Article

Can you afford to save the planet?

Even if I don’t really get the finer points of the equation, I can see that the sums fail to add up in a quite spectacular way. You spend forty grand; you get back a couple of hundred pounds a year in return for a clear conscience.

It’s clearly an ideal time for me to copy Blue-Green Dave’s plans and add solar panels and a wind turbine to the expanding Urban Fox homestead

The conventional profile of a North Londoner has always been vaguely lefty, with greenish tinges. So popular is the notion of having an allotment in Camden, and being able to grow your own pure organic veg, that it takes ten years to work your way up to the top of the list (though while you’re waiting the pure organic Bumblebee shops in Brecknock Road, NW5, will supply your need for life-sustaining seeds, soya and hand-made sheep’s cheese). Likewise, energy-efficient, no-carbon-emissions bikes are almost as common in Primrose Hill and Gospel Oak as they are in the streets of Asia. And the few hundred non-polluting, nature-loving G-Wiz electric cars (no petrol, no congestion charge) so far sold in the UK all seem to be owned by residents of Hampstead, Highgate and carbon-dioxide-free points between the two hills of the north.

Weaving home on my bike between the St George’s flags fluttering from lamp posts and pub doors and the first Labour and Lib Dem posters appearing shyly in windows before the local elections on May 4, it strikes me as odd to be taking my... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

It’s clearly an ideal time for me to copy Blue-Green Dave’s plans and add solar panels and a wind turbine to the expanding Urban Fox homestead
 
The conventional profile of a North Londoner has always been vaguely lefty, with greenish tinges. So popular is the notion of having an allotment in Camden, and being able to grow your own pure organic veg, that it takes ten years to work your way up to the top of the list (though while you’re waiting the pure organic Bumblebee shops in Brecknock Road, NW5,  will supply your need for life-sustaining seeds, soya and hand-made sheep’s cheese). Likewise, energy-efficient, no-carbon-emissions bikes are almost as common in Primrose Hill and Gospel Oak as they are in the streets of Asia. And the few hundred non-polluting, nature-loving G-Wiz electric cars (no petrol, no congestion charge) so far sold in the UK all seem to be owned by residents of Hampstead, Highgate and carbon-dioxide-free points between the two hills of the north.
 
Weaving home on my bike between the St George’s flags fluttering from lamp posts and pub doors and the first Labour and Lib Dem posters appearing shyly in windows before the local elections on May 4, it strikes me as odd to be taking my North London cues for virtuous living, all of a sudden, from David Cameron, polar explorer, recent convert to greenery, and leader of the Conservative Party.
 
But that’s our topsy-turvy political times for you. With high global oil prices, emission charges for carbon dioxide and tax breaks for renewable energy all on the agenda these days, demand for renewable and alternative energy sources is higher than ever before and is expected to triple by 2014, industry reports say. No wonder all political parties want to corner the market in greenness.
 
And, with a new room being planned for the roof of my house - (and my personal fear of a bogeyman Russia taking over the world by controlling all our future gas supplies, starting with our own UK gas company Centrica, which Tony Blair is inviting the Russian company Gazprom to take over - it’s clearly an ideal time for me to copy Blue-Green Dave’s plans to add solar panels and a wind turbine to the expanding Urban Fox homestead and become self-sufficient in energy.
 
Wondering if I’m part of a bigger North London trend towards following David Cameron to the ballot box, I start to read about how to generate my own electricity.
 
It sounds fantastic. You put an unobtrusive solar panel on your roof and it heats your water for nothing for most of the year, giving you between a half and two-thirds off your hot water bill. Then you bung a wind turbine – a skinny three-pronged windmill on a stick – in your back garden, and it generates enough electricity to turn your electricity meter backwards and reduce your bill to almost nothing. If you’re really lucky, and live somewhere really windy, you can even sell the extra electricity you generate back to the grid. What’s more, the government will give you grants worth hundreds and perhaps thousands of pounds to help you with the initial outlay. Bingo: green, rich and good in one fell swoop, just like Blair’s Heir.
 
I’m almost ready to Go Green, Vote Blue and Save The Planet when I realise that, in practice, installing these gizmos isn’t nearly as simple as it looks. Or as cheap, if it comes to that. Or as useful.
 
First you have to own your house. If you’ve got a flat or any kind of share with other people, you need planning permission. You also need it if you’re in a listed building or an area of outstanding natural beauty.
 
Then there’s the directional question. If you want a solar panel big enough for a 3-4 person household, your roof has to face south. Anything else and it wouldn’t work properly or would cost twice the price.
 
Wind turbine? Same story. The sweet little bit of kit in the photos turns out to be 11 and a half metres high. Even the shadow it would cast over my neighbours’ 20ft long London gardens would be bound to annoy them. There’s a second sort of turbine, though, that you can mount on the roof (as long as you have a windy enough bit of roof, which you can determine if you monitor wind speeds for several months). Would a rooftop turbine annoy the neighbours? Only if it was noisy, which the wind websites all swear it wouldn’t be.
 
But what exactly do they mean by not noisy? “The majority of modern small wind turbines have been designed to be very quiet, for instance by having direct drive systems to avoid gear box noise and to increase efficiency. In general, the wind itself makes more noise than a wind turbine,” the British Wind Energy Association says soothingly. “It is most unlikely that any noise from small wind turbines will be heard at more than 50m.”
 
Now, I don’t live squashed up particularly close to the houses around, but anything not-really-audible at up to 50 metres would annoy not just the people next door but about 50 other neighbours as well. No wonder you almost certainly have to apply for planning permission. And no wonder David Nisbet, who put up a 6kw turbine in his Essex garden in May 2005, first had to overcome 22 planning objections from neighbours about noise and visual impact.
 
Then there’s the price. A solar panel big enough to supply 3-4 people costs up to £4,000 – if it’s just the one panel, that is, with none of the extras you might incur for having a non-south-facing roof. The price doesn’t include VAT or scaffolding (though you could get a £500 grant from the government and, if you’re lucky enough to live in green-minded London boroughs, possibly another £500 from them).
 
Wind turbines cost even more. The British Wind Energy Association says typical small system costs are £2,500-£5,000 per kW capacity installed. So a 6kW turbine like David Nisbet’s, above, might cost up to £30,000. You can get some money back through the government’s Low Carbon Buildings Programme - for individual householders up to £1,000 per kw installed, up to a maximum of £5,000, as long as it doesn’t come to more than 30 per cent of the total installed cost (before you add on the VAT). But that still comes out at a hefty whack.
 
After laying out about £40,000 - if you look on the bleak side and add in the VAT and extras after you’ve subtracted the grant money - what do you actually save (apart from the world)?
 
Precious little, it turns out. Solar for London, Ken Livingstone’s initiative for bringing solar power to the capital, says that a solar panel might give you savings of “£20-£120 a year”.
 
The wind turbine websites don’t give any exact figures, though the BWEA says that, in a year, a turbine will “generate about 30 per cent of the theoretical maximum output”. I don’t completely understand what that means but let’s assume it is that you get a third of your pre-green electricity bill back – again, probably not much more than a couple of hundred pounds a year.
 
The BWEA also admits: ”It is cheaper to save electricity than to generate it, by whatever method. The latest information on how much it costs to save electricity is available from the Energy Savings Trust. In their Energy Efficiency Standards of Performance Review, they cited the cost of energy efficiency measures as costing around 1.3 pence per kilowatt hour (per unit). The cost of wind energy is currently around 2.4 pence per unit.”
 
So that’s it. Project shelved. Even if I don’t really get the finer points of the equation, I can see that the sums fail to add up in a quite spectacular way. You spend forty grand; you get back a couple of hundred pounds a year in return for a clear conscience. Hardly anyone but the Conservative opposition leader will be able to afford to save the planet as long as it costs the earth. I’m certainly not rich enough to be green (until the kit gets a lot cheaper). Nor are any of my neighbours. And I’d guess that means that shabby, philosophy-reading North London, with its greenish tinges, will probably stay vaguely lefty through the next wave of elections.
 
 


Source: http://www.timesonline.co.u...

APR 28 2006
https://www.windaction.org/posts/2355-can-you-afford-to-save-the-planet
back to top