Yearly Archives: 2013


Green taxes: what and why?

The subject of green taxes has been a contentious one of late, with the media dominated by the debate over reducing those all-important energy prices. Political parties have been throwing ideas around on how to slash prices and for the average household, this can all be a bit confusing. To make it slightly simpler, here’s what you need to know about the infamous climate change policies.

Interest has sparked following the Prime Minister’s recent announcement of a well needed review into the government’s climate change policies; how the green levies (or green taxes) affect bills and whether they’re delivering value for money.

The average household bill in the UK has been estimated at around £1,267 for 2013. The cost is made up of various contributors, and the green measure takes up only 9% of that cost (the equivalent of £112).

The increase in household gas and electricity costs, which so many people are disgruntled about, is in fact due to a number of factors. Wholesale energy costs have contributed to 60% of the increase since 2007, network costs, supplier operating costs and margins contributing 25% and energy and climate change policies only 15% of the increase.

So what are these green taxes and why do we have to pay them? There are currently a number of policies in place, aimed at encouraging a greener way of living and working, to improve the current climate situation and to ensure a secure energy supply in the future.

A common resentment amongst households are the Feed-in-Tariffs, which are used to supplement renewable energy projects like wind turbines.  However FiTs only contribute to 1% of energy bills, a fraction compared with other factors.

Green levies have a bad reputation, but there are in fact a great number of policies in place which have been introduced over the past decade; some of which cost people money, some which save people money and some which do both. The government says that by 2020, the cumulative impact of green taxes will help save the average household 11% of their energy bills.

Although they may seem like an unnecessary additional cost to the average household, the aim of green taxes are to improve the current and future state of the environment and in the future, help reduce energy bills.

UK farmers renewable energy survey

Back in 2010, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) reported that only 5% of farmers in the UK were utilising their land to produce renewable energy. However, it appears as time has gone by, the extensive benefits of renewable generation both to farmers and to the country has been realised and popularity is increasing dramatically.

Recently, Farmers Weekly, Nottingham Trent University and Forum for the Future teamed up to create a survey, asking 700 farmers across the UK everything they could about renewable energy. As it turns out, things couldn’t look more different than they did in 2010.

Of those asked, 38% now said they currently generated renewable energy on their land; a massive increase from the 5% back in 2010. The survey results further revealed that 76% of farmers believed that renewable energy could play a greater role in the future of their businesses. The tradition of using the UK’s countryside for food production is not being displaced, as 99% of those asked said they thought the countryside should continue to be utilised in this way. What is promising is that a surprising 77% said they thought UK land should be used for generating renewable energy, suggesting that renewables is now a prolific form of farm diversification and will become increasingly so in the foreseeable future.

Although solar PV came out as the most popular form of renewable generation for farmers, wind turbines followed a close second and are set to increase in popularity in the coming years. Many farmers have combined both solar panels and turbines as they work well together, both requiring small areas of land.

Of those who already generated renewable energy on their land, the majority said the main benefit was financial, followed closely by a sense of contribution towards national agenda and national energy security. All felt that renewable energy generation provided a good return of investment compared with more traditional farming methods.

Overall, the survey revealed positive results by showing that those who are already generating renewable energy on their farms are finding it a hugely positive project, and over two thirds are considering renewables in the near future, proving renewable energy generation is becoming an increasingly popular option for farmers across the UK.

Can local communities tackle climate change better than the experts?

Recent research has shown that indigenous communities living in tropical rainforests can estimate an region’s carbon stock as effectively as experts with their high-tech systems.

Local communities have been using sticks and ropes to measure the forest’s biomass, and have obtained the same results as modern satellites. It’s often advised with research to involve the people who live in the area and utilise local resources. This encourages the best results; with home residents they have a truly vested interest in the projects. In reality, the local citizens have not been involved in any research in this area before now, where scientists and researchers have taken over the projects entirely.

However, it has now become apparent that local people have more to offer than originally thought. In this instance, the methods used by local residents were far simpler and straightforward, yet they produced the same results as satellites in terms of accuracy and precision.

Gradually, researchers are realising the potential of including local residents and this carries over into the world of renewable energy. Local communities who can witness the benefits of renewable projects are likely to have a far greater interest in them. For example, community owned wind turbine projects receive less opposition than investor owned wind farms, because the local residents selling electricity to the grid can directly reap the financial benefits of the project as a community.

With this concept being realised across the globe, local residents should be given more say in research and climate based projects and will hopefully have the power to effectively help tackle climate change.

Energy Self-Sufficiency

In a world of rapidly increasing energy prices, one farming family are well on the way to completing their ambition of becoming completely energy self sufficient.

Lower House Farm near Cardeston in Shrewsbury is home to the Gethin family, whose farm business comprises arable crops, a green waste composting facility and a poultry rearing unit and requiring large amounts of energy each year.

With 200kW of roof mounted solar panels already in place, alongside a 750kW biomass boiler, the family have now gone one step further to becoming a zero-carbon farm. In April this year, they installed a 50kW wind turbine to complement their existing renewable technologies. The power demand of the poultry unit alone is well over 300,000kW a year and the solar panels currently produce just under half of this. The addition of the turbine is due to help the demand, especially during the cloudier winter months and during the night when the solar panels cannot generate energy.

Initially, the Gethin’s found issues with gaining planning permission, particularly after meeting local opposition.  Nevertheless, having been turned down by Shropshire Council, they didn’t give up and their second attempt was granted and the turbine was erected shortly after. They recommend that farmers intending to install similar projects engage with the local community from the outset in order to resolve any confusion or disputes which may come up later down the line. One issue the family found was concerning the distance to the turbine; this should always be at least 300m from the nearest property which makes it quiet and less visible to neighbours.

Although all projects differ depending on the local council and nearby neighbours, with renewable energy becoming more prominent in planning departments across the UK, more and more projects are being granted planning permission and wind energy is becoming an increasingly popular method of farm diversification.

Helping to save money and doing their bit for global energy security, the family say they couldn’t be happier with their decision.

Windy weather: what will happen to our turbines?

With the recent storms whipping across the south of the UK, many people have started worrying about what will happen to our turbines. The main message is don’t panic – wind turbines are programmed to shut off in very high winds, although usually much higher than those we’ve seen recently in the UK, so there really is no reason to be concerned.

When strong winds blow, most turbines have a variety of automatic shutdown speeds. When wind is measured over a certain speed for longer than 10 minutes, or there are large gusts over 100mph, a shutdown trigger is activated and the turbine stops turning. In fact, the blades of a turbine are ‘feathered’, meaning they are twisted so they no longer catch the wind and stop rotating, reducing the risk of damage to the turbine.

Two years ago, footage was released showing a wind turbine breaking up and catching fire in Ardrossan, Ayreshire during high winds, which sparked widespread panic for many living with or close to turbines. However, the incident was a one-off; it occurred due to a fault with the brakes, stopping the head of the turbine pointing in the right direction and is a very rare occurrence.

As a result, the chances of witnessing a falling tree are far greater than any malfunction of wind turbines. If anything, the high wind speeds are only helping to produce the electricity we need, so no reason to panic.