Using oilseed rape as a fuel, whether popularised on The Archers or not, could be the answer to getting communities to embrace renewable energy
As reported in a recent issue (2 April, page 10) and responded to with gusto on the letters' pages, I have been developing an interest in the radio. Specifically, I have become interested in promoting renewable energy sources to country folk, and believe that an episode of The Archers might, despite their two-year programme timescale, be a great way of getting the message across. This is partly inspired by the need to balance the argument against the use of wind energy, which was put across quite passionately in the 1 April issue of Country Life. But it is also partly a realisation that it is unlikely, perhaps even unfair, to expect wind turbines that stand in the Countryside but providing energy to the towns to attract rural support.

Where renewable energy systems work in the round, they are integrated into communities. It it ever does become a storyline in The Archers, I would hope it would serve not only to inform a large number of people of the possibilities of renewables, but would develop into a debate about how we might meet our future energy needs within our communities.

Travelling back from a holiday last year, a question from the children set me thinking about what the great yellow fields were actually for. Once we got home and the kids were asleep, I hit the internet and discovered a mine of information. Currently the oilseed is used mainly in cooking, cosmetic and detergent products. A 1 ha field yields three tonnes of material from which about a tonne of oil can be pressed, with the residue being a high-value animal feed.

But, as I continued to trawl through the sites, other pages began to talk about its use as a bio-fuel. Thinking back to what prompted my investigation, this led to further searches to find how much oil would be needed for a car journey. Apparently, a tonne of oil corresponds in energy terms to about 1000 litres of diesel. This would save about £750 in petrol and would take you about 8000 miles. Currently, bio-diesel can be bought at petrol stations in Scandinavia but it would be illegal to manufacture it in the UK for the purpose of running your car on it without paying tax.

I also discovered that a 2 ha field would provide enough fuel to heat a large house, with only a minor modification to the boiler – although this would only be worth about £500.

A tonne of the oilseed corresponds in energy terms to about 1000 litres of diesel and would take you about 8000 miles. I have even been able to find where you can buy a do-it-yourself machine that cold-presses the seeds

What is interesting about the websites that I have visited since then is the enthusiasm for oilseed rape as an alternative fuel and the fact that Scandinavian countries (who I had been led to believe were the leaders in green technologies) considered themselves lagging behind Germany when it comes to adopting it. The information on the web does not end there. I have even been able to find where you can buy a do-it-yourself machine that cold-presses the seed.

All this has set me wondering whether there might be a business case for a company selling the technology to enlightened individuals and communities who were committed to going green. After all, if Toyota can sell a super-efficient motor car, couldn't the rural market, for instance, be inspired to use Agas powered by green fuels or tractors fuelled from the land? Shouldn't we now be persuading Country Life, which makes no attempt to wish away the need for renewables, to think beyond the whys and wherefores of wind turbines?

Although, as I have argued before, it would be nice to think that the government could do something to get such initiatives going, state intervention is, in truth, a rough tool. What is interesting in issues such as this is whether or not enough people genuinely want to use it and whether there is a business case for supplying it to them. Agas, a prerequisite within any Country Life reader's homestead, are not the choice of those with a limited budget. Of those who can afford them, perhaps a few desist on the grounds of their energy consumption. Whatever their energy efficiency, Agas, particularly for country folk like The Archers, still seem to make sense for a great many people, so perhaps an exercise in making a green energy to go with them would make sense too. Could it not be that, in the future, every farm has a great yellow field "set aside" for its own energy requirements, much as a pig may be set aside for the breakfast table? Neither, one hopes, should attract the attention of the taxman.

Back at work, we are faced with more immediate energy problems, and some enterprising solutions.

We are presently designing a tower block. As a consequence of recent changes to Part L of the Building Regulations, our flats must consume one-third of the energy of an average dwelling. We discovered that we are able to justify running a centralised hot water system alongside what would have previously been considered inefficient electric heating. Our client is enlightened and interested in sustainability. She is also interested in the fact that we have identified a green utilities company that wishes to pay for and run this boiler under a capped service charge. And her sales team is enthusiastic about their ability to market the apartments.