Archive for the ‘Energy’ category

Well Oiled

July 16th, 2010

Finally some good news from the Gulf of Mexico – BP have managed to stem the flow of oil for the first time. It’s not clear if it’s a permanent solution yet, but if it is then a line can drawn on the balance sheet and the total cost calculated.

The Greenpeace alternative logo competition is open for voting. Sustainable Witney didn’t submit an entry in the competition, but should we have?

Has the situation in the gulf got anything to do with us?

Answers in the comment box below…

Rob the Meter Reader

July 13th, 2010

Nothing on electricity for ages and then two companies turn up at once!

Rob the Meter Reader worked with the Challenge North Leigh project that successfully reduced the village’s electricity consumption by over 10%.

Following that success Southern Electric have decided to base Rob in Witney to give impartial advice on reducing electricity bills, and hence emissions, to anyone that wants it – not just Southern Electric customers.

We’re not sure exactly where Rob’s drop-in advice centre will be yet – we’ll post that as soon as we know – in the meantime you can contact Rob by telephone or email…

T: 08450 760528        M: 07747 559330        E:

There’s no plan at present to set a target of reducing Witney’s electricity consumption by 10%, but it seems a logical next step. What do you think? Is it achievable? Is it a challenge you would accept in your home/office?

Greener energy is just five minutes away

June 17th, 2010

Switching energy supplier is like getting fit or sorting out the loft: you wish you’d already done it, you have vague plans to do it, but you don’t know how to start – and you suspect it’s going to be a giant pain in the backside.

Personally, I’ve been putting it off for about five years with excuses like “I’m too busy” and “We’ll be moving house soon anyway”. But I had a day off on Monday and decided that the big scary process had to start some time. Little did I know that the first step was pretty much the only step.

I phoned Ecotricity free on 08000 302 302 and asked how I should go about switching to them. The answer? “Give us your name and address; we’ll do the rest.” They will contact our existing supplier and handle the switch. It will all be sorted in a couple of weeks. They’ll ring me on the day of switching to ask for final readings, and that’s all I have to do.

» Read more: Greener energy is just five minutes away

10:10 Newsflash

May 14th, 2010

The Government Signs-up to 10:10 from The1010Campaign on Vimeo.

Local £99 Insulation Deal

May 12th, 2010

Did you know that the United Sustainable Energy Agency has one of its two offices right here in Witney? A not for profit company, they provide services to the public sector, business, and individuals to help them reduce carbon, adapt to climate change and tackle fuel poverty – right on our doorstep.

» Read more: Local £99 Insulation Deal

Solar Hot Water Systems

April 7th, 2010

Solar hot water systems work alongside your conventional water heater to provide hot water, and could save you up to 70% on your water heating. The UK receives about 65% of the solar radiation levels experienced in Spain, more than enough to make a solar hot water system extremely viable. Technical advances in the design and manufacture of solar panels means that today’s systems are more efficient, maximising the use of the sun’s rays.

Schematic of a system for solar heating of water

» Read more: Solar Hot Water Systems

Is it worth insulating our loft?

March 9th, 2010

We’ve received a slightly greenwashing voucher from Scottish and Southern Energy for six rolls of this combi loft insulation and we’ve been trying to work out if it’s worth it. Obviously free stuff is always welcome, but only if it’s going to be useful. There’s embedded carbon in all products and materials, so we want to be sure it’ll come in handy before we just swipe it off the shelves.

The depth of insulation recommended by the Energy Saving Trust is 270mm (or 11 inches). Currently our loft has a rather scrappy-looking 100mm (4in) with some bare patches, so some sort of top-up seems in order. However, that does mean we’d need two more layers of the thickness on offer from SSE/Focus DIY to get close to the recommended amount. If each roll covers 13.9m2 then that means we get 70m2 for free (900 sq ft). Our house’s footprint is around 25m2 (280 sq ft), so that should mean… two layers, plus a bit to spare?

Does this sound right? and worth our while? And does anyone have any thoughts or experiences to share; any pitfalls to warn about or any advice to give? And are there any other local grants/discount schemes other people can take advantage of? (For example, Focus are sneakily offering those rolls at two for the price of one anyway, and Oxford City Council has joined up to a council tax rebate scheme if you get British Gas to install the insulation for you. Anything like that from WODC?)

A Bright Investment?

March 4th, 2010

A Contribution From A Local Business

If someone offered to pay you a £1,000 a year for the next 25 years for an investment of £12,500 you would give it some serious consideration.

Well from the 1st April 2010 if you install electricity generating solar panels (photovoltaic) you will be paid for each unit of electricity the system produces. Even if you use it all!

The new “feed in tariffs” (FITs) will allow anyone fitting a typical 2.5kW photovoltaic system to their existing home to be paid 41.3p per kilowatt hour (kWh) generated. Enough according to the government to reward them with up to £900 in first year on top of £140-a-year saving on their bills.

You could earn a return of 7%-10% tax free!

Payments are guaranteed for the next 25 years and unexpectedly, linked to inflation. With electricity prices expected to rise by 20% by 2020 investors in solar panels will future proof themselves from these increases.

It also seems Britons are willing to pay more for a home with renewable energy so investing in solar could add to the resale value of your property.

So, if you are one of thousands of homeowners tired of earning a measly rate on your savings or someone looking to demonstrate their commitment to the environment why not look at solar energy and invest in the future.

If you require further information regarding these systems please contact Martin Grimsley at Homestyle Solar Solutions on 01993 703 187 or visit our website.

How to measure your personal carbon expenditure

February 23rd, 2010

When every kilogramme of carbon we produce contributes to climate change, then we each have a responsibility to minimize our own personal carbon emissions. While lots of media campaigns concentrate on the narrow field of just what we buy—stopping using plastic bags, buying certain produce—the majority of our personal carbon emissions actually comes from heating and lighting, cooking our meals, and travelling from place to place.

But it’s very hard to make moral choices when you just don’t have information about what impact you’re having. To do that you need to be able to measure your carbon emissions. And to do that, without being some sort of atmospheric scientist, you need to have a tool which translates meter readings and car odometers into relative carbon measures. There’s lots of sites out there that can take vague data about your lifestyle—how many people are in your house, how often you use the washing machine—and give you a similarly vague estimate of your “carbon footprint”. But what about if, say, you turn your heating up from 18C to 21C over Christmas? What does that mean in terms of the carbon your home emits?

Enter The Carbon Account, one of a few carbon calculators out there. It will collate your meter readings—gas and electricity—and work out how much carbon that represents based on how green your service providers are (so completely renewable electricity provision means zero carbon emissions.) It also translates car mileage, using available efficiency data for different car models, into fuel usage and hence emissions. Slightly more alarmingly, it takes any plane flight emissions and multiplies them by a “radiative forcing” factor—the estimate of the extra damage caused by emitting CO2 in the upper atmosphere—to compare them more fairly with your home and car’s emissions. You’ll find rather quickly that any plane flights you take will dwarf all but the most life-changing efforts you’d make elsewhere.

What does all this mean? Well, first and foremost, there’s a principle of “behavioural accountability” which suggests that anything measured will be almost automatically be reduced, if that’s what you want it to do. It’s a funny effect, but you’ll find your behaviour changes just from seeing those graphs going past. If you’re keeping a closer eye on your carbon emissions, and you spot the big blue lump that came from your road trip round Europe last year, then you’ll think twice about doing it next year. Conversely, if you’ve insulated your loft and you see your gas usage drop dramatically, you know a little bit more about the moral good of that decision, not just the financial good.

It also means that, while in the natural, ignorance-is-bliss course of things nobody can really excuse any plane flights anywhere, that if you can demonstrate that your carbon emissions are below the accepted per-capita global allowance by e.g. 0.2 tonnes for five years, then that means you can then justify a 1-tonne-equivalent plane flight. Carbon becomes a moral commodity, which you can save up over time and then spend on luxuries like aeroplane travel (if you really, really have to.)

In the interests of full disclosure, let’s start with a graph of my carbon usage from last year.

graph of carbon usage

What does this tell us? Well, let’s start by explaining the structure of the graph. On the vertical axis is kilogrammes of CO2 per month: that means that if the graph is at “200” for a whole month, then I’ve used 200kg of CO2. On the horizontal axis is of course months of the year. The three colours indicate the fractions of usage owing to electricity (mustardy green), car usage (blue) and gas (claret). Along the top are notes: when you submit a reading, you can also add a note to it, to remind you of anything important you did at that point (e.g. insulated the loft, or sold the car!)

The detail available is actually immense, and if you’re serious about cutting your carbon, for whatever reason, you can get a lot of information out of a graph like this. For example:

  1. We moved house in the latter half of 2009, from a leaky 3-storey cottage to a terraced house. You can see the effect on both electricity and gas readings if you compare either side of October. We didn’t turn the central heating on in the new place straight away either: hence the sharp dip.
  2. The car was used a lot in December 2008/January 2009 as I didn’t cycle, hence the wedge of blue on the left. The little note marks the point where I started cycling regularly and frequently again.
  3. We used the car to help us travel back and forth, redecorating, before we left and locked up the old property in October. There’s a large lump of blue around the summer that indicates that, with a note at the end of the period to indicate when we switched everything off at the old place.
  4. Our electricity usage is not seasonal: the height of the mustard-yellow component is almost constant at the old house, then it changes to another constant value at the new one. That means that e.g. increased lightbulb or oven use in winter baking has far less effect than the fridge being on all year round.
  5. Our gas usage is definitely seasonal: see how much the claret graph varies. It’s also the greatest single component of our carbon emissions, so if we want to do anything to improve the house’s efficiency rating then we have to look at draughts, insulation, a new boiler etc.

Since taking this image I’ve added more data to my Carbon Account, including our increased power usage over winter, and a car journey to see family at Christmas. Our house move’s effect on gas usage looks considerably less impressive since the cold snap, but that in itself gives us pointers about what we can do next.

The Carbon Account isn’t perfect: none of the tools out there are. It doesn’t include rail, bus or ferry journeys; it doesn’t account for well-tuned, ecodriven cars using far less fuel than badly maintained ones; and it doesn’t measure carbon from the produce you buy, or the carbon that the state—NHS, governmental departments, city maintenance—emits on your per-capita behalf. But it can help to change your lifestyle, and hopefully change your life, for the better.

If you’re interested in trying out the Carbon Account, you can do so straight away: register on the site now. It’ll ask you for a few details so it can calculate an initial estimate but that’s it. Alternatively, come and say hello this weekend at the Fair Trade Market. I’ll be on the Sustainable Witney stall from 10.30 till at least lunchtime, laptop in hand, to help demonstrate the Carbon Account.

(Even fuller disclosure: I work for the company which originally built The Carbon Account. But this isn’t really a plug, as we handed over ongoing development and support to a government-supported organization. I just happen to still use it loads.)

iSlab? iSlate? No – iPad!

February 5th, 2010

After years of speculation Apple finally unveiled their Tablet computer last week. If you own one of their phones your instant reaction was probably “A Dom Jolly iPhone!” And if you follow Star Trek it’ll be immediately recognisable from the captain’s ready room.

My first taste of Apple was with the iPhone, which is what I’m tapping this into at the moment on the train. I’ve since moved over to a MacBook too (that’s a laptop) and it really is a different experience – no more phaffing around with firewalls and anti-virus software, no more waiting endlessly for it to boot up,and even better, no more hanging around for it to shut down – it just works. Anyway, enough of the adverts, what’s this got to do with sustainability?

Well, they’ve sold an awful lot of iPhones (75 million if I remember correctly) and it looks like they might sell a good deal more iPads – I’m sure to be getting one. So what about all the lithium batteries? What about all the shipping from their manufacturing base in China?

To put things into perspective, the battery for an electric car will weigh at least a hundred times more than a complete iPad. And a short browse on their website shows they recycle their products as well as measuring the emissions for the lifetime of their products.

The Environmental Report for the iPad isn’t up yet, but this is the one for the iPhone.

So what do we think? Ecologically sound? Or corporate greenwash?

Low Energy Cooking

January 21st, 2010

I have often thought about the amount of time I have my oven on slowcooking casseroles and what I would do in the event of a powercut if I didn’t want to just heat up soup. When we camp we use a meths stove and a pot cosy to cook rice and pasta – the pot cosy is home made to match the pot from a foil covered bubble wrap material. It saves fuel because once the water and rice/pasta has been brought to the boil the stove is turned off and the pot is placed in the pot cosy which insulates it and keeps it cooking.

For some time now I have wanted to use this idea at home but often with three of us to feed I needed something on a larger scale but not being too good on the making of boxes etc I put it on the back burner, excuse the pun. However, this morning I was watching The Wartime Kitchen and Garden on the telly and the cook was using a Hay Box, I remembered my late granny talking about these and it appears it is a very efficient form of slow cooking. There are a number of sites with more information and I am going to experiment in the next few weeks with some of the methods. Here’s a video and some links:-