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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Reducing carbon emissions in the home

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Meg gave the following speech in the House of Commons.


Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab/Co-op): I am sure Members on both sides of the House will be hoping for a positive outcome from the Copenhagen meeting as it draws toward a close. It is vital that an agreement is reached that will commit the countries of the world to work seriously together to tackle this international problem.


During the summer I led a small Commonwealth Parliamentary Association delegation to study the effects of climate change on some of the smallest countries in the world. The group visited Kiribati, Tonga, Vanuatu and Tuvalu in the south Pacific, which have populations ranging from 11,000 to just over 200,000.


We heard from many people about how the effects of climate change are making their daily lives much more difficult. The Pacific islands are relatively poor, and the local people lack the resources to cope well with the extreme weather that is becoming more frequent. Some were angry that they suffer the effects of increased greenhouse gas emissions having contributed virtually none themselves.


Most people imagine that rising sea levels lead to low-lying islands disappearing under water, causing local populations to relocate, but local inhabitants move long before that happens. Already in Vanuatu, the population of one small island has had to do so.


High tides and rising sea water contaminate the drinking water, meaning that the only option for populations is to collect rain water to drink. On Funafuti, the main island of Tuvalu, the local council told us that owing to low rainfall, families are currently rationed to six buckets of water each morning and evening. Although the European Union has been able to help with the provision of large rain water collection tanks on the main island, as yet no means have been found to transport similar tanks to the outer islands.


It is therefore perhaps unsurprising that representatives from Tuvalu have made themselves heard at the summit in Copenhagen.


Over time the land becomes saturated with salty water, making it impossible to grow food. At the moment, around 70 to 80% of the people on those islands are reliant on agriculture. We heard in Tuvalu that the island now frequently experiences high tides that lead to flooding. How can a small farmer keep animals or sow crops when fertile soils and fresh water are contaminated with salt water?


Pressure will grow for the larger countries in the Pacific to take in climate change refugees. The reality is that no Pacific nation will be unaffected, no matter how large. More than half the population of the islands of the region lives within 1.5 km of the shore. We were shown maps that showed that within 20 years, the heavily populated areas of many countries will be uninhabitable.


The visit brought it home to the delegation that climate change is having a profound impact now, and that the prospects for the people of the region are poor. Whatever the result of the Copenhagen discussions, I think it important that we in the UK continue to take what action we can to tackle the problem.


All Pacific island nations have drawn up national adaptation plans with the support of funds from the United Nations, but we were told that the lack resources to implement the plans causes those nations a great deal of concern. Climate change experts at the University of the South Pacific were clear that without significant adaptation now, the longer-term prospects for the countries are bleak.


Earlier this week, I asked the Prime Minister whether European Union money that has been allocated for assistance can be made available for adaptation. In his response he clearly recognised the importance of taking action. For many people in the world climate change is not an issue for the future: it is affecting them now.


In the UK we are lucky not to face such immediate problems. However, we do have a responsibility to reduce our carbon emissions to mitigate the future effects of climate change. I believe strongly that by focusing more on energy efficiency we could begin to see dramatic reductions. Houses in the UK are responsible for a significant amount of carbon emissions. While there are many aspects to this which could and should be addressed, I particularly want to address the matter of heating and electricity.


I commend the Government for announcing a boiler scrappage scheme in the Pre-Budget Report last week. Around 125,000 households will be able to upgrade their boiler when the scheme starts early next year. I hope that we can allocate further funds in due course as part of a rolling programme to replace the large number of old and inefficient boilers in use.


The Chancellor said: "Inefficient domestic boilers add over 200 to household bills and 1 tonne of carbon to the atmosphere each year."- [Official Report, 9 December 2009; Vol. 502, c. 365.] That scheme will be a positive step in reducing household emissions. It has an added attraction in that it will bring down the average household energy bill, which will be especially important to those caught in the fuel poverty trap.


It is important that we have financial incentives in place to encourage the next generation of low-carbon and renewable electricity. I know that the Government have been consulting on two mechanisms: the Renewables Obligation and feed-in tariffs. I want to concentrate today on feed-in tariffs: the money paid for electricity supplied to the national grid. I think that we can make more progress.


The Renewable Energy Association states that the Government are planning to meet just 2% of the UK’s electricity needs from technologies supported through the current tariff scheme. That figure is far lower than the potential and considerably lower than other countries are achieving or working toward.


If we pay more attention to that aspect of electricity production, we can encourage many more individual households and small businesses to become involved. The expansion of small-scale electricity production would help us in tackling climate change. It would also encourage technological innovation, followed in due course by the manufacture of the newly designed equipment.


Around the world, tariff schemes have had positive effects on cutting costs of renewable technologies, as well as creating employment opportunities. They offer an incentive for individuals and companies, particular those already focused on products aimed at low carbon emissions. I understand that the proposed Clean Energy cash back tariff, scheduled to launch in April, will pay households which generate their own power from wind turbines and solar panels. They will receive money for each unit of electricity that they use in their own home, and also for the surplus energy that they provide to their local energy company. Both payments will be tax free.


I know that the Government’s consultation on Renewable Electricity Financial Incentives is now closed, and they have yet to issue their response. I hope that they will seriously consider increasing the proposed level of tariffs. The suggested return on investment of between 5% and 8% is not likely to be sufficient to encourage significant take-up. According to the modelling commissioned by the Department for Energy and Climate Change, tariffs that deliver a 10% return on investment would result in three times the amount of renewable electricity generation by 2020 than will be delivered by the proposed scheme.


Over the past few months, I have been working closely with one small Sheffield company in this field, Disenco Energy plc. It is close to the commercial production
of the first viable Micro Combined Heat and Power appliance suitable for the domestic and commercial market. Currently the size of a washing machine, Disenco’s patented HomePowerPlan is a highly efficient boiler and a 3 KW electrical system at 92% efficiency.


That appliance will supply all the hot water and heating requirements of a home, and up to 70% of its electricity needs at peak times. That is obviously beneficial for the consumer as costs and efficiency savings result in reductions to annual electrical bills. Importantly, it can cut the carbon footprint of a home by about 70% reducing C02 emissions.


The product is targeted at the domestic market as a direct replacement for the boiler. The company estimates that the cost could be around 3,000 when production gets into commercial gear. That would put them in the same market as many current new boilers, obviously important when trying to entice people to replace their old boiler with a new energy-efficient appliance.


The other significant benefit of Micro Combined Heat and Power units is that they assist with electricity generation at precisely the times when there is significant demand, helping the grid to cope with peak periods. They also make a significant contribution to tackling fuel poverty. Elderly and vulnerable people, who currently hesitate to put the heating on for fear of the cost, will be able to heat their homes, knowing that by doing so they are also generating electricity and being paid for it.


Emerging small businesses such as Disenco need the support that the Government can provide. They need a revenue system in place that provides incentives for householders to replace their old boilers with new products that can generate sufficient electricity that surplus can be sold to the national grid. They also of course need money to get their products to market. At a time when we have supported banks with billions of pounds, a few million pounds of investment could see these important new technologies in place in months.


We face the challenge of meeting the UK targets of reducing energy use, while at the same time bringing to an end the excessive use of fossil fuels. Feed-in tariffs are one way of helping us to get there. Encouraging change is a huge challenge, particularly so during this difficult economic time. However, the possibilities of these new technologies fill me with optimism.


They will reduce carbon emissions, ensure that people can stay warm in their homes, and importantly we will use less of the planet’s resources. If we can encourage and help along this process, we can also help to generate future prosperity for the country.


On that note, I wish you, Madam Deputy Speaker, everybody else in the House and all the staff a very happy Christmas and all the best for the New Year. 

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