Archive for March, 2011

UK Loses Position in Green Investment Rankings

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A report by the US Pew Environment Group has placed the UK in 13th place on an international league table of green investment – 10 below the country’s position in 2009.

Although Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to make his government the “greenest” ever, it would appear that pre-election promises have fallen by the wayside when it comes to shaping a more environmentally friendly Britain.

The US Pew Environment Group assessed the UK’s contribution to green investment as being worth $3.3 billion (approx. £2 billion) in 2010, compared to the $11 billion (approx. £7 billion) invested in 2009 by the Labour Government. The £5 billion slump has seen the UK slip to 13th in the green investment rankings, falling below France, Italy, Brazil and India.

The world’s three leading investors in green technology, China ($54 billion/£34 billion), Germany ($41.2 billion/£25.7 billion) and the US ($34 billion/£21 billion) continue to plough substantial funds into the green sector. The UK, however, appears to be moving away from its green aspirations, no doubt in consequence of addressing the public deficit. Although repairing the country’s finances is by no means a negative move, Ruth Davis, of Greenpeace, remains unimpressed by the current administration.

Ms Davis said: “The Conservatives came to power promising to end dithering on energy decisions but instead investors face a continuing atmosphere of uncertainty. With long delays in setting up the green investment bank, further dilly-dallying over the Renewable Heat Incentive and a green deal with no sense of direction, we’ve had a year of delays and broken promises.

“In the meantime, green investment elsewhere has surged ahead so we’re losing jobs and industries to other countries. Unless Cameron gives a direct instruction to his Treasury to stop sabotaging his ambitions for the low-carbon economy, British businesses will continue to lose out”.

Investment in green technology in the UK has been on the decline over recent months, with the Government’s green deal to encourage greater insulation – such as loft and cavity wall insulation – in domestic properties the saving grace of a party that clearly cares less about the environment than it does fiscal policy.

Baxi Supports UK Government’s Stance on RHI Policy

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Baxi, one of Britain’s leading suppliers of energy efficient central heating systems and part of BDR Thermea, has welcomed a publication released by the UK Government that provides details of the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) Policy.

The RHI is expected to provide support to installation firms providing renewable heat technology. In an economic climate that has been shaped by a lingering recession and deep public spending cuts, any funding for renewable products ought to be welcomed with open arms.

Specification channel manager for BDR Thermea, Simon Osborne, said: “We are encouraged by the main thrust of the RHI documentation. The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has clearly learnt the important lessons from the Feed-in Tariff (FIT) framework and created an approach which will ensure technologies can be assessed in real life installations.

“The £15m funding could create around 25,000 installations under the Renewable Heat Premium Payments which will demonstrate the benefits renewable heat can deliver by 2015.”

Mr Osborne did raise concerns over specific details of the policy document, however, stating: “There is still clarity needed on key areas. We are disappointed that the definitive tariff levels for the domestic sector have not been revealed and we look forward to the publication of this information in May 2011. We also need detail on how dwellings will be assessed as eligible and whether the RHI tariff will be metered or deemed.”

Mr Osborne concluded: “On the plus side, we are pleased to see that a clear link between RHI and the Green Deal has been expressed. Whilst there is a delay with implementation, the Government has honoured the commitment that installations completed after 15th July 2009 will be eligible for payments from 2012.”

It is hoped that the RHI scheme will increase investment in green technology by more than £4 billion over the period leading to 2020. In terms of outright cost, the scheme, which is due to come into effect later this year, is worth around £860 million. Payments made under the RHI scheme will not be available to households until October 2012, however.

Expert claims many UK homes remain uninsulated

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According to TV presenter George Clarke many UK homes are still without insulation.

Architect and TV presenter George Clarke has expressed that many of the UK’s existing housing stock is still without insulation, despite the Government’s ambition to improve energy efficiency in homes.

In a bid to address this concern, Mr Clarke explained that the more affordable ways of cutting carbon emissions from a property are also the easiest. Measures could include cavity wall insulation and loft insulation, which according to the Energy Saving Trust can save around £145 a year on central heating bills.

Mr Clarke also noted the lack of double glazing in homes as well as the benefits of replacing old boilers that are more than 10-years-old. Commenting on this, the expert said: “It’s unbelievably inefficient; it’s coming to the end of its efficient lifespan, so you’re spending all of this money on gas, and you’re only getting 40 or 50 per cent efficiency from your boiler. That’s just ridiculous.”

Tenants put Salford’s ‘Energy House’ to the test

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Tenants from housing associations in the north west took over the University of Salford’s ‘house in a lab’ during Climate Change Week as they announced the results of a national survey looking at how social landlords can make the UK’s housing stock greener.

On Monday, March 21, 20 residents gathered in the replica terrace home, built inside a sealed chamber, to discuss how housing associations must work more closely with their tenants to ensure energy-efficiency upgrades to housing stock are effective.

Results from the poll of 251 social renters from over 100 English housing associations show that 38 per cent of residents are given no choice about energy efficiency improvements made to their home, over 14 per cent are worried they won’t know how to use energy-saving equipment and 17 per cent are concerned retrofit technology won’t actually work.

The survey, conducted by Procurement for Housing, Fusion21, TPAS (Tenant Participation Advisory Service) and the University of Salford shows that social landlords are making some progress in engaging tenants around retrofit but more resident education and consultation is needed.

Although 94 per cent of respondents had seen some energy efficiency upgrades made to their properties, nearly 25 per cent received no support from their landlord post-installation.

Just under one third of respondents were either not happy or very unhappy with the level of support they received from their landlord once retrofit upgrades were installed and 31 per cent of tenants received written instructions only. However, 30 respondents did receive a home demonstration and eight tenants received more than one home visit.

Although 46 per cent of tenants felt their concerns around retrofit works were well considered or very well considered by their social landlord, 13 per cent felt their views about energy saving measures for their home were either ignored or only partly considered.

Only 4.9 per cent of tenants accepted energy efficiency measures because of their concerns about climate change. The key driver was a reduction in fuel bills with 23 per cent of tenants citing this as the reason for their uptake of retrofit installations.

Steve Malone, managing director of Procurement for Housing said: “Tenants play a vital role in ensuring energy efficiency upgrades actually work. Retrofit improvements won’t make the Government’s carbon reduction targets on their own and this research shows that the social landlords must work harder to link behaviour change and fuel bill savings.”

Dave Neilson, chief executive at Fusion21 said: “Social landlords need to do more to involve tenants in the retrofit decision making process. The sector needs to develop low cost, effective methods of retrofit support and communication for residents.”

Michelle Reid, TPAS chief Executive said: “In these difficult times anything that helps to cut energy bills for tenants and make homes more energy efficient should be welcomed. Upgrading the quality of people’s homes is important and we support the need for a programme of energy efficiency to be rolled out across social housing.”

UK Government to Cut Solar Panel Subsidies

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The UK’s Coalition Government – the same administration that promised to be the ‘greenest ever’ last year – has announced plans to introduce a 70 per cent cut to the Feed-In Tariff scheme (FIT) for large solar energy enterprises.

Due to come into effect on August 1, 2011, the move would reduce payments made to landowners, farmers and commercial property owners under FITs. The proposal affects any solar installation that produces 50kW of solar-generated electricity, whilst the full 70 per cent reduction would apply to installations producing 250kW to 5MW of power. Understandably, the solar industry has reacted with dismay and anger to the proposal, which remains subject to consultation.

Ben Warren, of Ernst and Young, said: “The whole investor market was totally disengaged as a result of the Feed-In Tariff being ripped up.” Meanwhile, Ray Noble, of the Renewable Energy Association, commented: “It’s an absolute disaster. No new projects will start after this comes into effect.”

Attempting to explain how the proposal would benefit the solar industry in the UK, Climate Change Minister Greg Baker said: “I want to make sure that we capture the benefits of fast-falling costs in solar technology to allow even more homes to benefit, rather than see that money go in bumper profits to a small number of big investors.”

Unfortunately, the proposal is more likely to dissuade large corporations from investing in solar technology than it will encourage new solar panel developments on a scale large enough to benefit a significant number of homes.

The Government did, however, make the point that the reduction would result in greater funds being made available for domestic solar panel projects. As funds are collected through consumer energy bills, it is perhaps only fitting that more money is reserved for domestic solar PV projects.

The Feed-In Tariff works by enabling homeowners and companies to generate electricity from solar photovoltaic panels, which are typically installed on rooftops, before exporting it to the National Grid. Under FITs, around 41p per kilowatt hour is paid for such electricity, making solar panels an important investment in the home. Whether solar technology remains a viable opportunity for larger companies after the Government’s proposal is implemented remains to be seen.

Ofgem Instructs Energy Firms to ‘Simplify’ Tariffs

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Regulator Ofgem has issued a stark demand to the leading energy companies in the UK: simplify tariffs for consumers or risk being referred to the Competition Commission.

Having spent months criticising the leading energy firms for failing to pass on reductions in wholesale fuel costs to customers and increasing tariffs with the aim of protecting profit margins, Ofgem has finally decided to tackle companies such as British Gas, E.ON and Scottish Power.

According to Ofgem, the many tariffs introduced by the ‘big six’ energy companies have caused consumers to become “bamboozled” and unable to identify the most competitive packages. Ofgem added that the number of tariffs available to UK customers increased from 180 to more than 300 over the past three years or so.

Alistair Buchanan, the chief executive of Ofgem, said: “Consumers must have confidence that energy companies are playing fair at a time when they are being asked to foot the £200bn bill to pay for the investment Britain needs to ensure secure and sustainable energy supplies.”

Christine McGourty, of Energy UK, noted: “In response to customer demand, there is now a wide range of energy products available – such as green tariffs and fixed tariffs – to meet the diverse needs of different customers. If energy companies are not setting out these options clearly enough then this is something that should be addressed.”

Ofgem has been examining the pricing system of the big six energy firms for a considerable period of time but has proved toothless in forcing change. It could be argued that Ofgem is approaching the issue of excessively high fuel prices from a new angle by addressing the competitiveness between energy firms. Scottish Power is already facing a deeper investigation into its tariff structure by Ofgem.

Mike O’Connor, chief executive of Consumer Focus, welcomed the move by Ofgem, stating that the “energy market is fundamentally failing consumers and that comprehensive and determined action is necessary to set it on the straight and narrow.”

The cost of running gas central heating systems has increased substantially over recent years, as too has the cost of powering homes. With any luck, Ofgem’s new stance on energy tariffs will drive greater competition – and, possibly, cheaper prices.

EDF Energy partners up with Citizens Advice to help customers

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EDF Energy, one of Britain’s leading energy companies, has  announced a new nationwide partnership with Citizens Advice, the largest provider of independent debt advice in the UK.

EDF Energy will be funding an Energy Debt Advice service, which will offer its customers free access to independent advice on how to deal with household debts through Citizens Advice. Help will be tailored to suit each individual’s needs, ranging from providing general information to carrying out detailed casework to assist the customer in resolving their financial issues.

Customers who wish to use the service will find the free phone number advertised on their EDF Energy bills and letters. The service will be completely confidential and independent of EDF Energy. It has been designed to address each customer’s financial situation, as the combined experience of both EDF Energy and Citizens Advice shows that those struggling with energy bills often have other household debts.

EDF Energy will fund the staffing of the Energy Debt Advice service contact centre, including debt caseworkers and a supervisor/trainer.

Martin Lawrence, managing director for EDF Energy, said: “EDF Energy has worked with Citizens Advice for a number of years. We are delighted to develop this successful relationship further by financing the Energy Debt Advice service and the new positions it requires, so we can offer our customers direct support from the organisation.

“We understand that issues with debt can be extremely stressful but we know we have found the right partner with Citizens Advice to help people having problems with their household bills, particularly those in fuel poverty.”

Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Around 100,000 people sought advice from Citizens Advice on energy debts last year, showing that this is a significant cause of concern. Against the context of rising utility prices and some exceptionally cold temperatures to contend with vulnerable customers on low incomes need all the help they can get to ensure they aren’t forced to choose between heating their homes or getting into arrears so we are delighted EDF Energy are funding this service.”

The Citizens Advice partnership is part of EDF Energy’s ongoing commitment to help its customers with their energy bills, as demonstrated in our ‘Sustainability Commitments’, one of the biggest packages of social and environmental initiatives announced by any UK energy company. Overall, EDF Energy will be spending £27 million over 2011/12 to support its most-in-need.

For more information, visit www.edfenergy.com

RHI could cause air pollution warns EPUK

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The Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) risks increasing air pollution in urban areas, warns the leading charity Environmental Protection UK (EPUK).

The Renewable Heat Incentive will offer all households regular payments for installing eligible renewable heating systems, including biomass burners such as wood fired boilers. Biomass heating systems can release relatively high levels of air pollutants when fuel is burned, a potential health risk in towns and cities, especially where air quality already reaches harmful levels.

A recent study by the committee on the medical effects of air pollutants suggests air pollutants of the type released by biomass heating systems, the same as those caused by traffic pollution, contribute to up to 200,000 premature deaths per year.

James Grugeon, EPUK’s chief executive, said: “EPUK welcomes any scheme that promotes the use of renewable heating and microgeneration, but not at the unwarranted expense of public health. The Renewable Heat Incentive published shows a disregard for the quality of our air and public health in already polluted urban areas.”

Environmental Protection UK is advocating a location based approach to renewable heat and power systems, including small-scale microgeneration, which would see local authorities have a greater say in where they can be deployed, ensuring health impacts are minimised and the most effective locations for the technologies are promoted.

Mr Grugeon said: “The Renewable Heat Incentive highlights the need for a rethink on the Government’s microgeneration strategy. It’s a step in the right direction, but this broad-brush approach to installing renewables shows there is a lack of understanding about the local health impacts they can have and also where they work best. With more planning and collaboration with local authorities, microgeneration systems could be installed in places with the highest carbon benefit and the lowest health impact. The Renewable Heat Incentive shouldn’t miss this opportunity.”

Rising Energy Prices Hit West Country Homes

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Energy experts and charities have warned of the increasing fuel poverty crisis in the south west of England.

Driven by the rising cost of gas and electricity, fuel poverty affects any household that spends at least 10 per cent of its income on heating. In the south west of England, the rate at which more homes are entering fuel poverty has caused concern among energy watchdogs and charities.

According to the latest statistics, more than 100,000 West Country homes have entered fuel poverty in the past four years, bringing the total number of fuel poor households up to 367,000.

The UK Government has been criticised in recent years for failing to do enough to help domestic customers afford their central heating bills. Unfortunately, the problem has worsened following the austerity measures imposed by the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition, which has scrapped a £310 million scheme designed to support vulnerable energy consumers in making their homes more energy efficient.

The coalition Government also suspended new applications for the Warm Front scheme, which provided £110 million a year to homes that could not access mains gas. Many homes have suffered as a result of the decision, not least because the cost of oil central heating – often the only alternative to gas – has increased substantially during the past year.

Alec Rice, fuel poverty projects manager at Community Energy Plus, an energy conservation charity based in Cornwall, said: “We welcome the fact that the Government is looking at these issues but it needs to be more up-front about who is going to be paying. This is the crux of the issue – if it is coming from people’s bills then it needs to be said.”

Mr Rice added that it is almost inevitable that many more thousands of homes in the south west and other parts of the UK will fall into fuel poverty because the Government’s aim appears not to be to help consumers but to serve the leading energy companies.

Mr Rice said: “The Government plan is to put everything onto the energy supplier – they will help them but will pass charges onto the customer.”

Eco-Friendly Development to Pay Dividends

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An environmentally friendly housing development in Ely, Cardiff, is set to make a positive impact on household energy bills after properties were built to conform to the Code for Sustainable Homes Level 4.

The Vachell Road project comprises 14 apartments in total: two one-bedroom and 12 two-bedroom flats. The apartments were designed to offer savings on carbon emissions and heating bills, with energy efficiency at the heart of the development.

The properties feature energy efficient central heating boilers, good insulation and low-energy lighting. Recycle bins have been installed as fixtures in the kitchen, enabling households to more easily separate waste and recycling. Powering car park and communal lighting, solar photovoltaic panels have been fitted for additional energy savings, with unused electricity being supplied to the National Grid.

One new resident, Michelle Corcoran, who lives in a two-bedroom property with her 17-year-old daughter, said: “We moved in, in January and it’s lovely. The flats have solar panels and the heating system is great. If you have the heating on for two hours in the morning the flat is still warm five hours later, that’s definitely saving us money.”

Property manager Simon Fry added: “We are very excited about the new development at Vachell Road. The apartments are built to the Code for Sustainable Homes Level 4, meaning that they have been specifically designed to incorporate energy-efficient measures which not only save tenants money but also reduce the impact on the environment.

“At Cadwyn we take our environmental responsibilities very seriously and are keen to push boundaries and reduce our environmental impact in any way that we can. The new development at Vachell Road is the first Code Level 4 project for us and we are keen to continue building to this standard in the future.”

The Vachell Road development is arguably a sign of things to come for newbuild communities in Britain, as the UK Government strives to meet strict carbon emission targets. As the cost of heating and powering homes throughout the country continues to rise, so too must Britain’s dependence on domestic energy efficiency.