Sunday, 19 April 2009

GREEN PIONEERS: A compostor that really is Rocket science

The Sunday Times
April 19, 2009
The big time beckons for a firm whose bacterial device speeds up the recylcing of food waste
Andrew Stone

COMPOST is normally a subject confined to allotments and Gardeners’ Question Time. A Macclesfield company, however, is turning it into a business.
Accelerated Composting began as a semi-amateur attempt to cut the time it took for garden waste to turn into compost and has developed into a business that helps hotels, restaurants, hospitals and large organisations such as councils and the RAF recycle their food waste instead of sending it to landfills.
A keen gardener, Simon Webb’s late father John knew the benefits of creating good compost – but he was impatient. “He was frustrated by the amount of time it took garden cuttings and horse manure to turn into useable compost,” said Webb.
“At the time I was working for an environmental company that used bacteria to control pollution. I heard about a process developed in a Japanese lab that created compost in 48 hours and told him about it. He started doing research into the processes involved and developed a prototype using his knowledge of microbiology. It worked really well.”
The father-and-son team soon realised that businesses and organisations that produced food waste could use their device and patented the technology Europe-wide in 2003. “There was never an intention to develop what was supposed to be a domestic device into a waste-treatment process, but we realised, more or less by accident, that we had developed a product that solved other people’s problems,” said Webb.
The product, called The Rocket, is an insulated steel tube that creates the ideal conditions for the different types of bacteria involved in breaking down food waste. The largest version can compost up to five tonnes of waste a week, breaking down all kinds of food waste, including meat and dairy products, into safe, usable compost free of pathogens within 14 days.
The benefits of composting waste are numerous, said Webb. “Aerobic digestion of waste, basically composting, produces a small amount of carbon dioxide whereas sending it to landfill produces methane, which is 20 times more harmful than carbon dioxide in terms of its effect on atmospheric warming.
“Putting food in an anaerobic digestor produces methane, too, and it’s expensive. To be commercially viable you also have to build large digestors, which means you have to transport the waste to them, whereas our customers process their waste on site and most of them use the resulting compost to enrich the soil in their grounds or gardens.”
Compost has another beneficial environmental role to play, said Webb. “We’re short of organic matter in our soil in Europe. We’ve been putting chemicals into it that leach organic matter from the soil and lead to run-off pollution and increased use of pesticides and artificial fertiliser,” he said. “Compost puts organic matter as well as nutrients back into the soil, restoring the natural balance, which is why organisations like the Soil Association and the Royal Horticultural Society are so keen on it.”
Accelerated Composting had sales of £1m last year. It is a minnow in the waste-management and recycling sectors, but it finds itself on the right side of several trends that should see sales grow to at least £5m in three years, with potential to grow much further, said Webb.
Local councils are showing interest in composting and so are private operators, such as Aardvark Recycling in south London, which collects household food scraps, composts them in the Webbs’ Rocket and uses the end product to enrich local parkland.
Landfill tax rises are driving much of this activity. The next increases in the tax will take composting from being about as expensive as burying food waste to making it far cheaper, said Webb. From next year, local councils will also make schools bear the cost of disposing of their food waste, adding 16,000 to Webb’s potential customer base.
The firm’s sales have grown 30%-40% a year for the past two years and Webb’s problem is to decide how aggressively to pursue growth in Britain and in its fledgling export markets. In the past year Webb has primed the business for further growth by leasing and renting equipment as well as selling it, shortening the sales cycle and offering greater incentives to firms that might otherwise not be able to find the cash for upfront investment.
The business could grow much faster still, said Webb. Its first exports last year to America, Canada and the United Arab Emirates totalled £150,000 though the demand is vast, he said.
“We could grow by 400% a year or even 4,000% if we could pursue every opportunity, but the challenge is to keep control of the cash flow and not overstretch ourselves,” said Webb. “We have ploughed every penny back into the business so far, but we are starting to think about looking for an investor to help us realise all these opportunities.”

Walmart aspires to be jolly green giant

The Sunday Times
April 19, 2009
The planet’s biggest retailer has set tough targets to eliminate all waste from its stores
Dominic Rushe

A group from Walmart, the world’s most powerful retailer, gathered round a cardboard box last Wednesday at the fourth annual Sustainable Packaging Exposition in Rogers, Arkansas. They were getting very excited. The box, made by Interstate Container, a small American packaging firm, held some ice and a single Diet Coke. The boxes stay waterproof for two weeks, are biodegradable and made of recycled cardboard. Pete Bugas, national account manager, had hoped to pitch them as a way to ship fish or other wet items. The Walmart executives had other ideas.
The biggest retailer on the planet plans to become the greenest. By 2025 it wants to eliminate all waste by reducing, recycling or reusing everything that comes into its 4,100 American stores. For Asda, its British operation, the target is 2010. It’s a tough target and a compostable cardboard box might get them some way there.
Vonda Lockwood, strategy manager for Walmart’s sustainability and operations unit, still has a lot of questions for Bugas but if the whole box works as described, Walmart could send its compostable goods off to rot in boxes that would also turn into mulch instead of having to be returned to stores and cleaned for the next load. For a company this size that’s a lot of time and money saved. For Walmart, sustainability isn’t just about saving the planet, it’s about the bottom line.
“If I can find one nugget like this at the expo that changes things for us, that’s a huge win,” said Lockwood. “If that box works out, it would pay for itself in labour alone.”

Vendors at the expo are lining up to solve Walmart’s problems. There are plastic utensils made out of biodegradable corn, super-tough cardboard to replace those plastic clam cases that house electronic goods before they end up in landfill, and pallets made of cardboard.
The expo is fast becoming a mecca for green ideas and Walmart is attracting praise in some corners of the eco-aware community where once it attracted nothing but ire.
Last year Walmart recycled 180m pounds of paper, plastic, aluminium and other rubbish that once ended up in landfill, and 2.5m tonnes of cardboard. It is now turning its waste plastic into resin and making it into clothes hangers and stepping stones for gardens. Plastic bottles are being shredded into fluff used to stuff dog beds. Walmart even has 15 trucks running on fuel made from the grease from its chicken roasters.
“We are looking at everything we have and asking where it goes,” said Mike Hagood, senior director of Walmart’s Sustainable Value Networks. It’s a big change for a company that until recently was held up as an example of all that was wrong about retail’s impact on the environment. And nobody knows that more than the insiders.
“When I agreed to take this job, I had no environmental background. I’m a store operator,” said Hagood. He said he was using polystyrene plates at home to save on washing up then just throwing them away. “I went home and told my wife ‘we are going to have to change some things’. It’s been hugely gratifying.”
Lee Scott, Walmart’s recently retired chief executive, kicked off the green initiative in 2005, charging the firm with making every part of its business greener. Charles Zimmerman, vice president of international design and construction, has since overseen a rethink on virtually every part of the company’s stores. Walmart’s stores have exposed concrete floors – a material whose manufacture generates a huge amount of greenhouse gases. Those floors now contain 20% fly ash, recycled from the chimneys of coal-fired power plants, and are cast in forms made from soya beans instead of petroleum based plastics.
All Walmart’s roofs are now white to reflect heat – cooling a store is more expensive than heating one. And when Walmart can’t manufacture its own solutions it has pressed its suppliers to do so.
After Zimmerman pressed his air conditioning suppliers to cut the energy their machines use, Lennox came back with a machine that exceeded Department of Energy standards by 60%. It now has the contract for all Walmart stores – 1,000 units a year.
Since the contract was signed, Lennox’s competitors have come up with machines to compete and Walmart’s rivals are also buying the new energy-efficient units.
“We basically changed the industry because of our scale,” said Zimmerman. He is now bringing Walmart’s weight to bear on LED lighting. LED lights are vastly more efficient and longer lasting than conventional lights, but they are also 10 times more expensive.
Zimmerman hopes that Walmart’s weight can bring those prices down and he is sure the cost even now is worth the savings the firm will make in time and money replacing old bulbs. “Energy is our No 2 operating expense. If we can reduce that cost by 25%-30%, that’s huge. We could never do that in labour. It’s a win-win for us,” said Zimmerman.
Not everyone is impressed. Fundamentally Walmart and its big retail rivals can never be green businesses, said Eric Bull of Walmart Watch, a watchdog group. “Walmart’s customers drive to these huge stores to buy goods that have been shipped from China in leaky ships – it’s not a green business,” said Bull.
He said it was clear Walmart had identified sustainability as an issue that was a boost for the company on the PR front and on its own costs but it was suppliers who would pick up the bill. “I’m not saying what they are doing isn’t good, but we should be clear about exactly what Walmart does get the credit for,” he said.
For Zimmerman, the critics are missing the point. Most of Walmart’s customers will never notice his sustainable initiatives.
“Really, I don’t care about the PR. It’s about the bottom line,” he said. Not that Walmart would mind if it does manage to take the wind out of some critics’ sails along the way. “I can’t tell you the feeling I get when I silence some of our critics,” said Hagood.

Environmental benefits of electric cars dismissed as 'fiction'

The environmental benefits of electric cars are denounced as "fiction" by new research into green methods of transport.

By Melissa Kite, Deputy Political Editor Last Updated: 6:25PM BST 18 Apr 2009

The amount of energy used by coal fired power stations to create the electricity to recharge electric vehicles makes them half as efficient as diesel cars, according to the research.
Britain's carbon emissions could even go up if there is a sudden surge in demand for electric cars, the new research warned.

It will call into question a £250 million government scheme announced last week offering consumers £5,000 subsidies to buy a new electric car.
The research conducted by the group Transport Watch found that diesel powered vehicles emit approximately half as much CO2 as electric cars when the use of fossil fuels to produce electricity is taken into account.
The research paper says: "We conclude that the notion that electric cars will reduce emissions is a fiction."
Factors making the rechargeable cars less efficient include the amount of electricity lost on the journey between the coal fired power stations which generate it and the point where it recharges the car, and the energy lost by the batteries and the motor.
The researchers calculated that of the energy burned in a power station, only a quarter reaches an electric car after leakages and losses along the supply chain are considered, giving the vehicle an energy efficiency score of 24%.
A modern diesel engine, by contrast, achieves 45% efficiency.
The research suggests that if fossil fuels are to be burned, it is much more efficient to do it within the engine of a vehicle rather than at a power station and then try to send it via the National Grid, where a lot of energy is wasted, and finally to store it in a battery which in itself might leak power.
Currently the bulk of the electricity used to charge the batteries of electric vehicles is generated by fossil fuel burning power stations.
Only 20% of UK electricity is generated by 'clean' methods such as nuclear power.
The research by Paul Withrington of Transport Watch concludes that CO2 emissions could actually go up if there is suddenly a big demand for electricity to recharge batteries as it would have to come from existing fossil fuel power stations.
He calculated that in China, where most generation of electricity is coal fired, electrification of diesel powered transport would double the emissions from that sector.
There are also big financial and environmental costs involved in setting up a battery charging network.
Mr Withrington said: "The government should re-examine their assumptions and should not encourage this until they have decarbonised the generating industry. At the moment, it is nuts. If you bought an electric car now you would be looking at generating the same amount of carbon or more."
The Government's plans have also drawn criticism from motoring groups.
Philip Gomm, of the RAC Foundation, said: "Electric vehicles are not a panacea. They are good for generating headlines but not necessarily at saving the planet, at least not in the short term. For today and tomorrow, a lot more attention needs to be paid to refining existing petrol and diesel technology, and making cars smaller and lighter as a way of saving fuel – something recognised by the Committee on Climate Change. These are proven solutions to an immediate problem."
The RAC has also questioned where the Government derived its £5,000 incentive per vehicle figure, when previous grants to buy electric cars have been £1,000.
The research can be viewed in full at

Slow start for charge of the electric cars

The Sunday Times
April 19, 2009
Ray Hutton

Electric cars need a boost. Cheap to run but expensive to buy, they offer the prospect of low or zero carbon emissions, but manufacturers won’t sell them unless motorists want to buy them – and motorists won’t buy unless the price is right and there are enough places to charge the batteries.
Last week the government made a £250m move to square the circle. Some £20m will help establish a network of charging points in cities and other areas of dense traffic. Grants of between £2,000 and £5,000 will be available to ordinary motorists to encourage them to buy electric or other ultra-low-carbon cars.
The move received a guarded welcome from the industry bodies and environmental groups. Car buyers were less enthusiastic.
The grants will not be available until 2011 and the detail of how they will be allocated and which cars will qualify has still to be worked out. What is clear is that the full £5,000 will not be available for a £8,000 G-Wiz or a £15,000 Smart EV. The 2011 start date has been chosen to coincide with the expected introduction of a wider variety of electric and plug-in hybrid cars in Britain.

With or without incentives, these are still likely to be a specialised purchase. Electric cars remain dependent on the development of better, affordable batteries. The hybrid models available today use lead-acid or nickel-metal hydride batteries that are are proven, reliable, and fairly cheap, but their limited storage capacity means that the cars’ driving range using electricity alone is short.
Variations of lithium-ion batteries, as used on a smaller scale in laptops and mobile phones, are seen as the next big step. Virtually all the world’s big motor manufacturers are building prototypes using lithium-ion batteries but so far they have reached production only in a few low-volume models.
The G-Wiz, made in India, now offers a lithium-ion battery option that extends its driving range from 48 to 75 miles – but doubles the price. The small four-seater Mitsubishi iMiEV uses lithium-ion but is likely to cost up to £20,000 when it becomes available here later this year. A replacement battery pack for the American Tesla sports car, which comprises 6,831 lithium-ion laptop cells, is $22,000 (£15,000).
To achieve a long driving range and good performance requires a battery pack that is both expensive and hefty. In the electric Mini that transport secretary Geoff Hoon drove last week, the batteries and associated electronics take up all the space normally occupied by the back seats. It is pleasingly quick but will still only manage 150 miles between charges, much less than a tank of petrol, even if it costs only £1.50 to charge overnight.
The electric Mini is unlikely to go into production in its present form. Its maker, BMW, is conducting a 100-car consumer test in America and Germany to “evaluate technical and social aspects of living with an all-electric vehicle” and with some government support hopes to extend the trials to Britain.
Renault and Nissan are determined to establish an early lead in the new mass market for electric cars. Both companies will offer a range of electric vehicles for public sale from 2012. Their solution to the cost of the new-generation batteries is to separate them from the car itself. Buyers will purchase the car – at about the same price as a conventional model – but lease the batteries from a third-party energy supplier for a monthly fee equivalent to the fuel costs for an economical petrol or diesel car.
The two companies have made a series of deals across the world supplying cars for the electrification programmes of cities and whole countries – Denmark, Israel and Portugal among them. They are placing all their bets on pure electric vehicles that produce zero emissions at the point of use.
The widespread use of quick-charging batteries will require new solutions like charging stations (where batteries can be replenished 80% in 20 minutes) and facilities to swap depleted battery packs for fully charged ones. Renault and Nissan’s rivals have questioned whether this is practicable or viable.
Previous consumer tests with electric cars – in America and in France – have shown that drivers’ main concern is being stranded with flat batteries. With a 60-mile range, most felt the need to recharge after 30 miles or so.
In developing its E-Flex technology for the Chevrolet Volt (which will come to Britain as the Vauxhall Ampera) General Motors addressed this problem by adding a small petrol engine to start automatically and recharge the batteries when they are running low and thereby extend the car’s range so that it can reach a convenient power point.
E-Flex is technically a hybrid with two power units, but unlike the Toyota Prius, Honda Insight and various Lexus models, the engine in the Volt does not drive the wheels, it simply acts as an emergency generator to recharge the batteries.
How far hybrids will be encouraged in the new government initiative remains to be seen.
The existing Prius has a carbon-dioxide figure of 89g/km but it is still unlikely to be classified as an ultra-low-carbon vehicle. Hence the development of a plug-in Prius, which will operate most of the time on electricity and produce less carbon dioxide.
The government is keen to stimulate the electric vehicle business in Britain. There are many engineering companies providing vital services and components for electric cars and a number of start-ups making, or planning to make, electric cars and trucks in small volume.
It is less certain that Britain will become the production hub for electric cars from the big manufacturers. General Motors held out the hope of making the Ampera for Europe at Ellesmere Port but in its current beleaguered state will confine E-Flex production to one plant in America.
Nissan has a memorandum of understanding with One North East, the regional development agency, to potentially use its Sunderland plant to produce electric vehicles, but its first cars will all come from Japan. BMW’s Oxford plant is the sole source of the Mini so if an electric Mini goes into production it will start there.
The bigger picture, and the reason for the Low Carbon Vehicle initiative, is to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions from transport to meet targets set by the Climate Change Act – a 26% reduction in UK emissions by 2020, rising to 80% by 2050.
Though as the environmental lobby constantly points out, electric vehicles only provide a significant emissions benefit if their batteries are charged by clean power from renewable resources.
The widespread adoption of electric cars would put a considerable extra strain on the power-genera-tion industry. In a recent report, the International Energy Agency concluded: “If electrification is to become a zero-emissions solution, a decarbonised power supply is a priority. And if electric vehicles are a success, by 2050 they could account for 20% of the total world electricity demand, requiring more than 2,000GW of additional capacity.”

Wick wind farm to supply 3,000 homes

Published Date: 19 April 2009
By Nathalie Thomas

A WIND farm capable of generating enough electricity to power 3,000 homes will start operation on the north-east coast of Scotland this month.
The site near Wick is the first of four projects to be delivered in the area by Edinburgh-based wind turbine supplier REpower UK. The company, which is owned by the German renewables giant REpower Systems, has been contracted to supply 72 wind turbines to the northern Highlands by 2010.It is estimated the turbines will contribute enough electricity to the grid to supply 80,000 homes, providing a major boost to the Scottish Government's target of sourcing 50% of the country's electricity from renewable sources by 2020.The four projects, worth a combined ?160m (£141m) to REpower UK, include three contracts for Scottish and Southern Energy, which is planning wind farms near Lairg, Brora and Marybank. The Wick farm has been funded by the London-based Climate Change Capital group for local landowners James and Ronald Innes.Henning von Barsewisch, managing director of REpower UK, said the opening of the Wick farm later this month would mark the beginning of a significant expansion for the company, which opened its headquarters in Edinburgh in 2003.It has around 25 turbines in operation in Scotland but will be close to surpassing 100 by next year. Barsewisch said the company had several more contracts in the pipeline and would shortly open a service centre in the Highlands. REpower currently employs 60 staff around the UK, 40 in Scotland, and it plans to grow its Scottish staff by a further 10 full-time positions this year.Von Barsewisch, who was tipped by Scotland on Sunday as one of the nine executives "to watch" in 2009, said: "Renewable energy is one of a few industries which is still growing and this presents good economic opportunities for the area."Between 2008 and 2009 REpower UK, which supplies wind turbines manufactured by its parent company in Germany, generated ?80m turnover. Last week it announced it was poised to reach 300MW of wind energy generation throughout the UK, which is enough to power 168,000 British homes. The company has supplied around 123 turbines to sites in England and Wales."While reaching 300 MW in the UK is a very good achievement, there is still a lot to do to meet our own ambitions and the renewable energy targets set by local and national government," Von Barsewisch said.

'Save the planet' rhetoric soars to crazy new heights

The terrifying threat of global warming is beginning to turn people's minds, observes Christopher Booker.

By Christopher Booker Last Updated: 9:52AM BST 19 Apr 2009

How would you cope if faced with a GCSE physics paper? Have no fear. You don’t need to know anything about physics, so long as you’ve listened to enough environmentalist propaganda. Consider a question from one of last year’s papers. Candidates were asked which of these phrases - “acid rain”, “global warming”, “noise pollution”, “radioactive waste” – went into these sentences: 1. “Nuclear power stations produce…” 2. “Wind farms produce…” 3. “Coal-fired power stations produce sulfur dioxide which causes…” 4. “All fossil-fuel power stations produce carbon dioxide which causes…” So long as you agree with the Government on these matters, you will pass with 100 per cent.
Doubtless one of the teaching aids which might have guided you to the right answers would have been Al Gore’s famous Oscar-winning movie An Inconvenient Truth, which in 2007 our then environment secretary, David Miliband, ordered to be sent to every secondary school in the country. It was obviously inconvenient that in October that year a High Court judge should have ruled that nine of the claims made in that film were so scientifically absurd that the Government would be in breach of the law against teaching propaganda in schools unless the film was accompanied by material correcting its errors. But when last week I asked the Department for Children, Skills and Lifelong Learning (or whatever they now call the old ministry of education) for sight of that corrective material they never came back with an answer.

Does one not get the feeling that all this propaganda over the terrifying threat of global warming is beginning ever so slightly to turn people’s minds? Caroline Lucas MEP, the leader of the Green Party, last week agreed on television that flying to Spain was “as bad as knifing a person in the street”, because air travel like this is causing people to die “from climate change”.
Dr Richard Dixon, director of the Scottish WWF, was at the same time claiming that failing to ensure one’s home is “energy efficient” was a “moral crime”, as “anti-social as drink driving”, and “we should be having a discussion as to whether it should become an actual crime”.
This echoed the recent observation of Ed Miliband, our Energy and Climate Change Secretary, that opposing wind farms should be as “socially unacceptable” as not wearing a seatbelt. Meanwhile, no doubt encouraged by this kind of talk from ministers, 100 “climate campaigners” were arrested by the police, who feared they were planning to put out of action a coal-fired power station in Nottinghamshire, to stop it continuously contributing to the National Grid 1,000 megawatts of electricity – considerably more than the average output of all the 2,400 wind turbines in the country.
This is the same grid, of course, 75 per cent powered by nasty, dirty, CO2 emitting fossil fuels, which Gordon Brown hopes will secretly power the electric cars he proposes to give customers £5,000 each to buy in order to help save the planet – even though his grants won’t be available until 2012. Meanwhile, as 17 of our major power stations are likely to close within six years, thanks to obsolescence and EU rules, Mr Brown shows remarkably little interest in how we are going to keep Britain’s lights on (although certainly no less, to be fair, than does Mr Cameron).
Truly these days, in more ways than one, are we moving towards a new dark age. Fortunately, however, the latest available data show the downward trend in global temperatures continuing, At least the one thing we don’t need to worry about, it seems, is global warming.
Ours for £1bn: some pictures of a big aeroplane
Fifteen years after John Major (in his wish to be “at the heart of Europe”) signed Britain up to what was called the Future Large Aircraft project, the EU’s bid to build a replacement for the US Hercules transport aircraft appears on the brink of collapse. Despite last week’s plea from Airbus’s chief executive that the A400M project must be kept going to save “40,000 European jobs”, all we have got so far for our £1.2 billion investment has been
28 computerised photographs of an aircraft so beset with technical problems it seems unlikely ever to fly.
But with Britain’s ageing Hercules fleet due to fall out of the sky by 2012, we have now missed our place in the queue for replacements. Due to Tony Blair’s Euro-besotted decision in 2000 to buy the A400M, it seems our Armed Forces will soon be incapable of fighting overseas, even if a prime minister of the day wished them to do so.
Explorers on the rocks
Thanks to sharp-eyed observers on the US science blog Watts Up With That, we see how Pen Hadow’s much-touted Catlin expedition to measure that disappearing Arctic ice is degenerating into farce. Despite claims by Prince Charles and a galaxy of warmist sponsors that Hadow and his two colleagues would provide “vital scientific data” to show how the ice could soon vanish, the loss of equipment through intense cold has reduced them to measuring the ice with an old feet-and-inches tape measure, Last week their website had to post an apology for providing misleading data, It seems increasingly unlikely the gallant trio will reach the Pole, despite rather more efficient satellite data confirming that the ice is considerably thicker than last year.

Solar power companies in plea to maintain green jobs

Low-carbon companies say government is 'sleepwalking to green tech disaster'

Juliette Jowit, environment editor
The Observer, Sunday 19 April 2009

Staff are being laid off by British solar power companies weeks after the government promised to create thousands of jobs in the "green" economy.
Companies from across the industry will this week accuse ministers and civil servants of damaging their business with funding cuts, "delay and disinterest".
More than 20 companies and lobby groups will petition the prime minister just weeks after Gordon Brown launched a strategy that forecast 400,000 new jobs could be created in low-carbon sectors in the next decade.
Jeremy Leggett of Solarcentury, a former government adviser who coordinated the petition, said he knew of three companies that had made staff redundant, and another installation business had gone bust. More "needless job losses" will follow unless the government makes an "urgent intervention" in this week's budget, warns the petition, which will be delivered tomorrow.
"When I was asked to address the prime minister's jobs summit just three months ago, cabinet ministers assured me personally that green jobs and investment would lie at the very heart of the government's recovery programme," Leggett told the Observer. "And yet a few weeks later the reality is that we are once again scrabbling about trying to patch up an underfunded grant scheme ... and banging our heads against a brick wall of departmental delay and disinterest. The government appears to be sleep-walking to a green tech job-loss disaster of its own making."
Leggett added: "I'm not saying this is what's going on, but it's as though they are doing the most effective thing they can to cause the industry to stall; it's as though they are setting us up to fail."
The petition, signed by solar and construction organisations, is the latest embarrassment for ministers over energy and environment policies.
Several major energy companies, including Shell, BP and Centrica, have said they will axe or reconsider investment in "low carbon" energy such as wind and solar power and carbon capture for coal-fired power stations. The Confederation of British Industry has warned that, if ministers do not take "urgent action", billions of pounds of investment needed to cut global warming emissions and make sure the UK does not run out of power will move to the US and China.
The British Wind Energy Association (BWEA) will also warn this week that funding cuts and bureaucracy are in danger of "derailing" the UK's micro and small wind turbine industry, one of the few green sectors in which the UK boasts a number one world position.
The UK solar industry claims to employ 1,600 people in the UK and estimates this could rise to 100,000 by 2020. The BWEA calculates that the micro and small turbine sector employs 1,880 people, potentially rising to 10,000 by 2030.
A spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change said: "The popularity of the Low Carbon Buildings Programme has led to an over-subscription in solar PV applications ... We are seeing increased interest for solar thermal, ground source heat pumps and small wind, and want to ensure that these technologies can also benefit from the programme up to June 2009."

Environment pays the price for boom in laptops and mobiles

The Sunday Times
April 19, 2009
Tricia Holly-Davis

TECHNOLOGY should be the environment’s friend. Rather than flying around the world to meet a business partner, we can hold a video conference. Rather than printing out and posting a document, we can send an e-mail.
The reality is more complicated. The amount of energy used by information technology is growing fast, and already accounts for about 2% of the world’s carbon emissions – roughly equivalent to that of global aviation.
The rate at which the sector is growing, particularly in developing nations such as China and India, means emissions will double by 2020 compared with 2007 levels, according to research by the Climate Group, a nonprofit consultancy. This will add 1.4 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere – more than twice the current emissions for all of Britain.
Even this estimate could be too conservative. The Climate Group’s analysis relied partly on the assumption that businesses would monitor their carbon emissions and invest in efficiency. It now appears those assumptions were optimistic.

A report by Gartner, a research firm, shows that most firms are not putting systems in place to measure their carbon footprint. In Britain, only 17% of mid and large-sized companies report their carbon emissions.
“This is surprising given that from next year thousands of UK firms will be subject to emissions reporting under the UK’s carbon reduction commitment legislation,” said Simon Mingay, the report’s author.
Gartner found telecommunications firms, which could make the biggest impact on greening the technology sector, are less likely to spend money on energy efficiency in a recession.
“If few businesses are tracking their energy use and sales of efficient IT is as a result lower than predicted, then previous growth estimates of the environmental impact of technology may need to be reevaluated,” said Molly Webb of the Climate Group.
The emissions growth of the technology industry is generally based on the power consumed by its products – laptop computers, for example – and the carbon intensity of that power. This doesn’t always show the entire picture. Laptops are getting much more energy efficient, as is their source of power. But these gains are being offset by growth – laptops will comprise nearly a quarter of all IT-related emissions by 2020, as millions more people use them.
Emissions from mobile phones will also rise to reflect future sales of smart phones like Apple’s iPhone, which consume about 60% more energy than regular handsets.
Across the IT chain, data centres provide the greatest cause for concern. Data centres hold thousands of computers that store information and process the billions of transactions required to run a modern economy.
They need electricity not only to run the computers, but also the large air-conditioning systems that keep them at a constant cool temperature. The world’s 44m servers already consume 0.5% of all electricity, with data-centre emissions now approaching those of Argentina, according to research by McKinsey, the management consultancy.
Demand for digital storage is growing by about 60% a year, according to McKinsey. In America alone, the electricity required by data centres between 2008 and 2010 will be the equivalent of 10 new power plants.
Without efforts to curb demand, current projections show worldwide carbon emissions from data centres will quadruple by 2020.
Data-centre demand reflects the huge growth of the internet. Bandwidth capacity on the web has doubled every year since the mid1990s and shows no sign of slowing down. “More bandwidth demand means that bigger networks and routing systems are needed,” said Jeff Ferry of Infinera, a Silicon Valley technology firm that makes the computer chips that deliver data across the internet.
This growth has led to a sharp rise in IT costs. Data centres typically account for 25% of total corporate IT budgets, but this is rising by as much as 20% a year – outpacing overall IT spending, which is growing by 6%.
Emerging technologies will help ease costs and energy consumption by allowing companies to store more information along the same routes. Infinera’s next-generation chip, the size of a fingernail, will have enough data capacity to carry 1.2m YouTube videos, compared with 300,000 today, and will improve energy efficiency by 80%.
This will allow network providers to send more information along the same, albeit more crowded, path without substantially increasing their costs.
“Because hardware costs are falling rapidly, and energy costs are rising, the cost burden of IT has actually reversed,” according to Jonathan Steel of IT consultancy Bathwick Group. “This means it is more affordable to invest in new, more efficient technologies than to keep old ones that consume more energy.”
Whether companies are willing to make that investment remains to be seen.

Tankers to sail off with carbon waste

The Sunday Times
April 19, 2009
Danny Fortson

THE global fight against climate change could lead to the creation of a new market: carbon-dioxide shipping.
The world’s biggest cargo carriers, including Maersk and IM Skaugen, have begun talks with power companies in Britain and Europe that could see them build new fleets of tankers specially made to transport the greenhouse gas captured from clean-coal power stations.
The news comes amid a big push by governments to clean up the world’s dirtiest and most plentiful fuel. This week energy secretary Ed Miliband will give the green light to a new generation of coal-fired stations, the first in more than 30 years, but only if they are fitted with experimental carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology.
CCS works by capturing carbon dioxide, liquefying it, then piping it underground into geological formations like spent oilfields. The large-scale roll-out of the technology, however, will require a vast new infrastructure to handle the millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere.

Shipping could be cheaper than pumping it through a pipeline to oil fields that are often many miles offshore.
Christian Ingerslev at Maersk said: “Investing in a pipeline is a very high one-off cost. CCS is not commercialised yet so shipping can provide an immediate benefit because it is cheaper. It will be a mix of shipping and pipeline.”
Eon, RWE and Scottish Power, all of which have proposals to build CCS demonstration plants in Britain, have asked Skaugen to carry out feasibility studies into shipping.
Per Arne Nilsson at Skaugen, said: “If you look at Scottish Power’s project [in Longannet, Scotland] or Eon’s [at Kingsnorth, Kent], they are a bit remote. They may never find it economic to transport by pipeline.”
Today there are only four tankers in the world that are purpose-built for shipping carbon dioxide. These are all owned by Coca-Cola, which uses the greenhouse gas to put the fizz in its drinks. Skaugen recently had six ships certified for carbon-dioxide transport, the first large tankers to earn that qualification.
Cargo firms are looking at shipping carbon dioxide from countries with little storage like Japan to the Middle East, where it could be pumped underground into old oilfields.

PM stokes row with ‘clean’ coal plan

The Sunday Times
April 19, 2009
Jonathan Leake, Environment Editor

GORDON BROWN is to risk a clash with the green movement by throwing the government’s weight behind the construction of a new generation of coal-fired power stations.
Ministers intend to give power companies permission to construct at least two new coal-fired stations, with more to follow.
The move will anger climate change scientists and campaigners because coal produces more CO2 for each unit of energy generated than any other fuel.
Brown and Ed Miliband, his energy secretary, will argue that Britain urgently needs more coal-fired generating plants to prevent future power shortages as old plants are shut down.

They will soften the blow by pledging that any new plants will be designed so they can be fitted at a later date with equipment to capture CO2 — a technology that is still unproven.
The plan may also be mentioned in Alistair Darling’s budget this week.
The government is understood to want initially to approve 2.5 gigawatts (Gw) of generating capacity. This is equivalent to two fairly large power stations.
The proposed plant at Kingsnorth in Kent, seen as the most likely to be approved first, would generate 1.6Gw. The plant has already been the focus of large-scale protests by green activists.
This week Miliband is expected to prepare the ground for the inevitable controversy by announcing a consultation into the technical requirements to be imposed on any new power station, including the licensing system for pumping captured CO2 into underground rock strata.
He is also expected to say he wants to expand plans to test “carbon capture and storage” (CCS) technologies by building up to three such plants rather than the single one planned at the moment.
He told a recent parliamentary committee that he wanted to put Britain at the forefront of CCS technologies.
The government hopes such pledges will placate its opponents sufficiently so that the new power stations will be approved.
“We see new coal generation as having a potentially important role to play in securing Britain’s electricity supply, but we also recognise the need to deal with CO2 emissions,” said a spokesman for the energy and climate change department, run by Miliband.
He is likely to face fierce opposition from other political parties and from groups such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. They see the proposals as a way of getting coal-fired power stations built on a promise that will not be fulfilled — that their emissions will one day be abated.
In theory, so-called carbon capture could be capable of capturing up to 90% of the CO2 emissions from power plants. It would then be pumped underground for permanent storage.
However, no industrial-scale CCS plant has yet been built anywhere in the world and the technology remains unproven.
Britain burns about 63m tons of coal a year, with 84% used to generate power. Coal-fired plants generate about a quarter of the 560m tons of CO2 that Britain produces each year.

Miliband invokes Apollo spirit for the world's greatest challenge

Saturday, 18 April 2009

They have done it one after another, the two Miliband brothers, first David, now Ed: running British policy for coping with the world's most intractable problem, climate change. And in the face of growing gloom among many scientists – and not a few politicians and environmentalists – about the possibility of cutting the world's carbon emissions fast enough to halt a runaway rise in temperatures, they exhibit exactly the same unusual characteristic: rational optimism.

Sitting in his relatively new Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) in Whitehall, the shirtsleeved younger Miliband talks enthusiastically about the carbon budget – the world's first – that will be announced by the Chancellor with the traditional Budget next week. It is an innovation that was brought about by his brother David, who as Environment Secretary two years ago seized the political opportunity to push a Climate Change Bill through Parliament.
It will fall to Ed to implement his sibling's innovation and he sees it, rightly, as another positive step forward in the long struggle to make Britain and the rest of the world change the way life is lived, to keep the planet habitable. It is a struggle that will reach an interim climax at the Copenhagen climate treaty talks in December.
Nowhere in an hour's talk about global warming policy is there a scintilla of doubt that this is a problem which can be solved. Nowhere is there any hint of the pessimism beginning to possess some of the world's leading climate scientists, who believe carbon emissions are rising so rapidly that they cannot be scaled back in time to stop global temperatures going off the scale. It's not an act. It's a genuinely held belief. But it seems so deep-rooted, in the face of growing concern from many at the heart of the problem, that the question puts itself forward: why?
Ed Miliband says he's an optimist by nature and by upbringing. "I suppose I have faith in human ingenuity. People often talk about the Apollo project, when JFK said 'we're going to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade', and they just about managed it. I mean, I think there's the political will, if you talk to the Prime Minister here, if you talk to President Obama: this is an urgent priority. It's difficult."
But it's a solvable problem? "Absolutely it's a solvable problem."
Does he accept that, historically, it appears to be a uniquely difficult problem? "Yes, definitely. But human ingenuity and human beings have overcome these problems before."
The mention of JFK is telling. The political parallels between the Milibands and the Kennedy brothers, Jack and Bobby, are uncanny. Not just the youth and the good looks, the family closeness, but the shared and unshakeable left-liberal belief in progress, the belief that rational action, that people and politics combined, can do wonders. You might call it the Apollo spirit.
It put a man on the moon. Let's hope it can save the Earth.

Labour's climate measures mainly hot air

After last week's eco-car initiative, Wednesday's Budget will have a green spin. But the Government's low-carbon strategy could be making matters worse, says environment editor Geoffrey Lean
Sunday, 19 April 2009

Britain's economic stimulus measures, promoted by Gordon Brown as part of a "global green new deal", will accelerate global warming instead of curbing it, an investigation by The Independent on Sunday has established.

The investigation also shows that most of the Prime Minister's vaunted green initiatives have not materialised and, in some cases, are likely to set back his professed strategy for "the creation of a low-carbon economy". It has found that, over the past four years, ministers have launched a staggering 91 consultations relating to the issue, while actually doing little.
The revelations come as the Chancellor, Alistair Darling, prepares to unveil what ministers insist will be a groundbreaking green Budget. Yesterday, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Ed Miliband, told the IoS that it would represent "a massive greening of the Government".
Last year's Budget, however, was similarly trailed in advance as "the greenest ever", but actually led to a slight fall in the revenue coming from green taxes. And though Gordon Brown promised in 1997 to put "the environment at the core of the Government's objectives for the tax system", income from such taxes fell by 22 per cent during his 10 years as Chancellor.
As the IoS exclusively reported last month, green measures form only 6 per cent of the Government's stimulus package, compared to 13 per cent in Germany, 21 per cent in France, 38 per cent in China and 81 per cent in South Korea. And now a new study shows that the British package will increase rather than reduce emissions of carbon dioxide.
Carried out for WWF and E3G – a respected environmental group – it found that the harmful effects of new spending on roads, which will increase traffic, far outweighed the contribution of extra expenditure on energy saving and rail infrastructure. And it points out that Britain has "yet to include any investments at all dedicated to renewable energy".
Examination of Mr Brown's hyped green initiatives since becoming Prime minister reveals a similarly sorry picture, as the panel (right) shows.
He has repeatedly promised that Britain will increase the proportion of its energy coming from renewable sources to 15 per cent by 2020. But a new study to be published on Tuesday by Cambridge Econometrics is expected to show that, if current policies continue, it will grow from 1 per cent to only 1.5 per cent by then.
The Government has consistently failed to provide incentives that are routine in other countries. Four years ago, it promised to provide £50m to help develop wave and tidal power, an area where Britain has a potential world lead. But the resulting Marine Renewables Deployment Fund has yet to give a penny to support this. Installation of rooftop windmills has been held up through bureaucratic delays over planning issues at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Gordon Brown wrote to one manufacturer last August saying the issue had been resolved, but the hold-up continues.
Homeowners have also been discouraged from installing other renewable energy systems, such as solar electric panels. Just as they were beginning to take off, ministers slashed the level of grants available. They will end such funding for commercial buildings and charities altogether in June.
The Government has promised to introduce "feed-in tariffs", which would pay people for excess energy they produce. But these are not due to come in for a year for electricity and for two years for heat – causing a funding gap that threatens to drive some installers out of business.
There is a similar failure to honour an undertaking by Mr Brown last September properly to insulate six million houses over the next three years. In practice, this would involve providing cavity wall insulation to a million homes. The official Cavity Insulation Guarantee Agency told the IoS last week that filling cavity walls was running at just 500,000 homes a year.
Mr Brown promised to augment a scheme called the Carbon Emissions Reduction Target, under which the big energy companies have to help households save fuel and electricity. But the Government is now threatening to gut the scheme by allowing the companies to get away with simply offering people advice.
He also undertook to tackle fuel poverty. But ministers accept they will fail to meet a legal obligation to end it among vulnerable groups next year, and have cut funds, even as the number of households affected has risen from 4.3 to 5.4 million last year.
Last week's heavily publicised promotion of electric cars follows the same pattern, since the cars for which grants will be available will not be on the market for at least two years.
Meanwhile a study by a consulting firm, JDS Associates, has counted 91 separate consultations concerning sustainable energy launched by the governments in Westminster, Edinburgh and Cardiff between May 2005 and January 2009.
Last night Greg Barker, the Conservatives' energy spokesman, said the investigation showed ministers and civil servants were locked in "mid-20th-century attitudes to producing energy". Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrat environment spokesman, said the Prime Minister was content to "paint a green picture" without taking practical action.

Emissions targets to be part of the Budget

Ed Miliband, the climate change minister, tells Andrew Grice how the Government will make Britain a greener country
Saturday, 18 April 2009

To be budgeted out of existence? Britain has decided not to buy up carbon credits but to reduce emissions domestically

The Government will next week announce a groundbreaking, legally-binding target to cut Britain's carbon emissions by at least 34 per cent by 2020 to combat climate change.
Ed Miliband, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, told The Independent yesterday that the Government would not achieve the target by buying large amounts of "offsetting" credits – effectively paying poor countries to cut carbon on Britain's behalf. Instead, it will cap the proportion of the target that can be achieved by offsetting.
"I want to achieve as much as we can through domestic action," he said. "There will be a cap on credits from overseas. We are going to be sending a strong signal about that."

The world's first "carbon budgets" for the next 15 years will be unveiled by the Chancellor Alistair Darling in his Budget next Wednesday. He will embrace proposals by the Independent Committee on Climate Change, chaired by Lord Turner of Ecchinswell, which called in December for an interim 34 per cut in emissions from 1900 levels by 2020. Lord Turner said the figure should rise to 42 per cent if a new global deal on emissions was signed at crucial talks in Copenhagen this December.
Ministers are also likely to implement Lord Turner's proposals to ensure "deep domestic emissions cuts" by limiting the amount that could be achieved through offsetting. He proposed that less than 10 per cent be met by offsets outside the European Union if the target is a 34 per cent cut, rising to 20 per cent after a global agreement. Previously, the Government had planned to "buy" up to half of its carbon credits.
The Government is already committed to reducing carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 but has not yet fixed a target for 2020. The 34 to 42 per cent target range recommended by the Turner committee was higher than expected and Mr Miliband admitted it would be "challenging".
He said: "If you are going to have the radical decarbonising of 80 per cent by 2050, we need to take action early. There are industrial opportunities to taking action early."
Mr Miliband added: "This is a very important moment. It is a world first. A Budget which is a financial Budget but also has legally binding carbon budgets that we will have to stick to. It is an extraordinary transformation. It is a massive greening of the Government, part of the change in culture we need. We are leading the world."
"Carbon budgets" covering 2008-12, 2013-17 and 2018-22 will be approved by Parliament by 1 June. Detailed policies to ensure the ceilings are not breached will follow this summer.
Mr Miliband accepted that would require "dramatic and profound change" in the areas outlined by the Turner report – greater regulation of power plants and cars and more financial incentives to encourage people to use energy efficient goods. He wants "clean coal", using carbon capture and storage, to play a part and will announce a review later this month.
The Climate Change Secretary admitted it could cost 1 per cent of GDP – about £15bn – to hit the 2050 target. "There is no question that there are costs to our economy and our society of acting. But the costs of not acting are greater than the costs of acting."
Resulting higher consumer energy bills could be reduced by "a revolution in energy efficiency", he said, adding: "It is illusory to think that there is a 'high carbon, carry on as we are' future."
Mr Miliband said: "The events of the last year do signal a move to a more active industrial policy by this government. Financial services is an important part of our economy. But we do need to prepare for, invest in and intervene to have the industries of the future located in Britain. A green industrial revolution will happen. The question is whether Britain is going to be at the forefront of it.
"Climate change is a very very big threat to our way of life. We have got to do more to bring that home to people. At the moment, people think it is happening, they accept the science, but they probably think it is going to happen to someone else. We do have a duty to say to people it is going to happen to future generations in this country if we don't take action." But Mr Miliband does not want to rely on threats. "There are positive opportunities – industrially, for the transport system, air quality – a whole range of issues where can say going green means a better quality of life for our country," he said.
He wants to encourage a "popular movement" on climate change to push world leaders towards a deal in Copenhagen, admitting the politicians cannot do it by themselves. He will issue a "manifesto", including a slimline guide for the public, ahead of the December summit.
Although success will not be easy, he is optimistic, saying the election of President Barack Obama provides a "unique window of opportunity".
The US Environment Protection Agency (EPA) announced yesterday that it will regulate carbon dioxide emissions, deciding after a review of scientific research that it and five other greenhouse gases pose a serious risk to health. The move marks a major change in policy to that of the Bush administration.
Alistair Darling's forthcoming Budget could also include incentives for offshore wind farms, because the drive for renewable energy has been stalled by the credit crunch. Mr Miliband is "sympathetic" to pleas by the industry for help. "If we want to be at the forefront, it is important to nurture the renewables sector through this difficult time," he said.

Wanted: a real green stimulus

Sunday, 19 April 2009

The Prime Minister recently committed Britain to cutting carbon dioxide emissions and told George Bush, pointedly: "This is a demanding target." Only the year was 1990; the Prime Minister was Margaret Thatcher and the American President was George H W Bush.

Nineteen years on, progress has been slow. Slow but not negligible. As a young newspaper, founded that same year, The Independent on Sunday has always been both environmentally concerned and optimistic. So let us first identify the reasons to believe that the green argument is being won.
That target set by Mrs Thatcher was met and exceeded. It was to stabilise UK emissions at the 1990 level by 2005. It was described as a "cut" of 30 per cent, because emissions had been expected to rise by that much over the period. In fact they fell by 6 per cent. That was largely thanks to the switch from coal to gas, which burns more efficiently, but it was still a cut.
The other ground for optimism is that global opinion has moved. The pace may be glacial, but the movement is as real and as irresistible as that of a glacier. When Mrs Thatcher underwent her Pauline conversion, in her 1988 Royal Society speech, she said that "some" feared that the greenhouse effect "could lead to climatic instability". Well, the "some" and the "could" have long since dropped by the wayside. And the attitudes of peoples and governments around the world have moved by a kind of creeping ratchet towards concerted action.
China and America, the two largest economies, are on board for "the change we need", in Barack Obama's phrase. In this country, after a long gap, another prime minister reaching the end of a stint in office developed a passion for the issue. Yet Tony Blair left little by way of practical legacy beyond some wind turbines and a reopening of the question of nuclear power.
And the recent history of green politics in this country has been one of missed opportunities, as Geoffrey Lean, our Environment Editor, reports today. Gordon Brown lacks even the rhetorical sincerity of his predecessor, and has been under less pressure from David Cameron, whose exciting green start is in danger of becoming a distant memory.
The case for a Green New Deal to turn the recession into an opportunity, that has been advocated by the UN, taken up by President Obama and supported by this newspaper, has been adopted as camouflage by Mr Brown. But, as we report today, Britain's economic stimulus is one of the least green in the world. A new study estimates that its net impact on the environment will be negative, in stark contrast to those of many other countries, including America, France and Germany.
The green theme is now being pushed by Mr Brown's slightly depleted band of spinners as the big idea of this week's Budget. This is no more convincing. Indeed, the fanfare about electric cars has already been exposed as a gimmick. And it is hard to take the likes of Lord Mandelson seriously, posing in a green car, when Labour showed so little interest in the environment for so long. In the 2000 fuel protest, for instance, none of them made the green case.
The truth is that Mr Brown's attitude on green issues is to say to the British public: "You go on ahead; I'm right behind you." After more than a year as Prime Minister he created a Department for Energy and Climate Change, and appointed his ally Ed Miliband to run it. Mr Miliband's first test was to try to salvage some greenery from the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow that had, in effect, been taken before he got the job. Meanwhile, Mr Miliband has struggled to set up a new department and prevent it from falling under the total control of civil servants in thrall to the idea of an "energy gap". This is the bogey that has dominated energy policy for decades: that the UK is in imminent danger of being unable to keep the lights on, and that more power stations, fossil fuel and nuclear, must be built urgently.
Surely the new department should have been a chance to break this psychology, and to reorient policy away from the old predict-and-provide model so that it focuses on consuming less energy.
Mr Miliband, like his brother before him, and his brother's former boss, Mr Blair, talks a good talk. But the time for talking is long past. The case for decisive pre-emptive action, by which rich nations such as ours can set an example to the developing world and gain a competitive advantage in green technology at the same time, is as strong now as it was 10 years ago.
What we need now is leadership. Wisely or not, we are holding our breath for this week's Budget.