Category: Industry News

What are the 4Ds of energy, and why do they matter?

Although the energy sector is steadily innovating, the time for real disruption is long overdue.

If we are to have any kind of chance of tackling climate change, reducing the UK’s carbon output to net-zero by 2050 is non-negotiable. To do this, the energy sector simply cannot remain as it is.

The popularity of renewable energy is soaring, but this alone isn’t enough. We need to make serious changes to the way we consume, and think about, energy. It is not a magical, endless, substance that appears at our homes and businesses ready for use. Unless we overhaul our relationship with energy, we continue to harm our already-ailing planet.

When we talk about the disruption of the energy sector, there are several key factors leading this shift:

  • Decarbonisation
  • Decentralisation
  • Digitalisation
  • Democratisation

These ‘four Ds’ of energy are driving the disruption of the energy sector. If you’re a regular reader of the RenEnergy blog, you may have spotted Nigel Cornwall mention them in his Future Voices Q&A.

Really, these four Ds are simply four ways in which the energy sector must change, including how we buy energy, who we buy it from, and how we use it. Below, we’ll explain the terms in more detail, plus why they matter…

 

Decarbonisation

Of all the four Ds, this is perhaps the most important.

Reducing society’s greenhouse gas emissions (of which carbon is the biggest culprit) to net zero is our only real strategy for slowing climate change. At this stage, we can’t even stop or reverse global warming: only slow it. The quicker we can structurally decarbonise our energy, the better.

Choosing renewable energy is a good first step when it comes to decarbonising the energy sector. However, we can’t stop there. We must also embrace associated technologies such as battery storage and electric vehicles and take steps to remove or offset the inherent carbon present in our infrastructure.

Overall, we’re moving in the right direction. Electric vehicle ownership and solar PV usage are up, and the price of solar PV is becoming more affordable. But, these moves should not be considered a ‘sticking plaster’ for climate change. Our current infrastructures are heavy with embedded carbon, requiring deep, disruptive change. Check out our Future voices Q&A with Dr Nigel Hargreaves, where he discusses the systems-based change needed in the energy industry.

Decentralisation

The decentralisation of energy refers to a move away from one large national grid. Instead, energy is generated closer to where it is used. This could take the form of autonomous local microgrids, or clean local powerplants, such as solar farms.

Decentralising a region’s energy supply poses many benefits. According to a report in Raconteur, deploying local solar plants, small wind farms, battery storage and combined heat-and-power plants, makes the energy market more competitive, reducing prices for the consumer.

Not only are these decentralised renewable systems better for the environment, they tend to be more reliable, too. Any localised issues stay local, so faults may be repaired more quickly, and a reliable energy supply maintained.

 

 

Digitalisation

As we’ve all heard, knowledge is power. The digitalisation of the energy sector involves the increased use of technology, data, and measurements to better manage our energy. Basically, it means using all the information at our disposal to make sure we’re being as energy efficient as possible.

The increased use of technology allows us to measure energy flows, keeping systems running smoothly, and allows customers to only procure the energy they need, so nothing is wasted.

After all, how can you know if your climate change initiatives are working if you’re not measuring how much energy you’re using, or carbon you’re saving?

 

Democratisation

Also know as deregulation, democratisation is about making the energy industry fairer for consumers.

This article on Medium explains the democratisation of energy perfectly:

“Historically, utilities emerged as state-regulated monopolies, and they still are in some countries. In a regulated energy market, the government has control over electricity prices, which leaves little room for competition and little choice for customers. However, with the global energy demand increasing, the new capital investments required exceeded the capacities of governments. Unable to create new sources of funding, the governments of many countries started to turn to the private sector and therefore deregulate their energy markets.”

Fortunately, the UK energy market is already largely democratic, with plenty of consumer choice and healthy market competition. However, there is always room for improvement.

As you can see, there is plenty of overlap between the concepts of the fours Ds. Although decarbonisation is the key step in the fight against climate change, factors such as digitalisation, decentralisation and democratisation will help make it possible.

In our fight to manage climate change, switching to renewable energy alone isn’t enough. We need complete disruption of the energy systems as we know them.

 

What do you think about the four Ds of energy? Let us know on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter.

What happened to the green economic recovery?

plant growing from money representing green recovery concept

Since February 2020, the UK economy suffered a 25% collapse due to the coronavirus pandemic, with over a quarter of UK employees on furlough at the height of the crisis.

It became clear early on that the government would need to create a strategy for the UK to recover from the economic impact of coronavirus. Since then, many voices have called for this recovery to be a ‘green’ one.  Although fighting coronavirus is an immediate challenge, the long-term threat of climate change remains. If we require stimulated economic intervention anyway, why not combine it with a strategy to cut the country’s carbon emissions? After all, it is our cavalier attitude to waste, production, and consumerism that drive climate change.

This desire for a green recovery is not just buzzwords posed by thinktanks and environmental organisations, either. A report by the Climate Assembly UK, published in the Guardian, states that most people would continue with the lifestyle changes necessitated by coronavirus to tackle climate change.

In the run up to the government’s economic announcements, it seemed like the UK waited for news of its green recovery almost optimistically. However, Boris Johnston’s New Deal for Britain and Rishi Sunak’s summer economic statement left a lot to be desired. While both gave a nod to environmental initiatives, it certainly wasn’t the climate-centric approach we hoped for. Especially not when you consider the amount of effort (and investment) our European neighbours are deploying in the climate change fight.

 

What has the Government promised?

As part of his New Deal, Boris Johnston announced a £40 million investment for local conservation projects. As well as creating 3,000 environment jobs and safeguarding a further 2,000, this also includes a provision for tree planting. The Prime Minister promised plans to plant over 75,000 acres of trees a year by 2025.

In his summer statement, Rishi Sunak’s presented a strategy to improve energy efficiency in UK buildings. The Green Homes Grant provides £2bn for homeowners to improve the energy efficiency of their home through insulation. As well as cutting household energy bills and improve living conditions, this would also cut carbon emissions. A further £1bn is earmarked for improving the energy efficiency of social housing and public sector buildings.

While both these initiatives are positive, it’s disappointing that these small nods are the full extent of the government’s green interventions. In fact, most of their plans for economic recovery focus on polluting and carbon-intensive activities that are not in line with the UK’s climate change targets.

 

The shortcomings

When you look at the rest of the UK’s plans for economic recovery, Sunak’s Green Homes Grant and Boris Johnson’s tree planting promise look like greenwashing: small environmental tokens designed to make the rest of the government’s plans appear palatable.

The message attached to the Prime Minister’s New Deal is “build, build, build”. The strategy promises funding for developing the UK’s roads, railways, town centres and highstreets, hospitals, and educational institutions. While green developments of such infrastructure are possible, it doesn’t seem like this is the government’s intention. Not only is infrastructure construction polluting and carbon-intensive, it further embeds us into high carbon systems. What we need is system reform.

Some environmental campaigners are even calling the government’s strategy “unlawful”. They claim that the proposed infrastructure development would be impossible while fulfilling the UK’s obligations to the Paris Agreement, which are legally binding.

While we wholly support an effort to make the UK’s homes more energy-efficient, implementing subsidies is not a perfect solution. Such schemes are short-term, acting as more of a sticking plaster. Our homes may be more energy-efficient, but unless we also see an attitude and education shift, many households will continue with the same carbon-intensive behaviour.

 

Could we learn from Germany’s green recovery plan?

Many environmental activists have decried the government’s economic plans, stating that it is categorically not a green recovery. Rebecca Newsom, head of politics at Greenpeace UK, told the Financial Times that Riski Sunak’s announcements were “dwarfed by green recovery commitments in Germany and France”.

Germany, in particular, has pulled out all the stops with its truly green economic recovery plan. The German government has announced a €130bn stimulus package to kickstart its economy, featuring at least €40bn for climate initiatives.

Crucially, Germany’s plans incorporate decarbonising infrastructure reform. Germany’s €40bn climate fund includes at least €7bn for hydrogen infrastructure. Using existing gas pipelines, hydrogen is a clean fuelling option where electric vehicles are inappropriate (lorries, industrial vehicles, etc). The only by-product is clean water, but this solution is very energy intensive and requires a lot of renewable energy.

The German government also doubled the subsidy for purchasing electric vehicles to €6,000. Since Germany manufactures a lot of its own cars, this is a doubly smart move for stimulating its economy

 

A missed opportunity

The coronavirus pandemic has provided many people with an unusual opportunity to evaluate their habits. Early on, the crisis sparked an increased understanding of the severity of the climate change risk; 70% of Britons surveyed said they believed global warming is as serious as coronavirus.

This increased awareness and willingness to adapt provides a unique moment in the climate change fight. This could have been the tipping point for the long-term behavioural change required to fight climate change. And yet, the government’s recovery strategies risk squandering the opportunity.

Many climate and environmental experts have their own opinions on what’s missing from the government’s economic recovery. Personally, we find the lack of mention of offshore wind jarring. The UK is a world leader in this renewable energy form, and yet there are no plans to upgrade or expand the infrastructure. Additionally, it seems that no provision has been made for greater training and apprenticeships in the renewables space.

So far, the UK’s plans for economic recovery leave a lot to be desired. However, it’s possible that more initiative will be announced as the summer progresses. The government’s National Infrastructure Strategy is now 18 months overdue. Let’s hope that this plan for “core economic infrastructure, including energy networks, road and rail, flood defences and waste” has greening our country’s infrastructure at its heart.

What is the Doughnut Economy and how does it apply to climate change?

doughnuts on white background representing doughnut economy

In our Future Voices Q&A with Dr Nigel Hargreaves, we touched upon an interesting idea: the Doughnut Economy. Much of Nigel’s work as a systems architect is inspired by this new economic theory. We were intrigued by the concept, so we decided to investigate further. Here’s what we found out about the Doughnut Economy, how it applies to businesses, and where renewable energies like solar PV come in.

 

The Doughnut Economy, Explained

The concept of the Doughnut Economy was created by economist Kate Raworth in 2012.

Prior to the doughnut model, many of our existing economic theories (Keynesian, Monetarist, etc) were over 100 years old. Economic growth was measured only by an increasing GDP, ignoring the finite nature of earth’s resources and the consequences of our actions.

Raworth wanted to create an economic model fit for the 21st century. The central theme of the Doughnut Economy is balance: the theory postulates that a thriving human existence is only possible by considered use of available resources. Use too much, and we risk catastrophic effects that are harmful to human life. However, using earth’s resources unwisely can also lead to a shortfall, with humans existing in danger and hardship.

The ‘doughnut’ is the safe zone between these two extremes. It represents the ability to thrive economically, with the following social foundations being met for all people:

  • Water
  • Food
  • Health
  • Education
  • Income & work
  • Peace & justice
  • Political Voice
  • Social equity
  • Gender equality
  • Housing
  • Networks
  • Energy

This model is relevant to any group negotiating the balance between economic growth and powerful social change: governments, local authorities, NGOs, charities, and businesses. Its creator, Kate Raworth states that the theory “acts as a compass for human progress this century.” A 2018 study found that so far, over 150 nations have used the Doughnut Model. In fact, Amsterdam is embracing doughnut theory to plan its post-Covid economic recovery.

What happens if we overshoot on our resource budget?

Overshooting, or using too much of our available planetary resources, comes with drastic consequences:

  • Climate change
  • Ocean acidification
  • Chemical pollution
  • Nitrogen & phosphorus loading
  • Freshwater withdrawals
  • Land conversion
  • Biodiversity loss
  • Air pollution
  • Ozone layer depletion

For each of these consequences, the model provides a specific target based on the relevant planetary boundary. Unfortunately (but unsurprisingly) we are already overshooting on several planetary resources. For example, the model budgets 350 ppm of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration. However, our current proportion of atmospheric C02 is 450 ppm and rising.

According to the doughnut model, we have used so much of our available resources that we are now in danger of significant global warming, biodiversity loss, nitrogen and phosphorus loading, and the consequences of land conversion (converting wild areas into economic ones, such as farms or roads).

 

What about an undershoot (AKA the hole in the doughnut)?

If we undershoot, or use our planetary resources incorrectly, we are unable to ensure the necessary social foundations are met across human life. In real terms, this means people living without access to plentiful food, clean water, and essential healthcare access.

Of course, this is already the way of life for billions of people worldwide. The interactive Doughnut Economy model reveals just how many people are already experiencing the ill-effects of an undershoot.

  • Eleven percent of the population is undernourished
  • Forty-six percent of countries have an infant mortality rate exceeding 25 per 1,000 live births, and 39% of countries have a life expectancy of less than 70 years
  • Fifteen percent of adults are illiterate, and 17% of children aged 12-15 are out of school
  • Twenty-nine percent of people live on less than $3.10 a day (the international poverty limit). A further 13% of young people are seeking but unable to find work.
  • A massive 85% of the population resides in countries judged ‘corrupt’ by the Corruption Perceptions Index. Thirteen percent of the population resides in countries with a high homicide rate: 10 or more per 10,000.
  • Fifty-two percent of the population resides in countries where they lack a political voice, according to the Voice and Accountability Index.
  • Thirty-nine percent of the population live in countries without social equity: a lack of justice and fair social policy.
  • There are 56% more men than women in national parliaments, and the worldwide earnings gap between men and women is 23%.
  • Twenty-four percent of the global urban population lives in slums.
  • Twenty-for percent of the population say they have no one to count on in times of trouble, and 57% of the population have no access to the internet.
  • Seventeen percent of the population lacks access to electricity, and 38% lack cooking facilities.
  • Finally, 9% of the population have no access to improved drinking water and 32% lack improved sanitation.

While these figures are startling, they are not the full extent of the problem. As we understand it, these figures don’t account for the individuals who are already suffering or displaced due to the effects of climate change, rising sea levels, deforestation, or other dangerous scenarios that sit on the outside of the doughnut.

 

The sweet spot

The doughnut-shaped space in the middle of the model is what we should strive for: a thriving global existence that avoids the catastrophic implications of overusing earth’s natural resources.

While the Doughnut Economy is most applicable on a macro level to economists and policy makers, businesses can also engage with the doughnut model on a micro scale. For certain organisations, such as organic food producers or companies building better lives for their international suppliers, their link to the doughnut is clear. However, there are ways for all businesses to engage with this framework.

Female-led business resource, The Big Whisper, has put together some questions that business leaders should ask themselves in order to apply the spirit of Doughnut Economics to their organisation:

  1. What core emotional and/or social need(s) are we helping others to meet through what we are offering?
  2. What are we doing to ensure no environmental harm with how we’re producing and selling our goods and services?
  3. What are we doing to ensure we are giving back to the ecosystem that we are taking part in?

When it comes to minimising the environmental harm created through business operations, embracing renewable energy is a simple and cost-effective option. A modest 50 kWp solar array (suitable for a small factory or similar) has the potential to save 13,500 kg of C02 every year. Even a small domestic array can save 1,200 kg of carbon a year. Without solar PV, that carbon would end up in the atmosphere, meeting planetary resource limits and contributing to global warming.

Embracing the Doughnut Economy requires work and change. However, coming to terms with environmental responsibility is a small price to pay for a thriving economy, population, and planet.

What do you think about the idea of the Doughnut Economy? Let us know on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.

 

A guide to SCATTER for local authorities

The path to net-zero may seem like a complex one. The target itself – reducing and offsetting all carbon emissions produced by a building or organisation – is almost overwhelming. Fortunately, there are several organisations and resources that can help. SCATTER is a free tool designed to help local authorities map and reduce their carbon footprint. Here’s everything local authorities need to know about SCATTER…

What is SCATTER?

SCATTER is an online tool for local authorities. It stands for:

Setting City Area Targets and Trajectories for Emissions Reduction.

The SCATTER framework helps local authorities and city councils set targets in line with the Paris Agreement: to cap global warming at 1.5°C, global carbon emissions must balance at net zero by 2050.

SCATTER allows local authorities to calculate their carbon emissions. Once calculated, the tool helps authorities plot pathways and trajectories to different carbon scenarios through interventions. For example, it can help local authorities understand how much carbon would be saved through tree planting or managing livestock emissions.

Because SCATTER is a standardised framework, the results from different local authorities may be compared. This helps provide a detailed picture of emissions and pathways across the UK.

SCATTER was developed by the Antithesis Group in partnership with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Nottingham City Council and The Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. The tool was originally piloted with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority.

The tool is free and simple to use; anyone with a .gov.uk email address can create an account.

 

How does SCATTER work?

The SCATTER tool has two main features: inventory and pathways.

The inventory feature allows local authorities to capture a detailed understanding of their carbon emissions by inputting certain details into the tool. According to SCATTER, “creating a greenhouse gas inventory for a local authority allows an organisation to identify the sources of their emissions and where to focus action.”

The inventory feature also serves another purpose. Recording emissions data in the SCATTER inventory allows local authorities to disclose these figures to important third-party organisations like CDP. By publicly disclosing environmental data, CDP helps keep thousands of countries, businesses, and organisations accountable for their environmental impact.

Once a local authority has assessed its carbon inventory, the pathways tool helps them develop a journey towards decarbonisation. It helps local authorities plot what their carbon footprint could look like up to 2050, depending on different levels of intervention. For example, what it would take for them to half their carbon footprint, or to achieve net zero. This can then help them set targets and plan a strategy.

The data from SCATTER can be exported in visual reports and resources, useful for educating and onboarding stakeholders.

 

Are there any limitations to SCATTER?

SCATTER cannot tell local authorities how much it would cost to implement any of the carbon-saving interventions in the pathways feature. As you might expect, there are too many variables for each local authority.

Despite its simplicity, SCATTER is not yet used by all local authorities across the UK. If more city councils and authorities used the framework, we would have a much clearer picture of the UK’s threat to climate change, and the action needed.

 

Why is recording and reporting carbon emissions so important in the fight against climate change?

According to the UK Green Building Council, there is often a discrepancy between the modelled and measured C02 savings from offset initiatives. This gap means that businesses, organisations, and even countries, may believe they’re operating much more greenly than they are. This is reiterated by CDP, who states “you can’t manage what you don’t measure”.

Once a local authority has obtained a carbon emissions report from the inventory feature, there’s a lot they can do with this information. SCATTER says their data may be used alongside carbon budgeting reports created by the Tyndall Centre. These reports provide local authorities with a carbon ‘budget’ in line with the targets of the Paris Agreement. It also informs local authorities how quickly they will use up this allotted carbon if they continue without making interventions.

These projected overshoots make for frightening reading. Here’s what the report has to say about Norwich, a city that is overall pretty green:

“At 2017 CO2 emission levels, Norwich will exceed the recommended budget available within seven years from 2020. To stay within the recommended carbon budget Norwich will, from 2020 onwards, need to achieve average mitigation rates of CO2 from energy of around -12.7% per year.”

If we continue to overshoot our allotted carbon budget, the planet will keep getting warmer. It is already too late to stop global warming completely in its tracks. Summer 2020 has seen record temperatures of 38 degrees C in the Siberian Arctic. Scientists had not anticipated such a temperature rise until 2100, indicating that the planet is heating much faster than anticipated.

The Paris Agreement attempts to cap global warming at 1.5°C because a greater increase than this poses a very real threat to human existence. Utilising the SCATTER tool allows local authorities to gain a clearer understanding of their carbon footprint. Only when they know the scale and cause of the problem can they devise a suitable solution.

Embracing renewables with the Green Building Council

The UK Green Building Council is a non-profit organisation concerned with improving the sustainability of the built environment. Its members include some of the UK’s largest and most influential businesses. Here’s what the UK Green Building Council has to say about renewable energy, and why it matters.

What is the UK Green Building Council?

The UK Green Building Council (GBC) is a cross-sector membership organisation promoting sustainability in the built environment. The ‘built environment’ refers to any manmade structure where people live and work. The GBC provides resources and support to its members, usually businesses and public sector organisations, as they become more environmentally conscious.

One of the biggest missions of GBC is to assist in the creation of a net zero carbon economy by 2050. As established in the Paris Agreement, ceasing or offsetting 100% of our C02 emissions by 2050 is the only way to prevent global warming exceeding 1.5°C. Global warming is happening, but capping it at 1.5° will help to avoid the most catastrophic of side effects.

If we are to achieve net zero by 2050, the GBC believes we must account for and offset all carbon impacts from the built environment. Their research found that the operation of existing buildings contributed 30% of the UK’s carbon emissions in 2017.

To support its members on their journey to net zero, GBC has produced a comprehensive framework outlining the required processes. In it, they give much attention to the importance of renewable energy. In their opinion, generating renewables on-site is a priority, and preferable to purchasing green energy from other sources.

 

The role of renewables

The GBC’s framework offers a five-point plan for achieving net zero in the built environment:

  1. Establish net zero carbon scope
  2. Reduce the impact of construction
  3. Reduce operational energy use
  4. Increase renewable energy supply
  5. Offset any remaining carbon

As you can see, reducing the UK’s overall consumption by improving energy efficiency is the top priority. The remaining energy demand should be sourced from renewables to prevent C02 emissions. However, moving away from fossil fuels to electricity will place additional demand on the grid. Therefore, any building that can do so, should be proactive in securing their own onsite renewable energy supply and reduce their burden on the network

The GBC makes it clear that self-generated renewables are preferable to the use of solar and wind farms. Even switching to a 100% renewable energy tariff from your supplier, while an ethical and sensible choice, won’t reduce your carbon emissions as much as on-site solar due to its reliance on an ageing and inefficient energy network.

Promoting self-generation helps support a decentralised energy system, resulting in reduced demand on the grid and reduced transmission and distribution losses. It also preserves greenfield sites, as it reduces the need for solar farms etc. Implementing onsite renewables also increases the value of a property and is a valuable asset for reselling.

 

Reporting and monitoring energy use

The GBC makes it clear that generating renewable energy is an essential step on the journey towards net zero. Unfortunately, there is often a gap between modelled and measured results when it comes to the C02 offset of solar PV arrays. This is problematic: we can’t achieve net zero if we don’t know how much carbon we’re dealing with.

To combat this, the GBC member framework emphasises the importance of tracking how much carbon is offset. Where possible, buildings should rely on measurement systems, not estimated figures. In real terms, this means monitoring solutions should be installed at the same time as solar PV or other renewables.

As well as measuring carbon offset figures, the GBC promotes annual data reporting. This should be public, holding members accountable. The GBC has high standards: members must have their reported results verified before they can call themselves net zero carbon.

Reviewing the GBC’s reporting guidelines reiterates the importance they place on self-generated renewable energy. The template document (Appendix B in the framework) requires members to report:

  • Total energy generated by renewables
  • Displace of C02 by renewables

As you can see, this reporting framework takes it as given that members are utilising renewables.

Proper reporting of emissions is vital in the fight against climate change, so GBC is not the only framework that exists to support organisations on their journey to net zero. SCATTER is a carbon calculating framework for local authorities. It allows local authorities and city regions to standardise their C02 reporting and set green targets in line with the Paris Agreement. Unlike other frameworks, SCATTER is free of charge for local authorities.

 

Green for GBC and beyond

As you can see, embracing renewable energy is almost non-negotiable for GBC members. However, it may be prudent for non-members to also operate in line with this framework. To achieve net zero across the whole life of a building, the GBC encourages members to negotiate with low carbon suppliers and partners to “minimise embodied carbon and related liabilities for offsets”. In other words, businesses that wish to collaborate with GBC members must make net zero a priority, too.

The GBC is no small organisation: its members include key players in industry, property development, and many local authorities and universities. Perhaps businesses should consider whether they can afford not to operate within this framework. After all, everyone has a part to play in achieving net zero by 2050.

Positive environmental and climate news from 2019

Is there any good news about climate change?

A couple of weeks ago, we found an interesting article that poses the following question:

Do we have any right to feel optimistic about climate change?

The piece urges us to face the facts. We’re in a mess, and its unlikely we can totally undo the damage already reaped on the environment. It argues that we should be hopeful, not optimistic, about tackling climate change:

“Overestimating society’s powers can be as dangerous as false hope, because we start telling Disney-like stories in the midst of a global crisis”…[The] antidote is healthy skepticism… we should settle our hope in our values – in what we believe is right and needed. Our actions can’t be based on the expectations of a happy ending. That outcome is outside of our control.”

The article argues that our hope must be grounded in action. If we do our bit, we can hope: but we should not assume we have ‘saved’ the planet. And we certainly can’t hope if we do nothing, and leave it up to others.

That said: while we can’t assume that everything will be alright, going too far the other way is equally damaging. Environmental anxiety is rising. While it may be naïve to feel totally hopeful about climate change, feeling hopeless won’t help either.

We believe it’s important to celebrate positives, without resting on one’s laurels. So, without being too optimistic, we’d like share just a handful of environmental good news stories from the last year. We still have a long way to go, and we might never get there. But we believe it’s important to recognise that some progress has been made, thanks to the hard work of committed individuals and organisations.

 

UK reliance on fossil fuels hit an all-time low in 2019

If you’re considering the UK’s energy usage, and where that energy came from, 2019 was the greenest year on record. We generated more renewable energy than ever before, and the carbon intensity of our electricity dropped to the lowest it has ever been. Here’s the full breakdown of stats from the National Grid Electricity System Operator:

  • December 10 2019 – highest ever level of wind powered electricity generation, 16873 MW
  • May 14 2019 – highest ever level of solar powered electricity generation, 9550 MW
  • Longest ever period of operation of GB’s electricity system without using coal power to produce electricity (437.5 hours) ending on June 4 2019
  • August 17 2019 – lowest ever carbon intensity: 57g CO2/kWh (carbon intensity of electricity is a measure of C02 emissions produced per kilowatt hour of electricity consumed)

 

EU to ban single use plastics by 2021

In the Autumn of last year, the European Parliament voted to ban single-use plastics by 2021. MEPs argued that if no action was take, there would be more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050. By 2021, anything plastic that’s used once then thrown away is banned in the EU: plastic cutlery and plates, cotton buds, straws, drink-stirrers and balloon sticks.

Of course, we can’t celebrate this yet. It is too soon to see any results from this initiative, and does not undo years of wasteful plastic usage. However, perhaps we can feel quietly hopeful. Following the introduction of the 5p plastic bag levy in 2015, public plastic bag usage reduced by 85%. This has already created a positive knock-on effect for the environment. In the first year, the number of plastic bags washed up on UK beaches fell by half.

 

Citizen interest in climate change is increasing

The global conversation around climate change is becoming more open, and more vocal. It makes the news several times a week, and infiltrates other forms of media, too. David Attenborough fans will notice that his more recent documentaries are becoming more and more environmentally focused. 2019’s Netflix series, Our Planet, explores the devastating effects of deforestation, pollution, over-hunting, and climate change. Of course, consuming media and “scrolling for hope” won’t tackle climate change: but citizen action will. Fortunately, we’re seeing more of this too.

Regardless of what you think about their methods, examples of citizen activism like Extinction Rebellion show that normal people feel genuinely passionate about tackling climate change. Extinction Rebellion has staged protests in over 60 cities, with thousands of people arrested for ‘disruptive’ and dangerous behaviour. And this passion that incites protest knows no age limit: across the world, school children take part in regular school strikes for the climate.

Such protests don’t stop climate change on their own. Additionally, we can’t ignore the C02 impact of thousands of people travelling to these events. However, they do send a strong message. Brands and organisations must step up to their environmental responsibilities, or risk losing the trust of customers and stakeholders.

 

Electric vehicles becoming a mainstream option

At the end of 2019, there were almost 265,000  electric vehicles on the roads: that’s 3.2% of the average market share. EVs are shedding their ‘hippie’ reputation, with many of the major car manufacturers releasing electric models in 2019.

Switching to electric vehicles isn’t enough on its own to mitigate climate change. Plus, we need to power them with clean electricity (solar, wind, or hydro). But, an openness to explore more sustainable transport methods is a step in the right direction.

However, in order for this to succeed, we need to invest in improving EV infrastructure. Despite the ban in petrol and diesel vehicles being brought forward, charging an electric car at home is still not a viable option for most people.

 

So, can we feel positive about climate change?

As you can see from the handful of stories above, positive news about climate change is happening. However, these stories are always tinged with a ‘but’. We’re taking steps to tackle to climate change… but it’s never enough on its own.

There is no one perfect solution when it comes to tackling climate change. Despite our best efforts, we might never achieve the results needed to prevent drastic warming.

All we can do is try, celebrate our progress, and then keep trying.

Our clean energy predictions for 2020

EV fleet vans being charged

RenEnergy’s energy predictions for 2020

To mark the start of the new year, we’re sharing our clean energy predictions for 2020. Here’s what we think will be big in the world of solar and storage this year…

Majority of energy to come from renewables

In 2019, 48.5% of the UK’s electricity came from renewable sources. We anticipate this year will be even higher, with over half our energy being green.

We also think that the UK will go for longer periods without using fossil fuels. In 2019, the UK went almost three weeks without burning any coal. In 2020, we’d like to see that raise to a whole month.

Bigger and better batteries

We predict that improvements in battery technology will make solar and storage options even more popular. Not only are batteries becoming more effective, they are also becoming more affordable. Without the feed-in-tariff (or a battery), any solar energy not used in real-time is effectively wasted. A battery allows solar energy to be saved, and used outside of daylight hours. Solar plus storage is essential for those who want to operate off-grid, so better batteries will be particularly useful for our colleagues in South Africa. Their customers often need to maintain a steady energy supply to protect their homes and business in times of load-shedding.

However, it is worth mentioning that battery technology comes with some challenges. Mining for lithium (an essential ingredient in many batteries) can cause pollution and damage to local ecosystems. As public interest in environmentalism becomes increasingly passionate, we expect to hear more about this in 2020, too.

EV boom continues 

We think these improvements in batteries will continue to grow the adoption of electric vehicles. An improved EV battery allows the cars to retain more charge and achieve a better range. Likewise, the affordability of solar and storage may encourage more customers to choose an EV.

Great progress is already being made. In 2010, there were just 972 EVs on UK roads. At the end of last year, there were over 15,500. As EVs become a more mainstream option, the number of public and community EV charge points will increase too.

Innovation in solar panel design 

As well as updates to battery tech, we think there will be further developments to the composition of solar panels, improving their efficiency. For example, bifacial solar panels that absorb sunlight from both sides of the panel. Additionally, researchers are exploring alternatives to silicon, such as perovskite. While investigation into these options is ongoing, we don’t expect to see the products become available until the end of this year. However, we know our trusted technical partners are continually improving their products to ensure quality and effectiveness.

Smart Export Guarantee: not so smart

From 1 January 2020, the Smart Export Guarantee replaces the now-abolished feed-in-tariff. Under this scheme, customers with small arrays (under 5 MW) may receive a payment for exporting additional energy back to the grid. However, the scheme is not as generous as FIT and faces stricter regulations, allowing customers to export much less back to the grid. Our prediction is that the Smart Export Guarantee won’t make much of a difference. It may provide a small perk to domestic customers who don’t use all their generated electricity. But, the real benefit is saving on energy bills and fulfilling a commitment to environmentalism.

What are your clean energy predictions for 2020? Let us know on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter.

How to spot fraudulent activity

In September we posted an article titled “A new scam taking place”. It highlighted that companies were phoning PV system owners to sell products and services to stop their system catching on fire.  We wanted to make sure that our customers knew this was incorrect.

Since then, companies have become more imaginative and have created other stories and scenarios to get you to buy their “service or product”. Examples of this are inefficient inverters, inverter health checks, panel failure and potentially many more. We at RenEnergy do not want you to pay out money to these companies to not receive the service you pay for and do not need.

We have put together some tips to spot if the company is fraudulent:

  1. Has the company contacted you? Always think why and how a company has your details? We never hand out customer details out to third parties so if a company says that they have received your details from us then always be suspicious.
  2. How does the company know about your system? If they are talking about an inverter issue how do they know what your inverter is reading? Often they are placed in a loft or out of sight place and would only be read remotely by yourself or your installer.
  3. Do you recognise the company name? Ask for their name and details and do a Google search. Often the companies we have seen are registered with the government’s Company House data base, but there is no website and the details are very vague. Any scam reporting may be highlighted too.
  4. Have the Energy Savings Trust heard of the company? If you are still unsure call them and see if they recognise the company. They will often give a number of a local reputable company you can call.
  5. What do the installers of your system say? Always phone the installers of your system, or they are no longer operating you can call us, to ask if we can give anymore information. With years of experience we will know if the enquiry is correct or if we think it is a scam.

Always stay aware and don’t agree to pay for any product or service that you are unsure about. It never hurts to get a second opinion even if it is genuine.

If you are unsure and would like to talk to us we can be contacted on 01603 713448 or info@renenergy.co.uk

Lastly, if you still want your system to be checked over give us a call and we can give you more information, and whilst we are out there explain how your system works.

Is subsidy free solar viable?

The government definitely thinks so. How about industry experts? Again, many believe it is.

Abid Kazim, the MD of NextEnergy Solar Fund, is passionate that solar can indeed be subsidy free, if, as he pointed out in the opening session of yesterday’s Solar Finance and Investment Europe event, the government “get out the way”.

Kazim starts off with saying how the solar industry has changed and that it had “entered a period of enlightenment”.  Down playing the cost of panel prices, development costs or finance being the main barriers of deployment but instead went on to say that counterproductive policies and regulation red tape were the largest issues. He issued six required changes that would need to enacted if the UK were to let subsidy free solar thrive:

  • A reshaping of the regulatory framework to reflect how low carbon technologies are approaching grid parity;
  • The abolishment of Contracts for Difference;
  • The establishment of long-term PPAs so that carbon intensive and low carbon technologies can compete on a level playing field;
  • The re-categorisation of batteries as energy storage;
  • Introduction of a regulatory framework to manage the pace and cost associated with a shift to a totally self-regulated decentralised energy system, and;
  • A carbon pricing model within a ‘polluter pays’ framework where the levies of energy supply companies are not passed onto consumers.

Kazim also said that in order to keep the energy market fair there must be a carbon price paid by the utility companies that is not passed onto the consumer.

Today is the last day of the Solar Finance and Investment Europe. We look forward to seeing what The Solar Power Portal have to report and how many other experts share this opinion.

2018 Energy Trends

Last week the guardian posted an article on five renewable energy trends to watch in 2018, and here is a summary of what they are:

Renewable energy costs will continue to fall

Since 2009, solar prices have dropped by 62 % and off-shore wind by 50 %, reaching £57/MWh. Record low prices for both solar and wind at power auctions have made way for subsidy free energy. This trend is predicted to continue, with decreasing prices in India creating better competition in auctions.

China will push ahead with its ambitious energy plans

Contradictory, China is both the world’s biggest polluter and the global leader in solar generation. In 2017, China expected to install a whopping 54 GW of solar, surpassing their targets for 2020 already. By 2020, China plans to have invested £292bn in renewable power and to introduce a cap on the amount of coal burning that has caused severe air pollution in many of its cities.

China have eight large-scale carbon capture projects underway, plan to be the global leader is electrical vehicle manufacturing and adoption, and have finally introduced its national emissions trading scheme which put a price on the carbon emissions across the Chinese power generation sector.

Corporations will make bold commitments 

Many companies are pledging to become RE100 companies, where 100 % of their energy come from renewable energy, joining the likes of Apple and Goldman Sachs.

Experts expect that the number of corporations pledging ambitious renewable targets to increase in 2018, mainly due to the prices of renewables falling and corporations being exposed to climate change and NGO campaigns.

The renewable industry will generate more jobs

The International Renewable Energy Agency released a report stating that 9.8 million people now work in the renewable sector worldwide, with wind turbine service technician and solar PV installer jobs becoming the fastest growing occupations in the US. Here in the UK, jobs should be created thanks to the £17.5bn invested in offshore wind.

To keep up with the increasing uptake of renewables there needs to be an increase in skilled workers, otherwise the speed of energy transition will be limited.

Competition in the battery market will increase

In 2018, Tesla will complete is Gigafactory in Nevada. In 2021, China plans to install 120 GWh capacity of battery cells.

In the UK? In April 2017, the Faraday Challenge was introduced. This is the first phase of £246m investment in battery technology designed to boost research and development, hoping to put the UK at the forefront of the energy storage market.

There is also a prediction that pumped hydro storage,compressed air storage, hydrogen storage, solid state batteries and water based batteries will all see a growth in 2018.

 

So there you have it, 5 renewable energy trends of 2018. Watch this space.

The future of FiT

Last month the government published their Autumn Budget 2017, which not only mentioned that renewable energy levies will be cut (see our previous post) but it also confirmed that the Feed-in-Tariff (FiT) will close to new accreditation at the end of March 2019.

What is the FiT?

For those of you who haven’t heard of the FiT we will give a small summary.

The FiT is a support mechanism provided by the government to encourage the uptake of various renewable energy generation. It is limited up to 5 MW and is split into tariff levels. The owner of the power supply is paid for generation of electricity and for any export to the grid. For more tariff details click here.

The scheme was introduced in April 2010 and has since seen both households and businesses become very large investors in renewable energy. A whopping 808,051 installations were accredited to the scheme by 30th November,  which equates to 5,868 MW of electricity.

What’s happening right now?

As the scheme moves into its final stages the tariff is decreasing each quarter, which could be why many forecasts reveal a slump in new installations. Cornwall Insight noted that  Q3 2017 had 90 MW accredited, which is the lowest in any quarter since Q2 2011, and 5,662 installations, the fewest in any quarter since Q2 2010. Other reasons for the decline in uptake is that many technology types now fall under the quarterly deployment caps set by BEIS. Since Q4 has begun (October-December) only 20 solar PV installations have been accredited, in comparison to 2,116 in September alone. Further echoing this decline is that for the first time ever hydropower had more accreditation in October than any other technology type.

What does this mean for the future?

Predictions based on historical data show that electricity demand will be lower than original predictions showed and that uptake in the FiT accreditation will also decline. After March 2019 there will be no more new applications, however, the majority of projects who have benefited from FiT will receive payments for 20 years after the commission date. This means that the first projects to receive the subsidy will do so until 2030.

 

Are the UK’s birds being confused by a changing climate?

We are seeing the effects of climate change all around us and we all know we need to do our bit. New evidence shows that climate change is affecting the behaviour of our migratory birds. Birds are arriving more than 20 days earlier than they did in the 1960’s, according to the state of the UK’s birds 2017 report. One example is the swallow. Swallows are now arriving 15 days earlier than they did 50 years ago. If climate change continues we needs to predict the future effects on birds and other wildlife.

This may not seem like a massive issue to many, but the report warns that there will be winners and losers, with some opportunities for some birds but higher extinction risks for others. For example. the night heron are now breeding in the UK, whereas the snow bunting are declining. In addition, these changes in behaviour mean that there could be a discrepancy between the time that chicks need to be fed and the food that’s available, meaning they may be less successful in their breeding.

Dr Stuart Newson of the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) said thousands of volunteers have submitted observations over many decades to show how birds have responded to climate change. He urges that “ongoing monitoring is essential if we are to track the future effects of a changing climate on our birds.”

Collatte Hall, from Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT), has said “We also need to look beyond the UK and make sure that the protected site network continues to cover the right places throughout Europe and that they’re monitored elsewhere as thoroughly as they are in the UK.”

If you would like to know how your business or home can help reduce the effects of climate change by installing renewable energy solutions then talk to us at RenEnergy. After all, we only have one planet and we all need to do what we can to save it.

 

With thanks to the BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-42225917