Rediscovering our Place in the World

8th December 2011

If you were travelling around the country this week you will notice the traditional Las Vegas style Christmas tree light displays are conspicuous by their absence – less obvious are the number of people who cannot afford to turn their heating on. The recession has started to bite and beyond personal considerations there are wider concerns about how the UK will earn a living in an increasingly globalised economy. Fear of what the future holds came across in a recent television program The Party's Over: How the West Went Bust during which the BBC’s Robert Preston compared Europe’s and the US’s industrial decline with the emergence of China as an industrial superpower.

Also this week it was pointed out that China has over 20 million people working in the green technology sector – equivalent to a third of the population of the UK. Despite the downbeat assessment we in the West have some distinct advantages that could, if we play our cards right, keep us ahead in the renewable energy race. One is being here before - some people active in the renewable energy market cut their teeth on the technology during the 1970s oil crisis. Many of the technologies now being turned into products were developed over thirty years ago and there is a large body of engineers who know, from experience, what does and does not work.

While the recession, which will see lower oil and gas prices, and the slashing of solar subsidies are both regarded as setbacks the West’s renewable energy industry has lived with these erratic market conditions for over three decades. Whatever carbon based energy prices do it is obvious, from Robert Peston’s analysis, that we will need cheap, sustainable, sources of energy if we are to trade our way out of debt. Also to repair our GDP we will need to cut energy imports and that’s why the EnergyCrowd’s solar energy system is targeting the 37Kwh per day each person in the UK uses just keeping warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Simple technologies like this, that are accessible to the ordinary householder, can provide an entry point into the energy market for companies that then go on to form the type of industry clusters that saw the UK carve out a place in the high technology market - an area I have some personal experience in.

Once again our passive solar energy system benefited from some sunny winter’s days and it harvested between 12 and 16kwh on two consecutive week days and one day at the weekend. Not sure if, given the present economic conditions many householders will be rushing out after Christmas to spend £12,000 on a new conservatory – especially as many of them have just blown a similar amount photovoltaic panels. Still I can console myself that the passive solar conservatory cost half that amount and, on a winter’s day captures twice the energy.

Have a good weekend – Peter Kruger

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