Friday, 30 January 2009

Greg Barker MP at The Carbon Trust

Speaking in a debate at the Carbon Trust's stakeholders meeting, Greg Barker MP gave a spirited call to arms for the low carbon industry. He posited that with falling energy prices and a lack of finance, we need a radical rethink, as tinkering will never meet the targets.

Obama's administration is performing a policy U turn that will impact the UK. The USA will drive a new business agenda based on cleantech and if we don't respond in a radical and ambitious way we will be stuck in recession. We need greater partnership between the private and public sectors. The government needs to remove the risk and provide seedcorn to create a new paradigm in energy; an "electricity internet". The aim is to remove the burdens that prevent innovation, invest in incubators that will leverage intellectual property and shift taxation to favour low-carbon innovation. The movement will be led by entrepreneurs but the government must enable it.

It's essential not to focus on carbon alone, because a collapse in oil prices will mean we cannot achieve a realistic carbon price. In fact, we need a sophisticated range of instruments offering a choice of levers. The Conservatives are recommending feed-in tariffs, £6.5k to improve the energy efficiency of every single house and a low carbon heat tariff.

In Greg Barker's view, energy efficiency will become an indicator of global competitiveness in the same way as productivity was during the 70s. And cleantech could be the catalyst that will re-energise economies and build nations.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Tesco and the low carbon economy

Hot on the heels of the opening of Tesco's first low-carbon store, its director of government affiairs David North took part in a lively debate at The Carbon Trust's stakeholders' meeting. Tesco last week opened the first store built from its new low-carbon blueprint, which uses energy-efficiency measures to operate with 70% less carbon emissions than traditional stores built only a couple of years ago.

David North argued that there is little incentive for business to focus on low carbon technology when energy prices are falling and there are no tax incentives for making green investments. Customers say that their values don't change in a recession but their ability to exercise them does. They need financial incentives advice and encouragement. For example, when Tesco offered 4 energy efficient lightbulbs for £1, they sold 2.36m.

In order to meet the 2020 target of 15% of energy from renewables, community generation will need to be developed. This requires feed-in tariffs and an overhaul of the planning laws. Tesco is keen to incorporate renewable energy generation into its new stores, and to become a net contributor to the national grid, but the current planning legislation is a barrier.

The birds and the bees

According to the British Trust for Ornithology, Britain's robin population could be halved if a wet summer follows the worst breeding season on record. In 2008, almost one in four chicks died shortly after birth.

And the Co-op is banning eight pesticides from its farms and donating £150k for research to try and halt the decline in bee populations. This follows last week's Government announcement of an extra £4.3m for the protection of bees. Colonies have declined significantly over the past two years.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Carnivorous robot lamp

A prototype lamp has been developed which is powered by insects. The idea is that its light attracts insects, which are trapped and fed into a microbial fuel cell which power the lamp. Designers James Auger, Jimmy Loizeau and Aleksander Zivanovic claim that watching the trapped insects adds to the entertainment value. More at

Friday, 16 January 2009

Amazing algae

A humble organism living in our oceans could provide a breakthrough in the battle against climate crisis. Salps eat the algae that absorb greenhouse gases and then lock away the carbon at the bottom of the ocean. An average swarm can absorb 4,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per night.

These jelly-like creatures, about the size of a finger, eat great quantities of phytoplankton and excrete carbon-rich pellets which sink to the ocean floor. They are effectively a natural carbon capture and sequestration agent, and research indicates that their numbers have increased more than ten-fold in the last 70 years in the coast off south east Australia - perhaps a sign that our planet is addressing the greenhouse gas problem itself. Treehugger has an interesting article here.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Algae-fuelled jet

The BBC reports that a US airline has completed a 90 minute first test flight of a plane partly powered by biofuel derived from algae. The twin-engine Continental Boeing 737-800 completed a circuit over the Gulf of Mexico with one of its engines powered by a 50-50 blend of biofuel and normal aircraft fuel.

The biofuel used was a blend of two different types of alternative oils - algae and jatropha.
Jatropha is a plant that grows successfully in poor soils and marginal land and yields four times more fuel per hectare than soybean. However, algae is viewed by many as a key fuel for the future because it is fast growing, does not compete with food crops for arable land, and yields up to 30 times more fuel than standard energy crops.

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Japan re-instates solar subsidy

Having withdrawn all solar subsidies in March 2006, Japan rushed through legislation in the final days of 2008 to provide funding of 70,000 yen per kilowatt of equipment installed in 2009. IT expects 35,000 installations by the end of the tax year on Marcxh 31st. After that, the budget proposal for the next fiscal period includes a further 20 billion yen of subsidies.

Domestic solar demand was curbed drastically by the removal of subsidies, and its solar panel makers struggled to invest in R&D, and to compete with more aggressive purchasers of silicon, leaving them ill-equipped to cope with even remaining demand. As a result, Sanyo has been overtaken as number 1 producer in the World by Germany's Q-Cells AG, while China's Suntech Power Holdings Co Ltd has pushed out Kyocera Corp for third place in the market.
Japan is the World's fifth biggest emitter of greenhouse gases and has set a goal of 60-80% reduction by 2050, and aims to have more than 70 percent of newly built houses equipped with solar panels by 2020. Japan's emissions hit a record high in the year ended March 2008, putting it at risk of missing its Kyoto Protocol target over the next four years of cutting emissions to 6 percent below 1990 levels.

Whether this move is enough to kick-start Japan's ailing solar industry remains to be seen - with the price of panels predicted to fall by up to 50% in the next 3-5 years while energy to power ratios rise, people may be reluctant to invest now in a technology that still carries a lengthy pay back period.

Friday, 2 January 2009

Coral growth declining

The Australian Institute of Marine Science has today reported that coral growth in Australia's Great Barrier Reef is at its slowest for 400 years. The decline is thought to be due to global warming and the increasing acidity of seawater.

Dr Glenn De'ath and colleagues investigated over 300 colonies of massive Porites corals - which are several hundred years old - and found that calcification has declined by 13.3% since 1990. They conclude that this is is likely to reduce the diversity of species the reef supports.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Green New Year

I've long been an admirer of, Martin Lewis' site dedicated to reducing costs without impacting your lifestyle. Its readers have contributed some useful ideas about re-use and recycling of Christmas items, from re-gifting to arts and crafts projects - and how to keep your christmas tree alive for another year. You can find it all here - and do considering signing up to the newsletter, it's full of useful tips to save you money (just remember: if you don't need it then it's not really a bargain! I've totally avoided the New Year sales this year to avoid buying things I don't need).