by Ian Vallely
I believe that everyone is entitled to my opinion!
Promising the Earth...
Renewables should never be considered in isolation and are certainly not the first port of call for consultants or contractors embarking on a new project. This fundamental point was powerfully hammered home in a recent conference talk by Mike Malina, director of consultancy Energy Solutions Associates.
As he pointed out: "People are attracted to new technology and like to be seen to be doing something, and we have seen considerable, sustained hype in the way that some renewable equipment has been introduced and managed."
There is also a temptation for design consultants to opt for large solar photovoltaic (PV) arrays, green roofs or wind turbines - which are a highly visible manifestation of a company's environmental credentials (even though, depending on the application, they may be little more than fashion accessories) - rather than focusing on reducing the building's energy demands.
Whatever the reasoning behind our dash for renewables, its consequences are certainly coming home to roost - witness the recent Feed-in Tariff fiasco and the failure of the Government to manage the implementation of the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme effectively.
To illustrate the point further, Mr Malina used Gartner's "Hype Cycle", which drills down into five key phases of a technology's lifecycle. The cycle starts with a 'technology trigger' and then moves onto the 'peak of inflated expectations' resulting from a number of success stories associated with the technology (often accompanied by many failures). Next comes the 'trough of disillusionment' as implementations fail to deliver. Then follows the 'slope of enlightenment' as the technology becomes more widely understood. Finally, when it is accepted into the mainstream, the technology reaches a 'plateau of productivity'.
Mr Malina believes this is the path that low carbon renewables are currently following. "On PV, for example, I would say we have gone past the peak of inflated expectations and we are about to slide into the trough of disillusionment."
He emphasised that he was not against renewables: "In fact I'm very much in favour of them; I built my first solar thermal panel as a student in 1979."
However, people need to have realistic expectations of renewables and that, according to Mr Malina, is what we lack at the moment. There is too much hype and emphasis on technologies that have long payback periods and require massive subsidies.
So let's begin with the basics. Mr Malina again: "From my perspective as a building services engineer I would say we should be concentrating on energy efficiency, commissioning, and maintenance because those are the ways you deliver a low carbon building."
This starts with following, in sequence, the steps outlined in the 'energy hierarchy' - reduce the need for energy with insulation etc; use energy more efficiently by gaining control over it with integrated building energy management systems; look at supplying and generating more energy from renewable sources where appropriate; and use our remaining fossil fuels as efficiently as possible and start to phase them out as we move towards a low carbon future.
And that takes us back to where we began.