Cleanweb gathering pace

I went along to the London CleanWeb meetup last night which according to a visitor from San Francisco was quite a lot bigger than the one over there. It doesn’t surprise me. We get lots of great BGV applications for startups trying to use digital tech to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and I’m hoping for many more when applications open next week. Listening to the talks last night it seemed to me there are a few areas where we might see lots of innovation over the next few years:

  • Connected devices — everything from Nest through to internet enabled fridges. The point of devices being connected is generally to optimise them. Nesta’s Dynamic Demand Challenge is also interesting here.
  • Data science — taking the huge amounts of data created in energy systems and finding insights that enable efficiency improvements. Examples include EcoFactor and Bidgely.
  • Behaviour feedback — hardware is only part of the system, humans are the other part. Tech that helps people improve their energy behaviour includes things like Shutdown Scanner or oPower.
  • Marketplaces — when you start looking at electricity, one of the most striking features is how centralised in is. The ‘big six’ have a huge (and deeply conservative) effect on any improvement. It’s not a sustainable situation and will almost certainly be disrupted over the coming years. That’s why we’ve backed Open Utility and I expect others to find ways of using marketplaces to reduce emissions.

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Solar family

As Germany hit 22Gw of solar electricity generation over the weekend (meeting over 50% of total electricity demand), my family was contributing to the UK electricity grid in a slightly more modest manner. My parents’ house in Birmingham has 2.9kW of solar panels installed and my brother’s house in York has 1.4kW. On Saturday they produced over 25 kW hrs of energy. At the same time we were all producing more hot water than we could possibly use through solar water heaters.

I know that it was one of the best weekends of the year for sun but it showed me that if we find lots of small ways of lowering demand and using distributed generation there’s a lot that could be done. Carbon zero in 20 years began to seem achievable to me.

For that to happen we’ll need a huge retrofitting programme — first concentrating on all council owned and housing association properties. By putting in place insulation, the most efficient windows available, thermostats and timers and then solar water heating and PV we could make a massive dent in CO2 emissions. Combine that with research into new storage techniques and major investment into things that could just solve all our problems and you could have something interesting. If that’s not investing in infrastructure for growth I’m not sure what is.

By the way if you own your own roof and have a bit of cash sitting in a saving account, you’d be mad not to get PV at the moment in the UK. Even though the feed in tariff has dropped, so has the price of the panels themselves and on a £6,000 investment you’ll get 5–10% return per year. If you can find me an ISA that gets that, let me know.
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My Carbon Emissions for April 2009


I’ve got quite into the idea of publishing my energy use information, partly as a way of keeping tabs on what my big carbon emitting activities are, but mainly because I’m interested in learning how easy (or otherwise) it is to work out. I’ll publish it on the blog every month. If you know better ways of working out the CO2, let me know.

For the month of April 2009:

  • I did 20 days of commuting by train and tube (22 miles each day) = 50.000 kg CO2 (Data source)
  • I drove 373.3 km in the car at 155 g CO2/km = 57.860 kg CO2 (Data source)
  • I took no flights or long-distance trains this month. Yay! = 0 kg CO2 (from Dopplr)
  • And my home electricity usage was 121 kWH = 63.575 kg CO2 (From my Wattson)

So Grand Total = 171.435 kg CO2

Things I’ve left out:

  • Heat and hot water in my flat (this is provided from our onsite CHP and I can’t get monthly data)
  • Food (I don’t know how to measure this)
  • Embedded energy in products I buy (again, I don’t know how to measure this)
  • Electricity and energy in the office (might be able to do this soon)