Sunday, 1 March 2009

Call to EU for clean coal cash

A CONSORTIUM including Royal Dutch Shell, Npower and Climate Change Capital has written to European Union leaders to urge them to commit to a €1.25 billion (£1.1 billion) funding package for clean-coal projects across Europe.

The group sent the letter amid worries that the EU was wavering in its support for so-called carbon-capture and storage (CCS) projects after €100m was cut from the original pledge. Two CCS projects could be built in Britain.

Big firms 'investing only £30 per customer a year'

Green energy spending gap
Terry Macalister
The Observer, Sunday 1 March 2009

The big six energy companies in Britain are investing on average only £30 per year from each customer in renewable energy projects. If this continues, the UK may miss its 2020 green targets by 50%.
The findings, compiled for independent green power group Ecotricity, will be published ahead of the government's biggest test yet on commercial confidence about wind power, the Tuesday deadline for bids on the third offshore licensing round.
Ecotricity claims that British Gas parent Centrica has spent £397.3m on renewables over the last five years, only £13.28 per customer per year. E.ON, the German-owned group at the centre of the Kingsnorth coal-fired power station controversy, spent just £210.5m, £5.37 per customer.
"It is a scandal that the average investment in new build by the big six over the past five years does not even amount to £30 per customer. This £30 is roughly what it would take for each company to meet the bare minimum legal obligation to grow renewables by about 1% per year," said Dale Vince, Ecotricity founder.
"While the big six are performing badly, more surprising perhaps is the lack of investment by two green independent companies. With a zero investment in the last five years, they are contributing nothing to the urgent need for new build. By contrast, Ecotricity has invested an average of over £450 per customer a year over the last five years," he added.
The Ecotricity figures show the worst performing of the big six suppliers was EDF Energy, the French group, which is leading the charge to build nuclear reactors in Britain. It is estimated to have invested £89.6m on renewables in this country, or £14.14 per customer. Green Energy and Good Energy have invested nothing, according to Ecotricity, but are purely supply companies which do not generate power, instead buying it on the open market.
Centrica hit back at the findings, saying the Ecotricity figures gave no indication about the level of future spending. "If all the projects we are currently working on come to completion we could spend £3.5bn building 1,500 megawatts of wind power over the next few years," said a spokesman for the group.
The government's renewables advisory board suggests that wind should provide us with a minimum of 31,000MW by 2020, yet 2008 investment levels will generate less than half of the target, 13,849MW, or a 55% shortfall.
Ecotricity says the energy regulator's new green tariffs, issued earlier this month, are likely to make matters worse. Ecotricity will not sign up to Ofgem's guidelines as it predicts they will make green tariffs more confusing and expensive for consumers and will do nothing to encourage energy companies to build new renewable energy.

Take a siesta to beat the British heat

The Sunday Times
March 1, 2009
Jonathan Leake, Science and Environment Editor

TAKE cover: heat waves are on the way. Despite the unusually cold winter the government has drawn up a national emergency plan to deal with the rising risk of extreme hot weather linked to climate change.
Under the plan, people in areas hit by heat waves will be advised to stay indoors during the middle of the day — in effect, taking a siesta — and change out of formal clothing such as suits and avoid hot food.
They will also be advised to stay cool by using fans, shading windows and drinking lots of water.
The “siesta alert” system has been prepared by the Department of Health in consultation with other agencies. One of them is the Met Office, whose scientists have warned that climate change means heat waves will become ever more frequent over the next two decades and will turn into regular events after 2030.

“The heat wave that hit France in 2003 caused an extra 35,000 deaths,” said Wayne Elliott, head of health forecasting at the Met Office. “Such events are likely to happen more often and become longer and more extreme as climate change takes hold.They are a serious threat to health”
The highest temperature measured in the UK, 38.5C, was recorded at Faversham in Kent on August 10, 2003. The Met Office warns that this might become a normal summer’s day by the 2080s.
On Friday the Met Office hosted a private conference for governmental agencies and public health experts, who discussed the emergency plan.
It envisages setting up a national response centre overseen by the Cabinet Office whenever a prolonged heatwave threatens. This would send out public alerts and co-ordinate responses by councils, local authorities and emergency services.
This is the same “Cobra” system that already handles major national emergencies such as flooding or outbreaks of animal diseases such as foot and mouth.
The aim would be to bring about rapid changes in people’s behaviour, including staying indoors between the hottest time of the day peak heat hours of 11am - 3pm, swapping suits for casual loose-fitting clothes and avoiding hot food.
The Met Office also plans to work with GPs to directly target those most at risk from prolonged heat. This would include the elderly and people with medical conditions such as circulatory and heart disease.
They would be issued in advance with personalised heat wave health packs by their GPs. Then, when a heat wave threatened, they would get automated warning telephone calls reminding them to re-read their health advice, check medication and contact their doctors if necessary.
A similar system has already been deployed by the Environment Agency to deliver warnings of floods to people in areas at risk of inundation.
Professor Robert Maynard, head of the air pollution unit at the Health Protection Agency, an expert in climate change impacts on health,said heat waves could kill thousands of people a year unless Britain was prepared. He said:“Elderly people suffer most. Their physiology means they are less able to lose heat through sweating. Eventually they can suffer heart failure.
“If people know what to do, however, they can stay cool by using fans, wet sponges, shading windows and drinking lots of water.”
“People in Southern Europe achieve this largely by changing behaviour, such as use of shade, fans, and avoidance of exercise. They also become physiologically adapted. In Britain the focus has to be on behavioural change because of the rapid onset of heat waves.
The new Heatwave Plan, to be published later this year, will also focus on residential and nursing homes for the frail elderly who are particularly at risk from prolonged heat.
Such establishments will be expected to record temperatures four times a day during a heat wave and to set up cool rooms equipped with air-conditioning into which residents can be moved should temperatures rise above 26C.
One oddity is that the definition of what constitutes a heat wave varies around the country.
In London a heat wave is only declared when daytime temperatures reach 32C, falling to no less than 18C at night. In the north-east, however, daytime temperatures only need to reach 28C, falling to no less than 15C at night., for a heat wave to be declared.
Studies show that, as temperatures rise, people living in northerly climes start dying at less extreme heat than those in London and the south-east, who are physiologically better adapted to heat.
Heat waves are not a new phenomenon - Britain has experienced at last seven of them in the last 40 years. They are, however, becoming more frequent and hotter.
The most extreme conditions are, however, likely to occur in cities like London, Manchester and Birmingham where the so-called urban heat island effect can already push temperatures up to 9C higher than the surrounding countryside.
This is partly due to the vast amounts of energy expended in lighting, heating and transport in cities - all of which eventually turns into heat.
Under the plan, the government would also encourage people to walk or cycle during heat waves to reduce the heat generated through cars, buses and trains.
The Heatwave Plan also includes longer-term proposals for helping Britain adapt. to prolonged high temperatures. These include planting more trees around public buildings and homes to generate shade, painting public buildings with reflective paint and promoting the wider use of loft and wall insulation.
Research has shown that prolonged high temperatures can have indirect effects on health too, for example by promoting the formation of highly toxic atmospheric pollutants such as ozone. They can also change people’s behaviour - murder and suicide rates both increase in heat waves.
Met Office Climate Change website
Tyndall Centre for Climate Change

Eco barons lead the way

The Sunday Times
March 1, 2009
Philip Beresford

THE global rich are going green as never before. This first Sunday Times Green Rich List shows that the enthusiasm among the world’s wealthiest for investments in areas as diverse as electric cars, solar power and geothermal energy is unaffected by the recession.
The Green List has unearthed 100 tycoons or wealthy families worth £200m or more who have made either serious investments in green technology and businesses or hefty financial commitments to environmental causes. In total, the Green 100 are worth nearly £267 billion.
This enormous sum demonstrates that many of the world’s richest tycoons and entrepreneurs have embraced environmentalism. Indeed, our list is dominated by America’s wealthiest financiers and entrepreneurs such as Warren Buffett (worth £27 billion) and Bill Gates (worth £26 billion).

These two canny investors, who regularly swap places at the top of Forbes magazine’s annual list of world billionaires, have spent some of their financial firepower on areas such as wind power and electric cars in Buffett’s case, while Gates has backed alternative fuels such as oil from algae. We are not talking trifling sums here. Buffett has invested $230m in the Hong Kong battery-maker BYD.
Many of the 35 Americans in the Top 100 are drawn from Silicon Valley. Having made their first fortunes in microchips, the internet or software, the likes of Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin (each worth £7.5 billion) are turning to green investments with all the entrepreneurial zeal that made their first fortunes.
It helps that the Obama administration is committed to a huge stimulus package involving the very technologies that investors are focusing on.
Even tycoons who are not in President Barack Obama’s camp have moved into alternative energy, none more so than T Boone Pickens, oil explorer, corporate raider and a Texan Republican to his core. He is using part of his £1.8 billion fortune on filling the huge and windy Texas Panhandle with turbines as part of his Pickens Plan to wean America off its dependence on foreign energy.
American money may be chasing smarter and greener technologies, while the Chinese rich on our list are definitely about mass production of green technologies.
The 17 Chinese tycoons in the Top 100 are concentrated at the bottom end of the list and they are almost exclusively involved in solar and electric-car technology. It is a ferociously competitive market with unremitting pressure to cut costs and gain market share.
As such, all the Chinese fortunes have been hammered as share prices have fallen sharply. A year ago, many would have been in the Top 50, but not now. Indeed, some of them will not survive the steep downturn they are now battling through. But out of it will emerge winners selling much cheaper and more technically advanced products to a huge market worldwide.
There are 10 British or British-based tycoons on the list. None is going head-to-head with the Chinese in mass production. And they are not taking the German route. The seven German tycoons are largely involved in wind turbines and the like. This is a bespoke market — meat and drink to the German industrial sector.
The pity is that aside from Sir Richard Branson, who is investing in alternative fuels, there are no real British equivalents of Aloys Wobben. A German engineering graduate, Wobben started Enercon in 1984, building his first wind turbine in his back garden. Today the company employs 6,000 staff and exports sophisticated turbines all over the world.
German entrepreneurs who have made their fortunes elsewhere are also moving into green technology in a serious way, defying the prevailing economic gloom.
Twins Andreas and Thomas Strungmann built a £6.8 billion pharmaceutical fortune. Having sold their pharma business, they put many millions into saving a German solar company early last year just as the economic outlook worsened.
America’s wealthy are not just investing in new technology, they are also spending their fortunes on direct environmental activism, saving large tracts of wilderness from developers, endowing university research into green energy, climate change and the like.
This can have a huge impact in changing the mood in favour of more green activism on the political front, making the climate right for Obama to push through radical green initiatives that would not have been contemplated in George Bush’s presidency.
There is little evidence of any appetite among Britain’s super-rich for this approach. Firmly rooted in property, finance or retailing, they have little time or surplus wealth for anything other than lip service to green issues.
They are also involved in firefighting to keep their businesses afloat. When the recession is over, there are precious few forecasters who think the City and the like will return to its glory days.
With traditional factories and industries closing in record numbers, where will Britain’s future prosperity come from? It is a sobering thought.
Dr Philip Beresford has compiled The Sunday Times Rich List since 1989

UK falls behind in green business

The Sunday Times
March 1, 2009
Danny Fortson

BRITAIN must set a clear policy and regulatory framework to encourage investment in green industries if it is not to fall further behind America and China, industry leaders have said.
According to The Sunday Times’s inaugural Green Rich List, Britain is home to only 10 of the world’s top 100 entrepreneurs in new industries such as wind energy, electric cars and clean coal.
America is top of the table, with 35 of the richest green entrepreneurs. After Barack Obama unveiled plans last week to invest $15 billion (£10.5 billion) a year in clean-energy companies and programmes, the ranks of green US tycoons are set to grow.
China, with 17 on the list, is more focused on being the workshop for the green revolution, with solar-panel factories and wind-turbine makers cropping up across the country, but it has begun developing technologies as well.

For Britain to improve its green fortunes, a clear government stance is required. Tom Murley, chairman of the newly created Energy, Environment and Technology group of the BVCA, the private-equity trade body, said: “The government needs to provide a consistent view on the policy and implementation. The 2003 energy white papers said no to nuclear; last year it said yes.
“There needs to be less talking and more doing, and clarity that there will be continuity on broad policy if there is a change in government.”

The green streets of Britain

The Sunday Times
March 1, 2009
How much can you really do to stop your home wasting energy – and cash? One year on, our correspondent returns to the families who took up the British Gas eco-challenge to find out

We all want to live greener, better lives, but few of us plan on forsaking the comfort and aesthetics of our period homes, built decades before anyone worried about their effect on the planet, for a new zero-carbon property. So, what can you do to your semi, terrace or cottage to go green and save money?
That was the challenge British Gas put to 64 households last year, with the launch on these pages. Over the past 12 months, eight families on eight roads – all of them with “Green” in their address – have been trying every which way to reduce their energy consumption in a bid to be named the greenest street in the country.
There’s nothing like a bit of competition to bring out the eco-warrior in us. Valiant efforts have included forgoing baths, turning sheds into low-energy home offices and banning the use of the tumble dryer. The McGuire family, from Edinburgh, even slept in a tent in the garden last summer.
Few of us would go as far as the McGuires, but with domestic energy use responsible for about a quarter of the UK’s CO2 emissions, there’s pressure on all of us to up our game, and the lessons learnt from this project could be of help to everyone. The winning street will be announced on Wednesday, but who are the main contenders, and how have they fared in the past year?

Derek Pentreath, 43, a contracts manager for a steel company, lives with his wife, Sally, daughter, Katie, 6, and son, Alex, 3, on Green Lane, in Great Barr, on the outskirts of Birmingham. All four of them have been inspired to do their bit and have learnt a lot.
“We have 51 spotlights, which all had 40-watt bulbs. Switching to energy-saving ones, which are three-watt, has made a dramatic difference to our bills,” says Sally, 30, a school administration officer. “The hardest thing was getting my husband to have showers. He loves lying in a piping-hot bath filled to the brim – not very energy-efficient.”
Sally’s personal challenge was not to use the energy-guzzling tumble dryer. “I tried to use the washing line more, but there’s not much point in the middle of winter,” she says. Instead, she used dryer balls in the machine; these fluff up the fibres, so your laundry takes half the time to dry. Another tip is to turn off the dishwasher at the drying phase – the last 30 minutes or so – and open the door, leaving the dishes to dry on their own.
Despite Derek’s baths, the family, who live in a four-bedroom 1930s semi, have cut their energy consumption by a little more than 40%. Indeed, the Pentreaths took the competition so seriously that they resisted turning the radiators up in the February snow: “We put on extra layers and all snuggled up together on the sofa to watch television under a duvet,” says Sally.
Down in Green Lane, Southampton, Neil Sinclair, 39, an insurance operations manager, admits that his three-bedroom semidetached cottage used to be so warm, he would wear a T-shirt in winter – “That’s how much energy we were wasting.” Since then, Neil, his wife, Debbie, 39, who works in corporate banking, and daughters, Lucy, 10, and Polianna, 8, have cut their energy consumption – and therefore their bills – by more than 24%.
“We used to have our thermostat at 21C. Now we have it between 17C and 19C, and I wear a fleece,” says Neil, who took up British Gas’s offer of cavity-wall insulation, part of £30,000 worth of energy-efficient equipment given to each street to help them on their way.
“It’s amazing how much energy you can save by doing small things. Did you know that the kettle is the 4WD of the kitchen? We’ve got an energy monitor that shows how much electricity you’re using in real time. Now we’ve put a mark on the kettle, so we know how much water we need for a cup of tea.”
Even if his street doesn’t win, Neil should get a prize for initiative. Working mainly from home, he realised he was heating the whole property just for himself. “I decided I’d turn off everything in the house and work in the shed. I put polystyrene insulation on the inside of the walls, and plasterboard over that, then added a double-glazed window. I have a tiny, oil-filled heater on for an hour, which uses a quarter of the energy a kettle does. It’s cosy; I even worked there in the snow.”
Last Christmas, he says, it was obvious which eight houses were part of the challenge in their road – they were the ones in relative darkness, while the rest were decked in fairy lights. Nobody, it seemed, wanted to let their street down, and all wanted to win the challenge.
Mel Broughton, 41, lives with her architect husband, Hugh, 43, and their three sons, aged 6 to 11, on Greenend Road, in Chiswick, west London. “We’ve become minor celebrities in our area,” Mel says. “People stop us in the street to ask how it’s going. Hugh was sceptical at first, but now he’s seen the reduction in our bills, he’s impressed.
“The boys have been great. They now turn their lights off, and open and shut the front door quickly so as not to let the heat out. Alf, our six-year-old, gets stroppy with his father if he leaves a light on.”
The Broughtons’ four-bedroom house is in a 100-year-old terrace: a typical London home, and not easy to make energy-efficient. Mel, however, says that one of the most effective things they had done was draught-proofing. “We’ve got sash windows, and it’s amazing the difference draught-excluding material has made,” she says. “Now the heat stays in the house.
“The other thing is getting the loft properly insulated and the pipes lagged. The hardest bit, for me, was stopping using the coal-effect gas fire in the sitting room. It made the room cosy, but we were told it was a killer in terms of energy use.” It paid off: altogether, the Broughtons have reduced their energy consumption by 46%.
Gearoid Lane, managing director of British Gas New Energy, has been impressed by the dedication of the Green Street families. “When I visited the streets, I saw how surprised people were that substantial energy saving didn’t cost them a lot in terms of comfort, effort or money,” he says. “The real surprise, to me, is the virtuous circle of cooperation in the communities, with everyone sharing energy-saving ideas.”
The big question, though, is whether they will all stick to their green resolutions once the spur of competition has gone. Well, probably, as the winners receive £50,000, not to jet off to sunny climes for a celebratory holiday, but to spend on an eco-friendly project for the community.
Anything they can do ...
- In an uninsulated home, £1 in every £3 spent on heating is wasted. Installing loft insulation could save £110 a year on bills; cavity-wall insulation could save £90.
- As a rule, the older your boiler, the more inefficient it will be. A new high-efficiency condensing boiler with heating controls (prices start at about £2,000) could save £200 a year on bills.
- Turning down your heating thermostat by 1C can cut bills by 10%. Fit thermostats to radiators to control room temperatures.
- Turn off lights in rooms you’re not using – lighting accounts for up to 15% of domestic electricity bills.
- Double glazing cuts heat loss and reduces noise and condensation problems. Expect savings of £90 a year on bills.

UK tops league for toxic traffic fumes

The Sunday Times
March 1, 2009
We have the worst road pollution in Europe
Steven Swinford

BRITAIN suffers from the most widespread levels of dangerous traffic fumes in Europe, posing a serious risk to health, according to a government report.
Hundreds of local authorities breach European Union limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which has been linked to asthma, stunted lung growth in children and premature death. The fumes on certain stretches of roads breach safety levels in 95% of cities and regions in the UK, compared with 82% in Austria, 52% in Germany and 21% in France.
The report from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) warns that Britain will breach EU air pollution laws and face swingeing fines unless it takes radical measures such as introducing subsidies for electric cars or a national road pricing scheme. It raises the spectre of Britain reverting to its past status as the “dirty man” of Europe as economic pressures lead to cuts in environmental standards.
Last month Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, dropped a pledge to force vans and mini-buses to abide by the standards of London’s low emission zone. Johnson suspended the scheme, which would have helped to reduce NO2 emissions to safe levels, within the EU target, on the grounds that the burden on small businesses would have been too great.
Simon Birkett, head of the Campaign for Clean Air in London, said: “The mayor and the government are in total denial about the sheer scale of this problem and the public health risk. These emissions are killing people. There is a fundamental lack of will and courage at the very top.”
Britain’s poor ranking is partly explained by its high population and congestion. Other European countries have, however, been more successful at reducing emissions.
Germany, for example, has introduced 36 low emission zones in which older petrol and diesel cars are banned. The Neth-erlands has introduced 18, and Italy six. The UK has just one.
Frank Kelly, professor of environmental health at King’s College London, said: “Instead of taking the hard decisions and doing more, we’re doing less.”
Ken Livingstone, the former mayor of London, said: “The health risks are stark; air pollution is killing people.”
The documents reveal that the UK will miss its EU deadline to cut nitrogen dioxide emissions to safe levels by 2010.
By next year, 2,188 miles of Britain’s main roads will exceed EU limits. London will have dangerous levels of emissions on 698 miles of roads, compared with 129 miles in Greater Manchester, 116 miles in the West Midlands and 48 miles in West Yorkshire.
Bath in Somerset, Lewes in East Sussex, Cambridge, Canterbury in Kent, Weymouth in Dorset and Salisbury in Wilt-shire also have dangerous levels of the fumes.
Ministers will apply for an extension to 2015, but officials are doubtful even the new deadline will be met and Britain faces large fines.
Official research shows that sooty particulate matter, a pol-, lutant closely linked with NO2 results in 12,000 to 24,000 premature deaths a year. In 2007 scientists at the University of Southern California found that children who live within 500 yards of a main road have stunted lung development.
Penny Green, a 37-year-old mother of two, and her husband, Jason, both suffer from asthma and although they live in Lewes, a market town, they avoid taking their children, aged five and nine, walking in the town centre.
Five roads in Lewes exceed EU limits for annual average nitrogen dioxide emissions and Green said she would not risk her children’s lungs. “It only takes one road to be shut down for the whole road to get grid-locked, ” she said.