BY KATIE - MYGREENPOD, 13th Mar '14

THE ZERO CARBON HOME THAT SHOWS HOW GOVERNMENT TARGETS CAN BE ACHIEVED

The government’s environmental track record took yet another hit when, in last year’s autumn statement, Osborne confirmed that some environmental levies on domestic power bills would be rolled back in a bid to cut down household power bills. The statement came hot on the heels of reports that Cameron had told aides to ‘get rid of all this green crap’.

Those seduced by Cameron’s green rhetoric are feeling stitched up, and those that weren’t sucked in by the 2010 slogan ‘Vote Blue, Go Green’ have had their lack of faith in party politics confirmed. But the question remains: considering the government’s inertia (at best) on all things green, who are the trailblazers that will fight back and research, design and invest in the technology that will help ensure a sustainable future?

PQ talks to Anthony Morgan, CEO and founder of Newform Energy, about the practical, economical and very much functional (see for yourself) solutions that should shake up the market – and wake up the government.

No man is an island… But what if you were?

Islands constitute some of the most climatically sensitive areas of the world. Atolls in the Maldives and the Marshall Islands are witnessing the stark realities of climate change, and their inhabitants are battling against erosion and rising sea levels. In many cases the money available for investment in R&D for sustainable technology is minimal – certainly when compared with that of the UK – but still these governments are adopting new measures to ensure a carbon-neutral future, as the consequences of doing otherwise are catastrophic and immediate. It is a straightforward case of life or death. There is no greater priority.

‘11% of GDP came from the renewable energy sector in 2012…We have the only Chancellor of the Exchequer that is actively suppressing the fastest growing aspect of our economy!’

If you’re isolated in the middle of the ocean, you need to be self-sufficient – and you need to come up with creative solutions that maximise the efficiency of the resources available. Anthony Morgan spent 10 years as a marine engineer before founding Newform Energy in 2009. ‘It was during my time at sea, whilst working on a research vessel looking at the causes of coral bleaching, that I had an epiphany’, he tells PQ. ‘It’s possible to build ships as autonomous units – self-sufficient for power, light and water – so why aren’t buildings designed in the same way? So, some 10 years ago I began to develop my ideas and research ways in which this could be achieved on land.’

The solution for Morgan is in the hybridisation of renewable energy technologies, to increase energy yields in areas where the sun has a more transient nature (such as the UK) and where energy storage still has a key role in the technology mix.

‘The point we have had to make and get understood’, says Morgan, ‘is that this is not about a single technology; it’s about understanding the synergies between technologies and looking at things from a different perspective.’ This is a tough message to get across to a market that’s only just beginning to get its head round photovoltaics, but Morgan lifts the gauntlet with the analogy of a new type of carburettor in the engine of a car. ‘It may be more efficient as a component, but on its own it can’t run the car. We are improving the efficiency of the engine by changing the design of each component, one by one’, he says.

Starting a new business in the middle of a recession was never going to be easy – particularly for a company that places a huge focus on R&D and has set out to introduce new products into a hugely conservative market. ‘We have had to deal with everything from funding to accreditation issues, vested interest and complete technology denial’, Morgan explains.

The UK: ‘the world’s best place to invest in fossil fuel tech’

Newform Energy received a regional growth fund to help expand and grow the business. However, this was from the local government; when asked about his views on the central government’s green credentials, Morgan has to recover from a bout of laughter before responding. ‘That is a joke! As far as I can tell the only thing this government is interested in is protecting the interests of the top 1%. The current British government has put in place subsidies to support oil and gas extraction which are making the UK the best place in the world to invest in fossil fuel technologies. This has been done at the expense of giving real support to renewable energy technologies and sustainability in general. They then have the front to say that subsidies on fuel prices that are supporting energy efficiency are to blame for energy cost increases.

‘11% of GDP came from the renewable energy sector in 2012, it has shown greater growth than any other sector and has the potential in the long term to have a downward pressure on inflation. Yet still they slam all those fighting to support the sector and do what they can to encourage growth in oil and gas extraction. We have the only Chancellor of the Exchequer that is actively suppressing the fastest growing aspect of our economy!’

The government is cutting the cost of the Energy Companies Obligation (ECO), which placed legal obligations on large energy companies to help customers improve the energy efficiency of their homes, and replaced the Carbon Emissions Reduction Target (Cert) and the Community Energy Saving Programme (CESP) at the beginning of last year. ‘The Big Six have too much vested interest in what they are doing now doing now to do anything other than stand in the way of change’, says Morgan. ‘But in the utopian world of zero carbon, it could provide services and finance to deploy technologies. That way it could still benefit from the sale of the energy and also ensure the efficiency of its assets are maintained.’

‘The ‘Big Six’ have too much vested interest in what they are doing now to do anything other than get in the way of change.’

For Morgan, the biggest medium-term support the government could provide would be to continue with policies and subsidies that give the construction sector enough time to implement cost reductions. It should also provide a stable framework that promotes investment in companies like Newform Energy, which would allow continued improvements and innovations in the services offered.

Zero carbon by 2016?

The government has resolved to make all new housing zero carbon by 2016 but, in negotiation with the building industry, is being pushed back from this ambition by an industry that is unable to meet the target at an attractive cost (if at all). The introduction of inter-seasonal storage of solar energy, in combination with complementary technologies developed by Newform Energy, makes this target practical and affordable.

The government’s target to make buildings zero carbon is clearly possible – Newform Energy has done it itself. However, Morgan believes that, for many reasons, the goal won’t be achieved by 2016. ‘The main reason is down to the building lobby expressing its concerns. Some, such as cost, are legitimate – but others are less so and are clearly motivated by short-term profit’, he says. ‘There is a degree of conservatism and resistance to change involved, too’, he adds.

‘There is a vast need for retraining the construction sector about the technologies, methodologies and best practice from across the globe. We have unfortunately missed a great opportunity in the last six years to do this. Now is the time to get on with the business of delivery.’

With energy cost increases and technology cost reductions it’s only a matter of time before zero carbon will be an affordable reality. At this point the government just needs to hold its nerve and refrain from any further watering down of the targets.

‘The UK’s current definition of zero carbon excludes a significant portion of the electricity that is used in a building and, as such, it is not fit for purpose’, says Morgan. ‘As far as I know, we are the only country in the world that has done this! It is essential that there is no further watering down of the targets. Now we’re nearly there it’s time to keep focus and gently start tightening again. We are so close to being able to deliver on zero carbon in a way previously thought impossible, at cost point, which works now but can improve further.’

Moving forward…

Despite the setbacks, Morgan believes the industry has moved a long way forward in the last six years or so. Keeping the Code for Sustainable Homes, plus stronger enforcement of the policies that have already been in place for some time, would certainly be a step in the right direction. ‘There is a vast need for retraining the construction sector about the technologies, methodologies and best practice from across the globe’, he says. ‘We have unfortunately missed a great opportunity in the last six years to do this. Now is the time to get on with the business of delivery.’

Opening up RHI — the Renewable Heat Incentive, which pays those that generate and use renewable energy to heat their homes — to commercial new builds would also help. ‘This would provide a massive incentive to commercial house builders to go the extra mile’, says Morgan. ‘At present, RHIs are limited to self-build, retrofit and commercial buildings, so there is little incentive for large housing developers to spend any money on taking buildings beyond the regulations. This means that we will have new developments that will have to be retrofitted in the near future, which is ridiculous!

‘We all have a responsibility to hit the targets, but ultimately it has to come from the top down. Without the right framework and policies in place we lack the drivers to make it happen. There needs to be a step change in approach, support and investment in innovation, far more in the way of education and a carrot and stick approach to subsidies.’

To Morgan, the single most important thing that will help ensure a sustainable, zero carbon future is teaching the next generation that all our planet’s resources are precious and need to be protected. ‘The cost of inaction will be so much greater if we don’t get on with the job now’, he says. ‘Society has moved a long way in the right direction, but complacency and apathy could undo all the good work that has been done. The only way to prevent this is by ongoing education.’

‘As far as I can tell the only thing this government is interested in is protecting the interests of the top 1%.

‘The current British government has put in place subsidies to support oil and gas extraction which are making the UK the best place in the world to invest in fossil fuel technologies.’

If Morgan held the reins of power in his hand, his first act would be to ban excessive greed. ‘I am all for supporting success and allowing reward for those who are prepared to take the risk, drive innovation or are driven to succeed,’ he says, ‘but we need to be able to understand at what point enough is enough and when too much becomes greed.

‘Greed drives corruption, stifles innovation and limits change; those with the most to lose have the greatest vested interest. I think this is the greatest challenge to humanity; if more from the top were distributed to the bottom, many of the issues you see today would not be there.’

A more equal and rewarding society may result in no man feeling like an island — or it may make us understand that we’re united on the most beautiful one of all: our home.

All equal and all together, we must use the precious resources available intelligently and efficiently as we float in the universal sea.

For more information on Anthony Morgan and Newform Energy’s projects, visit its website.   NEWFORM ENERY