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The clean green route to power

Global warming may be gathering pace, but forecasters predict a cold winter. So how do we warm ourselves without warming the planet? Jeff Rice offers a guide
December 2005

It might not be enough in itself to halt climate change, but we can take some of the heat out of global warming through personal action. The clean, green solution is renewable technology. Here’s the Red Pepper meltdown on alternative energy.

Solar electric (PV)

Solar panels that produce electricity, or photovoltaics (PVs), are the first type of renewable technology that people tend to think of. PVs usually come in the form of ‘bolt-on’ panels but also as roof tiles. Ideally, they need to be orientated to the south, but can work in east or west facing positions. Over the course of its lifetime, a PV-tiled roof can save the emission of around 30 tonnes of carbon dioxide. The Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) has published a guide to choosing, setting up and maintaining these panels.

Solar thermal

Solar thermal panels are used to generate domestic hot water. The simpler type consists of a large flat panel that absorbs heat from the sun, which is absorbed in turn by water flowing through the panel. The hot water is then stored in a hot water cylinder. The more efficient types are evacuated tube systems. Solar thermal power can reduce the average household’s annual carbon dioxide emissions by around 20 per cent.

Small scale wind

Small-scale wind turbines vary in size from the very small ones that you often see on boats to telegraph pole sized, free-standing units at the bottom of the garden. The type that looks set to become the most common is the domestic roof mounted bolt-on turbine. They can provide around one third of average household electricity. CAT (www.cat.org.uk) provides a useful factsheet on how to choose the right size turbine and where best to site it.

Heat pumps

Heat pumps work essentially like a fridge in reverse, extracting ambient heat from the air, a body of water or the ground. The heat extracted from the environment is then channelled into homes, either via radiators or underfloor heating, and can possibly be used for domestic hot water. For every unit of energy used to run the pump you get three to four units back as heat. There is a list of suppliers at www.heatpumpnet.org.uk

Biomass

Most typically for domestic usage, biomass means a wood-burning stove. Varying types use wood in the form of chips, logs or pellets. They are either stand-alone stoves to provide space heating or can have a back boiler connected to a central heating system. The latter can also provide domestic hot water.

Biomass systems can also be connected to the national grid, which means that any excess of production over use is paid for.

Suppliers

If you can’t modify your home, then companies like Ecotricity (www.ecotricity.co.uk) will provide renewable energy through your mains supply. Check out www.greenelectricity.org to compare tariffs in your area.

The Energy Saving Trust at www.est.org.uk (020 7222 0101) is also worth a look.

Energy efficiency

And don’t forget energy efficiency. Before installing any of the above technologies make sure you are first cutting down on wasted energy with simple measures such as fitting loft insulation, double glazing, draft excluders, low energy light bulbs and turning down heating thermostats. Friends of the Earth (www.foe.co.uk/living/poundsavers) and Rising Tide (www.risingtide.org.uk) both provide factsheets on insulation and energy saving tips. Simpler still, but surprisingly important: don’t leave electrical appliances on standby.

It’s time to join the renewable technology revolution. Don’t wait for the ice caps to melt – act today!


 

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