‘The Burning Answer’

The Burning Answer

I recently attended a talk by Keith Barnham, Emeritus Professor of Physics at Imperial College, London, put on by The Green Register as a ‘bite-sized session’.

I didn’t know what to expect, and was delighted to hear the presentation. At Urbane Eco we concentrate on the ‘fabric first’ approach on saving carbon emissions. However, to hear that we can provide all the energy needs of our planet using renewable technology was music to my ears. I have long assumed that this is possible, but it was so reassuring to hear a professor of physics (who has been engaged in research on solar energy for many years) lay out how very possible it is to achieve the supply of electricity using clean technology.

As an aside, I feel this knowledge has taken the pressure off us (who are involved in retro-fit) from feeling we have to achieve unrealistic targets regarding insulation and airtightness. Enerphit standards, while entirely laudable, are not likely to become widespread any time soon, not least because of the cost involved. We recently did some calculations to achieve Enerphit on an existing sixties-built property versus demolition and rebuild to Passivhaus. The demolition won hands down, albeit largely helped by new-build being zero rate vat. Upgrading existing properties nearly always feels like the old saying: ‘if you want to get to where you want to go, I wouldn’t start from where you are….’

Anyhow, after hearing Keith speak, I bought a copy of his book ‘The Burning Answer’,


where he explains how Germany has taken the decision to go down the path of renewable energy, and the success they are having. Compare that with the Conservative Government solution – fracking and nuclear energy – and it makes me feel ill. The National Renewable Energy Centre in Northumbria had, at the time of writing, 15 full time employees, whereas Fraunhofer ISE (its German equivalent) had 510 (The 2012 Operational Budget including investments is 74.3 million euro).

Keith addressed the issue that wind and PV are too intermittent to make a big contribution to our electricity supply without large amounts of battery storage. He quotes as an example a large-scale experiment started in Germany in January 2006 which lasted for a year- Komikraftwerk (a combined power plant) A computer program matched 1/10,000 of the actual, real-time electrical power demand on the German grid using the actual real-time power output of a number of wind, PV and biogas electricity generators. Apparently the experiment worked and the electrical power demand matched the electrical power supply throughout the year. This was the first time I had heard anything like this. I would imagine this research has inspired the ambition and drive to make the Germans go towards reliance on Renewable Energy.

Time and again I ask myself why we lag behind the Germans, in particular, when it comes to Green Energy and Technology, and why our education and political will is so stunted in this regard. It’s frustrating…………..

Nick Lloyd