With confusion over recent government changes to renewable energy policies, Penny Kemp explains financially viable ways to harvest precious rainfall, wind and solar power...
Isn't it typical? The day a hosepipe ban is announced the heavens open and it seems we have had non-stop rain since. We have now been told that although April was the wettest month on record, the heavy downpours have not made up the shortfall caused by the drought of previous months. Indeed, it is estimated that the hosepipe ban will remain for the rest of the year. Saving water has become vital as climate change predictions tell us that hosepipe bans and water shortages will be a feature for years to come. There is no doubt that our water bills will increase over the next years and it makes sense to think about saving water where you can. Here are five things that you can do that don't cost a penny and if you have water a meter will actually save you money.
Water companies also need to play their part in conserving water. According to Ofwat, many companies have failed to meet their targets for reducing leakage including companies that are imposing the hosepipe ban. The Chief Executive of Ofwat, Regina Finn has said that 'tough action' will be taken against failing companies. Rainwater harvesting makes a lot of sense and the simplest means of collection is to install a water butt attached to a downpipe from your gutter. You will be surprised at how much water you collect and it can be used for watering your plants and lawn. Butts can be bought quite cheaply from most DIY stores. A longer term solution is a rainwater harvesting system for your house. Many companies offer this service and a large tank is installed at your property and the water collected can be used for your garden and in some systems connected to the house to flush the toilets and fill the washing machine. You should stick to mains water for drinking, cooking and personal hygiene.
I spoke to Mick Callahan of Linden Landscapes (www.lindenlandscapes.co.uk), who runs a rainwater harvesting business and asked him what the advantages are of having a complete system installed. Mick said, "Storing rainwater in an underground tank has many benefits. Traditionally a water butt would be placed on a patio, or next to a shed. When water is exposed to light algae will grow and the water will smell. A rainwater tank is placed underground therefore the water is kept cool and dark, so no growth of algae will occur. Also a water butt might be only 200 litres, whereas a rainwater tank could be 5000L or even larger, so much more water can be stored. Many people have invested in water butts, but two or three water butts don't go very far when watering a garden. To put it into context, a 5000L tank is the equivalent of 25 x 200L water butts; you're really looking to store enough water to last through a dry spell." Mick reckoned a typical rainwater harvesting system would cost £1500 to £2500 depending on circumstances, but if you wanted a system that was connected to the house plumbing that would be a lot more expensive. His advice is that you need to consider exactly what your requirements are and often it is better just to have a system that collects water to use on your garden and wash your car.
The other alternative is to look at a complete greywater system. Wastewater from all sources other than the loos, dishwashers and washing machines is collected and then treated to ensure it can be safely used for purposes that do not require drinking water quality. Although these systems can be expensive, they have the potential to meet a significant proportion of the water a domestic house uses.
The last option to consider is whether your property is suitable for a borehole. You need to establish whether a borehole will provide the water you need and whether the quality of water would be adequate for your purposes. You need to get expert advice and the British Geological Survey can, for a fee, prepare a report for the site. www.bgs.ac.uk/. You also need to contact the Environment Agency to find out whether you need an abstraction licence. Go to the environment agency website to find your local office www.environment-agency.gov.uk/
Energy efficiency and reducing energy consumption not only helps the planet but makes good financial sense. Many of the small measures we can take cost very little and in some instances cost nothing at all. Many are pure common sense. Moving furniture away from radiators to allow heat to get into the room means that you can turn the thermostat down a degree or two. If there is nobody in a room, switch the lights off. Put a lid on a pan when cooking and select the right saucepan for the heating element or gas flame. Let food cool before putting it in the fridge. Detergents now work very well at low temperatures and washing clothes at 30 degrees centigrade uses almost half the energy you would use if the temperature were 60 degrees centigrade. Turn off chargers for your mobile phones and laptops when not in use.
All the above measures will cost you nothing and save you money. Spending a little money on draught proofing and insulation will save you a fortune in the long run. If you are on certain benefits and live in a poorly insulated home, you may be entitled to a Warm Front grant. To find out more about the scheme and whether you are eligible, go to www.direct.gov.uk/en/Environmentandgreenerliving/Energyandwatersaving/Energygrants/DG_10018661 There are also feed in tariffs available for generating your own electricity but to be honest, the systems in place are subject to change at government whim and need to be constantly checked. After a long period of uncertainty, the feed in tariff for solar panels has been changed. Friends of the Earth and the Solar industry challenged the government's intention to change the rate late last year arguing that the consultation put out by the Minister was meaningless as the government intended to reduce the feed in tariff on 12 December yet the consultation was not due to be completed until the end of December. Judges ruled that the Government was incorrect. Those that installed solar panels between 12 December 2011 and 2 March 2012 should be paid at the old increased rate following the rejection of the appeal from the Government by the Supreme Court. The Government is also consulting on changes to feed in tariffs on other forms of renewable energy. Wind power is another form of renewable energy suitable for some domestic properties. Again, it is important to get expert advice and find out the average wind speed in your area. If you are fortunate enough to have a fast running stream or river near your house, you may want to consider small-scale hydro power to produce electricity. You need expert advice but some schemes can provide most, if not all, of your electricity needs. Air Source and Ground source heat pumps and thermal hot water systems are eligible for grants under the Renewable Heat Premium Payment. There are details on the Energy Saving Trust website and it is important to check the details as they are changing in the autumn.
Many environmentalists believe the Government is being very short sighted and the more energy that can be generated by renewable energy the better. There is no doubt that climate change is happening and at a faster rate than expected. In May, Friends of the Earth Director Andy Atkins met with the United Nations Sustainable Energy forum where he argued for a more ambitious programme. The forum has already stated that they wish to see a doubling of renewable energy programmes and energy efficiency by 2030. Andy Atkins maintained that if we did not want to see a two degree rise in global temperatures, we must look to genuinely sustainable energy initiatives and a huge increase in renewables and energy efficiency. A recent poll by Friends of the Earth shows that over 65% of people want clean, affordable energy and one way to start is to ensure that developers, who need to build much required homes in the UK, use rainwater harvesting systems and renewable energy. We will all be grateful if we have energy and water security in this country in the years to come.
Penny Kemp is a local writer and broadcaster and has published five books on environmental issues.