Monday, 4 April 2011

The Ashden Awards Blog has moved!

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Thursday, 31 March 2011

FT says energy sector "ripe" for smart changes that monitor use of natural resources

The Financial Times has published a digest on IT and sustainability, which includes reports on mapping water leaks, intelligent resource management, greater accuracy ahead of building construction, and systems that allow businesses to track their environmental performance.

Laura Ipsen of Cisco Systems says:

"The only way we can make smart changes to our planet is by using technology to manage, monitor and control ... natural resources."

The FT says:

"The energy sector is ripe for this kind of transformation."

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Wednesday, 30 March 2011

St Columb's Gill Harper reports on her learning-exchange week in California

Gill Harper, School Business Manager at our award-winning St Columb Minor School, is spending the week in California on the West Coast Green Alliance's learning exchange, organised by the IPPR.

Gill writes:

All of us in the group clearly come from very different backgrounds and organisations but all have a common thread which is that we all want to provide opportunities for youngsters, but particularly people living in the more socially deprived areas, to access the skills and training opportunities that will lead to decent green jobs with a decent salary and a career path.

On Monday we met with the leaders of the Apollo Alliance and the WeCan coalition who have clearly driven policies to stimulate the transition to a clean energy economy whilst providing green skills and job opportunities for the most disadvantaged Americans in San Francisco and other cities in California.

Today, Tuesday, we travelled out of the city to meet with Tara Marchant, the Director of Oakland Emerald Cities Collaborative . She explained how their consortium has successfully worked collaboratively to drive energy efficiency strategies with a focus on retrofitting urban buildings. Their vision is to create jobs that have life-time outcomes for youngsters in California.

This was followed by a fascinating visit to RichmondBUILD where we witnessed a lesson during a 15 week job-training programme for local residents from 18 upwards, many of whom are from disadvantaged backgrounds, in green careers. This programme is primarily funded by the federal and state government but also has the benefit of supportive partners. The success of the programme was very evident from talking to the people enrolled on the training programme and hearing some of the success stories over the last 3 years – it is being driven by the Director who has a clear vision that makes it happen.

Our final visit today has been to Sun Power, a very successful renewable energy company who manufacture Solar PV panels. Their California Offices and one of their smaller assembling plants is housed in a fascinating old warehouse which was originally where Ford motor cars were assembled!

(image: RichmondBUILD students on the job training programme)

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Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Rahimafrooz installs more than 200,000 solar systems in Bangladesh

Since Rahimafrooz won an Ashden Award in 2006 it has continued to design and install new solar systems at an impressive rate. We recently got an update from them detailing their latest milestones. It was jam-packed with firsts.

Rahimafrooz has now installed over 200,000 solar home systems. It has also installed Bangladesh’s first ever specially-designed flood irrigation system, its first water purification system, and its largest centralised off-grid solar system. The flood irrigation system will allow 42 farmers to irrigate 40 acres of land and enable them to grow crops three times during the year instead of once. The 8kWp solar panels use technology that tracks the sun to make best use of the eight hours of sunlight and will provide 800,000 litres of water per day.

The cyclonic storms of Sidr and Aila, accompanied by furious tidal surges in 2007 and 2009 left people in Morelganj facing a crisis – safe drinking water. Rahimafrooz has now installed a solar-powered water purification system to provide drinking water for more than 8,000 people. The system integrates solar panels, a solar water pump and a water purification unit. Rahimafrooz is keen to replicate the success of solar-powered water purification system in other areas of the country where arsenic and salinity contaminate supplies.

Rahimafrooz has also installed the largest off-grid solar centralised system in Barkal, Rangamati. The 10 kWp system provides lighting for the entire community living in Barkal.

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Monday, 28 March 2011

Last year South Farnborough Infants followed our LESS CO2 programme. This year they're going even further

South Farnborough Infant School took part in last year’s South East LESS CO2 programme, which was designed to kick-start schools on a journey to reduce their CO2 emissions.

The school has just written to us, now that the LESS CO2 programme is over, with their to-do list for the coming year.

We thought it was well worth sharing:

  • Keep embedding sustainability into the curriculum – so far we've had great feedback from Year 1’s. Next we want to make a shared year group Green Board, and Green Summit to celebrate work by each year group.
  • Keep loaning energy monitors to parents. This has been a success - one winning family made a massive 32% energy saving in the second week of the loan and were rewarded with a top-of-the-range brand new monitor.
  • Install sun tubes in corridors by Easter 2011. We’ve already spent £7,000 this year so far on eco improvements to the building, including eco lighting in the main corridors.
  • Get together with our feeder schools to bring sustainability into the forefront of the South Farnborough schools staff, children and parents' minds, and look at sustainable procurement possibilities.
  • Make the most out of our monitoring by installing an Energy Display Meter and using the data in our curriculum.
This year we are heading down to the South West to roll out the LESS CO2 programme with 15 schools in Devon and Cornwall.

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Friday, 25 March 2011

Okehampton College achieves another 25% drop in gas across year

Okehampton College - 2010 Ashden Awards
Okehampton College had already achieved impressive energy reductions when it received an Ashden Award in 2010. But the College's steps to reduce their energy consumption and CO2 did not stop there. Over the last year the College has reduced its gas consumption by 25%.

Keith Webber, Community Technology Coordinator at Okehampton, says:

"Our energy budget was set at £100,000 for the financial year - which is typically what we had previously been spending. But our net energy expenditure for this financial year will be around £55,500. This includes sports pitch floodlights and all electrical meters on site and takes into account the clean energy cash back of around £7,000 from feed-in tariffs. I believe there is still a further £10,000 of savings we can make."

Okehampton College's total energy consumption has gone down from 649,286 kWh in 2005 to 252,000 kWh in 2010. This represents a huge cost saving.

"If we were consuming at our 2005 rates, our bill would now be 2.5 times as much. We now have well-developed plans to use further renewable energy installations to realistically reach zero bills by this time next year. Importantly, this will also dramatically reduce our CO2 emissions as well."

Keith says there are strong financial incentives to continue looking for more energy savings:

"We currently are still only paying 9p a unit for electricity but can expect a sharp rise when the contract expires, this could increase by over 30% to maybe 12 or 13p a unit."

(Pic: Keith Webber, the Community Technology Coordinator at Okehampton College)

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Thursday, 24 March 2011

Budget blow to zero carbon homes

Plans set out in the Budget renege on promises to be 'the greenest government ever'. The government missed a real opportunity to create new green jobs, meet our carbon reduction targets and pave the way for our low-carbon revolution in the UK.

What our winners need is confidence. It is the one thing that will allow communities, individuals, businesses, social enterprises, entrepreneurs and local governments to work in partnership to affect change and reduce our carbon emissions. This confidence comes from long-term policy, long-term reassurance and long-term targets.

Take for example the watering down of 2016 zero carbon homes policy in yesterday’s Budget. This was a policy that was working. It was stimulating innovation and creativity. Other countries looked to us as a shining example because low-carbon industry in the UK was starting to flourish. You could say just the same about the solar industry.

But yesterday’s announcements added further gloom to the uncertainty created by the early review of feed-in tariffs.

Essentially, there is no longer a zero carbon homes policy and we now have an un-ambitious green investment bank that can’t borrow. From flourish to flounder. What a shame.

(pic: 2003 Ashden award-winners BedZED (Beddington Zero Energy Development) is the UK's largest 'carbon-neutral' eco-village)

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Wednesday, 23 March 2011

This is the big one in today's budget

Update: Chancellor of Exchequer George Osborne announces £2bn extra funding for Green Investment Bank - to launch in 2012

Green measures at a glance

Reactions on Twitter:

Dan Roberts, Guardian news editor: "Money for green investment bank but extra incentives for flying and driving. is that what they call joined up government?"

Kamal Ahmed, Sunday Telegraph Business Editor: "Delay to Green Investment Bank funding; Ingrid Holmes E3G: "It's like buying a powerful car and driving it around with the hand brake on"

New Economics Foundation: "Green Investment Bank resources trebled. So three peanuts rather than just one then?"

Institute of Mechanical Engineers: "Green Investment Bank needs £20bn to update infrastructure. Gets £3bn - a drop in the ocean..."

From earlier: What to look out for in today's budget: the Green Investment Bank:

This is the big one and the coalition has nowhere to hide. The GIB is intended to play a central role in driving the huge investment - £370bn by 2025, say some – needed in low carbon infrastructure in order to make the UK's economy green and sustainable.

The GIB was a Conservative and LibDem manifesto pledge, and a coalition pledge.

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Tuesday, 22 March 2011

In the US, suburban shopping malls can become green community spaces

At the recent Ecobuild conference, architect Ellen Dunham-Jones spoke about how some suburban shopping malls in the United States are changing into green community spaces. Juliet Heller reports

With much of the suburban landscape in the United State now aging, architect Ellen Dunham-Jones, author of Retrofitting Suburbia, says there is an opportunity to re-develop and re-invent malls and business parks into green and “walk-able” spaces.

The carbon footprint in suburbs is three times bigger than in cities. People in the suburbs depend on fossil fuels, particularly oil, and there are public health issues also emerging. For instance, obesity from the sedentary lifestyle is leading to heart disease and diabetes.

There has also been a surprising demographic shift: it looks as if around two-thirds of suburban households will no longer have children. Increasingly the suburbs is populated by retirees and young professionals, so the needs and demands of these spaces are changing accordingly.

By greening the landscape with trees, greening the transport system to reduce car use, and redesigning the buildings to be more comfortable and efficient, the areas are being transformed, and others are following their example.

You can watch Ellen Dunham-Jones's TED talk on retrofitting suburbia

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Monday, 21 March 2011

As Climate Week shines light on "real practical examples", there are wider lessons to learn

Climate Week, which starts today, aims to showcase examples of successful sustainable energy projects, or, in their own words:

"To shine a spotlight on the many positive steps already being taken in workplaces and communities across Britain. The power of these real, practical examples - the small improvements and the big innovations - will then inspire millions more people."

Our UK award-winners are already doing exactly that. They are at the forefront of building and embedding changes that reduce carbon emissions; from schools that have achieved more than a 50% reduction in their energy consumption, to enterprises that are installing microgeneration technologies and supporting behaviour change in homes and businesses.

Scaling up these initiatives, though, is the crux of having a real impact on the UK's emissions, and our winners, as an example of 'what success looks like', provide a valuable learning tool. Our most recent report, 'Power to our neighbourhoods' highlights some of the learning from our winners' work as they overcome the barriers to success. It concludes that approaches that are integrated and coordinated at a neighbourhood level are the most effective. Most importantly, it identifies the 'enabling factors' to making this happen: local authority involvement, partnership working, developing local supply chains, developing 'green entrepreneurs', building on existing communities and ensuring communities have real agency are at the top.

You can read more about our winners and download the full report on our website.

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Sonia Gandhi says most of climate debate has been "gender blind"

On Thursday last week, Sonia Gandhi, chair of the Indian National Congress, delivered the Commonwealth Lecture 2011 on "Women as Agents of Change" and called for women's voices to be heard in the climate change debate. After all, as Mrs Gandhi said, "Climate change and environmental degradation exact a greater price from women."

“Among all the challenges facing humankind in the twenty-first century, few are more pressing than climate change and global warming. Unfortunately ... most of the climate debate so far has been gender-blind."

“Today, women in India are becoming agents of change through their own initiative, their energy and enterprise. Through individual and collective action, they are transforming their own situations and indeed transforming the broader social context itself ... India is at the cusp of a ‘demographic dividend’, due to its young and increasingly educated and skilled population. Imagine what might happen when this demographic dividend is multiplied by a ‘gender dividend’. It will, I believe, yield enormous economic gain and lead to profound social transformation."

Full lecture here.

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Friday, 18 March 2011

Red noses support Wangari's Green Belt (among other things)

This morning's Radio 4 programme The Reunion told the story of Comic Relief: how it was launched in 1985; how the idea first emerged as a response to the crippling famine in Ethiopia in 1984; how the idea of Red Nose developed; and the "chaos, panic and tears" surrounding the first TV extravaganza. (Tonight's extravaganza starts at 7pm.)

In the intervening years, other issues have risen in prominence, including climate change. In 2006, Comic Relief commissioned research to understand better the impact of climate change on the world's poorest. The research made clear that the world's poorest were facing a climate change "triple whammy":

"they didn't cause it, they are most affected by it, and are least able to afford even simple measures that could protect them from the damaging impacts that are already unavoidable."

One of the eight pilot programmes that have followed from this, we are delighted to see, has been the support of Wangari Maathai and the Green Belt Movement in Kenya.

Professor Maathai was the keynote speaker at the Ashden Awards in 2008.

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Ashden Awards and GVEP International publish carbon finance guide

In partnership with GVEP international, the Ashden Awards have published a guide on carbon finance for clean energy projects. For small-scale energy projects in developing countries accessing finance is one of the major constraints to expansion. Not all entrepreneurs are aware of basic criteria that will allow their projects to qualify for carbon finance, the time it will take, and who they should contact for help.

This guide tackles this information gap. It is one of a series on finance for sustainable energy enterprises produced by the Ashden Awards and GVEP International. The others, ‘Investment Finance’ and ‘End-User Finance’, are freely available online.

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Thursday, 17 March 2011

Arup director Peter Head outlines his vision for the "ecological age"

Juliet Heller hears Peter Head, director of Arup and chair of The Institute for Sustainability, outline his vision for the "ecological age".

Peter Head has recently undertaken a three-year global tour to explore policies and investments to achieve what he calls the “ecological age”, reducing CO2 by 80 percent by 2050.

His main findings are that sustainable green growth needs community involvement, and cities have to be transformed.

He summarised the approaches needed:
-linking up renewable energy in communities and enabling them to make money from it;
-expanding the use of electric vehicles;
-taking cars out of inner cities (eg Seoul, S Korea where a motorway has been converted to a river, replacing cars with boats for transport and China where 5 percent of GDP is invested in high speed rail);
-growing more food in cities – using any space available such as rooftops
-using large scale biogas digesters as in Stockholm
-learning from examples such as the eco-city in Wangzhung, China designed by Arup.

Peter’s main case study is one that is still in the development stage (perhaps this illustrates the problem we face in the UK – not enough large scale examples). The planned ‘Total Community Retrofit’ project is being developed by the Institute of Sustainability and Arup.

This will help accelerate the transition to a low carbon way of life, creating new jobs and boosting the economy. They will connect urban and rural areas, and retrofit 20,000 homes using a street-by-street approach, financed by pension funds. It aims to share learning by building a knowledge hub, encouraging the idea to be replicated at the regional level.

(Peter Head was speaking at the Ecobuild conference in London.)

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Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Five new reports show efficiency measures bring jobs, savings and CO2 reductions for businesses across the Northwest

ENWORKS won an Ashden Award in 2007 for outstanding energy efficiency advice to businesses. Five new local reports demonstrate the impact its resource efficiency programme has had in areas across the Northwest.

In Cheshire and Warrington over 1,200 businesses have been helped through the programme, saving them 18.7m per year. For example, through the support of an ENWORKS advisor from Groundwork Cheshire, the Ellesmere Port headquarters of Protocol Skills, a national vocational training provider, has saved £7,100 a year by reducing boiler settings, setting up a weekend switch-off regime, installing water saving devices and low energy lighting and establishing a switch off campaign.

Property coordinator, Nick Biglowe, said:

“Other companies are missing out. A lot of people don’t realise how some really simple changes can make a huge difference. There’s no catch with Groundworks Cheshire – everyone benefits."

The reports also reveal that companies in Cumbria have saved 70,000 tonnes of CO2 through efficiency measures, whilst over 6,000 jobs have been saved across Lancashire, Liverpool and Greater Manchester.

(pic: CHK in Crewe, a steel components manufacturer, has saved £17,300 to date through efficiencies)

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Monday, 14 March 2011

100 delegates meet in Cornwall to discuss sustainable schools

St Columb Minor School - 2010 Ashden Awards
Simon Brammer and Carla Jones travelled to Cornwall last Thursday for a conference on sustainable schools,
organised by Ashden award-winner Gill Harper from St Columb Minor School and partly funded using Ashden Awards prize money. Carla Jones reports:

There were over 100 delegates representing schools throughout Cornwall for the conference Developing Sustainable Schools in Cornwall’. It was also good to see representatives from past Ashden winners - Community Energy Plus and Solarcentury - among the exhibitors.

Rachel Delourme from Cornwall Learning introduced the opening speeches from Simon Brammer and Sharon Longden, Head of Cornwall Learning, which laid out the challenges and opportunities for schools (see the Ashden's learning resource for schools).

The explorer Anthony Jinman told us how achieved his dream of reaching the North Pole by the age of 29. Now, as founder of Education Through Expeditions, he reports on the dramatic climatic changes he sees in the polar regions through an interactive learning website.

Ben Margolis, acting director at 10:10, emphasised that real change won’t be driven by delegates at Copenhagen and Cancun, but will instead come from sustained engagement with local communities, starting with schools. It is at this grassroots level that people get a sense of agency and push for change.

The conference shared best practice in schools. We heard about the new pupil-led teaching approach at Ashley Primary School, the wide-ranging sustainability measures that have been introduced at St Columb Minor, and the fresh adventurous attitude to cooking at Penair School, where last week octopus risotto was on the menu.

Finally, we had a lot of interest in the next LESS CO2 programme that will support schools across the Southwest to reduce their carbon emissions.

(pic: Pupils taking wind speed readings at St Columb Minor School)

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Heinberg on ‘the end of growth’

The week before last I attended the Ecobuild conference at the ExCel centre in London. One of the most engaging lectures was Richard Heinberg's on 'the end of growth’ and the importance of sustainable energy alternatives to underpin a new economic system.

The community-based website Sustainable Guernsey has now transcribed this lecture and Mike, our UK Awards Manager just emailed a link to a presentation Heinberg gave along very similar lines at Totnes.

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Thursday, 10 March 2011

Government announces policy "to revolutionise how heat is generated and used in buildings"

The Government has announced details of the £860m Renewable Heat Incentive policy to revolutionise the way heat is generated and used in buildings and homes. It's remarkable for a number of reasons:

- Like the Feed-In Tariff, the RHI takes a long-term approach to incentivising installation of renewable heat (from biomass, solar thermal, ground and water source heat-pumps, on-site biogas, deep geothermal, energy from waste and biomethane)

- It’s the first of its kind in the world (i.e. there has never been a separate guideline for renewable heat): it’s a significant move, as around half of the UK’s current carbon emissions come from the energy used to produce heat – more than from generating electricity. In fact over 95% of heat in the UK is currently produced by burning fossil fuel.

- There is one scheme for industry/commercial/public sector and one for the domestic sector: Targets include the expansion of renewable heat in the industrial/commercial 7-fold by 2020. This scheme also gives the opportunities for schools, libraries, community centres and communities of households to install renewable heat.

- A full system of RHI payments will be available to households from October 2012; and the Government says that in the interim, more than a quarter of the first year’s budget will be guaranteed for up to 25,000 household installations through a “RHI Premium Payment” to encourage take-up. Those who sign up to a premium payment must prove

- It will be particularly useful for rural areas because these technologies are often particularly appropriate for areas where there is low density of housing which is not necessarily near mains electricity or gas.

- The initial investment by government is £860m, which is expected to increase green capital investment by £4.5 billion up to 2020. The Government says this will create a large and thriving market in renewable heat

The Department for Energy and Climate Change will seek Parliamentary approval of the regulations in July 2011 and will introduce the tariff scheme after that.


We will track further reactions over the coming days, but the main initial criticism is that the scheme excludes air source heat pumps, one technology which is used to produce renewable heat.

YouGen’s Cathy Debenham blogs about the domestic side here:

For first reactions on Twitter follow #rhi

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Wednesday, 9 March 2011

US criticises Bangladesh over removal of Yunus from Grameen Bank

The US Government has criticised Bangladesh over the removal of Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Laureate and micro-finance pioneer (and an Ashden Advocate), from his position as managing director of Grameen Bank.

The Financial Times reports Robert Blake, US assistant secretary of state for South Asia, saying

"This is a country that is a doing a lot of things right ... And some of their actions with respect to Grameen Bank are out of step with that."

"We thought it was important as a friend to point that out."

Hillary Clinton, US secretary of state, has known Yunus for decades and, in Blake's words, has a "long and personal relationship" with him.

The Wall Street Journal points to the source of the current problems as the moment in 2007 when Yunus, after winning the Nobel Prize in 2006, made a public bid to clean up corruption in Bangladesh politics which, it is said, angered the current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Grameen Bank has more than eight million rural borrowers, who own 96.5% of the bank's share capital.

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Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Gender equality involves communities having access to clean energy

Grameen Shakti - 2008 Ashden Award winner
Gender inequalities mean that women face a greater burden from inefficient or unavailable energy sources, spending far more time on subsistence activities to collect, process and use energy resources. For instance, women spend between two and nine hours a day collecting firewood according to the World Bank.

This ‘energy burden’ affects women in terms of time and physical energy. Elizabeth Cecelski, Director for Research and Advocacy, ENERGIA puts the issue starkly:

"Poverty influences and determines [the] energy choices of poor households. There is a gender bias in rural energy poverty... the main source of energy in poor rural households is not biomass - it is women's labour. The real energy crisis in rural areas is women's time."

Issues of poverty and respiratory health are also significant for global gender inequality: household smoke is strongly linked to chronic lung disease among women, whilst 70% of the 1.5 billion people living on less than a dollar a day are women (UNDP, 1995 Human Development Report).

Women, then, have the biggest potential to benefit from efficient and renewable technologies in terms of time saved, health and income.

Our award-winners are pioneering these projects in this area.

We award projects producing efficient cookstoves being sold for as little as $3 across the developing world. And we recognise enterprises that are designing cookstoves suited to local cooking practices. For instance the ‘New Lao’ stove was designed for use in Cambodia as more efficient and durable than the conventional bucket-type stoves. We have found that improved cookstoves projects can have significant health benefits through the reduction of noxious gases as well as having wider social and economic impacts.

We, also, reward organisations that are boosting women’s income and enterprise. Grameen Shakti, for instance, trains women solar technicians to install its solar home systems (SHSs) in India, whilst Prokaushali Sangsad in Bangladesh set up a cooperative, the Coastal Electrification and Women's Development Co-operative (CEWDC), of local women who chose to improve their situation through the assembly and sale of SHSs.

The development sector has been slow to recognise that the lack of access to modern energy affects women and men differently. The distinction is, in fact, staggering. Today, on International Women’s Day it is important to remind ourselves of this fact and to acknowledge that gender equality will involve, in part, bringing communities access to clean, modern energy systems.

(Image: Women technician learning to install a solar home system for Grameen Shakti in India)

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Spain moves quickly to reduce oil imports by 5%

The Times reports that Spain is reacting swiftly to events in Libya: Spain imports 75% of its energy (15% more than the European Union average) and 13% of its crude oil comes from Libya.

To reduce the country's dependence on oil imports, Spain's Government has reduced the speed limit from 120km/h to 110km/h, fares on local and middle-distance trains have been cut by 5% and the bulbs in street lamps will be replaced by energy-saving ones.

The Government says these measures will cut foreign oil imports by 5%.

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Monday, 7 March 2011

We need a new economic model, says Heinberg, oil can no longer sustain the current one

Richard Heinberg, author and Senior Fellow-in-Residence at the Post Carbon Institute, presented at Ecobuild last week. He argued we mustn’t simply be weaned off of oil but that our entire growth-based economic model, based on abundant sources of fossil fuels, must change. Alternative energy sources, he contends, must be found to provide the basis of a very different economy.

Richard Heinberg explained that humanity had moved from muscle power to fossil fuel-based power over the past few centuries. This shift had triggered significant changes in our way of life and had given rise to an economic model based on growth.

Heinberg explains:

“Energy is not a factor of the economy, energy is the economy. Oil is the basis of our economy take it away and global trade ceases to exist”

There are no credible scenarios, he argues, where an alternative source can replace fossil fuels in terms of factors such as the return on investment, scale and convenience. Instead, what we need is a different money system to reflect a move towards a sustainable energy system.

As oil runs out and prices rise, the shift in our economy, he posits, is inevitable, the true work is to create the alternative tools to surpass the wall that our current systems face.

His riveting hour-long lecture did leave us feeling, in the words of the chair, the Today's Sarah Montague, that “We are doomed!” But Heinberg nonetheless manages to maintain a positive and uplifting tone.

I asked him afterwards, “How do you manage to give a lecture like that and still be smiling?” “I play the violin”, he said, “I take things slow, I try to enjoy the beauty in life.” If that doesn’t contain the seeds of an alternative approach to ever-increasing consumption and growth, I don’t know what does.

(Pic courtesy of Richard Lord of who attended Ecobuild and blogs for Sustainable Guernsey)

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Huhne says the government will speed up efforts to move away from oil

The Energy Secretary Chris Huhne told the Observer that the UK had no option but to speed up efforts to move away from oil.

"Getting off the oil hook is made all the more urgent by the crisis in the Middle East. We cannot afford to go on relying on such a volatile source of energy when we can have clean, green and secure energy from low-carbon sources. The carbon plan is about ensuring that the whole of government is engaged in a joined-up effort to lead us into a low-carbon world."

The Observer says Huhne will join David Cameron and Nick Clegg later this week to launch "The Carbon Plan".

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Thursday, 3 March 2011

To communicate 'climate change' you need to think about 'mind change'

How do we engage with a new generation on the important issue of climate change? Baroness Susan Greenfield, in her lecture “The age of unreason: the psychology of climate change” highlights that we must realise humanity is facing another major challenge which she terms ‘mind change’.

Greenfield expands:

“Our brains are responding to and physically adapting to our environment. The dominance of a 2-D cyber culture is altering our minds; we have shorter attention spans, higher IQs, less of a sense of identity, less empathy and an ‘in the moment’ sensory engagement with the world. Communicating critical messages around climate change must reflect this”.

Her suggestion for an approach to reflect this changed psychological terrain? Short messages with clear sensory images (she cites the visceral poster of a skinned animal against the fur trade) and which give people a regained sense of identity.

(pic: Baroness Susan Greenfield)

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Wednesday, 2 March 2011

How will we retrofit 26 million UK homes?

The three-day Ecobuild conference in London kicked off yesterday with Transforming the existing stock.

BBC journalist Stephen Sackur chaired the panel, which featured Gregory Barker MP, Paul King, CEO of UK-Green Building Council, Robert Peto, President of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors and Kevin McCloud, presenter of Grand Designs.

Carla Jones reports.

The basic issues were clear: our homes account for 27% of our carbon emissions. So we need a big shift if we are going to meet our 2020 carbon reduction target. But what will drive the retrofitting of UK households over the next 10 years? The Government says it has the ambition to achieve this aim. But what exactly are the practical changes that will get us there? And will the changes be driven by "carrots" or "sticks"?

Kevin McCloud said: "Regulation is a critical 'stick' for sending a clear message to the market. It is fundamental to boost change and instill confidence" But Greg Barker was reluctant to use coercion, which he argued would simply annoy people.

The discussion centred around how change would be funded. The various suggestions emphasised that the money should clearly come from a set of taxes for a direct subsidy of retrofitting changes, including VAT reductions for retrofitting and reclaiming the potential for the Green Investment Bank to reduce the risk from of private finance. Greg Barker emphasised the Green Deal pay-as-you-save scheme, but was hazy about any details, prior to the Budget announcement on 23 March, as to which tax measures would incentivise change.

The panellists all agreed that changes must be stimulated at the community-level. People will be more likely to act if their neighbours were getting similar work done and the resources could be collectively leveraged.

The overall motivating force for change? People act because they want a "nicer" home, above and beyond financial or environmental reasons.

McCloud summed up the need for clarity to drive this action:

"For people to make decisions to retrofit their homes we need to be offering clear 'no brainer' solutions - it needs to be clear what they will save and how it will operate".

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Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Ban Ki-moon calls on Hollywood to help get across the idea of "sustainability"

The U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has asked Hollywood for help in the fight against global climate change. He told senior Hollywood figures at a forum on global climate change that "Together we can have a blockbuster impact on the world."

The LA Times reports:

About 400 writers, directors, producers, agents and network executives attended the outreach events: a series of panels at the Hammer Museum, moderated by Larry King; a lunch for selected bigwigs; tete-a-tete meetings between high-powered industry players and top U.N. officials; and a star-studded dinner where Ban was introduced by Charlize Theron, and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa took a turn playing the drums.

Ban Ki-moon told his audience:

"You have power and influence to send to millions and billions of people around world. To make planet Earth environmentally sustainable is a political and moral imperative."

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Monday, 28 February 2011

Are wood-burning stoves the greenest way to heat your home?

Barnsley Council - 2006 Ashden Award winner
A new paper commissioned by the Sustainable Building Association (AECB) questions whether wood-burning stoves are the greenest way to heat your home. The authors of the paper argue that burning biomass creates as much carbon emissions per unit of heat as burning coal. Mike Pepler, our UK Projects Manager, responds.

  • Burning wood has never been completely carbon neutral, as chainsaws and vehicles use fossil fuels.
  • The comment from the authors that the wood should be used in buildings and fences instead of burning it is fine, but there’s plenty of wood around that isn’t fit for those uses – I know, I cut plenty of it down myself! This includes trees that haven’t grown straight and species that are not generally used in large quantities for construction (e.g. birch, sycamore, hornbeam, of which I have plenty...). It's also worth pointing out that because wood for construction is more valuable than wood for heating, most woodland owners won't be burning wood that could have gone to construction, as it just doesn't make financial sense.
  • Another point is that to produce wood for construction, the trees must be left to grow to a much larger size. As they get bigger, they grow slower, so regular coppicing on 15-20 year cycle actually keeps the trees in the rapid-growth mode, so absorbing CO2 faster than mature trees.
  • The other issue is that we ought to be building less, not more, in future - no matter what we build from. New buildings equate to new energy demand. Granted we will need some new ones, but I doubt if it would be enough to use up all the wood we’re currently burning, even if it was fit for that use.
  • One other point to consider is that we only produce about 20% of the wood and wood-product (paper, card, etc.) that we use in this country, so we really need to reduce our use of all these products as a priority, and put what we have to the best use we can. For instance, for construction when the wood is good enough, for fencing, etc if it’s poorer, and for heating after that.
(pic: 2006 Ashden Award winner, Woodpile at Smithies Depot, where waste wood is converted to biomass fuel)

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Thursday, 24 February 2011

Rapid rise in oil prices shows "how little slack there is"

The Financial Times reports that half of Libya's oil production has shut down. The impact that has had on the price of oil has been swift. This morning London Brent oil prices soared to $120.

What's remarkable is that while Libya has been producing 1.6 million barrels of oil a day, the United States alone consumes 20 million barrels of oil a day. As The Atlantic reports:

Given Libya's relatively small contribution to the global oil supply, the turmoil in the energy and stock markets resulting from Libyan unrest lets you know how little slack there is in the oil market.

See also: Chris Huhne says the break-even for low-carbon economy is $100 a barrel oil.

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Wednesday, 23 February 2011

As oil hits high today of $109 a barrel, and Gaddafi threatens his own people, the case for renewables gets ever stronger

The Guardian announced an hour ago: "Oil price hits highest point since September 2008. Brent crude for April delivery has just exceeded $108.70, its price on Monday. It was trading at $109.29 at 2:15pm, having hit highs of $109.45."

Nomurua has also said this afternoon oil prices may surge to $220 a barrel if political unrest in North Africa halts exports from Libya and Algeria.

Last week the Energy and Climate Secretary Chris Huhne said the break-even for a low-carbon economy is $100 a barrel oil.

The Independent reports that events in Cairo and Tripoli have made David Cameron recalibrate British foreign policy. Cameron says:

"For decades, some have argued that stability required highly controlling regimes and that reform and openness would put that stability at risk."

"As recent events have confirmed, denying people their basic rights does not preserve stability, rather the reverse."

Hard to think of a better advert for renewables than the ugly sight of despots in oil-rich countries threatening to attack their own people. The link between our high demand for oil and the suppression of democracy is not hard to see.

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Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Eco-location, eco-location, eco-location

In a recent article in the LA Times, experts at the Chicago-based Center for Neighborhood Technology argue that the location where buildings are built should be as important in forming ecocredentials as the energy performance of the site. Factoring in the energy used whilst commuting to work could force businesses to reconsider what it means to be green. For example, a site in downtown Chicago where 65% of its employees commute by either walking, cycling or taking public transport, scores favourably against a comparable site in the suburbs of Illinois where 99% would be forced to travel by car.

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Monday, 21 February 2011

Transforming the face of energy: solar across Asia, Africa and Latin America

Rural Energy Foundation - 2010 Ashden Awards
(Demonstrating a d.light solar lamp to villagers, Uganda)

In the second of a new series, Carla Jones highlights some ground-breaking solar projects working in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

The solar PV system includes quite an exceptional little piece of kit: the solar PV module. It literally harnesses the energy from sunshine and transforms it into electricity. A solar module, re-chargeable battery, controller, lamps and wiring together make up the solar home system (SHS).

Solar 'power station' at retailers in Tororo
(pic: A solar home system on display at a retailers in Uganda)

Enterprises are bringing solar energy to communities with no access to modern energy - currently about one third of the world. They are having profound impacts on education and health and are finding creative ways to do so. They are bringing education to remote waterside communities in Bangladesh in PV-powered boats, installing solar in schools and hospitals in West Africa, improving healthcare for inaccessible communities in the Upper Amazon and bringing vaccines to remote villages in Nigeria with solar-powered fridges. Solar pholtavoltaics have the potential to take modern energy to people living far from main gridlines in a ways that are cheaper and more reliable than their fossil fuel alternatives.

Solar also helps trade. For example, consider Lesbia Sebastiana Diaz, a shopkeeper in Rama, Nicaragua who is now able to open three hours longer each day thanks to the benefits of solar lighting, earning $40 extra a day and saving on kerosene. Each SHS saves 100 litres, or $340 worth, of kerosene ever year.

SELCO - 2005 Ashden Award winner
(Solar lamps can be rented out to street vendors in India)

Above all, the best solar projects ensure that quality systems reach people in a way that is affordable and sustainable in the long-term. They set up technical colleges to train local technicians, offer micro-credit, establish savings schemes and co-operatives, develop and support solar dealers to market and expand thier products, and, embark on the local production of solar system components to boost local capacity and the local economy.

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Friday, 18 February 2011

Solar companies consider legal challenge over subsidies

More than 20 energy companies have hired law firm Eversheds to challenge the Government's decision to review £360m in subsidies for "solar farms".

"The law firm has drafted a letter warning that many of the UK's largest solar companies are prepared to take the Government to judicial review for failing to consider all the consequences and not consulting widely enough."

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Wednesday, 16 February 2011

You can follow today's State of Green Business Forum tweet by tweet

The State of Green Business Report was released in Washington D.C. today.

There's an impressive list of speakers at the State of Green Business Forum that includes William McDonough, architect and author of Cradle to Cradle, Jigar Shah CEO, Carbon War Room, and Jeffrey Swartz, CEO, Timberland.

You can follow the State of Green Business Forum on Twitter. The hashtag is #sogb. These 10 tweets from the morning's sessions give a flavour:

@VOXGlobal: Jeff Swartz of Timberland: We need consumer friendly labels to help them make smart #Susty choices. #SOGB

@beccbrown #sogb learning how packaging can be made from mushrooms from @evocative - cool! Can just put it in your garden after opening package.

@beccbrown #sogb a trash bag of styrofoam is equivalent to nearly a gallon of gas in energy- & it's made for disposal! Pouring oil down the toilet

@biggreenpurse #SOGB inspiring presentation from @ecocradle on styrene packaging alternative made from mushrooms. No pollution, no toxins.

@FHSustain Carbon War Room CEO Jigar Shah: World needs to save 17 gigatons of CO2 by 2020. How? Deploy new tech, build infrastructure to scale. #SOGB

@beccbrown #sogb Jigar Shah says: stop talking about lightbulbs! Most carbon is upstream and is systemic.

@DianeMacEarchean #sogb Jigar shah:Think big: it's not about less water when you brush your teeth. It's about 40% of h2o supply leaking away.

@greentie Kevin Moss: Not everything can be measured, but what is measured makes an impact. #sogb #sustainability #metrics #csr #business #mba

@thedatadiva The question is will "source maps" resonate with consumers & affect their choices? #sogb

@thedatadiva @kevinlmoss is on the stage at #sogb "Not everything can be measured" Creating MEANINGFUL metrics to move the needle.

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Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Oscar-nominated movie "Gasland" lifts lid on gas industry's darker side

Now the Baftas are over, the movie industry turns its mind to the Oscars. There's one movie in the running that highlights the damage to the environment done by "fracking". Gloria Dawson reports.

When we talk about polluting fossil fuels, coal and oil are cited as the villains. Coal wins the prize for producing the most CO2 when burnt, as well as heavy particulates which cause ‘black soot’ in the polar regions and respiratory disease. Oil, meanwhile, gets a bad press not only because of its carbon intensity, but more recently for the Gulf of Mexico accident, and for the extraordinarily environmentally destructive project to extract bitumen from soils of Northern Canada.

Gas is often thought of as the ‘least worst’ option – plentiful, easy and relatively sustainable to extract and lower-carbon. However, Josh Fox’s documentary, ‘Gasland’, nominated for the Best Documentary Oscar last month, has begun to change this.

Fox began the film when his family was offered $100,000 for permission to drill for gas on their land. The gas company was proposing to use hydraulic fracturing or ‘fracking’, where millions of gallons of chemically-laced water are pumped at high pressure into the ground, causing the rock to fracture and natural gas to be released, which can then be stored.

Fox decided to travel across the US to find out what fracking does. He found that in 34 states of the country, communities of people suffer from carcinogen-contaminated drinking water, unexplained illnesses, flammable gas in their water systems, explosions from build-ups, and spillages of contaminated water near where this type of drilling is taking place. The US Environmental Protection Agency has in some cases advised residents not to drink tap water and to use a fan whilst showering to blow away harmful gas.

Hydraulic fracturing used to be a ‘last resort’ gas extraction process, but as accessible supplies dry up it has become increasingly popular. It has been subject to deregulation in the US. A US Energy Bill in 2005 exempted natural gas drilling from the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act and various other pieces of environmental legislation. This has made it incredibly difficult for people to obtain details about the content of water that has made them ill, or to make the companies involved accountable for what they do.

The gas industry, of course, wants the perception of gas as a benign, even ‘green’ fuel option to remain. A propaganda war has begun, with gas companies accusing Fox of manipulating facts, and the film’s website and Facebook page have now mobilised a global outcry at the effects of fracking. The film has put fracking, and ‘unconventional’ fossil fuel extraction under the spotlight and there are signs that legislators are taking concerns seriously. The state of New York, for example, is now considering a moratorium on fracking, and Congress is considering legislation to include gas drilling in the Safe Water Drinking Act again. But fracking is still a growing industry across the US and other countries.

Digging and drilling for more coal, oil and gas - in America, UK and the rest of Europe – is seen as necessary for ‘energy security’, reducing dependence on politically uncertain sources of fossil fuels in Central Asia and the Middle East. With ‘conventional’ reserves of oil and gas dwindling, we may be heading for swapping one kind of insecurity with another, closer to home.

You can find out more about the film at and watch the trailer here.

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Monday, 14 February 2011

Ashden Award winners to receive free technical support from ERM in new initiative

CRELUZ - 2010 Ashden Awards
As part of an initiative to unlock the potential of low carbon ventures across the developing world, the ERM Foundation in partnership with the Ashden Awards, will enable sustainable energy projects to develop with technical consulting from ERM.

Mariana Mazon, our international business support manager, has proposed a number of previous Ashden Award winners who could benefit from ERM consultants' support. These will be selected from a pool of projects provided need and skills can be matched. These include a biomass gasification electricity company in India, a mini hydro cooperative in Brazil and a biogas programme working in Vietnam.

After being selected, several ERM consultants will work on a project between February and April. As an added bonus, three of the projects with the greatest potential to scale will be selected by a panel to receive grants totalling £10,000.

(pic: Dam and bridge at Usina Granja Velha, built by 2010 winner CRELUZ in Brazil)

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Friday, 11 February 2011

Architects need to work with behavioural scientists to understand how people use energy within buildings

A new report by the UK Energy Research Centre, announced today on BBC Online, highlights the fact that behaviour change is too often overlooked by energy policies.

Homes account for 45% of the UK’s energy use. To reduce this energy use significantly, we need to consider more than just the technologies that improve the efficiency of buildings. The report argues that once people start using buildings, they do so in complex ways.

Erik Bischard, lead researcher in the Energy House Project at the University of Salford, explains:

"The built environment community is dominated at the construction phase by technicians and engineers who are driven by specifications and tight budgets...

"Human behaviour, once the building is occupied, is often seen as someone else's problem - but this is a dangerously mistaken view. Almost half of greenhouses gases emitted are as a result of how we use buildings.”

Architects need to work closely work with behavioural scientists to assess the way that people use buildings. Ultimately, the report suggests, smart buildings aren’t the solution — smart people are.

(pic: courtesy of BBC Online - the Energy House Project)

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Wednesday, 9 February 2011

D.light launches microfinance project to bring solar to poorest in Northern India

Our 2010 Gold Award winner D.light design has launched a micro finance project, in partnership with Christain Aid, that will bring solar lighting to 4,400 rural households in three Indian states in its first year.

The Northen Indian states of Jharkhand, Orissa and Chattisgarh have the worst rural electrification track record in India. The majority of people living in these states are socially excluded communities, mainly minority ethnic and caste groups, known as Adivasi and Dalits respectively. On average, these communities have a family income of less than 200 rupees per month, so they are unable to afford the 549 or 1699 rupees that D.light’s lanterns cost in India.

Energy, though, is already an expensive outgoing for poor households. In a country where almost 45% of households have no access to electricity, kerosene lamps are cheap to buy, but expensive to run. A survey revealed that on average families spend between 50 and 90 rupees a month on kerosene for lighting. Kerosene is also dangerous.

D.light and Christian Aid are developing a financing mechanism that will allow poor communities to avoid kerosene, leapfrog the grid and move straight to solar lighting. This project aims to reduce family monthly expenditure on lighting by 50%, increase family incomes by 20-30% and reduce CO2 emissions by 10,000 tonnes. Christian Aid has provided funding for the first 2,500 lanterns and will work with its Indian partners to identify young people to become 'rural entrepreneurs' who can manage the distribution and finance alongside a network of women's self-help groups. Two local partner organisations will work with the entrepreneurs to promote the technology within the villages, train the entrepreneurs in financial management and ensure the sustainability of the project.

Community self-help groups will collect orders from villagers and supply the solar lanterns on credit, charged at 12% annual interest over 10 months. This interest covers administrative costs and allows money to be reinvested in new stock, eventually making the whole project self-sustaining. D.light will supply the lanterns and train the rural entrepreneurs in customer education, battery replacement and sales and demand generation.

(pic: Woman in India with her D.light Kiran lamp)

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Monday, 7 February 2011

Recent events in Egypt highlight the delicate balance between oil, food prices and political stability

An article in The Oil Drum links oil, food prices and political stability in Egypt. With Egypt’s income from oil exports rapidly falling, its plans to reduce food subsidies, along with rising prices, were a trigger for unrest. Mike Pepler, our UK awards manager, explains the key points:

  • Egypt has been an oil exporter, but exports have now dropped to zero due to both rising domestic consumption and falling production.
  • Although Egypt does still export gas, it has made no new export contracts since 2008. The money available for subsidising food is in decline.
  • The Egyptian population has quadrupled over the last 60 years, and they now import 40% of their food.
  • Meanwhile, food prices are rising globally in part due to supply issues (global wheat harvests fell last year due to fires and floods in various parts of the world for instance) and, as I recently explained, due to the fact that our fossil fuel use is integrally linked with our food production system.
  • Recent rises in oil prices are tied in closely with increases in the price of food.
(pic: graph courtesy of the Oil Drum shows the close relationship food prices and oil prices)

See also:

We need to remember our food system is linked to our energy use

How events in Egypt affect oil prices

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Thursday, 3 February 2011

Technologies changing the face of energy: biogas projects in Asia and Africa

BSP Nepal - 2005 Ashden Award winner
(pic: cooking on biogas in Nepal)

In the first of a new series, Carla Jones highlights some impressive biogas projects in Asia and Africa.

The way biogas works is quite simple: take an airtight container (usually a brick chamber under the ground), fill it with some organic matter (manure, human waste or kitchen waste are the most common), and let the bacteria break it down. What comes out is biogas, that can be burned for cooking. The residue is a nutrient-rich fertilizer for crops.

Typically, a single fixed-dome biogas system is made from brick and sits underground. Many of our winners, though, have taken this design further. VK-NARDEP has developed a small bamboo-framed model, ARTI has designed a ‘balcony’ digester for apartments, and KIST in Rwanda has built a system of five interlocking chambers.
KIST - 2005 Ashden Award winner
(KIST installing a large biogas system at a Rwandan prison)

Biogas has great potential in many settings. Schools, prisons, homes and farms can all benefit.

Eating lunch cooked on biogas - Tania School - under the tree
(Eating lunch cooked on biogas, Tania School, Kenya)

The chamber is fed from readily available organic components, from toilet sewage and livestock manure to kitchen waste.

Biotech: 2007 Ashden Award winner
(Portable household biogas plant in Kerala, India)

Imagine saving two hours a day of collecting firewood, avoiding the dangerous smoke from your kitchen, and ridding your community from the stench and danger of animal waste. For 100,000 pig-farming households in Vietnam, biogas is achieving just that. Elsewhere it is achieving even more. In Shaanxi Province, China, families have an extra $380 a year from saved fuelwood and the income from extra crops. Urban users of compact biogas systems in India save half of their LPG use. In Karnataka, India, SKG Sangha has ensured the residue from biogas increases its value through vermicomposting, which brings extra income.

And biogas helps the surrounding environment. In Shaanxi Province, China, each biogas digester saves 4.5 tonnes of fuelwood per year, avoiding deforestation in a region that suffers soil erosion and dust storms. In Rwanda, the KIST programme saves 1,000 tonnes of CO2 a year.

The most successful projects engage the end-user and wider community over the longer term. They employ and train local technicians to install the system and to provide after-sale service. The programme operated by the Vietnamese Ministry for Agriculture and Rural Development in partnership with the Dutch organisation SNV employs 1,800 masons who now, as a result of the success of the scheme, install as many systems as self-employed masons as they do within the government programme. The support from the Biogas Sector Partnership (BSP) in Nepal has helped to ensure there are 11,000 long-term jobs within the biogas sector. Their success is reflected in the regional development of technical capacity and demand in the sector as a whole.

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Wednesday, 2 February 2011

How events in Egypt affect oil prices

With oil reaching $100 a barrel, the Independent's Hamish McRea considers how events in Tunisia and Egypt will affect the demand for oil.

"Though neither Tunisia nor Egypt are significant oil producers themselves, they have set in motion concerns about wider regional instability – and that in turn should remind us that the world is tremendously dependent on the Middle East and will almost certainly become more so over the next couple of decades."

The reason?

"Non-Opec oil is difficult oil: it is under the sea or in the Arctic, or bound up in tar sands from which it has to be separated. By contrast, Opec oil just comes straight out of the ground. In any case, even if the technical difficulties can be overcome, the actual ability of non-Opec producers to carry on ramping up production is in question. As a result Opec, producing less than 40 per cent of the total now, will be producing nearly half the world's oil in 2030, and most of that increase will come from the Middle East".

(Pic: Tahrir square, photo credit: BBC News Online)

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Monday, 31 January 2011

d.light design shortlisted for Financial Times ArcelorMittal "Boldness in Business" Award

2010 Ashden Gold Award winners d.light design has been shortlisted for the prestigious FT ArcelorMittal "Boldness in Business" Awards. From an initial list of 250 nominations, d.light has been selected as finalists in the "Newcomer" category along with five other organizations, including Groupon, MetroBank and Zynga. Last year's winner in this category was Twitter.

The "Boldness in Business" Award was established by the Financial Times and ArcelorMittal to highlight and celebrate companies and entrepreneurs who are innovative and dynamic. The award winners will be announced at a ceremony in London in March 2011.

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Friday, 28 January 2011

Government warns UK firms to make better use of resources

A major report, published by DEFRA, explains the need for UK firms to factor resource issues into their long-term decision-making and to find alternatives to the materials they now use. We recently highlighted that one of our past winners, ENWORKS, is helping businesses do just that.

Business Green reports:

“According to the research ... a wide range of materials will face constricting supplies over the next few decades as the global population rises towards an estimated nine billion by 2050. [T]he report warns that the supply of rare earth elements is likely to be particularly constricted. Companies will have to increase recycling rates and make better use of metals such as indium (a component in solar panels), as well as cobalt and lithium (elements in electric car batteries and solar cells).”

Todd Holden, ENWORKS director, says small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are often aware of the importance of resource efficiency, but this doesn’t often translate into action:

"Our own independent research on business attitudes, which surveyed businesses of all sizes, but focused on SMEs, has found that 82% of businesses felt that resource efficiency was 'very important' or 'of some importance' to them. Yet, crucially, only 33% had made efficiency improvements in their use of energy, materials or water in the previous 12 months, and only 20% were planning to do something about it in the following 12 months.”

It's clear more could be done. The financial savings alone make this self-evident. DEFRA’s report states that energy efficiency measures could save British companies more than £6bn a year.

See also: ENWORKS shows that resource efficiency can save your business

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Thursday, 27 January 2011

If you missed IEA's chief economist "saying the unsayable", slides from the talk are now online

Last week we blogged that Fatih Birol, chief economist at the International Energy Agency, had said the unsayable: that is, it's virtually impossible for us to meet climate change targets with current policies.

Dr Birol made these remarks at a lecture at the Grantham Institute for Climate Change. The slides from that lecture are now online. The concluding slide states:

Recently announced policies can make a difference, but fall well short of what is needed for a secure & sustainable energy future

The age of cheap oil is over, though policy action could bring lower international prices than would otherwise be the case

Stronger penetration of natural gas can have profound implications for energy markets and environment

Renewables are entering the mainstream, but long-term support is needed to boost their competitiveness

Lack of ambition in Copenhagen/Cancun has increased the cost of achieving the 2C goal & made it less likely to happen

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Wednesday, 26 January 2011

South Korean officials spend this morning studying Suffolk County Council’s approach to woodland management

(photo from left to right: Gary Battell, Simon Brammer, Andrew Rowe, Elvin Ozensoy, Councillor Jane Storey and Dr Kim)

A number of government officials from South Korea today visited Suffolk County Council as part of their research and development strategy in a move towards becoming a low-carbon economy. Last year Suffolk County Council won an Ashden Award for its outstanding work in supporting the local wood-fuel supply chain and installing wood-fired boilers in schools.

Simon Brammer, our UK programme manager, joined Dr Kim, from the Rural Development Administration of South Korea, Councillor Jane Storey, Suffolk Council’s Deputy Leader, and Andrew Rowe and Gary Battell, who were responsible for delivering the award winning project. Simon reports:

“South Korea recently announced a plan to spend £22.6m over the next five years to develop renewable energy sources and to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy. The latest investment is part of the government's green growth strategy, aimed at turning environmental technologies into the main drivers of economic growth and new sources of jobs. The investment programme is also designed to reduce the country's heavy dependence on oil and gas imports and tackle greenhouse gas emissions.”

“South Korea has significant woodland which they hope to manage in the innovative way that Suffolk has done by establishing strong supply chains and resurrecting the art of woodland management”.

“It is very exciting to see our UK winners supporting the efforts that other countries, from right across the globe, are making in their transition to a sustainable energy economy.”

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To feed eight billion people in 2030, we need to remember our food system is linked to our energy use

Spraying slurry on tea, Soc Son ProvinceThree reports have appeared in the last fortnight highlighting the urgent need to address the food, energy and water demands of a population that's expected to reach eight billion by 2030. The report, One Planet, Too Many People?, from the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, looks at the pressures of population growth on our food, energy and water systems. The report, State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, from the World Watch Institute, explores sustainable solutions to our food system. The Foresight Project's Global Food and Farming Futures report examines how we can meet the food needs of our planet in the next 20-40 years.

Mike Pepler, our UK Awards Manager, emphasises the theme that's emerging from each of these studies: the challenge of how to feed the world in 20 years' time must be done in combination with meeting rapidly rising energy demands. We must address our need for a productive food system at the same time as reducing our dependence on fossil fuels.

A good example of the energy input that goes into agriculture is fertilisers. Our intensive use of fertilisers produces a double whammy of greenhouse gases. Mike says:

"Nitrogen is a key element needed for plants to grow, but it has to be incorporated in chemicals that plants can use. There are natural processes that achieve this, but the nitrogen added through man-made fertilisers has doubled the amount available for plants to grow. CO2 is released as a result of the Haber-Bosch process which is used to produce ammonia to make fertiliser. Then the fertiliser, once spread on the field, also emits nitrous oxide - this is the third most significant greenhouse gas, after CO2 and methane."

"About 3-5% of the world's natural gas supply is used to produce nitrogen-based fertiliser - that is about 1-2% of all energy use globally. Although the advent of petro-based chemical fertilisers in agriculture is one of the pillars of the 'Green Revolution' that boosted food production in the latter half of the twentieth century, it has come at the cost of increased greenhouse gas emissions".

"The climate change caused by greenhouse gases, including those emitted by fertilisers, is now threatening food production, and will become more of a problem as time goes on. We must recognise the link between sustainable energy systems and our agricultural system. More research is needed on this topic."

See also: Three steps that each of us can take to help.

(Pic: Farmer in Vietnam uses slurry from biogas production as a natural fertilizer for their crops)

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