RAE raises renewable-energy debate

The latest Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE) report has raised a debate over whether renewable energy should lead the way to achieve a low-carbon Britain.

The recently released report warned that the UK will not be able to achieve its target of reducing carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 unless it urgently addresses carbon emissions from the built environment.

The RAE suggested that instead of focusing so much on generating more energy from renewable sources, Britons should look to ensuring that buildings are as energy efficient as possible. ‘Otherwise, the potential benefits are simply wasted in offsetting unnecessary consumption,’ the report said.

While supporting these energy-efficient solutions, those in the renewable-energy business warn that the RAE should not diminish the role green energy will play in the future.

Hugo House, head of generation for renewable electricity supplier Good Energy, said that a reputable supplier will advise customers on how to make their homes or businesses energy efficient before looking at ways for them to generate their own renewable power.

‘There’s little point in adding micro-generation technology to a building unless the energy efficiency and sustainable design of the building have already been addressed,’ he added. 

According to House, it is also important to consider if renewable energy is even at all applicable. ‘For example, we would never recommend a wind turbine unless the site has a good wind resource,’ he said.

The RAE report suggested that homeowners and companies could save on energy using methods much simpler than installing a wind turbine or solar panels. It suggested using ‘creating solutions’ such as daylight, natural ventilation and thermal mass, where masonry is used to store heat and moderate temperature variations.

The report stated: ‘However, with the application of scientific analysis through Building Engineering Physics, these aspects of a building’s design can make a very substantial contribution to meeting the performance and comfort needs of the occupants without resorting to energy-consuming building services installations.’

The report coincides with suggestions from London mayor Boris Johnson’s environmental minister Isabel Dedring, who told MPs in the Commons Environmental Audit Committee earlier this month that solar panels and wind turbines might be the new environmentally chic device for the home, but that they cannot replace good, old-fashioned energy efficiency.

‘We find that loft insulation might be 10 times more effective than having a solar panel or a wind turbine in particular locations, but that is not what people want because they want the eco-bling factor,’ she told the committee.