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Appropriate behaviour

Viewpoint - Should we fit wind turbines to our homes in the name of sustainability?

When I was an engineer in oil & gas exploration, I was privileged enough to see some of the most incredible sights our planet has to offer.

I have sailed amongst icebergs and whales and have been able to watch and listen to both of them. The icebergs as they growl and grind along the seabed and the whales singing.

I understand the importance of energy to our world, but I am also aware of the awful impact we are having upon it. The ice is melting, sea levels are rising and the consequences for our world are chilling.

These are the combined driving forces behind microgeneration. As engineers, we have a rare ability to solve problems which can at first seem insurmountable because we are able to understand systems and the way in which they interact.

We must approach these challenges in a systemic manner. It's no use 'putting lipstick on a pig'. Fitting a windturbine to provide electricity to a single dwelling may be appropriate, but only after we have taken a careful look at the overall requirements.

Renewable energy has a part to play and micro-renewables fit within a grand design where the starting premise is about eliminating or reducing demand.

It takes a real sense of purpose to tell a customer not spend their money on a wind turbine until they have examined other energy saving tactics. Rather than having renewable electricity they should find ways to avoid flicking the switch in the first instance.

Probably the most important is to change our behaviour towards energy - thinking about the consequences of our own behaviour and sharing those views will make the biggest impact.

Next we have to look at energy demand usage. Heat and power are different. Using electricity to make heat is inherently fl awed, so fi nding ways to get heat into space and water, directly from the sun's energy has to be the best option.

Microgeneration, we believe each application requires a specific solution. We assess opportunities and constraints and look ahead to build in flexibility for the future. For example, the installation of a thermal store with the correct coils and tappings allows for different energy inputs and outputs at a later date. Only then do we select the most appropriate technologies and products.

Finally, optimum performance of a system requires precise installation and commissioning. A broad range of engineering skills is required to get the best out of renewable energy systems.

In summary, don't use energy unless you have to, and then choose renewables, ideally close to the point of use. The next generation of civil engineers has a major part to play in designing and incorporating sustainable energy solutions.

Andrew Honey is chief executive of Microgeneration

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