Monday, 31 December 2007


Above shows the complete Biomass Cycle. Please click on the image to see a larger version.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007


1. Adopt from a shelter
Let rescue become your favorite breed. The U.S. is currently suffering from an overpopulation of both cats and dogs. Many shelters are so overcrowded that they can only house each animal for 5 days and then the animal is euthanized. It is estimated that shelter workers nationwide euthanize 3 to 4 million homeless cats and dogs per year. Why buy when you can adopt one of the 70,000 puppies and kittens born every day (5,500 puppies and kittens born every hour) in the United States? Take a trip to a local shelter or visit, you will soon realize that rescues come in all shapes, sizes and ages. Don't be surprised to see a "purebred" or two.

Coastal Pet Rescue is in desperate need of loving families for cats and dogs, pet food, cages and donations around the holiday season. These adorable, loving animals are ready to be adopted today!

You can also make a tax deductible donation online with your credit card at:

2. Spay or neuter your pet
Enough said-- there are 70,000 puppies and kittens are born every day in the United States. As an added bonus, spaying and neutering helps dogs and cats live longer, healthier lives by eliminating the possibility of uterine, ovarian, and testicular cancer, and decreasing the incidence of prostate disease.

3. Rein in your pets; protect native wildlife
Always keep your dog on a leash when outside, and confine your feline indoors. Save the Birds!! Unlike wild predators, house cats are always well fed, well rested, and in tip-top fighting shape. There are over 66 million housecats in the United States; however, only an estimated 35 percent are kept exclusively indoors. Keeping your cats indoor, also protects them from the dangers of cars, predators, disease, and other hazards. The estimated average life span of a free-roaming cat is less than three years; an indoors-only cat gets to live an average of 15 to 18 years.

4. Swap out the junk food
Check your labels! Many pet food brands use reconstituted animal by-products, otherwise known as low-grade wastes from the beef and poultry industries. In fact, the animals used to make many pet foods are classified as "4-D," which is really a polite way of saying "Dead, Dying, Diseased, or Down (Disabled)" when they line up at the slaughterhouse. Natural and organic pet foods use meats that are raised in sustainable, humane ways without added drugs or hormones, it's minimally processed, and preserved with natural substances, such as vitamins C and E. Certified-organic pet foods must meet strict USDA standards that spell out how ingredients are produced and processed, which means no pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, artificial preservatives, artificial ingredients or genetically engineered ingredients. But again check the labels!

Alternatively, you may consider becoming a pet chef and making your own pet food. There are several pet recipe books on the market. You can also grow our own catnip or organic cat grass. Remember to consult your vet before switching your pet's diet.

5. Clean up their poop
Scoop up your doggie doo in biodegradable poop bags. When waste gets into storm drains it can then flow into rivers and lakes and contaminate our water supply. It's important to always check with your city officials about how to properly dispose of pet waste. They may recommend flushing; however, you should always remove all debris such as kitty litter to prevent plumbing problems.

Cat owners should avoid clumping clay litter at all costs. The clay is strip-mined, permeated with carcinogenic silica dust that can coat kitty lungs and sodium bentonite (clumping agent) can poison your cat through chronic ingestion. Sodium bentonite acts like expanding cement and it can swell up to 15 to 18 times its dry size. Large grocery chains now carry eco-friendly cat litters that help to avoid these problems.

For the die hard greenies, you can compost your pet's waste. If you have room in your backyard, you can bury an old garbage bin (note: far away from your vegetable garden) to use as a pet-waste composter. Or check out the Doggie Dooley. The makers of the Doggy Dooley also sell an enzymatic "Super Digester Concentrate" for your backyard pet septic system.

6. Give them sustainable goods
Don't overload your pets with toys that will just end up in the landfill. Nothing can make a dog more happy than just spending time with you--toy or no toy. When you purchase toys, buy toys made from recycled materials or sustainable fibers (sans herbicides or pesticides) such as hemp. You can even get pet beds made with organic cotton or even recycled PET bottles.

7. Use natural pet-care and cleaning products
You don't use toxic-chemical-laced shampoos and beauty products. Read the labels and use natural pet-care products. Clean up your pet's messes with nontoxic and earth friendly cleaning products like Simple Green and Mrs. Meyers products.

8. Melt the ice, nicely
Use a child- and pet-safe deicer such as Safe Paw's environmentally friendly Ice Melter. Rock salt and salt-based ice-melting products, which kids and animals might accidentally ingest, can cause health problems, while contaminating wells and drinking supplies.

10. Tag your pet
If your pet gets lost or a natural disaster separates you, odds are that if your pet is micro-chipped, you will be reunited faster (save time, money, paper for flyers and mental anguish). Coastal Pet Rescue offers several microchip clinics throughout the year. Check the website for more details The cost is minimal but the result is priceless.

11. Offset your pet
Feeling a little guilty about that electric-powered water fountain or that self-cleaning litter box. Consider purchasing green tags, otherwise known as renewable energy credits, to offset your pets' carbon emissions. And check if your state sells green power so you and your furry compatriots can go carbon neutral.


Christmas Brings Out the Green in Everyone

The Christmas season is here, in all of its red and green retail brilliance. But, there's some other retail green that's getting lots of cheer as well--environmentally friendly green, that is. If you haven't noticed, retailers going green is all the rage. Everybody is doing it and feeling good about it, which we love!

From green design to green products, the eco-friendly retail market is buzzing. With companies like L.L. Bean, J.C. Penney and Fresh & Easy supermarkets implementing the latest green technologies into building design, it was only a matter of time before a top 10 list was released for the greenest retail companies. New York-based Juice Energy Inc., an electricity supplier specializing in renewable energy sources, released its list mid-November. Check to see if some of your favorites made the list (I know mine did!). And so, with no further ado, I present to you the 10 greenest retailers (and some interesting facts about them, too):

Patagonia - It's Common Threads recycling program (using recycled fleece no less!) has turned heads, including the retailer's commitment to purchase electricity from renewable resources-- doing so before it was even hip in 1998.

Kohl's - Second-largest buyer of green power--WOW! In addition, installing rooftop solar energy panels for its California stores.

Whole Foods Market - Buys green power to match all electricity usage.

prAna - One ups Whole Foods by purchasing green power equal to all electricity usage for all stores that sell its products, company headquarters and the homes of its full-time employees. Impressive!

REI - Purchases green power for annual electricity use, and builds green stores.

UPS - Cut 28.5 million miles of driving by making routes more efficient. Also operates biggest alternative fuel truck fleet.

Timberland - Uses recycled cardboard and soy ink for boxes and green tags all products with greenhouse gas emissions ratings.

Nike - Plans to be carbon neutral by 2011 (buys offset credits) and is currently redesigning products to be more eco-friendly.

Wal-Mart - Largest buyer of organic cotton products. Plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent no later than 2015.

Target - Donated 7 million pounds of food in 2006 and has four stores using solar electricity, with 14 more to jump on board as well.

These major retailers are making their mark on the environment, their public image and for their employees and customers. Even Barneys joined in the fun for the holidays (as the Diva reported), with their "Give Good Green" holiday marketing campaign (catchy, eh?) featuring "Have a Green Holiday" eco-displays, as well as the opportunity for consumers to reduce their carbon footprint with green gifts.

So, did we miss anyone? Probably. But that's a good thing--when you have so many green retailers that you can't possibly mention them all.


A GIANT wind turbine - almost double the size of Southampton Civic Centre clock tower - could be built in a mystery location in the city.

The enormous turbine - one of the biggest in the country - could soar a staggering 85m (279ft) into the sky, with rotating blades stretching 33m (108ft).

It's not the only turbine being considered for the city with plans to install one at every school.

Its location is being kept secret for commercial reasons. However the Daily Echo can reveal a windy, spacious site on the northern edge of the city has already been identified.

The single two megawatt turbine - potentially an iconic landmark in the south - would power up to 1,500 Southampton homes and mean cheaper power bills.

With a full public consultation to be launched in six months, the giant turbine - half the height of Portsmouth's Spinnaker Tower - could be spinning as early as 2009.

After conducting a survey of Southampton, the Energy Saving Trust yesterday singled out the secret site where it wants to build the giant turbine.

The tower would be installed at no cost to taxpayers and the energy consumption would be split between the city and the not for profit organisation.

The council would then be able to sell its 50 per cent share of power to either homes or small businesses.

The exact size will depend on wind speeds and wind generation in the area, but the council wants to build as big as possible and is looking to replicate the success of the 85m turbine on the M4 at Reading.


Book Review: Ecohouse: A Design Guide, 3rd Edition, by Sue Roaf, Manuel Fuentes, and Stephanie Thomas

Ecohouse: A Design Guide is a big book to read straight through. Whether you read it from front to back or dip into specific chapters depends on who you are and why you are reading it. In any case, Ecohouse is loaded with interesting and important — shocking, disturbing, inspiring, and enlightening — information, as well as very useful and practical technical guidance for building with both the health of our planet and the health of people — individuals, families, and communities — in mind.

This edition, for those who have not read the first and second, includes the introductions to all three. They are themselves well worth reading. In the introduction to this edition, Sue Roaf writes that the "theoretical concerns over climate change and fossil fuel depletion" covered in the introduction to the first edition were, by 2003, "firming up with the emerging reality of more extreme climate events and growing publicity over the issue of 'Peak Oil'." That is when the second edition was published. So why a third edition now?

Roaf provides several reasons for this new edition, and sees a fourth edition on the horizon. For one, "[e]ven in America the cozy talk amongst the educated architects of 'Sustainable Buildings' has turned to discussions of how we design for 'Passive Survival' in our own homes, when the power fails and the storms menace." Behind this not-so-veiled reference to America's lagging response, the point is that people are, in the face of irrefutable evidence of climate change, beginning to heed the calls for action.

Secondly, there are now politicians around the world who are beginning to take notice because of the "growing economic impacts of climate change." And finally, more to the point in terms of the content of this edition, it has become clear that the technology to survive already exists. "What we desperately need now," Roaf writes, "is the 'Eco-society' that will enable the necessary changes to happen in time to ensure that everyone, especially the vulnerable, can 'future-proof' themselves against what lies ahead." This edition serves as a technical guide and inspiration to that end.

Sue Roaf, PhD was brought up in Malaysia and Australia, and studied at Manchester University, the Architectural Association, and Oxford Brookes University. Roaf has spent ten years in Iran and Iraq, working as a landscape architect, studying building technologies, and teaching at the University of Baghdad. She has been a professional Training Adviser for the Oxford School of Architecture and is now Visiting Professor and Architectural Consultant at both the University of Arizona and the Open University in the UK. Significantly, she designed and built her own ecohouse in North Oxford in 1995, a fact to which I will return. In addition to writing
Ecohouse, she has also written Closing the Loop: Benchmarks for Sustainable Buildings and Adapting Buildings and Cities for Climate Change: A 21st Century Survival Guide.

Five of the fourteen chapters in
Ecohouse are a bit more on the conceptual side — "The form of the house": "The building as an analogy"; "The environmental impact of building materials"; "Pushing the building envelope"; "Building-in soul"; and "Health and happiness in the home." Yet even these contain various concrete examples, complete with illustrations and captioned photographs. Though all readers would be well advised to read the entire book, even if not all at once or in sequential order, these are arguably the chapters with greatest appeal to the lay reader or eco-enthusiast, as well as to the architect or builder just learning about eco-architecture. But the other chapters — "Ventilation"; "Passive solar design"; "Photovoltaics"; "Solar hot water systems"; "Using water wisely"; "Small-scale wind systems"; "Hydro power"; "Ground source heat pumps"; and "Lime and low-energy masonry" — contain a healthy amount of technical information and guidance, including formulae, charts, graphs, floor plans, diagrams and illustrations, and photographs. Less technical readers may find some of these a bit tiring on the brain.

Chapter one discusses the form of the house and useful analogies. It begins with a reference to a single analogy coined by the French architect, Le Corbusier, that has largely influenced twentieth-century architecture. He envisaged the building as 'a machine for living in.' This analogy, it is argued, is fundamentally flawed because "a machine is an inanimate object that can be turned on and off and operates only at the whim of its controller" and is a fixed, static object "amenable to scientific assessment," whereas "the driving force that acts upon the building to create comfort and shelter is the climate and its weather, neither of which can be controlled, predicted or turned on and off." This argument is a bit weak. Buildings
are static, inanimate objects, even though they are acted upon by climate and weather, and I'm sure atmospheric scientists and climatologists would argue that climate and weather, at least to a point, can be predicted, though not yet significantly controlled. Buildings, the author continues, "are part of a complex interaction between people, the buildings themselves, the climate and the environment."

I suspect the argument is a bit weak because the author is actually after something both more complex and less tangible here, and has a hard time putting a finger on it without devoting too much time to it. The machine analogy fits into, and derives from, a worldview that sees humans as separate from and above nature. Building design within this conceptual — one could say philosophical or ideological — framework is disconnected from nature and can often seem calculated, sterile, inorganic and lifeless. Three basic and very sensible principles on which all buildings should be based are proposed, and I hope architects, builders, and city planners are taking note.

1) design for climate
2) design for the physical and social environment
3) design for time, be it day or night, a season or the lifetime of a building and design a building that will adapt over time

A number of other analogies are then offered that have the potential to create a shift in how the house is regarded. The analogies suggested are: our third skin; a heat exchanger; a tea cozy; a greenhouse; a swallow; an igloo; a bucket; a brick in a storage radiator; a Roman bath house; a periscope; a tree in the breeze; a cool-core building; an air lock in a space ship; and a Hobbit hole. In discussing these analogies, readers also learn about such interesting structures, and their form-based properties, as the ice-house, yurt, and igloo. The latter two, because of their unique characteristics, can help people survive some of the harshest winters in the habitable world. Most importantly, however, these analogies help the reader see more clearly how the form and function of a building fits into various environments.

A number of chapters are devoted to technologies that generate or save energy, such as photovoltaics (solar panels), solar hot water systems, small-scale wind systems, hydro power, and ground source heat pumps (GSHP). These chapters should prove very useful to owners of existing homes in making them more eco-friendly, as also to designers and ecohouse builders. The other part of the energy equation is also covered well. There is a good discussion of the energy that has gone into the various materials we use in constructing our dwellings, as also of the emissions for which they are responsible. The terms embodied energy and embodied emissions are used. The term embodied energy stands for all energy used to create an object, from "extraction of raw materials, transportation to processing plants, energy used in factories, transportation to site, and energy used on site to install the product," while the term embodied emissions stands for all emissions, mainly of CO2, but also of toxins, released during its creation.

When one considers how many distinct products go into a house, the mere thought of trying to determine not only the embodied energy and emissions of each product, but indeed of the entire house, may well result in an overheated brain and complete loss of motivation. It seems overwhelming. The ideal would be to have a comprehensive and straightforward list of products and their embodied energy and emissions. Figures of these things are not yet widely available, but it is argued, quite sensibly, that what we really need is to understand the factors affecting embodied energy and emissions so that we can ask the right questions when selecting materials.
Ecohouse devotes a fair chunk of space to this topic, including a section on the embodied energy of different building materials from plastics, to metals, to timber. There is also a case study and a good recommended reading list on material selection and life-cycle analysis.

In "Building-in soul," material selection is revisited in a different context. Building one's own house, though expensive, is not nearly so expensive, "perhaps not one-fifth, so expensive as having something built for you." And it is further pointed out that "most importantly, you invest your soul in what you build, which is why self-built homes are so soul-rich to live in." What buildings are made of, it is emphasized, contributes greatly to their character.

Wood, earth, brick, concrete, steel, glass or plastic buildings are totally different from each other to see, to live in, to build and in the forms their construction logically and characterfully demands. . . . So, very important in terms of their pollution and environmental costs, are their manufacturing biographies and how they end their life — do they return to nature or become refuse?

Though this chapter goes well beyond the selection of materials, discussing such things as the character and identity of a building, especially one self-built, as well as its connections to a wider community, economy and ecology, it also does a good job — better than the earlier argument against the building-as-a-machine analogy — of getting to the root of the difference between the common mass-produced house and the ecohouse. Materials, we are told, "connect us to the world from whence they came: living and life-cycle bound by nature, or lifeless, dead industrial processes." And the following quote both provides a general rule for material selection and a summary of how to create a vibrant, connected, almost living house:

We use thousands of materials in modern building, but a general rule is that the nearer something is to life, the more compatible it is: the healthier to live with, the more recyclable back to earth, thence to living matter again. It also needs more care for longevity — but this care, like the care given to its making, is imprinted into its substance and emanates from it, to nourish those who live next to it. Mass-produced products can never do this; the imprint of care is, by definition, absent.

There is a bit too much talk of soul for me here, giving it somewhat of a New Age tone, but that is mainly a matter of word choice. I would have just stuck to the language of psychological and emotional connections, as that is what it really comes down to.

Significantly, Sue Roaf has designed and built her own ecohouse. This is significant in terms of credibility. It demonstrates that she has not only a good theoretical understanding of ecobuilding, but also direct, hands-on experience. She provides it as one of the case studies at the end and refers to it from time to time throughout the book. Part of the motivation for designing it, she says, "was to put paid to the notion that pursuing a high quality of life necessarily entailed irreparable damage to the environment," the challenge being "to prove that those in richer countries could maintain an acceptably high standard of living without polluting the planet at the cost of those in poorer countries."

The authors of
Ecohouse predict that we will probably all have to live in zero fossil fuel energy homes by the middle of this century, and hope that "[t]he seeds of the ideas sown in this book by then will have grown into the New Vernacular of housing for the twenty-first century and beyond." While the hope is admirable, how this will be achieved is not much discussed. Who can afford to build an ecohouse? Certainly not the bulk of homeowners even in so-called first-world nations in North America and Europe. Of those who could afford to, the vast majority have neither the desire nor the necessary knowledge. The vast majority of even well-to-do homeowners prefer to buy large, hastily-constructed, energy-profligate houses in suburbia or exurbia. These are most often cut-and-paste houses equipped with energy-greedy cooling and heating technologies, houses from which they drive — not walk — to work and the big box store. How we can combat these things is not adequately addressed in this book, nor how to make ecobuilding affordable to the common people.

Also not addressed, though they would have fit so nicely into the discussion of embodied energy and embodied emissions, are environmental racism and green-washing. It may be argued that this is a design guide, not a book of theory, but even a paragraph or two on these topics would have rounded the book out a bit more and at least acknowledged some of the darker aspects of eco- this and that. At whose expense are the products with the most embodied energy and emissions produced? Who suffers the most from the pollution both of producing these products and, increasingly, of recycling them? The feature documentary,
Manufactured Landscapes, by Jennifer Baichwal does a decent job of illustrating this, though it has nothing otherwise to do with ecobuilding. It is often those in poorer so called third-world or developing countries. Ecobuilders should pay as much attention to these aspects of material origins and selection.

Ecohouse is, despite these minor wants, a beautifully designed, well-written and thorough guide to the ecohouse. It is much recommended as both inspiration and a technical guide to architects and students of architecture, as well as designers, builders, city planners, and eco-enthusiasts.


Tesside renewables industry energised by wind turbines

James Hunt, managing director of Hexham-based green energy consulting company Econnect, which worked on the UK’s largest offshore installation at Hoyle, said the scale of the announcement had taken the industry by surprise.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity, but a number of things need to happen to achieve it,” he said. Not least was that manufacturers must ramp up production of turbines over 2megawats. Only a handful of manufacturers in the UK are currently producing larger turbines and worldwide demand is increasing.

Already, project managers are frustrated by long waits for hardware, and green energy firms are finding it difficult to recruit skilled labour for construction and servicing, said Mr Hunt. But Teesside, with its strong links to the steel and engineering sectors, as well as experience in offshore maintenance of oil and gas rigs, was well placed to take advantage of an offshore green energy bonanza.

“Take anybody in turbine manufacture, Rolls Royce, for instance - I’m sure it’s on their radar. A lot of these companies are keeping their eye on the renewables sector,” said Mr Hunt.

He said the industry was “running to catch up” with demand. “It’s crazy.” But recruitment was a major issue.

Econnect, founded in 1995 with two staff, now employs 100 with offices in Dublin, Melbourne and Wellington, and was constantly on the look out for skilled workers.

“We need the right skills to make it happen - that’s the challenge now.”

The initiative would put the UK back on track to meet its aim of producing 20% of the country’s energy from renewable resources within the next 13 years. But the price may be too high, say some.

EDF Energy recently won planning permission to erect 30 offshore turbines near Redcar, following bitter opposition from local residents. In announcing the government’s plan, business secretary John Hutton, admitted it would forever change the face of Britain’s coastline.


Camcal Ltd. has has won its largest ever order from Dutch wind turbine manufacturer EWT for the construction of 49 wind turbines for an onshore farm in Turkey. The Shetland-based fabrication group almost went into liquidation last year, but has bounced back with this US$10 million deal, which will create up to 70 new jobs.

Last year, the Arnish yard helped to build three Pelamis wave generators for Ocean Power Delivery for installation off the Portuguese coast.

The group went into administration in December, but was saved three months later by Swiss/Dutch investment redevelopment company Altissimo. This contract guarantees six months work for Camcal.

7,000-New-Wind-Turbines-Promised-33Gigawatts-For- UKs-Shores

The Brown government is set to unveil an ambitious proposal to build 7,000 new wind turbines off Britain's coast by 2020, effectively producing enough electricity - 33 gigawatts - to power all of the country's homes. John Hutton, the Secretary of State for Business, will make the announcement, backed by both the Labourites and Conservatives, at a conference in Berlin.

Currently, Britain's offshore wind farm system produces around 2 gigawatts, enough to power roughly 1.5m homes; the government hopes to meet the EU's target of producing 20% of energy by renewable sources by 2020 with its planned expansion. The plan would result in a turbine being build for every half mile of coastline.

The move was praised by officials from both Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, who noted the expansion would constitute "nothing less than a wind energy revolution" and that it would "create jobs, boost the economy and help put Britain at the forefront in the battle to combat climate change." However, they cautioned that many challenges still lay ahead before the proposal could become reality and urged the Brown government to back their words with actions.

"If we are finally to exploit the massive energy resources we have available on this windy island, there will now need to be a revolution in thinking in Whitehall, where the energy dinosaurs have prevailed for too long. We need the Government to guarantee premium prices for clean electricity so industry can take risks to get tens of thousands of turbines built and installed out at sea."

Given that Britain is an island nation, this proposal is really a no-brainer: Let's just hope the government follows through with its commitment, which would go a long ways toward raising the profile of wind power as an efficient, viable renewable source of energy.

Thursday, 6 December 2007


Trafalgar Square eco house attracts comment

The Mayor of London's temporary green showhome in Trafalgar square has attracted comments from the building industry as well as green groups. Ken Livingstone launched the Mayor of London's 'green homes' service, from outside the specially built eco house in London this week. The initiative has attracted mainly favourable comment, but it seems clear that the government needs to do far more in the way of financial support for homeowners to make their properties more efficient.

Kevin Brennan, National Housing Manager, VELUX Company Ltd said "From the architectural design of Ken Livingstone's eco house and his consumer focused green homes service, it seems clear that London's Mayor is focusing his efforts on improving the energy efficiency of London's existing housing stock, and rightly so. Too much attention has previously been given to newly built properties, while not enough effort or financial incentives have been provided to improve older, less energy efficient housing.

"However, while initiatives such as the green homes scheme, which will offer Londoners free advice on energy saving measures, could play an important role in improving energy efficiency, this does not go far enough. While the Mayor's latest initiative is commendable, it is restricted to London and it is the Government's responsibility to make such initiatives accessible across the UK.

"If the Government is really serious about reducing carbon emissions from existing housing stock, what we really need to see is a speedier, and more realistic grant scheme to encourage existing home owners to incorporate energy saving products such as solar hot water systems into their homes. The current subsidy available in England is £400 per household. This is woefully inadequate and falls extremely short of existing grant schemes running in Scotland and Ireland".

Friends of the Earth have welcomed the initiative after new research commissioned by the group showed that it is possible to reduce the emissions produced by UK homes by 80 per cent, saving householders as much as £475 a year.

Friend of the Eearth's green homes campaigner said “We are delighted that the Mayor of London's groundbreaking climate strategy is now becoming a reality. Many Londoners are keen to do their bit to tackle climate change and cut their energy bills, but their efforts are frustrated by lack of advice and a maze of schemes and contractors.

The Mayor’s green homes service will start to take the hassle out of going green.

Friends of the Earth report published last week showed that we could cut emissions from Britain’s homes by 80 per cent by 2050. In London the Mayor’s ability to make this happen is limited by lack of powers and funding, so it is crucial the Government does its bit by introducing a comprehensive package of tax breaks and grants for energy efficiency. It must also encourage people to install renewable energy technologies such as solar panels by guaranteeing a premium payment for any electricity sold to the grid."


Mercedes-Benz spins the winds of change

In keeping with its pioneering spirit, Mercedes-Benz UK has installed a vertical axis wind turbine at its site in Tongwell, Milton Keynes.

The 20m tall, vertical axis wind turbine, one of only six in the country, is specially designed for urban spaces and spins wherever the wind comes from, thanks to its unique helical (twisted) design. Its high-tech carbon fibre blades are designed to minimise noise or vibration.

The electricity generated by the wind turbine in one year will be enough to power electric smart fortwos (smart ed) for 30,000 miles of driving. As a comparison, this means enough annual electricity to power two average sized homes or an office of 20 people; or to boil water to make around 50,000 cups of tea.

Wilfried Steffen, President and CEO of Mercedes-Benz UK, said: “Mercedes-Benz is taking the lead by installing this energy saving technology; we hope to inspire other local companies to do whatever they can to reduce their carbon footprint.”

The specially designed wind turbine has carbon-fibre blades and, mounted, reaches a height of 20 metres. (The turbine rotor itself is five metres high.) Three stylish charging points have been installed next to the turbine, which can be used to charge electric vehicles, including the smart ed.

Steffen continued: “Mercedes-Benz invests in a wide range of environmental technologies through its vehicles and production facilities and this is another way we can lead by example and make a difference.”

As part of its commitment to the environment, Mercedes-Benz UK is exploring how a combination of wind energy, ground-source heat pumps, rainwater harvesting and solar water heating could help achieve a longer term goal of generating 10% of its energy on site.

The wind turbine was manufactured by Quiet Revolution Ltd, who develop and supply elegant renewable energy solutions, especially small wind products optimised for use at the point of energy demand.


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The average Briton looking to make their home carbon neutral could spend more than 9,000 pounds in the process, according to the latest research, leading to some needing home loans or low rate loans to realise their environmentally-friendly vision.

Alliance & Leicester has said that for a three-bedroom, semi-detached home, following the carbon neutral route can be expensive, but added that such a switch could lead to big savings on bills in the long-run. Cavity wall insulation, loft insulation, double glazing, an energy-efficient boiler, a wind turbine and solar electricity are all methods of heading towards carbon neutrality proposed by the financial services provider.

At an estimated 5,000 pounds, solar electricity is by far the largest expense when it comes to making a home carbon neutral, with homeowner loans a possible method of raising the funds to pay for the installation of solar panels as well as the panels themselves. According to the Energy Saving Trust (EST), the switch could save around 200 pounds annually on electricity bills.

Wind turbines were the second most expensive environmentally-friendly method proposed, coming at a cost of 1,500 pounds. This outlay is before installation, suggesting homeowners could be advised to compare loans when considering how to pay for the switch to power produced this way. Double glazing - a more familiar way of saving energy for many homeowners - comes at an estimated 1,400 pounds.

"Becoming carbon neutral will not happen overnight. Nowadays more and more people are giving environmental considerations and their carbon footprints a higher priority. This includes trying to make their homes as energy efficiency as possible. There are lots of diverse ways homeowners can try and make their homes greener but it all depends on how much people want to spend," said Richard Al-Dabbagh, senior personal loans manager at Alliance & Leicester.

Cavity wall insulation and loft insulation - costed at 500 pounds and 370 pounds respectively by the EST - are both less expensive measures, but with the former cutting heating bills by around 15 per cent annually and the latter saving a further 110 pounds a year, these cheaper methods could have a greater cost-saving impact for homeowners looking to spend low rate loans wisely. Ross Stokes, editor of self-builders tips and advice magazine SelfBuild & Design, suggests it is worth getting the best possible insulation with your money. "Insulation is something that you have to put in anyway - so it's a good decision to put in the best that you can afford at the start," he said.

According to Alliance & Leicester, the best way for homeowners to spend secured loans when it comes to improving the energy efficiency of their house is by replacing an old boiler. The financial services provider said that according to figures from the EST, replacing boilers more than 15 years old could save some 240 pounds a year. At an estimated cost of 500 pounds, by the third year of having a new, energy efficient boiler it will have paid for itself.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007


Seven Tips For an Eco-Friendly Bathroom

People use and waste more water in the bathroom than in any other room in the house. Add all that water use with polluting soaps and shampoos, the energy used to heat the water, and more and your bathroom could be doing damage to the environment.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are many things you can do to bring a little green into your bathroom. Here are just a few.

Energy-efficient light bulbs. Fluorescent bulbs are 90% more efficient than incandescents. Incandescent bulbs lose most of their energy as heat which makes them a fire hazard as well.

The best lighting for a bathroom is bright enough to let you shave or apply makeup without squinting, but soft enough to look flattering while you do it. Choose bright white energy-saver bulbs, and soften the light by hanging them at eye level on either side of the mirror or putting them behind frosted glass.

Dual-flush toilets. Most new toilets use about seven or eight litres of water every time you flush. Older toilets use 9-12 litres. However, you don’t need this much water to flush a toilet.

If you want to save water, replace your toilet with a dual-flush model. Dual-flush toilets have one flush for water waste, and another for solids. Naturally, you need less water to flush water waste.

Faucets that conserve water. Leaky faucets waste millions of litres of water per year, and cost you money as well. To prevent leaks in your bathroom taps, replace your old fixtures with self-closing taps that shut off the water as soon as you stop pressing a button. This ensures your water isnt left on while you brush your teeth or shave, and it keeps your faucet from leaking.

Think green in the shower. We waste a great deal of water in the shower plus massive amounts of energy used to heat the water we waste. If you want to save water and save the planet at the same time, consider installing a low-flow showerhead or an air shower.

A typical showerhead delivers 25 litres of water per minute, while a low-flow showerhead delivers only 6 to 15. Cut your shower time in half and use a low-flow showerhead, and you’ll save a great deal of water.

If you really want to save water, however, consider an air shower. An air shower device can be attached to your existing showerhead. It pumps each water droplet full of air. This makes each water droplet bigger, so it feels just as wet and strong as a typical showerhead. Studies show that air showers can cut your water use by an additional 30%.

Recycled tiles. If you’re redesigning your bathroom from scratch, choose recycled materials such as reclaimed glass tiles. Glass is completely water-resistant, making it a great choice for bathroom walls, flooring, and countertops.

Choosing glass makes good ecological sense as well. Each glass bottle recycled saves enough energy to run a 100-watt bulb for about four hours. In addition, glass accounts for about 6% of all landfill waste and takes over a million years to break down.

Heat your water efficiently. Most people wait until their water heater breaks down to buy a new one. This puts you in the position of having to find one quickly, without the luxury of shopping around. But if you take your time in finding the right water heater, it could pay off in the long run.

The most common type of water heater is a storage heater: a big storage tank that’s constantly heated. Because its always kept warm, this type of heater loses energy even when it isnt used. However, there are some new models that are designed to minimize standing heat loss.

If you want a truly efficient hot water heater, however, look for a tankless heater or a solar heater. A tankless heater passes water pipes directly through the boiler, while a solar heater uses the suns energy to heat water. Both of these will cost more to install, but they will cost less to run.

Use nontoxic shampoos and soaps. Many ordinary soaps and shampoos contain chemicals that could put your health at risk. There are many carcinogenic chemicals in deodorants, soaps, shampoos, and body sprays. Some of these persist in the environment, build up in the food chain, and return to haunt us long after they’ve gone down the drain.

Be skeptical of products labeled natural; under current marketing legislation in the U.K., only 1% of a product needs to be naturally derived in order to use the label. Look for soaps and shampoos that don’t use artificial fragrances essential oils are fine, however. Avoid mineral oil, which is just another name for petroleum oil. In addition, choose soaps and shampoos that use minimal, biodegradable packaging.

Making your bathroom more eco-friendly doesn’t have to be a daunting task. Making a change in the soaps you use, limiting your time in the shower, and installing water-efficient fixtures can make a big difference. Whether you plan a few simple changes or a big overhaul, a greener bathroom is within your reach.


Wind turbine plan for city hospital

Plans have been submitted to install an 80-metre wind turbine to provide energy for Derby City General Hospital.

The hospital has applied to the city council for permission to build the turbine on land at Manor Park, near residential street Northmead Drive, which is opposite the hospital's grounds, north of a former allotment site.

A spokesman claimed the turbine could produce 11.9% of the hospital's total electricity usage, reducing CO2 levels by 2150 tonnes a year - which is the equivalent output of 350 homes.

Derby City Council said the plans were currently part of a public consultation which closes on January 9, but added that so far there had been no opposition for the proposals.


(What a shame people are prepared to fight wind turbine installations) ‘The Noise, The Shadows, The.................... What about the PLANET!!!!!!!!!!)

People living in and around Gedney Hill have been urged to write as many letters as possible opposing proposals to build a series of wind farms near their homes.

Applications to build turbines at Wryde Croft, French Drove and Nutsgrove Farm have been submitted to Peterborough City Council while Spanish firm IBERDROLA UK has sent a scoping report to South Holland District Council to find out the viability of putting up to ten turbines at Langary Gate.

Around 150 people packed into the Memorial Hall on Tuesday for a meeting organised by action group Fenland Against Rural Turbines, which has already fought off proposals for a wind farm at nearby Morris Fen.

Guest speaker Deeping St Nicholas man Julian Davis talked about his experience living near a wind farm which has resulted in his family being forced from its home because they cannot bear the noise.

Villagers also heard from David Beasley, who spoke of his eight-year fight against a wind farm near his Cumbrian hom


Action group chairman Philip Potts urged residents to write individually to parish, district and city councils plus Secretary of State for the Environment Hilary Benn and to get behind the campaign and stop the turbines being built before it is too late.

He said plans for seven 100m turbines at Nutsgrove Farm and six more at Wryde Croft could be determined by Peterborough City Council on December 11.

The meeting also heard that there are serious concerns regarding the sites because of one's close proximity to a bat feeding and breeding ground and potential effects on Fenland Airfield.

Mr Potts said wave power should be favoured over wind because of its efficiency and added: "People can make a difference. Let us start writing immediately."

· Anyone who wants to help the action group's campaign or help with writing a letter can contact its headquarters on 01406 330007.


Block Island finds itself at the center of initiatives in both wave and wind energy that are meeting with mixed reactions from the state.

Governor Donald Carcieri is to announce the signing of an agreement between the state Office of Energy Resources, the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation and wave energy company Oceanlinx Limited to create two wave energy plants in Rhode Island coastal waters, including a pilot plant off Block Island that could reduce island electric rates.

The agreement hinges on state legislators approving a key bill next session to establish a state power authority. A similar bill died in the General Assembly last session.

Confident that the bill will pass early next year, Gov. Carcieri is expected to give the deal his public blessing at a press conference at the University of Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay Campus on Tuesday, December 4, that will focus on state energy policy and the development of both wind and wave technology.

Meanwhile a proposal from a New York wind energy company that filed for permits and made a public announcement before talking to the state has met with a more chilly reception. But company representatives this week said they are committed to the project and are pushing for approval to start gathering the data needed to build offshore wind farms in state waters. As part of the plan, the company wants to install a meteorological mast south of Block Island to measure wind speed and direction. For more see the story that begins on page 4.

Wave energy deal signed last month

Oceanlinx announced October 26 that it had signed an agreement with Rhode Island to build two plants in Rhode Island. The announcement, available on its website at, was made as the company began preparations to make an initial public offering on the London Stock Exchange.

The deal has a number of ambitious components. Under it, the company will base its U.S. headquarters and East Coast manufacturing center in Rhode Island.

It will also be a partner in a newly established Renewable Energy Center of Excellence in cooperation with the state and URI. The state Office of Energy Resources has already given the university $125,000 to start the center, said Andrew Dzykewicz, commissioner of the state Office of Energy Resources.

At next Tuesday’s event, the university is also expected to announce the creation of an Energy Advisory Board and a public lecture series to educate state residents about renewable energy and energy conservation.

Dzykewicz said he thinks the General Assembly will pass the legislation needed to create a power authority early next session. He said he and the governor have spent a lot of time talking to legislators about the importance of the bill to facilitate renewable energy projects.

The newly created power authority would raise $45 million in bond money for Oceanlinx. That’s in addition to $750,000 in financing the company received from New England states, including Rhode Island, for preliminary studies in November 2003.

The company says it is ready to start work in Rhode Island. “We are ready and raring to go,” said Andrew Hold, a communications specialist from London firm Finsbury Group, which represents Oceanlinx. “We just need the relevant approvals.”

R.I. at the forefront

Oceanlinx’s first project would be a pilot plant in waters just off Block Island, expected to cost between $3 million and $4 million. The project is expected to get streamlined federal permitting as long as the 1.5 megawatts of electricity generated is given away. The energy would go to Block Island, says Dzykewicz, and the state could look to get a contribution to its renewable energy fund in return.

The second project would be a much larger commercial plant off the southern coast of Rhode Island that would generate 15 to 20 megawatts. The state consumes about 1,000 megawatts on average, Dzykewicz says.

The wave farms, and the public/private partnership, would be the first of their kind in the United States, says Dzykewicz.

Wave turbines can also be used to prevent beach erosion, he says, or as breakwaters. The plants sit low on the water, creating minimal visual impact. The technology can also be used to create desalinization plants, which could be the answer to water shortages in South County.

State scientists have advised that wave generation will “dovetail perfectly” with wind farms, says Dzykewicz, since wave action tends to lag behind high winds by a couple of days.

Steve Kass, communications director for the office of the governor, said that wave and wind technology have the potential to greatly reduce the state’s dependence on fossil fuels. If that happens, the Ocean State would be the first in the country to draw significant power from ocean-based projects. “Power is the big focus” for the governor’s office right now, said Kass. “We want to lead the country.”

There are currently no offshore wind or wave generation plants in the United States, according to Kass and Dzykewicz. Wind projects have been stalled by permitting and opposition from residents in Cape Cod and Long Island. But offshore wind plants, tidal generation plants and wave plants can be found in Europe and Australia.

Rhode Island in generating so much attention from renewable energy companies because of its natural resources, said Dzykewicz, and because “We happen to have a renewable energy-friendly policy. It’s always easier to get a project done when the state actually wants it.”

Local reactions

Dzykewicz says he expects the pilot wave plant off Block Island to be in place within a year. “It’s not going to make your electric bills zero,” he said. “But there will absolutely be a reduction.”

Block Island Power Company’s (BIPCo) Cliff McGinnes Sr. said this week that nobody has approached the utility about the plan, but “we’re all for it. We’d be more than happy to cooperate with them.”

The island’s peak summer electric consumption is about 4 megawatts, he said, but off-season use is much lower. In the past week, for instance, BIPCo generated about 1.3 megawatts, less than the 1.5 megawatts the pilot wave plant could produce at maximum output.

The energy that might come from a wave plant would essentially replace the diesel the power company now ships over, said McGinnes. Consumers would still get a bill to cover the company’s infrastructure and staff, but the fuel cost adjustment that now makes up a large percentage of each bill would be slashed. The reduction would depend on overall consumption and the plant’s output, but McGinnes guessed that at times, bills could be cut in half. “It’s promising,” McGinnes said. “But a lot of things need to be worked out, and the devil is in the details.”

First Warden Kim Gaffett said she had not yet heard of the plan. “I wonder how [the power] will make landfall,” she said. “But if it’s going to benefit us, I’m all for it.”

The local Energy Task Group is scheduled to meet this Monday at 2 p.m. at the Fire Barn, she added. The group is expected to give a recommendation soon about the future of BIPCo. Among the options the group has considered has been a municipal buyout of the tiny utility, which has rates three times higher than the rest of the state and recently announced that it is applying to raise rates by another 9 percent.


Founded in 1997, Oceanlinx designs, manufactures and installs industry-leading wave turbines. It has one test plant in place at Port Kembla in New South Wales, Australia, which company spokesman Holt said has been functioning since 2005 and “will shortly be connected to the grid.” When that happens, “it will be the world’s first commercial onshore power plant.”

An offshore wave plant using a competing technology, the snake-like Pelamis Wave Energy Converter, is in operation in Portugal, he said. Pelamis’s web site says it is has also secured funding for a second plant off the U.K. But another Oceanlinx project in Victoria, Australia, will probably be the next commercial plant to come on line, Holt said, and when it does it will be the largest offshore wave plant in the world.

The technology planned for the Rhode Island project is different from that at the Australian test plant, Holt said, because instead of being anchored to the ocean floor in inshore waters, it will be tethered to the bottom by cables and sit further offshore. The wave farm will also sit slightly lower in the water, protruding about 28 feet above the ocean surface.

Using what it calls oscillating water technology, the wave chambers use wave action to compress air and drive a turbine. A hallmark of the technology is that computers measure the air pressure and alter the angle of blades in the turbine so that although the wave action ebbs and flows at different speeds, the turbine spins at a constant speed in a single direction. The turbine is the only major moving part, and sits in a sealed box slightly above the water line.

The Rhode Island project is one of six the company is developing around the world, including two in Australia, one in southern England, one in Namibia and one in Hawaii, according to an October 26 press release that announced the company was preparing for its initial public offering on the London Stock Exchange.

Holt said this week that the stock has yet to float on the LSE, but “We hope to list before the end of the year.”

Oceanlinx representatives came to Block Island May 30 to meet with a local energy task group. The local group later discussed the project and forwarded some concerns to the state.

Dzykewicz said this week that he is looking forward to further talks between the state, the company and local officials as the project moves forward.

How the deal will work

Rhode Island will secure the permits and float the bonds. “Any time you want the state to own something, everybody starts to shake,” says Kass of the governor’s office. But in this case, the state will sell off the pieces of the deal. That way, he said, the state remains in control and will get the best deal from private frims. It’s the same model the state wants to use for wind farms.

For instance, Kass says state taxpayers shouldn’t worry about the $45 million bond proposed to pay for the wave plants. “It won’t be on taxpayers’ backs at all,” he said. That’s because part of the deal would be a power purchasing agreement with Rhode Island’s main utility company that would guarantee a solid return, making the bond an attractive deal to sell off to private investors. “If National Grid signs a contract for 20 years, any number of investors will buy the bonds,” he said. “They would be crazy not to.”

The purchasing agreement would mean that Rhode Island would sell the electricity from the plant to the grid, then be first in line to buy however much it needs back at a set rate. Any excess is profit. The energy would also earn the state renewable energy credits.

If the General Assembly passes the necessary legislation, Block Island will be the first community in the state to benefit from power at a stable rate that’s no longer linked to oil prices. “We want want to reduce your power costs,” said Kass. “You [Block Island residents] are going to be the big winners in this.”

Kind regards

Andy Mahoney

Home Brew Power

(Off-Grid Power Installer - UK)


(Biopact) - Belgium based Thenergo, a renewable energy company involved in the biogas, biomass and cogeneration sector announced it has reached an agreement to acquire the minority interests in Polargen, a leading Benelux combined heat and power (CHP) developer for the greenhouse industry.

The utilisation of organic waste in industrial horticulture is a growing sector. Over the past few years, businesses who grow food and flowers in greenhouses have seen their costs for heating and power skyrocket, because the sector is highly energy intensive (energy is the single biggest operational cost). When biomass from the operations is used in CHP, heat and electricity costs can be reduced while at the same time delivering a cheap stream of carbon dioxide, used to stimulate plant growth. In some operations, greenhouses even become net exporters of green electricity, feeding it into the grid and receiving credits for their climate friendly bioenergy.

The recycling of CO2 derived from the very plants grown in the greenhouses, whose waste biomass is simultaneously utilized for energy, is an optimal use of the gas. CO2 is fed to the crops in a closed environment, thus considerably stimulating growth, while no emissions from the production of bioenergy enter the atmosphere.

Both Belgium and the Netherlands are European leaders in the greenhouse industry. Thenergo's expertise in producing heat, power and separated CO2 from biogas and biomass is now coupled to Polargen's established presence in the sector, a combination that is set to capture a considerable market share.

At end December 2007, total gross installed capacity for greenhouse CHP activities will have more than doubled to 49.6MW, up from 23.8MW in June, prior to Thenergo's IPO. Most projects are co-owned with industry partners. Thenergo has, in recent months, been renegotiating its stakes in these projects.

By year end, Thenergo's net capacity in greenhouse CHP operations, in addition to its existing biogas site, will have risen to 32MW, up from 8.2MW three months earlier.Under the acquisition, Polargen's managing partners will receive Thenergo shares for their combined 49 percent stake in Polargen, which will result in Thenergo having sole ownership of the business. The transaction was completed on November 30, 2007. Thenergo CEO Kurt Alen said: "Since Thenergo's acquisition of a 51% stake in Polargen one year ago, Polargen has proved to be a highly strategic and fast growth asset. We will now be bringing inhouse Polargen's strong technical skills and energy trading and sales expertise. At the same time we will be strengthening our management team with two new director appointments."

Established in 2003 and based in Lint, Belgium, Polargen designs, constructs and operates CHP plants primarily for the greenhouse industry in the Benelux region. The integration of the Polargen and Leysen activities into Thenergo's business model will provide all companies and their industry partners with the necessary synergies to fully integrate the different stages of the waste- to-energy business - from fuel acquisition through power generation to the trading of green power and CHP certificates.

Founded in 2002 and based in Antwerp, Belgium, Thenergo is a fast growing, fully integrated and independent developer and operator of sustainable energy projects using biomass, biogas and natural gas. Thenergo brings solutions and added value to clients' CHP energy needs, from financing and concept design to energy sales and trading on Europe's power markets. In addition, Thenergo's recent acquisition of Leysen Group adds long term procurement security to its business model and brings new opportunities to Thenergo's project pipeline. Since 14 June 2007, Thenergo has been listed on Alternext, Paris.

Thenergo recently announced two new projects: the development of a 3MW CHP biogas project in Flanders generating annually 24,000MWh of clean power, enough to supply around-the-clock electricity for up to 6,000 households (earlier post).

In an interesting development, it also announced that it is building a 5MW electricity and biocoal plant in northern Holland Eclair-E, a Dutch CHP sustainable energy supplier. The facility will generate annually up to 42,800MWh of power and 75,000 tons of biocoal pellets. Biocoal pellets are made from thermally processed biomass either from dedicated energy crops or from wood debris, forest residue and chippings. In pellet form it is a multipurpose clean burning fuel, easy to store and handle. This green 'designer coal' can be obtained by carbonizing biomass, with new techniques under development. Compared to wood, coal and biomass pellets, biocoal contains a far lower amount of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), no water, and is fully carbon neutral.