Sustainable Woodstock

We aim to raise public awareness among the residents of Woodstock and beyond on the climate emergency, energy conservation, sustainable travel, waste reduction, recycling, bio-diversity, sustainable economics and respect for the planet. 
We are working with local councils, Woodstock Town Council, local schools and churches, Blenheim Palace, local businesses, the Farmers Market and the Woodstock trade association, Wake Up to Woodstock

Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation

Low Carbon Heating

A Step along the Road to Zero Carbon - by Darrell Marchand

Graham Brown has written about solar energy and how we can incorporate this into our homes to generate zero-carbon electricity to power our lights and appliances (see below).

The other main source of carbon emissions from our homes is from the generation of heat and hot water. In this part of the country, primarily this comes from burning natural gas in boilers. Natural gas is a carbon fuel – less carbon intensive than oil or coal, but a carbon fuel nonetheless. If there is any chance of meeting the Government’s target of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050, we simply have to move away from this fuel source for heating.

But, in looking at what we can do in our own homes, the first step has to be to manage the amount of energy we use. There are a number of actions we can take and you have probably heard them many times over the years. For many houses, they are still relevant, however. 

Simple and inexpensive things like draught-stripping around doors and windows to reduce the amount of cold air getting in and heat getting out and setting your main thermostat to a level that reduces overheating. 

More expensive things such as insulation (walls, roofs and sometime floors) can generate good energy savings and return on investment as can thermostatic radiator valves which regulate the amount of heat being emitted by a radiator based on the temperature in that room. More modern controls have been promoted in recent times – for example, ones that let you control your heating via an app on your phone – and these may be worth investigating. Of course, regular servicing of your boiler is sensible on safety grounds and it will maintain your boiler’s operating efficiency. On top of these options, a smart meter on your gas supply will provide you with information about how much you are using when and how much that is costing – a good way of monitoring and managing your use. If you don’t yet have one, contact your gas supplier and ask them to install one at your home (they are free).

Replacing your windows with more efficient versions are rarely viable on energy-saving grounds alone but as part of a wider package of solutions can be worthwhile and looking for the most efficient is certainly worth considering if you planned to replace your windows for other reasons. 

Once these items have been addressed, it is worth looking at the source of heating. Alternatives to fossil fuels exist and although they are still comparatively rare in the UK they are becoming more common. The main ones being spoken about are heat pumps and hydrogen-fueled boilers. Heat pumps are the front-runner. They are essentially reverse refrigerators so they extract heat from outside and bring it into your home – even in cold weather. The outside source can be the air, ground or water with air likely to be the most relevant option for most domestic situations. They use electricity to power pumps and compressors to push a refrigerant gas around a closed system and can produce up to 3 or 4 units of heat for each unit of electricity they use. In most cases that would heat the water that travels to your radiators. So, as the country’s electricity supply increasingly turns to renewable sources such as wind and solar, the emissions of carbon will reduce. A good match would be solar panels on your roof alongside a heat pump. It is likely that some other alterations to the heating system in your house would be required as heat pumps don’t usually generate hot water at the same temperature as a traditional boiler so you may need large radiators for example.

Hydrogen as a fuel source is probably still a way off becoming a large-scale solution as a number of challenges need to be addressed. But it might come in time. The problem is we are constantly being told we don’t have much time to make the necessary changes to avoid climate disaster. Other options such as solar to directly heat water and district heating schemes, where a large generating plant produces heat that is pumped around a network of pipes taking heat to local properties. These are more common in parts of Europe but rare in the UK. And with the extensive work required to install them they are more likely to be an option for new housing developments.

Installation cost is a major obstacle to adoption of heat pumps and they are unlikely to generate long-term financial savings. The primary benefit is environmental and all of the associated benefits that flow from a cleaner environment. Hence, schemes such as the Green Homes Grant (unfortunately, recently cancelled by the Government and remaining funds transferred to a Local Authority scheme), that were set up to help with the up-front costs and the Renewable Heat Incentive, that will pay for heat generated much like the Feed in Tariff works for electricity. This Green Homes Grant scheme was plagued by various problems and it seems clear that if we have any chance of meeting our carbon targets, new, well-thought out and planned schemes will be required probably using a range of different incentives such as grants, tax adjustments, training and education. Let’s hope they arrive soon.

Whilst the move to increase the amount of electricity generated from renewable sources is positive, the transformation of our energy systems (domestic heat referred to here but also electricity use for other end uses such as electric vehicles) to become more reliant on electricity means that this needs to continue at pace.

So, like many of the major challenges we face a combination of individual action and larger Government and industry involvement is required.
Sources of advice and help:
  Cosy Homes and Renewable Heat Incentive – see Energy Saving Trust  

*zero carbon can have several definitions and how you account for overall environmental impact, differing estimates of carbon emissions can be calculated 

  Solar Energy

Consider Collaborating with Nature
by Graham Brown

Back in 2010, the government introduced a generous incentive scheme (or feed in tariff-FIT) for buying solar panels for your home. It meant that the average array would pay for itself in around 8 years. After a good response to the incentive the government sadly decided to finish it in 2019. Perhaps a letter to your local MP suggesting it be reintroduced might be a good idea, after all there is currently much talk of green recoveries, the electric car revolution and zero carbon targets. So, today, is it still worth investing in solar panels for your rooftop? The simple answer is yes.

The good news is that solar panels are now cheaper (around 30% cheaper comparing 2011 to 2019) and more efficient (10% efficiency in 2011 compared to 18% today). Also, from the start of 2020, Ofgem has said that homes that put excess energy from their solar panels into the electricity grid will be guaranteed payment - a scheme called the Smart Export Guarantee. Depending on your electricity supplier this can be somewhere between 
3-5p per kWh, not a great deal compared to the previous feed in tariff but something at least. This exported electricity will be measured by your smart meter. How much you export into the grid will depend on how much of the energy you use yourself. This is the most economical use as electricity currently costs around 14p/kWh so using your own will reduce the amount you will have to pay your electricity supplier.

In effect, although the payback for solar panels is greater when the feed in tariff scheme was in place, the return on investment is still 5% or more - where else are you going to get such a good return - certainly not from bank accounts. And don’t forget, the carbon emissions from installing solar panels are less than the emissions from the still largely fossil-fuelled grid electricity (even taking their manufacture into account). 

Before installing a solar array there are a number of things to consider first.

* do you have a suitable south/southish facing roof?
* do you use a lot of electricity - do you run an electric car?
* can you time when your washer/dryer/dishwasher/car are used?

If you answer yes to the above then it is worth looking into solar panels. On sunny days you will be generating (and using) green energy, reducing your carbon footprint and saving on your electricity bill. Even on cloudy days the panels will be generating some electricity as it is daylight that activates the panels. 

Batteries can also be installed in your house so power generated during the day can be stored and used at night. You could also use the electricity to heat your water. If you have an electric car there are schemes starting where your electricity supplier pays you to use your car battery to supply energy into the grid at peak times then charges your car when demand is low and energy is cheap - very smart!

With interest rates so poor at the moment it may be a good time to talk to a certified installer. A list can be found on the 
Microgeneration Certified website, ideally, the installer should be a member of the Renewable Energy Consumer Code.
Still wondering - for more information take a look at 
Martin Lewis's advice or the Energy Savings Trust 

Solar Power Visionary?
Thomas Edison, one of the world’s most prolific inventors and whose contributions changed modern life, understood the importance of solar power in the world’s future energy mix and the danger of an over reliance on fossil fuels – and he had this understanding nearly 80 years ago. In 1931 he said "We are like tenant farmers chopping down the fence around our house for fuel when we should be using Nature's inexhaustible sources of energy -- sun, wind and tide.... I'd put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don't have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that".

Sustainable Woodstock's Solar PV Scheme.  Since our launch of the Solar PV scheme in July 2011, more than a dozen homes in the town have installed photo-voltaic panels and are reaping the benefits of free electricity and the feed in tarrif

Midland Felt Roofing,

In 2010, one of Woodstock's major employers, Midland Felt Roofing, moved to new premises. Their new offices and warehouse is located in the old Field Barn Farm buildings just north of the town as you head towards Chippy. Managing Director Paul Snell has specified the highest levels of energy efficiency for his new buildings. To read more about this textbook example of how to design energy efficient offices click here.

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