Saturday, 2 January 2010

The wasteful avalanche of 12 million light bulbs

Ben Webster, Environment Editor

Twelve million low-energy light bulbs were posted to households over Christmas by an energy company as part of its legal obligation to cut carbon emissions, despite government advice that many would never be used.
Npower sent out the packages last month to escape a ban on issuing unsolicited bulbs, which came into force yesterday. The German-owned company saved millions of pounds by giving away the bulbs. Alternative ways of meeting its obligation, such as insulating homes, are much more effective but up to seven times more expensive.
It faced a fine of more than £40 million, or 10 per cent of its turnover, if it failed to meet its target for improving efficiency in homes under the carbon emissions reduction target scheme.
Households have received more than 180 million free or subsidised low-energy bulbs in the past 18 months. A survey in July by the Energy Saving Trust found that the average home had six unused ones lying in drawers and cupboards.

In 2008 the Government ordered the big energy companies to invest in measures for improving energy efficiency and cutting fuel poverty.
Companies can choose how to meet their obligations. Each measure they fund is given a score for the lifetime carbon savings that it achieves.
The scheme made assumptions about the usage of light bulbs that turned out to be wildly optimistic.
Companies were allowed to register immediate carbon savings from every bulb issued on the assumption that all recipients instantly installed them in some of their most intensively used light sockets. In reality, many people either stored the bulbs or threw them away, often because they were the wrong fitting or wattage.
The companies can also meet their obligations by paying for homes to be insulated. This guarantees energy savings but is much more expensive.
According to the latest government estimates, each low-energy bulb costs an energy company £2.97 and saves 0.04 tonnes of carbon over its lifetime. Insulating the external solid walls of a three-bedroom semi-detached house costs £8,760 and saves 18.08 tonnes. A company can achieve the same score of 18.08 tonnes by posting 452 bulbs, costing only £1,342.
In the first 18 months of the scheme, companies issued 182 million bulbs but insulated only 17,000 solid-wall homes. Britain has 6.6 million solid-wall homes requiring insulation.
Companies can pass on all the costs of the scheme to their customers. Over three years it is expected to add more than £100 to the average household’s energy bills.
The Department of Energy and Climate Change quietly admitted in June that the scheme was flawed and resulting in significant wastage.
In a paragraph buried in a 30-page “impact assessment”, the department said: “Government is increasingly concerned that the number of lamps already distributed has been so high that it may work out at more than the average number of highest-use light fittings in a house.
“As such, there is an increasing risk to carbon savings under the scheme where lamps are not used, are installed on low-use light fittings, or replace existing [low-energy bulbs].”
It said that direct mailouts of bulbs would be banned from January 1, 2010, allowing six months for companies to wind down their schemes.
Npower, which had a turnover of £427 million in 2008, initially focused on home insulation but was named a few months ago as the energy supplier that was farthest from achieving its green energy target. Companies that fail to meet their obligations by 2011 will be fined up to 10 per cent of their turnover.
It began posting 12 million bulbs on November 27, five months after the ban had been announced and just as the postal system was struggling to cope with the volume of Christmas mail.
A spokeswoman for the energy company said that the scheme was designed to be completed on New Year’s Eve, hours before the ban came into force at midnight.
She admitted that Npower did not know how many of the bulbs would be used. “There is nothing under [the carbon emissions reduction target scheme] that means we have to get evidence that bulbs are being used. It’s up to the customer,” she said.

Green technology to be used by top firms to overhaul UK homes

• Sustainability scheme could create tens of thousands of jobs • 'Retrofitting' homes could make Britain a pioneer in field

Nick Mathiason, Friday 1 January 2010 18.32 GMT

Some of Britain's leading firms are partnering top academic institutions to develop projects that will overhaul household energy, water, transport and waste provision to drastically cut carbon emissions.
The groundbreaking partnership, led by Arup's global planning chief, Peter Head, involves 25 international companies including GE (the world's biggest company, according to Forbes). HSBC, French energy firm EDF, Thames Water, Marks & Spencer and waste management firm Biffa are also behind the plan.
Politicians and regulators are calling for a "green new deal" to help lift the economy out of recession. "Green industries alone could support a further half a million jobs over the next decade," Alistair Darling wrote in the Guardian last week.
The companies involved hope that in five years their work could create tens of thousands of jobs and push Britain into the vanguard of environmental technology. They are working with Imperial College and University College London to "retrofit" hundreds of thousands of homes, using the latest clean technology to transform energy and water efficiency.
Head, who will become chairman of a new charity, the Thames Gateway Institute of Sustainability, said: "We want to connect new developments with retrofitting technology combining energy, water and waste, improvements to recycling and the introduction of electric cars and better cycling facilities… there are tremendous advantages and business opportunities."
The "retrofitting" of Britain is the focus of the new institute, which will open a research centre this year in Dagenham, east London, as part of a 24-hectare sustainable technology business park. The centre will focus on green technology breakthroughs that can be cheaply "scaled up" to industrial proportions. "We need to move to a new industrial model. And we genuinely need this institute to power demonstration projects," said Head.
Part of the plan is to develop new financing for green projects and the group is in advanced talks with pension funds. Financiers at international investment bank Sustainable Development Capital want to see part of household and business energy and water bills ringfenced in a special fund for green developments that will be matched by pension funds.
The plan aims to take advantage of savings for firms when consumers use less energy. It implies households utility bills will not come down in spite of the savings envisaged from the scheme. The model assumes that it will cost £1bn to convert 200,000 new homes, into which communities will be divided. They could then see their neighbourhoods converted street-by-street into sustainable communities complete with energy-from-waste facilities, electric car power points and advanced water capture technology.
The Institute of Sustainability has been building up for a year as a shadow operation but has now completed the formation of a 12-strong board. Other than Head, it includes Professor Malcolm Grant, president and provost of UCL, and Keith Riley, managing director of Veolia Environmental Services. Ian Short, deputy chief executive at the London Thames Gateway Development Corporation, will be the Institute's interim chief executive.
Focusing on close-to-market environmental technology projects that are now ready to be applied on housing developments, the institute will use the huge building programme on the Thames Gateway – a 40-mile ribbon of land either side of the Thames in east London, where tens of thousands of new homes are planned – to be its worldwide showcase. Two major housing developments in north Kent are likely to be pilots for the new plan.
It will also draw on lessons learned from the 2012 east London Olympics, where a number of facilities are using the latest environmental technology to reduce emissions as well as a "soil hospital" to clean and re-use contaminated soil.
Head was the principal planning adviser on the Chinese sustainable city project at Dongtan. Though the project has stalled for internal political reasons, it has inspired the launch of the new institute in Britain, which is forging links with the Chinese authorities in what Head hopes will provide huge business opportunities.

Government must 'green economy and create jobs' FSA chief says

• Lord Turner champions environmental taxes• Investment in renewable energy would boost employment

Ashley Seager, Friday 1 January 2010
Adair Turner, the outspoken head of the City regulator, believes that, whichever party wins the next election, the government should embark on a tax and spend programme to green the economy and create jobs.
Lord Turner, head of the Financial Services Authority, created a stir last year when he said that much of the City's activities were "socially useless". He could find himself on a collision course with the Conservatives, who have pledged to take an axe to public spending immediately after the election, if they win it.
"If we have to raise taxes – and we will to some extent – we can deliberately design those to tax bad environmental things, like overuse of fossil fuels, rather than good welfare-enhancing things, like employment for people," says Turner, who also heads the government's committee on climate change, in an interview with BBC Radio 4 to be broadcast tonight.
"There is therefore a very strong argument whenever one is in the environment of tax rises for trying to make them skewed as much as possible to things that make sense in the long-term."
He goes on to say that spending should be carefully targeted, rather than cut sharply. "In the expenditure side, obviously it is the case that some expenditures are particularly valuable at this time in the cycle, in particular ones where the leakage into imports is least.
"So, things like insulating peoples' homes [thereby] employing people from the construction industry, which has been hit particularly hard by the recession."
Turner's comments echo those of the chancellor, Alistair Darling, who wrote in the Guardian that green industries as a whole could add half a million jobs to the economy. He added that the Conservatives' plans to reduce the budget deficit "further and faster" than Labour could wreck the economic recovery.
On the World Tonight programme, Turner will also tell Andrew Simms, of the New Economics Foundation, that when it comes to investing in the low-carbon and energy-saving technologies of tomorrow, the government may have to take a direct role because the market cannot be relied upon to deliver what is needed.
"I don't think we should exclude the possibility ... that we may need to think about whether we need more direct, public supported or investments in low-carbon electricity generation if we find that the market isn't directly delivering that," Turner says.
"So concepts like investment banks or elements of guarantee, or particular categories of bond finance, I think are within the set of things that we should think about."
Turner's ideas chime with those of the NEF, which, with other campaigners, has been calling for a "Green New Deal", to push huge investments into renewables and energy-saving technologies, which it says would create thousands of jobs and boost tax receipts, as well as saving billions of pounds in imports of carbon energy sources, such as coal and gas.
In a report last month, the group argued that the fledgling economic recovery in Britain was supported only by low interest rates and a fiscal easing, and would tip back into recession this year (2010) if public spending is slashed in response to the government's ballooning budget deficit.
If £10bn of the Bank of England's £200bn of quantitative easing were invested in offshore wind energy, it could easily create over 100,000 new jobs, the group says.
Turner says he is concerned that the swing during the 1970s and 1980s towards the idea the private sector would always deliver outcomes better and cheaper than the public sector, which he used to agree with, had gone too far.
Turner adds that the government should avoid pursuing economic growth. "If you spend your time thinking that the most important objective of public policy is to get growth up from 1.9% to 2% and even better 2.1% we're pursuing a sort of false god.
"We're pursuing it, first of all, because if we accept that we will do things to the climate that will be harmful, but also because all the evidence shows that beyond the sort of standard of living which Britain has now achieved, extra growth does not automatically translate into human welfare and happiness."

Five economic reasons why 2010 will be greener

Economics, rather than politics, will be the main driver of the fight against global warming in 2010.

By Pierre Briancon, Reuters Breakingviews Published: 12:01AM GMT 01 Jan 2010
In 2009, the global recession had a greater impact than all the diplomatic efforts that ended in the Copenhagen flop: energy production hadn't declined on such a scale since 1981, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). Here are five economic reasons for the world to become slightly greener in the coming year (just a few of them could be wishful thinking...)
First, high oil prices. Pricier crude encourages investments in alternative energy sources. Crude oil has been trading in a fairly narrow - and reassuringly expensive - range of $64 to $80 a barrel since June. It is not likely to fall below that level.

True, inventories are abundant, and in the longer term the Iraqi industry is emerging from the rubble. But there are several reasons to think oil prices will hold up through 2010 and beyond. Demand growth in big emerging nations like China and India is a solid support. Downward pressure on the dollar would probably help sustain prices. And OPEC probably still has enough power to keep prices from plummeting. So while the oil price is not likely to shoot up to recession-inducing highs, it is likely to stay high enough to keep alternative energy resources profitable.
Second, the low price of natural gas. Cheap gas encourages utilities to build more gas-fired power plants, which are cleaner than coal-powered ones. The current gas supply glut is not likely to go away soon. Even the always-possible Russia-Ukraine row, or a colder than usual winter, probably would not be enough to boost world prices. Unconventional gas production is expected to rise in the United States. That will force Qatar and other exporters of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to divert exports from North America to Asia and Europe. The alternative supply should strengthen the hand of European buyers in dealing with their big supplier - Russia.
Third, more research on, and subsidies for, clean energy. The wishful thinking, or reasoned optimism, may be starting here, but Western governments may at last realize that that the United Nations-style approach to global warming is doomed to failure. A focus on domestic priorities would lead to more determined public efforts to encourage research in lower-carbon sources of energy, lowering their costs and making them more competitive.
Fourth, deterrence could achieve what diplomacy could not. The mere prospect of a carbon tax on imports, which the European Union is currently debating, might help concentrate Chinese minds. The World Trade Organization has hinted such a levy would not necessarily run counter to its rules. To forestall this sort of virtuous tariff, China might come forward with serious proposals to curb its own carbon emissions.
Finally, carbon prices should rise again. True, they took a hit after the failure of the Copenhagen conference to achieve much in the way of international cooperation. But steps being taken in several major countries will ultimately help make carbon more expensive on the exchanges where emission rights are traded: for example the U.S. cap-and-trade bill, coupled with the Obama administration's intention to consider carbon emissions as health hazard, the British government's energy efficiency scheme or France's domestic carbon tax.
While these trends could make for a greener year ahead, worrying signals are accumulating for the longer term. If the IEA is to be believed, without major policy changes the world is on path for a temperature rise of up to 6 degrees Celsius, far above the stated international goal of limiting the rise to 2 degrees Celsius. Growth will resume, pushing energy demand 40 percent higher in 2030 than in 2007, with non-industrialised counties accounting for 90 percent of that increase. Demand for coal - driven by emerging countries' growing needs - will rise faster than for other energy sources.
At the same time the financial crisis has depressed energy investment, whether in oil and gas upstream production, or power plants. In other words, by 2030 the world could face the absurd situation of having to cope both with global warming and energy shortages. Green will only prevail if the world's major powers take the Copenhagen dud as a call to arms.

Wheels come off an American romance

Is America beginning to fall out of love with the automobile, asks Geoffrey Lean.

By Geoffrey LeanPublished: 5:54PM GMT 01 Jan 2010
Is America beginning to fall out of love with the automobile? It is, as Zhou Enlai famously said about the consequences of the French Revolution, far too early to tell. But next week a new study will report that the number of US cars actually dropped last year, after a century of apparently unstoppable growth.
The Washington-based Earth Policy Institute – a small think tank with a knack of spotting new trends – will announce that the US passenger-vehicle fleet fell from 250 million to 246 million in 2009. Nothing on this scale has happened before; it stagnated in 1998 and fell slightly during the 1991 recession, but otherwise has been growing by an average of 3.69 million annually since 1960.

Is this just a blip, caused by deeper recession? Maybe. But Lester Brown, president of the institute, thinks something fundamental is happening, and that numbers will continue to fall throughout this decade.
One reason, he says, is "market saturation"; there are now five cars in the country for every four registered drivers. But he also cites rising fuel prices, increasing congestion, "mounting concerns about climate change" and "the declining interest in cars among young people who have grown up in cities".
Of course, any decline will be more than offset by increases elsewhere, especially in China and India. But a cultural shift in the country that is home to nearly a third of the world's vehicles would still prove a landmark