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15 kW Proven Energy wind turbine. Image credit: Aeolus Power.

15 kW Proven Energy wind turbine. Image credit: Aeolus Power.

This article refers to the UK proposals made in July 2009. The actual feed-in tariffs will be more generous and the new rates are discussed in a follow up article here.

After months of deliberation, the UK government has announced a range of illustrative figures for feed-in tariffs (FiTs). FiTs are fixed payments made to the owners of small generating stations for the electricity that they export to the grid. Micro-generators need high payments to justify their expensive investment in buying and installing green generation.

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An important recent paper looked at the links between economic prosperity and carbon footprint.[1] It compared the average emissions per head in 73 different countries at all different stages in development. Unsurprisingly, it showed that richer countries have much higher greenhouse gas outputs. The interesting and somewhat depressing finding is that a country with 10% higher GDP per head than another will generally have emissions about 8% higher. The correlation is strong – very few countries diverge much from the norm for their level of income.

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Mitsubishi Ecodan. Image source: Ecodan Brochure.

Mitsubishi Ecodan. Image source: Ecodan brochure.

(The information in this article has been updated by a more optimistic article that looks at the before and after experience of a ASHP installation in Oxford, Please go to http://www.carboncommentary.com/2010/08/03/1632)

Small heat pumps are increasingly used to provide space and water heating in UK homes. This trend is strongly encouraged by policy-makers and the government’s proposed Renewable Heat Incentive will add further financial support. The enthusiasm for this expensive technology should be moderated: for a home on the mains gas network, the savings in money will be small. Carbon benefits are probable but far from guaranteed. Moreover, air source heat pumps are unlikely to be able to heat many older homes effectively. Government, manufacturers, and installers need to be very much more cautious in encouraging the use of heat pumps and should use far more conservative payback assumptions. Heat pumps will eventually be a good investment for homeowners but probably not yet.

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Copyright: Monkey Business - Fotolia.com.

Copyright: Monkey Business - Fotolia.com.

Electricity demand has fallen substantially in the last couple of years and shows no sign of recovery. The cause could be:

  • The impact of economic slowdown
  • Better energy efficiency
  • Demand reduction because of the high prices seen in recent years.

If the cause is the contraction in the economy, then we can expect electricity use to rise again when growth resumes. On other hand if it is energy efficiency, then it is reasonable to expect that the reduction will persist. Electricity demand is usually thought to be insensitive to the price of power. If it is high prices that are driving usage reductions, we have gained important information about how to reduce electricity use, and thus carbon emissions.

The conclusion of the analysis in this short note is that almost all of the reduction in energy demand comes from cuts in usage in big industrial and commercial users. This means that the most likely cause of the cut is the fall in economic activity. Household demand seems to have remained about constant.

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Smart meters will work with real-time energy displays showing energy use around the home. Photograph: Energy Retailers Association/PA.

Smart meters will work with real-time energy displays showing energy use around the home. Photograph: Energy Retailers Association/PA.

Monday’s announcement by the UK government for smart meters for every home is heavy on ‘empowering consumers’ with real-time knowledge of our energy use and therefore helping us reduce our consumption. But we shouldn’t assume that this is the real reason why the UK is pushing ahead with the compulsory replacement of all meters.

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Power Station 571 aka the solar panels on my roof.

Power Station 571 aka the solar panels on my roof.

People like me who buy solar panels tend to become unreasonably fond of them. Many homeowners come to regard these silent blocks of silicon on our roofs as part of the family. I’m also particularly proud that our panels are registered at Ofgem, the utilities regulator, as Power Station 571. The reason for going through the cumbersome process to convince Ofgem that my silicon should be listed alongside Drax and Sizewell B was to benefit from the government incentive scheme for renewable electricity generation.

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Photograph: Christopher Thomond. Source: Guardian.


The new Conservative policy document on energy is keen to emphasise how smart it is. At its core are proposals for smart meters, smart grids, and smart battery charging. The enthusiasm for these technologies is almost palpable. On one page, the word ‘smart’ occurs eight times. But readers of the policy proposals are largely left in the dark about what all these intelligent devices will do. David Cameron’s comments about building ‘an electricity internet’ didn’t shed much light either.

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Copyright: Michalis Palis - Fotolia.com
Copyright: Michalis Palis – Fotolia.com


Government officials are searching for policies that will meet the twin aims of providing jobs and meeting the UK’s climate change targets. It is proving a difficult task. The easiest ways of reducing fossil fuel use will probably not create many new jobs in the UK. All large wind turbines are built abroad and although the construction work on a nuclear power station will generate a few thousand jobs, most of the key components will need to come from Europe and Japan. So where are the opportunities? I think two major areas stand out as excellent ways of generating jobs quickly without also dragging in expensive imports or sharply raising prices.

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Copyright: SyB - Fotolia.com
Copyright: SyB – Fotolia.com.

We didn’t make much progress reducing emissions when times were good. Will the looming depression makes things worse or better? The discussion of this issue, at least in the UK, tends to be superficial. The only question asked seems to be ‘will people buy less eco-bling when times are hard?’

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Renault’s Zoom concept electric car. Image source: Auto Express.

Most major countries in Europe have decided to focus on one or two technologies to reduce carbon emissions. By making concentrated investments in one or two promising areas these countries are likely to achieve substantial cost reductions and rapid increases in deployment. By contrast, the UK is dabbling ineffectually in several areas and achieving little. Despite having large resources of renewable energy sources, the UK’s effort is diffuse, trivial in scope and clearly insufficient. We have almost the lowest percentage of our energy coming from low-carbon sources in the EU.

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