Friday, December 29, 2006

The Croc's last laugh!

Steve Irwin died recently doing what he loves. Many people cried, especially females. Many people didn't. They didn't like how he taunted crocodiles for his and others pathetic entertainment. With such a wide gulf in opinion we decided to run a little poll; What do you think when you hear Steve Irwin being claimed as a conservationist?

The results;

Hero: 45%

Fraudster/Nutta/Dipstick: 55%

The people have spoken.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

One year on ...... and we're moving house!

It has been an amazing year for us at 'The Coffee House'. We continue to inform, debate and learn about all matters 'environment' over at our new home

Please do join us!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Jumping On The Hybrid Bandwagon

Nissan has announced a development program aimed at producing its own hybrid vehicle in 2010. For a long time Nissan was sceptical of the advantages of hybrids, and has consequently found itself playing catchup. Nissan's first hybrid, to be launched in the US next year, uses technology from its arch-rival Toyota.
Nissan's U-turn demonstrates the massive demand for hybrid vehicles, particularly in the US, where the appeal of fuel economy has been enhanced by soaring gasolene prices. "We do not deny that from the marketing stand point, at the present point of time customers' needs and values could not be met with what we have," said Chief Operating Officer Toshiyuki Shiga. This is reflected in a 15% drop in Nissan's operating profits, attributable to a general shortage of new models.
Other 'green' developments in the pipeline are:

  • a vehicle running entirely on bio-ethanol fuel for the Brazilian market by 2009
  • a car that will travel 100 kilometers on just three litres of petrol to launch in Japan by 2010 with CO2 emissions comparable to a gas-electric hybrid
  • a "next-generation" fuel cell vehicle
  • A 7% cut in CO2 emissions from its plants by 2010 from 2005 levels

It would be nice to think that Nissan is doing all this to save the planet. The fact that it's what Nissan's competitors are already doing, even struggling GM, may have more to do with it.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Carbon Offsetting - The Devil's Orchard
A provocative article in the Metro of 30th November 2006 suggested that carbon offsetting does not work as currently practised. Oliver Rackham of Cambridge University says "Telling people to plant trees to solve climate change is like telling them to drink more water to keep down rising sea levels". In 2002 Coldplay announced that they would offset their latest album by planting 10,000 mango trees but a couple of years later only a few hundred were still alive.
Often offset tree plantations have often been a single species. In Amazonia some indigenous groups have named these plantations "The Devils Orchards" as they have reduced nearby stream flows by an average of 38 per cent. A spokesman for them, Jocelyn Therese said "We are not only victims of climate change, we are now victims of the carbon market".
So is carbon offsetting just a way to appease our consciences without being prepared to change our lifestyles?

The Gordon 'Green' report.

The following summary of 'new' green initiatives from Brown's Pre-budget Report, 2006 have been kindly provided by the author David Thorpe over at The Low Carbon Kid .


From February, air passenger duty on flights to the EU - 75% of all flights - will double from £5 to £10. Duty on long-haul flights for the lowest class of travel will rise from £20 to £40 while business-class trips to destinations outside the EU jump from £40 to £80. The scope of the European rates of air passenger duty will also be widened to include all of the signatories to the European Common Aviation Area Agreement, from 1 February.

Emissions Trading

In parallel with talks with the French Finance Ministry (on economic instruments around climate change, particularly to improve the EU ETS) and the New Zealand Government (on emissions trading), the Government will bring together leading City and international players to examine the accounting, legal and institutional steps needed to support a mature planet-wide emissions trading market.

Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)

The Department for Trade and Industry (DTI) is to tender for engineers to evaluate the costs of a CCS demonstration plant, and the best development route - for example a challenge fund. Meanwhile the UK and Norway hope to have completed by July a study into the infrastructure, market framework and value chain are needed to transport and store carbon dioxide below the North Sea.


The Finance Bill 2007 will excuse from income tax any revenue generated by small scale renewable technologies on homes, in order to support wider uptake.

Climate change levy (CCL)

CCL rates will increase in line with inflation from 1 April to maintain the levy's environmental impact. The new rates will be:• Electricity 0.441p per KWh• Gas 0.154p per KWh• LPG 0.985p per kg• Solid fuels 1.201p per kg.

Energy Efficiency Commitment (EEC)

New investment of £7.5 million goes to Warm Front and the Energy Efficiency Commitment to allow 300,000 more households to receive free insulation and central heating. By the end of 2008, the Chancellor said 2.7m homes would have been insulated through the Warm Front scheme. The Winter Fuel Allowance for pensioners will also be continued, but not increased. Households with somebody aged over 60 will receive £200 and those aged over 80 will receive £300. But consumer champion energywatch expressed disappointment that there are still many fuel poor who "appear to have been ignored".

Energy efficiency in buildings

The Treasury is still investigating whether an energy services model for delivering greater efficiencies can be achieved. So it is looking into ways offinancing energy audits and other energy-saving measures. It hopes, via the Code for Sustainable Homes, that by 2016 all new homes will be 'zero-carbon'. Stamp duty will therefore be abolished for most new zero-carbon homes.For the rented sector, it plans to expand the Landlords Energy Saving Allowance (LESA) to corporate landlords, its sunset clause from 2009 to 2015, and extend its allowance of up to £1,500 for cavity wall and loft insulation to each property rather than each building, including floor insulation in the measures to be compensated for.In the public sector, higher standards are to be explored for new and refurbished schools to reduce their carbon emissions by up to 60% over existing standards, and in some cases up to carbon neutrality.

Road transport

A 1.25p per litre increase in petrol duty for unleaded fuel, in line with inflation, the first increase since 2003. Mr Brown ruled out a return to the fuel duty escalator that used to imposed inflation-beating increases each year, much to the dismay of environmentalists and the Environmental Audit Committee. The differential with LPG is reduced by 1p but compressed natural gas (CNG) keeps its differential.The Treasury is looking at extending the current duty incentive for biogas - equivalent to almost 40p per litre - and will update the position at Budget 2007.Regulations to ensure the widespread availability of sulphur-free diesel and sulphur-free 'super' grades of petrol will enter into force in late 2007. The 20p per litre fuel duty differential for biofuels will be extended to enable a pilot involving the use of biomass in conventional fuel production to go ahead. The definition of biofuels will be amended to include biodiesel that is capable of being blended in excess of 5%.A rate of 7.69p per litre will apply to biofuels used on the railways, as operators are to conduct pilot schemes exploring their use in trains.On company cars, the government is looking at the case for incentivising the take-up of 'flex-fuel' vehicles, capable of using high-blend bioethanol E85.Critics complained that the existing differentials in VED between different categories of cars were not widened. The Environmental Audit Committee pointed out that the Department for Transport does not quantify the carbon emissions resulting from transport as a sector in its PSA. Yet the Department is able to claim credit for being on course to meet the UK's Kyoto target, even while presiding over the worst performing sector of the economy in terms of trends in emissions. This was not changed in the PBR, nor was the fact that airport vehicles are allowed to run on [untaxed] "red diesel".'Chelsea Tractors' escaped the higher tax measures many had expected, in light of falling sales of 4x4 cars, said Mr Brown.


Landfill Tax is to be increased from 1 April by £3 to £24 per tonne, and may increase more steeply from 2008 onwards, or go beyond the £35 per tonne already committed to for the medium to long-term. The Aggregates Levy will be extended for a further year (2007-08).'

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

'British Energy' -

couldn't organise a piss up in a....... nuclear power station (mine you, that might not be a such a good idea!).

Just listened to a report on BBC Radio 4's File on Four programme that has sent my very core soaring to high temperatures! Two of the nastiest words to be uttered in energy circles for some time now have been......'British Energy'. Mind you right up there would be energy market, Margaret Thatcher, central government and nuclear energy.

British Energy, bailed out by government 4 years ago is on its way to meltdown once again. The recent surge in energy prices had BE and the government smiling. The latter thought they would sell their (our!) 65% stake in BE (bought for £5 billion) on the share market (for £3 billion - a loss note) . Not any more. Energy prices have dropped and only 1 out of 14 (yes, that's 1 of 14) AGR nuclear power stations is operating normally. Four are currently closed due to 'unforseen circumstances'. These stations represent 5% of the UK power supply and if we have a wee cold snape this winter it may well be lights out in Bromley (north London is apparently too important). OK, I know it's still summer out there but the 'experts' are a little nervous.

Hinkley, Hartlepool, Hunterston and Torness are all 'out to lunch' due to maintenance shutdowns. Cracks in boiler tubes has become a familar problem. At Torness alarms signified a fault with gas circulator. Maintenance shift engineers were not on site as they had been removed to an 'on call' status as a cost measure so, the shift operator did what? He ignored the alarm and continued operations! Needless to say further damage was done and Torness has been closed down since. You get the picture.

Who's to blame. The 'energy market' for one, as it doesn't encourage extra capacity investment. The government, as it has no energy policy.........Milton Friedman , Margaret Hatcher oh, and Tony Blah for recently advocating more of the same. Arrrrrrrrrrggghhhhhh!!

Monday, December 04, 2006

'Climate change: Citizens Agenda.'

The above title is the name put to a recent Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs ) committee looking at how change in behaviour can mitigate the effects of climate change. There were a number of 'witnesses' called to this 2 1/2 hour long committee; for Ofgem, chief executive Alistair Buchanan and managing director Steve Smith; senior people from the Institution of Civil Engineers and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. The committee was chaired by Michael Jack.

There was a wide range of topics covered, with many looking at how the individual could help to speed up the reduction of carbon emissions within the UK. The central concern here was better provision of information for consumers looking to reduce their carbon 'footprint'. Currently there is no one place within the UK that an individual can go to for both price information and technical comparisons or options when looking to invest in efficiency and renewable measures. It was felt that Ofgem (who operates under the direction and governance of the Gas and Electricity Markets Authority) should be playing a central role here. There are plans however for Energywatch to become the full 'consumer interface' by 2008. Currently price comparisons can be obtained from companies such as uSwitch .

Consumers who are looking to invest in energy saving technologies and renewables, including micropower are finding the information gathering task incredibly difficult, especially when trying to weight up the different options increasingly available to them, on a limited budget. Which boiler should they go for? Should they instead use their funds for cavity wall insulation? Is solar going to pay back? Does micro windpower need planning consent? Just a sample of what 'joe public' are wading their way through. This committee mentioned that solar photovoltaics can take up to 46 years to pay back on current technology, even if the panals last that long. Therefore a consumer may want to spend their hard earnt money on cavity wall insulation instead. Might not be as trendy but, a more effective solution to reduce their carbon footprint! More than 300,000 people sort energy efficiency advice during 2004.

Billing information (e.g. your home gas bill) or the lack of it was seen as a major problem because, consumers are unable to track trends in their consumption habits and make carbon reduction investment decisions from those trends. It was mentioned that EDF were making inroads here and that British Gas are investing 100s of millions of pounds in improving their customer information systems. Everyone on the committee thought this amount of money excessive and a running theme was the excessive profits earnt by power companies.

Looking at power generation it was suggested that the most important solution for the UK right now for getting a large and real carbon reduction was to get on stream (connected to the grid) the hugh wind farm investments happening up in the north of Scotland. It will provide a 5GW capacity on a total UK capacity of 61GW. For this to happen a new transmission line needs to be built and the main concern for Ofgem is that planning hearings do not bog down its implementation for many years to come. Off-shore wind is the key, with on-shore just too weighed down by Nimby-ism.

Concerns from the civil engineers and surveyors covered the lack of R&D money for universities for start-ups and encouraging a wider skills base for all the new technologies and systems maintenance. More regulation was needed to improve a shoddy building trade and a better building inspection regime to make sure new regulations are followed by builders. It was noted that some 16th century homes are more energy efficient than new homes, thanks to better building techniques and the use of straw!!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Global warming on trial

Last Wednesday the case Massachusetts v. EPA reached the Supreme Court of the USA. A combination of 12 states and many environmental groups are arguing the Clean Air Act gives the Environmental Protction Agency the power to regulate carbon dioxide from motor vehicles. Oil and car industries are denying that global warming is a proven fact. The Bush administration has refused to introduce legislation to regulate CO2 emissions from new motor vehicles. The stakes are huge. See the NRDC website.

13% CO2 UK reduction under carbon trading scheme
The EC has accepted Britain's offer to cut industry's CO2 emissions from industry by 13% over the next five years but imposed cuts on nine other EC countries to make the scheme work better - including Germany and Ireland. This follows huge criticisms of the scheme when it was introduced and allowances were set so high that many companies did not have to reduce their outputs. See the report in the Guardian.