Renew On Line (UK) number 72

Extracts from NATTA's journal
Renew, Issue 172 Mar/Apr2008
   Welcome   Archives   Bulletin         


1. Big UK wind push

2. Zero Carbon Buildings

3. Nuclear Decision

4. Energy Policy developments

5. Tory Green Energy Promises

6. Brown on Energy...and Climate

7. Biofuels and biomass get going

8. EU News: REFIT spreads

9. Global News: Climate High, Bali Low

10. World Round up: Oz, NZ, Canada try

11. Nuclear news: US and UK plans

2. Zero Carbon Buildings
Offsite Renewables not allowed

There’s been a debate over Merton Council’s ‘10% from renewables’ rule, and over whether green power could be imported from remote offsite renewable generators to meet it, and then over the governments new target of having all new build attain zero emissions by 2016. Under pressure to clarify her Departments position, the Minister, Yvette Cooper, insisted that she strongly supported the Merton Rule but also indicated that long distance imports should not be eligible. She wrote to the Guardian (7/12/07) saying ‘Councils need to continue to set Merton rules on the proportion of renewable energy supplied directly to developments from local sources. An offshore wind farm would not count.’ She added ‘We need councils to do far more to promote the use of decentralized renewable and low carbon energy, looking at community energy schemes like combined heat and power plants, as well as micro-generation’.
In her letter on the rules, to Merton Council, she commented ‘we believe they should be sufficiently flexible to allow for offsite as well as on site renewables and councils should consider wider local low carbon opportunities. The emphasis should be on minimising carbon emission and maximizing the scope for innovation.’ The British Property Federation welcomed what it evidently saw as a relaxation of an otherwise too constraining rule- not all sites were suitable to deliver enough power from on-house wind, solar etc . But that still means they can’t make use of remote sources.
In Dec. Cooper published the new Planning Policy Statement on Climate change, which adopts a ‘Merton plus’ approach.

Zero Carbon Buildings Offsite or on site renewables?
The new report from RAB, the Renewables Advisory Board (see below), argues that the contribution from “offsite” renewable energy generation to the delivery of zero carbon homes should be kept to a minimum i.e. they shouldn’t import power from remote renewable generators, but should do it themselves, using domestic-scale micro-generation (e.g. PV solar, micro wind, and micro-CHP).
Micropower enthusiasts were clearly very pleased: there had been lobbying against the building trade, who, worried about the extra cost of having to install integrated renewables, were calling for imports to be allowed. Jeremy Leggett, (then) CEO of leading PV installer Solar Century said ‘At last, here is a serious, independent piece of work which confirms what I and others in this industry have been saying for many years. The onsite renewable technologies are out there, they work, they’re practical, and they’re reliable. The sheer weight of evidence presented will surely encourage the Government that incorporating renewables on site is a completely viable option in delivering its zero carbon homes target. Surely now, we will hear no more about how remote “offsite” renewables such as wind farms might need to be included in the definition of zero carbon buildings. We really can go zero, and our ailing planet needs us to.’
Solar Century note that the Zero carbon standards will involve a high uptake for solar PV ‘because it requires no added space and can be integrated into the fabric of the building’. The report suggests that solar PV could be installed on 70% of new homes (i.e. 200,000 per year) from 2016 and over 2 million PV systems could be installed on new build housing by 2025. The report sees micro wind as less attractive, but micro CHP is seen as playing a significant role. There’s talk of 20GW or more being installed. Micro-CHP was initially pushed by British Gas, maybe keen to eat into the electricity market, but it has now abandoned its Microgen project. Powergen is still developing its Whispergen, but some of the electricity utilities and generators may actually be less happy with on site micro power- since it could eat into the market for power from their grid-linked renewables like wind farms. If the new build housing market (and presumably also a growing part of the retrofitted existing housing sector) is lost to them, that might cut their market share, although it’s likely that demand for electricity from renewables from the rest of the economy will more than suffice.
Conflicting pathways However the On-Site/Offsite generation issue also raises wider concerns. One way to balance the variable power output from some large offsite renewables, like wind farms, is by storing some of the energy as heat in domestic boilers and by interactive management (re-phasing) of their energy demands. If the housing sector becomes, in effect, mostly autonomous with no, or few, imports, these interactive/balancing opportunities are reduced. Individual houses can of course have smart plugs and heat stores, or, more efficiently, maybe there can be grouped heat stores at street/community level so enabling some local balancing. This may make sense for solar heating, although large scale CSP buffs might not agree- they want us to import power from N Africa! But in most other cases, PV apart, in general there are still economies of scale- large wind turbines are very much more efficient that micro wind units, and medium scale community CHP is much more efficient that micro CHP. Indeed, a case can be made for city-wide CHP with large 600 kW power plants- as Orchard partners have argued recently in evidence to the Select Committee on the Environment. But then the RAB report calls for biomass-fuelled CHP- which is a whole new game. So we may be entering uncharted territory- and it may not be just about banning electricity imports: we’ve heard rumbles from some eco-groups, keen to push full adoption of on-site renewables, about calling for a ban on gas links to new houses. So much for the longer term prospects for hydrogen!
Zero carbon homes RAB see gap
A report from the Renewables Advisory Board (RAB), which advises Government on renewable energy issues, looks at the role of ‘on site’ energy generation, e.g. domestic scale renewables/micropower, in the delivery of the Government’s policy of ensuring that all new homes are zero carbon from 2016. Amongst it key findings is the conclusion that the electricity load created by appliances means that ‘renewables are essential to meet zero carbon standards even where homes are built to the highest levels of energy efficiency’.
In theory this power could be supplied via the grid from larger renewable energy projects elsewhere, but this report, which was produced for RAB by Element Energy, focusses on self-generation on site. It argues that, though this approach may initially be more expensive, it will help build a market for the new micropower technologies, so that prices fall- a ‘technology forcing’ approach, helping them move down their learning curves. However, as things stand, it will be a slow process. The report’s modelling suggests that the proposed timescale of the Government’s green homes policy, which is based on new low carbon regulations and planning rules, will create ‘very little demand for renewable energy until 2016’. But if the programme works, ‘from 2016 the market for onsite renewables rises dramatically and could be worth between £1.4 bn and £3 bn a year, with the base case estimating a market of £2.3 bn a year’. But RAB says there could be constraints, since the projected annual uptake of on-site generation ‘is greater than UK manufacturing capacity for all renewable energy technology, and greater than global manufacturing capacity for a number of the most cost effective technologies’. So a gap could open up.
The report suggests that technologies that are likely to experience the highest levels of uptake are biomass combined heat and power (installed in around 120,000 dwellings by 2016) and solar photovoltaics (around 220,000 units by 2016). Micro wind doesn’t fare so well- only around 20,000 units by 2016. Solar heating is even smaller. All of this assumes a big jump from the very much lower levels in each case reached by 2013- in response to the requirement in the governments zero carbon housing plans to move to 100% zero emissions by 2016. By then, all new houses are expected to reach level 6, as set out in the Code for Sustainable Home. RAB clearly feels that as things stand, this jump is likely to be too big. In particular it warns the adoption trends it outlines are ‘sensitive to the level at which government allows offsite generation’- there has been a lot of lobbying from the building industry for the latter on the grounds of costs. Instead it wants to ensure that the development of micropower is speeded up, with offsite power inputs avoided.

Matthew Spencer, RAB microgeneration working group chair said: ‘The zero carbon policy is long-sighted and bold, and could produce big environmental benefits in existing and new homes if it is used to accelerate the development of decentralised energy services and technology. However the Government’s current timescale postpones much of the hard work until 2016, with little opportunity to learn or build capacity in the UK onsite renewables sector in the next eight years. If left unaddressed this could slow house building but we think there are options to overcome this supply gap. This includes using the planning system to require earlier uptake of renewable energy in larger housing developments.’

Speed it up
The report says the average cost of meeting zero carbon standards from on site renewables is expected to be ‘£6,000 per dwelling, with higher costs for small urban developments and the lowest costs for large rural developments’. However that all depends on how rapid the uptake is. The RAB report claims that if demand is not accelerated there will not be enough economic technology to meet the target of zero emissions by 2016. It therefore argues for a change in the proposed policy ‘to create earlier stimulation for onsite renewable energy e.g., encouraging local authorities to use the planning system to require zero carbon standards in the largest housing developments in advance of 2016’. In addition it wants to see accelerated technological and commercial development of Biomass Combined Heat and Power (CHP) e.g. ‘making deployment of biomass CHP a priority of the Environmental Transformation Fund’. It also want to ‘minimise the use of remote offsite energy generation in meeting zero carbon standards e.g. by settting a tight cap on its use and a high ‘buy-out’ cost for any offsite generation fund’.
Clearly then they want the housing sector to deal with its energy problems directly and soon, and so they call for the use of imported power from remote off site generators to be limited, although they do say that there could be a role for local offsite power. This does seem to be how the government see it. In Nov., Minister Yvette Cooper told Prospect magazine ‘We won’t allow offsetting with a wind turbine in Cornwall; we want to promote real energy innovation at the local level’, although that presumably could involve some local offsite generation.
RAB acknowledge that their proposed approach involves a strategic trade off between on the one hand getting ‘technology forcing’ for mainstream grid linked renewables, and on the other hand, the technology forcing that would occur if the power came from on-site renewables. But they come down on the side of the latter, since they say the former has the benefits on wider support under the Renewables Obligation (RO).

Could forcing work?
RAB’s ‘technology forcing’ approach has some similarities with what was done in Germany, with its 100,000 PV roof programmes. But that was aided by the Renewable Energy Feed In-Tariff, which gives a clear incentive for generation using PV and other renewables: it means that self-generators can earn extra by exporting any excess power. By contrast, RABs approach seems to be based mainly on the use of regulations and planning rules, although DBERR has been trying to ensure that domestic/small self- generators can earn reasonable amounts from any export via adjustments to the RO. But it’s been an uphill struggle so far, not helped by the cut in grant levels for house-holders under the Low Carbon Building Programme. Whether RABs new proposals for using the regulations to force the pace even faster will work, much less be acceptable to the building industry, remains to be seen.
It’s also unclear if it will be feasible to get most of the renewable energy needed just from on site generation- or whether that is actually a sensible idea. The construction industry may just be trying to dodge extra costs, but it is reasonable to ask- what is wrong with importing power from remote wind farms, wave farms, tidal farms- if using those resources is more efficient and cost effective than say PV solar on houses? The RAB scenario is dominated by PV, the cost of which dominates the whole programme- PV installation costs, in new build, total around £820m p.a. by 2016, compared to only £520m p.a. for biomass CHP. PV costs would of course fall if the market expanded on the scale planned, but it would still be expensive. The RAB report claims that solar heating is much less cost effective as a carbon abatement option and while it may play a role earlier on, it won’t be used that much for the level 6 projects. Presumably in part this is because solar heat only substitutes for gas heating, whereas PV and other micropower units are seen as replacing coal derived electricity- which is more carbon intense. RAB also think that ground source heat pumps wont play much of a role at level 6, since they need electricity which, if it is to come from on site generation, will be constrained at that level. This sort of constraint seems rather counter-productive- is it so vital for houses to generate all their power? Is demand from other sectors going to be so great that all the remote large scale renewables must be reserved to meet it?
It’s a good general principle that they should generate as much as they can themselves, but since we also want to upgrade existing houses, a bit of flexibility is needed. RAB in fact mention a 50% cap on off-site imported power, which seems reasonable.
For the RAB report see:
Merton Rule Battles
The Merton rule, requiring developers to get 10% of the energy used in new non-residential buildings from renewables, has been stoutly defended by a group of MPs led by Tory Michael Fallon who has tabled a Private members bill, co-sponsored by John Battle, one time Labour Energy Minister and backed by ex-environment ministers Michael Meacher (L), John Gummer (C) and Elliot Morley (L), plus Lib Dem Chris Huhne.
The Building industry says that this would be too expensive and has argued for allowing some imports from remote offsite renewables- and there were worries that the government might back down (see later report). The Merton rule only applies to non residential buildings but it’s been copied by150 or so other UK councils, and it’s seen as a crucial issue for how the new ‘Zero Carbon Homes’ programme unfolds.
Merton rule supporters say that remote offsetting in this way is just ducking out of developers responsibilities- and will not help increase the total amount of renewables in place, since the remote wind farms etc. will happen anyway. It’s also been argued that the Merton approach will encourage developers to think about energy efficient buildings- in order to reduce the amount they have to spend on high-cost onsite renewables. However, the RAB report’s analysis (p.6) of the need to resist imports of offsite renewables and to get on-site power for all new build by 2016, takes this argument to the next stage- in effect from 10% to 100%. That may raise some eyebrows, since, even if prices (e.g. for PV) are forced down by this ruling, 100% may not be technically optimal or realistic in practice by 2016. But that does not mean that the Merton Rule should not be defended- it’s a step in the right direction, and local councils ought to be allowed to set standards as they see fit, and even go faster. As Fallon put it, his proposed Bill would enable local councils ‘to reach beyond the minimum standards set by the government. It encourages localism.’
How far you can go like this is debatable. But to some extent, the battle over Merton and RABs views misses the point- new build is only about 2% of housing stock each year. What matters more is the upgrading of existing houses- and even new houses.

Green Building battles
EU and UK legislation on planning regulations and building standards have already resulted in a 14% increase in build costs, a figure which could rise to more than 60%, if the new BRE Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) standards of excellence are met, according to Miller Developments, a division of Miller, the UK’s largest privately owned property development and construction company. Phil Miller, Miller developments CEO, told the Sunday Telegraph (28/10/07): ‘There seem to be lots of authorities competing with each other to set higher targets without listening to the industry and finding out whether these targets are viable. European targets are now coming through in both planning and building regulations, but they are coming though in a very disorganised way.’
Miller based his calculations on a notional 50,000 sq. ft office building and found that just meeting current targets for on-site power generation would add 6% to build costs, and achieving 27% CO2 savings would add an extra 8%. The extra 14% would be needed to pay for technology like ground-source heating, high-performance glass and energy-efficient heating/cooling plants. If the new BREEAM guidelines are met, the costs could rise by 60%.
There have been industry pressures to recind policies such as the Merton Rule which stipulates that new developments must generate 10% of their energy through on-site renewables. But in a letter to Merton Council the Minister Yvette Cooper said: ‘Let me assure you the Merton Rule will not be scrapped, despite reports to the contrary. The Merton Rule has acted as a real incentive to provide local renewable energy and cut carbon emissions’. And answering a Parliamentary Question on Oct 24th, she said ‘The consultation draft of the planning policy statement(PPS): planning and climate change, sought views on the proposal that local planning authorities should ensure that a significant proportion of the energy supply of substantial new development is gained on-site and renewably and/or from a decentralised, renewable or low-carbon, energy supply. Of the 324 consultation responses received, 52% of respondents agreed with this approach and 6% disagreed. No non-governmental organisation disagreed with the approach.’

In Dec, the new Planning Policy Statement on Climate change emerged, calling on councils to boost the use of on-site renewable energy and local community energy schemes to help cut carbon emissions from new developments (details in Renew 173). However some still detect pressures to water down the targets. Andrew Warren, director of the Association for the Conservation of Energy, said that not only are minimum standards too low, but the Government is refusing to let local councils adopt higher standards because of their drive to build huge quantities of new homes. ‘You either get cheap, quick and dirty, or you go slower and get it right. At the moment the need for volume is taking precedence over energy efficiency.’
* Asked in the Commons last Oct. about the impact of energy standards on the energy performance of buildings, Minister Iain Wright said:‘Since April 2007 when the Code for Sustainable Homes was introduced in England, all Government-funded homes and homes built on land owned by English Partnerships will be built to Code level 3, which is a 25% improvement minimum energy efficiency standards set down in Part L of the Building Regulations. It is too early to say what proportion of private sector housing will be built to Code level 3. All new homes, whether built by the private or public sector, are required to meet the minimum energy efficiency standards set down in Part L of the Building Regulations. Following extensive consultation with the home building industry, environmental groups and other stakeholders, on 23 July 2007 the Government confirmed, in its Housing Green Paper, its intention to increase the energy efficiency standards of new homes above 2006 levels by 25 % in 2010, 44% in 2013 and for all new homes to be zero carbon by 2016.’
Micro wind doubts
A report on ‘Micro-wind turbines in the urban environment’ by the Building Research Establishment (BRE) Trust suggests that in many urban areas they are unlikely to pay back either their carbon emissions or the home owner’s costs for installation and maintenance. It looks at both the carbon and financial payback times that can be expected from typical domestic micro-wind turbines in a range of representative locations in Manchester, Portsmouth and Wick, and compares the financial and carbon costs of manufacture, installation and maintenance with the likely carbon and cost savings made by the electricity generated during their useful life. It found that in windy locations such as the outskirts of Wick and parts of Portsmouth, micro-wind turbines can generate enough energy to pay back their carbon costs within a few months to a few years, but in large, less windy urban areas like Manchester they are very unlikely to ever pay back their carbon costs.
A Micro turbine in a city like Manchester:150kWh p.a.- 2% of average energy use. In a windy location like Wick, it could be 3MWh p.a.- about 40% of energy use, with payback thus being under a year. BRE
BRE says that even when optimally sited financial payback is unlikely for all but the most efficient, low maintenance, low price turbines. Performance is highly sensitive to relatively small changes in local wind conditions (standard performance calculations are usually based on wind speed databases, which don’t account for surface roughness and local effects), installation and maintenance regimes (including associated transport costs) and expected service life. The energy and therefore carbon embedded in manufacturing turbines varies dramatically- from 180 kg up to 1,444kg, similar to that produced per person for a return cross-Atlantic flight. Delivery, installation and maintenance can add 18-147kg of CO2. The report highlights the need for manufacturers to develop more efficient low maintenance designs.

FIT for micropower?
Energy minister Malcolm Wicks says that in the proposed new consultation on how the meet the 15% by 2020 renewable energy target "we will be looking afresh at microgeneration, and any proposals to boost microgeneration, including a feed-in tariff, are ones we are open to consider." But he insisted that this "is not at all challenging the mainstream renewables obligation" which he clearly will not abandon. "I think it is important for confidence, including investor confidence, that we don't, as it were, change policies halfway through. I am confident about the reforms we are making." The micro generation programme is in tatters with a 66% reduction in people seeking grants since they were reduced. The Tories have proposed a Feed-In tariff to help- see later.

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