Monday, 9 February 2009

New Grid for Renewable Energy Could Be Costly

A substantial increase in the amount of electricity produced from renewable energy would require building a transmission system that would carry a price tag of up to $100 billion, according to a new study.
The new system would be needed because the existing eastern grid couldn't handle the volume of power coming from the wind-producing states. In addition, the new grid would need to be able to handle the fluctuating nature of wind power, which can surge at some moments and drop sharply at others.
There is strong political and public support for increasing production of renewable energy, and Congress is considering enacting a nationwide standard that would require utilities to garner more of their power from renewable sources. However, there is only an emerging understanding of how new standards would affect the country's existing electricity infrastructure.
The study, sponsored by some of the nation's biggest grid-running organizations east of the Rockies, is the most comprehensive attempt by the industry to figure out what kind of infrastructure upgrades would be needed if the U.S. attempts to sharply increase the amount of power it gets from sources such as wind and solar. In 2007, according to the Energy Information Administration, about 7% of the nation's electricity came from renewable sources, including less than 1% from wind.
If the U.S. wants to get 20% of its electricity from renewable energy by 2024, the study says, it would be necessary to build a new electricity circulatory system, including 15,000 circuit miles of extremely high voltage lines. The system, which would be laid alongside the existing electric grid infrastructure, would start in the Great Plains and Midwest -- where the bulk of the nation's wind resources are located -- and terminate in big cities along the East Coast.
The transmission system would cost up to $100 billion. Building the wind turbines needed to generate the desired amount of power would cost about $720 billion, the study estimates -- making the total investment about equal to the size of the current stimulus bill. The money would be spent over a 15-year period, and would be financed primarily by utilities and investors.
The purpose of the study was "to make clear that if you need large sums of energy that's not carbon-based, these are the kinds of numbers involved" to achieve it, said Clair Moeller, head of transmission planning for the Midwest Independent System Operator.
The report was prepared by organizations responsible for electric-system reliability in roughly half the states, including the Midwest Independent System Operator, SERC Reliability Region, PJM Interconnection LLC, the Southwest Power Pool, the Mid-Continent Area Power Pool and the Tennessee Valley Authority.
The projected cost of the system is only one hurdle. Getting the high-voltage power lines build across the country would require the assent of local authorities and landowners, and might require federal intervention. "For that 15,000 miles of lines, I promise about 15,000 lawsuits," said Mr. Moeller.
The report is generating controversy because there is no guarantee that expensive power lines, if built, would be used primarily to move renewable energy. They could just as easily carry energy from coal-fired power plants in the Midwest or Great Plains.
New York and New England grid operators provided information for the report but say there might be ways to build resources in their regions more economically than hauling power from the Great Plains. "This study doesn't look enough at alternatives to huge transmission additions," said Stephen Whitley, chief executive of the New York Independent System Operator.
Utilities are proposing to build some new transmission lines already, but nothing on the scale of what the report says would be needed.
Write to Rebecca Smith at

Scientists plan emergency summit on climate change

David Adam, environment correspondent
The Guardian, Monday 9 February 2009

Scientists are to hold an emergency summit to warn the world's politicians they are being too timid in their response to global warming.
Climate experts from across the world will gather in Copenhagen next month to agree a stark message to policy makers, which they hope will break the political deadlock on efforts to curb rising temperatures. The meeting follows "disturbing" studies that suggest global warming could strike harder and faster than expected.
It comes ahead of a year of high-level political discussions on climate change, which climax with international negotiations in Copenhagen in December, where officials will try to hammer out a successor to the Kyoto protocol.
Katherine Richardson, a marine biologist at the University of Copenhagen, who is organising next month's event, said: "This is not a regular scientific conference. This is a deliberate attempt to influence policy."
The meeting will publish an update to the 2007 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Richardson said the IPCC report was "wishy-washy" on issues such as sea level rise. "The IPCC talks of a 40cm sea rise this century. Well, if the consensus now is a rise of a metre or more then they need to know that."
A number of studies published since the IPCC report was prepared show that carbon emissions are rising faster than expected and that existing greenhouse gas targets may not be enough to prevent catastrophic temperature rise. Climate experts, including Jim Hansen, of Nasa, have warned about so-called "tipping points" that could lead to runaway warming and rapid sea level rise.
Bob Watson, a former head of the IPCC and chief scientist in the environment department, Defra, said: "Certainly in Defra they're aware of the situation. Whether all governments are aware of it is another matter. Even without the new information there was enough to make most policy makers think that urgent action was absolutely essential. The new information only strengthens that and pushes it even harder."
One issue to be addressed next month is whether it is still possible to limit average global temperature rise to 2C, which the EU defines as dangerous. Richardson said a key question for politicians is the balance between efforts to limit warming and steps to adapt to the likely consequences. Watson has warned that nations should prepare for an average rise of 4C. The IPCC said temperatures could soar by up to 6C by 2100 if current rates of carbon pollution continue.
Martin Parry, a British scientist who jointly chaired the IPCC working group on impacts for the 2007 report, and will attend next month's meeting, said: "I think it's a good idea. I would have thought most of this stuff is out there already but it deserves to be brought together and hammered home in a credible way."
A number of "disturbing" trends seem to have accelerated since the IPCC report was published, he said, such as a decrease in the amount of carbon pollution absorbed in the oceans, and an increase in Greenland ice melt. But he denied that the new findings made the IPCC report obsolete. "They are not so radical as to undermine the report. They reinforce it."

Bushfires and global warming: is there a link?

Scientists have a hunch rising temperatures due to human activity are making fire and flood more likely
David Adam and Ellen Connolly, Sunday 8 February 2009 16.56 GMT

Scientists are reluctant to link ­individual weather events to global warming, because natural variability will always throw up extreme events. However, they say that climate change loads the dice, and can make severe episodes more likely.
Some studies have started to say how much global warming contributed to severe weather. Experts at the UK Met Office and Oxford University used computer models to say man-made climate change made the killer European heatwave in 2003 about twice as likely. In principle, the technique could be repeated with any extreme storm, drought or flood – which could pave the way for lawsuits from those affected.
Bob Brown, a senator who leads the Australian Greens, said the bushfires showed what climate change could mean for Australia.
"Global warming is predicted to make this sort of event happen 25%, 50% more," he told Sky News. "It's a sobering reminder of the need for this nation and the whole world to act and put at a priority our need to tackle climate change."
Models suggest global warming could bring temperature rises as high as 6C for Australia this century, if global emissions continue unabated, with rainfall decreasing in the southern states and increasing further north. As if to demonstrate that, Queensland, in the north, is currently experiencing widespread flooding after rainfall of historic proportions.
More than 60% of Queensland has been declared a disaster zone in the worst floods for more than 30 years. Some 3,000 homes have been affected, and the main highway between Cairns and Townsville has been cut off.
Roger Stone, a climate expert at the University of Southern Queensland, said: "It certainly fits the climate change models, but I have to add the proviso that it's very difficult, even with extreme conditions like this, to always attribute it to climate change."
The fires and floods come as politicians gear up to negotiate a new global deal to combat climate change, to replace the Kyoto protocol. Australia plans a comprehensive carbon trading scheme, but green campaigners last year accused Kevin Rudd's government of a "betrayal" when it pledged to reduce emissions by a modest 5-15% by 2020.
Professor Mark Adams, from the Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre, said the extreme weather conditions that led to the bushfires are likely to occur more often.
"The weather and climatic conditions recently don't augur well for the future. Bushfires are an important and going to be ever-present part of the landscape," he said.
Australia is in the grip of the worst drought in a century, which has stretched for more than seven years in some areas and has forced restrictions on water use in the country's big cities.
A government-commissioned report on climate change last year warned that exceptionally hot years, which used to occur once every 22 years, would occur every one or two years, virtually making drought a permanent part of the Australian environment.

Stars align for maker of electric car infrastructure

By Bill Vlasic
Published: February 9, 2009

DETROIT: When Shai Agassi set out in 2007 to develop an infrastructure to service electric cars, circumstances were hardly in his favor.
Gasoline was cheap, and big pickups and SUVs still ruled the road in the United States. While auto companies were working on alternative-fuel vehicles, they seemed destined for a tiny niche market of green-minded consumers.
But now Agassi and his start-up company, Better Place, are riding the tailwinds of an industry that is suddenly obsessed with going electric.
Nearly every major auto company in the world is committed to building electric cars, and President Obama has made reducing oil consumption a centerpiece of his energy policy.
It's a fortuitous turn of events for Agassi, a former software executive who is bringing his Silicon Valley business acumen to devising a system to increase the driving range of electric cars.

The 40-year-old, Israeli-born entrepreneur is selling the sizzle of a new idea at the same time he is putting it into practice.
The key to consumer acceptance of electric cars, he said, is installing a network of stations that can replace drained batteries with fresh ones - just like filling a vehicle with a new tank of gas.
By building its first battery-changing stations in test markets like Israel, Denmark and Japan, Better Place is positioning itself to be a critical link in the evolution of the electric-car market.
"The battery is a consumable part of the car, just like gasoline," Agassi said during a recent interview. "Cars in the 1950s only went about 100 miles on a tank of gas, and that problem was solved by installing an infrastructure of gas stations."
Agassi acknowledges that there is much work to do to perfect the mechanics of switching a vehicle battery in a few minutes during a roadside stop.
But his concept has already won powerful converts in government and industry, including Shimon Peres, a former Israeli prime minister, and Carlos Ghosn, the chief executive of the Renault-Nissan auto alliance.
Agassi has also tapped into a spirit of change and an anything-is-possible mentality fostered by the hopeful, new Obama administration.
"I start with the question, how do you run a country without oil?" Agassi said. "To get there, you need the number of electric cars coming into the market to exceed the number of gasoline vehicles."
Up until recently, such a goal would have seemed a fantasy. But auto companies are now putting vast resources into electric-car projects, with several of them vowing to have a model on the market by 2011.
Advances in lithium-ion battery technology have increased the range and reliability of prototype electric models. Agassi is betting that batteries will become commodity products that can be leased and then replaced on demand in the ordinary course of driving.
Better Place has joined forces with governments in several countries to test its switching stations, and has also signed agreements in Hawaii and with a nine-city alliance of communities in the San Francisco Bay area.
The mayor of San Francisco, Gavin Newsom, envisions his city as an incubator for electric vehicles.
Part of the challenge is to convert existing sources of electricity - like municipal light poles - into charging stations for consumers.
"But what Shai is doing with these switching stations is taking the worry out of charging your car," said Newsom. "It relegates the concern about running out of electricity to the back of one's mind."
Agassi has no previous experience in the auto industry, but has been a devotee of electric cars for some time. He owns one of the 1,500 battery-powered RAV4 sport utility vehicles that Toyota built for testing purposes in the late 1990s.
He was a computer programmer who started a series of software companies with his father, the last of which they sold to the software giant SAP in 2001. He rose to become SAP's chief technology officer, and appeared on track to one day become chief executive.
In 2005, Agassi joined a business forum called Young Global Leaders, and attended the Davos economic conference. In one of the discussion sessions, attendees were asked to consider ways to "make the world a better place" - a concept that stuck with Agassi.
He left SAP two years ago and founded Better Place in Palo Alto, California, with $200 million in backing from venture capitalists in Israel and the United States. In a few months, he was meeting with Peres and Ghosn - again in Davos - to finalize an agreement to build switching stations in Israel for electric cars produced by Renault.
He has since signed similar deals in Denmark, Japan, Australia, and, most recently, Canada.
The Better Place system includes software that analyzes a vehicle's battery consumption, and can direct drivers either to small-scale charging spots or full-size switching stations.
Agassi estimates that a single battery-switching station will cost about $500,000 to build. A vehicle will park on a conveyor similar to the track in a car wash, and within minutes its depleted battery will be removed and replaced with a fully-charged one.
The batteries themselves might possibly be owned by Better Place, with consumers simply purchasing electric charges as they would cellphone minutes.
Renault and Nissan have already agreed to make electric cars that use stations built and owned by Better Place in test markets, and Agassi has pitched his plans to several other auto companies.
One auto industry analyst said the business model should be particularly appealing to automakers.
"Frankly, we are not aware of any reason why they would not sign up for this, as the automakers do not need to commit capital for infrastructure or for batteries," Rod Lache, a Deutsche Bank analyst, wrote in a research report on electric vehicles.
Better Place will open its first battery-switching stations by 2010, in Israel. Agassi expects that tax credits for electric cars will be widespread in several countries by then. Demand for the vehicles, he said, will grow in proportion to the ease of charging batteries or exchanging them.

Speed bumps to get new role as a source of green energy

Moving vehicles will generate electricity for street lights and road signs in a London trial
Rhodri Phillips
The Observer, Sunday 8 February 2009

"Green" speed bumps that will generate electricity as cars drive over them are to be introduced on Britain's roads. The hi-tech "sleeping policemen" will power street lights, traffic lights and road signs in a pilot scheme in London that could be rolled out nationwide.
Speed bumps have long been the bane of motorists' lives, but these will capture the kinetic energy of vehicles.
Peter Hughes, the designer behind the idea, said: "They are speed bumps, but they are not like conventional speed bumps. They don't damage your car or waste petrol when you drive over them - and they have the added advantage that they produce energy free of charge." An engineer who formerly advised the United Nations on renewable energy sources, Hughes added: "If it [the energy] wasn't harnessed by the speed bumps, it would go to waste."
The ramps - which cost between £20,000 and £55,000, depending on size - consist of a series of panels set in a pad virtually flush to the road. As the traffic passes over it, the panels go up and down, setting a cog in motion under the road. This then turns a motor, which produces mechanical energy. A steady stream of traffic passing over the bump can generate 10-36kW of power.
The bumps can each produce between £1 and £3.60 of energy an hour for up to 16 hours a day, or between £5,840 and £21,024 a year. Energy not used immediately can be stored or fed into the national grid.
"With a steady flow of traffic, four of the ramps used as speed bumps would be enough to power all the street lights, traffic lights and road signs for a mile-long stretch of street. The ramp is silent, comfortable and safe for vehicles. It is not only green energy; it is free energy, once you have paid for the capital cost of the equipment," said Hughes. "The full potential of this is absolutely enormous." Hughes claims that 10 ramps could generate the same power as one wind turbine.
The "electro-kinetic road ramp" system can either be raised to act as a speed bump or laid flat, so that drivers don't realise they are passing over it.
A spokesman for Ealing council in west London confirmed that £150,000 of funding had been secured for the scheme: "The money is there for the scheme in 2009-10," she said. "The details - how many speed bumps there will be and where they will be - still needs to be finalised. It is an innovative idea. We are excited to be part of it."
Hughes said he had been in talks with more than 200 councils interested in introducing the system, as well supermarket chain Morrisons about a flat version of the ramp at its depot in Sittingbourne, Kent.
Speed humps were introduced in the UK in 1981. There are an estimated 30,000 in London and at least that number in the rest of the country. Conventional speed humps cost about £2,000 each.
A nightclub opened in Rotterdam in the Netherlands last year that is run partly on energy generated by people dancing. Last year, it was also reported that pedestrians' footsteps could be used to power lighting at shopping centres.

Wind power to whip up storm of Scottish opportunities

The Sunday Times
February 8, 2009
John Penman

Wind power, which last year overtook hydro as the largest generator of renewable energy in Scotland, is still likely to provide the best opportunities for future deals, says a report.
A study by consultants Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC) into mergers and acquisition (M&A) activity across Europe claims that while opportunities will still exist for some hydro projects, wind is likely to see more activity.
Across the whole of Europe, wind and solar are adding to renewable energy deal momentum according to Renewables Deals, the first edition of an annual review by PwC. In Europe, solar overtook hydro as the second largest category after wind, accounting for 30% of renewables deals and 20% of the total value of deals. Wind power captured 60% of the deal total.
In Scotland, onshore wind narrowly became the largest renewable generation last year although hydro continues to play a significant role. Figures from Scottish Renewables show that wind now generates 1400 megawatts (MW) of power compared to 1380MW in hydro.
With the Scottish government setting ambitious targets to secure at least 50% of the country’s demand for electricity from renewable sources, the view is that there are still real growth opportunities in wind power and even wave and tidal schemes. John Cowan, at PwC, said: “While falling energy prices may cast some doubt over the viability of some renewable schemes, the opportunity is ripe for governments to set a more certain framework for the industry.
“Last week’s announcement by Scottish government that it will focus efforts on energy generation, production and expertise is a positive move in this direction and at a time when a number of industries are reducing staff the predicted 16,000 jobs that will be created will be especially welcome.”
Over the next few years, the firm believes there will be a substantial reduction in hydro schemes. However, this will be offset by significant opportunities for growth in windfarms.
There is also a growing appetite for wave and tidal schemes and other initiatives. While these don’t feature in the report, PwC say they provide examples of progress in a Scottish context and of where deal activity may emerge.
PwC said: “The deal market in Scotland is not immune to the downturn but there are some hot sectors, like renewables, where there is still considerable appetite to do deals.”
The report shows that renewable energy now accounts for one tenth of M&A value in the wider power sector.

Secondhand cooking oil in green heating trial

The Times
February 9, 2009
Lewis Smith

Secondhand cooking oil is being used to heat homes and schools in an experiment designed to help householders to cut down their carbon emissions.
Biofuel derived from used vegetable oil and tallow has been mixed with kerosene and fed into domestic boilers for the world’s first trial of renewable heating oil.
Initial results from the trial, in and around the market town of Reepham, have delighted researchers, who said it was proving as efficient as fossil fuel while emitting less than half as much carbon dioxide. The trials are being led by the University of East Anglia’s Low Carbon Innovation Centre, the Clean Energy Consultancy and the oil industry.
Andrew Robertson, of Clean Energy Consultancy, said: “It’s preferable to use biofuel as a heating fuel rather than for transport.
“About a third of the energy from biofuel goes towards pushing the car forward – the other two thirds are wasted as heat and noise.
“In a boiler, 90 per cent is used in heating and only 10 per cent goes up the flue.”

Oil reuse plan could cut carbon pollution

Published Date: 09 February 2009

FUEL made from used vegetable oil and animal fat is being used in a groundbreaking trial of a "green" oil that can be used in existing boilers to heat homes.
If the 12-month trial in Reepham, Norfolk is a success, the biodiesel could play a part in reducing the carbon footprint of almost two million homes in the UK and Ireland which currently use oil for heating and hot water.

Plunging price of carbon may threaten investment

By Sarah Arnott
Monday, 9 February 2009

The price of carbon has lost almost two-thirds of its value in the past six months, threatening future investments in the energy sector and undermining confidence in the second phase of Europe's Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). An EU permit to emit one tonne of CO2 cost €10.15 (£8.86) at the end of last week, down from €28.50 in mid-2008 and a far cry from forecasts of up to €40.
The most bearish experts are now predicting that the price could fallas low as €9 as global recession, reduced manufacturing output, and the concomitant reduction in consumption of fossil fuels, feeds through to reduce the need for carbon emissions permits.
The danger is that business plans for infrastructure projects like power stations and wind farms will founder. In the first phase of the EU ETS, which ran from 2005 to 2008, permits were vastly over-issued, pushing the price of carbon to less than €1 and rendering the mechanism meaningless as a predictable revenue stream.
A major price drop in the second phase of the scheme, which runs to 2012, could cause a repeat crisis of confidence by throwing future projections into question.
Jeff Chapman, the chief executive of the Carbon Capture and Storage Association, said: "The problem is that investors can't bank on a future value of carbon. It is impossible to take a project proposal to a bank based on a future price because we have seen the price collapse once before, and it is now doing it again."
There are now questions about whether government policies might change as the economic climate worsens. Paul Golby, the chief executive of E.ON, said: "There is a confidence issue around whether governments will keep their nerve. The plan was to keep tightening the carbon market to push the price up and encourage low-carbon investment.
"The question now is whether governments back away from that, and seek to ameliorate the effect of the recession on hard-hit industries by keeping the carbon price low."
Supporters of the trading scheme interpret the fluctuations of the carbon price in line with wider economic indicators as evidence of a mature and well-functioning market.
Henrik Hasselknippe, the director of Carbon Analysis at PointCarbon, said: "What we are seeing now is carbon functioning as a commodity and reacting to the same fundamentals as any other market in the world. It would be much more worrying if carbon stayed high because that would indicate something was wrong."
But the low price is already having a tangible effect. Under the Kyoto Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), industrialised countries can invest in overseas low-carbon projects as a cheaper alternative to pursuing such schemes at home. But with EU carbon prices coming down to within an ace of costs in China or India, the differential is no longer enough justification.
"At the moment, people are holding off investing in these projects because profitability is dwindling with lower emissions prices," Mr Hasselknippe said. "Saving just one extra euro isn't enough to make people go to China."
Despite the gloom in the rest of the economy, carbon trading has flourished since the start of phase two of the EU ETS last January, under which fewer permits were issued, and a proportion will be auctioned for the first time.
Last year was a bumper year for the European Climate Exchange (ECX). Some 2.8bn tonnes of emissions were traded, a massive 170 per cent rise on 2007. Patrick Birley, the ECX chief executive, said: "The exchange had a fantastic year, although it was hard to walk around the City feeling good about our volumes when so many of our friends were being clubbed."

Brown 'is not being green enough'

Britain is in danger of being left behind by rest of the world, warns environment chief
Gaby Hinsliff
The Observer, Sunday 8 February 2009

Gordon Brown's much-vaunted plan to beat the recession by going green lacks "coherence" and is being overtaken by rival plans around the world, the chair of the Environment Agency warns today.
Chris Smith, a former cabinet colleague of the prime minister, said Britain risked being left behind in developing technologies such as carbon capture, where gases pumped out by polluting industries are compressed and stored under the sea to prevent them reaching the atmosphere and adding to global warming.
Brown has boasted of how his own so-called "green new deal" would be bigger than Barack Obama's, relative to the size of their respective economies, but Lord Smith suggested that such claims were hollow, with few concrete initiatives beyond a push on home insulation.
"Why on earth don't we take a leaf out of Barack Obama's book and put green technology right at the heart of the economic stimulus package that we believe the government is wanting to put together for the budget?" he told the Observer.
"We have had some very welcome, very worthy initiatives on insulation for old people's homes, but what we have not had is anything like the scale and concentration and coherence of the sort of green technology investment that is part of the stimulus package in America - and in Germany and in China. We need to put it much more centrally within our own economic package in the UK."
This week, Smith will argue in a lecture to the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) that Britain must think bigger on climate change.
Carbon capture was, he said, the "perfect example of what can be done" and an opportunity to avoid repeating past mistakes: "Twenty years ago, we lost out as Denmark and Germany shot ahead in developing wind-farm technology and now if we want to put big-scale offshore wind farms in place we have to buy most of the equipment from them. Let's not end up in the same position again."
The government is shortly expected to approve a new coal-fired power plant at Kingsnorth in Kent, now the biggest target apart from Heathrow airport for anti-climate change protesters. Smith said it should get the green light only if it used carbon capture, adding: "Kingsnorth plus carbon capture and storage is acceptable: Kingsnorth without is environmentally unsustainable."
Ministers are studying carbon capture, but say the technique has not been tested on a large scale. There are concerns about the impact on the acidity of the oceans and the cost.
Smith, however, will call for a commitment to producing entirely carbon-free electricity by the next decade, using nuclear power - which Smith has previously opposed - alongside oil and coal-fired plants fitted with carbon capture and storage to make them "clean". He said the move was one of three steps "essential" to meeting Britain's new target of cutting carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, alongside more efficient use of energy and tackling transport.
"The future for coal-fired power stations is so crucial for meeting carbon reduction targets that saying, 'We will do it in due course' is simply not urgent enough," he said.
Smith said that reducing energy use in homes, which produce a quarter of emissions, was also important in meeting the target.

Quarter of UK homes to be offered a green makeover

• 7m households earmarked for complete refit• Move to cut emissions hinges on funds, say critics
Juliette Jowit
The Guardian, Monday 9 February 2009

More than one in four homes in the UK will be offered a complete eco-makeover under ambitious plans expected to be announced this week to slash fuel bills and cut global warming pollution.
The campaign is thought to involve giving 7m houses and flats a complete refit to improve insulation, and will be compared to the 10-year programme that converted British homes to gas central heating in the 1960s and 1970s. Householders could also be encouraged to install small-scale renewable and low-carbon heating systems such as solar panels and wood-burning boilers.
In total, it is thought the Department of Energy and Climate Change will commit to cutting a third of greenhouse gas emissions from households by 2020.
The announcement by the energy and climate secretary, Ed Miliband, and the communities and local government secretary, Hazel Blears, which is expected on Thursday, will be widely welcomed by environmental groups and fuel poverty campaigners who have been lobbying hard for more action to tackle emissions from homes. The proposals are likely to require skills training and create thousands of jobs.
Ed Matthew, head of UK climate for Friends of the Earth, said: "Twenty-seven percent of emissions in this country come from people's homes and if they don't cut emissions from homes radically we have got no hope of achieving our climate change targets."
However, campaigners will be worried about how much money the government is prepared to commit. Last year, the prime minister, Gordon Brown, announced nearly £1bn from power companies for energy-saving initiatives. By contrast, various reports have estimated the cost of insulation and small-scale clean energy alone to be £2bn-£12.9bn a year to reach the government's target of an 80% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
Matthew said the targets would only be met if each home treated was insulated well enough to cut those emissions by two-thirds, the financial incentives were high enough, and people on low incomes had the work paid for to tackle fuel poverty. It is estimated that more than 5m households are in fuel poverty, meaning they spend more than 10% of their income on heat and power.
"My concern is they will not be investing enough money to take these homes to a high enough energy efficiency standard to insulate them from rising fuel prices," he added.
A report by Oxford University's Environmental Change Institute in 2007 found that carbon dioxide emissions had risen 5% since Labour came into power in 1997, and only four out of every 1,000 homes had any "low-and-zero carbon technologies". The report also warned that with rising population and falling household numbers, emissions from the sector would rise by 23% by the middle of the century "if nothing else changed".
As well as the target of seven million homes, the heat and energy saving strategy is understood to push for a dramatic increase in the level of insulation for each house or flat, and to encourage more small-scale zero-or-low carbon heat.
The schemes will be voluntary, but Miliband is expected to announce financial incentives.
Similar schemes overseas included grants or cheap loans, transferable to a new homeowner if the property is sold. Also, the Sustainable Energy Academy estimates that if homeowners spend £15,000-20,000 they would save that amount in lower bills in 10-15 years, even less if fuel prices rise. Another possibly option is for whole districts to be offered community clean energy schemes, or mass fitting of efficiency improvements.
The Conservatives have proposed grants of up to £6,500 per household, which would be repaid over up to 25 years from expected savings of £160 on gas and electricity bills.