Energy Certificates – more sticks and less carrots

It’s as if a commercial building owner has time on his hands – and cash swilling around.

More legislation looks to be on its way – you can never have enough? This week The UK Green Building Council is advising Government on the latest idea. Not satisfied with Energy Performance Certificates (EPC’s) or Display Energy Certificates (DEC’s) we now need something else – a LES. A Landlords Energy Statement.

EPC’s are for buildings being marketed (in simple terms). DEC’s are for Public Buildings. Each has that funny little graphic showing you how good or bad the building is. Like you get on fridges in John Lewis.

I’m not sure that anyone is taking any notice of these, but perhaps I am being cynical. My experience of EPC is that they are a necessary evil – they make little difference to a deal.

So LES will be born and will be a DEC for all non-public buildings.

More Legislation will be needed. And another obligation on Landlords.

The issue here is that a Landlord has little or no control over his tenants use of energy. Tenants have little or no control over the Landlords building…

Apparently these little certificates will encourage landlords and tenants to cut energy use. My question to you – have you noticed the DEC’s in any public building you have been in? If, by chance you did, did it make any difference to your visit? Did you switch a light off, use a little flush? Thought not. Nor me.

If you want to motivate people it takes cash. Fuel poverty is likely to be the biggest changer of attitudes than any display certificate.

We need to constantly remind people that their behaviour needs to change. Like the Outerarc system. Not a bit of colourful paper on the wall. And we certainly don’t need any more legislation – well thought out or otherwise.

By Tim Garratt Posted in Business, Green stuff, Grumpy Old Man! Tagged DEC's, Display Energy Certificate, Efficient energy use, Energy, EPC's, Fuel poverty, , Landlord, Landlords Energy Statement, LES, Outerarc, tenant, UK Green Building Council

Shanghai – Day 3

Having made the mistake of the train on the first day of the conference I am attending to reach the Ever-Rich Hotel, yesterday I grabbed a cab – just less than £10 for 26km! And door to door!

The French Concession Boutique Shop

It was my day to speak at the Conference I am attending; my subject was “Do Green Buildings attract a premium price“. It could be a short talk when you answer “No.” But I thought I had better explain… I will spare you the technicalities – but the market seems to be applying a slight discount to ‘green’ buildings at the moment. I tried to explain as best I could as to why this was happening. I am hoping it didn’t get lost in translation. I did get quizzed on my assumptions! It may have been a controversial-ish subject at a ‘green’ conference!

I enjoyed some of the other speakers too. I was really interested in some of the work Hyder are doing out in China – they ‘master-plan’ Cities. I mentioned in my last blog that 400 new Cities are being built. This must be fascinating work to start a City from scratch! But perhaps the most fascinating talk was from the Chairman of The Cross Flow Energy Company – they have designed a new wind turbine and are in the final throes of getting the development completed. It will bring a new look to wind farms!

The conference closed and I departed Jiading – back into Shanghai.

After dropping all of the brochures and business cards at my Hotel, I went in search of Starbucks (!) and then headed into the French Concession – a totally different part of Shanghai. It reminds me of the East Village in New York. As the light faded I decided this was not the place to hang around! A Taxi took me back to the sanctity of the Hotel and so ended my third day in Shanghai.

I have one more day left to explore this mad place…

The green agenda carrot and stick

I was at an interesting event a couple of weeks ago. It was a Nottingham Green Tech Business network event at Bio City. A panel of assembled luminaries shared their collective experiences of how we were moving towards greener buildings – and housing in particular.

It became clear during the discussion that things need to change. There is talk that within the next few years the cost of energy will sky-rocket – and an average home will need between £3,000 and £5,000 a year to stay warm and lit. There is a real danger of fuel poverty in the not too distant future.

Legislation (the stick) is driving some of agenda – particularly in housing. Zero Carbon is the target. But as was pointed out, zero carbon does not equal zero fuel bills. And it is not the whole answer. We have become quite obsessed with our carbon footprint, but in reality the building fabric we construct is also of importance. This is where the discussion was centered – the overwhelming view was that we need to re-think the way in which we put buildings together and erect them. Our problem may be in the way we prefer to see our buildings – with brick skins…

I have been a sceptic of some of the technology we are using. Eco-bling is a big market, but it can only be part of the solution. Just because a house has solar panels, ground source heat pumps, triple glazing doesn’t automatically win brownie points at the green awards. Human behaviour plays a huge part. Both general education, but specific learning of how systems work is critical. There was little point one of the panel suggested in having a green tech piece of kit with a switch – when the switch had been wrongly identified as an immersion heater! They didn’t understand why their bills were going up!

I thought the most interesting question was ‘how do we cost-effectively improve our existing housing stock’. The answer was ‘insulation and draught-proofing’. These relatively simple measure would make an enormous difference to a households energy consumption. The amusing finding in one study was that in some areas where free loft insulation had been offered, residents take up was poor – because, when quizzed, they said that it was a lot of hassle to clear the loft!

I may well be in the latter camp!

Green Cement – at last!

For some time the building industry has struggled with the use of concrete. It is generally accepted that this fantastically flexible material is not exactly green. The issue is in the manufacturing process – which uses lots of Carbon. It has been estimated tht 5% of the worlds man made carbon emissions come from concrete!

Concrete made with Novacem

Production of one tonne of ordinary Portland cement, the most widely used type of cement, emits an average of 800 kg of CO2. That’s a lot – and we would need to plant 946 new trees or adopt 36 matured trees to offset the carbon emitted. A single tree offsets around 23 kg of CO2 from the atmosphere, according to scientific research.

But I heard about a new product last week which may change all of that. Novacem is a new cement based on magnesium oxide which should shift the carbon position very significantly.

This is because the process is carbon negative; more carbon dioxide (CO2) is absorbed during the process than is emitted.

Novacem are also aiming to get the cost in parity with traditional cement. Further we have abundant accessible sources of the magnesium silicates on Earth which should support large scale roll out of this new cement production.

This sounds like excellent news for the Industry and Novacem should be applauded for their efforts. Buildings have a very significant impact on the overall emissions of carbon across the world. If we can start to reduce this we should start to notice the difference.

I gather that the cement has been tested and is regarded as perfectly adequate for general use.

You do always have a nagging doubt about new technologies. We had a scare in the late 1960′s and early 1970′s with High Alumina Cement which was used widely – but with disastrous consequences in a school in Camden in 1973. The roof collapsed.

But there is no evidence of any issues with this new concrete and to that extent it’s introduction should be welcomed and encouraged…

A green Christmas?

I have managed pretty much to avoid blogging about Christmas so far, but I now feel moved to do so. I am working up to doing some shopping too; I might just wait a couple more days though…

I just wonder how green Christmas is? Not very I suspect.

Firstly there is all of that packaging. This is both of the gifts themselves but also the bag from the shops or the cardboard from Amazon! Then we wrap the pressies in lovely paper – around 83 square kilometres of the stuff – in context that would just about cover the whole of Guernsey…

Then there’s the billion or so Christmas cards we send each year (The average is 17 each so you can judge your own popularity).

What about the 7.1 million Christmas trees we chop down and then discard?

And then there’s all that electricity for those lights – especially the ones in my photograph.

Bah Humbug!

Carbon emissions – no pressure – cert 18

The 10:10 campaign is underway and they are making great progress in reducing emissions. But they may have gone over the top with this video – which has now been taken down from their site.

10:10′s aim is to ask people, businesses and organisations to take positive action against global warming by cutting their greenhouse gas emissions by 10% in a year.

Blowing up David Ginola, some schoolkids office workers was ok, but Scully from the X-files. No way!

Clever and very direct!

Green buildings fetch higher prices?

Back in March I blogged about a seminar I had been to looking at whether green buildings attracted higher prices than un-green ones. The blog is here.

I was interested to hear that there has been some research in the Netherlands. The suggestion is that house prices for green label homes was on average 2.8% higher than non green label homes; but the differential was even greater when the top and bottom green measures were compared – a 12.1% increase.

I couldn’t help but wonder whether this was because the Dutch are more green aware than we are? They had Energy Performance Certificates in place a year before the UK had adopted the scheme. They also had a weak property market (as we did) as the scheme was introduced. EPC’s were not compulsory – and the main take up, according to the research was in areas of weak demand. Thus sellers were keen to show off their green credentials.

This was housing based research. I am not convinced that we have had enough education in green technologies. If it was pointed out to you the savings available – and that payback period was reasonable (some of the ‘bling’ we read about has a payback of 15 years +) it might catch on. The feed in tariffs are helping, but these are being curtailed. There is a campaign to stop the changes!

I saw some really good green features at Julian Marsh’s house in Nottingham last week. I could buy into much of it. He does have an eye for detail and has found real beauty in some of the materials he has utilised.

But ultimately I think we still revert back to that old mantra – location, location, location? I sill see no differntial appearing in the commercial market at the moment – although it can only be a matter of time. Life cycle costing will become important as energy costs rise. We might then start to see some price differential here in the UK…

Avatar – brilliant!

I missed Avatar at the cinema, it was a choice between Alice in Wonderland or it. I loved Alice in 3D, but my wallet is still bruised from the experience.

Lot’s of friends had told me that Avatar was brilliant and so I was really pleased when I got a Blu-Ray copy for Fathers Day. Last week I finally got round to watching it; having found 155 minutes spare!

It is utterly brilliant. In fact, I would go so far as to say it is better than Alice.

The special effects are breathtaking – in Blu-Ray the imagery is as real as it gets. I have no idea how this is all done – I need to watch the additional features part on the disc. The ten foot tall blue skinned Na’vi are very realistic. You can learn some of the language here.

The story is great too – a bit sloppy at the end, but cleverly done. Sigourney Weaver and Sam Worthington are great characters – as is Stephen Lang as the wayward Colonel.

It has a green message too – the Na’vi living on the land and being part of the land. Watching the film ticked my sustainability box for the week.

It wasn’t what I expected. My wife thought it was going to be a cartoon (she hates cartoons) but it turned out to be quite a clever war film! And Sci-fi at its very best. She still only managed 30 minutes of it though!

James Cameron has done a first class job – the cost was estimated at $300m to make it! He has also said there is a sequel on its way – and I can’t wait.

Another thought occurred to me; we have a census next year? In 2001 some 390,127 people stated their religion to be Jedi … I wonder if Na’vi will be the newest religion next year? I think it might!

By Tim Garratt Posted in Business, Green stuff Tagged Alice in Wonderland, Avatar, BlueRay, Census 2011, , James Cameron, Na'vi, religion, Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang,

Bottled water – the sustainable way?

As many will know I’m not exactly ‘green’. I do take an an interest in green buildings, but am concerned about the mis-information we get. I also have concerns about green bling – which has the capacity to undo some of the good technology.

We have an obsession it seems with bottled water – and this is probably one of the least sustainable modern phenomena. In 2007 we drank 2.1 billion litres of the stuff. That’s quite a lot – in context you could fill around 5,826,000 olympic swimming pools with it.

A story caught my eye over the weekend – in America a new product has been launched – the Bobble. It costs $9.95 (about £6.60). It basically takes the re-usable bottle a stage further – it incorporates a carbon filter to make ‘filtered’ water. The web site claims that the filter is good for 150 litres.

I think this is a great product in several ways. Firstly it does what is says on the tin – it is re-usable and thus sustainable. It is very cost effective. But better than this – it looks fantastic – and much better than the current crop of plastic bottles on the supermarket shelf (perhaps with the exception of the Paul Smith Evian bottle).

Once again, it’s a simple idea, done well – I look forward to getting hold of one in the UK.

Failing that I will have to pick one up in the USA on my next trip. I am worried though that flying to New York to pick one up at Bloomindales might not be altogether green?

The World Cup is not green?

The obvious answer is that the FIFA cup is actually 18ct Gold. Like in the Spandau Ballet song. But It wasn’t originally – the Jules Rimet cup was Gold plated.

But I digress – the world cup most definitely isn’t green. According to research done by the Norwegian Embassy and the South African Government – the amount of of CO2 emitted during the competition will be a staggering 2,753,251 tones of CO2. That’s about the same as a million cars in a year! Or six times the amount emitted during the last World Cup in Germany!

The make up is travel prediominantly – for both participants and spectators. But you also need to add in the accommodation energy use, the stadia construction and subsequent stadia energy use.

As The Guardian put it – the amount is the equivalent of 6,000 space shuttle flights or 20 hamburgers for every man, woman and child in the UK.

Perhaps the 2018 (and ideally the 2014) event need to have a much keener eye on the green credentials? Certainly the England bid has a green agenda – as has been widely publicised.

Although we can introduce ‘green’ buildings and stadia, transport will still be a major issue. Local, public transport is all well and good, but for fans who travel all over the world to see their team, it’s difficult to see how this element can be mitigated!

Unlike the Spandau Ballet song – we’re not indestructible…

[I realise I have gone all green and this will worry some people. Don't worry - normal service will be resumed shortly...]