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The future of renewables - tilting at windmills?December 2006

Do renewables make sense? Can engineers stand up to architects? And can a bolt-on approach to renewable technology really reduce carbon dioxide emissions? The 2006 BSRIA Briefing delivered its verdict.

"Wind power," said John Gummer MP, "is not the whole answer to climate change. There is no silver bullet."

In his keynote speech to the BSRIA Briefing, the Conservative Party's Chairman of the Quality of Life Commission stressed that wind power was only a small part of the renewable energy solution. "We are not going to solve the problems of climate change merely by changing a section of our generating capacity to clean energy," said Gummer. "We are going to do it by a whole range of activities."

Gummer singled out local power generation as one of the potential ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving efficiency of Britain's generation capacity.

"In the next major building phase, which will be around 2010, we will have to have the generation which will be sufficiently localised so we can benefit from the heat as well as the power. If we get power stations up to 90 percent conversion efficiency, then we could effectively halve the emissions.

That will mean siting power stations nearer to areas of population, which will require changes in the planning regulations."

"We will also have to find ways for people to accept that," added Gummer. "Government will have to be legislatively tough and regulatory clever."

Death of the glass box

The celebrated architect of the Swiss Re tower in London, Ken Shuttleworth, called for "the death of the glass box", and a new form of architecture based on highly insulated, solid facades with smaller windows, located and sized appropriately for daylighting and views out.

"When you look at some of the buildings we've been building over the last 20 years, you think: what the hell have we been doing? All this glass, all the floor to ceiling glazing, internal blinds - what have we been playing at?

"The tree huggers were telling us it was all going to go wrong" said Shuttleworth. "But architecture's answer was to stick louvres all over the outside of a completely glazed box, and say it's low energy. We all know that's complete nonsense."

Shuttleworth's ire over high energy architecture was also directed at the services engineers, who, he said, were the industry's invisible men."

"Where are you?" he asked. "You seem to have an inferiority complex; you get biffed by the architects, and give in too easily to the requirements of the glass box.

"Engineers still say 'tell me what the cladding is and I'll tell you what the air conditioning needs to be,' when it should be the other way around."

"This is your moment in time" he added. "You could be sophisticated professionals, trying to save the planet. You need to get away from your normal way of doing things, like incomprehensible graphs, poorly presented. You need to get into communication more, and start campaigning."

Renewables: who where and when?

BSRIA's Andrew Giles reported on the latest intelligence on the market for renewable energy technologies. "It is a classic emerging market," he said, "with loads of new products." However, the surprise winner is likely to be heat pumps.

"We are going to see explosive growth to over a million units by 2011, with most of that growth in Asia" said Giles. "As the European market may be 1.5 million, the UK could easily be five percent of that."

Giles reported that while photovoltaics grew 55 percent in 2005, the market is likely to settle down to around 12 percent per year. However, solar thermal systems will grow to around 10.5 million units by 2011.

Giles sounded a note of caution about the growth of renewable technologies. "We hear that there is a shortage of engineers with the right level of experience," he said. "Apparently, there are only 50 or so heat pump installers, so we are lagging behind [the technology]."

Giles also reported that money from the DTI and £50 million from the Treasury will help uptake our renewables technology, but that on a European scale: "we are a long way behind in terms of incentives". Germany has no less than 17 incentive schemes for solar thermal technology, and very attractive feed-in tariffs.

BSRIA's market analysis has revealed that the Germans and the Japanese will be behind the growth in renewable energy products. "In terms of heat pumps, the Japanese companies Daikin and Sanyo are at the forefront," said Giles, "but the others are not far behind."

In the near future we will see a move towards mainstream renewables; products like solar thermal and heat pumps will be added to wholesaler portfolios such as B&Q.

The property perspective

Land Securities' project engineering director Neil Pennell explained the difficulties the commercial property market faces in attempting to introduce renewable energy technology to city centre developments.

"The targets set have been challenging" admitted Pennell, "and the current targets of the new London plan may be increased from 10 to 15 percent or even 20 percent renewables.

"There are challenges in using renewable technologies, such as cost in use issues" explained Pennell. "Some technologies are not well suited to based-load applications, and others possess low-power density. There are also issues with reliability - with wind and solar we are at the mercy of the elements. "Today the heating demand for large commercial office buildings is a much smaller part of the total energy budget. The challenge is getting a reliable supply."

Pennell observed that material substitution can sometimes help reduce the cost of renewable technolgoy, for example replacing a building element with a photovoltaic panel. "But when you do the maths and look at the 10 percent targets" explained Pennell, "you could almost build a building out of photovoltaics and it would not get you very far along the road in terms of meeting the renewables contribution."

Pennell expressed concern at the way the renewables component is currently calculated. "Renewables are often counted differently by the regulations and by planning departments. There is a lot of confusion" he said. "There needs to be greater consistency in the way the policy is applied.

"There is a danger that every local authority will go down their own path and create new targets and new ways of doing things."

Despite his reservations about renewable energy technology, Pennell believes operational energy labelling will change the perspective of the property market. "Energy labels on buildings...will make people think a lot harder about how the buildings work and operate, and that will feed through quickly into how buildings are valued," he predicted.

Renewables and retailing

Tesco's Engineering director Keith Aughwane explained how renewables - and energy efficiency measures generally - are helping the retailer maintain its corporate advantage.

"There are three major issues," said Aughwane. "Customers are forcing us in that direction. They are not buying because of price point, they're buying because they want to be dealing with a good company.

"Second, more floor area equals more profit. So we have to try and maximise the footprint of retail stores," he said. "Third, we need to get our operating costs down, and renewables can help with that."

Aughwane reported that Tesco is investing £1 million in technology solutions with the aim of halving the retailer's energy use by 2010.

Tesco has used micro-wind turbines on recent stores, but discovered that the payback was not attractive. In the future it is intending to install 25 MW of wind capacity, but only for stores in locations where the mean wind velocity is suitable. "This is equivalent to 12 of our larger stores in terms of electricity capacity," said Aughwane. "We are also looking to save 500 tonnes of CO2 per store by using geothermal heating and cooling, and tri-generation [CHP and absorption cooling]."

However, Aughwane concluded by echoing the worries of Andrew Giles and Neil Pennell.

"We don't yet have the technician base in this country to be sure that we will be able to maintain it [the renewables technology] or CO2-based refrigeration," he warned. "This is a very real worry for me."

For more information contact BSRIA:

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