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A great cure for heartburn

Heat generation has a rapacious appetite. It devours vast quantities of coal, guzzles gallons of precious oil and gobbles up millions of cubic metres of gas. To make matters worse, escalating oil, gas and electricity prices are eating into the profits of hard-pressed businesses, starving them of the funds they desperately need for investment.

However, although energy does all the consuming, it is our long-suffering planet that ends up with the indigestion.

Most people agree that climate change is here and that its impact is beginning to show. Mounting environmental problems have driven governments to put considerable pressure on industry to come up with new technological fixes. One of the most promising is renewable energy - heat or power that comes from sources other than nuclear and fossil fuels (such as energy from the sun or ground sources), or occurs naturally and continuously in the environment (for example, energy from the wind, waves or tides).

You could, of course, argue that renewables are not new at all. Indeed, they are the oldest form of energy known to man. After all, our ancestors burned wood to keep warm (the earliest form of biomass heating?), built their dwellings facing south to take advantage of heat from the sun, harnessed the wind to sail their ships, and operated windmills and water wheels to grind grain and produce flour.

It is ironic therefore that many consultants are drawn to renewable technologies because of their apparent novelty.

Some renewable energy equipment - notably solar photovoltaic panels and ground source heat pumps - is perfect for micro-generation, which many commentators herald as the next big environmentally-friendly initiative.

Arguably, fossil fuel is the most subsidised commodity on the planet as it is charged at extraction cost rather than total cost (which also includes the cost of clean-up). The amount of this clean-up cost is debatable, but frequently argued to be 10 times or more than extraction cost. So, renewables will effectively become more cost-effective as traditional power sources become more expensive because of rising oil, gas and electricity prices.

However, beware. As many of our wiser contributors - including David Pepper of Lochinvar last month and Robert Lockhart of Vokera in this issue - have warned, to be effective, it is crucial that the right renewables are specified for the right applications.
Posted by David Dunn 17 March 2011 14:53:25 Categories: General manager

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