Sunday, 15 February 2009

Nothing weedy about the Lotus Eco Elise

The Sunday Times
February 15, 2009
Lotus is racing to be Britain’s greenest carmaker
Joseph Dunn

FANCY a spin in a car made from weeds? Lotus, the British sports-car company, has put a new twist on green motoring with a two seater made from eco-friendly materials.
The Eco Elise features an interior made from wool, instead of more traditional materials such as alcantara or leather, while some of the exterior body panels are made from hemp.
On the roof there are solar panels that provide the electricity to run the stereo and air conditioning, and the rest of the body is coated in a new water-based paint developed with DuPont that is not only more environment friendly, but also cheaper to produce.
As important, says Lotus, is that many of the materials have been sourced locally. The Norfolk-based firm claims this means it has been able to cut the amount of CO2 produced in the transport process: rather than shipping the materials in from abroad, it has used suppliers just down the road.
Lotus aims to become Britain’s greenest car manufacturer. The company already builds the Tesla Roadster, the all-electric sports car that has proved a hit in America where it is driven by Hollywood stars such as George Clooney and Matt Damon. Although the chassis and body is made in Norfolk, the electric motor that gives the car a top speed of 125mph is fitted in North America. A European version of the zero-emissions car went on sale last summer for £78,000.
The Eco Elise, which is based on the standard Elise sports car costing £24,000, is part of a company-wide drive by Lotus to green up its image: “It came from a staff initiative to improve our environmental credentials,” said Alastair Florance at Lotus.
“There are so many ways businesses can improve their emissions levels and this car shows what can be done relatively easily, although obviously there needs to be more research into how well the materials perform over time.”
Lotus has also implemented a scheme to reduce its energy consumption on site by cutting the amount of electricity it uses and by researching the potential of methanol as an alternative fuel for its cars.
The company recently won planning permission to build three wind turbines on its site at an old airfield.
The 80-metre-tall turbines are scheduled to be built next year and will provide enough energy to power the whole company. Excess electricity will be transferred to the national grid.
Don’t expect to see the Eco Elise on your garage forecourt any time soon, however: there are no plans to mass-produce it at the moment.

The big green giveaway

The Sunday Times
February 15, 2009
Mr Miliband wants us all to help save the planet, but what will the ‘great refurb’ do for you

Pollyanna herself would be hard pushed to find something positive to say about the current economic climate, but even if our financial clout is weakening, our eco-credentials are growing stronger by the day.
Last week, in an attempt to help meet its ambitious goal of reducing household carbon emissions to close to zero by 2050, the government announced plans to offer more than one in four homes an environmental makeover.
The “Great British Refurb”, as it’s been styled, could see the greening of our homes on the same scale that saw them converted to gas central heating in the 1960s – or so the government hopes. Under the Heat and Energy Saving Strategy, launched by Ed Miliband, the energy and climate-change secretary, and Hazel Blears, the communities secretary, homeowners are being urged to be more ambitious by installing ground- or air-source heat pumps, solar heating, solid wall insulation, or to join a community heating scheme.
“We need to move from incremental steps on household energy efficiency to a national plan,” said Miliband. “Wasted energy is costing families on average £300 a year, and a quarter of all our emissions are from our homes. We cannot afford not to act.”

So what does it mean for the home-owner? Since it is only a draft proposal, the details have yet to be finalised (and it’s also not clear how it will affect people who live in flats rather than houses), but these are the basic principles:
— Householders will be offered loans to help pay for energy-efficiency measures and low-carbon heat and power sources. The repayments will be made out of the money saved on energy bills, but will be linked to the property itself, rather than the householder – which should make people more willing to invest in green technology with a long payback time, even if they do not plan to stay in a property for long.
— Property owners will be offered low-cost home-energy audits.
— To protect homeowners from “eco-cowboys”, a special qualification will be established for energy advisers and an accreditation scheme set for installers.
— A scheme under which energy companies subsidise green measures such as loft and cavity-wall insulation, high-efficiency appliances and low-energy light bulbs will be expanded, with 20% more money expected to be available for homeowners.
— People will be encouraged to generate their own electricity on a small scale, with guaranteed payments under what will be called the Renewable Heat Incentive and a Feed-in Tariff.
— A new Community Energy Savings Programme will provide help to about 90,000 homes in low-income areas. This will be backed by an expected £350m in funding from energy suppliers.
The final details will be released after a 12-week consultation process. However, there is a surprising amount of money already earmarked by the government, energy suppliers and local authorities to help you implement energysaving measures in your home – for nothing.
The quickest way to find out what is available is to visit, then click on “Home improvements” and “Search for grants and offers”. I entered my southwest London postcode and the site suggested – among many others – the Mayor of London’s insulation offer, ending on February 28, of cavity-wall insulation from £250 and loft insulation from £274 (based on a typical three-bed semi), plus £100 cashback once work is completed.
At the same time, British Gas (british will pay up to £125 on your council tax bill, provided you live within one of the 64 participating council areas, if you have it insulate your home before March 1.EDF Energy ( is offering a reduced rate of £199 for loft insulation or cavity-wall insulation (price applies to properties with up to four bedrooms).
And it’s not just energysaving measures that are on offer. Right now, for instance, there are some 90,000 solar water-heating systems in Britain; by 2020 there could be up to 7m, thanks to hefty grants and changes in the planning rules that mean solar panels no longer require planning permission.
Visit for details of a scheme run by the Energy Saving Trust, which offers grants of up to £2,500 per household to install wind turbines, wood-pellet stoves, ground-source heat pumps and other eco kit.
It’s also worth keeping your eyes peeled for deals in unexpected places. In January last year, for example, the Great British Light Switch campaign distributed 4.5m energysaving light bulbs in just one day.
Less dramatic, but still worthwhile is the offer on the Act on CO2 website ( Fill in the online questionnaire and you could be one of 10 lucky winners of a free standby saver, which switches off DVD players, set-top boxes and other electronic gadgets connected to your television when you turn off the set. Every little helps.

Hotshot greens caught wasting home heat

The Sunday Times
February 15, 2009
A survey of the homes of top environmentalists has found they leak energy
Steven Swinford and Jonathan Leake

THEY may shout their green credentials from the rooftops, but some of Britain’s most prominent environmental champions are living in homes that produce up to half a ton of excess carbon dioxide a year.
An audit of properties, measuring heat loss, has revealed that Chris Martin, the pop star, Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, and Sir David Attenborough, the broadcaster, are among those who reside in homes that are “leaking” energy. Some lack even the most basic energy saving measures such as cavity wall insulation and double glazing.
Thermal images of the residences of 10 high-profile green campaigners found that their heat loss was either worse or no better than that found in the average family home.
Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrat energy and climate change spokesman, owned the least energy-efficient property. He bought his £150,000 flat in Southwark, south London, 25 years ago but has failed to fit it with any significant insulation. Only last week Hughes unveiled plans to make every home in Britain energy efficient within the next decade. He could start with his own flat.

According to IRT Surveys, which analysed the thermal images for The Sunday Times, an estimated 1,812 kilowatt hours of heat a year seeps out through the walls and windows. The extra heating needed to make up for this loss produces 471kg of CO2 This weekend Hughes said he was planning to move. “I’m conscious that the house does need some more work to be as well insulated as possible,” he said. “If I stay, it will have a full survey and anything that’s necessary. In theory it doesn’t waste much energy because for large parts of the day there’s nobody there.”
The IRT analysis assumes the property is in use the whole year round. However, Steve Howard of the Climate Group, which advises businesses and governments about reducing emissions, said: “Even a poorly paid MP can afford cavity wall insulation - it will pay for itself in three years. It’s a no-brainer.”
Johnson is a late convert to the environmental cause and has sought to enhance his reputation by offering Londoners discounted home insulation.
However, his five-bedroom Victorian house in Islington, north London, loses 1,388kWh of energy a year - equivalent to - largely because of “excessive heat loss” around 360kg of CO2 the upper and lower windows.
Jenny Jones, a Green party London assembly member, said: “It’s all very well to advise the rest of London how to behave, but if you’re going to be credible you’ve got to do it yourself. He has to put his own house in order.”
A source close to Johnson claimed that energy saving measures would be too costly to implement in such an old property, which has neither a loft nor cavities in the walls. The mayor also plans to move soon.
Experts say having a period property is no excuse and suggest the internal cladding of walls, draught-proofing and solar water heaters as ways of improving energy efficiency.
Martin, the lead singer of Coldplay, and his wife, Gwyneth Paltrow, the actress, have both championed green issues. Paltrow backed the American “Act Green” energy conservation campaign, while Martin tried to offset CO2 emissions produced by his band’s second album by planting a forest of mango trees in India.
Yet the couple's £2.5m home in Belsize Park, north London, wastes 1,020kWh of heat a year. A spokesman for Martin refused to comment.
Attenborough, the veteran naturalist and broadcaster, has lived in the same Georgian villa in Richmond, southwest London, for 40 years. Despite the installation of new boilers and insulation of the roof, the windows remain single-glazed because the property is in a conservation area.
As a result, it loses 1,107kWh of energy a year. “I’m talking to people about solar panels,” Attenborough said. “The property is 200 years old so we are limited [in what we can do].”
Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London, who denounced flying as “a symptom of sin” two years ago, lives at the Old Deanery near St Paul’s Cathedral. The property loses 518kWh and burns 134kg of CO2 a year in extra heating. A spokesman for the bishop said the grade I listed building had recently undergone an environmental audit and further improvements would be made to reduce heat loss.
John Sauven, director of Greenpeace, admitted that he had also struggled to make his £500,000 London home more energy efficient because of its age. To compensate, he has installed draught-proofing and solar panels. He also drives an electric car and no longer flies when going on holiday. Sauven is considering taking out a second mortgage to install double glazing, which costs more in a conservation area.
The audit, using a camera provided by Flir, which makes thermal imaging equipment, found Hilary Benn, the environment minister, Ed Miliband, the climate change minister, and David Cameron, the Tory leader, had the most energy efficient of the 10 properties.
Lost energy
Sir David Attenborough, broadcaster: 288kg
Lord Smith of Finsbury, chairman of the Environment Agency: 186kg
John Sauven, director of Greenpeace: 158kg
Richard Chartres, Bishop of London: 135kg
Hilary Benn, environment secretary: 126kg
Ed Miliband, energy and climate change secretary: 121kg
David Cameron, Tory leader: 21kg
Figures assume round-the-year usage of the property

Eco firm Seventh Generation is riding high in Obama revolution

The Sunday Times
February 15, 2009
The boss of Seventh Generation Jeffrey Hollender says the new president gives hope for the future

BEING green isn’t easy, just ask Jeffrey Hollender. The founder of America’s largest distributor of eco-friendy cleaning products spent 20 years struggling to get his brand taken seriously in a political climate that was anything but friendly.
His protests have seen him thrown in prison. In 2007, while taking part in a Green-peace protest against former President George Bush’s stance on global warming, he was carted off to a cell in Washington, where he spent six hours before being charged with a mis-demeanour and released.
Today he is one of the leading voices of America’s green-business movement and last month found himself back in Washington – this time as one of Barack Obama’s advisers on the issues surrounding sustainability and environmental friendliness.
His credentials are not in doubt. Seventh Generation, the company he founded two decades ago, takes its name from the native American proverb: “In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations.” It has since become America’s largest distributor of nontoxic, all-natural cleaning and personal-care products. All come with a guarantee that they will cause as little harm to the environment as possible. Its washing-up liquid is nontoxic, biodegradable, not tested on animals, and even certified kosher. Its loo roll is made of recycled paper and whitened without chlorine.
The firm’s products are starting to build a presence in Britain after growing at 30%-plus a year in America for the past eight years. They are available at small chains such as Fresh and Wild and Planet Organic.
However, selling household goods is not what Hollender sees as his priority. “Seventh Generation in some respects is ultimately not in the business of selling bath-room tissue or washing-up liquid. It’s really in the business of helping people make more thoughtful and conscientious choices about how they lead their lives,” he said. “Raising consciousness is a large part of why we are in business.”
If it all sounds a little self-serving and evangelical, maybe it is. But that does not bother Hollender. The author of several books on environmental issues, he was one of a green core of businessmen recently invited to Washington to advise the new president on sustainability. Billions of dollars of Obama’s economic stimulus package are earmarked for environmental projects.
Among the other people invited to the “social innovation team” were Seth Goldman, founder of Honest Tea, maker of the president’s favour-ite beverage, and Julius Wall from the Grey-stone Bakery, whose workforce was chosen from the unemployed and whose profits are used to help fund day-care centres, health clinics and counselling services.
They talked of creating “green” jobs, as well a “National Institute of Sustainability” and tax incentives for sustainable businesses. It was a sign of the times that the group had a far warmer reception than the other business leaders who have recently been dragged to Washington following the financial meltdown.
“I’m over 50 years old and I was telling my children this is the first time in my life that I was proud to be an American,” Hollender said. “Proud to live in a country where the government stands for something that I really believe in.”
Hollender believes government, businesses and individuals need to work together if they are to tackle the issues facing the planet.
He argues that a key issue is that many goods do not reflect their total cost. “If you’re going to buy organic strawberries or nonorganic strawberries, the nonorganic strawberries have to reflect the price of the water pollution created by the use of pesticides or the healthcare costs of the workers that were exposed to those pesticides. Until that happens we’ll never make all the progress we’ll need to make,” he said.
Hollender, too, is thinking big as he tries to push his ideas. Seventh Generation is now working with WalMart and will offer its products in the giant retailer’s stores.
It was a controversial move in a green land where WalMart (owner of Asda) has been portrayed as the enemy. But WalMart has made great strides in its thinking, said Hollender. The firm is greening its fleet of delivery vans, for example, and is becoming a big player in organics. The scale of its business means it can be a force for good, he believes. “In the end there’s no mileage in me spending all my time shouting at people,” said Hollender.
For all his new-found love of Washington, though, one big problem stands in the way of his and Team Obama’s plans: the credit crunch.
John Quelch, Harvard Business School professor and author of Greater Good: How Good Marketing Makes for Better Democracy, said having a green message was becominga “must-have instead of a special benefit”. The entry of firms such as WalMart showed this was the way forward, he said. “They are in the position to drive this in a way that other retailers aren’t. But this trend will necessarily take a step back in a recession because the consumers’ willingness to pay the price may be offset by the need to save pennies,” said Quelch.
Hollender is confident that he can keep growing his business without compromising his principles.
“This is the best opportunity to make a positive change we have ever had,” he said. “The question is will we seize the opportunity?”
Hollender’s life Age: 54Education: ‘Not much, dropped out of Hampshire College after 1½ years’ Early career: ‘Started a window-washing business at 14; an adult-education firm at 19; and a books-on-tape company at 24. I sold the latter to Warner Communications when I was 30.’ Homes: Charlotte in Vermont and New York Car: 2008 Toyota Camry Hybrid and 1967 Mercedes 250 SL Film: The Endless Summer Book: Presence, by Peter Senge Maxim:‘We must be the change we wish to see in the world’ – Gandhi Net worth:‘Much more than I’ll ever need, but less than I seem to want’

Race against Time

The country's chief lobbyist for renewables tells Rosemary Gallagher why it's a race against time to meet generating targets

Published Date: 15 February 2009

THE nuclear energy debate has set the Scottish Government on a well-documented collision course with Westminster and business leaders who warn that its resistance to building a new generation of reactors will mean a brain drain of talent and the lights being switched off. Enough, perhaps, to swell the chest of the country's chief lobbyist for the renewables industry.
Well, not exactly. Jason Ormiston, chief executive of trade body Scottish Renewables, is not merely a spokesman for the wind and wave brigade. "No, no, no," insists Ormiston. "Scottish Renewables' position (on nuclear] is one of agnosticism. We don't tell the Government how it should manage that particular issue. "The vision we have is of a number of generating technologies operating together where the weaknesses of each are balanced by the strengths of others. I like to think of it as a football team, where the whole is better than the sum of the parts."He doesn't say whether the football team he has in mind is his first love, Dunfermline Athletic, or Partick Thistle, the local outfit he has adopted since moving to the west end of Glasgow. However, he does say it is unfortunate that the language of the debate around nuclear has been "a little strident at times" and needs to take a "more sensible and sober turn". Only then can key decisions be made about the role of different generating technologies over the next 20 years."It would be helpful if some commentators were able to make the case for their favourite technology without using myths to undermine others that have an important role to play. I haven't heard anyone sensibly articulate the type of argument I'm making about moving towards an electricity system that has a significant contribution from renewables as part of a wider mix offering the reliability and affordability we need."The former business journalist has led Scottish Renewables, an industry-led body representing 241 energy organisations since October 2007. He is still a relatively youthful 38, and his pragmatic approach may stem from his career to date. He got involved in the sector after the Scottish daily newspaper Business AM collapsed in 2002 and he found himself out of work. He tried his hand at sports journalism before advising a public relations agency on green energy and then joining Scottish Renewables as its wind engineering officer. While a business journalist he covered the paper's energy beat, focusing on oil and gas at a time when renewables were relatively far down the media agenda."As a journalist, I wasn't in any way worried about the impact of the oil and gas sector. But I have always had a strong interest in environmental issues. A big concern of mine is climate change and how fossil fuels should be considered as a more precious resource," he says.Earlier, he had taken part in a lengthy session at the Scottish Parliament on delivering the energy future. Along with Scottish & Southern Energy, ScottishPower, the National Grid, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and industry regulator Ofgem, he was asked to give evidence on the technicalities of transmission charging and energy infrastructure. He gave an eloquent account on all aspects of energy, not just renewables.But, despite his view that the country's energy needs must be met by a mixed portfolio, he is not willing to challenge SNP's opposition to nuclear. One way or another, answers have to be found, as the country's coal-fired and nuclear power stations are due to be decommissioned without a clear strategy for replacing them. Cockenzie coal-fired station closes in 2015; Hunterston nuclear plant in 2016; Longannet coal-fired station in 2020; Torness nuclear reactor in 2023 and Peterhead gas-fired station two years later.With coal currently producing 32.7% of Scotland's electricity, nuclear 26.4% and renewables, including hydro, only 13%, there is a long way to go before the Government hits its target of 50% of the country's electricity coming from renewable sources by 2020. "Reaching 50% is still challenging. It's certainly not in the bag as a lot of things have to happen first," Ormiston concedes. One prerequisite is for planners to give the go-ahead to SSE and ScottishPower's proposals to replace and upgrade the transmission line between Beauly, near Inverness, and Denny, near Falkirk. The energy companies need approval by March to start work in June and have the new line complete by 2012. Scottish Renewables has consistently made the case that failure to give a timely approval to the proposal, the largest single civil engineering project since Scotland's large hydro stations were built, will be a major setback for the growth of the country's renewable electricity industry. It would also see the loss of £1.5bn worth of investment in the north of the country. Ormiston says the project has to be given the green light to allow even half of the renewable projects in the planning system to be plugged into the grid network. Uncertainty over the Beauly-Denny project is not the only hurdle. If the 2020 target is to be met, all the required renewable capacity has to be given planning consent by 2017. "Political support needs to be in place if this is to happen," says Ormiston. In technical terms, Scotland currently has almost 3,000 megawatts of renewable capacity already installed. It needs another 5,000MW to meet the 2020 target.Scotland's largest onshore wind farm currently being built at Whitelee, Glasgow by ScottishPower, will have capacity to generate 322MW of electricity from about 140 turbines. Quite a few more Whitelees would be needed by 2020 to meet the Scottish Government's target. But it is not that straightforward as most wind farms will be on a much smaller scale and other forms of renewables, including wave and tidal power, will have a role to play. The support of planners will be crucial to the success of the renewables industry but is far from guaranteed."The litmus test when it comes to planning will be whether Beauly-Denny is given the go-ahead," says Ormiston.While, he says, planning is an improving situation, it has been a big issue for the industry, and one Scottish Renewables has fought hard with the politicians to improve. "The inconsistent approach and the time spent making planning decisions has caused the renewables industry major problems. A lot of the larger projects were unnecessarily delayed. I don't think the planning system is well enough resourced to take a project through the system in an acceptable time. A backlog develops and those employed in the system also have to put up with political pressure."Another barrier to the development of the renewables industry is the skills shortage.There are two aspects to the shortage, says Ormiston. On the domestic side, there are not enough plumbers and electricians trained in green energy to, for example, install solar panels. To tackle this problem Scottish Renewables is working with a number of bodies, such as the Scottish and Northern Irish Plumbing Employer Federation, to train more workers. The Scottish Government is aware of the problem and is developing its Renewable Heat Action Plan to be published later in the year."We would expect the Government to identify this problem as an important issue that needs to be addressed. But we do need to shift very quickly from thinking about the problem to doing something about it. In my experience, Westminster and Holyrood are very good at talking and strategising but not delivering."On the company side, there are not enough engineering graduates coming through with the qualifications to work on the country's wind, wave and tidal projects, Ormiston warns."There is, generally speaking, a shortage of engineers and we have members who are struggling to recruit people with the skills they need. We have to invest to build up capacity. If we can't find engineers to make devices work, the industry will have a problem as we're still in proof-of-technology stage. We need to be able to show that renewable devices, including those for wave and tidal power, and carbon capture, can be commercialised."

Blown away (Observer)

Tim Webb
The Observer, Sunday 15 February 2009

In just over a fortnight, Britain's largest energy groups will submit bids to build dozens of giant wind farms off the coast of the UK at an estimated cost of well over £30bn. The only problem is that the groups have little confidence they will become a reality - unless they get more public subsidies.
Readers would be forgiven a heavy sigh at the request for a government bail-out. This is particularly the case when the call comes from energy companies, whose unpopularity recently has been surpassed only by the banks.
Yet the energy companies and other developers of offshore wind have a point. The government has set incredibly ambitious renewable energy targets. Meeting them depends on building offshore wind farms - and lots of them.
Early next month is the deadline for companies to bid in the third - and by far the largest - round of licensing for offshore wind. The government hopes the nine zones up for grabs will host 25GW of wind farms, enough to power London.
But existing projects are already running into problems. E.ON, one of the developers of the £1bn London Array offshore project, admitted last month that the economics were on a "knife edge". The energy group will decide soon whether to proceed or not.
Offshore wind farms are an expensive way to generate power. No one has built them on this scale before, which also makes the projects very risky. Unlike elsewhere in Europe, developers are not guaranteed a high price for the electricity they sell. Add in the credit crunch and it is no surprise that dozens of projects have been put on hold or scrapped altogether.
Sam Laidlaw, chief executive of Centrica, told the Guardian last month that he and other energy chiefs were in urgent talks with the government about how to make the economics work.
Privately, some despair at the failure to change the existing regulatory and economic framework for offshore wind. One chief executive said: "It's bonkers."
But developers have not given up all hope, which is why interest next month will be healthy, albeit not as strong as it would have been a year ago. One director of a developer said: "Companies will still submit proposals in the hope that the economics will improve when they have to commit the investment. If they don't, the projects won't go ahead."

Blown away

The Sunday Times
February 15, 2009
BT and Tesco may abandon huge new eco-projects following a last-minute rule change by the government
Jonathan Leake and Joseph Dunn

ONE of Britain’s biggest privately funded eco-projects could be on the verge of collapse. British Telecom said last week that it was preparing to pull the plug on a £250m plan to build electricity-generating wind farms because of a rule change by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).
BT, whose shares hit a record low in trading last week, planned to build 100 turbines on 20-30 sites in England and Scotland capable of generating 25% of its power needs. At a cost of £250m it represented the biggest investment in renewable energy by any British company apart from energy businesses.
But last week the scheme was in disarray, with BT and the government each blaming the other for the impending collapse. BT claims that new rules make the project unviable and that the government is now in effect discouraging companies from switching to renewable energy.
At the root of the dispute is a row over government-issued credits called Renewable Obligation Certificates (Rocs).
“Overall, we support what the government is trying to do to promote energy efficiency, but the ruling on Rocs means there is no sense in us building wind turbines,” said Chris Tup-pen, BT’s chief sustainability officer. “It is a perverse ruling that will also affect a number of other big businesses that are trying to act responsibly.
“We planned to build wind turbines that would generate a quarter of BT’s electricity by 2016. Without the subsidy that will not go ahead.”
A spokesman for the DECC blamed the problem on BT’s plans to profit from the wind farms by selling electricity and reducing its CO2 footprint at the same time as claiming subsidies, thus “having its cake and eating it”.
“It’s an accounting thing but it’s very important,” a government spokesman said. “We have to be very tough on it. The Roc is not a subsidy. If you sell the energy to the National Grid it is used to offset the grid’s emissions. You can’t both claim the money and use it to offset the company’s own emissions. That’s double accounting.”
Ed Miliband, the energy and climate change secretary, is expected to announce a consultation on its so-called carbon-reduction commitment (CRC) – the scheme that blocks BT from claiming credits at the same time as counting its green energy against its CO2 footprint – in late spring. BT and other firms are already lobbying to block it or change it.
Among them is Tesco, which is becoming increasingly interested in renewable-energy generation. David North, community and government director at Tesco, said: “I can see why the civil servants see this as double counting but the effect is to hold up renewable-energy initiatives. The government needs to find a way around this, perhaps by creating other incentives to help companies that are not power generators or other large fossil fuel users to switch to renewable energy.”
So where did it all go wrong? Hailed as an example of how businesses and government could work together to reduce carbon emissions, BT’s wind-power project was welcomed by the government when it was revealed two years ago. But the row now illustrates the fiendish complexity of the subsidy regimes devised to encourage the expansion of renewable-energy generation.
Rocs are issued by Ofgem, the energy regulator, to companies that produce green energy and can be sold on to third parties such as power generators, who have to prove – via the Rocs – that they gain a percentage of their power from renewable sources.
By selling the Roc, a company such as BT in effect gains a government subsidy on its green power. The government says BT is not entitled to that subsidy if it also exploits the fact that it produces renewable energy to reduce its overall carbon footprint.
BT says its proposed wind farms were planned on the assumption that it could sell Rocs in this way, and that the government has now back-tracked, making the project uneconomic.
The new CRC regulations make clear that businesses can either trade their Rocs or claim the carbon saved against their overall footprint – not both. It is this change that has infuriated BT.
“All sides are acting with good intentions but the result is that a plan that would make substantial cuts in CO2 emissions could be cancelled by BT’s board,” said Sir Michael Rake, chairman of BT. “We’re very disappointed and we would like the government to rethink these rules.” There are mounting concerns that the economic downturn is forcing companies to scale back or to scrap altogether environ-mental initiatives. Last month Vestas, the world’s biggest wind turbine manufacturer, reported a drop in demand that left it with 15% excess manufacturing capacity, while Wall Street analysts said 2009 would be a tough year for wind and solar supplying firms.
BT has also been buffeted by the markets: shares fell 7.8% to 97p – an all time low – last week after the group warned of further writedowns on its troubled corporate telecoms infra-structure division.
This is not just energy, this is M&S green energy
WHILE BT wavers on its green plans, Marks & Spencer is today announcing a multi-million-pound contract with Npower as part of its Plan A to be carbon neutral by 2012, writes Kate Walsh.
Under the six-year deal the energy supplier will provide M&S with 2.6TWh (terawatt-hour) of renewable electricity – enough to power all the retailer’s stores and offices – from April.
The deal in itself is worthy, but a caveat that stipulates that a quarter of the energy must come from small-scale generators makes it unique. In simple terms this means M&S is offering contracts to UK farmers to feed renewable energy into the grid, which it will then buy from Npower.
The retailer has already awarded five contracts to small farmers, and this has enabled them to get financing for building wind turbines, anaerobic digesters and small-scale hydro systems.
Grant Mackie, an Aberdeenshire grain and cattle farmer, won an M&S energy contract in 2006. He said: “A wind turbine costs about £1m upfront and unless you have a five-year contract the banks are not interested in providing the capital. The longest contract we could get before M&S was two years at a push. There was a disconnect, and M&S bridged that gap.”
Mackie now has three wind turbines on his 500-acre farm.
Richard Gillies at M&S said: “Mackie has wind blowing over his land, which we can use, but can still do what he likes at ground level, be that growing grain or rearing cattle.”

Coal at centre of fierce new climate battle

The debate over the impact of fossil fuels has been reignited by the imminent approval of a power plant at Kingsnorth, Kent. Could advances in technology provide ways of capturing dangerous emissions and make coal safer? Science Editor Robin McKie reports on a conflict of ideas
Robin McKie
The Observer, Sunday 15 February 2009

Engineers on the Sleipner East platform in the North Sea can lay claim to a unique environmental honour. Each year for the past decade they have pumped a million tonnes of carbon dioxide into an old gas field below their rig, a helpful contribution to the easing of global warming.
But there is more to the project, run by the Norwegian energy company StatoilHydro, than providing the world with some short-term climatic action. The engineers have also been studying the fate of that CO2 once it has reached its subterranean home. To their delight, the gas has stayed there, trapped in the pores of the field's sandstone rock.
"We have pumped millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide into underground fields," said project leader Tore Torp. "We see no signs of any escaping."
This lesson is crucial, say scientists. The world's longest-running carbon storage experiment has been a success and has shown that the technology is safe, effective and ready for implementation. Carbon dioxide from fossil fuel plants could soon be extracted before it reaches the atmosphere and be stored safely out of sight, a process known as carbon capture and storage (CCS).
"The idea is simple," said geologist Stuart Haszeldine, of Edinburgh University. "If you have CCS, power plant operators can still burn fossil fuels - without emitting carbon dioxide."
And not before time. According to energy experts, Britain now has no chance of meeting its climate change obligations and the planet has little prospect of tackling global warming without a means of stopping carbon emissions from fossil fuel plants. We can expand renewable power, build nuclear plants and improve energy conservation, but will remain at the mercy of power plants and factories that burn fossil fuels. The world is too dependent on carbon fuels to quit its addiction in a decade or two, it is argued. We need to deal with them directly and urgently, with prime emphasis on the most dangerous of all fossil fuels: coal.
According to Jim Hansen, the climate change champion and director of Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, coal now rates as the greatest evil our planet faces. "Trains carrying coal to power plants are death trains," he says in an uncompromising opinion article in today's Observer. "Coal-fired plants are factories of death."
Many other scientists agree. Coal poses special environmental problems. It is dirty; burning it releases pollutants that cause acid rain; its combustion produces less heat than the burning of gas and oil, meaning that disproportionate amounts are needed to run power plants and factories. Yet in only a few weeks, the government is expected to approve construction of a massive new coal power plant at Kingsnorth in Kent.
Worst of all, however, is the simple fact that coal remains plentiful and cheap. "The world's oil and gas will probably run out in 50 years, but coal will last for hundreds of years," said Professor Dermot Roddy, of Newcastle University. "In Britain, with its two centuries of mining, we still have more than 100 years of coal supply. It will not run out overnight."
The fossilised remnants of 100 million-year-old plants, coal is still the world's major source of electricity, generating 41% of its power supply. Even in the United States, the most technologically advanced nation, almost half its electricity is generated this way. In rapidly developing nations such as India and China, new coal power plants are opened every month. For Hansen, the only solution is the introduction of a carbon tax across the globe. Companies would be taxed by national governments according to their levels of emissions. Any failing to set up such systems would have their exports taxed by the rest of the world. Fossil fuel plants, especially coal plants, would be priced out of existence.
But last week British energy experts warned that a system of carbon taxes had little chance of success, particularly in dealing with coal. "Coal is going to be available as a source of energy for at least another century and countries like China, India and Russia have particularly rich resources," said Mike Stephenson, head of science at the British Geological Survey. "It does not matter what we say in the west about they should do, they will always want to exploit their coal. If it is in the ground, people will always be tempted to use it. The only way round the problem is to make the use of coal safe and environmentally friendly."
In other words, only technology can save the day - in the form of CCS schemes. "The position is very simple," said energy expert Jon Gibbins, of Imperial College London. "The only way we can decarbonise our electricity production on the timescale needed to halt the worst effects of climate change is by setting up carbon capture and storage plants as matters of urgency." Nuclear and wind plants simply cannot be constructed in the time available.
This point was backed by the former cabinet minister Chris Smith in a lecture to the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce this month. 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," he said. "Let's not end up in the same position again."
Yet on its current timetable the government is destined to do just that. It is now assessing a number of small prototype projects, proposed by local authorities and power companies, that would be attached to power plants. A single winner will then be announced next year and given government support. Construction is expected to take three or four years and the plant would be then be run for several years. From the lessons learnt, the first major CCS plants would then be given the go-ahead, around 2020.
"That is simply too late," Stephenson said. "If we are to cut our carbon emissions by 20 per cent by that date, our only hope is through CCS. But if the government proceeds at its current pace, we will hardly be off the ground by then."
Only serious intervention will save the day. "We cannot expect power companies and local authorities to take all the risks," said Roddy. "We need some modest central commitment and investment for several full-scale projects in the next couple of years. Some plants will work better than others and we need to find out urgently which they are. And if, by some chance, CCS plants don't work, it is vital we know that as soon as possible.
"I am sure they will work, however. We know how to extract carbon dioxide on an industrial scale at petrochemical plants and we have learnt from projects like Sleipner how to store carbon dioxide underground. All we need to do is scale up proceedings. But we need to do that now, on a large-scale, at several sites, using different systems if we are to have a hope of getting CCS ready in time."
For Britain, the need to act swiftly over CCS is particularly acute. The nation possesses considerable North Sea oil industry expertise, a key advantage in developing expertise in CCS technology given that most projects are likely to be based near depleted, underwater oil and gas fields where leakage cannot affect towns or cities.
Thus the UK has a first-class opportunity to develop a technology with enormous industrial potential, not just as a means to hide CO2 from an overheating planet but as a technique for improving the recovery of oil. Pumping gas into a depleted field helps to push out its last reserves of oil. The technology is expensive, but combined with CCS could become increasingly viable.
Britain also has a moral obligation, say scientists such as Hansen. Per head of population, the UK has put more CO2 into the atmosphere than any other country. The nation that unleashed the industrial revolution has a lot to answer for, in other words. It is therefore clear that we should be taking a lead in the development of technologies that can fix the problem. "Certainly, we are in no position to tell China or India that they cannot burn coal," added Gibbins.
Exactly how CCS schemes would be funded is not yet clear. A carbon tax could still play a role, say experts - by making emissions costly enough to justify the price of building CCS plants.
Current estimates suggest it will cost at least £50 to bury a tonne of carbon dioxide. Given that a typical 800 megawatt power station will produce 5 million tonnes a year, it is clear this is not going to be a cheap technology. On the other hand, it is a technology that desperately needs validating, say energy experts. If it is not going to work, the world needs to know now before it places its faith in a dud saviour. On other hand, if it does work, as most experts predict, it needs to be implemented on a timetable that will give our warming world a chance to breathe as soon as possible.
Carbon controls
Three main types of carbon capture techniques have been developed:
Pre-combustion capture
Coal particles are mixed with steam, a reaction which produces hydrogen and carbon dioxide. The hydrogen is burned to drive turbines and the carbon dioxide is buried.
Post-combustion capture
Coal is burned normally and the carbon dioxide produced is then extracted and stored.
Oxy-fuel combustion
Coal is burned in pure oxygen, triggering high-temperature reactions which produce fewer polluting by-products.
Each system has its own advantages and disadvantages. Pre-combustion plants generate hydrogen, an extremely useful green fuel, but they can only be fitted to new plants. Post-combustion can be retro-fitted - a unit can be installed on to existing power plants. Oxy-fuel plants are expensive but generate little pollution. As a result, engineers argue that all three technologies need to be developed as speedily as possible and used where each is most appropriate.

Coal-fired power stations are death factories. Close them

The government is expected to give the go-ahead to the coal-burning Kingsnorth power plant. Here, one of the world's foremost climate experts launches an excoriating attack on Britain's long love affair with the most polluting fossil fuel of all

James Hansen
The Observer, Sunday 15 February 2009

A year ago, I wrote to Gordon Brown asking him to place a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants in Britain. I have asked the same of Angela Merkel, Barack Obama, Kevin Rudd and other leaders. The reason is this - coal is the single greatest threat to civilisation and all life on our planet.
The climate is nearing tipping points. Changes are beginning to appear and there is a potential for explosive changes, effects that would be irreversible, if we do not rapidly slow fossil-fuel emissions over the next few decades. As Arctic sea ice melts, the darker ocean absorbs more sunlight and speeds melting. As the tundra melts, methane, a strong greenhouse gas, is released, causing more warming. As species are exterminated by shifting climate zones, ecosystems can collapse, destroying more species.
The public, buffeted by weather fluctuations and economic turmoil, has little time to analyse decadal changes. How can people be expected to evaluate and filter out advice emanating from those pushing special interests? How can people distinguish between top-notch science and pseudo-science?
Those who lead us have no excuse - they are elected to guide, to protect the public and its best interests. They have at their disposal the best scientific organisations in the world, such as the Royal Society and the US National Academy of Sciences. Only in the past few years did the science crystallise, revealing the urgency. Our planet is in peril. If we do not change course, we'll hand our children a situation that is out of their control. One ecological collapse will lead to another, in amplifying feedbacks.
The amount of carbon dioxide in the air has already risen to a dangerous level. The pre-industrial carbon dioxide amount was 280 parts per million (ppm). Humans, by burning coal, oil and gas, have increased this to 385 ppm; it continues to grow by about 2 ppm per year.
Earth, with its four-kilometre-deep oceans, responds only slowly to changes of carbon dioxide. So the climate will continue to change, even if we make maximum effort to slow the growth of carbon dioxide. Arctic sea ice will melt away in the summer season within the next few decades. Mountain glaciers, providing fresh water for rivers that supply hundreds of millions of people, will disappear - practically all of the glaciers could be gone within 50 years - if carbon dioxide continues to increase at current rates. Coral reefs, harbouring a quarter of ocean species, are threatened.
The greatest danger hanging over our children and grandchildren is initiation of changes that will be irreversible on any time scale that humans can imagine. If coastal ice shelves buttressing the west Antarctic ice sheet continue to disintegrate, the sheet could disgorge into the ocean, raising sea levels by several metres in a century. Such rates of sea level change have occurred many times in Earth's history in response to global warming rates no higher than those of the past 30 years. Almost half of the world's great cities are located on coastlines.
The most threatening change, from my perspective, is extermination of species. Several times in Earth's history, rapid global warming occurred, apparently spurred by amplifying feedbacks. In each case, more than half of plant and animal species became extinct. New species came into being over tens and hundreds of thousands of years. But these are time scales and generations that we cannot imagine. If we drive our fellow species to extinction, we will leave a far more desolate planet for our descendants than the world we inherited from our elders.
Clearly, if we burn all fossil fuels, we will destroy the planet we know. Carbon dioxide would increase to 500 ppm or more. We would set the planet on a course to the ice-free state, with sea level 75 metres higher. Climatic disasters would occur continually. The tragedy of the situation, if we do not wake up in time, is that the changes that must be made to stabilise the atmosphere and climate make sense for other reasons. They would produce a healthier atmosphere, improved agricultural productivity, clean water and an ocean providing fish that are safe to eat.
Fossil-fuel reservoirs will dictate the actions needed to solve the problem. Oil, of which half the readily accessible reserves have already been burnt, is used in vehicles, so it's impractical to capture the carbon dioxide. This is likely to drive carbon dioxide levels to at least 400 ppm. But if we cut off the largest source of carbon dioxide - coal - it will be practical to bring carbon dioxide back to 350 ppm, lower still if we improve agricultural and forestry practices, increasing carbon storage in trees and soil.
Coal is not only the largest fossil fuel reservoir of carbon dioxide, it is the dirtiest fuel. Coal is polluting the world's oceans and streams with mercury, arsenic and other dangerous chemicals. The dirtiest trick that governments play on their citizens is the pretence that they are working on "clean coal" or that they will build power plants that are "capture-ready" in case technology is ever developed to capture all pollutants.
The trains carrying coal to power plants are death trains. Coal-fired power plants are factories of death. When I testified against the proposed Kingsnorth power plant, I estimated that in its lifetime it would be responsible for the extermination of about 400 species - its proportionate contribution to the number that would be committed to extinction if carbon dioxide rose another 100 ppm.
The German and Australian governments pretend to be green. When I show German officials the evidence that the coal source must be cut off, they say they will tighten the "carbon cap". But a cap only slows the use of a fuel - it does not leave it in the ground. When I point out that their new coal plants require that they convince Russia to leave its oil in the ground, they are silent. The Australian government was elected on a platform of solving the climate problem, but then, with the help of industry, it set emission targets so high as to guarantee untold disasters for the young, let alone the unborn. These governments are not green. They are black - coal black.
The three countries most responsible, per capita, for filling the air with carbon dioxide from fossil fuels are the UK, the US and Germany, in that order. Politicians here have asked me why am I speaking to them. Surely the US must lead? But coal interests have great power in the US; the essential moratorium and phase-out of coal requires a growing public demand and a political will yet to be demonstrated.
The Prime Minister should not underestimate his potential to transform the situation. And he must not pretend to be ignorant of the consequences of continuing to burn coal or take refuge in a "carbon cap" or some "target" for future emission reductions. My message to Gordon Brown is that young people are beginning to understand the situation. They want to know: will you join their side? Remember that history, and your children, will judge you.
James Hansen is director of Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York. He was the first scientist to warn the US Congress of the dangers of climate change

Global temperatures set to soar - but it will be a cold lonely universe

The Sunday Times
February 15, 2009

Humanity may face global temperature rises of 3C-4C because greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are increasing so rapidly, scientists have warned.
The prediction came from Chris Field, director of the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology.
“Over the past decade, developing countries such as China and India have increased electric power generation by burning more coal,” said Field. “Economies in the developing world are becoming more, not less, carbon-intensive and impacts are very likely to be much worse than predicted.”
— A cosmologist has drawn up a bleak forecast for the universe, suggesting it will become unimaginably cold and empty.

Professor Lawrence Krauss, from Arizona State University, believes that, over billions of years, the expansion of the universe will eventually empty the night sky as stars become too distant to see. He said: “The rest of the universe will disappear before our eyes.”
A study released outside the AAAS finds that in the deep past of the universe stars would have been packed a million times more densely than now. The theory follows the discovery of so-called ultra-compact dwarf galaxies.
— Scientists studying post-traumatic stress disorder have found that the condition runs in families, sufferers may share certain genes and MRI brain scans may be able to show which individuals are most at risk.
The research could enable people at risk to be pinpointed in advance - allowing the military, for example, to screen out potential recruits, according to Karestan Koenen at Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.