DCSIMG

It's a volt winner as city goes for green

TO some it is a utopian vision of the future which will save the planet, while others regard it as more of a Day of the Triffids-style nightmare which will blot the landscape and ultimately fail to deliver.

The ongoing dilemma of how best to provide enough energy to meet demand without destroying the planet has long divided nations around the world. But now in Scotland, whatever your view, wind turbines springing up throughout our cities and towns will soon be an inescapable reality.

Communities Minister Malcolm Chisholm has announced that major building developments will have to generate at least a tenth of their energy needs from onsite green sources under radical new planning rules. Which means environmentally-friendly contraptions like rooftop wind turbines, solar panels and bio-fuelled boilers will have to be installed at all new schools, hospitals and large-scale housing estates.

The Scottish Executive is officially aiming for 40 per cent of electricity in Scotland to come from renewable sources by 2020, up from its current level of around 16 per cent. And the new plans are part of the Executive's draft planning policy on renewable energy, which has been billed as the first plan of its kind in the UK.

A three-month consultation period is being held, with final guidelines in place possibly by early next year. But using so-called "micro-renewables" to generate some of the massive amount of electricity we use each day is not a new idea. And in Edinburgh there are already many converts to the power of the wind, sun and other renewable sources for energy.

THE ECO-HOME OWNERS

Peter and Mhairi Taylor are among the growing number of families who have decided to go green of their own accord - and are reaping the rewards.

The centrepiece of their spacious energy-efficient Cramond home is a ground-source heat pump which propels water 75 metres into the ground. There the natural heat of the earth raises the temperature of the water by 10C - at no cost to the environment or the Taylors, who effectively get "four units of energy for the price of one."

The water is then pumped back up again and warmed further to 42C to be used to heat water in other pipes, which is circulated under the floors to heat the house and create a hot water supply.

The couple, both in their 60s, also installed solar panelling in their conservatory when they moved in at the end of last year to generate electricity.

Because they weren't sure if it would produce all the electricity they would need, they opted for the power generated by the panels on their home to be transferred straight into the national grid. In return they receive cheaper electricity from their supplier, which they expect to save them around 200 a year on electricity bills.

Peter says: "It's all working well. The heat pump is really proving its worth. We won't really know how much we are saving until a year has passed, but when we moved here we doubled the size of our home and yet our bills have stayed fairly similar."

At 12,000 for the pump and an even more costly 35,000 for the solar panels, the Taylors know they will not see the payback on their investment in their lifetime. But the pair, joint founders of the Town House Company, which runs plush city hotels including The Bonham and Channings, point out there are far cheaper versions on the market, so it could be even more cost-efficient for others.

THE ENVIRONMENTALLY-FRIENDLY INVENTORS

Penicuik manufacturer Renewable Devices was set up by two former Edinburgh University scientists in 2002 "working from a shed". Now they say they receive more than a thousand calls and e-mails each week about small-scale wind turbines, solar panels and other micro-renewable energy devices.

Speaking from their base in the Bush research estate, Dr Charlie Silverton says: "Small individual wind turbines for homes cost around 5000 at the moment, but we are working to bring the cost down to 1500 within the year. I think it is very feasible to make this widespread."

Around 60 turbines produced by the firm are currently generating electricity for homes and businesses around the UK.

THE WIND CONVERTS

Elderly people living in sheltered housing in Gorgie Road and in Morrison Crescent, where Malcolm Chisholm launched the energy policy on Monday, are among those already enjoying cheaper electricity bills thanks to Renewable Devices' roof turbines.

Dunedin Canmore Housing Association, which runs both sheltered housing developments, installed one 10,000 turbine at each complex for a 12-month pilot project aimed at saving around 300 a year in energy costs.

Ewan Fraser, housing association chief executive, says: "So far they are going reasonably well and they are producing savings in line with our expectations. Both turbines power heating and electricity in communal areas like the laundry and stairwells, bringing a reduction in bills for tenants who are pleased that their costs are being reduced. I think we will be expanding the scheme in future."

Critics of turbines have pointed to the unreliability of the weather, and Fraser admits that there is a noticeable difference between the two locations, with the roof turbine at Gorgie Road producing slightly more electricity.

But Edinburgh's reputation as a windy city is well-deserved, and with the Morrison Crescent turbine also producing the predicted savings, he seems unconcerned, saying only that "it seems to be windier in Gorgie Road".

THE ECO-COUNCIL

In the past, the idea of erecting wind turbines on houses and solar panels on roofs may well have faced the wrath of Edinburgh City Council's planners, but these days it's the council which is all for introducing more renewable energy sources in housing developments - and is setting an example with its new 80 million headquarters being built in New Street.

In December last year the council launched new guidelines aimed at encouraging developers to incorporate more environmentally-friendly features into their designs. To put its money where its mouth was, it also unveiled plans for a host of renewable energy sources in its new HQ.

A spokeswoman says: "It was imperative we had influence over the way our new building was constructed as we wanted sustainability to literally be built into the fabric of the HQ itself."

So instead of opting for a greenfield site, the council chose a city centre brownfield site to redevelop, then a working group developed a series of targets to be met, covering issues including biodiversity management, waste, pollution, materials and energy, and climate change.

As a result, the HQ will only use timber from certified sustainable sources, it will have storage tanks to collect rainwater that can then be reused for street cleaning, it will have solar panels on the roof, will have little use of non-environmentally-friendly materials such as PVC, and some toilets will be waterless, based on the vacuum system in aeroplanes.

THE ECO-FRIENDLY TOURIST TRAP

Even on the city's outskirts, the green revolution is developing. At Butterfly World, plans are in place to create a new shop and visitor attraction, and as part of its conservation ethos, this will include renewable energy devices.

General manager Tamsin Job says: "We've been thinking about incorporating renewable energy here since the late 1990s and now it's finally getting off the ground, and our new building should be complete by the end of next year.

"The shop roof will have a 30-metre stretch of solar panels for all its energy requirements, there will be one wind turbine which we hope will make a difference, and there will also be a water pond which will be used for flushing facilities. It will have a picnic area round the edge and will look like a nature reserve in its own right but the water will be used to flush the loos. As part of our conservation ethos we're interested in local power-saving methods rather than being a drain on the national grid."

 
 
 

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