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Archive for February, 2007

It was announced this month that BG Microgen are closing their doors. Microgen is one of two major players in the much hyped and still nascent domestic-scale CHP market. Why would a company backed by British Gas, with over £50m already invested, and poised to take a significant share of a huge market (so we’re told) close their doors just like that? (more…)

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Engineers spend a lot of time during the design of a new building predicting how much energy it will consume, banging away on spreadsheets or simulation software and ending up with deceptively precise numbers. The predictions are useful as a like-for-like comparison with buildings of a similar type but the problem comes when you treat the results as a reflection of real energy use in the building.

Simulation results are almost meaningless once the occupant comes on the scene, even in a low-energy house. The Passiv Haus Institute monitored over a hundred houses built to the German Passiv Haus standard (homes so efficient they don’t need conventional heating) and found that mean levels of consumption were almost always higher than predicted, in some cases more than three times higher. And there are many examples of monitoring studies for commercial and domestic buildings with similar results. (more…)

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Up to a point, higher energy consumption brings higher quality of life: lower infant mortality, longer life expectancy, higher literacy, etc. In communities where the main sources of energy for work are people and livestock, there isn’t much energy available, and what there is must be used in survival activities that produce a bit more energy than they consume, like subsistence farming. Quality of life in these communities is correspondingly low.

In the UK, energy is cheap and readily available, particularly in the forms of mains natural gas and grid electricity, and quality of life is generally high. We spend so little on the large amounts of energy we consume that we take cheap plentiful energy for granted. In fact, the electrical energy equivalent to a person working all day can be bought for less than 10 pence. Here’s how: (more…)

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ipcc report out today

The first volume summary of the fourth IPCC Assessment Report is out today and its conclusions are that there’s a greater than 90% likelihood that human activity is warming the planet and that global average temperatures will rise by between 1.8° and 4.0° this century. Importantly, the report will form the basis for negotiations to the successor of the Kyoto agreement which expires in 2012.

The Bush team are taking a two pronged approach. The first is to deny there’s a problem. Their scientific hit squad at the AEI have offered $10K plus expenses to scientists to undermine the conclusions of the IPCC report, funded by money from Exxon Mobil.

The second approach is to appear outwardly to accept that climate change is a genuine threat but to propose technological solutions that will put money in the pockets of allies. One proposal is the increase in the proportion of biofuel required in gasoline in the US as highlighted in the state of the union address. This is a politically safe and environmentally damaging subsidisation of the US farming industry, which will have no effect on climate change. Another proposal is launching billions of reflective balloons into the upper atmosphere to reduce the solar radiation reaching the earth, replacing one catastrophic climate experiment with another. Good work team.

So expect to see what looks superficially like a debate over the results of the IPCC report, but it’s likely that if you take a closer look you’ll see that the one side is made up of the usual very small well-funded vocal minority. Unfortunately if the IPCC is right about the scale and timing of climate change, when confronted with the usual shit from the US, soon enough we’ll just be able to point out the window.

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