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Unheated Homes May Fall To Unsafe Temperatures This Weekend

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House in the snow

Experts have warned that with arctic blasts expected to sweep across the country, temperatures in millions of UK households could fall to dangerous levels with people fearing high heating bills.

With the mercury set to plummet below zero and snow predicted for large parts of the UK, the Energy Saving Trust has said it has concerns over a study that shows 42 per cent of householders across the country avoid putting the heating on during cold spells due to concerns about high bills.

A study by Public Health England found that indoor temperatures below 18 degrees can have an impact on health, and the Energy Saving Trust is now urging people not to take risks and ensure instead that their homes are able to cope with the conditions.

David Weatherall, head of policy at the Energy Saving Trust, said: “People could be jeopardising their health because they feel they don’t want to face a large bill – but help is available to prevent that situation.

If unheated, the internal temperature of a home can drop quite quickly and, if the heat is left off long enough, indoor temperatures can even match conditions outside.

“The coming cold snap could be putting people at risk – but with more cold weather ahead, we’d urge people, both tenants and homeowners alike, to get in touch with us and find out what help is available.” 

Public Health England’s study revealed that temperatures of 18 degrees pose minimal health risk to a sedentary person wearing suitable clothing. At lower temperatures, negative health effects may occur, such as increases in blood pressure and the risk of blood clots which can lead to strokes and heart attacks.

Meanwhile, the Energy Saving Trust’s Pulse study of UK household energy habits also found that more than a third of us also find it difficult to keep our homes as warm as we’d like. 

Mr Weatherall said: “Homeowners or renters in receipt of benefits may get some help towards the cost of fitting insulation or a new boiler, so it’s worth checking.

The best place to start is by calling the Energy Saving Advice Service on 0300 123 1234 or by looking at our website.

“Tenants who have major problems with cold and damp and whose landlord won’t help should contact their local authority housing health and safety team.

“Perhaps the easiest way to make heating your home cheaper is to consider switching energy supplier. Many can save £300, and checking how much you can reduce your bills by only takes a few minutes.

“With the cold weather set to continue for many weeks, acting quickly can mean escaping the worst of the winter chills.”

The Energy Saving Trust says seven simple tips can make your home easier to heat:

  • Draught-proof your home
    Improving seals on windows and doors reduces creeping chills and save you up to £35 per year.
  • Insulate your pipes
    Adding foam insulating tubes to water pipes is a great way to prevent unnecessary heat loss and can save you £10 per year.
  • Upgrade heating controls
    Got no temperature control valves on your radiators? Adding them gives you more power to save – add a thermostat too and you could pocket anything from £75 to £155 per year in extra cash.
  • Get a new boiler
    If your boiler is more than 10 years old, upgrading can significantly reduce your household’s running costs.
  • Top up hot-water cylinder insulation
    A hot water cylinder jacket can cost just £16, but can save you £25 to £35 per year.
  • Top up loft insulation
    Adding an extra layer of insulation to your loft is a quick way to reduce heating bills by £15 per year.
  • Insulate your walls
    Preventing warm air escaping through your walls by insulating your walls can reduce heating bills from £155 to £260 per year depending on your home.

Household efficiency information and advice can be found on the Energy Saving Trust website, on www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/shiver. To contact the Energy Saving Advice Service phone 0300 123 1234.

Economy

Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?

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self-driving cars for green environment
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Zapp2Photo | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/zapp2photo

Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?

But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?

The Big Picture

The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.

That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.

Driver Reduction?

One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.

There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.

As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.

Deadheading

Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.

Make and Model of Car

Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.

On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.

The Bottom Line

Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?

Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.

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Economy

New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035

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renewable energy policy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Eviart / https://www.shutterstock.com/g/adrian825

New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.

New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.

Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.

Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”

The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.

Zero net emissions by 2050

Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.

Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.

She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.

Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”

A worldwide shift to renewable energy

Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.

Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.

Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.

Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.

Sources: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-11-06/green-dream-risks-energy-security-as-kiwis-aim-for-zero-carbon

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-hydrocarbons/france-plans-to-end-oil-and-gas-production-by-2040-idUSKCN1BH1AQ

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