Monday, 7 December 2009

Success in Copenhagen

On Saturday I walked through London with many, many thousands of very ordinary people of all ages, backgrounds and beliefs. We were united in our determination that the leaders of all nations, convening in Copenhagen this month, reach an ambitious, effective and fair agreement to prevent dangerous climate change.

This is the defining issue of our time, transcending politics, faith, economic status and all other divisions in society. Success in Copenhagen means rapid and effective reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from all nations. Success in Copenhagen means equitable finance for the poorest nations, most threatened by the growing dangers of an unstable climate. Success in Copenhagen means immediate and comprehensive protection for the few remaining areas of pristine rainforest, peatlands and other biodiversity hotspots around the world, on land and at sea.

Most of all, success in Copenhagen means worldwide action now, to protect the habitability of our children's world and the diversity of life that they would wish to share it with.

The Copenhagen climate conference is the most important global meeting the world has ever seen. In solidarity with all my fellow demonstrators for climate justice, I ask each of the World Leaders gathered in Copenhagen:
Open your hearts and minds to the needs of humanity and of all life on earth.
Do everything in your power to protect climate stability for future generations.
Rise to this challenge and be sure you deliver success in Copenhagen.

Our children and their children, throughout the ages to come, will thank you from the bottom of their hearts.

Monday, 30 November 2009

10:10 savings in the bag?

Having signed up to the 10:10 campaign at its launch on 1 September, I rushed to upgrade my home's energy efficiency once again. Despite having cut our annual energy use by 10 MWh (i.e., 10,000 kWh) from 2006 to 2008, I am delighted to find that we are now achieving further reductions in both electricity and gas usage versus last year.

Our annual electricity usage has dropped 15%, from 6.1 MWh this time last year to 5.2 MWh today.

The annual gas we used actually went UP in 2008, for two reasons. Firstly, the very cold weather we had from October to February and, secondly, I fitted a basic, wireless thermostat in an attempt to improve the control of our central heating. This backfired because the cheap model I used was much less accurate than the old bimetallic strip it replaced, leading to a couple of degrees overshoot every time the heating ran. I have now replaced this with a more sophisticated controller that is accurate to ±0.2 °C and features "adaptive intelligence" that learns how to control the boiler to achieve the required temperature without overshooting.

Since fitting this smart heating controller, and boosting the loft insulation to 400mm, our gas usage has dropped substantially. While the warm autumn weather is now coming to an end, I estimate that our annual gas usage will drop from 14.4 MWh in 2008 to 13.1 MWh in 2009. If we achieve this, we will have reduced our gas consumption by 9% and our home's total energy use - and carbon emissions - by 11% this year.

Away from home, we have avoided leisure flights for 3 years and have replaced our 30mpg BMW with a 50mpg Golf. However, we did buy a second car this year, to get four of us plus luggage to S-W France for our summer holiday (saving around 6.4 Tonnes of CO2 emissions compared with flying) and will keep it for next summer too. Other than holidays, it gets little use.

I hope to have a wider impact on my community's emissions by persuading others to sign up to the 10:10 campaign and embark upon their own footprint reduction. I am working on this with two local schools and preparing to speak with community organisations to advocate 10:10 and offer advice and support on energy saving to anybody who wants it. Wish me luck!

Monday, 12 October 2009

LED Linklights are brilliant for under-cabinet lighting

The new LED linklights are up in our kitchen and they are every bit as good as the T8 fluorescent tubes and battens that they have replaced. While the total light output is less, it is ALL directed down onto the worksurface, where it is needed. The reflection of the 400-odd LEDs on the black kitchen counters also adds a beautiful, starry sparkle.

I have put before and after photos on Photobucket - click the links to see what you think!

While the fluorescent tubes that were there before used 300 watts of electricity, the new LED linklights are running at just 40 watts. I'm delighted with them and the family are happy that I have stopped turning the lights off all the time - even when they were in the room. were very helpful in getting me all the right clips and connectors and, at just £150 for 4 metres of lighting, the new lights will pay for themselves in around 4 years.

I had always believed that fluorescent striplights were energy saving. Perhaps they are, compared with tungsten filament tubes, but I learned from using a wireless electricity meter (The Owl) that they were the single biggest use of electricity in my home lighting circuit.

Replacing them is also my first step to meeting the 10:10 commitment to reduce my CO2 emissions by 10% during 2010 and will save around 160kg of CO2 each year. Another step is to increase my loft insulation. I am fitting the new polystyrene and chipboard storage panels from B&Q, to double the insulation under all the stuff I've got stored up there. I am also topping up the Warmcel over our bedroom with Knauf 170mm mineral wool at just over £1 a square meter.

Hopefully, all this will get me my 10% reduction next year. I'm also helping others to reduce their energy usage and, frankly, that's going to make more difference than I can achieve alone!

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

How to cut my 10% in 2010?

The 10:10 campaign from Franny Armstrong and the Not Stupid team is such a simple and engaging idea that well over 10,000 people have signed up in the 10 days since it was launched at the Tate Modern on Tuesday of last week. I went along with a sense of great excitement and occasion and was rewarded with a pretty little slice of aircraft aluminium and a gurning appearance in the RSA arts and ecology video of the launch event.

But now I'm left with the small challenge of how to cut my 10% next year! I already took the Energy Saving Trust's challenge to cut 20% and actually managed to reduce my domestic energy usage by a third in 2008 vs 2006. After the cold winter we had this year, our gas consumption actually rose above 2007 (boo, hiss).

I've done all the loft insulation, the windows are good, the wall cavities are insulated, we have no drafts and the house even has a heat-recovery ventilation system so we can breathe fresh air all year round without keeping any windows open. Our lightbulbs are energy-saving, nothing is left on standby, the oldest, most wasteful appliances have been replaced with efficient new models and our solar panel gives us free hot water in summer (though there haven't been many recent days with enough sun to leave the gas boiler off entirely). While I am vegetarian, I don't yet grow my own food or buy strictly local produce: they don't make a lot of meat substitutes in this neck of the woods.

Away from home, we haven't flown on holiday since 2006 and we had cut down to one car since 2007 - although that's now gone by the wayside as we replaced the big family car with a new, frugal Golf and an old Honda diesel estate for holidays and other occasions when the Golf just isn't big enough for 4 adults with luggage and an Irish Setter.

So will my next 10% emissions reduction have to come from our suppliers? Until now, I have resisted switching to green electricity suppliers for three reasons. Firstly, they can't supply renewable gas because its not yet available - although the National Grid themselves have proposed biomethane as a future source for most of our domestic gas requirement. Second, my purchase of green electrons just makes everyone else's a bit more brown without creating additional renewable generating capacity. And lastly, it costs a good deal more than online duel fuel deals from the big 6 utilities. At least Good Energy will now give me a discount for my solar thermal installation but the rebate is comparatively small and unmetered - i.e. it is independent from the amount of renewable energy the system actually provides.

What might make the difference is the Government's proposed Feed-In tariffs, obliging my utility company to buy power that I can generate from micro-renewables. This should kick in next year and I have just the right roof-space for a few square metres of solar PV panels. We use about 5500 kWh of electricity a year at the moment so I would need to generate 550 kWh to meet my 10:10 pledge. That's an average of 1.5 kWh per day, achievable with PV modules producing just 500Wp. The inverters and other feed-in kit are quite costly, though, so I would probably need a greater area of PV modules than this to make financial sense of the overall project.

In the meantime, I do have two outstanding opportunities to cut down on electricity usage. I have known for months that a low-power netbook would minimise the hours that I have this old, 300-watt PC powered up. Today, I have finally ordered LED striplights to replace 4 metres of fluorescent tubes under the kitchen cabinets. For £150 including the transformer, from Ecolightstore, these could save 300 watts for several hours a day, cutting 200 - 400 kWh a year from our electricity usage. I await the family's response to LED lighting with interest.

Perhaps these two investments alone will be enough to cut my 10% next year ...

Monday, 13 July 2009

Long days and warm nights are keeping the meters turning really slowly at this time of year.

We're generally happy to keep the lights off apart from a couple of hours in the evening. The hot water comes from the sun and I've even disconnected the cordless room thermostat I fitted to the central heating last winter, to try and control the boiler more accurately. This was not a great improvement because it was right next to me all the time, bringing the temptation to just turn it back up half a degree if we were feeling chilly. I had much more success with lowering the power settings on my modulating condensing boiler. The gas consumption is directly proportional to this setting and, with the radiator temperatures set low as well, the boiler is able to operate in condensing mode for much of the time.

I am (evidently!) focused on the nitty-gritty details of domestic energy saving but I don't expect everyone else to be as interested, engaged or obsessed with this as me. Expressing problems in the language of money is a continuous improvement tool: to attract my children's attention, I have offered them whatever we save on our home energy bills in 2009 compared with 2008.

My son's purchase of a Macbook for his A-level studies resulted in a substantial drop in electricity usage because it means that his old desktop PC no longer gets used and will soon be rehomed. To date, the kids are about £40 in credit on electricity but a little behind on gas because of the much colder weather we had in the first quarter of 2009.

Thursday, 23 April 2009


The unseasonably fine weather we have been enjoying for the last week has given my solar heating panel its first chance to perform this year.  We have had the boiler turned off for a week now and our family of four are enjoying daily hot showers (and the odd bath) with just the solar heated water.  There's plenty for washing up as well.  If only we could count on this lovely weather throughout the spring and summer, we wouldn't need to run the boiler again until late September.  

Combined with the solar heated water, the home energy improvements that I fitted in 2007 (efficient heating / lighting /refrigeration and effective loft insulation) have reduced our home's energy usage by 33% since 2006.  

Our total gas and electricity consumption in 2006 was 30.4 MWh and this resulted in 8 Tonnes of CO2 emissions.  In 2008, our total home energy usage fell by 10 MWh to 20.4 MWh, avoiding 2.7 Tonnes CO2 emissions.  

At current prices, this energy saving is giving me a cash return of £510 a year!  That makes for a likely payback period on my investment in home energy efficiency and solar hot water of just 12 years.  

Without the big ticket items (solar panel, condensing boiler), many households would see a payback within 2-3 years on simple investments like top-up loft insulation, heating controls, efficient light-bulbs and replacing outdated fridges and freezers with the most energy-efficient modern units.  So what's stopping them?  I suspect they simply don't realise how much energy their homes are wasting and how much it is costing them!

In my last post, I said that I hoped to arrange local screenings of "The Age of Stupid".  The producer, Franny Armstrong, has now set a start date for licensing such events of 22 May.  
Visit to calculate the license fee and register for your screening.

I hope my children's schools will agree to show the film and I will try to get some inspiring speakers along to give the audiences some big ideas for cutting their greenhouse gas emissions.  I shall also use these occasions to advise anyone who has yet to start making their home more energy efficient that they could save around £10 a week on heating and electricity bills, with just the basic energy-saving home improvements.

We also need a national campaign to persuade millions of voters to lobby their MPs about Copenhagen 2009, where the nations of the world will come together to agree a successor to the Kyoto protocol from 2012.  The Age of Stupid website is promising just such a campaign - Pete Postlethwaite signed their pledge in front of Ed Miliband, on stage at the film's Premiere in Leicester Square in March.  More details coming soon at

Monday, 16 March 2009

The Age of Stupid

I have followed the development of "Crude" and "Age of Stupid" with eager anticipation for what seems like years - well, it was years - so when I finally got to the People's Premiere in Staines last night, my expectations were sky-high.  

They were more than met.  

I was moved, challenged and inspired by this simple, haunting film.  The power in these stories and interviews is the plain, unvarnished truth of what we are doing to our species and our only home. 

The People's Premiere also featured live links to the solar tent in Leicester Square, before and after the film.  Nicholas Stern chatted with Franny on the green carpet, telling us how his 2007 Report under-estimated the costs of doing nothing and the speed with which dangerous climate change is progressing. The President of Mauritius delivered a well-spoken video contribution: to have the President of a Sovereign State announce the complete decarbonisation of a country, at this premiere, was electrifying.  Seeing Ed Miliband on stage between Franny and Mark Lynas was buttock-clenching viewing - all credit to the younger Miliband for agreeing to stand alongside them.

Franny also used the Premiere to launch the Not Stupid campaign, which everyone who sees the flim this year should be itching to join!  See their website for details - it currently has the unmissable video from the President of Mauritius:
At the cinema in person were Sarah from the Greening Campaign and Sam from the Campaign Against Climate Change.  They were great comperes and explained what we all need to do to influence the outcome of the critical UN climate change conference (COP15) in Copenhagen in December 2009, including getting everyone we know to join the March against Climate Change in London on 5 December.  I met Rachel Urquhart from Envision, who work to engage young people in making a difference, and was invited to a CACC co-ordination meeting at Houseman's bookshop in London on 24 March.  

This is enough of a springboard for me.  When the Not Stupid campaign are ready to release local screening licences, I will arrange one or more showing of "The Age of Stupid" in the Windsor area.  I will host one for the young people involved in Scouting and their families and am keen to arrange other evening screenings for the wider public, in our local schools. 
Congratulations to Franny, Lizzie, Leo, Pete Postlethwaite and all who have brought "The Age of Stupid" to our screens.  It is a brilliant film and I wish them huge success with its launch on 20 March, which is also the Spring equinox and my birthday, so a great day to start!