Environment Forum

from The Great Debate UK:

Give people the power to live a greener lifestyle

--Craig Boundy is UK CEO of Logica. The opinions expressed are his own.--

Recent research by Logica showed that only 22 per cent of individuals feel the onus is on them to deliver a sustainable future. Individuals want more guidance on how to live a more sustainable lifestyle, with 18 per cent of respondents saying they had no idea what changes they need to make, and only 22 per cent feeling a responsibility to take the initiative. Central and local government need to put the power into consumers’ hands by equipping them with the knowledge and the technologies to make change a reality – and ultimately to get them excited about living a greener lifestyle.

Homes are the biggest emitters of CO2 in London – around 36 per cent of London’s CO2 emissions come from its homes according to government statistics. The good news is the government has already created a pan-London scheme called RE:NEW which is designed to make it easier for all households to improve their energy efficiency. With RE:NEW, householders are given energy efficiency advice and can have simple improvements installed for free throughout the home. These include energy display devices, radiator panels, aerated taps, hot water tank jackets and draught-proofing. These are basic changes but it’s a good start.

Government now needs to look at how more permanent changes, like installing solar panels and home energy monitors, can be funded. Under the recently-introduced Green Deal, bill payers will be able to get energy efficiency improvements without having to front up the cash. Instead, energy companies will install the products and bill payers will pay these back via the cost savings on their bills. At the heart of the offer is a simple rule: estimated savings on bills over a period of time will always equal or exceed the cost of the work. It’s a flexible framework and one that gives businesses and consumers the opportunity to make the improvements that best suit their situation.

Smart meters are already saving people money as they are able to go online and monitor their energy usage. Trials have shown that smart meters can reduce bills by five to ten per cent, and these savings are part of the reason the government has announced plans to install smart meters in every UK household. The planned rollout will start in 2014 and is due to be completed by 2020. A typical family can already expect to save around £300 - £400 a year.

Businesses also need to collaborate. Companies such as Logica are consulting with clients to demonstrate the economic benefits of sustainable solutions as well as the social and environmental benefits. This includes renewable power generation, empowering energy efficiency through dynamic control of public infrastructure, mobilising workforces with electric vehicles and cycle hire schemes and realising cost saving opportunities through carbon accounting.

How many politicians does it take to NOT change a light bulb?

Some stories, no matter how serious, are just joke-prone. So it was this week with the proposed U.S. BULB act, which aimed to repeal light bulb efficiency standards that became law in 2007. Sponsored by Joe Barton, a Texas Republican congressman, the BULB bill failed to receive the two-thirds vote of those present in the House of Representatives that would have been needed to suspend House rules and pass the measure.

That was the signal for Washington politicians, interest groups and some headline writers to crank up the pun-producing machinery:

“Lights out for GOP Energy Agenda?” in Politico;

“Republican bill to ban energy-saving lightbulbs fades” in the Guardian;

Starting big, thinking small in batteries

Carmakers and regulators look at the adoption of electric vehicles, which draw their power from the electric grid rather than engines and thus emit no carbon dioxide from their tailpipes, as a necessarily gradual process, limited by battery technology.
But General Electric thinks its new battery technology, based on sodium, could radically speed up that process.
“The way the roadmap has been laid out as I’ve seen it is a lot of evolutionary steps,” with technological development taking years if not decades to replace traditional gasoline powered cars with hybrids, followed by plug-in hybrids, followed by pure electric vehicles said Glen Merfeld, who runs the chemical energy lab at GE’s global research center in Niskayuna, New York.
The reason for that long timeframe is that current battery technology limits the range of a car that draws its power solely from an internal battery.
“The sodium battery is potentially disruptive to that evolutionary look,” Merfeld said. The technology that we are commercializing will solve some of those problems.”
GE on Tuesday said it plans to build a new factory outside Albany, New York, where it will initially focus on producing sodium-metal halide batteries for railroad locomotives. That technology differs from the lithium-ion batteries being developed for the next generation of hybrid autos in that it is better suited for releasing small amounts of energy over time, rather than a lot at once.
Eventually, by pairing the sodium battery with a lithium-ion one, such as those made by A123 Systems, which GE owns a stake in, the company could design a power train for an all-electric car that would allow a range of hundreds of miles and cost 30 to 40 percent less than a single-battery power train, Merfeld said.
“You’d probably want to start with larger (vehicles) because that’s where you need to store more energy than in the smaller ones,” added Mark Little, a GE senior vice president who runs its research center. “We could imagine a day where you could go to the future and have a small lithium-ion system for the power side and a larger sodium battery for the energy side. But that will take some time to get to.”








Long payback takes shine off LEDs, at least at home

Thinking about making your home more energy efficient by installing hyper-efficient, long-lasting LED lighting? Not so fast.

Even the CEO of one of the world’s biggest LED makers, North Carolina-based Cree Inc, says homeowners will wait a long time to recoup their investment at today’s prices for LED lights.

“A change in lightbulbs, that’s probably a fairly long payback, we’re probably looking at 7 to 10 years depending on electricity rates,” Cree CEO Chuck Swoboda said in an interview. That’s why Cree is focusing on commercial customers for the time being, he added.

How much electricity do you use in a year?

It was a disarmingly simple question but, embarrassingly, I didn’t have a clue when first asked that 18 months ago. Even though I’d have to describe myself as a genuine tightwad when it comes to expenditures, I simply had no idea, strangely enough, about how much money my four-person household was spending on electricity — nor how much carbon dioxide was being produced.

Now, after a year of carefully tracking the daily use of electricity, I’ve discovered a bit about when and where power is being used and, in theory, saved — without much pain. It seemed like a no-brainer and it honestly was not hard to cut our consumption by 1,000 kilowatt hours in 2008 to 5,000 kWh — saving about 200 euros and 500 kg of CO2 in the process. There were only minor sacrifices: rigidly turning off “standby” switches and unused lights, pulling plugs on little-used appliances, putting in energy-efficient lightbulbs, using the washing machine sparingly and the dryer only rarely, and replacing an inefficient dishwasher with a low-energy model.

In the past year, we used as little as 4 kWh on some days (in the summer) and as much as 30 on others (in the winter) — although most days were in the 10-to-17 range. Annoyingly, the house “wasted” about 3 kWh per day when we were away on holiday — largely due to the refrigerator, which I’ll be emptying and turning off next time. The 2008 total of 5,000 kWh (which amounted to an electricity bill of about 1,000 euros) isn’t bad for four people (one rule of thumb I’ve seen is 1,500 kWh per person/year) but I’m convinced that usage could be even less (the benchmark of 1,000 kWh per person/year is considered “thrifty”).

Germany’s ‘Sun King’ Asbeck explains solar power for Vatican

Every once in a while you run into someone with so much energy that you find yourself wishing you could plug something into them to tap a bit of that excess power. On a dark, cloudy December afternoon, I spoke to Frank Asbeck, the chairman of SolarWorld and dubbed the “Sonnenkoenig” (Sun King) by a leading newspaper in his native Germany for turning an idea (mass use of photovoltaic) into a multi-billion euro corporation with 2,500 employees — in little over a decade.

Asbeck, 49, easily the most entertaining chief executive I’ve met in Germany, lit up the room with a 90-minute surge of ideas, witty comments and untempered optimism about solar power — a delightful respite from the economic doom and gloom of the current era.

But what especially interested me about him was his trip a day earlier to the Vatican, where he donated 2,400 photovoltaic panels worth 1.2 million euros that will produce enough electricity for the equivalent of 100 households (300 Megawatt hours) each year. So I asked: “Did you donate the solar panels to the Vatican because:

How many jobs does it create to screw in a lightbulb?

Change to an energy-saving lightbulb – create a job? lightbulb.jpg

Energy efficiency efforts in California over the past three decades have created or saved 1.5 million jobs and added $45 billion to payrolls in the state, according to a report from David Roland-Holst of the Center for Energy, Resources and Economic Sustainability at the University of California, Berkeley.

It comes as the Golden State is debating whether plans to radically cut carbon dioxide emissions will be a financial burden for California or spur economic growth in a state that already leads in energy efficiency.

When people save money on utility bills and buying gasoline for cars, it frees up money for buying other things from groceries to appliances to theater tickets, Roland-Holst said.

A Silver Bullet or just ‘Greenwash’?

A truck with a CO2 tank stands in front of the mini plant “Schwarze Pumpe” before the first official run in Spremberg SeptemberCan carbon capture and storage (CCS) save the world?

Is this the silver bullet everyone’s been waiting for? Or just pie in the sky? Is capturing and storing carbon dioxide the technology breakthrough to cut greenhouse gas emissions without getting in the way of economic growth and industry’s “addiction” to fossil fuels? Or is it just a “greenwash” — a token gesture by some of the utilities responsible for so much of the world’s CO2 to try to persuade an increasingly green public that the great emitters are doing something to fight climate change?

Those are the questions that were hurled at Vattenfall executives on Tuesday when the Swedish-based utility opened the world’s first CCS plant in a small town south of Berlin called Schwarze Pumpe. The company believes it will be economically feasible before long to capture carbon, liquify it, and store it permanently on a large scale underground. This is only a small pilot plant producing enough power for a town of 20,000. But if it works, Vattenfall plans to build two conventional power plants 10 times larger in Germany and Denmark by 2015 and from 2020 they hope CCS will be a viable option for large-scale industrial use.

Proud as Vattenfall CEO Lars Josefsson and other executives from one of Europe’s largest utilities were at the inauguration of the 30-megawatt lignite-burning plant on Tuesday that cost 70 million euros and removes 95 percent of the CO2 emissions, they were nevertheless pummeled by journalists from across Europe wanting to know about the economics of it (and were told they’re not bad but could be better), whether they have the permits to store the CO2 underground (not yet but expected soon) and whether it was just more “greenwash” (a definite no).

Carbon is intense

Stuart Gaffin is a climate researcher at Columbia University  and is a regular contributor with his blog “Exhausted Earth”. ThomsonReuters is not responsible for the content – the views are the author’s alone.

U.S. President George W. Bush walks through the colonnade from the Oval Office to make remarks on the climate at the White House in Washington, April 16, 2008. REUTERS/Jim Young (UNITED STATES)On April 16 President Bush gave a speech laying out a new United States climate policy goal – stabilizing US emissions by the year 2025.

During the course of this speech the President reported as progress a previous goal he had announced in 2002: that the “carbon intensity” of the US economy under his administration has been declining at the rate of about 18% per decade — the rate he targeted in 2002. Carbon intensity is the amount of carbon emitted by US fossil fuel combustion per dollar of US economic output.