Posts Tagged ‘Energy efficiency’

Climate-smart cities could save the world $22tn, say economists

September 9th, 2015

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Climate-smart cities could save the world tn, say economists” was written by Suzanne Goldenberg, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 8th September 2015 04.00 UTC

Putting cities on a course of smart growth – with expanded public transit, energy-saving buildings, and better waste management – could save as much as tn and avoid the equivalent in carbon pollution of India’s entire annual output of greenhouse gasses, according to leading economists.

The Global Commission on Economy and Climate, an independent initiative by former finance ministers and leading research institutions from Britain and six other countries, found climate-smart cities would spur economic growth and a better quality of life – at the same time as cutting carbon pollution.

If national governments back those efforts, the savings on transport, buildings, and waste disposal could reach up to tn (£14tn) by 2050, the researchers found. By 2030, those efforts would avoid the equivalent of 3.7 gigatonnes a year – more than India’s current greenhouse gas emissions, the report found.

The finding upends the notion that it is too expensive to do anything about climate change – or that such efforts would make little real difference. Not true, said the researchers.

“There is now increasing evidence that emissions can decrease while economies continue to grow,” said Seth Schultz, a researcher for the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group who consulted on the report.

“Becoming more sustainable and putting the world – specifically cities – on a low carbon trajectory is actually feasible and good economics.”

The report called on the world’s leading cities to commit to low carbon development strategies by 2020.

The findings, were released as the United Nations and environmental groups try to spur greater action on climate change ahead of critical negotiations in Paris at the end of the year.

The Paris meeting is seen as a linchpin of efforts to hold warming to 2C by moving the global economy away from fossil fuels to cleaner sources of energy.

The UN concedes the climate commitments to date fall far short of the 2C goal. But the strategies outlined in the report – some of which are being put into place already – would on their own make up about 20% of that gap, said Amanda Eichel of Bloomberg Philanthropies who also consulted on the report.

Two-thirds of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2050, with Africa’s urban population growing at twice the rate of the rest of the world.

The right choices now, in terms of long-term planning for urban development and transport, could improve people’s lives and fight climate change, the report found.

Investing in public transport would make the biggest immediate difference, the report found. Air pollution is already choking the sprawling cities of India and China. Traffic jams and accidents are taking a toll on the local economy in cities from Cairo to Sao Paulo.

But building bus lanes, such as those rolling out in Buenos Aires, could cut commuting time by up to 50%, the report said.

Green building standards could cut electricity use, reduce heat island effects, and reduce demand for water. In waste management, biogas from waste could be harnessed as fuel to provide electricity to communities, as was already being done by Lagos in Nigeria and other cities.

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The way we live now: the rise of the energy-producing home

March 20th, 2015

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “The way we live now: the rise of the energy-producing home” was written by Elisabeth Braw, for theguardian.com on Monday 16th March 2015 13.49 UTC

Imagine living in a house that contributed to society: a house that produced energy, while consuming none itself. Well, imagine no more. After perfecting the “passivhaus”, which consumes minimal energy, engineers and architects have developed the energy positive house.

Generating energy is one thing, building a house is another. But with its plant-decorated walls and enormous double-glazed windows, the ArchiBlox Positive House, introduced in Melbourne’s City Square last month, looks elegant and modernist. “The trick is to make the sustainable and performance products visually pleasing while also practical,” reports David Martin, construction director of the ArchiBlox Positive House – the world’s first pre-fab energy positive house.

Rooftop solar panels and cooling tubes generate energy and regulate the temperature, while double-glazed windows and thick walls conserve energy. The end result: surplus power.

Energy producing house diagram
How an energy-producing home works. Photograph: Snøhetta

The ArchiBlox team is not alone in successfully completing the energy positive challenge. The German city of Königsbrunn, working in collaboration with the Augsburg University of Applied Sciences and a local gas and electricity company, is finalising the cube-like Visioneum in the central square, where city officials hope its presence will inspire residents to think about their household energy consumption.

At the University of California, Berkeley, students working in collaboration with Honda have developed yet another concept, the Honda Smart Home, which looks more like a typical terraced house, but which generates surplus energy the same way as the ArchiBlox and the Visioneum: by radically conserving it while generating more than it needs though solar panels.

Students at the Delft University of Technology, meanwhile, have invented a highly innovative “skin” that can be attached to existing houses with similar results. And in Norway, architecture firm Future Built has managed to turn two ordinary office buildings into energy-generating ones, cutting their energy use by 90% through additional insulation and the use of sensors to control light and heating. Here, too, solar panels on the roof provide energy that can be sold back to the grid.

With cars and homes accounting for 44% of greenhouse gasses in United States (and similar percentages in Europe), it’s no surprise that researchers and architects are trying to find ways of making homes more energy-efficient.

“The development of smart technologies, like the Google Nest, is making energy savings more convenient for users by allowing for control over temperatures in the house while you are away from the house, and allowing temperatures to follow your daily routines”, notes Esben Alslund-Lanthén, an analyst at the Danish sustainability thinktank Sustainia.

ZEB house
The ZEB house. Photograph: EVE

Kristian Edwards says building a plus-house is technically straightforward. “We calculated how many square meters of solar panels we needed and optimised the angle of the roof to get maximum solar yield,” he reports. “But plus-houses are also about minimising energy consumption, so we used as much recycled material as possible, such as whole bricks from a barn nearby.” With its box-like wooden top floor slanted over the lower floor for maximum sun exposure, Snøhetta’s experiment – the ZEB Multi-Comfort House, located in the Norwegian city of Larvik – boasts a visually striking appearance.

There’s just one thing: the cost. “Cost is always a factor when building houses that are taking advantage of the newest technology”, notes Alslund-Lanthén. “Plus-houses will likely remain more expensive than conventional houses, but on the other hand the owners will benefit from lower utility bills throughout the lifetime of the house, and in many cases from added benefits such as a better indoor climate due to improved ventilation, more daylight and better insulation.”

But Edwards, an architect at the Snøhetta architechture firm in Oslo, argues that plus-houses don’t have to be expensive, noting that a ZEB-style house may only cost 25% more to build than a similar, newly-designed home. The dropping cost of photovoltaic cells will also aid the advance of plus-houses.

Either way, utility companies are currently developing new payment models that will allow home owners to pay back the cost of the new technologies through energy savings. Other plus-house owners may opt to sell their surplus energy to the grid. At the ZEB house, in turn, surplus energy will power the electric car that future residents may own.

What’s life in a plus-house like? Norwegian families have volunteered to test the ZEB house for three months each and will report their findings to Edwards and his Snøhetta colleagues. And David Martin is about to find out for himself, having signed up to live in his ArchiBlox construction with his young family for the next 24 months.

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Would a Labour or Tory government be better for the environment?

March 3rd, 2015

 


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Would a Labour or Tory government be better for the environment?” was written by Karl Mathiesen, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 3rd March 2015 07.00 UTC

After five years of a government that aspired to being the greenest ever, what can we expect from the next parliament?

Here’s how the two big parties stand on some of the key upcoming environmental issues, from crunch UN climate negotiations and how and whether the UK should frack, to what to do about the country’s energy inefficient homes and whether the government should keep killing badgers.

Climate change

David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg have signed a cross-party pledge on climate action, but the issue is still approached differently by the parties.

Labour leader Miliband has been forthright in placing climate change on the party’s agenda. In an op-ed in the Observer last week, he said climate change was a key economic issue for the UK and attacked Tory MPs who he said “flirt with climate change denial”.

Miliband’s shadow energy and climate change minister Jonathan Reynolds told an audience in London last week: “I look at the Conservative party front bench and I do not see anyone coming through who takes this agenda seriously, who wants to develop ideas on it … To me, the Conservative party, having had that phase where it looked like it was going to embrace this agenda, has fundamentally moved away from it and that is a great shame indeed.”

But Greg Barker, Cameron’s climate envoy who was also on the panel, disagreed: “There are lots of green Tories.”

When pressed for names Barker was able to cite just one example – Matt Hancock a minister for business, enterprise and energy – before saying:

“The most important green Tory is David Cameron and he has consistently been my greatest ally in government.”

But Cameron’s rhetoric on climate change has been undermined by his elevation of prominent climate sceptics to influential positions within the government’s environmental departments. The nadir was the much-lambasted and summarily-ended tenure of Owen Paterson as environment secretary, who has called climate science “consistently and widely exaggerated”. Michael Fallon who was a minister for climate change has also questioned climate science. These appointments represent an undercurrent of scepticism in the Conservative party. Last year a poll found just 30% of Tory MPs accepted it was “now an established scientific fact that climate change is largely man-made”.

The election will also decide who represents the UK at the defining climate conference in Paris this December. Labour has employed former deputy PM John Prescott, who led the UK’s delegation on the Kyoto protocol, and it can be expected that he would take a lead role in any negotiations. Liberal Democrat secretary of energy and climate change Ed Davey, who has been the UK’s lead in climate talks, will need a hung parliament and a new coalition deal to see the job through to Paris. Should the Tories win government outright, Barker, may retain an active role despite his imminent retirement from politics.

Carbon budgets

More contentious than the need for action, will be the question of how Britain achieves decarbonisation. In order to chart a way to its goal of 80% emissions reductions from 1990 levels by 2050, the UK has defined how much carbon it can burn in five yearly periods from 2008 until 2028. These are known as the carbon budgets.

In December 2015, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) will advise on Britain’s emissions reductions between 2028 and 2032 – the fifth carbon budget. Under the law, the sitting government must accept this advice and implement policies to achieve the reductions.

All parties agree unabated coal power must be eradicated and have committed to phasing it out – although any new parliament will not have to do much to make this happen as anti-pollution laws and carbon pricing will see all stations closed by 2027.

Chairman of the CCC John Gummer says, with coal heading for oblivion by the time its term begins, the fifth carbon budget will be the toughest to legislate. “Whoever is in power, there will be tough discussion about how we do that because the fifth carbon budget is going to be very difficult indeed in the sense that we’ll have picked off a lot of the low hanging fruit.”

Clean energy: onshore wind and nuclear

Labour and the Conservatives largely agree that Britain’s low-carbon future involves a broad suite of energy sources, including renewable technologies, nuclear and potentially domestic shale gas. But how much of each and their enthusiasm for certain technologies varies significantly.

“No doubt there is greater appetite for the nuclear component and a lesser appetite for onshore wind among Conservatives and a smaller appetite for the nuclear component in the Labour party,” says Gummer.

The Tories are openly hostile to onshore wind and various MPs have fanned the flames of public nimbyism by calling it a “blight” on landscapes and consistently rejecting planning applications. If it wins in May, the party has committed to cutting subsidies to the sector – Britain’s largest source of renewable energy – a move renewables groups say would “kill the industry dead”. This is despite onshore wind’s increasing affordability, reflected in the prices offered in Thursday’s government auction for new project contracts.

Jim Watson, research director of the UK Energy Research Centre, says the Tories’ opposition to certain forms of renewables runs counter to the interests of taxpayers. “If we want to reduce the costs of meeting our climate targets we ought to be enabling the lower cost technologies to come through and be built to save people money. It seems odd to me that a politician of whatever party would want to stand in the way of a technology that lowers the cost of meeting our climate targets for consumers.”

Financial support for the £25bn nuclear behemoth at Hinkley Point C, which was born of a pro-nuclear policy under the last Labour government, was announced by the current administration in 2013. This is a key plank of the Conservative’s decarbonisation plan and the defining infrastructure announcement of Davey’s term as energy and climate change secretary. But it looks likely to be delayed by shareholder setbacks and legal challenges to its generous subsidy regime.

Labour has offered its support for the Hinkley project.

“It will be interesting how much [Labour] pursue a pro-renewables versus a pro-all-of-the-above strategy,” says Green Alliance’s head of politics Alastair Harper.

Miliband has expressed tentative support for onshore wind. But Harper says the issue could be politically divisive.

“Are they going to go all out and say onshore wind has a real future in the UK if you vote for us? They haven’t quite done that yet and it’d be an interesting binary moment for them to go for.”

By the time the fifth carbon budget is announced in December, says Gummer, whichever party (or parties) is in government may have had the argument settled for them. “The price of renewables is falling much more sharply than even the most optimistic would have said and the situation of nuclear is of course still not certain with the delay on the next stage of Hinkley [Point C nuclear power station]”.

Fracking

The issue of shale gas exploration, or fracking, will be another key decision during the planning of the fifth carbon budget, says Watson.

“How much gas we can burn in the context of our targets and what is the role of shale gas within that will certainly come up, for whatever government is in power,” he says.

Both the Conservatives and Labour have expressed enthusiasm for fracking and claim credit for creating a safe, attractive legal platform for the industry – although there is a distinct difference in their approach. The Tories have aggressively pursued an agenda that removes regulatory hurdles. Some of which Labour has opposed, including fracking beneath national parks and beside aquifers.

“You’re really talking about difference of emphasis,” says Watson. “But there really isn’t a clear difference of one party is really for it and one party is really against it. I just detect a more cautious approach from Labour. There isn’t the same sort of rhetoric that there is from some government ministers.”

Watson says some less-straightforward electoral outcomes could influence the politics of fracking during the next term. Scotland has implemented a moratorium on fracking. Watson raises the possibility that a Labour-Scottish National party coalition (a possibility being hawked by the Tories) may have a more adversarial attitude towards shale gas.

The Welsh government is investigating its legal options to implement such a ban. The national Labour party has committed to devolving powers to Wales to allow them to ban fracking.

Animal welfare

Badgers and foxes are perhaps the only environmental issues where daylight exists between the Tories and Labour. Should the Conservatives win in May, they will allow a free vote on repealing the Hunting Act, which bans hunting with dogs. They will also continue and expand the badger cull. Labour stands opposed to both these policies.

There is massive public opposition to both the badger cull (42% against, 36% for) and fox hunting (80% against). So why are the Tories swimming against the flow? These debates hark back to the days before the UK’s politics became a bland amble to the centre. They are based on ancient rivalries between the country and the city, a small group of landowning toffs versus the renting class.

But most importantly, they are politically irrelevant. “It’s very easy for the parties to hold those different positions because they speak to different audiences that don’t really cross over … It’s very easy to get off the fence both ways,” says Harper. Few people will decide their vote on animal welfare issues. The Tories might grab a few votes from Ukip in rural areas and Labour from the Greens, but the floating centre has more pressing concerns.

Energy efficiency

The coalition government’s flagship energy efficiency scheme, the green deal, has become a traumatic experience for its architects. Despite recent successes in some aspects of the grants-for-home-improvements scheme, the overall take-up has been disappointing. This has left the UK’s desperately needed drive for household energy efficiency languishing.

The Conservatives are yet to outline exactly how they will approach this tainted issue in the next parliament. Harper suggests it is a case of once bitten, twice shy.

“I think the Tories feel burnt by the green deal and they haven’t really come up with how they’d deal with it. I’d be interested to see what’s in the manifesto on that. At the moment it just feels like they are still amazed that it didn’t work,” he says.

Labour on the other hand, smelling electoral blood in the water, has pre-emptively announced an interest-free loan scheme that will replace the green deal grants. As part of a five-part efficiency strategy, Labour says the loans will improve up to one million homes during the next parliament. But the Green Building Council has warned that Labour may have to further sweeten the deal in order to motivate homeowners.

Nature

Nature is the thorn in the free market’s side, that pesky “externality” that the UK’s major parties don’t really know what to do about. So on the whole, they ignore it.

“The thing that is absent from the narrative of both parties right now is a real vision for what they are going to do about nature. And how we’re going to stop the losing battle of our habitats and our local environment getting worse and worse with every passing year and for the last 50 years,” says Harper.

“That conversation, that ambition hasn’t really been owned by either of the main parties. Their manifestos will have to address it in some way and I think what you’ll see is a lot of the big natural environment organisations, like the RSPB and the Wildlife Trusts and so on, will be pushing for … clear legislative plans to restore nature at a national level.”

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