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Building the eco-friendly homes of the future



House - Alex Pepperhill via Flickr

The UK is in desperate need of new homes. Official estimates suggest that about 300,000 properties need to be built every year to keep up with demand, yet this is a rate that hasn’t been achieved in the UK since the 1970s and is two to three times the current level.

It’s a topic that is constantly on the political agenda, with the Telegraph recently revealing that the Government hopes to plug some of the gap with a round of modern day ‘prefabs’.

Yet with the scale of the housing shortage, it’s clear that there isn’t just one solution – there needs to be lots of different methods encouraged. A mass housebuilding programme does provide an opportunity, as well as a challenge.

While the housing crisis might be one of the issues that defines the next generation, the future of the planet is pretty important too. In Paris last year, countries from across the globe signed up to legally binding emissions targets, in an attempt to tackle climate change.

Is it possible to kill two birds with one stone?

According to some pioneers, it really is. There are some people who have been able to build homes that are so efficient that they not only produce enough energy for the people who live inside – but also some extra to ensure that the occupants get paid for contributing to the National Grid.

A community of two and three-bed social housing bungalows known as Unity Gardens in Long Sutton, in Lincolnshire, showcases how this bill-free world can become a reality.

These award-winning homes were the brainchild of eco-architect Dr. Jerry Harrall, who said: “If you wondered whether or not it is possible to design a building where, on an annual basis, you have no energy bills and no heating bills then the answer is yes, I have done it. We have clients who are living the dream.”

Residents in Unity Gardens use less than half of the energy of people in a standard UK home and generate about 1,500kWh more than they use.

This is achieved through smart design and the use of the right materials.

The homes are made with earth bunding for insulation, generate their own energy using a solar panel and wind turbine and deploy heavy materials to ensure the floors and walls can double up as storage radiators. They face south to soak up the maximum amount of sunshine and the most natural heat and light possible.

Unity Gardens proved the perfect starting point for one couple, who used the money they saved living there to build their own eco-friendly home.

Andrew and Jo Thompson tapped into the design knowledge of Dr. Harrall to build ‘Frankly Bee’ just down the road from Unity Gardens in nearby Sutton Bridge. The property cost just £100,000 to build and last year they not only had no energy bills, but they also received £365 for the energy they created.

Jo told the Spalding Voice: “I’m really proud of it and really pleased with the outcome. People need to know that they can do this too. If we keep buying these cardboard houses, nothing will change.

“It’s not hard, it’s not difficult – we just need to change the way we think. We chose this shape but you can make it how you like. You just have got to get the build right. We’re starting to reap all the benefits and not by the skin of our teeth. We’re a long way into making money.”

Dr. Harrall said the Thompson’s home also tapped into the research of Brenda and Robert Vale – forward-thinking pioneers who have inspired his own work over the years.

He added: “Frankly Bee really is the pinnacle of that evidence-based research.”

Not everyone matches the sorts of low energy feats managed by the Thompsons, but there are many people who are embracing green features into their homes to slash their bills drastically.

Indeed, building your own home might well be seen as the ultimate DIY project. With the right support at the planning stage and the right materials from the likes of Ken’s Yard – making your own home can be one of the most rewarding challenges to take on.

Mark and Sheila Hemingway are one couple that did just that. They led the project to build their new four-bedroom home in Northamptonshire, with support from self-build specialist firm Potton.

Their home features an air source heat pump, rain harvesting system, LED lights and a mechanical ventilation and heat recovery system. As a result, bills are a couple of hundred pounds below the £1,200 average and they get the Government-support subsidy knows as the Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive, which is worth £678 a year for seven years.

Mark said: “The temperature in the house is consistent at 22 degrees celsius. This is due to the insulation and re-used fresh air. There are no radiators and the downstairs of the house is all underfloor heated.”

“We’d not go back to a standard home now. We would definitely build an eco house again or retrofit a new one with eco modules.”

Yet, while the Hemingways and Thompsons of this world should undoubtedly be encouraged in their endeavours, it’s unlikely that the scale of the crisis outlined at the start of this article will be overcome by relying on individuals.

Yet, that’s where Dr. Harrall might have the solution. His next project is for 14 homes including one property that he boldly predicts will be the ‘most energy efficient home in the country’.

From there, he’s currently on the hunt for investors to back a new business – Indie House – that could deliver 2,000 homes in six years in the Peterborough area. If successful it would be the largest portfolio of its kind in the country.

Dr. Harrall said: “The business model is very smart and these are not estate developments. We are not building the ghettos of the future. These are houses that use no fossil fuels.”

Two birds with one stone indeed.


Responsible Energy Investments Could Solve Retirement Funding Crisis




Energy Investments
Shutterstock / By Sergey Nivens |

Retiring baby-boomers are facing a retirement cliff, at the same time as mother nature unleashes her fury with devastating storms tied to the impact of global warming. There could be a unique solution to the challenges associated with climate change – investments in clean energy from retirement funds.

Financial savings play a very important role in everyone’s life and one must start planning for it as soon as possible. It’s shocking how quickly seniors can burn through their nest egg – leaving many wondering, “How long your retirement savings will last?

Let’s take a closer look at how seniors can take baby steps on the path to retiring with dignity, while helping to clean up our environment.

Tip #1: Focus & Determination

Like in other work, it is very important to focus and be determined. If retirement is around the corner, then make sure to start putting some money away for retirement. No one can ever achieve anything without dedication and focus – whether it’s saving the planet, or saving for retirement.

Tip #2: Minimize Spending

One of the most important things that you need to do is to minimize your expenditures. Reducing consumption is good for the planet too!

Tip #3: Visualize Your Goal

You can achieve more if you have a clearly defined goal in life. This about how your money can be used to better the planet – imagine cleaner air, water and a healthier environment to leave to your grandchildren.

Investing in Clean Energy

One of the hottest and most popular industries for investment today is the energy market – the trading of energy commodities. Clean energy commodities are traded alongside dirty energy supplies. You might be surprised to learn that clean energy is becoming much more competitive.

With green biz becoming more popular, it is quickly becoming a powerful tool for diversified retirement investing.

The Future of Green Biz

As far as the future is concerned, energy businesses are going to continue getting bigger and better. There are many leading energy companies in the market that already have very high stock prices, yet people are continuing to investing in them.

Green initiatives are impacting every industry. Go Green campaigns are a PR staple of every modern brand. For the energy-sector in the US, solar energy investments are considered to be the most accessible form of clean energy investment. Though investing in any energy business comes with some risks, the demand for energy isn’t going anywhere.

In conclusion, if you want to start saving for your retirement, then clean energy stocks and commodity trading are some of the best options for wallets and the planet. Investing in clean energy products, like solar power, is a more long-term investment. It’s quite stable and comes with a significant profit margin. And it’s amazing for the planet!

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What Should We Make of The Clean Growth Strategy?



Clean Growth Strategy for green energy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By sdecoret |

It was hardly surprising the Clean Growth Strategy (CGS) was much anticipated by industry and environmentalists. After all, its publication was pushed back a couple of times. But with the document now in the public domain, and the Government having run a consultation on its content, what ultimately should we make of what’s perhaps one of the most important publications to come out of the Department for Business, Energy and the Industrial Strategy (BEIS) in the past 12 months?

The starting point, inevitably, is to decide what the document is and isn’t. It is, certainly, a lengthy and considered direction-setter – not just for the Government, but for business and industry, and indeed for consumers. While much of the content was favourably received in terms of highlighting ways to ensure clean growth, critics – not unjustifiably – suggested it was long on pages but short on detailed and finite policy commitments, accompanied by clear timeframes for action.

A Strategy, Instead of a Plan

But should we really be surprised? The answer, in all honesty, is probably not really. BEIS ministers had made no secret of the fact they would be publishing a ‘strategy’ as opposed to a ‘plan,’ and that gave every indication the CGS would set a direction of travel and be largely aspirational. The Government had consulted on its content, and will likely respond to the consultation during the course of 2018. And that’s when we might see more defined policy commitments and timeframes from action.

The second criticism one might level at the CGS is that indicated the use of ‘flexibilities’ to achieve targets set in the carbon budgets – essentially using past results to offset more recent failings to keep pace with emissions targets. Claire Perry has since appeared in front of the BEIS Select Committee and insisted she would be personally disappointed if the UK used flexibilities to fill the shortfall in meeting the fourth and fifth carbon budgets, but this is difficult ground for the Government. The Committee on Climate Change was critical of the proposed use of efficiencies, which would somewhat undermine ministers’ good intentions and commitment to clean growth – particularly set against November’s Budget, in which the Chancellor maintained the current carbon price floor (potentially giving a reprieve to coal) and introduced tax changes favourable to North Sea oil producers.

A 12 Month Green Energy Initiative with Real Teeth

But, there is much to appreciate and commend about the CGS. It fits into a 12-month narrative for BEIS ministers, in which they have clearly shown a commitment to clean growth, improving energy efficiency and cutting carbon emissions. Those 12 months have seen the launch of the Industrial Strategy – firstly in Green Paper form, which led to the launch of the Faraday Challenge, and then a White Paper in which clean growth was considered a ‘grand challenge’ for government. Throughout these publications – and indeed again with the CGS – the Government has shown itself to be an advocate of smart systems and demand response, including the development of battery technology.

Electrical Storage Development at Center of Broader Green Energy Push

While the Faraday Challenge is primarily focused on the development of batteries to support the proliferation of electric vehicles (which will support cuts to carbon emissions), it will also drive down technology costs, supporting the deployment of small and utility-scale storage that will fully harness the capability of renewables. Solar and wind made record contributions to UK electricity generation in 2017, and the development of storage capacity will help both reduce consumer costs and support decarbonisation.

The other thing the CGS showed us it that the Government is happy to be a disrupter in the energy market. The headline from the publication was the plans for legislation to empower Ofgem to cap the costs of Standard Variable Tariffs. This had been an aspiration of ministers for months, and there’s little doubt that driving down costs for consumers will be a trend within BEIS policy throughout 2018.

But the Government also seems happy to support disruption in the renewables market, as evidenced by the commitment (in the CGS) to more than half a billion pounds of investment in Pot 2 of Contracts for Difference (CfDs) – where the focus will be on emerging rather than established technologies.

This inevitably prompted ire from some within the industry, particularly proponents of solar, which is making an increasing contribution to the UK’s energy mix. But, again, we shouldn’t really be surprised. Since the subsidy cuts of 2015, ministers have given no indication or cause to think there will be public money afforded to solar development. Including solar within the CfD auction would have been a seismic shift in policy. And while ministers’ insistence in subsidy-free solar as the way forward has been shown to be based on a single project, we should expect that as costs continue to be driven down and solar makes record contributions to electricity generation, investment will follow – and there will ultimately be more subsidy-free solar farms, albeit perhaps not in 2018.

Meanwhile, by promoting emerging technologies like remote island wind, the Government appears to be favouring diversification and that it has a range of resources available to meet consumer demand. Perhaps more prescient than the decision to exclude established renewables from the CfD auction is the subsequent confirmation in the budget that Pot 2 of CfDs will be the last commitment of public money to renewable energy before 2025.

In short, we should view the CGS as a step in the right direction, albeit one the Government should be elaborating on in its consultation response. Its publication, coupled with the advancement this year of the Industrial Strategy indicates ministers are committed to the clean growth agenda. The question is now how the aspirations set out in the CGS – including the development of demand response capacity for the grid, and improving the energy efficiency of commercial and residential premises – will be realised.

It’s a step in the right direction. But, inevitably, there’s much more work to do.

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