Building energy efficiency should be a priority for Guernsey

February 24th, 2011 by Richard Lord

The red, orange and yellow colours in this thermal image of a home indicate poor thermal insulation leading to unnecessary heat loss and more expensive energy bills (click image to expand - image courtesy of HeatSeekers)

In relative terms oil is cheap.  A litre of petrol, which contains about 8000 Calories, still costs less than a cup of coffee at a restaurant or in many cases a litre of bottled water.  But the cost of oil will rise and take a bigger bite out of our disposable income.

Since 1859 humanity has used about one trillion barrels of oil.  There’s still plenty of oil left in the ground but three issues influence its future use.

First, the easy oil fields have been discovered and exploited.  Oil from newly discovered fields is either harder to extract or in smaller fields than previous discoveries.   Many of these discoveries are in hostile environments – the deep sea and remote regions of the earth with harsh climates – so the cost of extraction is higher.

Second, the human population grows by 150 people per minute or 200,000 people per day or about 80 million people per year.  The sheer number of humans places a huge demand for oil.  As the population rises the amount of oil available per person declines unless oil extraction can increase.  The oil industry struggles to increase production and because of this the price will rise.

Third, climate change is happening.  Humanity is changing the composition of the earth’s atmosphere and the world’s oceans.  As the concentration of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels increases in the atmosphere, the atmosphere retains more heat.  Increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere cause an increase in carbonic acid in the sea.  This ocean acidification will impact food chains and such wonders of the world as coral reefs.

Guernsey has about one percent of the UK population and one percent of the housing stock.  There are about 62,000 people living in Guernsey in about 22,000 homes.  Regrettably many of these homes are poorly insulated.  During the winter these homes require excessive amounts of energy to remain comfortable.  Oil heats many Guernsey properties. LPG, coal, and electricity for space heaters and more recently for air source or ground source heat pumps is used also.  Some of this electricity comes from the French nuclear industry but electricity is also produced by Guernsey Electricity Ltd.’s oil-fired power station in St. Sampson.  This massive amount of energy use for winter heating (and summer cooling) would be unnecessary if Guernsey buildings were draught-proof and well-insulated.

A study in the UK last year determined that it would cost between £12,000 and £40,000 per home to insulate to a level that would minimise energy use.  This level of investment is beyond the ability of most home owners to pay but nevertheless our homes will have to run on very little energy in the future to accommodate the increase in energy prices and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Investment in energy efficiency should begin now so that the cost can be less onerous by spreading it over many years.  Energy efficiency should be everyone’s goal so that we have longer to find solutions to a declining fossil fuel supply and avoid the most severe consequences of climate change.

The Jersey Energy Trust and the Isle of Man’s Cosy Homes initiative have saved home owners energy.  Both Islands have dedicated money to help building managers and home owners reduce their energy use.  The States of Jersey has insulated and draught-proofed over 800 homes and 20 residential homes.

Currently, Guernsey does not have similar schemes although the Guernsey Housing Association is building energy-efficient housing and the States of Guernsey Housing Department has installed cavity wall insulation in some social housing.

The States of Guernsey noted the Energy Policy but provided no additional funds to implement it.  Therefore it falls on individuals and businesses to be aware of the need to save energy and particularly oil and do what is necessary to become more energy efficient.

To raise awareness of the waste of energy in heating properties, the States of Jersey Environment Department is funding a heat map of Jersey this winter.  Jersey will be photographed from the air with an infra-red camera to show heat loss from buildings.  The plan is for the thermal image of Jersey to be published on-line by the end of 2011.

The States of Guernsey is currently unable to fund such an initiative so an effort is being made to raise funds privately.  Marks & Spencer in Guernsey, Guernsey Electricity Ltd. and Guernsey Gas Ltd. have generously offered funds but more sponsors are required.

Recently the States of Guernsey Environment Department invited Dr. Joanne Moodie from The Environment Centre in Southampton to visit Guernsey and speak about energy efficiency in the home.  Dr. Moodie provided Sustainable Guernsey with UK contacts that use heat maps and thermal imagery to inform communities about heat loss and energy efficiency in homes and businesses.

HeatSeekers works with many UK borough councils.  Instead of using aerial photography, they operate a fleet of vehicles equipped with thermal image cameras.  HeatSeeker vehicles operate at night during the colder winter months when heating is likely to be on in people’s homes.  These vehicles, while travelling at 10 to 15 mph, record heat loss from up to 1000 buildings per hour.   The technology is only capable of detecting heat – it cannot see through windows or walls and the image produced displays a palette of colours according to temperature.

The blue colours in the thermal image indicate minimal heat loss after insulation has been installed on this home (click image to expand - image courtesy of HeatSeekers)

In the UK HeatSeekers has teamed up with the energy saving company, Mark Group, so that when HeatSeekers have identified the heat loss, home owners have a professional service to contact to find ways to reduce their home energy leaks and losses.

Sustainable Guernsey will be meeting HeatSeekers to discuss what it might cost to do a heat loss survey of Guernsey properties.

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