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An older model home which has gone energy-efficient conversion into a green alter-ego.  (Source: University of Oxford)
One of the oldest and most venerable universities in the world is looking to help homeowners take a chunk out of a very new problem

The University of Oxford is helping households both reduce their energy bills and reduce the CO2 needed to generate their energy, by as much as 80%.  Oxford revealed the framework of the plan to the public, and it is already creating much excitement and interest.

Central to the plan are Oxford's suggestions of government financial incentives for homeowners and higher efficiency standards on household appliances.

Brenda Boardman, a senior research fellow at Oxford University, authored the report and points that homeowners choosing to adopt the plan wouldn't just be acting altruistically -- they would be saving £425 each year -- enough say, buy that new iPhone, pick up a PS3, or snag a couple of Wiis (if you could find any!).

DailyTech recently reported that UK legislators had adopted the ambitious drive for emissions to be cut by 60% of 1990 levels by 2050.  Oxford's plan is even more ambitious.  Ms. Boardman states, "The bill calls for at least a 60% reduction, which is great, but this report shows that you can get an 80% cut in the domestic sector by 2050."

The UK government has stated its intention of making every new home zero-carbon emissions by 2016, even promising to possibly ban energy-hungry plasma TVs.  However, even if this is accomplished, Boardman points out, in 2050 over 80% of people will be living in homes in homes that had already been built, so the need for reform in existing housing is essential.

Ms. Boardman went on to state that if the government wants any hope of reaching its emissions goals, then changing and modernizing home usage was an essential step.  She explains, "It is crucial because it is large. Depending on what year's measurements you use, it accounts for about 25-27% of all the UK's carbon emissions."

The precise details of the plan are as follows:

  1. The housing sector would be legal bound to cut emissions by 3.8% a year, starting in 2008 (if adopted).
  2. Build more densely concentrated homes, chiefly in urban areas, to cut car use and increase adoption of micro-generator systems.
  3. A large program of tax breaks, including taxes for installing energy efficient insulation and reduced taxes on energy efficient goods and appliances.
  4. Develop a database to track fuel efficiency across the UK and target poverty afflicted areas with additional financial assistance.
  5. Have government sponsored home analysis program which delivers efficiency certificates to homeowners looking to make improvements and gives them suggestions for various potential activities to improve the property.

In an interview with BBC News, Ms. Boardman explained the practicality of the plan, saying, "The technologies are already there.  People know about cavity wall insulation, double glazing and more efficient boilers and lighting.  We are trying to give a framework to government policy so everybody will realize this is important and what we have to do in our homes to help with climate change mitigation."

One promising idea discussed in the report is micro generation.  The concept, which can be applied equally well to businesses and large homes involves using small electric generators and heaters, typically combined to local power and heat production and take stress of the power and gas grids.  By making the production local, energy use can be cut nearly 20%.

Carbon Trust, an environmental analyst has done a study on currently implementations and after exhaustive research feels that there is definitive evidence that this local production delivers tremendous benefits.  Their representative stated, "Our analysis of more than 30,000 days worth of data shows that micro CHP can deliver significant CO2 savings for small businesses and certain types of housing. However, if the market for this exciting technology is to develop, it needs a policy framework which provides appropriate incentives to target applications which offer worthwhile carbon savings."

A recent study showed the majority of people worldwide were willing to make lifestyle changes to help the environment -- so Oxford's plan just might work.  While Britain's emissions goals seem lofty, perhaps with Oxford University's plan, the nation will have a shot of reaching them, and even put a few dollars back into homeowners' pockets in the process.

Ms. Boardman's main study can be viewed here (PDF) and an additional paper by her released this year on energy efficiency and emissions achievability can be viewed here (PDF).

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RE: I would love to have a high tech house...
By diablofish on 11/30/2007 11:21:56 AM , Rating: 2
I should add that replacing incandescents with compact fluorescents (CFL) also saves money in the long term in two ways:

1 - they last much much longer so they don't need to replaced as often.
2 - they use much less energy to operate.

For example, I replaced the lights in my house in commonly used areas. I went from three 150 watt bulbs in my living room to three 32 watt CFL's. That's 1/3 the energy to light the same room - and it's better light to my eyes. (Obviously individual preferences vary, but there are different "temperature" (Kelvin rating) of these bulbs and most people should be able to find the "right light".)

I created an Excel spreadsheet to calculate the payback from my investment and found the bulbs paid for themselves in 8.4 months.

RE: I would love to have a high tech house...
By TomZ on 12/1/2007 1:55:34 PM , Rating: 2
And on the other side, there are a number of drawbacks to CFLs:

- Purchase price 3-10X incandescent. I was actually getting incandescents free after rebate for the past few years. It was quite a shock when I started buying CFLs for my home - I probably invested $150 and I haven't switched them all over yet.

- Warm-up time. Most/all on the market require a few minutes to come up to full brightness. This is probably ok (but annoying) in a room where you'll have the lights on for hours and hours at a time, but it's bad for a room like the bathroom where you'll have the light on for just a couple minutes total. We actually switched back to incandescents in our bathrooms because the CFLs were too annoying there.

- Bulb Size. Most CFLs are slightly larger than the equivalent incandescents, and will not fit into all the same fixtures that were designed for incandescents.

- Reliability. In my experience, CFLs are less reliable than incandescents. I would guess 1 in 5 that I put in either were DOA or died within the first week and had to be replaced. These were name-brand bulbs, not some company you never heard of. I can't even recall ever having a defective incandescent.

- Mercury. As "green" as the bulbs are, they do contain mercury which is pretty toxic. Once all these bulbs start going into landfills, I suppose there will be a great outcry by the same environmentalists that are telling us to use CFLs today. Talk about short-sighted.

Don't get me wrong - I like CFL's - but let's be honest that the energy savings comes with a series of tradeoffs that might be more or less important to different people. Let's be honest instead of just talking about the benefits only.

RE: I would love to have a high tech house...
By TomZ on 12/1/2007 4:30:22 PM , Rating: 2
One more drawback of CFL that I forgot:

- Not Dimmable. Incandescents are easily dimmed; CFLs are not.

By martinrichards23 on 12/2/2007 6:11:36 AM , Rating: 2
Modern ones have very little warm up time (old ones were awful).

I can't say how reliable they are, in the ~5 years I've used them I've never seen one break!

Standard ones can be bought for 49p (only fractionally more than incandescent), though unusual ones are more expensive.

You can get dimmable ones now, though not in the same way.

"What would I do? I'd shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders." -- Michael Dell, after being asked what to do with Apple Computer in 1997

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