Welsh Green Dragon

Putting Cardiff on a car diet by helenglaberson

Cut back on cars, not just carbs this New Year

Cardiff Council plan to introduce car clubs to the city, as part of their strategy to cut down the numbers of cars on the roads.

This is part of Cardiff’s wider Sustainable Travel Plan which, if all goes well, will be implemented in other parts of Wales. The Council has already developed green alternatives that aim to cut down on cars, such as park and ride schemes, improving cycling facilities, and a drive to work car share scheme. They also plan to launch a new car club next year, to encourage people to rent out a vehicle instead of owning their own.

Hopefully the public will be inspired to take up a car diet for their New Years resolution. Less cars will mean a reduction in problems such as traffic, parking and of course the big greasy beast that is pollution, making the city a more sustainable and enjoyable place to live.

Cardiff’s sustainable travel plan

Ieuan Wyn Jones, Transport Minister says, “Commuter levels in and around Cardiff have increased significantly over the past few years. This is an exciting opportunity to develop and implement a range of innovative transport solutions which will benefit the 210,000 people who travel into the city on a daily basis.”

Executive Minister for Transport, Delme Bowen expands on car sharing and car club schemes:

Car Clubs

Cardiff Council is currently in the process of awarding a contract for an operator to run a car club in Cardiff. It is hoped that car clubs will encourage residents to rent instead of buying their own vehicle.  “A car club, along with car sharing, helps to promote choice and the greater use of sustainable modes of travel.” say Cardiff Council.

Car clubs follow a model that has been around since the 1970s in Europe, and is now used in many cities all over the world.

Car clubs are new to Cardiff, but they have been implemented overseas since the 1970s.

Scientific studies and customer surveys have provided substantial evidence that car clubs can help cut down on toxic output. More Options for Energy Efficient Mobility through Car Sharing (MOMO) have provided a paper bursting with the advantages of car hire.

The club scheme does not only yield green benefits – it is also hugely cost-effective for users. People will cut down on the high annual cost of tax and insurance, with the car company responsible for overall maintenance.

“The car sharing scheme is part of the answer to dealing with Cardiff’s congestion problem and provides people living in Cardiff with another option for how they go about their daily business.” says Gwenllian Lansdown, a Plyd Cymru Councillor who backed an 100-strong signature petition last year, urging the city council to support such a car club scheme. “This scheme has proved successful in other cities across the globe and I look forward to it starting in Cardiff” says Landsdown.

Car clubs will reduce congestion in the city.

A chosen car company will operate their rental service on behalf of the Council. If the scheme is successful, the contract will be renewed. Richard Drew, the South West Manager of City Car Club, is currently responsible for the plans in Cardiff.”We’ve been informed that we’ve been the most successful bidder but they haven’t made a final decision to say that we’re definitely going to go ahead yet” he explains.

The clubs would be aimed at people who would consider buying a second car, or those who are not completely dependent on having one. Users would pay a one off membership fee of around £75 and then they would pay around £3 an hour for car hire.

“If all goes well, we’re looking to start  the early part of spring next

Feedback has been positive towards car sharing and car clubs.

year.” Drew said last December. Before then, the company will need to decide where to base their cars. Drew explained, “what we’d be looking for in the first instance is people that know the area well that can suggest places where there’s real issues with parking.”

So how is the public responding to the Council’s Sustainable travel plan? “Feedback has been good so far, and car sharing generally is increasing. In Cardiff County Council alone there’s 18,000 people both recycling and car sharing. That’s looking good.” says Delme Bowen.

It looks like car slimming plans are running smoothly. Let’s hope the city won’t crash diet but will maintain a regular slimming regime, with healthy portions of sharing and regular car club rental.

Extreme car sharing:

How many people can you fit into a Smart car?

Cut back on cars not just carbs this New Year…

Are Google moving into the Energy Sector? by Chris Halpin

Not intent on being an online ‘power house’, it now seems that Google has its sights on becoming one in a more literal sense.

In what seems a very perceptive move, it’s been reported that Google have applied to create a subsidiary company in the US (imaginatively called ‘Google Energy‘) with which they can start trading energy on the open market. In entering this sector, it seems they are taking the future insecurity of energy supply into their own hands.  Some commentators are sceptical that Google Energy is a business move purely for the money, yet Google insist they are doing it for the more philanthropic reason of reaching carbon neutrality. Producing their own energy at their Californian HQ, this move will enable them to trade the excess created and pump it back into the grid. However, future investment in the renewable energy sector clearly makes keen business sense.

In all honesty I’ve been meaning to write this post for a few weeks and was initially going to discuss the role of smart meters and the UK government’s plans to roll these out by 2020. Like the previous post about boilers, smart meter systems are hardly the most glamorous of devices to discuss, so Google’s very recent movements into the energy sector has spiced the whole affair up a bit. This is especially because their innovative technologies make the UK utility companies plans look prehistoric even before the meter fitters have chucked their tools in the back of the van.

You’ve probably heard or seen in the UK media about how ‘smart meters’ are the future. The idea behind them is that in keeping tabs on our daily usage of Electricity or gas, we can curb how much we use and determine when we’re being wasteful. Our currently dubbed ‘dumb meters’ which require that quarterly annoyance of letting in the meter reader (or more often than not when our energy provider spuriously estimate your bill) means that as consumers we’re often paying over the odds for the energy we actually use. Imagine if they applied the same process to a contracted mobile phone – no itemised bill but instead a rough guess on how much you’ve been yapping on the phone for the past 3 months. That doesn’t seem to make any sense does it? Here’s a radio feature created by my colleague Jim Turner just before Christmas on this very subject .

So these so-called ‘smart meters‘ are meant to be the answer, but may not actually be that ‘smart’. They will cost between £85 -£100 for each household and work by sending usage data directly to the power company each day. However the technology they contain is not that up to date at all. They work by sending through how much energy you’ve used by SMS text message to your Utility Company who then use the data to create an itemised monthly bill. This mobile phone technology has been around for almost twenty years and for this reason the Energy sector in UK are having second thoughts on a nationwide meter upgrade.  They fear that by the time each and every home has been visited the smart meters will have become obsolete.

And this is where Google comes in hot on their respective heels. Smart meters are old news and now Google Powermeter is being heralded as the next big thing.This is in effect an online power monitoring tool which can be incorporated as a widget as part of your iGoogle home page. Initially developed to work with smart meters, Google have now in fact bypassed the need for them and work through a broadband connection rather than the aforementioned SMS technology. This means you don’t have to wait for your Utility company to process the information; the Google application will do it in near real time and you can check it online whenever you want. Clever eh? Here’s an example of how the data might look:

This is some way off for every customer in Wales though. Currently the only company who offer this service are first:utility and you do need a smart meter installed for it to work.

Being more energy-efficient is obviously inextricably linked to freeing up some more of our incomes. In years to come, if winters look set to be as harsh as this one, then we’re certainly going to have to trim on energy usage to avoid bankrupting ourselves to keep warm and watch the telly. For more tips on how you could save, check out Energy Circle’s 10 big ideas for home energy efficiency in 2010.

Boiler on the blink? Brave the blizzards and bag a bargain! by Chris Halpin

With what’s already been dubbed as the coldest winter in thirty years and sub-zero temperatures becoming the norm these past few weeks, the last thing you want is a boiler that’s on the blink. That said, if your house is anything like mine with the central heating blaring out at all hours to keep you toasty, you’re probably charging through oblivious like we are. Deep down inside of you is the terminal dread and a modicum of guilt to how much it’s all costing. But, hey who the hell cares when its -4°C and it’s like this outside?

Vodpod videos no longer available.

I may be ‘as snug as a bug in a rug’ as I write this but unfortunately I bet many of us will be in for a nasty surprise when our next quarter’s gas bill drops through the letterbox. Such a cheery thought.

So with that in mind, although it is completely irrelevant to me as I don’t own my own bricks and mortar yet, I still found it fairly interesting to see that the government has a trick up its sleeve to help us save energy  [money]. Perversely by spending some more and shelling out a couple of grand buying ourselves new boilers. Yesterday Prime Minister Gordon Brown launched a boiler scrappage scheme similar to the one the government employed to help the flailing motor industry last year. First mooted at the start of December it has created quite a buzz within the industry. To qualify you need an inefficient boiler deemed as  G-rated (usually meaning it’s over 15 years old) and you can then trade it in to the tune of £400 off your new shiny one. Landlords up and down the country will be pleased to learn they can get in on the action too.

Now I’m not going to deny it, boiler talk is certainly not sexy. I’m not even going to attempt to pretend that it is. I remember when I was studying for my Bachelors Degree in Architecture I had to endure an entire hour and a half long lecture on the different types of boiler and heating systems one could choose, their efficiency ratings, values this, values that… blah blah blah. It bored me to tears. Sufficed to say I’m not in that industry anymore, yet the boilers have come back to haunt me. However, if it’s good for the environment then I suppose for one post only I can become slightly enthused about our unsung household heroes. And the boiler is a tireless workhorse – it’s only when it lets you down that you ever really notice the arduous blighter, and then you curse it, poor thing.

So then swiftly back to the point. This scheme is estimated to be costing the government around £50 million pounds and aswell as ridding households of inefficient gas guzzling monsters that help rack up our gas bills, it will also keep around 130,000 boiler fitters in employment. It will presumably mean too that companies like Worcester Bosch, Baxi and Calor are now breathing a huge sigh of relief. Not only the manufacturers will be onto a winner though; energy companies like British Gas are expected to use the scheme to drum up new business. As the biggest installer of boilers in the UK they are looking set to match the government’s £400 discount alongside NPower who like British Gas are offering the same discount.

You might be thinking – well why bother? The Energy Saving Trust reckon about 3.5 million homes in the UK have the least efficient G-Rated boilers. An easy way to determine whether you have such a beast of a boiler is if it has a permanently lit pilot light – if it does then I’m afraid it should be out with the old and in with the new. Another way of checking is to go through this simple online boiler checklist. As 14% of the UK’s carbon emissions come from domestic heating, this is an obvious way parliament can coax us to be more efficient and for them to reach their targets. Cynicism aside – you could save up to £200 a year on your energy costs so you don’t need me to tell you that’s no bad thing.

So as we look set for at least a few more weeks of slippery pavements and icy roads, get your boiler checked out and imagine what it’d be like if it gave up on you right now. But you better be quick – the offer is only open to the first 125,000, so out of the 3 and a half million suspected dodgy boilers – thats  a potential 3,375,000 households who could literally be left out in the cold. Or should that be left in in the cold.

(What should be) A welcome short term solution… by catherinegraham4

It was honestly quite disheartening to hear Jan Cliff, founder and director of Sundance Renewables, talk despondently about her struggle to launch biofuels in Wales. A not-for-profit social enterprise, aiming to increase welsh involvement in renewable energy systems, continues its hard work to develop biodiesel and to see it succeed as a legitimate option for running vehicles. Sundance Renewables is Wales’ premier biodiesel producer and has achieved a great deal since starting out but this, apparently, is still not enough.

Their mission is counter balanced mainly by the problem of finding a platform on which to market and distribute the product. Jan explained how the political side is also a large boulder blocking the sun and that the ignorance and disinterest on the legal side is clear: “Some politicians do not even have a clue that vegetable oil can be used for biodiesel.”

Jan emphasised how this issue of renewable fuels should have been attacked over the last 30 years yet it has just not been confronted in the right way. Besides the legalities, the battle lies in getting communities on side: people are embarrassed of filling up with biodiesel as they see it as second rate in some way. How has it developed this bad name? Can we blame the media for this?

Also, people in general do not even consider the issue of biodiesel because we have enough petrol right now to allow us to plod along as we are. There is a worry that until somebody actually stands up and announces that petrol has officially run out, the general public will be content with the current situation.

Petrol and diesel are non renewable petroleum fuels. They are NOT going to last forever and biodiesel could really become an essential transport fuel in the future, even if it were just to provide a stop-gap. Perhaps people should really sit up and think about this. One day these biofuels will be essential and Sundance Renewables will be something of a gold mine. Why wait? As Jan so rightly puts it “the stone age did not come to an end because we ran out of stones. The petroleum age has to end before we run out of petrol.”

Contact Jan at jan@sundancerenewables.org.uk

View the website at www.sundancerenewables.org.uk