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Three renewable heat sources to consider for use in your home

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A woman enjoyr home time with her small write dog
The UK government aims to cut emissions by 78% by 2035, compared with 1990 levels, and to hit net-zero by 2050. | Photo: Roberto Nickson

Renewable sources of energy are the only way forward if we want to try and minimise the damage that we’re doing to the environment. Whilst there are plenty of things causing global warming, our choices for home heating is one of the contributing factors that we perhaps can personally take control over.

Whilst of course the ability to do this will be affected by budget, some are cheaper than others, and the UK government does offer grants and loans. This is because we need to make the switch to renewable energy if we’re going to stand a chance at hitting net-zero, considering heating accounts for the largest amount of CO2 emissions  for an average UK household.

But which renewable heat source is right for you? We take a look at three of the top options.

Heat pumps

If you think of a heat pump, you might be imagining an unsightly, large box that will ruin the overall aesthetics of your garden. However, there are many companies now working on making smaller, sleeker pumps that just sit down the side of your home.

There are a few different types of heat pumps, but they basically work by using pressure and temperature. Heat flows naturally from a warm place to a cool place, but we need the opposite to be true for a heat pump so that the home is heated rather than cooled. Heat pumps use compression and expansion to control this temperature flow.

Heat pumps produce more heat than the amount of electricity they use, so they’re highly efficient. When you choose a heat pump, you should also get a performance certificate that is tailored to your home. This will show you how efficient you can expect it to be based on average outside temperatures and your radiators or underfloor heating.

Solar water heating

Solar power is on the rise, with the UK generating 14 gigawatts per year. One gigawatt can power 750,000 homes, so that’s quite a significant amount. Solar water heating works by harnessing the solar power collected from home solar tubes or flat plate collectors, and then using this energy to heat a tank of water.

This will usually be combined with a boiler or immersion heater, as the amount of sun varies throughout the year, so it’s unlikely that you’ll get enough sun to warm the water year-round. This hot water is used for washing and the water that comes out of your taps, rather than central heating.

Biomass

Perhaps the most similar to a traditional gas boiler, a biomass heating system has a crucial difference – it uses sustainably-sourced wood pellets or logs to fuel it. Whilst it might not feel sustainable to be burning trees, as doing so actually releases carbon dioxide, it’s still considered to be a sustainable source. This is because trees are planted in place of the ones that have been used for fuel for biomass.

Your choice of fuel will depend on what you want to heat, and how much attention you want to pay to your stove. Log-burning stoves look great, and can make use of any logs you have from trees locally. However, they require topping up by hand, and you need to store the logs. On the other hand, wood pellets can be topped up with an automatic dispensing system. If cost is a crucial factor, logs tend to be cheaper than pellets.

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Sustainability

10 European cities awarded by EU for plans to reach climate-neutrality by 2030

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Stockholm, Sweden
Stockholm, in Sweden, is one of the cities awarded the Label of the EU Mission for Climate-Neutral and Smart Cities | Photo: Mike Kienle

10 European cities have been awarded the Label of the EU Mission for Climate-Neutral and Smart Cities, one of the EU Missions in Horizon Europe. The EU Mission Label is an important milestone as it recognises the cities’ plans to achieve climate-neutrality already by 2030 and aims to facilitate access to public and private funding towards that objective.

The cities that have received the label are: Sønderborg (Denmark), Mannheim (Germany), Madrid, Valencia, Valladolid, Vitoria-Gasteiz and Zaragoza (Spain),Klagenfurt (Austria), Cluj-Napoca (Romania) and Stockholm (Sweden).

The EU Mission Label is an acknowledgement of the successful development of Climate City Contracts, which outline the cities’ overall vision for climate neutrality, and contain an action plan as well as an investment strategy. Cities co-create their Climate City Contracts with local stakeholders, including the private sector and citizens. A first group of cities presented their Contracts in April 2023, which were reviewed by the Commission with the support of experts, including from the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the Joint Research Centre (JRC). Following a positive review, cities receive an EU Mission Label, which is intended to facilitate access to EU, national, and regional funding and financing sources, in particular private investment.

In total, 100 EU cities participate in the EU Cities Mission, with 12 additional cities from countries associated to Horizon Europe. 

The Commission, through the Mission Platform, will continue to support cities with hands-on advice and funding programmes, such as a €32 million pilot programme combined with a twinning programme. Another call for pilot cities with a budget of €20 million is currently open until 6 November. 

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How does solar energy work and why to use it?

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Solar panels in a house
More than 1.3 million UK homes have solar panel installations, according to the latest MCS data

 The impact of the climate crisis has never been more evident, with flooding, rising sea levels and high temperatures now becoming common occurrences on national news.

But renewables are a relatively unfamiliar technology, which means that we first need to raise awareness about how they work in order for people to feel comfortable using them. In this post, we explore solar energy – how it works, how you can use it at home, and why you should make the effort to switch to green energy.

How does solar energy work?

Solar energy is probably the most well-known form of renewable energy, but it’s massively underutilised. In fact, some research suggests that in just an hour and a half, the amount of sunlight that hits the earth could actually power the world for a year.

To harness the power of the sun, we need to use solar panels, which capture the sunlight (solar radiation) and then turn it into power that we can use in our homes. A conductor material in the panels, such as silicon, releases electrons when exposed to light, which in turn produces an electric charge. This then creates a direct current, which is passed through an inverter to create an alternating current – the type of electricity we use in our homes.

The difference between solar PV panels and solar thermal panels

When most people refer to solar panels, they tend to mean solar photovoltaic panels (PV panels) which we’ve outlined above, but there are actually two types. Solar thermal panels are made up of tubes or panels filled with water and glycol. They harness solar energy, converting it to heat.

The fluid is then pumped around the solar thermal circuit, which goes through the hot water cylinder used for the house. So, they do not offer solar electricity, but rather solar powered hot water, which can be used for washing as well as heating a property.

How can we get solar energy at home?

Solar PV panels can either be placed on a residential property, for direct use by the homeowner, or they can be part of a solar farm. If you have solar panels on your home, you’ll use solar power first, before topping up your electricity supply from the national grid. UK homeowners can also take advantage of the Smart Export Tariff, allowing you to sell back any excess electricity you generate but that you don’t use to the grid.

Alternatively, if you’re renting, don’t want to or can’t have solar panels at home, you can choose a renewable energy supplier to provide you with your electricity. Whilst there’s no way of ensuring that only green energy flows into your home, these renewable suppliers will put more green energy units into the grid mix, increasing the overall percentage of eco-friendly electricity – so you’re essentially voting for clean energy with your money.

What are the benefits of solar energy?

Cut your carbon emissions

The most significant reason to choose solar energy is that doing so can slash your carbon footprint, reducing your impact on the environment. Your installer will be able to advise on the best solar setup for your home, based on the orientation of the property, size of the roof and how much energy you’re likely to need. Whilst solar panels won’t be able to provide all of the necessary energy for your property all the time, there’s something satisfying about running your devices on energy that isn’t harmful to the planet.

Reduce your bills

Generating your own solar energy can help you cut your energy bills at home, both because you can use the energy directly and through the Smart Export Tariff. You’re simply making the most of the geographical orientation of your property, utilising a previously untapped resource to generate power for your home. In a time where energy bills are notoriously high, this is a welcome idea for many homeowners. Whilst there is the initial cost of the panels to consider, in the long run, you’re likely to end up saving money.

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Sustainability

UK to study environmental impact of fashion industry

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Dr Alana James posing next to several textiles hanging in a room
Dr Alana James: environmental impact of fashion industry relies on the self-reporting of data and is operated on an opt-in basis

The lack of a collective approach to measuring and assessing the sustainability of the fashion industry means many consumers are still unaware of the impact the clothes they buy have on the health of our planet.

Now a major project, led by Northumbria University, will address the issue by bringing together a network of academic experts, manufacturers, major fashion brands and consumers to examine how the environmental impact across the fashion and textiles industry is measured and assessed.

The project has been awarded almost £2m of funding through a joint programme between the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), and the UK’s national innovation agency Innovate UK.

The aim of the programme is to fulfil UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) ambition to transform the circular fashion and textiles sector. A core component of this mission is to fund Networks that bring together different communities to identify, prioritise and develop emerging research and knowledge exchange challenges.

The project will be led by Dr Alana James of Northumbria University, whose research focuses on creating sustainable change in the future of the fashion industry. She will work alongside colleagues from Northumbria, as well as King’s College London and Loughborough University, covering a variety of expertise, including water, air and soil pollution, forensic science, design, and big data.

They will be joined by representatives from global fashion brands including Barbour, Montane, and ASOS; sustainable clothing companies Agogic and This is Unfolded; campaign groups Fashion Revolution and WRAP; and the Northern Clothing and Textile Network, Newcastle City Council and Newcastle Gateshead Initiative.

Over the next two years the group will work together to gain a better understanding of how the environmental impact of fashion garments is currently measured, sharing their expertise to get a true picture of the scale of the problem.

“There are many issues with the current process for assessing environmental impact within the fashion industry. For a start, it relies very much on the self-reporting of data and is operated on an opt-in basis rather than as a mandatory requirement.”, says Dr Alana James. “We also need to start thinking beyond the carbon footprint of a garment and look at factors such as how microfibres from clothes are shed and the impact this has on the health of our oceans, rivers, soil and air quality.”

Working alongside Dr Alana James are Northumbria academics Dr Kelly Sheridan, a forensic scientist and expert in the transfer of microfibres from clothing; Dr Miranda Prendergast-Miller, an environmental geographer specialising in soil ecology; Professor Anne Peirson-Smith, Head of Fashion and expert in sustainable fashion and youth style; and Professor of Air Quality Management Anil Namdeo, whose research covers the monitoring, modelling and management aspects of air quality.

They are joined by Dr Tom Stanton of Loughborough University, who researchers the impact of clothing fibres on freshwater environments; and Dr Matteo Gallidabino, a Lecturer in Forensic Chemistry at King’s College London, who also specialises in the transfer and impact of microfibres from clothing.

The fashion and textile industry is estimated to be worth £21 billion to the UK economy, and provides more than half a million jobs. But globally, the sector causes 8 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions and 20 per cent of wastewater. Fashion uses more energy than both aviation and shipping combined. The complexity and reach of the industry means true impact on the environment is not fully understood.

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