Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Low-Carbon Retrofit for a Quarter of British Homes.

In the thinking that 25% of the U.K.'s carbon emissions come from homes, it is planned to refurbish around seven million of them, thus curbing CO2 emissions in line with government targets to cut one third of emissions from this sector by 2030 and saving increasingly precious fuel. Yes I know, it's another of those long-way-off dates, and far enough away that who knows what kind of mess we will be in in terms of our energy provision and requirements or if anybody has any money to pay for it by then?

The move is likely to be applauded by energy poverty action groups (you are in energy poverty if you spend 10% or more of your disposable income on energy) and environmental campaigners concerned about anthropogenically induced climate change. Now the latter theory has fallen into a quite acrimonious debate, and the likes of James Hansen are being called alarmist (or worse), since there is credible scientific evidence that shows the whole global warming phenomenon to be shall I say, less clear-cut than we are generally led to believe. I noted the other day that Hansen's old boss has come clean that he isn't totally convinced any longer by the "it's all our fault" rhetoric. Given the huge impact on resources that will be necessary to adopt low-carbon, and carbon-capture strategies whether the issue is right or wrong is no affair of mere semantics.

However, while I await the conclusions of experts on this, it is clear that curbing carbon fuel use must mitigate global warming if indeed this is the cause of it, but more immediately it will ameliorate the terrible threat of running short of conventional fuels if we do indeed transfer our needs to renewable energy sources. I am skeptical about how quickly we can install millions of wind-turbines etc. but a move to a biomass economy (bioeconomy) insofar as this is possible does seem the way forward, since we can begin growing stuff immediately: it is however the processing of it into fuel and chemical feedstocks on the grand scale, requiring vast new engineering that is the real challenge. However, in an economic downturn of conventional production and commerce, might this not be an opportune time to begin honing such new developments, both to drive the economy and to prepare for an inevitable future with far less oil?

We will need to reskill our population at some stage for practical tasks and now seems as good a time as any to begin doing that. It would also be a good time to look at what exactly the universities are turning-out in terms of graduates, in measure against what skills the country actually does need, rather than a bums-on-seats policy that simply makes the government's unemployment statistics look less bad than they would otherwise. In all likelihood the new universities will return to their useful job as the polytechnics who trained the workforce for industry. When manufacturing industry "fell" in the 1970's/early 1980's, that manufacturing base was "lost" and it seems to me that now is the moment to kick-start a new industry based on biomass/renewables and the more efficient use of energy in buildings and for whatever level of transport provision we need in a revamped, relocalised society.

More small scale (e.g. CHP) low carbon heat systems are to be encouraged, probably by financial incentives - tax breaks etc., although since the Sustainable Energy Academy estimates that if home-owners spend £15,000-20,000 on their carbon-improvements, they would recoup that in fuel savings over a period of 10-15 years, or sooner if fuel prices increase, as they almost certainly will, it is the punter who will bear the burden. Entire districts may also be offered community clean energy schemes, or a mass refitting with more efficient energy devices. The Conservatives take the idea of "self-help" a stage further and might award grants of up to £6,500 per household, which would be recovered over up to 25 years from expected average reductions of £160 in annual gas and electricity costs.

I find a similarity here with the self-help "go to university" scheme (also known as loans and top-up fees), where a customer (they are not students any more) ends up owing an average of £15,000 - 20,000 in exchange for that piece of paper whose worth must yet be proved in the rapid skid of a world whose future cannot be guaranteed by past outcomes. We are now in entirely unassailed territory.

Related Reading.


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