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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: CO2 Cart Before the Horse
By mdogs444 on 11/30/2007 12:17:03 PM , Rating: 2
Actually no, thats incorrect. CO2 levels have been as high as 10x greater than are are currently. CO2 has naturally gone into a cycle that has high and low points - we are by no means anywhere close to either extreme.

RE: CO2 Cart Before the Horse
By diablofish on 11/30/2007 12:33:04 PM , Rating: 2
Thanks for the information. But they are higher than they were 50 years ago, right? And 50 years ago plant life was doing just fine, right? So if we reduced our CO2 output to 50 years ago levels, plants would likely live along with everything else currently living on the plant, right?

RE: CO2 Cart Before the Horse
By mdogs444 on 11/30/2007 12:44:57 PM , Rating: 2
But they are higher than they were 50 years ago, right?

That I honestly do not know - as far as exactly fifty years - however, we are lower in CO2 than we have been in the past 20 years as well.

And 50 years ago plant life was doing just fine, right?

And plant life is still doing just fine today, right?

? So if we reduced our CO2 output to 50 years ago levels, plants would likely live along with everything else currently living on the plant, right?

Hold your horses, not so easy. You need to understand that the overwhelmingly majority of CO2 in relation to earth is not in earths atmosphere, its in the oceans. By decreasing the CO2 output, you may then mess up a cycle of life in the oceans.

So I ask you the same question I ask everyone else - given the fact that there are scientists on both sides of the equation arguing about whether man contributed to global warming, or whether it even exists at all, because there is nothing to show besides a "theory" - and that plant life is going just as fine today as it has 50 years ago, what is your rush to change our entire way of life - for something that we do not understand, cannot prove, and cannot even begin to estimate the disaster it could have by expanding or reducing emmissions (or whether it would change at all)?

People always complain that we are too patient, until we want to go to what is the rush to go to war with the people and the planet over something that you have no idea if it even is a problem?

RE: CO2 Cart Before the Horse
By diablofish on 11/30/2007 1:54:17 PM , Rating: 2

This indicates that CO2 levels today are higher than they have been in hundreds of thousands of years.

Regardless, let's keep this in context. The original concern you had about lowering CO2 was that low levels of CO2 could harm plant life. I agree with that assessment, but the CO2 levels would have to be MUCH lower than they are today or were 50 or 100 years ago when plants were thriving, just as they are today. Since plants have lived with levels of CO2 lower than they are today, we can probably assume that lowering CO2 levels to what they were 50 years ago would have no harm since 50 years ago people, plants, and animals all lived just fine.

My point was that energy efficient equipment and construction has two benefits: lowering energy usage and costs and lowering carbon output.

The environment has more CO2 in it today than in the past 650,000 years, according to the research above. Reducing the level we put into the environment isn't likely to harm plants, agree? And since animals respirate CO2 into the environment naturally, as long as animals keep reproducing, there should be plants to use the CO2.

Frankly, I don't know whether or not CO2 is a pollutant and contributes to AGW - I'm not a climatologist or an expert on the matter. Clearly, there is a consensus among some and strong disagreement among some others as to whether AGW is real - and that's a whole different discussion from the context of what I'm discussing.

RE: CO2 Cart Before the Horse
By Spuke on 11/30/2007 4:41:30 PM , Rating: 2
The problem I have with that data is one of the scientists reports that they'll be studying the data for years yet he's already come to the conclusion that man has created this "excess" amount of CO2. If you have years of data to study, how can you come to any conclusion right after you've collected the data?

"If you look at the last five years, if you look at what major innovations have occurred in computing technology, every single one of them came from AMD. Not a single innovation came from Intel." -- AMD CEO Hector Ruiz in 2007

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