The central challenge facing green business in 2012 is to show the synergy between sustainability and cost reduction, while busting the myth that there’s any contradiction between the two. This means winning the argument that times of austerity demand more efficient organisations. 2012 will therefore be a particularly strong year for demonstrating the financial value of and the direct, measurable profitability from green innovation. Products and services delivering enhanced energy efficiency and reduced resource use will naturally perform well in an economically pressurised times.

Dax Lovegrove, head of business and industry, WWF

It is increasingly evident that both economic and ecological austerity are with us for the foreseeable future and so to be fit for purpose, companies will need to re-think their way of working. Businesses that adapt and increase efforts around innovation will be more resilient.

There is a glimpse into future business resilience Small nimble enterprises are racing ahead with leaner business models and perhaps in 2012, we will start to see such approaches migrate across to big business in order to secure increased future-proofing.

For example, there is a raft of emerging peer-to-peer social networking sites that enable and even glamorise collaborative consumption – the re-use of household goods and clothes. This approach could start to spread into mainstream retailing.

There are also many opportunities for businesses to support the reversal ofbiodiversity loss. Leisure and tourism companies have options to invest in biorock projects, which are currently aiming to restore coral reefs in Bali and Indonesian waters or food businesses could encourage the scale up of agroforesty programmes where native trees and crops are planted in the same space.

Open loop initiatives are also on the rise where numerous web platforms act as dating agencies to help match waste with resource requirements. Greater collaboration within and across business sectors will achieve a more circular economy.

We are just scratching the surface of new innovative approaches to doing business in ways that protect the world's natural assets and this will start to escalate in 2012.

Liz Goodwin, chief executive, WRAP

When money is tight, business naturally seeks ways of economising. Those organisations, which take the opportunity to improve business performance by using less energy, wasting fewer raw materials and looking for ways of re-using resource, are more likely to weather the economic challenges. Actions that can have a real impact range from simply turning down the heating right through to extending the service life of equipment.

On green policy

David Powell, economics campaigner, Friends of the Earth

Janez Potocnik, European Commissioner for the Environment, describes the move towards resource and carbon efficient business as a "global megatrend", particularly as the economic squeeze continues. Doing more with less is a huge opportunity, if not an imperative, for business of all shades – whether they consider themselves 'green’ or not.

And, despite the stumbling steps taken in Durban earlier this month, there’s no doubt that the opportunities for new markets is going to continue to grow: the estimated £4 trillion global market for green goods and services is only going to continue to grow.

If there’s a challenge for UK businesses wanting to nab a piece of the pie, it’s the very stiffness of global competition: firms that may do best will be those that can compete on price or can offer a vital service that can’t really be imported – such as insulating people’s homes.

How successful the Government’s policies will be, like its new Green Deal to encourage homes and businesses to improve the energy efficiency of their buildings, will to a large extent define how big the opportunities are for domestic firms. One thing is clear: more than ever, and given the tribulations of this year, business needs to know that the Government is committed to building a green economy and not pulling the rug from under our newest, most exciting industries.

Jane Burston, founder, Carbon Retirement

What I've realised, having been at the climate summit in Durban [last month], is that the UK Government is still doing a lot to lead the world on the issue of climate change. One of the challenges for UK green business is going to be to convince investors that that commitment is still there. George Osborne's rhetoric combined with policy moves like the highly visible U-turn on Feed-in Tariff (FiT) has created an uncertain environment in which it is going to be very difficult to get new green businesses off the ground.

Gideon Middleton, senior lecturer, Norwich Business School

By far the biggest challenge for most businesses is the lack of certainty around the overall national and international direction of green policy and the potential financial implications and the increasing quagmire of UK legislation – especially around energy and carbon. This creates problems for all business as energy and carbon are ubiquitous costs and the overall lack of a clear direction means that business cannot effectively plan because there is a large uncertainty around strategic energy and carbon costs as well as the potential size of any Feed-in Tariffs.

Andrew Lee, head of international sales, Sharp Solar

Opportunities for business in the solar industry are now severely limited since the Feed-in Tariff has been structured in such a way that it is only suited to wealthy homeowners and very small scale projects. The last 18 months have shown that solar technology and its incentive scheme is effective and there is a demand for it, but these changes mean investors will no longer drive the market, which is chopping this promising and growing industry off at the knees. Our research indicates that domestic solar is the preferred technology homeowners would like to see more of in their community, with 40 per cent of those polled choosing it over other methods, which makes the Government’s decision to stifle this industry even more baffling.

Juliet Davenport, chief executive, Good Energy

Because we need so much investment in our energy infrastructure the fact remains that the renewables sector is one of the few areas where growth is certain for the foreseeable future. Offshore wind continues to get the lion’s share of attention, but there will continue to be opportunities in the onshore sector too. Despite the ongoing issues with solar and the sub-five megawatt Feed-in Tariff, that technology will have an important role to play going forward, particularly as the technology costs fall. The development of marine renewables will continue to be exciting and there is an opportunity for the UK to really lead the world in developing the full potential of this technology.

The challenge is whether the Government delivers the certainty businesses need to invest in those technologies. The way it has handled the FIT for solar has harmed its efforts to provide that certainty, but it’s worth remembering that not all the blame for that lies at DECC’s door. It’s also worth bearing in mind that it is just one technology up to a certain scale. All the signs are that the review of the Renewables Obligation has, broadly speaking, been handled well, though that scheme hasn’t faced the same kind of budgetary pressures as the FiT.

What is key that the processes behind the reformed FiT and the new FiT Contract for Difference are transparent and easy to understand. That will provide green businesses with the certainty they need to invest.

Andrew Warren, director, ACE

The Government is at last committed to examining thoroughly whether running more purposeful energy saving programmes can reduce the need for new power stations. However the "jury is out" as to whether there are as yet sufficient policies in place to minimise electricity demand in particular.

At present, the proposed electricity market reforms focus entirely upon creating a framework to ensure sufficient electricity generation is in place to deliver the Government’s climate and energy security objectives. Hence the claim that £200 billion will need to be spent on new power stations this decade, particularly under DECC scenarios regarding the electrification of heat.

The senior civil servant, Jonathan Brearley [...], speaking at a British Institute of Energy Economics conference,credited unidentified "external commentators" with drawing policy attention to the demand side alternative. He said that, over the next year, there would be "strenuous consideration" of policy options designed to reduce overall demand.

Brearley’s announcement precedes the official formation of a new division within DECC, to be called the Energy Efficiency Deployment Office. The new Office is recruiting 50 new staff, drawn from across the civil service.

It is now over 30 years since the House of Commons Select Committee on Energy first raised the question as to why public policy fails to compare investment options. Since then, innumerable Parliamentary energy and environment reports have reiterated this argument, without any substantive response from Government. Until now.

On renewables

Maria McCaffery, chief executive, RenewableUK

Job creation in the wind industry is continuing even though other sectors are contracting during the economic downturn. In December, Siemens submitted a planning application to build a wind turbine factory in Hull, which will employ 700 people, and many more in the supply chain. The wind turbine tower manufacturer Mabey Bridge in Chepstow has just announced plans to double its workforce to nearly 200, and to operate 24 hours a day to meet demand. Announcements like these serve to boost business confidence and optimism as we approach 2012.

RenewableUK has published a report demonstrating the employment potential of the sector between now and 2021, outlining various market development scenarios. Under the medium growth scenario, nearly 90,000 people will be working in the wind and marine energy sectors (including the supply chain) by 2021. Research such as this strengthens the mood of optimism in this dynamic sector.

In October, RenewableUK announced the creation of a new organisation called the Renewables Training Network (RTN), which aims to tackle the critical skills shortages within the sector. I'm confident that the RTN will start to make a real impact in 2012, helping to provide courses at every level for workers wanting to make the transition into industries we represent.

We also have to emphasise the message that we are committed to driving down costs. We are proud that ReneweableUK's chairman, Andrew Jamieson, has been appointed Head of the Offshore Wind Cost Reduction Taskforce. Their aim is to bring the levelised cost of electricity generated offshore down to £100 per MWh. We are determined to show that we are committed to offering value for money to the consumer.

On green tourism

Andrea Nicholas, managing director, Green Tourism Business Scheme

The priority for the green tourism sector for the coming year is undoubtedly that of demonstrating the business value of sustainability – its potential to drive savings and to bring competitive marketing advantage to help attract customers. Increasing the accessibility of information about green savings is part of building on existing momentum. From the GTBS for example, there will be new online information pages, which detail exactly how and where energy (and therefore cost) savings can be achieved.

Despite economic pressures, the business travel and events marketplace is looking more than ever to mind the 'green imperative’. Reflecting this, the GTBS has been fortunate to form partnerships with two influential booking agencies, BSI and Inntel, over the last few months. Both are working on featuring GTBS gradings in their venue listings to help guide bookers to the greenest options.

On the leisure tourism side, it is vital that consumers’ interest in green is maintained during an uncertain economic climate, and a revamp of our own consumer-facing site is underway.

Another opportunity for green tourism stems from the disappearance of many tourist boards and regional development agencies, meaning that business and marketing support at destination level is almost non-existent in parts of the UK.

The GTBS is planning to help fill the gap by introducing an online project whereby any destination can have a web page, which can be populated with locally-based business support information on how to go green.

Finally, there is an opportunity to be found in the development of the 'green’ context. Social and community dimensions to sustainability are increasingly relevant (thinking about the 'Big Society’) and the updated GTBS criteria, which are being worked on this year, will reflect the benefits of initiatives, which are not just climate-focused but take into account also, in the broadest sense, sustainability.

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Energy & Environment Dates 2012