Brixton’s solar power scheme enjoys its moment in the sun

October 12, 2013 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

Since then, he has fitted out five other blocks on the estate, and has
completed a similar project on the nearby Roupell Park Estate. Each time,
more of the residents wanted to buy in: they and other shareholders will get
an average 4 per cent rate of return. The project runs lifts and lights
community centres and communal areas, while the profit after paying
dividends goes into community funds, to be used to improve the estates.

For Otero, it is not “just about solar panels”, but generating revenue,
creating jobs and providing dignity in an area “which nobody wants to touch
any more”. There was, he recalls, a double or triple murder on each of the
estates while he and his team were working there, and children of absent
fathers and “crack mothers” are common. “They could go either way,” he says.
“We want to help them get, not out of the estates, but into society.” Some
residents have been employed to help the contractors, “changing their lives”.

Energy and climate change minister Greg Barker says the Brixton initiative is
“exactly the type of development, and the kind of ownership, we want to
encourage”. This week he launched a Solar Energy Strategy aimed at
multiplying capacity eightfold by 2020, and says he wants to see “thousands
of new local community companies” bringing it about.

That would require a big change of direction, for the solar industry is now
polarised between two extremes: the individual households with rooftop
systems that formed the first surge in demand; and a new proliferation of
big solar farms, some on disused airfields and other brownfield land, but
increasingly sited on open countryside – risking the kind of backlash
incurred by wind farms.

Both can manage with current government help. Feed-in tariffs for home systems
have been cut by two thirds over 18 months, but the price of panels has
crashed, too. The farms get about half as much subsidy as them per unit of
output, but achieve big economies of scale. But medium-sized schemes, such
as community projects – which mainly go on big rooftops – are squeezed,
getting less subsidy than household ones, but without the scale of the
farms. So though they make up the majority of installations in mainland
Europe, they are extremely rare here.

Otero is lining up another 35 schemes across London but, operating at the
limit of viability, is far from sure he can pull them off. He says the
Government will need to give community schemes a slightly higher tariff if
they, and the thousands ministers are calling for, are to get going. But
politicians – sensitive to the Big Six’s self-interested blaming of
renewables for their price increases, though they add only £37 to the
average £1,225 annual bill (another £58 goes to fighting fuel poverty by
insulating houses) – won’t consider it.

They are keen to find another solution. Let’s hope they do. Otherwise, yet
another pre-election decentralist dream risks dissolving into an all too
familiar concentration – quite literally, this time – of power.

Badgers play numbers game to confuse their tormentors

Have you heard this, perhaps apocryphal, story from the dying days of the Raj?
An old colonial fossil recounted how he used to amuse himself by taking
shots at passers-by with his air rifle, to “tickle them up”. But then, he
complained, “the unsporting beggars started going another way”.

Much the same sense of outrageously injured innocence pervades the
increasingly entertaining Owen Paterson’s beef that the badgers have spoiled
his cull by “moving the goalposts” in slashing their numbers, and thus
making it impossible to work out how many should be killed.

What’s more, it doesn’t seem to be the first time the Machiavellian mammals
have been so ungentlemanly. About year ago the cull had to be postponed for
months after it was found that there were twice as many badgers in the cull
areas as had been thought. Now the revised estimates have had to be cut by
40 per cent, bringing them close to the number first thought of.

Ibrox is named after brocks, so did their dastardly fancy footwork stem from

Or is it just possible that Mr Paterson’s Department for Environment, Food and
Rural Affairs is rather more than slightly foxed?

Gone to waste, the professor with a dumpster to call home

“Life in a dumpster isn’t always warm sunshine and sweet daisies,” says
Prof Jeff Wilson. Well he should know: he’s about to spend a year in one of
the giant American trash cans, like a cross between Diogenes the Cynic and
Oscar the Grouch.

Prof Wilson, a specialist in environmental science at Huston-Tillotson
University, Texas, has already sold off his possessions for $1 each,
retaining only a suitcase containing “dumpster-ready essentials”, including
a Kazakhstani Sun God totem and a pair of lederhosen (“You never know when
you’re going to need an authentic Alpine lederhosen,” he explains). Living
and sleeping in the 33 sq ft container (after it has been “run through the
car-wash a couple of times”), he aims to “present themes on waste and
consumption in an engaging way”.

He’ll start out with just a sleeping bag, but will then be steadily fitted out
with all mod cons, including a bed, a loo, air‑conditioning and Wi-Fi.

When it’s finally operational, he’ll start making the now luxurious garbage
bin less wasteful – such as by installing a clothes line, instead of a dryer
– until it becomes a “completely pimped-out dumpster”.

As Eric Morecambe would say: “What do you think of it so far?”

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