Coffee: The Energy Efficiency Podcast - episode 23
Welcome to Coffee: The Energy Efficiency Podcast – episode 23, the podcast that brings you a mix of energy efficiency news, and developments all year round. You can find us on both Twitter and Instagram as Ecoflap, and on Twitter we also tweet as The Petflap.
We’re now taking reservations for Petflaps ready by mid-March. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve yours. We’re having reports of great results on Shetland, where no cat flap has previously stood up to the job. As our now repeat customer says, if it works on Shetland, it will work anywhere!
Next time: wooden buildings, energy efficiency in wine production, and the councils demand more money from government for energy efficient homes.
Coffee is produced in more than 70 countries, the majority of them in the equatorial regions of the Americas, Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent, and Africa, overwhelmingly developing countries where about 25 million smallholders dedicate themselves to coffee. The process from bean to cup generates enormous volumes of by-products and residues, so keeping the black stuff flowing requires scrutiny and improvement of the sustainability of its production.
Processing coffee beans is energy-intensive, with roasting alone responsible for up to 80% of a coffee processor’s power consumption. The costs of that energy can be the difference between running a business at a profit or a loss. Providing energy for coffee processing could therefore be seen as an obstacle, but it also provides an opportunity for energy efficiencies and innovation.
In the Caribbean, the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is offering financial assistance to encourage procuders to upgrade from traditional and inefficient drying methods to newer, more efficient methods. The EQIP Energy Initative helps processors migrate to highly efficient new technologies, saving energy and the associated costs, and reducing their use of fossil fuels. One example of machinery that the NRCS is aiming to consign to history is the ‘batea’. A batea is a rotational dryer used for drying the coffee beans after the coffee bean has been removed from its exterior skin and gel layer (the “wet mill” stage). Typically these bateas are made from scrap parts from trucks and other machines, including truck transmissions and engines. Many run on diesel but some use electricity. Bateas tend to be much bigger than they need to be, using blowers originally designed for use in a silo, so they generally use about three times as much electricity than is needed to dry the single layer of coffee beans inside the batea. The rate of drying is hard to control in a batea, so often beans have roasted before they’ve dried properly.
Bateas need to be replaced by a purpose-designed silo-type dryer, that are the right size for coffee drying and designed for uniform drying. These silos reuse the heat from the main dryer bed and pipes it back through a pre-drying layer, and it has just one motor. Much better drying is achieved with a lot less energy expended. A silo of this type will use just 10% of the energy of a batea run on propane gas.
Pruning coffee trees generates a great deal of stem waste. Coffee stems are well-suited to use as a solid fuel, as they have a high lignocellulose content, a low calorific value and a low ash content. Research has looked at their suitability for power generation in the Colombian coffee industry which could then power the drying stage. It could also be used to provide domestic power to those who work in the coffee industry. At the moment the stems are burnt in the fields or used very inefficiently as solid fuel in domestic stoves. To quote from the paper:
“An analysis of the energy demand and coffee stems availability within the Colombian coffee sector shows that the biomass production level in medium- to large-scale coffee farms is well matched to their energy demands, offering particularly attractive opportunities to deploy this bioenergy system.”
Beyond the stems, husks and pulp from the wet mill can be used as silage and compost. Various elements of the coffee resides work well as biomass and in the production of biogas and bioethanol. Grounds work well in compost (that’s where all ours go) and as a substrate for mushroom growing. Colombia relies heavily on hydropower for its renewable energy, and it provides 65% of the country’s total power requirements. Biomass could make a significant contribution in Colombia. It would also bring power to more remote areas and help to make the energy supply more reliable.
Buhler Group manufactures food processing equipment and is aiming for top-end efficiency in water and energy use, and minimum waste. In partnership with Norwegian coffee producer Joh Johannson it is creating the most environmentally-friendly coffee processing plant in the world. As well as employing highly efficient machinery and using heat recovery from roasting to heat the building and other processes, the plant will run off biogas and huge solar cells automatically managed for optimum performance. Potentially the plant will produce more energy than it uses.
Curiously, scientists at UCLA have discovered that caffeine can make perovskite solar cells more efficient at converting light to power. Perovskite is a type of mineral and materials made from it are typically easy and cheap to manufacture. Perovskite solar cells have improved massively in efficiency recently but the search was still on the boost the cells’ efficiency and their stability long-term. Adding caffeine into the mix allowed the perovskite to react with much less energy and increased its resistance to heat, meaning the solar cells would be less liable to heat damage.
Overwhelmingly the coffee industry is concerned with climate change, particularly with respect to water supply, biological threats to the coffee trees, and the numbers of small coffee growers who are packing up shop. Article after article focussed on increasing yield and reducing the gap between wealthy coffee roasters and poor coffee growers. Remarkably little is written about improving the energy efficiency of the coffee industry.
Music credit: “Werq” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
Theatre: The Energy Efficiency Podcast - episode 22
Welcome to Theatre: The Energy Efficiency Podcast – episode 22, the podcast that brings you a mix of energy efficiency news, and developments all year round. You can find us on both Twitter and Instagram as Ecoflap, and on Twitter we also tweet as The Petflap.
Petflaps are flying off the shelves and we’re currently taking reservations for late November delivery. Please email email@example.com to reserve yours. We’re having reports of great results on Shetland, where no cat flap has previously stood up to the job. As our now repeat customer says, if it works on Shetland, it will work anywhere!
Next time: wooden buildings, who are the radical green business leaders of the future, and what is the Green Innovation Policy Commission?
Think back to the last time you went to the theatre, whether it was last night, last year or last century. Were you in a state of the art building run efficiently in every respect, or were you in a Georgian building, or maybe a 1950s gem? Or even something built at the beginning of this century? Chances are that theatre, one of around 1000 actively used in the UK, plus the infrastructure serving it from loos to car parking, are a bit creaky, possibly listed and very much due for improvement.
The theatre world is very aware that change is overdue and many are on the case. In some cases there’s little that can be done with the building without an enormous investment of cash and wholesale refurbishment, which isn’t necessarily feasible, so in those cases energy efficiency has to focus on everything else. Theatre generally considers itself a socially aware sector that’s well-placed to bring home to audiences the impact of climate change. Theatres are embracing this opportunity and combining sustainability measures with productions that help to spread the climate emergency message.
The National Theatre in London is in a listed 1970s Brutalist building built at a time when energy efficiency wasn’t a consideration. The National has now switched to LED lighting in its auditoriums and foyers, and crucially installed monitoring systems to help reduce energy use. How many other theatres have a combined heat and power plant on site? The extra that the National needs is generated by wind and solar. One of its buildings, constructed much more recently in 2013, is heated and cooled by a ground source heat pump. To date the National has reduced energy waste by 25% in the last three years and plans to make net zero.
The National is taking all the usual steps to reduce waste and single use plastic in its catering services. It’s looking widely at its use of resources and now pulls its non-drinking water from the London chalk aquifer, reducing strain on mains water. Its workshops have living rooves and beehives. On its website the National refers to production waste. It recycles nearly half of its production waste and plans to increase that. It’s examining the fine detail of staging shows to see where efficiencies can be made, and will share that information with the rest of the industry.
We profiled Julie’s Bicycle in ep 13. This is a charity that works with the cultural sector to encourage sustainability and implement energy efficiency measures. The National Theatre has been awarded a 4 Star ‘Creative Green’ rating by Julie’s Bicycle. It scored particularly highly for commitment and understanding of the issues. This is a pilot scheme to reduce the environmental impact of taking shows on tour. All these measures taken together mean that the National Theatre now has a B rating energy certificate, up from G 10 years ago. It has a comprehensive Environmental Policy which it keeps under review.
Of course running a theatre is an incredibly expensive business. Energy efficiency can make a difference to the bottom line, even in a building struggling to meet today’s low energy standards. A survey carried out for the journal Arts Professional revealed that of theatres planning capital works in the next five years, half were intended to improve energy efficiency. Heating, ventilation and stage machinery eats up a big chunk a theatre’s energy use. Meeting today’s expectations of comfort can be energy intensive in an older building, but there are solutions.
As at the National, LED lighting is being installed widely, but it can’t yet meet all the lighting requirements in theatres. Last year EU legislation threatened to pitch all UK theatres into darkness as their often old-fashioned lighting would have been considered obsolete and falling foul of the law. Disaster was averted but it served as a wake-up call to theatres to do everything they can to maximise the energy efficiency of their lights. This is an element of future proofing, as well as money saving, which is vital to a theatre’s economic viability.
It’s worth bearing in mind what’s involved in switching to LED lighting, or even just changing a lightbulb in a theatre. The 100 year old Strand Theatre in Shreveport, Louisiana in the USA received a grant from energy company SWEPCO towards switching to LED bulbs, with a projected saving of 20% on electricity bills. This is part of a SWEPCO project to ehlp non-profit organisations lower their bills.
2000 bulbs were replaced across the auditorium, dressing rooms, a 14ft chandelier, storage rooms, box office and so on and so on. Accessing some of these places needed more than a ladder. Lifts were required for access to the marquee, and the chandelier requires veeerry careful hand cranking down from the ceiling while the person doing the cranking lies in a tiny crawl space. Accessing the proscenium arch means crawling underneath walkways and reaching up through a tiny hole. The light fittings themselves are often old and delicate. The longer life of LED bulbs means that this sort of thing won’t have to happen very often.
We’ve mentioned before that switching to LED lighting is a quick fix – or reasonably so – and one of those energy efficiency measures that improves customer/user experience while improving efficiency and saving money. It doesn’t have to be restricted to the theatre building itself. It can also act as a catalyst for reviewing the other areas of a building’s performance.
The Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith is one theatre that is including LED lighting in a comprehensive programme of energy efficiency and sustainability improvements. The building has an interesting history. It spent many years in a late Victorian music hall, then in the 1960s under threat of demolition its auditorium was dismantled and rebuilt with a modern shell in a different location. The current mash-up dates from 1979. Work to monitor and reduce the building’s carbon emissions have gained it an ‘excellent’ BREEAM rating. Since 2015 the Lyric has reduced energy use and emissions by more than 50%.
The Lyric works with Green Clover, previously known as Scenery Salvage, which as you’d expect recycles stage scenery and props and is the only company doing this. On its website Green Clover reveals the shocking statistic that 95% of scenery and props in this country are scrapped. Green Clover sells, rents out or recycles the props and scenery. Recycled scenery is turned into biomass which fuels the vehicles Green Clover uses to collect scenery. Plastics and metals are reused, polystyrene is made into fuel or processed for turning into new goods. Green Clover says that nothing goes to waste. Items up for sale are going for a lot less then scenery would usually cost, which has to encourage theatre companies to source items this way. The theatre getting rid of its scenery and props pay transport costs, a weight per tonne and labour costs. Green Clover believes the costs to a theatre will be no greater than what it costs to ditch scenery and props, so why wouldn’t you do it?
The Arcola Theatre in London moved to a former paint factory in 2011. It incorporated salvaged materials into the building works, and now plans to become the first carbon neutral theatre. To achieve this it’s fitted solar panels and solar thermal panels, a carbon neutral boiler, LED lighting and DC migrogrids. I’m prepared to admit that I’d never heard of a DC microgrid, and the explanations are mind-bending if you aren’t already very well informed about how electricity is delivered, so there’s a link in the notes if you want to read about it. What does seem clear though is that DC microgrids allow for efficient delivery of energy.
The Arcola is not the only theatre to reclaim items. The Everyman in Liverpool took its bricks with it from its old building to its new one, and Tara Arts in London used auditorium seating from a temporary RSC venue. The Everyman harvests rainwater for flushing loos, a smart move if we’re going to be getting more wet weather. It too achieved a BREEAM excellent, which is awarded to only a very small proportion of new non-domestic buildings.
The Theatres Trust runs a grant scheme together with the Wolfson Foundation, and its most recent round has focussed on improving sustainability. Applications closed in September this year so sorry, we’re a bit late with this.
Music credit: “Werq” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
Freight: The Energy Efficiency Podcast - episode 21
Welcome to Freight: The Energy Efficiency Podcast – episode 21, the podcast that brings you a mix of energy efficiency news, products and tips all year round. We’re interested in profiling people and products involved in promoting energy efficiency habits, products and information, so please do get in touch if you have something to contribute.
We’ll have new cut parts very soon with Petflaps available late October/early November. Half the new batch are reserved already – drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve yours. You can find us on both Twitter and Instagram as Ecoflap, and on Twitter we also tweet as The Petflap.
Next week: energy efficiency in theatre, energy as an investment, and the Scottish government’s Switched on Towns and Cities scheme. Oh and remember, you can eat that pumpkin flesh.
Freight has a bad reputation. Worldwide it makes a significant contribution to carbon emissions, and locally it can cause pollution hotspots. As is so often the case, there is huge scope to reduce emissions, but it requires a joint approach from industry and government to make sure that lack of infrastructure doesn’t prove to be a barrier. This can mean macro-scale power delivery for HGV charging and decisive leadership on zero-emissions rail travel, something that is already a hot potato with the ongoing rail electrification debate.
Shipping and aviation rack up roughly equivalent levels of emissions. Shipping moves about 80% of the world’s goods, and although moving goods this way is the least emissions-intensive method, demand for it is rising. This will lead to enormous increases in carbon emissions if things stay as they are, says the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Who takes responsibility?
Shipping freight is governed by the International Maritime Organization. It’s introduced targets to cut emissions by 2050, on the back of a reputation for having been extremely slow to take any action. Ship owners have also been slow to act. Many freight ships are old and inefficient and not set to be replaced any time soon. The shipping industry as a whole hasn’t been keen to share emissions data, and as such an international industry, countries haven’t taken responsibility for shipping emissions either. So what can companies do today to reduce emissions?
Technology can offer solutions
One option is to sail more slowly. This would cut emissions by 1/3. It’s not always commercially viable though – it’s one thing if you’re transporting trainers and sofas, another if it’s lettuces and medicines. It’s not a long-term solution but it could be implemented where feasible to cut emissions in the short term. A report from non-profit organisation A Sea Change, identifies the Danish companies Maersk and Norden, and South Korean company HMM, as at the forefront of reducing their impact. There remains though a stubborn gap between what technology can offer, and what companies are putting into practice.
Technology is key to transforming the industry. Ships are very expensive and run for about 30 years, so to meet targets by 2050 ships based on new cleaner technologies need to be entering service in 10 years time. 10 years isn’t very long to develop and install new fuels, means of propulsion, and infrastructures. However the industry must change if it’s to survive. Customers and customers’ customers ask questions about the emissions involved in delivering their goods; tankers carrying fossil fuels around the globe are seeing reduced demand.
As well as sailing more slowly where possible, ships can be retrofitted to become more energy efficient while better long-term technologies are developed. Engines can be replaced to facilitate slower speeds, and new propellors are more energy efficient. Lower-emissions fuels are in development, but only on a small scale. Liquid Natural Gas could play a role as a transition fuel as ships make the transition to clean fuels from a particularly dirty form of fuel known as bunker fuel, which is a by-product of refining. Beyond that, electric boats now exist.
They have a smaller range, but do have a part to play. In the Netherlands and Belgium 100% electric barges sail between the ports of Antwerp, Amsterdam and Rotterdam. The Chief Executive of the company behind the barges, Port Liner, explained that it doesn’t make sense to keep producing diesel-run barges. The barges each carry 24 containers and will eventually be autonomous, ie not crewed. It’s estimated that they’ll remove 23,000 freight trucks from the roads.
Batteries have been viewed with suspicion by the shipping industry. In such a competitive business, anything that might slow you down or reduce capacity is unwelcome. However Lucy Gilliam of non-governmental organisation Transport and Environment, based in Brussels, demolishes the myths around batteries, citing rapid change in the industry lately. She champions battery power for short journeys, such as the Dover to Calais route. On that journey the required batteries would add only 1% to the weight of the ship. At the moment electrical power is taxed more heavily than the more polluting fuels, something that needs to change at governmental level.
That isn’t putting off ferry operator Scandlines, which runs battery-diesel hybrids between Germany and Denmark. An electric car ferry – that’s the ferry that’s electric, not the cars, but then again maybe they are too, has been sailing from Norway since 2015. Lucy Gilliam describes the spread of electrification of these sorts of short routes as “inevitable” and believes it’s just a matter of time until the technology extends to the wider shipping industry. To time you can add investment, research and regulation.
But shipping powered in this way isn’t the only option. Dutch company Fairtransport has revived transporting cargo under sail. Fair transport works on a tiny scale, running only two ships, one a 70 year old minesweeper called Tres Hombres, the other a 145 year old wooden ketch named Nordlys. German company Timbercoast operates a 1920s schooner and has a second being refitted.
The principle is to add clean transport to concepts including organic produce and fairtrade, and to encourage consumers to value it. The moment you stop to think about it, you see the hole in the argument that ships fairtrade and/or organic bananas on hideously polluting ships or aeroplanes.
There are now several companies operating wind-powered vessels. Where older vessels were retrofitted initially, now larger vessels are under construction to scale up this form of freight and allow many more ships to operate. The largest sailing ship in the world, Ceiba, is currently under construction in Costa Rica, but even that will carry only the equivalent of 10 shipping containers – the largest powered ships carry more than 20,000 containers. Even the Cutty Sark was bigger than Ceiba.
Cornelius Bockermann, founder of Timbercoast, makes the point that industrial shipping as we know it now is economical only because it externalises its costs. In an article in the Guardian he explains that if shipping companies were liable for the costs of damage to the environment, sailing ships costs would seem very reasonable in comparison.
Music credit: “Werq” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
Tea Production: The Energy Efficiency Podcast - episode 20
Welcome to Tea Production: The Energy Efficiency Podcast – episode 20, the podcast that brings you a mix of energy efficiency news, products and tips all year round. We’re interested in profiling people and products involved in promoting energy efficiency habits, products and information, so please do get in touch if you have something to contribute.
This week: energy efficiency in tea production, food recycling, and the Air Quality Grant Scheme. But first, last week Business Live reported on a revolutionary power restoration project in the north east of England. Known as Silent Power, the two year trial will deliver power via electric vans with on-board energy storage systems.
Three companies are working together to deliver this project, designed to help the most vulnerable customers in the event of planned maintenance or a power cut. Northern Powergrid runs the electricity distribution network in the north east, Yorkshire and northern Lincolnshire. It’s working on this project with Sunderland energy storage company Hyperdrive Innovation and Rugby-based OffGrid Energy.
Replacing diesel generators
When power has to go off for works, or there’s a power cut, usually a noisy, smelly diesel generator leaps into action to supply power. Northern Powergrid alone uses over 2,500 diesel generators every year. Silent Power instead supplies clean and quiet replacement energy for up to three homes or one small village hall per van, for up to 24 hours. The scheme is aimed at the most vulnerable customers, identified by the power companies and reached as a priority in the event of a power out, and those with domestic solar generation. Homes that put power back into the grid, which is most domestic solar installations, can’t use diesel-generated power.
The three companies behind the trial, which starts this month, see it as a shift in the temporary power industry. It removes issues of getting diesel generators to places that are awkward to access, and removes the issues of noise and air pollution. Northern Powergrid can reach more of their customers with these vans. The vans’ lithium ion batteries run silently and produce a reliable power stream, unlike generators which do sometimes trip out.
Northern Powergrid sees wide application of the new technology beyond simply supplying temporary energy to homes. It can be deployed across many sectors to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and continue to bring down emissions. During the trial the project will be assessed for usability, economic viability and benefit to customers. The findings will be shared with other Distribution Network Operators.
Energy efficiency in tea production
Getting tea from the plant to your cup is inherently polluting at the moment. Emissions are generated as leaves are processed, which involves withering, rolling, fermentation, drying, sorting and packing, transportation and packaging. The energy-intensity of each process impacts the profitability of the tea business and the lives of the employees, but there is much that can be done to reduce the environmental impact of the other processes, including the way of life of the tea farmers.
Taylors of Harrogate, which produces both tea and coffee, has examined its carbon footprint and is making changes. Its factory in Harrogate now runs on renewable energy, coming in part from solar panels on the roof, and it sends zero waste to landfill. Road miles from port to factory have been reduced by the simple measure of bringing their products in to a nearer port. It’s working with overseas suppliers to help them reduce their carbon footprint too.
Taylors is conscious though that these measures will reduce emissions but not remove them completely. To address this, it’s working with projects in Uganda, Kenya and Malawi to plant trees in some places and reduce the number being felled for fuel in others. 4000 smallholder tea farmers around Mount Kenya are being supported to plant a million new trees, in conjunction with The International Small Group Tree Planting Program, known as TIST. TIST was started in 2002 and works in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and India. TIST’s aim is “to empower and equip subsistence farmers to restore their natural environment, increase soil fertility, create jobs, strengthen the local community, and move from famine to surplus.” This last aim is achieved in part by planting trees that provide a crop that can be sold, eg avocados and mangos.
In Malawi firewood is commonly used for cooking by the tea farmers. Taylors is working with the Ethical Tea Partnership, United Purpose and other (unnamed) tea companies to provide much more efficient cooking stoves. They use much less wood which reduces the deforestation which has become a major issue around Mount Mulanje in Malawi. Reduced smoke from these stoves is good news for the women who usually do the cooking, and this is something that came up last week when we looked at the Three Per Cent Club. The carbon reductions achieved by Taylors and partner organisations are independently verified.
In Kenya progress is being made in several areas. Eastern Produce runs agricultural interests in Kenya, Malawi and South Africa, as part of Camellia Plc (Camellia sinensis is the latin name of a common tea plant). It employs 73,000 people so its actions will be influential in its sector. On its website it describes social and environmental welfare as “paramount to the sustainable future of our operations”. Undoubtedly social issues have been difficult to manage on tea plantations worldwide and solving acute problems such as abuse, child labour and poor employment conditions take precedence, but addressing environmental concerns will also affect the quality of life of the people working on the plantations.
Eastern Produce wants to provide sustainable and ethical employment to its tea producing communities for years to come through careful custodial management of its operations. It’s very awake to the business benefits of long-term investment and taking good care of its employees.
Eastern Produce monitors the environmental impact of its activities and ensures they comply with legislation. It seeks to minimise the environmental impact of those areas of its operations that could use improvement. For example, in one Kenyan factory waste water from tea production is filtered through a series of ponds (you might recall from our feature on distilling that a number of distilleries use the same sort of system). The ponds are planted with species that absorb nutrients and clean the water before it’s released back to the natural water courses locally.
In its Chief Executive’s report of April this year, Camellia Plc sets out its energy usage for 2016, 17 and 18. Energy use and carbon emissions have fallen steadily over the three years, something the report attributes to investment in energy efficiency in its tea factories. It’s achieved a reduction of 6.4% in the energy required to process each kilo of tea. In the same period use of renewable energy leapt by 57%. Interestingly Camellia identifies modernising as one element of improving energy efficiency, reflecting the fact that old machinery is often very energy intensive to run. Replacing it is worth the investment. Additionally Camellia is switching to sustainable and renewable fuels, and changing its agricultural practices to be less demanding of water, fertiliser and other resources.
Also in Kenya, a solar park has been commissioned that will supply power to Unilever Tea Kenya’s tea-leaf processing plant in Kericho County in the Rift Valley. The mini grid has been built within the factory complex. The solar panels are on rotating solar trackers, which boosts output by up to 20%.
The project has been financed by CrossBoundary Energy, an investment firm specialising in off-grid projects for business in Africa. In turn, CrossBoundary Energy has received a $6m dollar contribution from the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the American government’s development finance institution. This investment will be divided between six solar projects in Africa.
The mini-grid will product 619 kWp, which is enough to process all the tea leaves harvested from the Kericho plantations. Producing power on-site reduces Unilever’s exposure to power price volatility through a power purchase agreement with CrossBoundary Energy, while reducing its use of natural resources. This is part of the company’s ambition to have all its food plants running entirely on green energy and the business model is of great interest to other companies and sectors. Developing business in Africa will rely on the easy supply of clean energy. OPIC’s investment in CrossBoundary Energy helps to expand PV technology across sub-Saharan Africa.
If you were asked to name tea producing countries you’d easily come up with India and Africa, and probably China, but did you know that Iran produces a tea crop? 70,000 tea-growing families deliver picked leaves to 160 processing factories in Guilan province and Mazandaran Province in northern Iran. Reducing the energy taken to produce the tea increases profitability for farmers and factory owners. Research carried out three years ago looked at opportunities for improving energy efficiency in Guilan province.
One early finding was that no tea factory manager has ever received energy efficiency training and didn’t know such courses existed. Part of the research focussed on whether the managers could identify which parts of the tea-producing process was the most energy intensive. Most correctly identified the tea drying stage, and recognised that saving fuel here would lead to financial savings. That in turn identified that good design and the correct operation of drying furnaces is key to energy saving.
The research shone a spotlight on some misconceptions about how machines can be used and revealed that poor maintenance leads to needless heat loss. Better timing of the various steps in tea leaf production can improve energy efficiency. If leaves are too damp or not damp enough they need different treatment, which uses more energy than necessary. None of the tea factory managers had any technical training in tea production, instead learning on the job. This of course perpetuates habits and does little to introduce new ideas.
The managers who took part in this research agreed that better technical knowledge and training was vital to improving energy efficiency. They welcomed investment in more energy efficient plant, and closer links with other areas of industry so that they can benefit from technical advancements. The Iranian government can supply factory owners with long-term low-interest loans, but awareness of this was low. Ultimately, poor energy efficiency was attributed to poor management and outdated knowledge, both of which are pretty straightforward and economical to rectify. Iran can learn from the experiences of China, India and Kenya, but it needs to be motivated to improve energy efficiency. The report suggests a system of subsidy and bonus to achieve this.
Obviously it’s about improving air quality, but how does it do that?
It’s a pot of money that local authorities bid for.
For transport projects?
It could be, but its primary point is to help local authorities meet their statutory duties under the 1995 Environment Act.
Is it a new scheme?
No, it’s been going over 20 years! It started in 1997, and since then it’s dished out over £60m. It works on a financial year basis, so we’re currently in the 2019-2020 programme. By the way, if you want to apply you have until 7th November, not long.
Is there a theme or priority each year?
There certainly is this year. Defra is behind the scheme, and this year it’s looking to finance work that provides swift improvements in air quality-
-what counts as swift?
In this instance 1-2 years. It’s also looking at projects that have long term benefits by “increasing awareness and encouraging behaviour change”, so in other words putting the onus back on individuals while more roads are built and Heathrow gets another runway!
How much is on offer this year?
At least £2m, available to English local authorities and within that those areas that are likely to exceed emissions limits, and places with designated Air Quality Management Areas. If a local authority identifies an area that won’t stay within emissions targets, it has to declare it an Air Quality Management Area. It could be a couple of streets or an entire town centre.
Presumably the local authority then has to come up with a plan to solve the problem?
Yes, known as a Local Air Quality Action Plan. Herefordshire has two air quality management areas, one in the north of Hereford city, and one at the Bargates traffic lights in Leominster. Bargates routinely fails to stay within emissions targets.
How have previous awards been spent?
28 awards were made in 2018-19, from £33,000 to £450,000. Some was spent on the obvious things such as campaigns to raise awareness of polluting behaviours and developing environmentally-friendly habits, but there have been some innovative projects. In Islington electric charging points have been installed for canal boats. Money has also been spent on building green walls, funding car-free days and developing pedestrianisation schemes. In Portsmouth money went towards cycling infrastrcture, and in Westminster it funded work with businesses to reduce emissions. Something that caught my eye was an anti-engine idling campaign. You see less of it now than you did. I hope it’s one of those things that will become socially unacceptable.
Those projects are very varied. Do they make any real difference?
That depends who you ask. Defra says harmful fine particulate matter (PM2.5) levels have dropped by 10% and nitrogen oxides by 29% between 2010 and 2017 and that levels of nitrogen dioxide at the roadside are at their lowest levels since records began. Friends of the Earth says the funding is a drop in the ocean. Their focus is on clean air zones.
What does that involve?
Strict rules on vehicle emissions and requirements. There are five already: Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Derby and Southampton. More areas are under investigation as the government believes they will exceed pollution limits by 2021.
Who sees those through?
There’s a hole in my bucket.
Exactly. These areas submit an Air Quality Improvement Plan, and get funding if they are approved. Green groups including Greenpeace believe these are the most effective way to bring down pollution. Client Earth, lawyers working on environmental cases and causes, view this as the government dumping the problem on local authorities. The government’s response is that local authorities know best what’s needed in their area.
But surely some of the projects must be making a difference?
Yes they are. In London nine Low Emissions Neighbourhoods have been created.
What’s different in those areas?
They aren’t all the same. In one place you might have an emphasis on infrastructure for low emissions vehicles, in another it might be paths and cycle routes so people can move around with less use of cars. There’s a social knock-on too-
– as people aren’t so shut away in cars they see each other more?
That’s right, and less busy roads are less divisive.
Where are these neighbourhoods?
They include Barbican – not just the famous flats but the area around it. The most successful features of that Low Emissions Neighbourhood or LEN are being assessed for roll-out across the rest of the City of London, the square mile. This particular LEN focussed on raising awareness, reducing traffic and supporting low and no-emissions vehicles.
How was the project monitored?
Automatic analysers were placed in the area to collect data on levels of nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter. They also used the magnificently named smogmobile. This was an electric car fitted with air quality monitoring kit. It drove around the Barbican area for three days to gain a picture of how pollution levels change during the day and over a few days. The critical environmental groups may well be right that the money is too little too late, but that doesn’t mean that the projects that spring up as a result of the Air Quality Grant Scheme aren’t in themselves worth it.
It sounds like they have the capacity to make a real difference for the people who live in the areas taking part.
That’s right. We’re always saying that decent cycle routes around here would be brilliant. If there was an off-road proper cycle route that our son could take to school and another in the opposite direction that our daughter could take to the station our car use would drop by 90%.
If you live in an area blighted by heavy traffic and as a result of one of these projects you notice a drop in traffic and less pollution that’s going to make life a bit nicer, isn’t it?
For sure. Undoubtedly it’s a complicated situation and there are many shades of opinion on it. It seems like no episode is complete without a quote from Sadiq Khan, for no very good reason, so here’s another: “politicians can’t solve these issues alone. We need government ministers to wake up and recognise the true scale of this health emergency”. And so say all of us.
I have two contrasting tabs open in my browser: one tells me that 14% of food produced is wasted between harvest and retail, the other that UK firms have saved more than £85m worth of food going to waste. So what’s going on?
Food Waste Reduction Roadmap
Last year WRAP and IGD led the Food Waste Reduction Roadmap in September last year. You may well not have heard of IGD. It describes itself as “a research and training charity which sits at the heart of the food and consumer goods industry”. The aim of the Food Waste Reduction Roadmap is to get large companies reporting on and reducing their food waste. There are now 156 food businesses signed up, with related businesses such as industry bodies and redistribution organisations joining the scheme.
WRAP reports that 121 companies have shown evidence of food waste reduction amounting to 7%. It might not sound like much, but it equates to 53,000 tonnes of food with a value of £85m. WRAP acknowledges that there is a great deal more to do. It wants all major food businesses implementing the Roadmap, from across the spectrum of the food sector.
There is a need for initiatives such as this Roadmap because globally about 1/3 of food is wasted. Digest that for a moment, as commentators regularly wonder where the food is going to come from to feed the world’s growing population. The IPCC recently reported that food waste contributed up to 10% of man made greenhouse gases between 2010 and 2016.
Tesco was one of the first companies to sign up to the Roadmap. CEO Dave Lewis wants to see food waste reporting publicly become mandatory, and WRAP and the IGD believe a consistent approach across business is key to achieving meaningful waste reductions. WRAP and the IGD package the Roadmap measures under the phrase Target, Measure, Act – so what do they really mean?
The target is the food waste reduction target for the UK operations of participating businesses. Measure is measuring their surplus and waste, and Act is taking action to reduce food waste both in their own businesses and influencing behaviour along their supply chain and among their consumers. Among participating businesses some are well along the road, already reducing waste, while others are still collecting data before they can set a target.
The businesses involved pack a punch. Together they represent 50% of the total turnover for all UK food manufacturing, hospitality and food services, at £230bn. It’s estimated that these businesses will generate over a million tonnes of food waste per year, which is one third of what WRAP’s own report terms “post-farm gate supply chain food waste”. Of that 70% was intended for human consumption.
Businesses implementing Target, Measure, Act are seeing the benefits aside from the initial 7% savings in food waste. Businesses are sharing case studies, sector-relevant frameworks are being created, and many organisations are getting involved to help things along in their area of the food sector.
However there are at least 500 businesses that still need to engage with Target, Measure, Act if the UK is going to meet UN Sustainability Goal 12.3. This “aims to halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food waste along production and supply chains by 2030”. Achieving this goal for the UK would mean an annual farm-to-fork food waste reduction of 3.5m tonnes in 2030, saving food valued at £10bn a year.
Courtauld Commitment 2025
Most of our big supermarket chains have been measuring their waste for several years under the Courtauld Commitment 2025. This is a WRAP-driven voluntary agreement for businesses to make food and drink production more sustainable. It’s built around a 10-year commitment to cut carbon, water and waste associated with food and drink by a minimum of 20% by 2025. The large supermarkets are often criticised for the pressure they can and do bring to bear on their suppliers financially and for rejecting the less beautiful fruit and veg, but this influence can be put to good use too to encourage energy saving and waste-reduction among their suppliers and customers.
There’s a link in the notes to a list of case studies. To pick out a couple, Aldi has worked with Neighbourly to donate a million meals. Neighbourly connects shops with a surplus to organisations that can put that surplus to good use in charities and schools. Many supermarkets now work with this and similar schemes. Boots, which tends to specialise in short-life products such as sandwiches and fruit, the sort of thing you might pick up for lunch if you’re on the move, has reduced food waste by nearly 20% over the last 3-4 years. It’s pledged to reduce food waste by 50% by 2030. Frozen food chain Iceland sends no food to landfill, and is left with only 0.7% of its stock unsold. Instead unsold food is given to the community or used to make animal food and beer. Some heads to an anaerobic digester to make electricity and compost.
Why is food wasted?
Why does food go to waste in the first place? Supermarkets have a good idea of how much of any given product they’re going to sell in a day or a week, but blips occur. Closer attention to stock management has made a difference to supermarkets including ASDA and the Co-op, while some manufacturers are taking steps to increase shelf life. Food producers need to focus on maximising yield from their raw ingredients and do what they can to prevent over-production. Some food goes to waste during manufacturing through leaks and spillages, so paying attention to kit and processes makes a difference here. Many improvements can be made in farming the grains, fruit and vegetables that go into food manufacturing, so that fewer crops are discarded or not up to snuff. Farmers have made improvements in irrigation, crop protection, precision delivery of fertiliser through technology, and precise analysis of growing and harvesting patterns.
Guardians of Grub
Restaurants have been targetted by WRAP’s Guardians of Grub campaign. It’s focussed on reducing the £3bn worth of food thrown away at hospitality and food service outlets, 75% of which could have been eaten. WRAP claims that their resources are applicable to every outlet from the swankiest restaurant to your local pub.
It comes down to simple, cheap changes to the purchase, preparation and serving of food. Simple measures include the blindingly obvious such as someone actually tracking food use and waste which then informs buying; checking items are used before their expiry date; using ingredients in their entirety, from chicken bones to broccoli stalks; freezing usable excess ingredients and encouraging customers to take leftovers home with them. I thought everyone did this anyway – we certainly do. Really it’s what you do at home, but scaled up – buy only what you need and are going to use, freeze anything you don’t use, eat the leftovers and make sure things don’t go to die at the back of the fridge.
Waste needs to be defined in the context of food production. If the metric is ‘could that have been eaten?’ then yes, a great deal of food is wasted in this country. If we ask instead ‘what happens to wasted food?’ then the picture is less bleak, with only a small proportion going to landfill. Much unsold food now goes to groups that can use it feed hungry people. Unsold crops can be ploughed back into the earth, where they will support the next crop to be grown there. Some are used to feed animals or go into anaerobic digesters to create electricity or compost, which again will feed future crops. Unsold products can be diverted into processes including beer making – we saw in our feature on the VIBES awards that a bakery sold surplus rolls to a brewery for a special beer.
Despite many of the measures taken by businesses big and small being firmly rooted in common sense, businesses need support to take steps if they aren’t to feel they’re a lone voice. Among big business reducing food waste is now a badge of honour, but it’s probably harder for your local chippie or pizza delivery shop that’s having to compete with lots of other local outlets and serving a clientele that maybe doesn’t prioritise or value energy efficiency in food production. Businesses signing up to the Roadmap will find that support, plus resources to help them formulate a strategy and turn round food waste.
On 13th and 14th November you can attend the World nZEB Forum 2019 in Ireland. The theme this year is Climate Action through nearly zero energy buildings, or nZEBs. “The event will showcase the very best in expertise, design, case study buildings and innovative products.” The website goes on to say “If you’ve not yet heard of nZEB, or you want to explore this topic in greater detail, you’ve come to the right place. We are certain you will leave this event inspired and ready to embrace what is a paradigm shift in how we design, build and operate the spaces where we live and work.” The event costs E295 for non-members and E265 for delegates from qualifying organisations.
What are we up to? Our trial cuts on the new laser cutter are very promising. We expect to have new stock by the end of October, so get in touch on email@example.com if you want to reserve one. We are now unable to despatch abroad due to uncertainty around Brexit. Thank you for listening to episode 20 of the Energy Efficiency Podcast. Until next time you can find us on both Twitter and Instagram as Ecoflap, and on Twitter we also tweet as The Petflap. Next week: energy efficiency and participatory budgets, energy efficiency in freight, and the UK government’s new Environment Bill.
Music credit: “Werq” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
Student Housing: The Energy Efficiency Podcast - episode 19
Welcome to Student Housing: The Energy Efficiency Podcast – episode 19, the podcast that brings you a mix of energy efficiency news, products and tips all year round. We’re interested in profiling people and products involved in promoting energy efficiency habits, products and information, so please do get in touch if you have something to contribute.
This week: in a change from our plans to begin a review of energy efficiency in various areas of food and drink production, we’ll instead continue examining energy efficiency in student housing. We’ll also talk about the Three Per Cent Club, and renewable energy in Wales – that’s the country.
Building regs proposal
But before we begin, this week a furore erupted over local authorities’ powers to set tougher buildings standards than Westminster. As we saw in our feature on new build standards in episode 6, under Part L of building regs, local authorities have the power to enforce a tougher building standard than the government has specified. Now, however, the government plans to remove these powers as part of achieving the Future Homes Standard. Many councils across the UK have taken advantage of this provision to provide low energy housing.
Last week, ministers released plans to update Building Regulations so that housebuilders would be forced to build greener homes. This sounds good in theory but of course there’s a catch: the government views its own plans as a sufficiently big step forward that no additional powers are needed at local level. The government considers that potentially varying standards across the country confuse housebuilders and make green building more expensive. At the moment these plans are due to be brought into force either next year or in 2025.
This seems a retrograde step, and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan certainly sees it as a blow to his plans for London becoming net zero by 2050. He opposes the plans and sees it as watering down of green building plans.
As we saw in episode 6, the government has a history of this. 230 councils in the UK have declared a climate emergency and many, including Liverpool, Nottingham and Bristol, have set net zero targets well ahead of the government’s. Removing their powers to insist on the very highest energy efficiency standards will be enormously unwelcome.
The proposals are currently at the consulation stage. We’re including a link to the government’s own verbiage on this. You can respond to the document via that link. The consultation period ends in January 2020 but if you want to respond don’t delay as it will no doubt get buried under Brexit and Christmas and so on.
Energy efficiency in student housing
Last week we talked about Student Switch Off, the NUS-run initiative to encourage students into good energy saving habits in their three years living away from home. It wasn’t intended to be the start of anything, but since then articles keep popping up about the good and bad about student housing itself, and we felt that the moment was right for a closer look.
The BBC ran an article last week about students left stranded as the accommodation they had expected to move into was unfinished. It gave an example in Portsmouth where a girl had to be put up in a hotel with no cooking facilities and away from her course mates.
Accommodation not ready
Students have been arriving from overseas to discover that their room isn’t ready. At the same time as not being able to get into their rooms, students are being asked to pay for the non-existent accommodation, in some cases with a small compensation payment made to them. 22 private blocks of student housing in cities including Swansea and Lincoln are unfinished as term begins, and that amounts to 1/3 of all the student accommodation that’s going up just now.
In the case of Portsmouth University, it’s as angry as anyone else as this is private accommodation it has no control over. It appears that this sort of construction comes with little accountability or consumer protection. It isn’t covered by Universities UK’s code of conduct because it is private development. The Office for Students doesn’t have powers to regulate it either. The government sees universities as autonomous and says that it doesn’t involve itself with student acommodation. The developer of the building in Portsmouth blames the contractors.
In Glasgow, students have moved into flats that haven’t yet undergone a fire audit. The developer hadn’t obtained a certificate from Glasgow City Council to confirm that the building was finished, and without that the audit couldn’t be done. That didn’t stop the developer from allowing students to move in. There’s no gas certificate either. The fire service has been called out on average once a month to the block, mainly for cooking-related incidents.
In their defence, the developers felt they had a responsibility to house the students in a building that they were sure met regulations, and that the alarms went off because sensors were too effective. The situation is under review by the council.
So against that backdrop, what can students expect in the way of quality, energy efficiency and comfort once they are able to move in? Last year Knight Frank and UCAS released a survey of the views of 70,000 students on the factors influencing their choice of accommodation. Clearly this report is intended for the developer and landlord market, but what it leaves out is revealing. There is not one single mention of energy efficiency. On the basis that the students could only answer the survey questions asked, presumably neither Knight Frank nor UCAS considered energy efficiency worth asking about.
Another Knight Frank report issued this year looks at the commercial opportunities of student housing without any mention of the value of energy efficiency to the market. Set against this the view from student group Save the Student that poor living conditions are just accepted as part of the student experience in the UK.
Little quantified information is available on the energy efficiency of the vast majority of legacy student accommodation in the UK. Anecdotally we know it can be expensive on heating and hot water, chilly and damp. Every report I’ve found researching this feature focusses on the cost and availability of accommodation and the commercial opportunities for investors. There are some good news stories, but usually these are around new developments that are going up and only a minority of students will live in those.
Future students of the University of Leicester might find themselves living in one of seven new blocks with an emphasis on energy efficiency. These are being delivered as part of a wider contract including teaching and office facilities. Energy efficiencies will be achieved through a number of measures, including solar panels, a gas-fired combined heat and power system, and LED lighting.
The developer behind the project, ENGIE, has created this type of housing before. ENGIE is a big French company with many operating divisions and a dedicated UK and Ireland arm. Originally a power company, ENGIE now concentrates on renewables and services. As well as providing new student accommodation, ENGIE retains and refurbishes older facilities. Refurbishing a grade II listed building forms part of the works at the University of Leicester. ENGIE has recently won a contract to provide a similar scheme for the University of Kingston in London, focussing on redesign and refreshing with a focus on optimising energy efficiency.
The University of Cambridge is about to construct passivhaus graduate housing for King’s College in a conservation area. Sadly a row of art deco houses have fallen casualty to this development as the level of work needed to them would have left them without many original features. The architect describes the proposed timber-framed replacements as “designed to last”, which is reassuring. Interestingly, given the different building standards we’ve looked at lately – BREEAM, LEED and WELL – this project has been assessed against a range of measures. These include “excellence in health and wellbeing; landscape and nature; water; materials and waste; community and neighbourhood; and construction impacts.”
Another approach is the ZEDpod. ZEDpods describes its housing as “a fast, low cost, sustainable solution for expanding on-campus accommodation,”. ZEDpods are designed to go on unused bits of land and above car parks. It goes up in just a few weeks and crucially is a low energy solution that goes so far as to describe itself as zero carbon. The units are fully fitted out during construction, and can come down as quickly and simply as they go up. They can even be relocated. The idea is to afford universities flexible accommodation options, but it also affords energy efficient student accommodation on a less grand scale than major developments.
ZEDpods are modular housing made up of prefab elements. They are highly insulated and triple glazed, maximise daylight and use heat recovery ventilation. They also feature solar panels and heat pumps for hot water. The first units in the UK are going up on college land in Bedford but rather than for students these are for affordable housing for Bedford’s nurses, teachers and firefighters. The land is being provided by Central Befordshire College, which intends to use the construction as a teaching opportunity on eco-friendly building methods. Further ZEDpod developments are at the planning stage.
Ultimately student housing in the UK remains a lottery. With students potentially going to the other end of the country to study, much has to be taken on trust for first year accommodation. The vast majority of student housing wasn’t built to good energy efficiency standards and landlords have little incentive to upgrade their properties all the while that the investment market doesn’t prioritise or rewardsenergy efficiencies. It’s encouraging to see developers featuring energy efficiency in new developments, but ultimately this is a drop in the ocean. Student housing is an area where there is a great deal more to be done if all our students are to spend their university years in affordable and comfortable accommodation.
Three per cent annual efficiency (this is nothing to do with the American militia movement). The Three Per Cent Club is a group of governments and supporting organisations working together to make a three per cent improvement in public energy efficiencies.
What’s a supporting organisation in this context?
Financial institutions such as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, bodies such as the IEA, and some private sector bodies. They agree to set the same goals as the governments. They work together across countries to develop policy and implement projects by getting their hands dirty.
Who’s in the club?
As of last month there are 15 countries including the UK, Argentina, Denmark and Honduras. The 3% target was announced at the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit. It’s intended to meet climate goals and enhance economic prosperity, and will create sufficient annual energy efficiency improvements to meet the Paris Agreement.
What’s brought this about?
It was inspired by a report put out by the International Energy Agency, titled Energy Efficiency 2018.
What did that have to say?
Its core finding was that the energy demands of rising economic activity are outpacing energy efficiency improvements. At the same time though efficiency policies have made a significant impact. The report looks at what could happen if countries worked together to decouple economic development from rising energy consumption.
What is the current rate of global progress on improving energy efficiency?
What opportunities are available to scale up global efforts on energy efficiency to 2040?
What multiple benefits does energy efficiency deliver, and how might these grow in future?
What are the current energy efficiency trends in the transport, buildings, and industry sectors?
What are current levels of investment in energy efficiency and by how much does investment need to increase in future to realise the opportunity of the Efficient World Scenario?
What innovations in energy efficiency finance and business models could be expanded to drive greater levels of energy efficiency investment?
The report comes out, and then why did the Three Per Cent Club come about on the back of it?
The report showed that energy efficiency progress has slowed since 2015 due to the demands of growing economies. Against that backdrop, the rationale of the three per cent club is that although there is massive scope to save energy globally – energy efficiency has been described as a ‘global resource’ – many countries are struggling to really get to grips with it and realise the benefits. By working together and sharing resources, these countries expect to support energy efficiency globally. Essentially, right now, global energy demand is rising and opportunities are being missed.
Inefficiencies are snowballing which causes problems later on. How will the three per cent club help other countries remove these inefficiencies?
By getting countries to make specific energy efficiency commitments. At last month’s Climate Week, Eric Rondolat of Signify addressed the General Assembly of the UN and exhorted more countries to join and to revise their national commitments.
They are providers of LED lightbulbs and used to be known as Philips Lighting. Fitting LED lighting is one of the most effective quick-fix energy efficiency improvements.
According to the IEA website if savings had been properly maximised, in the last year the planet could have used 2.2 million barrels of oil fewer PER DAY. There are a few other statistics on potential savings on the IEA website if you want to look those up. Essentially the IEA wants to reverse the current trend.
So have more output for less energy use?
Yes. The IEA has come up with something called the Efficient World Scenario. This world had 20% more people, 60% more building space and double the GDP, but only a marginal energy increase. This scenario also meets the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 7.
Goal 7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. This in turn underpins the Sustainable Development Goals which cover areas including healthcare, eradication of poverty, water supply and industrialisation. The IEA states that its Efficient World Scenario is cost-effective and based on existing technologies.
What kind of savings could we see in this scenario?
Initially there would be a peak in emissions, but by 2040 emissions would be 12% less than today. It would cut air pollutants including sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter by 1/3 compared to today. Less polluting cooking methods would remove a million household air pollution deaths annually by 2040.
The onus looks to be falling on emerging economies to grow more sustainably. Can the worst offenders make the biggest savings?
Apparently so. The IEA scenario sees them become 50% less energy intensive. China and India would account for 1/3 of worldwide energy demand by 2040 but also over 1/3 of total energy demand savings. That’s equivalent to saving of $500 billion in fossil fuel imports.
And it’s in putting together the nuts and bolts to achieve these sorts of savings that the Three Per Cent Club can help?
Yes. The idea is that good policy in one country forms the basis for good policy in another. It comes down to sharing good ideas and making commitments.
It has knock-ons in other areas too – energy security, job creation, for example.
Apart from the fact that we have no choice but to reduce energy use, considerations such as energy security and job creation are a big upside. We have to hope that the actions of the Three Per Cent Club will bring this home to countries struggling to achieve energy savings so that they can start to feel the benefits.
Renewable energy in Wales
The Energy Saving Trust and Carbon Trust together lead a consortium that delivers the Welsh Government Energy Service. This was previously delivered under the names Green Growth Wales and the Local Energy Service. Now a year old, the new group is a single point of contact supporting Welsh public sector and community groups through financial and technical support to develop renewable energy schemes. Installation loans are provided through the Wales Funding Programme and the Welsh Energy Loan Fund on a low- or no-interest basis.
Since 2015 the Welsh government has sunk more than £55m zero interest loans into the public sector in Wales and supported another £27m energy and energy efficiency projects that had obtained funding from elsewhere. This has helped to secure a reduction of 800,000 tonnes of carbon.
As we were hearing about with the IEA’s Efficient World Scenario, the move to a low carbon economy presents Wales with opportunities. It can bring economic and social benefits but also requires strong policies and comes with a requirement to meet carbon targets. Wales is lining up its ducks nicely by amending land-use planning and policy to support its energy ambitions. An article on the Welsh government website describes an approach where local authorities view renewable resources as “valuable assets supporting prosperity”. Local authorities are now required to include renewable energy generation targets in their local plans.
The new service will support regional energy planning while increasing local ownership of assets. The intended knock-on of this is that the area around a renewable generation facility will feel the benefit directly in reduced bills, so the effect will be noticed locally. In simple terms, the aim is to keep the benefit in Wales.
Wales plans to be carbon neutral by 2030, now only just over a decade away. The Welsh government sees the public sector as playing a pivotal role in this, and drawing on the resources of the nascent energy service. The sector is expected to introduce change while maintaining continuity, which requires a meticulous approach. The main onus on the public sector is to use its existing assets for generation – so buildings, land, funding. The best results will be obtained by working with local communities for the best outcomes for all.
One project supported by the Energy Saving Trust is the smart electrification of Welsh rail lines. The Green Valley Lines scheme is looking at plans to site community-owned renewable electricity next to commuter routes around Cardiff. The rail line could access cheap, low-carbon power and the community benefits from its ownership of the plant. Currently the project is assessing the best spots for solar panels, and is also examining the potential for community wind turbines. This is part of the magnificently-named Riding Sunbeams project which we mentioned before in our look at energy efficiency in public transport.
Institute of Welsh Affairs report
Despite all this, there are calls for more investment. Currently 2% of the Welsh block grant is earmarked for energy. The Institute of Welsh Affairs describes this as “inadequate” if Wales is to meet its targets. The IWA believes Wales can run 100% on renewable energy by 2035 and support over 20,000 jobs in the process. In March this year the IWA reported on a three year long research project in front of industry figures and politicians in Cardiff. The IWA identifies all the relevant powers as in the hands of the Welsh government.
In the immediate term the IWA wants to see a cash injection that it describes as a “low carbon economic stimulus” to develop locally-owned energy projects (ie more money very fast to accelerate the Welsh government’s existing plans in this area), together with a strong emphasis on energy efficiency improvements to nearly 900,000 homes. The IWA wants to see these homes benefit from renewable technologies including ground source heat pumps, complemented by sources of heat such as biogas and biomass. It favours district heating networks, some of which are already operating but not without controversy.
One of the IWA’s demands is for a “general lack of knowledge and expertise” about renewables to be addressed, together with the adoption of a “radical new approach” to transport. The IWA identifies marine energy generation as a niche Wales could exploit, and it’s calling for leadership to make progress in these areas.
Neath Port Talbot
Some areas however are already striding ahead. Neath Port Talbot Council has the largest energy generation capacity and has so far generated about 1122 GWh. Neath Port Talbot has achieved this through onshore wind, biomass, solar and other schemes. Neath Port Talbot Council is optimizing this generation by developing a new Decarbonisation and Renewable Energy Strategy.
The Council has a number of schemes on the go, including an energy research facility, solar installations across the area, and the implementation of alternative fuels within its fleet. It has also come up with the Homes as Power Stations project. A pilot project has seen 16 flats and houses built that will generate, store and release energy, so they don’t need boilers.
The Welsh government is prioritising wind power. New government proposals identify 11 priority areas that will have a presumption in favour of development for wind projects over 10 MW. Another four areas will prioritise solar generation. There’s a consultation on the proposals open until 1st November – follow the link in the notes if you’d like to comment.
Next week Energy UK holds its 7th annual conference at the QEII conference centre in London. Titled Powering the Future, this year’s event is on Tuesday 15th October and there’s still time to register.
It describes itself as “one of the biggest and most influential set-piece annual energy conferences” bringing together “generators, suppliers, regulators, politicians and consumer groups to address the important industry challenges.” The programme includes sessions on investment and infrastructure; delivering net-zero, smart energy systems and the future of the retail market and consumer expectations. Tickets are £395 ex VAT for members, £495 ex VAT for non-members.
And what are we up to? We’ve just acquired a laser cutter, which will remove the delays we’ve had and generally make everything a lot smoother. We’re building Petflaps this week ready to fulfil orders. We’re always very happy to help pre-purchase, so if you have any queries about the Petflap please don’t hesitate to get in touch ast firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for listening to episode 19 of the Energy Efficiency Podcast. Until next time you can find us on both Twitter and Instagram as Ecoflap, and on Twitter we also tweet as The Petflap. Next week: energy efficiency in tea production (really, this time), food recycling, and the Air Quality Grant Scheme.
Music credit: “Werq” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
Student Switch Off: The Energy Efficiency Podcast - episode 18
Student Switch Off
Welcome to Student Switch Off: The Energy Efficiency Podcast – episode 18, the podcast that brings you a mix of energy efficiency news, products and tips all year round. We’re interested in profiling people and products involved in promoting energy efficiency habits, products and information, so please do get in touch if you have something to contribute. This week: energy efficiency in student housing, the role of Ofgem, and the Champions of the Earth award.
But before we get on with our advertised features, Business Green reported recently that Tefal has launched a recycling scheme together with Sainsbury’s, just in time for last week’s Recycle Week campaign that we looked at in the last episode. The idea is that customers return worn out pans, and in return get a 1/3 discount on Tefal’s So Recycled range. 300 Sainsbury’s stores will have collection points open until mid-October.
You won’t be surprised to hear that the scheme coincides with Tefal launching a new range of non-stick pans made wholly from recycled aluminium. According to Tefal, the combination of recycled materials and their energy efficient processes makes these pans 90% less emitting to produce. These pans’ non-stick coating is designed to last twice as long, so the cookware will have longevity, something that always makes a healthy contribution to the lifetime emissions value of an item. To complement the pans, Tefal has produced a range of utensils made with 95% recycled materials.
A quick look at pan recycling on council websites shows that in general they aren’t collected kerbside. Depending on what they’re made from they could go in the scrap metal hopper at the tip. Donating to the Tefal-Sainsbury’s scheme seems a good move even if you aren’t looking to buy a Tefal replacement. Looking in charity shops reveals a huge choice of cookware, most of which is in good condition and likely to last another good few years.
Tefal isn’t the only company incorporating recycled material into its pots and pans. Dutch company COMBEKK casts Dutch ovens in Holland – you don’t get much more authentic than that – using the traditional method of casting iron in sand moulds. It describes its products as 100% recycled. A stamp on the foot of each pan tells you what the main recycled material is in any given pan. It might be a train track or a prison bar. Incidentally, if you make your own sourdough bread, a Dutch oven is meant to be great for baking it in.
British company Crane, which describes itself as a ‘microbrand’, produces smart pots and pans with up to 30% recycled materials. Their products are 100% recyclable too.
Student Switch Off
Our younger daughter’s just applied to university, so next year we’ll be waving off another child to start the higher education journey. Most students in the UK go away to university, in other words they don’t live at home while they’re studying. We have an extraordinary density of higher education settings in the UK and most kids can choose the setting that offers the course that best suits them, even if it means moving over 300 miles away, which is one option our daughter’s looking at.
Student accommodation and leisure facilities are an area ripe for energy efficiency improvements, something that hasn’t been lost on those providing it. These days providing student housing is almost a standalone business for some universities and colleges. Higher education settings combine a domestic element to a greater or lesser extent, and a business environment, presenting the full gamut of both problems and opportunity for improvement.
From our experience and that of friends’ kids, student accommodation varies hugely in facilities, comfort and good management. It’s an area we’ve seen poorly designed and badly delivered, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Students can feel very much at the end of a long chain when it comes to accommodation provision, and there are something you can’t easily change, like anti-social neighbours or being a 40 minute bus ride from lectures on a wet November morning. Students are taking some matters into their own hands.
Student Switch Off
SAVES2 stands for Students Achieving Valuable Energy Savings 2. It’s an international energy saving competition. Nearly 220,000 students will promote energy saving habits among their peers to help them keep down bills. There’s one strand for those in private rented housing, and one for those in university accommodation. Student energy saving campaigns have been run before, but what makes this one different is its scope. Local or short-term schemes have run before, but nothing engaging students across the whole academic year and between several countries and connecting them.
Student Switch Off runs in university accommodation. For those not familiar with how this works, many universities and colleges can’t provide in-house accommodation for all three (or sometimes four) years of a typical undergraduate degree in the UK. In this situation, in the second year and often beyond, students have to find private rented accommodation near their college. This can be an absolute lottery with a good chance of ending up in sub-standard rooms that are a nightmare to keep warm. Bear in mind that in the UK the university year starts in late September and ends in late spring, so students are in those rooms in the coldest, wettest months.
Some colleges however, including many Oxford and Cambridge colleges, can provide rooms in college for the full three years and this is known as university accommodation. It’s worth bearing in mind that much, though far from all, of this type of accommodation is very much historic and usually listed, which immediately complicates energy saving. Student Switch Off applies to this latter set-up.
The idea is to train student ambassadors in each dormitory who then encourage their peers to save energy. It’s a race, and there are prizes! We’re talking about the nation’s teenagers so the campaign uses social media, as well as quizzes and photo competitions to raise awareness. Each competition runs an energy dashboard which updates in real time. Each dormitory rises or falls through the ranks depending on how well its students do with saving energy.
The strand for students in private rented accommodation is known as SAVES. This is distinct from SAVES2, which is the name of the overall competition combining both strands, so that’s a bit confusing. SAVES will target 100,000 students and help them to make better informed decisions when choosing their accommodation and route them towards more efficient properties. This arm of the competition partners with “smart meter delivery agencies” to get the point across to students and, it has to be said, their families. Most 18/19 year olds aren’t making these decisions alone.
Interestingly, this arm of the competition includes bill management. Some private rented accommodation has an ‘all-in’ rent, where bills are included, whereas others charge a more basic rent but expect students to manage bills between them. For those having to see to it for themselves, the bill management could be a very useful tool, and good practice for the future.
In the UK the project is being co-ordinated by the NUS, the National Union of Students, which has received nearly E380,000 from the EU for the project. There are colleges taking part from countries including Belgium, Greece, Ireland, Lithuania, Romania and Bulgaria. International twinning encourages international competition between dormitories.
This project first ran in the academic year 2014/15 and then again the following year – the current competition starts with this new academic year now. However the NUS first ran its Student Switch Off (SSO) in 2006. Before SAVES began, the SSO was delivered at 54 universities, reached 130,000 students and delivered average energy savings of 6% per participating dormitory. This information needed to be collated and presented once the SSO was over, but SAVES can deliver immediate performance information. In this way it presented an opportunity to test how well smart meters provide real time information, something we looked at last week in the energy efficiency innovation competitions being run by the UK government.
SAVES’ primary aim was for an 8% reduction in energy use per participating setting. Its second aim was to instill good habits in young adults at a change point in their lives, so that they would take those habits forward into their adult life. Studies have shown that new habits formed at these pivotal moments can go deep. Interestingly this was borne out by a study that showed that first year students were more receptive to campaigns of this sort than those who had been at college a year or more already.
The habits SAVES intended to instill are simple but effective:
– turning off lights
– switching off appliances that aren’t in use
– putting lids on pans on the hob
– putting a jumper on instead of turning up the heating – the obvious issue here is shared accommodation with one thermostat and varying personal comfort levels
– not overfilling the kettle
– opening the window before putting on the air conditioning – not such an issue in UK universities, especially as students are not usually in their student housing in the warmer weather here
Previous studies of the local, shorter-term variety show that university halls of residence make good energy savings on the back of a campaign – up to 30%. These studies showed that people were most motivated by the actions of those around them. The previous Student Switch Off campaign was considered a success with well-defined aims that it achieved.
For this next part we’re drawing on a PDF download of a review into the 2017/18 Student Switch Off campaign. The research is by Richard Bull of De Montfort University, Neil Jennings and Joanna Romanowicz of the NUS, and Marina Laskari of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens.
For the purposes of this research, a control group was set up in halls in Linkoping in Sweden. It had a high number of residents and baseline information that was easy to access. There were no exercises going on that could skew the figures.
The halls of residence monitored for the success of the campaign were in Cyprus, Greece, Lithuania, Sweden and the UK. I think this quote is interesting as it shows a particular issue in providing student accommodation in the UK:
“In all countries except for the UK 60 % or more of respondents lived in dorms of the same dorm provider in both years. In the UK this percentage was only 7 % because the vast majority of students move out into the private-rented sector each year.”
Students were studied over two years to see whether they implemented in their second year habits formed in their first. At the end of their first year students felt that their awareness of energy saving had increased “a little”, but of course students will arrive at university with varying habits instilled in them by their parents. Someone already extremely aware of how to save energy won’t increase their awareness much after a campaign but yet they’ll be an ideal dormitory resident from an energy saving point of view.
In the questionnaires given to students, family came out as one of the three strongest influences on energy saving awareness, together with documentaries and, crucially, Student Switch Off. This was the case across the five participating countries in both years.
According to the questionnaires, three habits showed a statistical increase: putting a lid on pans, boiling just the right amount of water in a kettle, and turning off electronic appliances. Most of the students reached by this earlier campaigns made changes to their behaviour and almost all of those took their new habits with them into post-halls life. Part of their motivation was money-saving. The halls of residence taking part in the campaign showed energy savings significantly outpacing those in the control building – over 12% compared to about 2%, figures that stayed similar in the second year.
There’s more research to be done into how to make these campaigns as sticky as possible. Students in all the participating countries in the first two years preferred to rate themselves against universities in their own countries, not seeing a value in competing against a country they weren’t familiar with. Enthusiasm for looking at the dashboard tended to fade but did have a value, particularly in stimulating competition and therefore energy saving behaviours. In halls of residence students have little control over the delivery of energy, which can limit their enthusiasm.
If you’d like a quick snapshot of how the participating universities are doing in the current campaign, you can visit https://switchoff.nus.org.uk and look at the dashboard for universities including Cambridge, University College Cork, The University of Liverpool, the University of Bucharest and the Technical University of Crete. Many UK universities have a Student Switch Off stall at the Freshers’ Fair, so if you have children off to college any minute now, why not suggest they have a look?
Hello. What are we talking about this week?
The Office of Gas and Electricity Markets.
Yes, supporting the Gas and Electricity Markets Authority which is also described as its governing body, so that’s clear.
What’s the specific purpose of Ofgem?
Quoting Wikipedia, Ofgem “is the government regulator for the electricity and downstream natural gas markets in Great Britain. It was formed by the merger of the Office of Electricity Regulation (OFFER) and Office of Gas Supply (Ofgas).”
Is it governmental?
No. It describes itself on its website as “a non-ministerial government department and an independent National Regulatory Authority”. It quickly becomes quite Byzantine trying to work out its exact structure. It makes reference to GEMA on its website too. In the end, it’s there to protect consumers.
Is that when an energy company goes bust?
Yes, it helps in that situation but it does far more than that. When an energy company goes bust, as sadly several small providers have this year, Ofgem organises a new supply for consumers and ensures they aren’t cut off. Ofgem’s remit is much broader than that though, aiming to protect customers from the worst effects of greenhouse gases, and ensuring security of supply at a macro level.
Does it have much clout?
It does actually. It’s imposed hefty fines on power companies – £12 million on E.ON five years ago for mis-selling, ie poor sales practice, getting people, specifically what’s termed ‘vulnerable customers’ (that’s people with considerations of old age, illness, poverty and/or disability) to sign up to plans that weren’t in their best interests. E.ON wasn’t found to have been malicious, but Ofgem reckoned management hadn’t done much to identify any problems or act on them when they came to light.
So Ofgem is a watchdog.
It’s that too. It has several roles and breaks off into all sorts of specialisms once you start examining it. For instance Smarter Grids & Governance, Finance and Risk Management, Smart Metering Delivery.
Smart metering again.
Yes, it’s obviously the future. Before the opening up and privatisation of gas and electricity services under the Thatcher government in the 80s, Ofgem’s sort of predecessor existed to set price controls. That meant the monopoly suppliers couldn’t charge outrageous prices. By mid-1999 both gas and electricity markets were open to multiple players and by 2002 the price controls had been removed bit by bit.
Because Ofgem assumed that competition between the suppliers would keep prices down. That was more or less the case for a couple of years, but then in 2004 Ofgem began the Energy Supply Probe on the back of rising household debt and increasing prices in many sectors. The result was a package of measures to tackle fuel poverty and other issues, particularly as they affected vulnerable consumers. At this point Ofgem lost its price-capping powers, and it’s worth noting that according to OVOEnergy, since then energy prices have risen by 160%.
Competitions & Markets Authority
In 2014 Ofgem announced a Competition and Markets Authority investigation into the major energy companies at the time: Centrica, SSE plc, RWE npower, E.ON, Scottish Power and EDF Energy. Ofgem saw it as a draining the swamp-type exercise that would restore consumer trust in the big players and provide a clear basis for energy sales in future. It was also intended to reassure investors.
The Competitions and Markets Authority recommended that suppliers provide details to their competitors of any households that had been on the most expensive tariffs for more than three years.
Companies had to tell other companies who was ripe for a change? Controversial.
Exactly. Ofgem decided to implement the recommendation. Ofgem also imposed an interim price cap on consumers who used pre-payment meters, as those have traditionally been a very expensive way to use energy.
Ofgem looks after consumers, keeps an eye on what suppliers are up to and tries to keep environmental concerns in play.
Yes, all that, and it regulates the companies that provide supply infrastructure.
Pipes and so on?
Yes, and wires. They also monitor companies’ performance and keep tabs on complaints. Ofgem ensures that companies behave ethically towards consumers.
What does that involve?
A few things including offering different methods of payment, tracking disconnections and supporting energy saving upgrades, something we looked at in episode 11 in our feature on the grants available for works in the home. Ofgem wants consumers to have access to clear information about tariffs and be able to compare clearly across companies and to end the practice of making the most attractive tariffs available only to new customers.
Was that a problem area?
Oh yes. Customers had no idea what tariff they were on as it was so complicated, and people found themselves locked into poor value tariffs while other more recent customers had a better deal. This came out of Ofgem’s 2013 Retail Market Review.
Simpler tariffs and clearer bills
Ofgem recommended a much simpler tariff set-up – only one rate per tariff so you knew what your power was costing you. Keep the tariffs to four core offerings. Clearer bills with information summarised in such a way that customers could compare it with what other companies were offering, and for companies to proactively tell customers if they were eligible for a more favourable tariff.
All that emphasis on comparing what different companies offer – does that mean it’s easy to switch between suppliers?
It’s certainly a lot easier now than it was, something Ofgem has promoted. Ofgem is responsible for something called the Confidence Code to regulate energy price comparison sites. It means they have to provide fair and unbiased information based on facts and figures. Ofgem has information available on its site on how to switch supplier, complain and get connected to the electricity network in the first place.
Does Ofgem do a good job?
Well listening to all that I think it certainly wants to. It’s made real strides in consumer protection but I’m sure it would like to have more powers. It’s demanded ‘consumer redress’ powers from the government so that it can take heftier action against companies that breach the terms of their license, and that’s been included in the new Energy Bill. Ofgem is now eying the distribution network operators, the companies that deliver electricity from the National Grid to your home. It’s not an open market.
How much is it worth?
A cool £500 million. In 2015 Ofgem introduced rules and a code of conduct to open up this area of operations to smaller players. The new rules mean that these Distribution Network Operators (DNOs) can’t operate across as many aspects of the business now, and in any area where there’s no choice but to have one company running all the aspects of delivery, they have to be open with supplying technical information to would-be competitors.
It sounds like we’re definitely better off for having Ofgem.
I’d say so for sure. If you want to get in touch with Ofgem visit the site and follow the link to what you want to do.
Champions of the Earth Awards
Champions of the Earth is the United Nations Environment Award. It’s the UN’s highest environmental honour. It was established in 2005 to recognise outstanding environmental leadership. This year’s winner in the Policy Leadership category is Costa Rica. Awarded by the United Nations Environment Program, UNEP, Costa Rica was chosen this year for its role in protecting nature and its ambitious policies to combat climate change.
One element of this is Costa Rica’s detailed plan to achieve net zero by 2050. These plans can be a template for other countries to curb their emissions. Costa Rica has managed to generate a walloping 98% of its energy from renewable sources. This meant its state-owned power provider could stop buying energy from the Regional Electricity Market and instead sell it back to other Central American nations.
75% of this renewable comes from hydro, and Costa Rica managed to produce power this way despite drought. It puts this achievement down to planning and optimisation of resources, including geothermal capacity. It now has seven geothermal plants. These use the power contained in volcanic steam, and make Costa Rica the third biggest producer of geothermal power in the Americas.
This dry spell was a big test of Costa Rica’s plans for renewable energy. Costa Rica now considers its dependence on fossil fuels is over and that it is well on track to hit its target of using 100% renewable power by 2030. By then it expects about 70% of all taxis and buses to run on electricity with full electrification by its net zero target date of 2050.
If you’re interested in the nitty gritty of Costa Rica’s renewable systems, follow the link to the Ecowatch article.
Costa Rica has made an enormous effort to reforest the land. Decades of deforestation have been reversed and forest now covers 53% of the country. Around half of its land is now under some form of protection.
Its president, Carlos Alvarado Quesada, is extremely proud of Costa Rica’s achievement but believes it can achieve far more. He accepted the award on behalf of the entire population, which incidentally produces only 0.4% of global emissions yet has gone to these lengths to reduce that to virtually nil, and its future citizens.
Of course this hasn’t happened overnight. Costa Rica has worked on innovative environmental policies for the past 50 years. As it reduces dependence on fossil fuels, it’s created employment and will continue to do so in areas including waste management, sustainable agriculture and providing clean public transport.
UN Climate Change Conference
Costa Rica is developing an environmental leadership role. It’s co-leading the UN Climate Change Conference in Santiago, Chile, this December. Although Chile leads the conference, Costa Rica will be there to drive countries to make ever more ambitious commitments, and it will host a preparatory meeting this month.
UNEP’s executive director, Inger Anderson, described Costa Rica as “a pioneer in the protection of peace and nature and sets an example for the region and for the world.” and as rising to the challenge. To quote the UN Environment website:
“Officials say Costa Rica aims to change the paradigm of development, envisioning a consumption and production system that generates an environmental surplus rather than a deficit.”
Future Policy Award
Costa Rica isn’t new to this sort of thing. In 2010 it was awarded the Future Policy Award by the World Future Council in recognition of its 1998 biodiversity law. Its objective is to conserve biodiversity, use resources sustainably and ensure equal distribution of benefits and costs. It’s been considered a success and a model for other nations to follow. For the detail on that follow the link to thereddesk.org, but here’s a quick peek at its flavour:
“Art.11 enacts the preventative and precautionary principles. It also states that biodiversity should be used in the public interest (including conservation, food security and the interest of future generations) and that conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity should be integrated across other policy areas.”
The Champions of the Earth Awards began in 2015, and typically award five to seven laureates each year, from private and public businesses, and civil society. Two years ago a Young Champions of the Earth section was added. There are no cash prizes. Previous winners include Narendra Modi in 2018 for Policy Leadership, The Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy in 2016 for Entrepreneurial Vision, and Albert II, Prince of Monaco, for his commitment to sustainable development in Monaco.
The Guardian would like to encourage you to pick up a spade and volunteer to plant a tree on the 30th November as part of the Big Climate Fightback. The Guardian describes it as the biggest mass tree-planting campaign in the UK’s history. Denmark recently ran something a bit similar with its TV fundraising evening asking people to pay for trees to be planted. In the UK you can take more direct action by running a tree-planting event. This can be anywhere you have permission.
The Woodland Trust wants a tree planted for every person in the country over the next five years. It’s providing native broadleaf varieties for the event, such as oak, birch and hawthorn. Remember trees will need to be cared for too so tree-planting groups are encouraged to stay together after the planting and look after their saplings.
You can pledge to take part through the Woodland Trust website. So far over 10,000 people have taken part but the Woodland Trust is hoping for many more, ideally 1 million. Go sign up now!
And what have we been up to? After our recent problems with parts cutting we’ve been looking at our options to bring that in-house. We still hope to have the Letterplate Eco available before the end of this year. If you’d like to be notified when it’s available please email email@example.com.
Thank you for listening to episode 18 of the Energy Efficiency Podcast. Until next time you can find us on both Twitter and Instagram as Ecoflap, and on Twitter we also tweet as The Petflap. Next week: energy efficiency in tea production, food recycling, and the Three PerCent Club.
Music credit: “Werq” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
Recycle Week: The Energy Efficiency Podcast - episode 17
Welcome to Recycle Week: The Energy Efficiency Podcast – episode 17, the podcast that brings you a mix of energy efficiency news, products and tips all year round. We’re interested in profiling people and products involved in promoting energy efficiency habits, products and information, so please do get in touch if you have something to contribute. This week: energy efficiency in zoos, competitions for energy efficiency innovation, and mineral wool insulation.
But before we get on with our advertised features, this week is RecycleWeek, now in its 17th year. The week is run by Recycle Now, the national recycling campaign for England. Recycle Now is funded by the UK government and managed by WRAP. WRAP is The Waste and Resources Action Programme, a British charity that “works with governments, businesses and communities to deliver practical solutions to improve resource efficiency,”.
Nation of recyclers
According to Recycle Now’s campaign this week, things are improving. Recycle Now describes us as “a nation of recyclers” and says we’re recycling more than ever before. 60% of households are now recycling more than they were a year ago, due, according to Recycle Now, to environmental concerns. As is often the case this is partly driven by children influencing their parents to make changes at home. My own son asked yesterday if I could make a special effort not to buy things in plastic packaging – something he knows I already prioritise. He added “I know it means we won’t eat anything” because he’s a savvy kid and knows that if you shop at the supermarket, it’s hard to avoid plastic. Fortunately I don’t think it will be that bad!
Recycle Now includes lots of resources on its campaign site to help you navigate the trickier areas of recycling. It has a list of awkward items such as computers, batteries, paint and lightbulbs and provides a location-based search facility so you can find out where to take them for recycling.
It includes an alphabetical list of information about what can and can’t be recycled. Sticky tape, crisp packets, cotton buds and squeezable tubes aren’t recyclable. Printer cartridges, floor and wall tiles, building rubble and small electrical items often can be, but not kerbside and you’ll need to check with your local tip whether they take them for recycling.
How to make a difference
The campaign site profiles several people who are taking steps to make a difference. If I’m going to be critical it’s that it focusses on recycling rather than a habit change – recycling your spray bottle pumps is a bit mmm when you could avoid buying them in the first place. Reminding your parents to recycle shampoo bottles is all well and good, but how about suggesting they use shampoo bars instead?
Perhaps the clue’s in the name – it’s RecycleWeek not Reduce Week or Reuse Weekow. Perhaps, realistically, a campaign is more likely to get results if it requires only a small habit change, so slinging something in the recycling instead of into the bin, rather than a big habit change such as switching away from your favourite cleaning product or shampoo.
Our small tip for Recycle Week is to have an easily portable recycling bin next to your ordinary bin. Absolutely zero effort is required to put recycling in the right bin. Ask a passing child to take it out to the green bin outside and empty it. They’ll get a warm glow from feeling useful.
Energy Efficiency in Zoos
Zoos present a particular energy efficiency challenge. They are constructs that keep animals in more or less artifically created areas and have to keep those animals comfortably housed, appropriately fed, cleaned out, and cared for medically without compromise. That in itself is a huge challenge, especially for larger zoos keeping a wide variety of animals, from butterflies to ostriches.
Add in to that all the energy considerations of running a visitor attraction and you have at least two types of business to run. This becomes ever more of an issue as zoos increase the land available for their stock, and turn a day at the zoo into a nature park adventure. Add to that the massive ethical onus of meeting the needs of animals whom we have put in a position to be unable to fend for themselves.
On the other hand, there must also be almost limitless scope to improve energy efficiency. All the standard considerations we’ve already looked at will apply to buildings mostly inhabited by humans (on the basis that you can’t ask the lions to turn their own lights out once the visitors go home). Feeding and transporting those humans can be designed to be energy efficient.
As with all the sectors we’ve looked at so far, zoos can use the planned cycle of routine maintenance and equipment replacement to make sure all equipment is running at optimum efficiency and that new kit can be the most energy efficient the budget can run to. Working with the planned cycle must be particularly important at a zoo, where you don’t want to have to be clearing the chimps out of their enclosure for works any more often than is really essential.
Three zoos come under the umbrella of Zoos Victoria, in Australia. These are Healesville Sanctuary, Melbourne Zoo and Werribee Open Range Zoo. The Australian Government’s National Carbon Offset Standard has certified Zoos Australia as carbon neutral. To quote their site, “Our residual carbon is offset in areas that have high eco-benefits in biodiversity protection and conservation as well as community development.”
Zoos Victoria is working across a number of operational areas to reduce its energy use. As you can imagine, animal waste is a big feature of zoo life – something Zoos Victoria refers to as “complex organic waste streams”. With support from Myer Foundation, an Australian philanthropic organisation, the Zoo has acquired a Hot Rot system. This takes not only animal poo but also food waste from the cafe, animal feed and plant detritus. The end product is compost. Fun fact: 800kg of elephant waste is produced at Melbourne Zoo every day alone. At Healesville Sanctuary worms process animal waste, processing up to 400kg of waste a week.
The Detroit Zoological Society is taking this one step further and using animal and human waste to power its animal hospital. Approved waste will go into its anaerobic digester. This will save the Zoo about $80,000 a year and so the digester will pay for itself in about 10 years.
Using animal poo to nurture the zoo grounds is standard procedure. Many zoos also sell it to the public for manure. Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, USA, has used this to turn a $60,000 annual bill for disposing of animal poo into a $20,000 profit from sales of compost. Among the public buying compost from Woodland Park there’s stiff competition to get the rhino poo compost.
However not all animal poo is equal when it comes to composting. Because of disease transmission fears, no waste goes into the compost from carnivores or monkeys.
Zoos Victoria tries to show zoos internationally what’s possible. It aimed to send zero waste to landfill by this year (incidentally London Zoo currently sends less than 3% of waste to landfill). A large part of Zoo Victoria’s strategy is dealing with visitor waste. What doesn’t come on to the site doesn’t need to be dealt with, so single-use plastic bottles are now banned from use or sale along with straws and plastic bags. The rest goes into a three bin system, separating types of waste as they’re disposed of.
Zoos Victoria has considered its buildings. It’s double-glazed its butterfly house, and fitted lowered ceilings into exhibits. Computer screens have all been replaced by LCD screens. Older, inefficient computers have been replaced, and computer-related power consumption has dropped by half. You don’t have to be managing tiger packs or meerkat mobs to benefit from this sort of measure.
Zoos Victoria has fitted heat pumps to manage both heating and cooling. The system is designed to make use of waste heat. As a concept rather than specifically at Zoos Victoria, this means that heat generate by cooling facilities in a penguin pool can be used to heat the reptile house. Excess heat from that can warm the ground in the lion enclosure.
Water management is another huge area to address. Melbourne Zoo has its own onsite water treatment plant. It collects water from rain, lake overflows and animal wash-downs. Water is guided to a sedimentation pit where the solids settle and the water sent for treatment. It goes through several filtering processes and is then sterilised and dosed with sodium hypochlorite. The result is cleaner than tap water. This water is used for watering plants, backwashing filters, filling lakes and flushing toilets. Implementing this system has reduced the water Melbourne Zoo takes from the ground and ensures it’s meeting water restrictions. The zoo is using around a quarter of the water it was using 20 years ago. Zoos Victoria has monitored water pipes for leaks and identified major leaks to repair.
Of course water isn’t just a consumable – for many creatures it’s their natural environment. Diergaarde Blijdorp Oceanium in Rotterdam, Netherlands, has a thorough filtering system. It’s frequent filtering means that only 5% of water has to be changed. Fresh ocean water is brought in for the tropical fish. It’s then used for the less fussy creatures, then goes to the seal lions, and finally ends up with the polar bears. This way one set of ocean water is used multiple times.
Sometimes zoos need new buildings. Taronga Zoo in Sydney has built a Green Star 6 star certified building – Green Star is Australia’s sustainable building standard, similar to BREEAM or LEED (look back through previous episodes if you want to hear more about those. We have a dedicated episode on each.).
The new building, The Taronga Institute of Science and Learning, haas two solar rooftop systems. One provides electricity, the other a thermal system to heat drinking water. Taronga’s lemur enclosure uses solar to power its underfloor heating, transforming more than 90% of the incoming solar energy into heat and reducing the zoo’s emissions by about 8 tons a year. The zoo has fitted solar panels on other buildings, some of which powers electric visitor buggies. All the zoo’s electric buggies are now powered by clean electricity generated on-site.
Taronga Western Plains Zoo Dubbo has a smart elephant barn. Yes elephants are smart but in this instance it’s the barn we’re talking about. There are in fact three barns, all of which are powered by their own solar panels. The barns’ construction provides increased insulation and has been designed to maximise the power of natural sunlight to heat the building throughout the year. The barn has louvres fitted, which automatically adjust to allow cross-ventilation. In a last lovely touch, a solar system similar to that in the lemur enclosure heats the elephants’ sand beds.
The volume of solar panels fitted at Taronga Western Plains Zoo allowed it to be accredited as a renewable power station in 2017. It’s not resting on its laurels though. A recent energy audit (that word again – measure and monitor so you know how to improve) – a recent energy audit has shown that voltage optimisation would allow Taronga Western Plains to reduce energy consumption further. The proposed work would result in a walloping 77% energy and carbon saving in the administrative buildings and Zoofari lodge.
Zoos worldwide are proactively looking for ways to improve their carbon footprint and hit net zero. As part of the wider City of Helsinki’s aim to be carbon neutral by 2050, Korkeasaari Zoo is making great strides and setting its own targets as a trailblazer for Helsinki’s carbon neutrality plans. Korkeasaari plans to become carbon neutral by 2025. Work began on this in 2017. Korkeasaari is a particular focus of energy saving as it accounts for quite a chunk of Helsinki’s energy consumption.
The zoo project will be implemented in small phases. As we’ve seen, this is essential when moving animals around is necessary to allow work to be carried out. The zoo has invited students from the Aalto University School of Electric Engineering to come up with suggestions for energy use reduction. These students have written a paper titled “Energy saving in Helsinki zoo” as part of their coursework. It’s long at 87 pages, and is available to download.
It’s not only Taronga that’s taking energy generation into its own hands. Hamerton Zoo in Cambridgeshire, UK, generates its own renewable energy from onsite wind, solar and biomass. It sells its surplus energy to Opus Energy, a small supplier of electricity to businesses. Copenhagen Zoo has fitted solar panels as part of its energy saving and climate protection measures. In this case the zoo uses all the power it produces.
Another British zoo, Paignton in Devon, is using close monitoring of its animal enclosures to ensure energy is used as efficiently as possible. Paignton was only the third zoo in the world to be awarded ISO 14001, an environmental management standard.
Paignton Zoo has installed heat pumps to keep exotic animals warm. Solar panels have gone on the Amphibian Ark exhibit and on the restaurant, which generates 50% of the electricity needed by the buildings. A solar array provides 80% of the hot water used by the restaurant. The Crocodile Swamp is heated by biomass. Effluent is treated by reed bed.
Crucially, Paignton has installed monitoring equipment to keep tabs on its electricity, gas and water use. Information is collected from 40 different sites every 15 minutes. As we see pretty much every week, having the information allows you to identify the weak spots and use your resources effectively.
Franklin Park Zoo in Boston, USA, has taken a canny approach to keeping administrative buildings cool on the warmest days. It has installed an Ice Bear thermal storage solution. At night the system makes ice when electricity is cheapest and often produced by the most efficient plants. In peak usage times the air conditioning compressor is turned off and the stored ice used instead to cool the building. It lasts about six hours. Air conditioning is a huge energy issue, so using a system like this will make a contribution to keeping down fossil fuel use.
Cincinatti Zoo and Botanical Garden, also USA, received a grant from energy company Duke Energy to switch all lights to LED. Cincinatti Zoo covers 80 acres and runs an annual festival of lights, so the energy saving potential was enormous. But the replacement scheme has gone beyond just the zoo to the wider community.
The Light Up Avondale Project aims to extend the benefits of the LED switchover into the area around the zoo. LEDs will be fitted in homes, businesses, and areas where better lighting would help to discourage crime. Businesses are benefitting from reduced energy and maintenance bills, while the project raises awareness of both the benefits of more efficient lighting also the grants and resources available.
The work is being carried out by The Green Corps. This is a group of young adults specially trained to know all about different types of light fittings and bulbs. They’ve upgraded 65 homes to LED and have ambitious plans to do the same for the entire neighbourhood. While doing this, they’re gaining skills and knowledge in energy efficiency, sustainability and more broadly transferable skills. This is part of the Serving Community element of Cincinatti Zoo’s corporate mission.
We’ve seen a number of instances of businesses wanting to be good neighbours and this is an, er, shining example.
Competitions in energy efficiency innovation
Hello. What are we talking about this week?
Competitions that get people developing new ways of being energy efficient.
Making new products?
Yes, but also developing new ways of generating energy, saving energy, just a new perspective on how we can do things. Let’s look at the Solar Decathlon. This is a competition run by the US Department of Energy. It’s now mushroomed to be 10 competitions, and taken together they:
“inspire student teams to design and build highly efficient buildings powered by renewables, while optimizing for key considerations including affordability, resilience, and occupant health. The winners are those teams that best blend architectural and engineering excellence with innovation in how their building interacts with the world around it.”
Is this a big competition?
Judging from the website it’s become pretty big. 45 teams took part this year from 37 colleges. This is an international do. As well as the American version there are Solar Decathlons held in Africa, China, Europe, the Middle East and Latin America & the Caribbean, so worldwode pretty much. The African arm is running this month in Morocco with teams taking part from Morocco, Italy, the USA, India, Mali, Burkina Fassou, Algeria, Nigeria, Senegal, France, South Africa, Germany, Turkey, Egypt, Ivory Coast, Romania and so on, a truly international affair!
What are they competing to do specifically?
In this competition the categories are Architecture, Engineering & Construction, Market Appeal, Comfort Conditions, Appliances, Sustainability, Home life and entertainment, Communication and Social Awareness, Electrical Energy and Balance, and Innovation.
So the teams have to build a house that measures up in one or more of those categories?
Yes. The US Decathlon divides into two streams – the design challenge and the build challenge.
So teams do actually construct buildings? How long do they have for that – a weekend or something?
They have two years to put up their building. This isn’t a competition that takes place in one spot over a few days. Over the two years real functional houses are built, to demonstrate “creative solutions for real-world issues in the building industry”.
Do the judges go to visit the buildings?
No. The teams present to a panel of judges and it goes from there.
It’s always nice to win something, but what does the competition really do for the students?
I think the first point to make is that is a huge learning experience. It puts me in mind a little of the new university that’s going live in Hereford very soon – NMiTE, New Model in Technology and Engineering. The point is that students engage with real life industry problems and solve them in a hands-on way. By taking part in this competition, particularly the build element, students are putting theory in practice and coming out at the end having gained invaluable experience.
They get to showcase their ideas too.
Yes that’s right, it’s a great way to get your ideas in front of influential people. It’s good for the colleges the students attend to, it’s feather in their caps and showws how well they’re preparing their students for the real world of sustainable building and living solutions.
The teams work with industry too so they get publicity but also identify future employees and can pick off the most promising. This is very much the case too for the Future Generation competition run by Middle East Electricity in Dubai. This is designed for engineering students and has a different theme each year.
What was this year’s theme?
Serendipitously, it was energy efficiency. As well as coming up with ideas to prevent over-use of energy and finding a cost-effective solution for reducing energy consumption, participants had to come up with a prototype and crucially, find a testing partner. Right there you’ve got your crossover into industry.
So this is another showcase for the students taking part.
Certainly is. 20000 visitors visit the exhbits, coming from all over the world, and there are 1500 exhibitors. It’s a brilliant experience for a student and looks great on the CV. The winners gets exposure to thousands of energy industry people.
Who’s eligible for that?
Anyone who’s a student at a university in the UAE, undergraduate or postgraduate. That however is a slightly grey area as some British universities have a UAE campus – Heriot-Watt for example, better known as an Edinburgh university.
One postgraduate student from Heriot-Watt’s Dubai campus entered the competition with research into wind farms. The student gained valuable feedback on their work and made useful contacts. They also felt they were representing their university. Another student saw that their work on digital circuits was inspiring other students, and gained insight into how to market their product, which lifted their focus from just the technical details.
Making the leap from ideas on paper to running a viable business.
Exactly. Sadly ideas aren’t enough, as we know. I’d say coming up with the good idea is the easy bit.
It’s true what they say about 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration.
UK government competitions
The UK government is funding a competition to “develop exciting, new and intuitive solutions to turn energy data into energy savings for smaller non-domestic sites”. The competition will help the Government deliver its Clean Growth Strategy, which we’ve talked about before in episode 6 in the feature on energy efficiency in social housing. The Clean Growth Strategy is part of the Government’s efforts to meet the targets it set out in the 2008 Climate Change Act.
In a nutshell the task is help small non-domestic settings such as schools, hospitals and shops turn energy data into energy savings. The idea is that these small settings may well not have an energy manager or the time/energy/money to implement best practice. Giving them effective audit tools specifically tailored to their sort of set-up that then translates into actions should help them achieve savings. The competition addresses how to use the data to make the changes.
There are seven companies receiving part of the £8.8m pot behind the Non-Domestic Smart Energy Management Innovation Competition, which has the not very sonorous acronym NDSEMIC. Most companies aren’t household names, but Samsung is one of the competitors. The projects currently being trialled include energy monitoring apps, online energy management tools, and school-focussed teaching resources set-up based on smart meter data. It’s been suggested that the real aim behind the project is to make smart metering unavoidable and to support and justify its roll-out.
Smart meter data is hugely valuable to government and energy companies.
Which is no doubt why there’s another competition focussing on it: the BEIS (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) Smart Energy Savings Competition. This competition has a £multi-million pot and is aimed at the domestic market. The money funds product development and in-home trials. Interestingly, BEIS is after information on the impact of energy saving products and services that work alongside the smart meter.
Simply knowing your energy consumption doesn’t equate to taking action.
Exactly, so BEIS suggests systems that offer energy use feedback to customers. It also suggests technology that helps residents use their heating controls effectively – how tos, that sort of thing. Overly technical heating controls can be quite daunting to residents who’s always been used to just turning a dial to a temperature or using analogue heating and hot water timers. It’s refreshing to see a customer-focus recommended as well as simply energy use outcomes.
So what do the winners win?
They will receive funding to develop their product or service. Up to £700,000 is allocated to each project to trial.
Have the winners been selected?
Yes. Over £2m has been allocated to eight projects. This stage develops the product or service, then a second phase sees it implemented for trial and evaluation. One draws on gaming principles, and more than one on allowing energy companies to deliver “personalised products and services” based on user data. Some require software to be installed on the smart meter and the use of an app, others use what’s there already. Machine learning and algorithms are involved to identify which customers will best benefit from which tweak. One compares a home’s usage to similar properties in real time. One project focusses on the potential of smart thermostats to reveal energy usage and works with Alexa and similar. One company with an IoT bent forecasts a customer’s energy use over the coming week and allows them to make adjustments. Another looks at creating local markets for renewable power generation with smart metering at is heart.
They sound pretty varied and dare I say it, quite interesting.
I thought so too. With maybe one exception they meet the innovative element of the competition. Watch this space I guess.
Where do people go to read more about this?
Oh yes. There is a government PDF with details of the eight companies and their proposals.
Mineral Wool Insulation
Mineral wool goes by many names. You might have heard of mineral fibre, rockwool (which is actually a brand name) or used more in Europe, glass wool.
Technically, mineral wool is a fibrous material made by spinning or drawing molten mineral or rock materials such as slag and ceramics. Known as slag wool, it was first made in Wales in 1840. At that stage it wasn’t bound in any way and floated about in the breeze which made it a hazard for anyone in the vicinity.
Thirty years later a patent was taken out in the USA and the following year mineral wool
was produced commercially in Germany. It was made by blowing air across falling molten iron to create hair-like strands. At the end of the C19th, technology was developed converting molten limestone into fibres, and the rockwool insulation industry in America was born.
In the 1970s and 80s more types of mineral wool were developed and now more high-tech versions have taken over. Generally mineral wool will be based on either stone, glass or slag derived from industrial waste. Stone wool is made from volcanic rock, usually basalt or dolomite. Often recycled rock is used. Glass wool is made from sand or recycled glass, limestone and soda ash. The same ingredients go into windows and glass bottles, which is appopriate as those are some of what goes into producing glass wool. In fact glass wool typically uses 85% recycled glass in its manufacture.
After the fibres are formed, they cure in an oven. They’re then cut to size and shape or go into other products. Any waste generated at this stage goes back into the manufacturing process. Because mineral wool is so elastic, it can be compressed for packing and transport. Eurima keeps the water uses for manufacture in a closed loop system. Eurima is the European Insulation Manufacturers Association, representing mineral wool producers. It started out in 1959 to promote improved standards and regulations for the use of insulation materials and has now developed that to address public concern about the environment. Emissions created during manufacture is cleaned in filters and after-burners.
Partly because of this use of recycled products, mineral wool is cost-effective and has a reliable supply of ingredients. Manufacturers are always looking to increase the recycled content of the product. If you’d like to see diagrams of how the two types of mineral wool are made, follow the link in the show notes to the Eurima website.
The Eurima website makes the point that the manufacture of mineral wool “positively contributes to industrial symbiosis”. In other words, waste from one industry provides the raw material for another. Mineral wool manufacturers take metallurgical slag, spent blasting sand and waste glass (known as cullet) to create an insulation material. This insulation material in its turn reduces the need for energy to keep buildings warm. Eurima gives the statistic that for every tonne of CO2 emitted in manufacturing mineral wool, 200 tonnes are saved during the product’s lifetime.
As we’ve already seen, mineral wool has a long life as it’s elastic and porous. Eurima makes the claim that manufacturing mineral wool uses half the energy required to make other types of insulation but doesn’t quantify that or provide evidence. Clearly Eurima exists to promote mineral wool and its site must be read with that in mind, but none the less mineral wool does appear to tick the boxes on recycled materials, closed loops and thermal performance.
15 years ago research was carried out into the carcinogen potential of mineral wool. Some elements were identified as possibly carcinogenic. These are what is known as ‘biopersistent’, ie they stay within the body rather than being broken down. Examples of this are ceramic fibres which are used in high-temperature insulation typically fitted to blast furnaces, and special purpose glass wool that isn’t used as insulation. In the last 15 years more biosoluble fibres have been produced which aren’t damaging to humans.
Mineral wool can cause itching if you come into contact with it. This is just a mechanical effect. Exposure to mineral wool dust is to be avoided through skin, eyes or breath. There is a maximum daily exposure limit to mineral wool and this exposure can come in many forms if you’re working with it. You could be removing it, cutting it to size, drilling holes through it or of course fitting it. Wikipedia has the detail on the risks to health of mineral wool and the link is in the notes.
Mineral wools possess good fire retardant properties. They are commonly used in buildings that specify passive fire protection. They’re used as spray fireproofing, in stud cavities in drywalling, and as packing material in firestops. Mineral wool is porous, so it traps air and provides high thermal insulation value. Its elasticity and porosity make it a good acoustic insulator too.
Mineral wool is available as rolls and slabs, optimised for thermal and/or acoustic insulation, and can be provided loose to be blown into spaces. It’s stable, giving it longevity.
There’s not a lot to choose between glass wool or stone wool but there are some slight differences. Stone wool has a higher density so it can resist more pressure, but it has a slightly lower fire resistance. It’s more elastic than glass wool and has a higher tensile strength. It’s the density of the wool that determines whether it will be supplied in a lightweight roll, a flexible slab, or a rigid slab. If you want to compare the different types and decide which might be best for your project, Knauf, manufacturer of insulation, has a comparison chart on its website.
This November Energy Live News is running its annual Expo in London. It has a number of high profile speakers lined up to cover a wide range of topics. You can hear about the energy achievements at Blenheim Palace, meeting the railways’ carbon targets, landlord and tenant solar PV projects and managing your energy costs this winter. Follow the link in the notes to book.
And what are we up to? Annoyingly there was a problem with our last set of Petflap cuts, so we’re having to have them re-done and this means ordering more raw materials so our timeline on the next batch is expanding more than we would like. This does mean though that there’s more time to earmark a Petflap for yourself. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve one. We won’t invoice til we’re certain of the delivery date, so you don’t even have to pay yet.
Thank you for listening to episode 17 of the Energy Efficiency Podcast. Until next time you can find us on both Twitter and Instagram as Ecoflap, and on Twitter we also tweet as The Petflap. Next week: energy efficiency in student housing, the role of Ofgem, and the Champions of the Earth award.
The VIBES Awards: The Energy Efficiency Podcast - episode 16
The VIBES Awards
Welcome to The VIBES Awards: The Energy Efficiency Podcast – episode 16, the podcast that brings you a mix of energy efficiency news, products and tips all year round. We’re interested in profiling people and products involved in promoting energy efficiency habits, products and information, so please do get in touch if you have something to contribute. This week: the VIBES Scottish Environment Business Awards, energy efficiency in policing worldwide, and the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices.
But before we get on with our advertised features, The Economist recently reported on a potential new way to create renewable energy from the night time atmosphere. In July atmospheric scientist Professor Colin Price of Tel Aviv University reported to the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics on a study to extract electricity from the type of damp air that occurs after sunset. Professor Price is the head of the Dept of Environmental Studies, and conducted the research with Judy Lax and Professor Hadas Saaroni.
This type of night air can reach a dampness of over 60% relative humidity – this is the case on Israel’s coastal plain. As the daytime air cools it’s unable to hold as much water vapour and so it releases it into the night air. Professor Price has created a capacitor from metal cylinders. Damp air passes through them and an electric charge accumulates. In theory this can be harnessed to drive a current through an external circuit. This effectively mimics lightning, even though no-one is exactly certain how lightning works.
We do know that for lightning to occur, water needs to be present in all states – ice, liquid water and water vapour. Professor Price’s apparatus mimics this with the use of concentric cylinders made of zinc which stand in for ice, water vapour in the air, and the droplets that form as water condenses. The molecules forming droplets of water will sometimes spontaneously break up into positively charged ions and negatively charged hydroxyl ions. These ions move through the water droplet at different rates and the negative and positive charges will be separated, which leads to a charge on the surface of the zinc cylinder and thus a potential difference in the capacitor.
Professor Price believes therefore that he understands how the reaction occurs within his capacitor and now faces the question of scaling up the system to a usable degree. So far the system has created just under a volt of electricity.
If it can be made to work at scale, Professor Price’s system would start working just as solar power stops. It could negate the need for batteries to store solar-generated power for use in the hours of darkness. The research also furthers our understanding of lightning and related atmospheric conditions.
The Dow Jones Sustainability Indices
Last week I made fleeting reference to the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. This tracks the stock performance of the world’s leading companies in terms of economic, environmental and social criteria. We referred to them last week in our brief feature on so-called “secret sustainability”. This is the practice of keeping quiet about sustainability and energy efficiency improvements for fear of inviting unwelcome attention to less green areas of business, spooking customers or the supply chain that prices will go up or quality down, and the general belief that sustainability equals compromise. Looking at the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, it’s clear that companies paying the most attention to energy efficiency and wider environmental considerations are performing the best.
This year the index celebrates its 20th birthday. It was launched in 1999 as the first global sustainability benchmark. It was created jointly between Dow Jones and RobecoSAM, an investment specialist which focusses solely on what it terms “sustainable investing”. If you want more on that, RobecoSAM has this on its website:
“At RobecoSAM we believe that corporate sustainability is a company’s capacity to prosper in a competitive and changing global business environment by anticipating and managing current and future economic, environmental and social opportunities and risks. We use financial markets as one of the most powerful transmission mechanisms to promote sustainable business practices.”
This combines index expertise with specialists in sustainable investing. The index looks at business across 61 countries and its results inform investors who “integrate sustainability considerations into their portfolios and provide an effective engagement platform for investors who wish to encourage companies to improve their corporate sustainability practices.”
The principle is simple: the best performing companies are paragons of best practice in sustainability and therefore longevity. This generates long-term benefit for shareholders.
The index was created as an alternative to the Dow Jones stock exchange. Instead of measuring the performance of a company’s finances, it evaluates the sustainability of a company’s business operations in environmental, social and economic terms. The index takes into account global, regional and national benchmarks. Regions include Europe, Nordic, North America, Korean and Asia Pacific. The DJSI picks out the 320 best-performing companies from the 2500 largest companies worldwide.
Over its 20 years of operation, the requirements to make it into the DJSI become ever more stringent. As the big players improve their practices, competition becomes stiffer, so companies are paying attention to what everyone else is doing in order to be better. Companies have to keep abreast of developments both in their sector and in their region. Sectors have differing requirements so companies nearby to each other may be competing for entry on different criteria.
Whether or not your company is planning to compete for entry, going through the DJSI questionnaire is in itself a very useful exercise. The questionnaire contains 100 questions and the weighting of the questions varies year to year. The assessment is enhanced every year to measure under-researched and under-reported factors. This will help to better identify those companies best placed to meet the challenges and opportunities of sustainability in the future.
Managing efficient energy consumption is vital to be in with a chance and the operative word there is managing. Understanding and quantifying energy management is vital to identifying both areas for improvement and best practice.
Dexma, the energy analytics company, recommends carrying out an energy audit as the first step to competing for inclusion in the index. The results of an audit will allow you to plan improvements to your premises and operations, identify possible equipment changes and improvements, identify poor energy habits to eradicate, and check that you’re on the best energy tariff. These steps are beneficial for all companies, regardless of their interest in the DJSI.
Beyond energy use, the DJSI looks at: corporate governance, risk management, branding, climate change mitigation, supply chain standards and employment practices including the living wage. Perhaps surprisingly for an index that includes an ethical element, it includes companies profiting from tobacco, gambling, armaments and firearms.
Each company is assessed on information from the annual questionnaire, company documentation, media and stakeholder analysis, and personal contact. Once listed, a company is monitored daily and if issues arise that are considered serious enough, a company can be excluded from the index. This includes human rights abuses, catastrophic disasters and worker disputes.
The questionnaire has come in for some criticism. As it is filled in by the companies themselves it has been accused of rewarding those best able to respond to the questionnaire rather than necessarily those with the best practices. Wikipedia suggests that this brings the credibility of the DJSI into question. To quote Wikipedia,
“Ultimately, companies with challenging corporate environmental and social issues are more likely to devote public relations resources to minimize the perception of risk within their operations.”
RobecoSAM added the Media and Stakeholder Analysis element to the assessment intending to corroborate the information companies present about themselves. The DJSI tends to be biased towards economic criteria, which I think you would expect from an initative springing out of a stock exchange. A further criticism is that it includes only large companies, whereas other indices include smaller ones too. Likely due to these limitations, a survey of sustainability experts in 2011 found that only 48% looked upon the DJSI as “highly trusted”.
By contrast, the 2019 Rate the Raters survey delivered by SustainAbility, which canvasses companies about which sustainability ratings service they find most useful, RobecoSAM came out on top. The research questioned thousands of sustainability professionals about which ESG rating systems they placed their faith in. SustainAbility essentially helps companies improve sustainability. They run several reports on sustainability in big business.
By complete fluke, having planned to run this feature this week, we learnt that the DJSI reported its latest findings last Friday. Three companies joined the index: Alphabet (that’s Google to you and me), CVS Health Corp (American retail pharmacy and health care company), and Reckitt Benckiser Group PLC (British multinational company producer of health, hygiene and home products). Three companies came off the index: Citigroup Inc, the American investment bank, Royal Dutch Shell PLC which needs no introduction, and 3M Co, the American manufacturing giant.
One company doing very well in the DJSI is airline KLM, which tops the Airlines category. In some ways this identifies both a strength and a weakness of the DJSI: flying is inherently polluting, so what is an airline doing in a sustainability index? On the other hand, if you’re going to run an airline, be recognised for making it the most sustainable airline. KLM has been in the top three for 15 years.
KLM has achieved its position through progress in several areas of its operations. In 2018 it reduced co2 emissions while expanding operation. Emissions per passenger are down 17% on 2011. KLM launched its ‘Fly Responsibly‘ initiative in June this year. It has several aspects but one invites passengers to compensate for their flight’s CO2 emissions by contributing to a reforestation project in Panama. KLM has been running a scheme of this sort for 10 years. To date 3.5 million trees have been planted.
It encourages passengers to look for alternative methods of travel, especially for short journeys. On its website KLM points out that it’s quicker to take the train from Amsterdam to Brussels than it is to fly. It suggests video calls instead of meeting in person. When you do fly, KLM encourages you to travel light as less weight means less fuel consumption. Stay somewhere eco-friendly when you arrive.
Businesses regularly flying with KLM are invited to partner in its Corporate BioFuel Programme. A fee covers the difference in cost between kerosene and biofuels. The intention is to make sustainable aviation fuel an economic competitor to kerosene, and to make it available on a larger scale.
KLM is keen to work with other businesses to “create a sustainable future together”. To this end it’s running webinars which began this month aimed at sharing best practice. Sustainable fuel was the subject of the first webinar. KLM views sustainable aviation fuel as the main approach to improving the sustainability of air travel. It’s now the biggest single buyer of biofuel for air travel. From 2022 this fuel will be produced in the first European factory for sustainable aviation fuel, to be built in Delftzijl.
Together with Delft university KLM is developing a more fuel-economic aircraft. The V-shaped design will put passengers, crew, cargo and fuel tanks in the wings. Next month a scale model and life-sized section will be on display during the KLM Experience Days at Schiphol.
It has a good record on recycling its waste. It splits out 14 materials for recycling and recycles old uniforms. They were transformed into fibre which then carpetted cabin interiors. It has plans to reduce the waste generated inflight on the basis that the less you generate the less there is to deal with.
As with all the assessment and award systems we’ve looked at over the last few weeks, the DJSI isn’t perfect. Despite KLM’s good showing, appearing in the DJSI isn’t a clean bill of health on sustainability and it doesn’t mean job done. It does however provide a framework for making improvements, and for those companies for whom it’s important to be highly visible at the top, inclusion on the index is a boost.
The VIBES Scottish Business Awards
What are we talking about this week?
The VIBES Awards. They’re the Scottish Environment Business Awards. The annual awards recognise and showcase best practice among Scottish businesses in reducing their impact on the environment. Several organisations come together for the VIBES: Scottish Environment Protection Agency, The Scottish Government, Energy Saving Trust, Highland & Islands Enterprise, Scottish Enterprise, Scottish Water, Zero Waste Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage, CBI Scotland, the Institute of Directors, Federation of Small Businesses, Bright Green Business, Scottish Council for Development and Industry and the Scotch Whisky Association.
What are specific aims of the VIBES?
As you’d expect, efficient use of resources, improved environmental performance, supporting the wider goals of sustainable development which includes social issues, and doing all this while enhancing the competitiveness of the business.
It sounds similar to the Dow Jones thing.
Well, it has overlap let’s say, including that VIBES is also celebrating its 20th birthday. VIBES is just Scottish businesses, and there’s a big ceremony to hand out the gongs. The awards are accredited by the RSA, The Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacturers and Commerce. The RSA in turn puts companies forward for the European Business Awards for the Environment, held every two years.
Do businesses have to be big to be considered?
No, not really. The VIBES website says that the awards are open to any business based in Scotland that makes a contribution to the sustainable development of the country. Realistically that does mean having proper plans and an effective approach to sustainability and making improvements to the environment. That can be across the whole business or just focussed on one area.
Who won this year?
We don’t know yet. Applications have closed-
– do companies apply themselves?
Yes, then the judges draw up a shortlist and visit those businesses.
Is this year’s shortlist out yet?
Yes. There are 36 businesses on it. The awards fall into 11 categories including leadership, the circular economy, engagement and small businesses. Some companies compete in more than one category.
This year, to mark the 20th anniversary, a previous winner will receive a special award recognising their ongoing contribution to sustainable development, particularly by adopting new practices and keeping its environmental practices under review.
Give me an example.
Castle Group Scotland. They’re in the construction sector. They won the Management category for SMEs in 2012.
So since then they’ve kept on improving have they, to be eligible for this ‘Best of’ award?
They’ve made great strides. Their carbon impact is down by 40% and it now diverts over 90% of landfill from waste. That sort of thing doesn’t just happen, it involves careful planning, creating systems, ensuring they operate as they should and ensuring staff are on board with it. Castle Group’s approach is to repair, restore and refurbish before building. This is very impressive as they work in heavy duty sectors including marine, defence, road and rail. This approach has a title – Giving the Past a Future. They also have an emergency protocol for projects involving sensitive ecology and protected habitats or species.
They’re reviewing how staff move between sites to best manage their fleet and the fuel it uses to mitigate against the climate crisis. So far efficiency improvements there have saved over £5000 and 10.5 tonnes of CO2.
There’s a great deal of advice available. Castle Group worked with Resource Efficient Scotland, Zero Waste Scotland’s business advisory programme, to review its strategies on waste management and resource reuse and develop improved systems. This gave Castle Group a leg-up in circularity, and saved them £30,000 on a deep refurbishment of Aberdeen Music Hall. On that project 80 tonnes of rubble was reused on site-
– reusing on-site is a significant element
– yes, it has numerous beneifts, as seen at the Glasgow Queen Street station refurb. 35 tonnes of wood was reclaimed as part of the project and donated to a local social enterprise for reuse as furniture. The old lifts and hoists were donated to a production company.
Other companies up for the Best Of award have a raft of achievements to their names. There’s a full list of this year’s finalists across all categories on the VIBES website. They includes Cycling Scotland and Vegware, along with well-known names such as Diageo and ScotRail.
It’s not edible! It’s one of those companies that’s pretty big but you may well not have heard of it if you don’t operate in their sector. They make “plant-based compostable foodservice packaging”. Their website shows straws and paper ice-cream pots and takeaway coffee cups but it’s much more than that. In fact it’s a lot more than that. They operate all over the world with their HQ in Edinburgh, and have been going for 13 years.
What categories are they in?
Circular Scotland and Service Scotland. They source the raw materials for their packaging from reclaimed or recycled materials, and then their products can be commercially composted wherever food waste is accepted. They run a collection service in the west of Scotland-
– anywhere I’ve heard of?
Fort William, Oban, Stranraer, Girvan, Ayr. The idea is to close the materials loop by collecting its own used products and turning them into compost. The project, called Close the Loop, was initially launched in central Scotland. It was a success so they started another in the south west of England – Bristol, Gloucestershire and Worcestershire – and now include the West of Scotland.
The crucial element here is that food contamination, which can scupper regular recycling, isn’t an issue with composting and is in fact a virtue. It also means the customer’s recycling remains free of food contamination.
They’ve had a few years to get this right before the government moves in on single-use plastic more widely.
This is the perfect example of a company doing “the right thing” long before it’s mandatory and then being ideally placed when the rest of industry is galloping to keep up and adapt. The public outcry against single use plastic together with the EU Single Use Plastics Directive has seen Vegware go from strength to strenth. Also, when you look at the products on their site, they’re beautifully designed.
No compromise for environmental sustainability.
Exactly right. Other companies have taken innovative approaches to their business.
JawBrew is a Paisley craft micro-brewery which received a Commended in the Circular category of last year’s awards. One of its beers, the low alcohol Hardtack, is produced from unsold morning rolls from Aulds the Baker’s. Auld’s approached JawBrew as a solution to using up unsold rolls. The resulting beer was considered to be very full bodied for a low alcohol beer, and that by accredited beer tasters from the Society of Independent Brewers and CAMRA.
How much bread do you need for that?
Each batch uses nearly 30kg of waste rolls, which replaces about 60kg of malted grain. Spent grain goes for cattle feed, and the hops are used by a gardening club for weed suppressant. Heat from the brewery’s processes heats water which sits in an insulated tank until it’s needed for brewing. In its turn, JawBrew hopes to use their by-products for other companies to turn into high value products. So that might be spent grain for a high fibre loaf or a protein bar, and producing yeast. They’re signed up to the Have you got the Bottle initiative to re-use beer bottles, and plan to replace some of their equipment to make yeast recovery easier.
Can they reuse it?
Effectively. It can be recultivated and used, which means they don’t have to buy it in fresh each time. JawBrew viewed its Commendation as a recognition of its activities, and hopes it’s an inspiration to other companies.
What do companies really gain by winning a VIBES Award?
Well like the DJSI, an award of this sort is tangible evidence that a company is doing good things. Labelling itself an award winner is a clear label to demonstrate to the rest of industry and to potential clients that they’re putting their money where their mouth is on sustainability issues rather than just waffling on about good intentions. It’s a pat on the back for staff who are the ones seeing through these policies day-to-day.
When are this year’s winners announced?
There’s a couple of months to wait. The awards evening is on 14th November and will be at the Doubletree by Hilton in Glasgow.
Energy Efficiency in Policing
Policing is an energy intensive business. It includes people, buildings, cars, boats, dogs, horses, scientific facilities, IT and comms and many more elements. Police forces in many countries date back well over 100 years and legacy buildings will be major drains on energy efficiency. There is huge scope to improve energy efficiency in all areas of police operation without hindering activities or making the forces less effective.
In northern Hesse in Germany a new 4000 square metre police administrative building was built to passivhaus standards five years ago. This has brought down energy consumption in government buildings in Hesse. The building was constructed as part of a government passivhaus pilot and the findings will be applied to future construction projects. This is part of Hesse’s target of becoming carbon neutral by 2030.
In this case the building was monitored for two years after the police force moved in. The results included greater thermal comfort for the occupants, a very low heating requirement and much improved server room management. This building has five server rooms so improving the management of the cooling systems has made a big impact on energy use. Cooling could have been approached differently with a greater use of passive cooling, but the heat pump and cooling tower used to keep the building comfortable is very efficient and overall
electricity consumption was low.
The building cost the government of Hesse 20 million euros. This was a little higher than for a standard build, but it was clear from the beginning that the extra cost would be more than recouped through lower running costs. Lower operating costs protect the government from rising fuel prices.
The United Nations website profiles the Dubai Police Force, which aims to be carbon neutral by 2020, which isn’t very far away at all now. It began its efforts ten years ago. If the Dubai force achieves net zero it will be the first police force in the world to do so. This is part of Dubai’s aim to be the city with the lowest carbon footprint in the world by 2050.
The zero carbon initiative is now core to all Dubai Police’s activities. It has recognised that this will work only within a strong framework and with employees very aware of what the strategy requires of them. This awareness is being raised through the activities of so-called Carbon Champions who are furthering the culture of energy efficiency within the police force, which numbers over 22,000 people.
Key elements of Dubai Police’s strategy include:
transforming its fleet of over 3000 vehicles to hybrid cars in stages, which has reduced fleet fuel consumption by nearly 20%, and optimising patrol routes
Reduction of water and electricity use within buildings and fitting LED lights
installing solar panels on police station rooves, rolled out to all 400+ police buildings by next year
using technology to provide services electronically and discouraging visits to police stations. So far this move alone has already saved thousands of tonnes of CO2 emissions
The force is also experimenting with a solar boat. Dubai Police is raising awareness of its practices beyond the police force, through taking part in exhibitions, running training and education sessions, and operating mentoring programmes. This has gained public support for Dubai Police. As Dubai’s population grows the expectation is that Dubai Police’s energy efficiencies will scale through adopting best practice which can be applied to other organisations within Dubai such as the civil service, and to other security organisations worldwide.
An Garda Síochána
Last year website certificationeurope.com reported that the Irish Republic’s police force – An Garda Síochána – was the first police force to achieve ISO 50001 certification for energy management. Now that might not sound very exciting, but it translates to savings of over €9million on energy costs. Imagine what police forces in the UK could do with an injection of say £9m. It has reduced emissions by over 70,000 tons.
It’s taken AGS eight years to reach this point from first starting to reduce energy use. In 2015 it set out to become the first police force to achieve the ISO certification. At this stage the certification applies to its headquarters in Dublin, its entire transport fleet and its Garda College, but AGS is committed to extending it to their entire operation. It has targets to keep improving its energy efficiency, and is exceeding targets so far.
AGS has achieved this in part through using an ISO 50001-certified energy management system. It comes up time and time again that you can’t start making serious improvements until you know the state of play. This is particularly the case in such a large and disparate organisation as a police force.
As with other organisations we’ve looked at, the small everyday actions make a difference – turning lights off and ensure they’re off after office hours. Such a tiny policy and an easy thing to overlook, but it makes a difference, particularly across multiple buildings. AGS assessed and reviewed heating, cooling and ventilation, and ensured equipment including cars was kept well-maintained. Maintenance contractors themselves are audited to ensure optimal performance. Perhaps this is what we should be expecting from publicly-funded services – perhaps we even assume that happens as standard already?
Surrey & Sussex
In Surrey and Sussex in the south of the UK, two police forces have begun working together on an environmental policy. In the UK we don’t have one national police force but numerous smaller ones often, but not always, country-based. For instance we aren’t looked after by Herefordshire Police, but by West Mercia Police which covers Herefordshire, Worcestershire, Shropshire, Telford & Wrekin.
Surrey shares a long border with West Sussex and a very small one with East Sussex, so working together makes a great deal of sense. The point of the joint venture is to deliver the forces’ environmental objectives in energy efficiency across all sites. Together they are developing a system to manage this. They first gathered figures from 2015-16 to use as a baseline. In this period Surrey policing emitted 9,400 tonnes of CO2. The target is to reduce that by 15% by 2021-22.
In Surrey staff operate out of nearly 70 buildings and the two forces between them have over 2000 vehicles. The Surrey force has delivered over 30 projects so far to reduce building- and transport-related emissions. Many more are in progress. Buildings projects so far include all the usual improvements to and monitoring of heating, cooling, lighting etc and installation of solar panels.
Review of the fleet revealed that emissions could be reduced while saving money. Firstly the force plans to stop using the worst-polluting vehicles except where there no alternative operationally. Both forces are evaluating electric and hydrogen-fuelled vehicles. 60 unmarked police cars have been replaced by electric vehicles, instead of replacing them with diesel vehicles which would otherwise have been the case. Taking the opportunity to replace any equipment with a more energy efficient model as part of already planned upgrade or replacement work is a key way to keep costs down while improving energy efficiency.
The forces have to distinguish between response vehicles and non-response vehicles, and are designing trials and planning expenditure accordingly. Non-response vehicles are used for duties such as visiting victims and witnesses or on short patrols. For this purpose the forces have chosen the BMW i3 which has a range of 100 miles between charges. Battery back-up can extend this range by another 100 miles so making the vehicles more multipurpose. The forces estimate that this change alone will make initial savings of £120,000 per force over five years, simply from reduced fuel, servicing and maintenance costs. If you’re interested in the detail of the charging points the police will use and how the pricing compares to petrol or diesel cars, follow the link in the notes.
The Swiss canton of St Gallen is operating a similar phased replacement policy, preferring Hyundai Kona electric vehicles for its fleet. Reviewing the fleet is happening worldwide, as is the installation of solar panels.
Delhi Police announced in July this year that they will be installing solar panels on 200 of its buildings across the city and have signed an agreement with the Solar Energy Corporation of India. Delhi Police has significant electricity requirements so plans to put vacant roofs to good use and bring down bills. Delhi Police is seen as India’s premier police force, so its actions will be influential across the country.
The Welcome Centre in Coventry hosts Future Energy Platforms from 7.30am on Tuesday 29th October. The event is run by Coventry City Council’s Green Business Programme. To quote:
“This event will discuss how we are planning on solving this challenge facing society and what low-carbon measures are already in place within our local region. Speakers will be presenting on the key energy technologies that are currently available for businesses to deliver their carbon and sustainability targets. There will also be presentations from real-life business case studies, and top tips to provide readers with the insight and inspiration needed to drive forward their energy agendas.”
There’s information on funding available to SMEs in Coventry and Warwickshire. You can go on a walking tour of Coventry city centre’s underground Heatline and of buildings that are powered by renewable energy. Book online.
And what are we up to? We’re having new cuts made as we speak and orders are building up for this coming batch. We’re on TV this week: a previous version of the Petflap will be in Episode 3 of the New Zealand version of Grand Designs. We’re tracking down a way to view it.
Thank you for listening to episode 16 of the Energy Efficiency Podcast. Until next time you can find us on both Twitter and Instagram as Ecoflap, and on Twitter we also tweet as The Petflap. Next week: EE in zoos, competitions for energy efficiency innovation and mineral wool insulation.
Music credit: “Werq” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
Wood fibre insulation: The Energy Efficiency Podcast - episode 15
Wood fibre insulation
Welcome to Wood fibre insulation: The Energy Efficiency Podcast – episode 15, the podcast that brings you a mix of energy efficiency news, products and tips all year round. We’re interested in profiling people and products involved in promoting energy efficiency habits, products and information, so please do get in touch if you have something to contribute.
But before we get on with our advertised features, this week website Business Telegraph ran an article about companies keeping quiet about significant resource efficiency achievements, so-called “secret sustainability”. There are several reasons for this, including the fears of being accused of diverting attention from areas of their business that are less environmentally friendly, and customers worrying that the products will go down in quality or up in price, or both. It can also cause consternation along the supply chain, sparking fears of price rises or reduced orders of raw materials.
The article cites several examples of tremendous progress in resource efficiency in manufacturing. There’s an anonymous factory in Asia using only a single litre of water to make a pair of jeans (it doesn’t even tell the businesses it supplies about this extraordinary achievement).
There are the two wineries in Portugal that have silently switched to organic practices because they were worried about their health of their soil. They’ve swapped out pesticide and artificial fertiliser for technology and extra labour. Soil health, vine health and yield have improved, but they don’t mention it anywhere. Both wineries already had a good reputation and felt customers would perceive that the product had changed or was about to go up in price if it was suddenly labelled ‘organic’.
Many companies have been accused of greenwashing, ie parading one area of their business that has a good environmental record in an effort to divert attention from less sustainable areas. Setting out with that intention is unattractive, but a business should be able to report good news for what it is.
The article in Business Telegraph suggests that companies don’t believe they’ll attract more B2B customers because, for example, they can make a car with a quarter the amount of energy they used to use. I question that. The article quotes Professor Steve Evans, of The Institute for Manufacturing at the University of Cambridge, as saying that businesses can’t accept that improved sustainability doesn’t mean an inferior product or increased price.
So it seems businesses divide into those who recognise the environmental and product and cost benefits of reducing resources, and those who see it as something a bit dubious with a negative knock-on for quality and cost. This is despite the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices repeatedly showing that the companies at the top of the range outperform those at the foot. It’s great to see that companies are making improvements, but roll on the day that those practises can be shared without fear of incurring a business disadvantage.
Wood fibre insulation
Over the last few weeks we’ve looked at sheep’s wool and Kingspan insulation. Today we turn our attention to wood fibre as insulation. Wood fibre has highly desirable properties for home insulation: it’s non-allergenic, renewable, durable, reusable and recyclable and in some cases compostable, and hygroscopic. This means it can absorb and release moisture without coming to any harm. However not all wood-based insulation is equal.
Sawdust and wood shavings
Once upon a time, some homes were insulated with sawdust and wood shavings, which were a straight waste product. These days however that doesn’t provide adequate insulation and as it compacts it becomes less and less effective. There any many newer wood fibre insulation products on the market, performing different functions and coming in different forms. They possess better elasticity than sawdust or shavings and so don’t compact as they absorb and release moistire.
Wood fibre insulation is a minimally-processed material that comes in loose little clumps that are blown into the area to be filled. Being loose, this form of wood fibre insulation can be forced into every little corner under appropriate pressure to keep thermal bridges to a minimum. This type of insulation performs extremely well – to quote SwedishWood.com it has “an almost unbeatable capacity to capture and store heat that is on the way out or in through the building envelope,” reckoning it’s about twice the capacity of mineral or glass wool. Our feature on passive cooling in ep 7 covered various methods of capturing excess heat during the day and releasing it during the cooler night time – this is a very simple method of achieving that.
This reminds us that insulation is not all about keeping cold spaces warm. Germany maintains an index of how various sustainable insulation materials perform in keeping a building cool in the summer. It has the snappy title of the German Association for Insulation Materials made of Sustainable Raw Materials. Wood fibre insulation comes out top in tests, with sheep’s wool about half way up.
Wood fibre insulation has impressive sound-dampening properties. It effectively reduces airborne sound – voices, traffic – and impact sound – footsteps, moving furniture. According to website backtoearth.co.uk wood fibre insulation is up to 12 times as dense as synthetic alternatives, which contributes to a quieter and more relaxed environment. Wood fibre insulation is also available as boards or varying densities and thicknesses, and are suitable as boards for underfloor heating.
Wood fibre insulation, like sheep’s wool, isn’t really flammable, which might be suprising. It chars, slows down the speed of fire and releases next to no harmful emissions. A good analogy is a book – page by page it burns swiftly, but try to set light to a whole book and it’s difficult to do. Unlike plastics woodfibre won’t drip blobs of flaming materials in a fire. In a timber-framed build this flame-resistance is a valuable property.
Pavatex is a Swiss company that has been making woodfibre insulation since 1932. When it opened a few years ago, the Pavatex factory in France was the highest-performing and most environmentally-friendly woodfibre production plant in Europe. Pavatex has received natureplus certification for its products. natureplus is described on the Alliance for Sustainable Building Products website as demanding “an above-average eco-balance, a maximization of renewable resources and a minimization of the use of petrochemical substances, very low emissions and the prevention of harmful ingredients.”
One Brighton, a building of mixed small apartments in Brighton, UK, included Pavatex in its build. It was chosen in part for its acoustic dampening properties, quite a consideration in a block of flats. The build met some opposition from designers, contractors and insurance companies who weren’t familiar with natural insulation, but to be fair this was nine years ago now so things should have improved. The developers had to seek formal approval on durability, and go to the Building Research Establishment for fire testing, backed up with case studies.
On-site things were easier, with the only slight issue being that Pavatex is less easy to shave or plane than polystyrene. All that required was the odd adjustment to render here and there. Builders found the woodfibre boards easier to fit than standard blockwork as no mortar is required.
In our feature on the poor energy performance of new builds we looked at the problems with poorly fitted plasterboard. Interlocking wood fibre boards avoid this problem. Although there was a slight cost increase with using wood fibre boards, the developers took that the view that it was more than worth it, especially in terms of the benefits it delivered for residents. Incidentally One Brighton was built with allotments on the roof for residents to grow their own food.
Our Ecoflap letter box draught excluder was a seasonal product, selling well over the colder months. We’ve discontinued it now – can you explain why?
Several reasons actually, some commercial, some design and some plain practical.
We had lots of people asking if we did a front facing version, as their letterplates were of a clam shell or clamp design that made fitting the Ecoflap more complicated, or their door’s crossbar was so narrow an Ecoflap couldn’t fit – they wanted a complete solution.
Some just had poorly fitted or faulty letterplates on an older door and wanted to make the howling gale go away. They found bolts and holes in doors with warped surfaces or the myriad sizes and forms of letterplates confusing and difficult to retrofit.
We also felt that as we tried to accommodate all these things the simple beauty of the design got lost. What should be a design classic was missing the mark trying to fit in with the past.
The point with draught proofing should be you stop the draughts at the outside not stuff up a hole inside resulting from poor design. We could have spent time and precious resources trying to improve it or we could put those resources to make a better letterplate which prevented draughts, reduced injuries from sharp edges and strong springs and stop shredding your post as it fights to get past all that.
It’s not the first front letterplate we’ve developed. What’s the difference between the Letterplate, and the Letterplate Eco?
Our first attempt was a premium pure stainless steel design that was beautiful, worked brilliantly but did not work commercially. Our manufacturer struggled to meet basic standards of quality and finish and the resulting price per item was too high for a mass market product.
It was a shame to discontinue the Letterplate but it was so difficult to make that it just wasn’t feasible. The Ecoflap needed a facelift too. It didn’t have quite the aesthetic of the Petflap and the Letterplate. It did its job very effectively but it wasn’t a stylish an addition to the front door. It had to stick out on the door to cope with the wide range of sizes of letterplates, so was bigger than most people needed and to be honest, no, didnt look stylish.
The Letterplate Eco will change that. It’s a complete change, looking at how to make it more widely available and keep it simple.
The design incorporates much that we have learned with our other key products the Petflap and the Ecoflap. As it opens from the front, it benefits from the full closing force of the wind and elements.
Using external grade automotive plastics means it is insulating, lightweight and corrosion free. The design has no metals or springs and is easy to recycle.
When will it be ready to buy?
We are switching our Petflap design on to full production and so our efforts can now be focused on getting the Letterplate Eco out in small batches ready for this winter. We will start with our material as shiny black finish just like the Petflap. We know we can technically make our products out of many materials for specialist supplies but the more affordable product will make a far bigger impact for people who really need that help keeping energy efficient.
There are a few elements to getting the house winter ready. The aim is to keep cold air out, keep warm air in, make the most of the heating fuel you use and avoid using energy to heat air that’s being cooled down by draughts. Sorting out infrastructural elements such as windows, insulation and boilers will make a big difference, but it’s not all about the big things. Stopping draughts coming in to the house is an easy way to make it more comfortable at an affordable price.
The government anticipates sizeable increases in electricity prices if we leave the EU without a deal. Even more reason not to waste any electricity.
The traditional trouble spots are the letterbox, keyhole, gaps around doors, catflaps, floorboards and chimneys. If the Letterplate Eco was available now we’d recommend that. We’ve had a development model on our front door for a year now and it’s working brilliantly. Our hallway is in the colder part of the house. The Letterplate Eco has just stopped dead the draughts that whistled in round the old letterbox. We didn’t have an Ecoflap, ironically, as we were among those people whose door’s crossbar was too short in height to fit one. We’re a great case study for the Letterplate Eco!
A Chubb-style keyhole can let through draughts, so be sure to fit a cover that won’t conduct cold air into the house.
Draughts can come in around doors. If your door just fits badly see if this can be addressed. If there’s a draught coming in under your door you can fit a weather strip to the foot of it. A stuffed fabric draught excluder is a very low tech but effective way of stopping a draught in its tracks. Fitting a thick curtain across a door will make a room feel more cosy and help to keep cool air from coming into the room.
If you have a catflap that’s prone to staying open, rattling and leaking cold air, we have the solution. The Petflap is a draughtproof pet door that’s gentle on tails and paws. It has circular trunking so that it can be fitted into glass.
Cutting a square or squoval into glass is difficult. Cutting a circle is much easier, so we changed the shape of our trunking to accommodate that.
The Petflap won’t open or rattle in a draught because it’s always blown more firmly against its frame, whichever direction a draught comes from. We’ve had feedback from customers very impressed that it’s staying shut in exposed locations including Shetland. If a draughty catflap is a problem in your house, we recommend the Petflap.
Floorboards are another draughty spot, particularly in older houses. There are some pitfalls. The website DIYdoctor cautions against using expanding foam as, to quote them, “you will be forever cleaning up the mess”. Be aware too that whatever other method you use, it will be visible. Stain and wax won’t behave on the filler as it will on the floorboards.
There a few ways of filling gappy floorboards. You can put down a PVA layer and top with sawdust to the level of the floorbaords. This makes a PVA and sawdust goo that can be sanded when it’s dried. Pieces of wood can be fitted into the gaps then sanded to avoid any trip hazards. Flooring filler or decorator’s caulk is another option. There are also strips you can buy to push down between the floorboards. You have the option of a squashy strip or a V-shaped strip. Both are cut to length and pushed into the gaps.
If you don’t use your chimney, you can stop it up with a Chimney Sheep. These are natural wool discs fitted to a handle, so that you can easily remove it if you do want to use your chimney. It doesn’t block air flow, but it does stop draughts whistling down the chimney.
There is one other place to check – anywhere cables come in to the building. Check there isn’t a huge gap around them and deal with any that are draughty.
Check your loft hatch too. A poorly insulated loft will get cold and that air can leak out round the loft hatch. That’s pretty simple to fit with foam strip. You can also fit an insulating material to the flat of the hatch to create a barrier to cold air.
Now your house is draughtproofed you can look at how to maximise the heat you use. Radiator reflectors are very effective. They slip between the radiator and the wall and reflect warmth back in to the room. Use them on exernal walls or a shared wall in a terrace or semi-detached house.
I covered these in episode 2 of the pod. Radflek claims that its reflectors not only reflect 95% of heat back into the room, but reduce heat going out through the wall by 45%. The thing I particularly like about these is that they’re an unobtrusive fit-and-forget measure. The second your heating goes on they just start doing their job.
Raadiator reflectors are most effective in a house with poor insulation. You can use domestic foil instead although it’s flimsier and a bit harder to work with.
None of these measures will make you rich, but they will make your house that bit more comfortable over the coming months.
Energy efficiency in distilling
At the end of August the BBC ran a report on a distillery in Kirkwall on Orkney that is looking into powering its gin business on hydrogen power. In collaboration with Napier University and the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC), the HySpirits project has received government funding to convert from LPG. It’s had £150,000, part of the government’s £390 million investment to reduce emissions from industry – I’m quoting from the government website here.
As we saw last week in the feature on hydrogen-powered trains, producing hydrogen isn’t always environmentally friendly, but the HySpirits project would use local wind and tidal power from the EMEC’s plant to make the hydrogen. Distilleries need to produce heat as part of the distillation process. There’s a link in the show notes to a Chemistry World feature on the science behind making gin, so head over there if you want to understand the role of heat in gin making.
If this project is succesful, The Orkney Distillery would reduce CO2 emissions by 86 tonnes a year, which according to gov.uk is the equivalent annual emissions from 10 homes or 18 cars – what size homes, how type of car?
The Orkney Distillery is far from alone in wanting to reduce emissions. The Dalmunach Distillery near Aberlour runs its whisky distillery on wind and hydro power. Distilleries produce waste residues, and at Dalmunach both liquid and solid residues are converted to carbon neutral livestock feed and as a renewable fuel. The result is barely any waste. Dalmunach is able to return treated water to the River Spey.
Dalmunach is owned by Chivas Brothers, part of a larger drinks business Pernod Ricard. It’s the group’s most energy efficient disillery. Fortunately, unlike the businesses we heard about at earlier, Chivas is happy to report that Dalmunach uses nearly 40% less energy than the industry average to generate each litre of alcohol. Overall its water usage is 15% below the industry average. It’s working with Aberdeen university to improve its circularity.
Many elements come together to make gin and whisky distilling well-placed to promote and take advantage of energy efficiencies. Although whisky never goes out of fashion, gin has made a huge comeback in the last few years, especially among younger people, those who will have to suffer longest the effects of climate change and who are acutely aware of it. This forces gin makers to demonstrate strong environmental credentials. Gin drinkers are often looking for more than just a tasty drink – they want to know the back story. Gin makers rely on the botanicals that flavour the spirit, which connects them directly to nature. Whisky distilleries are in beautiful areas of Scotland (yes, Ireland and Wales too) and take their water from the local rivers. Whisky distilleries require a clean environment to produce a desirable product.
Beyond the UK, Bermunda-based Bacardi champions sustainability and has done since its establishment more than 150 years ago. It launched an environmental sustainability initiative called Good Spirited to see how it could reduce the impact of sourcing, packaging and operations. It intended to halve emissions by the end of 2017, but reached its target over a year early. It set itself stringent rules for obtaining sustainable, renewable or recycled packaging while not negatively affecting growers and suppliers. It’s constantly working to bring down the weight of its packaging, aiming for a 15% reduction by 2022. Water use and greenhouse emissions continue to come down, and Bacardi aims to send no waste to landfill whatsoever by 2022.
Bacardi has made changes in a number of areas of operation. It’s switched to biomass boilers at several facilities, using renewable organic material to fuel them. In Puerto Rico its Bacardi rum is produced using wind power, and its Bombay Sapphire gin is produced in a ‘green’ distillery. This distillery is at Laverstoke Mill in Hampshire. It’s an old paper mill on the River Test. There’s a video on the Bombay Sapphire website taking you through the curiously empty and quiet distillery, led by a CGI dove. It’s a lovely building and a rather soothing short video.
The facility was built five years ago and received the BREEAM award for Industrial Design in 2014. During construction Laverstoke Mill was the first distillery to receive an Outstanding at the design stage. What makes this distillery such an environmental success? It produces its own renewable energy from a solar array, and from a hydro-electric turbine in the River Test. It uses a biomass boiler fuelled by locally-sourced wood chips. The building incorporated building materials from demolished buildings. Throughout the site rainwater is harvested and flow restricted.
The distillery is in a Conservation Area and SSSI. Renovations had to work with this and has enhanced it. During construction fish and bats were temporarily rehomed, and bat boxes installed. Bats have access to roof areas. Derilict industrial buildings covering up the River Test were demolished. Aquatic plants were propagated in the river, there’s a fish guard in front of the turbine in the river, and no water is taken from the river.
It’s a fascinating site that’s been in use since well before the Norman Invasion. It pops up in Domesday and was turned into a paper mill by a Huegenot in 1719. It even printed watermarked banknotes for the Bank of England. The site has a tremendous heritage and it looks like Bacardi has gone to great lengths to preserve it.
John Dewar & Sons
John Dewar & Sons is part of the Bacardi group. Across its five distilleries, John Dewar & Sons has achieved reductions of 1/3 in greenhouse gas emissions, reduced water use by almost half, and reduced waste to landfill by 30%. It runs a blending and maturing warehouse in South Lanarkshire.
Bacardi invested heavily in Scotch whisky, in this case installing energy efficient conveyors to transport casks. Each of the 18 warehouses on the site can hold 72000 casks, so reducing the energy required to move them around will make big savings. Whisky is now moved between sites in tankers rather than casks, reducing annual CO2 emissions by 1000 tons, equivalent to keeping about 400 cars off the roads.
The site is planted with 130,000 new trees, planned with Scottish National Heritage. Rainwater is routed to a retention pond which provides wetlands for wildlife. This type of thing was first trialled by the Glengoyne Distillery. 12 wetland cells contain more than 14000 types of plants. Reed beds filter and cleanse effluent from the stills. After anaerobic fermentation the water is clean and can go back into the river without taking anything nasty with it. Treating the waste naturally means it doesn’t need to be transported off site.
In America, Marble Distilling, a distillery and bar in Colorado, put sustainability front and centre from the start. Instead of reusing an old building, the couple behind Marble distilling chose to build a new facility aligned with green building sepcifications. Now up and running, their distillery produces no waste. Like all distilleries, Marble uses lots of water. It designed what an article on popularmechanics.com describes as a “water energy thermal system”. Water is reused endlessly in a closed loop without losing any of its properties. The heat from the water is used in the building. They save millions of gallons of water this way every year and reclaim enough energy to power 20 homes.
Fortunately Marble Distilling is another company keen to share its achievements and best practice. Cheers to that.
Off grid energy access
Is off grid energy access your area of interest? If so you might be interested in next month’s Off-Grid Energy Access Forum 2019, on Wednesday October 2nd in London. It describes itself as “The only conference assessing global investment, market opportunities & technology developments for off-grid energy access at the last mile”. It looks at which technologies and business models are most effective in this area, how to meet growing power demand and develop customer relationships and how to add value to the projects. The link to register is in the show notes.
And what are we up to? We’ve made it into the press this week with a small piece in Real People. We’re working on the new batch and reservations are coming in steadily, so if you want one drop us a line at email@example.com. Thank you for listening to episode 15 of the Energy Efficiency Podcast. Until next time you can find us on both Twitter and Instagram as Ecoflap, and on Twitter we also tweet as The Petflap. In next week’s episode we’ll look at: the VIBES awards, energy efficiency in policing worldwide, and the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices.
Music credit: “Werq” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
Welcome to LEED: The Energy Efficiency Podcast – episode 14, the podcast that brings you a mix of energy efficiency news, products and tips all year round. We’re interested in profiling people and products involved in promoting energy efficiency habits, products and information, so please do get in touch if you have something to contribute.
This week: the WELL health and wellbeing standard – how well does it work? Energy efficiency in public transport – is it going places? And the realities of recycling textiles.
But before we get on with our advertised features, last week website Carbon Brief reported on research looking at replacing hydropower with solar in the USA. The research suggested that America could replace all of its hydropower with solar power using just 13% of the space currently taken up by hydropower schemes. These large scale solar installations are known as USSE – utility scale solar energy.
We looked at hydropower in ep 10 of the pod. The scale of hydropower stations and the disruption to natural watercourses inevitably have an impact on the surrounding area. In some cases, such as the Three Gorges Dam in China, the consequences can be quite devastating for all outcomes other than simply producing hydropower. To find an alternative that uses a fraction of the space is a big step forward for the environment.
Hydropower produces 6% of the USA’s power at the moment. One of its advantages is its ability to produce a surge of power when it’s needed. But in the USA many hydropower schemes are coming towards the end of their lifespan. Dams are being removed from service due to concern about the environmental impacts. In the last 30 years over 1000 dams have been dismantled in the USA. Improvements have been seen in migratory fish numbers in particular.
The research, undertaken by a team led by Dr John Waldman, an aquatic conservation biologist from the City University of New York, is described as a “thought experiment”. The US Army Corps of Engineers maintains a national inventory of dams, and the research team used this to work out how much space would be needed to produce the same amount of power via solar panels. As hydro power schemes vary in scale across the USA so the required area solar panels varies. In Florida, for example, four hydro dams cover 26,520 hectares. The power generated could be replaced by solar panels covering a similar size to New York’s central Park – that’s 341 hectares. 26,520 hectares of hydro or 341 hectares of solar. As the Americans say, do the math.
The research doesn’t look at the costs of installing solar, but they point out that reclaiming the land from hydro would allow installation of different forms of renewable energy generation. They describe a scenario with solar panels at the foot of a drained reservoir or perhaps putting in floating solar. Dams in valleys could see wind turbines on the ridge. Flowing water could be used for much less invasive forms of hydro power, specifically those that don’t block water courses.
It’s not all positive though. Many hydro reservoirs supply drinking water and assist flood control. Massive solar installations come with their own issues. Any new installation involves disturbing the ecosystem of an area, so research in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America recommends installing solar in modular form in areas already inhabited by people – ie rooftops – and ensuring USSE are designed as efficiently as possible to minimise the land needed.
Installing solar within the built environment – eg on derilict or brownfield land – removes any conflict between using the land for food or power. Solar energy can be erratic, which would need to be taken into consideration, but hydro power isn’t always consistent either. They will be vulnerable to drought, which is a very real consideration in this climate crisis.
Across the developing world hydropower is becoming a popular alternative to burning fossil fuels. This reserch could encourage diverting some of that hydro capacity to solar, especially given that developing nations often have the climate to particularly benefit from solar.
In the last two episodes we’ve looked at BREEAM and LEED, the two most widely used sustainable building standards. There are many other schemes all with subtly differing aims, so this week we’ve chosen to examine WELL, a standard developed in the USA. WELL describes itself on its website as “the leading tool for advancing health and well-being in buildings globally”. This is clearly quite distinct from promoting sustainability, but there will be an overlap. A more detailed description from a PDF download from the Cundall site states:
“The WELL Building Standard® is a performance-based system for measuring, certifying, and monitoring features of the built environment that impact human health and wellbeing, through air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind.”
These last seven points are the WELL categories. I’ll list them again in case you missed them: Air, Water, Nourishment, Light, Fitness, Comfort and Mind.
Many elements came together to formulate WELL standards, which were launched in October 2014. Scientific and medical research was integrated with evidence on environmental health and broader health outcomes, and behavioural insights and demographic risk factors to health to create a data set that could work with building design, construction and management best practice. Prior to launch, the WELL Building Standard was peer reviewed by scientists, medics and building practitioners. If you’d like the detailed detail on WELL’s seven principles there’s a link in the show notes to the relevant page of their website.
WELL is administered by the International WELL Building Institute. Its contributors include scientists, athletes and gardeners, all bringing their own take and context to building healthy buildings. The IWBI collaborates with Green Business Certification Inc to provide accreditation.
Working with BREEAM and LEED
WELL is intended to complement BREEAM and LEED. Imagine all the good that BREEAM and LEED achieve across every sustainability considerations and overlay it with a standard that prioritises the health of the people who use building. The cross-fertilisation between the two sets of priorities ensures that one isn’t promoted at the expense of the other or the environment more widely. The Cundall website gives the following example:
“What provides a healthier workplace for a person may come at negative impact to communities or the planet at large. For example, providing increased air quality and quantity could result in higher ventilation and air purification energy consumption which, if taken from the electricity grid, means higher greenhouse gas emissions. A solution to this problem is to use passive measures to reduce pollutants in the air such as green walls.”
Cundall describes itself as ‘multi-disciplinary engineering consultants’. Its London Office, newly built in 2016, was one of the first buildings in Europe registered for WELL. That went so well that Cundall took the same principles to its Hong Kong office, using its offices as what it describes as “a working lab”. Its London Office, One Carter Lane, won gold for its fit out, and also has a BREEAM excellent rating, showing that the two standards work well together.
BREEAM and WELL have collaborated to produce a PDF download of guidance for anyone looking to achieve both BREEAM and WELL certification. Some elements of WELL are already addressed in UK and EU building regs and the guidance looks at these in detail.
Visionary is a large office building in Prague, Czech Republic. It’s situated over multiple public transport facilities to encourage the sustainability and health benefits that come from using public transport, plus it facilitates electric car sharing. On the ground floor staff can access a doctor and a pharmacy. On the top floor is a running track and other sports facilities are provided. There’s a garden for staff to spend time in. On top of its WELL Gold certificate, it also has a LEED platinum rating.
Mirvac HQ in New South Wales, Australia, is a new building for a property company that itself designs environmental and socially sustainable buildings. Its new building is the first gold WELL certified interior space in Australia. Indoor air quality is closely monitored, and enhanced by profuse planting through the building, giving all staff access to nature. Staff can go to yoga and pilates sessions, and eat in the cafe which prioritises healthy options and clear labelling. That might not sound like much, but as the mother of a coeliac I can tell you that clear food labelling is a blessing. It’s one little area that doesn’t need to be stressful.
What’s interesting about this building is how it controls heat into the building, in Australia’s often scorching temperatures. It’s built with a closed cavity facade and a timber blind system. If you haven’t come across a closed cavity facade before, here’s how it works, from the Josef Gartner site:
“Closed Cavity Façade is a double skin façade where the cavity between the inner and the outer skin is completely sealed. Dry and clean air is constantly fed into the façade cavity in order to prevent the formation of condensation on the glazing. Outside conditions are constantly monitored electronically and the quantity of dry air is adjusted accordingly. As a result, energy consumption is reduced to a minimum.”
The timber blind system automatically adjusts to control light and heat radiation. As well as its WELL certification, the Mirvac HQ has achieved a 5 star Green Star rating, Green Star being Australia’s own sustainable building standard.
Encouragingly, while researching this article the overwhelming attitude I found was that this health-focussed standard should work WITH sustainable buildings standard. There was no suggestion that one trumped the other, or got in its way. Architects seem to be very aware that combining both health and sustainability standards is by far the best approach.
It’s clear that many measures incorporated in BREEAM- and LEED-certified buildings will sooner or later be mandatory. The same applies to WELL. Any developer implementing these standards is stealing a march on competitors. As soon as you start looking at the detail of WELL it’s clear that most of its elements are no-brainers. Lighting is a good example.
WELL stipulates lighting that minimises disruption to the body’s circadian rythmns, supports good sleep quality and provides good clear lighting for the task it’s illuminating. This last is to avoid eye strain and headaches. Interruption to circadian rythmns can negatively affect alertness, digestion and sleep, which in turn can increase the likelihood of someone developing heart disease and diabetes, among other unpleasant conditions. WELL emphasises the impact lighting can make on people who spend most of their day indoors – that’s going to be vast numbers of people who work in an office – and that it’s vital to get this right.
A healthier environment increases productivity, reduces absenteeism, and makes a workplace more attractive to potential recruits. We saw this with BREEAM and LEED too. Interestingly, WELL Certification occurs after a building has been occupied for a period of time and post occupancy testing carried out to demonstrate performance in operation.
Effectively what WELL is doing is taking the occupant health and wellbeing of BREEAM and LEED, shining a very bright spotlight on it and scaling it up to be a standalone discipline. According to the Green Build Consult website, occupant health is now seen to be a major driving factor in new builds.
An article on Green Build Consult looks at the risk of overheating and reduced oxygen in well-insulated buildings with tight control on ventilation. In theory this shouldn’t happen if systems work properly within well-designed buildings, but it seems it does. Interestingly the article points out that existing heat thresholds tend to consider extreme heat events where everyone’s flaking out and there’s no grey area, rather than a consistent gentle warmer-than-comfortable high temperature that though less dramatic can lead to heat-related illness and even death. It’s considerations such as these that has increased pressure on governments to combine occupant comfort with energy efficiency in buildings policy.
On its website, WELL acknowledges that achieving certification can be expensive as it’s linked to floor area. The bigger the building, the more accreditation will cost. It’s estimated that additional construction costs is between 1 and 3%. WELL offers a solution to this: incorporate WELL requirements into the design without going for accreditation, then leave the occupant to go for accreditation when the fit out the building. As the site says, those who benefit also pay. The lovely aspect of this is that even if occupants don’t go for WELL accreditation when they fit out the building, they will still benefit from a building constructed to WELL principles, which is much better than nothing.
We’re talking about textile recycling this week. Textile recycling can be a real pain. Some local authorities collect it kerbside, but more don’t. 1/3 of local authorities in London collect textiles. Herefordshire council doesn’t. Four fast-growing children have grown up under our roof, and that amounts to a lot of outgrown clothes and items stained or torn beyond use.
I’ve cut up countless torn and outgrown pyjamas to use as handkerchiefs, dismembered old sweatshirts for kitchen clothes, and endless disintegrating pillow cases and bottom sheets are stored away for grotty cleaning jobs, floor sheets if we’re painting, that sort of thing. I’ve even been known to put torn bits of cotton clothing into the compost. There’s only so much of this stuff you can store. I should add I do try to mend clothes but I’m not very good at it. I did patch our son’s trousers though, while he was too young to care about my wobbly sewing.
So you’re talking here about textiles that can’t be given to a second hand shop or passed on to someone with younger kids?
They’re easy to offload. We’ve taken a fair few armfuls of them too. What I’m talking about today are textiles of all sorts that are past meaningful use. They need to be recycled so that their raw materials can be reused.
Used for what? More clothes?
I didn’t know what they might be used for til I watched a video on the website FireFightersCharity.org.uk. They have clothes and textiles collection bins across the England, Scotland and Wales, and a video on their site shows you what happens to the textiles donated. They sell unwearable textiles to industry and they can end up being used for, for example, car upholstery. That had never occured to me. So far they’ve raised over 3 million for their charity which supports fire fighters when they need it. I think that’s an awesome cause. They have a map on their site so you can find out where your nearest bin is.
I’m guessing most textiles don’t go into a Firefighters Charity bin?
Sadly not. I should say that many other charities also operate similar schemes. According to Hubbub, an initiative promoting healthier and greener lifestyles across a range of areas including fashion, 1/3 of discarded clothing in the UK just gets tossed in the bin. The website wiseuptowaste.org.uk says that if all clothing dumped in landfill had instead been sold through charity shops it could have raised 140 million. By the way Hubbub points out that knackered old textiles can be used for chair padding, cleaning cloths and industrial blankets, as well as car upholstery. Hubbub also points out ways to help clothes last for longer.
Some items have just had their chips and need to be recycled. Other than charity bins, some councils offer textile collection and so do some charities – if you have a stash of stuff but can’t get to the charity shop under your own steam give them a call and see if they will come and get it.
So it looks like in the UK that although you have to recycle textiles separately from your other household recycling, it’s fairly straightforward. Charity shop what you can, stick the rest in a textile recycling bin even if it’s grotty. That’s not the end of it though, is it? Recycling must use a fair bit of energy.
Yes it does, but that’s if textiles are recycled. We’ve all heard that disposable fashion is unsustainable but increasing, and around the world vast amounts end up in landfill. Australia in particular has a shockingly high level of hardly used clothing going into landfill.
I suppose you have to think about what that clothing is made of.
Yes – much sports wear is made of PET, that’s the same stuff plastic bottles are made of, and packaging. 2/3 of it goes into clothing. If that clothing goes into landfill it dwarfs all our efforts to reduce and recycle plastic bottles. Even donating clothes and textiles isn’t a magic bullet as the market is now flooded and becoming unprofitable. Some recycling companies have even gone bankrupt. Horrifyingly, according to a Guardian article, 87% of unwanted textiles go to landfill.
What happens to the rest?
12% goes for shredding and reuse as fibre, insulation or rags, and just 1%, one measly %, is chemically recycled back to reusable raw materials. There’s a massive opportunity to make something out of proper textile recycling, and some developments are emerging such as chemical sorting. This would allow items fibres to be accurately diverted for reuse. This takes the pressure off raw materials and landfill. It would allow proper valuation of the fibres in a way that doesn’t happen now. Manufacturers need to buy into it too. Nike includes recycled materials in its products and H&M incorporates 100% regenerated nylon fibre in a special collection.
You mentioned before the energy involved in recycling textiles. Some processes are as damaging as producing the raw materials in the first place but this is a minority. Research published in Science Direct in May last year found that overall it’s beneficial to recycle textiles, though reuse is preferable. If anyone wants to read that research the link is in the shownotes.
In the UK we donate a lot of old clothes to charity, but still buy a lot and chuck a lot away. According to a government select comittee publication 300,000 tonnes of clothing is binned here every year. 20% goes to landfill, 80% is incinerated. The document suggests that a 1p levy on clothes for sale in the UK would raise about £35 million to invest in clothing collection points, sorting and recycling facilities.
I’ve looked at a publication from the Environmental Audit Select Comittee. It’s surprisingly readable. It promotes arguments in favour of teaching people mending skills and developing a mindset that makes buying new clothes a considered process. It quotes Professor Dilys Williams of the Centre for Sustainable Fashion at the London College of Fashion who wants practical mending skills across a range of materials included in the school curriculum.
The document points out that many people don’t feel confident to consider mending a garment. I’d catch up a hem, sew on a button on so on and apply a basic patch, but even at my age I still go to my mum if it’s more complicated than that. Members of the select comittee want a new approach to dealing with what’s termed ‘post-consumer fashion’.
The first suggestion is kerbside recycling. That would normalise putting out textile waste alongside your tin cans and cereal boxes and make textile recycling something you don’t have to put conscious thought into.
Interestingly the select committee also called for Regional Textile Sorting Centres to be created. They would grade items according to their resale potential. They also want anyone to have easy access to what’s being discarded, so that people can reuse and upcycle it.
One contributor to the select committee, designer Phoebe English, raised the issue of pre-consumer waste, the bits left on a piece of material after cutting out the shapes you need. It’s a big problem in China and India. In New York business are legally required to separate and repurpose all textile waste down to the smallest scrap of fabric if textiles make up more than 10% of their waste in any month.
That sounds a bit complex to administer.
That’s what I thought, but it shows an awareness of the problem at least. It’s not just a nice idea though. Businesses and initiatives have sprung up to collect this excess fabric. One, FABSCRAP, prepares the fabric to be reused by other brands, including Marc Jacobs and Esprit.
Aren’t some companies taking back clothes?
Yes. It’s called schwopping and it’s been quite successful. M&S have beeg doing it for a little while and Zara and H&M have plans to start. People depositing clothes usually get a voucher to spend in-store so you can see the appeal. Again, companies taking proactive steps in this area will be ahead of the game if it become mandatory to take items back at end of life, like electronics firms have to. Placing more responsibility on producers incentivises them to produce less waste in the first place.
France has a policy along these lines. Collection rates have increased by over 50% and over 90% of that is reused or recycled. They’ve created sorting centres with 1400 full time jobs, and half of those jobs have gone to people having trouble finding employment.
It sounds great, but Dr Mark Sumner of the University of Leeds feels it’s a tax on clothing manufacturers and he wants the government to do more more towards kerbside recycling and providing the recycling infrastructure.
Parker Lane Group, a textile recycling company, feel a system like the French one would have benefits. Whatever happens, textiles recycling is part of the government’s plan to eliminate avoidable waste by 2050. In the meantime, I’ll keep cutting up sheets for dusters.
Energy efficiency in public transport
Set against private car use, public transport is inherently energy efficient. One train, bus or tram can transport many more people than a car. However, that public transport could in many cases itself be a great deal more energy efficient than it is.
Transport became the UK’s most carbon-intense sector in 2016, overtaking power generation. This has prompted local councils to strive for ambitious sustainable transport strategies. One relatively straightforward step is to replace fossil fuel vehicles with electric-powered alternatives.
In Leeds electric double decker buses are being trialled, following a successful pilot in York. Each Metrodecker EV carries 99 passengers and travels 150 miles on an overnight charge. This bus runs on a park and ride route. West Yorkshire Combined Authority is working with bus operators to make these changes. The manufacturer of the buses, Optare, is based in Leeds and produces its buses in Yorkshire.
The Scottish government is funding the BEAR scheme – Bus Emissions Abatement Retrofit. This keeps existing fleet in use, fitted with technology that reduces emissions. Buses fitted with this technology will meet the requirement of Low Emissions Zones by bringing down lovels of nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter. Nitrogen dioxide emissions are typically reduced by 95% after undergoing a BEAR retrofit.
One bus company, McGill’s, will find 30% of its otherwise servicable fleet unable to enter Glasgow’s low emissions zone by 2023, but BEAR funding means these buses can be retrofitted and keep on ferrying people around on a tiny fraction of the previous emissions.
It won’t surprise you to hear that the Netherlands is well ahead with providing its citizens with clean public transport. Since 2017 all electric passenger trains use green energy. There are various high standards set for buses, and the government is looking into the possibilities for hydrogen-powered trains. It has agreement with each type of public transport for energy efficiency improvements year on year.
Hydrogen trains are a possibility here in the UK too. At the moment most trains are powered by either electricity or diesel. The government wants to phase out diesel trains by 2040, another 20 years away.
The options are to electrify the whole network, provide batteries or hydrogen storage, or some combination of both. The answer isn’t straightforward. Diesel trains can be built to high levels of energy efficiency. The technology is improving all the time, and the infrastructure is already there and proven. Electrifying big chunks of the rail network would be a massive and expensive project. Some Victorian rail bridges would be an obstacle to the catenary wires which are part of the electrical transmission network on a train. Should we skip electrification and go straight to a hydrogen storage system and embrace the future?
At the moment just 42% of the UK rail network is electrified, and ASLEF, the train drivers’ union, supports electrifying the rest. they argue persuasively on their site that electric beats diesel on many considerations. As regards the cost of electrification, ASLEF puts this down to each proposed electrification project being considered in isolation and so racking up costs each time that would be wiped out of a national rolling programme was implemented. ASLEF states that for long-distance or freight trains hydrogen or battery power wouldn’t be enough, and that electrification is the only option.
In June this year the Hydroflex hydrogen powered train was showcased in the West Midlands. The train was developed by train building company Porterbrook in partnership with Birmingham University’s Centre for Railway Research. The UK is looking to be only the second country in the world to start running hydrogen trains. A small handful currently operate in Germany, although Rhein-Main transport authority has ordered 27, and Romania and France want to place orders.
Victorian rail network
We have to develop trains to work specifically with Britain’s Victorian rail network, which uses shorter trains. Trains have to be developed that store the hydrogen infrastructure above or underneath the carriages, but still leave room to go through tunnels. The Hydroflex, as a showcase train, stored the infrastructre where passengers would sit.
Using hydrogen to replace diesel is cheaper than electrifying track on the face of it, but investment would be needed to generate and store hydrogen. Perhaps the answer is half and half, with hydrogen powering sections of railway that have low bridges and tunnels – remember those catenary wires – and electricity being used the rest of the time. This would reduce the mileage of electrification needed.
Although hydrogen breaks down into harmless components, generating it from methane creates CO2. This needs to be captured and put to good use to ensure that creating hydrogen fuel cells doesn’t create as many problems as it solves. There is another way of producing hydrogen, by passing an electric current through water. Using renewable electricity to create the current would make hydrogen renewable, but to be economic plants creating hydrogen in this way would need to run more or less all the time. If renewables weren’t available they would then draw expensive and non-renewable power from the grid. Fortunately there is a third way: thermochemical production, where sulphur and iodine react with water in the presence of heat. This should become economical in the next decade as ‘generation IV’ power plants – high temperature, small modular reactors, are developed. They aren’t being developed in the UK yet but are in countries including China and Canada.
Hydrogen fuel is a popular area for research, so generation is likely to become cleaner and less expensive. When it can be produced at scale it could replace natural gas in our homes, leading to an economy of scale that make it a simple choice to power trains.
Many cities around the world run a tram network. In the UK trams aren’t widely used any more, although once they were a standard form of travel. By the mid-1960s every city except Blackpool had ripped up its tramlines in favour of the car. From the mid-80s trams crept back, initially in Tyne & Wear, then Docklands and so on.
Increasing journey numbers
According to government figures though tram and light rail journeys in the UK are increasing slowly, up by 44% in the last decade. Just now almost half of those journeys are on the Docklands Light Railway in London. Government figures show good rates of satisfaction, no doubt linked to pretty good punctuality. There’s a government PDF that we’ll link to if you’re interested in a breakdown of a comprehensive data set.
British cities running trams include Edinburgh, Sheffield, Manchester and Birmingham. Plans are in place for trams in Cardiff and a campaign is underway to bring them back to the city of Bath. Trams need an infrustructure that buses just don’t. This makes them feasible in a city or other densely populated area. Trams create no pollution in operation, a dream situation in an environment with lots of pedestrians around. However a constant and reliable electricity supply is needed, so going 100% green will present its challenges. Having said that, trams are lightweight vehicles, so use less energy to move around than another vehicle of the same size or capacity.
Manchester runs its trams on 100% renewable energy. On its website, Transport for Greater Manchester reports that 70% of the energy comes from wind and solar, with the rest from waste and hydro power, so it can be done. Interestingly, the site also points out that Manchester’s trams have steel wheels rather than rubber tyres. When the wheel is worn out it’s recycled, so full marks to Manchester for taking a holistic approach to providing energy efficient public transport.
Helsinki in Finland powers its trams by water and wind power and combines with that with running the most energy efficient vehicles. It’s introducing a driver advisory service in stages, which helps drivers save energy. If a driver can see they are running perfectly to time or are ahead of themselves they can drive more slowly and use less energy. It also helps to reduce unnecessary braking. Drivers in Helsinki weren’t sure about the system at first but are now seeing the benefits for themselves and welcome it.
There’s a link in the show notes to an article on the website Tramways and Urban Transit which goes into much technical detail about how electricity is and can be delivered to networks, and related initiatives around the world.
Lastly a quick look at the energy efficiency of underground train networks. We saw last week how essentially ‘waste’ heat generated by tube trains can be used to heat homes and businesses, but how efficient are the trains to operate? TfL, which operates London Underground, has big plans. TfL uses more electricity than anything else in London, with both underground and overground trains eating up a massive chunk of that. It needs to be onboard if Sadiq Khan’s plan of a carbon neutral London by 2050 is to be a reality. Tube trains have their part to play.
If you travel on the Victoria Line you may have noticed that the track rises very slowly on the approach to each stop, then falls away. This helps trains to slow down and reduce the need for braking. Braking creates lost heat, which is one reason the underground gets so hot. That system isn’t new though. It was put in place when the line was built in the 60s. Newer trains also use regenerative braking, which captures lost energy and pipes it back to the train. That has a knock-on of reducing wear-and-tear on brake pads and it creates less dust, which leaves the tunnels cleaner. This technology is being introduced as old trains are phased out. Tfl is also looking at where trains can coast into stations, to reduce energy use in braking even further.
TfL wants to generate its own power. It plans to fit solar panels trackside and on top of its buildings. Given that the land can’t really be used for anything else this is a fantastic opportunity with immense potential. Research conducted by Imperial College and published under the fabulous name Riding Sunbeams, suggests TfL could meet 6% of its energy needs this way. Professor Tim Green of the Energy Futures Lab at Imperial College London points out that TfL has a choice about where it buys its energy from, and could go greener through the simple measure of buying from a carbon neutral supplier. Last year TfL began a process to make agreements directly with suppliers who generate green energy, as cutting out the middle man would cut costs significantly. Here’s hoping these cuts are reflected in ticket prices.
And what have we been up to? We’ve now sold out of Petflaps, and have started taking reservations for the next batch. We haven’t done this before so are trialling it. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve one of the next batch. If you read Real People magazine look out for us in next week’s issue. Journalist Jane Common has written a small piece on us which we’re agog to read.
Thank you for listening to episode 14 of the Energy Efficiency Podcast. Until next time you can find us on both Twitter and Instagram as Ecoflap, and on Twitter we also tweet as The Petflap. In next week’s episode we’ll look at: wood fibre as an insulation material, energy efficiency in the distilling business, and getting winter ready.
Music credit: “Werq” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
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