If you believe the hype, fuel cells will sweep away the days of dirty traffic and give us all guilt-free green motoring. Ashok Sinha and Caspar Henderson take a closer look under the bonnet, and just about come up smiling... How things change. Sheikh Yamani, who as Saudi oil minister was the bête noire of the 1973 oil crisis, now enjoys something of a reputation as a guru of greenery. His aperçu that, as the Stone Age did not end for lack of stones, the Oil Age will not end for lack of oil, is trotted out with mind-numbing regularity. Late last year, the Sheikh upped the stakes with the bold statement: "Fuel cells are coming before the end of the decade and will cut gasoline consumption by 100%."
Heady stuff. Because fuel cells offer the tantalising promise of emission-free travel. And if the hydrogen which they depend upon is generated by renewable energy, then they’re the closest we have to a dream scenario – cars sans pollution.
Solar energy is proving its worth as the most cost-effective way of getting electricity supply systems up and running in isolated parts of the world. BP Solar, the energy giant’s flagship venture on renewables, is now gearing up in the Philippines for what it describes as the largest solar-energy project ever.
The scheme, backed by Spanish aid money and due to get under way on the ground in September, involves power supplies for 150 villages on Mindanao Island, with a total population of over 400,000. Typically this will mean electric light and power in the school and the community centre in each village, as well as some basic communal lighting, home lighting systems, electric pumps for irrigation and drinking water, and essential refrigeration facilities in health centres.
Ambitious plans for Sheffield and its local economy, drawn up by the city’s experimental urban regeneration company Sheffield One, have been launched as the Sheffield Masterplan. At the heart of this project is the eyecatching £15 million Millennium Galleries, which will aim to make as much use of natural light as possible through transluscent glass blocks that will bounce light throughout the building.
Wind energy in Britain has just had its great leap forward. Planning permission has been given for a brace of 18 new offshore wind farms - providing enough energy for one million homes. Each farm will include up to 30 turbines, 50 metres tall, planted some three miles out to sea.
All too often, environmental targets get deferred or diluted as their deadlines approach. And even if 2010 was still a fair way off, Britain was looking to be in danger of losing touch with its professed aim of getting 10% of its power from renewables by then. But the unprecedented scale of proposals unveiled in early April could take the country well up the worldwide league of serious players in the wind industry stakes.
Just four months on from the opening of the first (two-turbine) offshore wind farm at Blyth, the starting gun has been fired for getting planning permission for the next 18 sites. And that process, under streamlined procedures introduced by new Energy Minister Peter Hain, could be completed next year (it took six for Blyth).
The surfeit of green glass in the recycling chain could find its way on to our roads - not as a safety hazard, but as a new road-building material. Mixed in a 30:70 ratio with crushed limestone aggregate then coated with bitumen, it becomes ‘glasphalt’. The proud invention of RMC Aggregates, glasphalt has just won a Quality in Construction award, and RMC believes its potential use could be enough to account for almost all of the country’s waste green glass - at the rate of around one million bottles per mile.
No chance of a cellphone connection on the further-flung Scottish moors, much less a land line. It’s a business opportunity for Maxon Europa (01442 267777), whose base station powered by solar PV and its own wind turbine can keep the remotest laird in touch through Scottish Communications Systems.
The organic boom has sparked a sunburst of new businesses eager to exploit the growing market. But if they are to reap the potential, they need some serious funding. And that’s where Triodos Bank's new venture capital fund comes in. Susan Jenkins explains.
Just as entrepreneurs have responded to the rapidly growing market for organic foods and environmentally friendly products and services, financial institutions are now beginning to realise the opportunity to invest capital in these potentially huge growth areas.
The recently launched Triodos Venture Capital Fund (TVCF) is one of the first venture funds aimed purely at expanding businesses active in organic processing and retailing, renewable energy, and the environmental technology sectors. With a fund of euro 50 million, the plan is to invest in approximately 20 enterprises - mainly in the UK, Netherlands, Belgium and Germany and to deliver market-level returns to institutional investors.
For the world’s airlines, duty-free free shopping isn’t just a perk of the departure lounge. All the fuel for their planes comes completely free of tax – courtesy of international law. Now the party could be ending. The IPPR’s Chris Hewett sets out a scheme by which aviation could start to pay its way – and why the airlines themselves are starting to warm to it. Aviation is the fastest growing form of transport in the world – and flying is the most carbon intensive way to travel. And yet its fuel is untaxed, emissions from international flights are exempt from the Kyoto Protocol and there are no regulations on the fuel efficiency of its engines. Just imagine how many cars we would have on the roads if motorists were given this level of protection.
While high-speed trains offer a possible substitute for short-haul flights, there is no feasible alternative form of transport for long-haul ones.
Putting its toe in the water, if not exactly taking the plunge, the UK government has now made a commitment to support the expansion of photovoltaic (PV) solar power. It is welcome news for the nascent PV industry in this country, which had been lamenting the lost opportunity for just this kind of funding for a market-building programme.
The initial promise of a 2,000-roof demonstration programme was tucked away in a Department of Trade and Industry White Paper on enterprise, skills and training. This still fell a long way short of the policies in place in Germany and Japan, which specify target numbers for solar roofs (100,000 by 2003, in the German case, and 70,000 by 2004 in Japan). DTI funding for the programme amounted to just £10 million over three years, although it was described as just the first phase of what was intended to become an ambitious market stimulation programme over the next 10 years. That immediately became more credible when Prime Minister Tony Blair promised in his latest ‘green speech’ an extra £100 million of funding for renewable energy technologies over the next three years.
Solar-powered street lights topped up by wind power are part of Pfizer’s plans for the next phase of development at its innovative UK headquarters. The master plan for phased expansion of the site at Sandwich in Kent, co-ordinated by US architects CUH2A, envisages the first so-called Windlights being installed later this year. It’s also developed by Robert Webb Associates, and Webb himself claims that “the technologies themselves are enough to uplift the spirit. Put them together with streetlighting and you create an overlap of functions which is economic, sustainable and elegant.”
Windlights will use PV-integrated lighting with top-up from medium-scale wind turbines, located as visual markers of the entrances to the site and each ‘feeding’ power to the lights within a 200m radius.
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