District level heating could help achieve EU 2020 energy efficiency goals

Recycling of excess heat, via ‘district heating’, has the potential to improve energy efficiency in Europe. This study mapped excess heat and demands for heat in EU27 Member States to identify regions suitable for the large-scale implementation of district heating. The authors identified 63 ‘heat synergy regions’, generally large urban zones, which generated almost half of all excess heat generated in the EU27.

A recent briefing suggests there is a clear role for district heating. This study mapped heat resources in EU27 Member States, using data from 2010. The research, which forms part of Heat Roadmap Europe – a research project investigating energy efficiency measures in the EU’s heating and cooling sectors – assessed the annual excess heat produced by the energy and industry sectors in Europe using CO2 emissions data.

The development of ‘modern’ district energy (DE) systems is one of the best options, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in a new publication: District energy in cities – unlocking the potential of energy efficiency and renewable energy. Launched at the International District Energy Association’s (IDEA’s) annual conference last month, the report calls for the accelerated deployment of DE systems around the world. The full report is available here.

The UK Government’s own Heat Strategy states that producing heat is the biggest user of energy in the UK and in most cases we burn gas in individual boilers to produce this heat. This is a wasteful method of producing heat and a large emitter of CO2, with heat being responsible for 1/3 of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. Household heat demand has risen somewhat over the past 40 years from 400 TWh/y to 450 TWh/y, despite a marked improvement in the energy efficiency of homes and a slight reduction in the severity of winters. The average internal temperature of homes has risen by 6°C since the 1970s, and this combined with growth in housing – the number of households has risen by around 40% since the 1970s – has offset energy efficiency gains in terms of total energy used to heat homes Some studies suggest these temperature increases are due to factors including the move to central heating, rather than householders actively turning up their thermostats.

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Air Quality Remains Poor – But the Blame has Shifted to the Car Manufacturers

Maybe, maybe the owners of VW, Audi, Seat and other cars will put enough political pressure on their governments that this will be sustained because of self-interest in the resale value of their cars rather than the condition of their lungs. Either way, this may just have been the best thing for air quality.

Air quality in cities has been increasingly poor for years. Sustainable cities need great air quality. As regulation tightened on industrial emissions from factories, construction and combustion the predominant source of particulate matter, sulphur, NOx and ozone shifted to combustion engines in vehicles.

Earlier this year I blogged ‘At last it’s official and there should be no hiding place for the UK in improving its air quality as Court orders UK to cut NO2 air pollution’. The blame, at that time, was squarely on the British Government for failing to deliver on the legislation originating from Brussels.

Two years ago I suggested (in light of the Government’s electric car strategy) ‘There is good news in it – especially the announcement of £500m to be made available over the next parliament to support electric cars. However, there are clear problems with this strategy so Labour has an opportunity to set out its own, more radical, agenda. With the Labour Group in conference in Brighton – heartland of the Green Party, I wonder whether Corbyn will be willing to make some bold commitments – not least because last week we saw the blame shift from the Government to the manufacturers. It’s akin to blaming the bankers for providing the cash to everyone who wanted to borrow. If you want to buy a car, buy one – you’d think you were safe in the knowledge there are people monitoring the performance of cars in the same way there are watchdogs guarding the banks.

Today, in conference, Labour committed to getting the taxes owed by Starbucks, Google and others. Maybe tomorrow they’ll commit to ensuring multi-national car manufacturers will be brought to book for not just failing, downright deceptively avoiding, standards.

Government will be quick to confuse the issues of legislation, choice and deception. Government will suggest the cause of the issue is entirely down to the poor performance of new vehicles coming on to the market, a la VW. There isn’t many places the car manufacturers can go other than to fall on their catalytic convertors but the hiding place for national and local government wont be long lived.

If government’s don’t tighten up their regulation of the automakers and air quality there is only one loser – us. If government’s do respond we can see better vehicle technology deployed, an accelerated shift towards electric, gas and hydrogen engines and, as a result, cleaner air.

Maybe, maybe the owners of VW, Audi, Seat and other cars will put enough political pressure on their governments that this will be sustained because of self-interest in the resale value of their cars rather than the condition of their lungs. Either way, this may just have been the best thing for air quality.

Read also: http://www.citiesofthefuture.eu/volkswagen-cheating-an-opportunity-for-cities/

Is this the greenest public sector ever in the UK?

In a blog published today by The Carbon Trust, Tim Pryce, Head of the Public Sector at the CT asked “Is this the greenest public sector ever in the UK?”.

“Over the past five years it has often been repeated that the current government is aiming to be the UK’s greenest government ever. Over the same period we have seen a focus on austerity result in cuts to public sector budgets and jobs, which has directly impacted on the amount of resource and support available for improving environmental performance. So where has this left the public sector in its own drive for sustainability? And are they playing their part in helping to meet the UK’s ambitions on reducing carbon emissions, tackling climate change, and addressing the challenges of resource scarcity?”

Without doubt Tim has taken a very positive, but guarded, perspective. Having attended the conference in London to which Tim refers, it was well attended and yes, the public sector has made strides forward in reducing its carbon footprint. I would suggest that those in the room had probably contributed more than average and that Tim was speaking, by his own admission, to the committed and the converted.

In the coalition’s period of Government we have seen a number of commitments to deliver the objective of the ‘greenest government ever’. Off the top of my head I would refer to the introduction of the feed-in-tariff, the renewable heat incentive, the creation of the Heat Network Development Unit and the sustained commitment to low emission vehicles through OLEV. However, we have also seen the culling of the CERT and CESP mechanisms for funding energy efficiency in domestic properties throwing the insulation industry in to meltdown and the outright failure of the laudable, but unimplementable, Green Deal. Only a handful of organisations of local authorities have had the will, clout or funding to really make it a success.

My suspicion is the public sector carbon emission reductions have been as a direct result of austerity on a needs-must basis which has led to the sell-off of un-needed properties or simply being more frugal in heating spaces. Whilst the outcome looks good (reduced CO2 and energy consumed) it was achieved by doing all the easy, very short payback projects leaving the harder yards to the next government’s term. To achieve more going forward will require a longer term approach, more capital investment in infrastructure, energy efficiency and process improvement. I don’t see the government handing out lots of cash for that in the near term. Already the EU carbon targets are being seen as undeliverable by some. The UK’s credibility in contributing to them is at stake.

 

Smart, Low Carbon, City Regions

The new emerging governance of City Regions in the UK is not only establishing, it has to embrace new roles, opportunities and responsibilities in response to the expectations of the European Commission and the needs of the UK economy. Unfortunately, there remains little political support.

The Heseltine Review, No Stone Unturned : in pursuit of growth’ was published 8 months ago next week. It was, largely supported by the UK’s cities as an opportunity to strengthen local economic leadership through city regions. Whilst Heseltine continues to promote its messages, the divisions in policy within Whitehall continue to undermine what is, ostensibly, a sound and rational argument for devolution.

Within the text of the review are some significant proposals supported by examples from City Region Local Enterprise Partnerships, such as Cumbria and the Isles of Scilly, illustrating how they might show leadership on local energy generation and low carbon growth.

These LEPs, and others in the UK, are developing their local growth plans alongside their investment proposals for the EU funding programme 2014-2020. They’re asked to ringfence up to 20% of the total of their ERDF funding towards low carbon activities over that 7 year period. Imagine how much more effective that could be if the proposals outlined in the Heseltine Review were enacted and the funding identified in the ‘single pot’ and the European funds could be used as a catalyst for growth instead of a sticking plaster on collapsed economies.

Energy policy has become central to recent poltical exchanges in Whitehall as wholesale energy prices rise, profits and payrises for the ‘big 6’ appear to be unfair and out of kilter with the mood of the nation. And whilst both the Conservative Party and the Labour Party have offered proposals to control/intervene in the market there has been little consideration of the devolution of energy to cities, their city regions and their people at a time when there is an appetite (amongst the Core Cities) and proposals for such an approach.

In the past week two large LEPs with a track record in this field have made very clear statements on their role to boost low carbon activity, create jobs, reduce emissions, increase exports of low carbon goods and services and deliver the kind of proposals Heseltine would have wanted to see.

The Humber LEP spoke with great clarity at the Renewables UK conference, outlining how it brings together Hull, East Riding, North Lincolnshire and North East Lincolnshire – together with the Humber LEP to communicate the Humber’s strong offshore-wind and renewables offer to businesses who could invest in the area. With significant investment in the ‘Green Port’ model, the Humber has the opportunity to be the gateway for the development, manufacture and transport of large scale wind turbines.

Last week also saw the launch of a consultation draft of the D2N2 (Derby, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Nottingham) low carbon plan with a clear commitment to low carbon growth and sustainability.

Both these LEPs should be commended for their vision, commitment and understanding of the importance of this agenda and the opportunity it provides to solve local challenges (fuel poverty, health, unemployment, carbon reduction) with local opportunities to create new global markets which will create jobs, boost GVA and improve the health and wellbeing of their citizens as a result.

But LEPs were never set up to have a socio-environmental responsibility. Their focus has always been on the economic grounds for investment and until such time that LEPs and their emerging city region governance recognise that, it will fail to develop truly sustainable plans.

Over the next few weeks LEPs will digest the feedback they have received from the Government on their (more rounded) EU funding proposals. It will, no doubt, propose greater emphasis on sustainable development and the opportunities for low carbon investment. If (and it is an ‘if’) the proposals Michael Heseltine laid out in his report 8 months ago were enacted, it is likely this would happen much quicker.

Sustainable Cities Need Great Air Quality

Industrialised, and rapidly developing cities, are faced with an invisible killer. Whilst, on the whole, the developed West (and particularly in Europe) environmental regulations have made a significant impact in controlling and reducing emissions of pollutants to the air, cities continue to suffer from the emissions of nitrous oxide, particulate matter and even sulphur and ozone, as a result of road traffic. Not all traffic though. Only traffic that happens to be fuelled with fossil fuels and, in particular, diesel.

A recent report ‘Public Health Impacts of Combustion Emissions in the United Kingdom’  (http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es2040416) states ‘Combustion emissions are a major contributor to degradation of air quality and pose a risk to human health. We evaluate and apply a multiscale air quality modeling system to assess the impact of combustion emissions on UK air quality. Epidemiological evidence is used to quantitatively relate PM2.5 exposure to risk of early death. We find that UK combustion emissions cause 13,000 premature deaths in the UK per year, while an additional 6000 deaths in the UK are caused by non-UK European Union (EU) combustion emissions.

This isn’t the only study saying this – there’s significant amounts of academic research from a range of disciplines being undertaken worldwide, looking at the causes and effects of poor air quality. Simply, they all say there is a massive social, environmental and economic cost. Here in the city of Sheffield, we suggest the costs of poor air quality in the city costs our local National Health Service provides hundreds of millions of pounds every year, treating those who suffer chest and lung ailments as a result of the pollutants in the atmosphere. Those more exposed (often living, or working closer to the sources of poor air quality) are more likely to suffer. Those who are young, or old, or in poor health are more vulnerable.

So, what’s the solution and who is charged with delivering it? Well, in truth there is no one solution – it will be a combaination of many, many interventions. Every city taking this issue serviously will be looking at a range of options to tackle this problem – and some are easier to introduce than others. To inform those choices, it is important to understand in fine detail the sources of your air quality problem. Locally, we have undertaken an assessment of the vehicles running on Sheffield’s roads and have monitored emissions on key arterial routes to understand the actual (rather than modelled) emissions from passing vehicles. It is helping us to better understand whether all vehicles are equally responsible, or whether we need to target particular fleets (HGVs, buses, taxis, private vehicles, light goods, etc).

Despite all that, the solution is well understood. We need to move away from diesel towards ever increasing cleaner fuels. Increasingly, we see two short-medium term winners – for lighter vehicles electric hybrid and electric plug-in solutions are likely to fair well and, given the improvement in battery technology and capacity the concept of ‘range anxiety’ (that awful fear that you might be left stranded somewhere without a hope of plugging-in) will become a thing of the past. More and more of these lighter vehicles appear to have switched from petrol to diesel in recent years as subsequent UK policy incentivised the uptake of diesel through reduced road tax as a way of reducing carbon emissions. For once, what’s been good for carbon dioxde (and only very marginally) hasn’t been good for local air quality.

For heavier vehicles, electric is less likely to play a significant role for some time to come, the smart money is on the use of gas as an alternative to diesel. Whilst governments across the world are now faced with the prospect of fracking shale gas, provided there is a (more) sustainable solution, such as biogas, this could be a significant player. Of course, the concept of range anxiety still remains, so investment in gas refuelling technology is essential if gas is to see widespread adoption. Networks of gas refuelling stations on key routes on motorways and arterial roads and in depots up and down the country will be needed and public intervention is needed to achieve this.

Across South Yorkshire we have idenitifed a number of key sites for the development of gas refuelling infrastructure and are working with the fleet operators and the industry more generally to begin its development. Over coming weeks and months, I’ll post updates on this important programme of work.