Category: Opinions

What is the best way to purchase a solar PV system?

The pitfalls of the tendering process

In this article, our managing director Damian Baker will use his years of industry expertise to weigh up the best way of purchasing a solar PV installation for your business. We believe that rather than going through the tendering process, businesses can achieve the best results by working with an experienced installer throughout the consultation period and onto installation.

What is a tender?

Here’s an explanation of the tendering process we found on Executive Compass:

“An invitation to tender document is a written request sent to potential suppliers to ask for information required for the buyer to then evaluate and select a preferred supplier. A tender document is the basis of a tendering process which helps a business select qualified and interested suppliers based on certain contract conditions – broadly this is pricing documentation and quality criteria.”

Completing a tender is like a job application: the potential supplier must provide information against a specification set by the client to prove that they’re capable of delivering the job.
Tendering is commonly used for large construction projects, especially when the client is a large corporation or a public sector institution.


Pitfalls of the tendering process

Despite its prevalence, there are several pitfalls of tenders that can lead to the client missing out on the best service and results.

We’ve seen many businesses choosing to proceed with solar PV, without fully knowing what they want at the start. This is of course understandable: unless you’re a renewables expert, you can’t be expected to understand the ins and outs of what’s possible. However, to overcome this knowledge gap, these businesses may turn to a consultant to help them prepare the tender.

The consultant will help their client prepare a criteria or brief for the proposed tender project. Renewables companies (like RenEnergy) that want to win this project must then tender against this brief. The issue is that often, the consultant doesn’t have any hands-on expertise with installing solar. We’ve found many times in tenders that we must work to a brief provided by an individual or firm less experienced than us. This simply doesn’t provide the best results to the client.

Another large pitfall of this process is that there can be significant delays. Engaging a consultant, reviewing the brief, inviting firms to tender, receiving applications, and engaging the successful supplier are all lengthy processes. This means that by the time the supplier is engaged, the specification of the tender may be out of date, with technological advances creating better possible options for the client.

This usually leads to one of two possible outcomes, neither of which are ideal. In some cases, we have found the tendering process inflexible: once the specification of a project has been agreed, the client may be unwilling to adjust, perhaps to due to stakeholder pressures such as grant requirements. Even when the client is willing to adjust the specification, this is not the best outcome. This duplication of work wastes time and money: even if the tender consultant’s advice is useless, they have already been paid by this point.


An alternative solution

Rather than negotiating the potential pitfalls of the tender process, we believe a better option is to engage an experienced supplier at the consultation phase.

Word of mouth is a valuable research tool, so we suggest picking three regional firms that come highly recommended by your business contacts that have already embraced solar PV. Provide each of the potential suppliers with a summary of what you want to achieve, along with data on your half-hourly energy usage and structural drawings of your buildings. Let them come back to you with their suggestions of how to proceed, along with a price.

We then recommend arranging separate interviews with each of the firms, so you can talk through their proposals and price. You can learn a lot by hearing the potential suppliers explain why (or why not) they are proposing certain options. If you feel like you need some assistance, now would be the time to engage a consultant to help.

In our experience, choosing this method of engaging solar PV suppliers can save your business between 5-10% of the total cost of doing a tender. You could then use this saving to choose a larger array or higher-spec components (where appropriate), or even to invest elsewhere into your business. You can also feel more confident in your solar PV project, as you can get more of a sense of your supplier’s technical expertise and their passion for the job.


Why RenEnergy?

It is very much in RenEnergy’s interest to ensure that the client gets exactly what they need from the system we install. Our reputation depends on providing the best possible outcome for our clients, and we have the expertise to deliver.

We have been in renewables since 2003, and have worked on projects all over the world: from the British Antarctic Survey base, to a mine in the middle of the Kalahari Desert, and to many other trusted organisations throughout East Anglia and beyond. We have completed over 3,000 separate installations, and one of the key things we have seen time and again is how we have brought value to the client by working with them in the consultative phase to decide exactly what they want. Because we have worked across many business sectors, we understand the nuances of how different businesses use energy at different times and in different processes.

At RenEnergy we eat, sleep, and dream about solar panels. Our staff are always up to date on the latest training courses and technical advances, and we have close working relationships with the industry’s best suppliers. This knowledge we have accrued goes into every project we install to deliver the best results for our clients.

Want to find out more about our consulting services? Get in touch.


Future Voices: Q&A with Peter Gudde of the Greater South East Energy Hub

Welcome to the third article in RenEnergy’s Future Voices content series. Every month, we’ll be talking to a different individual with a clear vision on how we can safeguard the future of the planet. Our Future Voice this month is Peter Gudde. Peter is the Energy Projects Manager at the Greater South East Energy Hub. This government-funded organisation is hosted by the LEPs in the south of England, and works with public sector organisations to fund local energy projects. 

Can you please describe the role of the hub, and explain the work you do?

The Greater South East Energy Hub was established by central government in September 2018 to support the eleven Local Enterprise Partnerships and 146 local authorities across the South East as they deliver local energy projects in line with clean growth and Net Zero carbon ambitions, nationally and locally.

We try to do this in a range of ways depending on the project or the organisations that we are working with.  For example, we may be looking at the feasibility of a renewable energy project, bringing together different organisations to bid for funding to explore innovative ways to achieve domestic energy retrofit, or identifying potential supply routes for decarbonising council waste trucks.

We are able to link up with the four other Energy Hubs across England and are involved in some international research projects through our support role.  So, along with what’s happening in our region, we can access a wide variety of energy-based knowledge and practice to help our clients.

But, with everything we do we are always looking at how clean, local energy projects can be delivered at scale, quicker and easier for the public sector.


What is your role at the hub? What does an average day look like?

I am one four Energy Project Managers and I cover Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk. I have worked on Energy and Sustainability projects for over 25 years in the East of England, living “on the patch” on the Norfolk-Suffolk Border.

The Energy Hub team is spread across the South East and, like millions of other workers across the country since COVID-19, we have been adapting to new working patterns.  Saying that, we have been home-enabled since we established. A typical day starts early from the desk next door to the kitchen.  But, working on a specific project I will be on-site or with the client in a virtual sense!

Each project manager has a portfolio of energy projects reflecting what is happening in each of the local areas that they cover.  At the moment, I am looking at things ranging from finding solutions for power network issues for new developments, assessing solar and battery opportunities, looking at how we can fast track heat network energy master planning to trying to understand what local energy skills and supply chains will look like under Net Zero commitments.

As well as our project-based support to public sector clients, each of us leads on an energy theme whether that’s a power grid, heat decarbonisation, transport or rural community energy for example.

We also work as a team on certain initiatives across the South East.  We are currently collaborating with the Knowledge Transfer Network, which is part of Innovate UK, to find solutions to three challenges; grid constraints, decarbonising large engines and deep home energy retrofit and supply chains.

The subject area and geography of the South East is huge so there is always something new and challenging to work on.


Could you tell me about any of the clean energy projects funded by the hub?

We are currently supporting two projects with funding.  One is a new large mixed development in Essex which already incorporates a heat network but has a power connection problem. We are part-funding feasibility studies to see if a microgrid is feasible.

We have separately funded a study to develop a zero-carbon masterplan for a new commercial development site in Suffolk.  These sites share a lot of characteristics with other sites across the South East. So, we hope to be able to use some of the learning to benefit other local authorities and their stakeholders.


What (if any) differences are there in the ways that urban or rural communities may benefit from renewable energies?

Each place is different.  Although the solutions may already be available, they will need to be tailored to local conditions

Take one technology, solar PV for example.  Towns are generally more likely to have more opportunities for roof-mounted installations compared to villages which may be able to access land, through the parish or a supportive landowner.  If its heat, the view around heat pumps as the primary decarbonising technology may play out differently in an urban compared to a rural community with considerations around access to a power network that can cope with additional load, the affordability of the technology, and its effectiveness in housing estates compared to individual dwellings in a village.

One thing that will be the biggest challenge, irrespective of location, will be the individual householder’s appetite and ability to install renewable technology, whether that’s solar or heating.



What do you think the future of energy in East Anglia looks like?

We have both great opportunities and as well as big challenges ahead in East Anglia.  We lead the way in large-scale renewable energy generation as we are at the centre of the largest global market for offshore wind. At the other end of the spectrum, we have lots of local community energy opportunities with the potential for local people to participate given the right conditions.  Our support through the Rural Communities Energy Fund is one way communities can look to a new energy future.

But we have a massive set of tasks ahead of us to make the progress that’s needed for a Zero Carbon East Anglia, whatever that looks like.  Some residents, communities, and local businesses could be left behind if we don’t find energy solutions that benefit everyone.  We cannot afford that to happen.


What are some achievable steps that businesses can take to use energy more efficiently and greenly?

Firstly, for a business that is struggling to keep trading at the moment thinking about energy is probably the last thing on their mind.  But, knowing how much and where energy is used in your business is a really important starting point to valuing both any energy investment savings and how it can improve the bottom line.

Doing the energy-efficiency improvements like installing LED lighting or insulating the building as a first step, maybe with a bit of financial support if available, will make investing in renewable power or heat easier as well as cheaper.

Schemes like BEE Anglia are there for businesses in Norfolk and Suffolk to make it really easy to get the information they need to start making energy savings from Day 1.

It’s also worth doing this ahead of the competition as it could be what your supply chain wants to see. Corporate and retail customers are becoming increasingly more discerning about the credentials of their suppliers.  Even if trading conditions are hard at the moment the long-term trend is to decarbonise and not just to meet environmental obligations; it will be good for sales.

Once you can see the way ahead and someone can make it easy for you, taking the first steps to become a zero-carbon business should become easier.


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the interviewee. If you’d like to be part of RenEnergy’s Future Voices series, email Melissa.

What will it take to create a green transport revolution?

By current estimates, transport is responsible for at least 25% of Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions. To meet the required climate change targets, we must reduce these emissions by 95% by 2050.

It’s undeniable that electric vehicles have a big role to play in the greening of the transport sector. This new generation of cars is non-polluting and emissions-free, and slowly becoming more affordable, to boot. At the time of writing, EVs have a 4.7% market share, with the coronavirus lockdown contributing to a spike in interest. However, arriving here has not been an easy ride. Much education has been (and is still) required to alleviate concerns about ‘range anxiety’. The cause has not been helped by mouthpieces in the gas automotive industry claiming that EVs are worse for the environment because they are powered by ‘dirty electricity’. Fortunately, these claims have since been proven untrue.

Swapping to electric vehicles is not a silver bullet that will solve all the problems with the transport industry. While EVs are non-polluting, they can still be powered using electricity from coal-burning or nuclear sources. This, obviously, is no good. Plus, there isn’t a surplus of renewable energy sitting around to power EVs: it’s already being used to power our homes and businesses.

As much as we’d love to see more EVs on the roads, the UK’s current energy systems are not set up to handle such a sudden influx. If we want to make sure that the future of transport is truly green, we need to rethink both our energy infrastructure and our attitudes towards vehicle ownership altogether.


Local transport needs local energy

According to the Energy Saving Trust, by 2030 there could be 8-11 million hybrid or electric cars on the UK’s roads, and over 25 million hybrid or electric cars by 2040. However, the UK energy system needs to adapt before that can happen.

While the national grid has more than enough energy to charge all these vehicles, we still need more renewable energy if we want our transport systems to be truly zero-carbon. Additionally, the UK grid structure couldn’t handle all these electric vehicles being charged at once. A shift towards widescale EV adoption may need to be paired with a shift towards decentralised energy systems. This may take the form of localised renewable power stations or even mini local grids. Either way, such decentralised options are more reliable and often more cost-effective.


Changing attitudes to vehicle ownership

No matter which way you cut it, electric vehicles are more expensive and specialised than your standard car. For that reason, we think it’s unlikely that everyone will own an EV. Many people simply don’t have the offroad space required to charge their vehicle, and as yet the grid can’t handle the additional charging load. We really need to become more aware of our carbon footprints in order to tackle climate change. As that happens, it’s likely people will consider whether or not they actually need to own their own car.

As EVs become the norm, we think car share schemes will become more popular. Zipcar already provides 325 electric cars for rental around London. We think bikes and scooters (both electric and manual) will increase in popularity, too. While this is great for reducing the carbon footprint of the transport sector, our roads aren’t set up to handle an influx of cyclists and scooter users. If we expect people to commute without their cars, perhaps we need more cycle paths to ensure they can do it safely. We need to rethink and adapt if the transport revolution is to be a green one. Changing attitudes and education is essential to this movement.


Charging straight from the sun

While the majority of EV charging will happen at homes overnight, that won’t always be possible. Public charge facilities must become more prevalent to provide rapid charging mid-journey. In fact, Gridserve is planning a state-of-the-art EV charging forecourt at Broadlands Business Park (just down the road from RenEnergy).

As these increase, we hope to see more EV charge systems that incorporate solar PV, perhaps even a solar carport? Pairing EV charge facilities with custom-installed solar ensures that all EVs are fully clean (not powered by coal or nuclear electricity).


More than EVs

While a wave of electric vehicles is at the heart of the green transport revolution, it is not the only potential solution. EVs make great cars and light commercial vehicles but are not suitable for machinery or heavy transit. Here, hydrogen power may be used as a clean fuelling alternative.

Since most hydrogen fuelling systems repurpose existing (and unused) gas pipelines, we already have a head start on implementing the infrastructure. The only byproduct is clean water, but producing hydrogen is very energy-intensive and requires a lot of renewable energy in order to happen cleanly. Even when we’re not placing all our bets on electric vehicles, the green transport revolution needs renewable energy at its core.

As you can see, the green transport revolution is more complicated than just getting more electric vehicles on our roads. We need to explore other options, too, and update our roads and energy systems to make it happen. Unfortunately, we don’t have much promising news yet. The government’s economic recovery strategy prioritises the creation of roads but gives no mention to cycle paths, EV charging, or low carbon infrastructure. We only hope that the green transport revolution doesn’t come too late, if at all.

Future Voices: Q&A with Nigel Cornwall

Welcome to the third article in RenEnergy’s Future Voices content series. Every month, we’ll be talking to a different individual with a clear vision on how we can safeguard the future of the planet. Our Future Voice this month is Nigel Cornwall. Nigel founded leading energy consultancy firm, Cornwall Insight. He now runs community energy consultancy, New Anglia Energy, and contributes actively to the conversation on shaking up energy systems in East Anglia.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I’ve worked in the energy sector for the past 35 years. I started life as a civil servant, working on energy service reforms. I spent the last 20 years growing my own business, Cornwall Insight. I built this energy consultancy from just me to a team of 80 people based in Norwich, Melbourne, and Dublin.

I’ve taken a step back from that over the last three to four years, and have chosen to focus on decentralising and decarbonising regional energy systems. Most of this work is conducted through New Anglia Energy: a community energy consultancy, supporting local energy markets in Norfolk and Suffolk.

I’m also working on some interesting projects embracing hydrogen energy infrastructure in our region. It’s a pleasure to get back to focusing on things that I enjoy, such as changing programs and pushing the change agenda, rather than the day-to-day of running a business.


How did you end up where you are now?

I studied Modern History at Oxford University, intending to become an archivist afterwards. I didn’t plan to join the civil service, but it turned out to be a very fortunate move. As a junior civil servant in 1982, I was lucky to receive lots of motivation and autonomy from my managers. I immediately got involved in some interesting policy-centred projects. My first piece of legislation was the Energy Act 1983, which was the first attempt to allow open access to the electricity market.

After many years in the civil service, I moved into the private sector. While working as a regulatory manager with the National Grid, I was seconded overseas. I spent five years working actively on energy market reform in New Zealand, Australia, the Philippines, and Malaysia.

In 1998 I returned to England and started working as an independent energy consultant, then launching my own company. Cornwall Insight is considered a great regional success story, but I’m not originally from this part of the country. A chance holiday on the Blickling Estate in 2000 led me to resettle here.


Can you tell us more about New Anglia Energy?

I founded New Anglia Energy while I was still running things at Cornwall Insight. I officially left the board earlier this year, but have been stepping back for the last three years. While decentralised and decarbonised energy are interests of mine, my work through New Anglia Energy also helped Cornwall Insight diversify into the low carbon agenda.

New Anglia Energy explores energy market innovation in East Anglia, working closely with the LEP and local authorities. Our work is concerned with transforming the energy market through the use of the four Ds:

Decentralisation: localised energy ‘grids’ are more efficient than centralised ones, often with more competitive prices and less threat of downtime.
Digitisation: applying technology such as cloud computing and blockchain to manage energy systems more effectively.
Democratisation: making clean and affordable energy available for all.
Decarbonisation: If we are to reach net-zero carbon, all energy must be net-zero, too.

I am a big advocate of these four principles, and New Anglia Energy is my vehicle for such market transformation.

However, this is not my only project. Over the last six months, I have become involved in Hydrogen East: a new body exploring the potential of hydrogen energy in East Anglia. When produced using renewable energy, hydrogen is a clean fuelling option for larger vehicles (transit, public transportation, etc). Blue hydrogen produced in combination with carbon capture and storage also has an important transitional role to play. Since East Anglia is one of the world’s largest producers of offshore wind energy, Hydrogen East proposes that surplus energy produced in the North Sea be used to supply local markets.

Despite our recent launch, Hydrogen East is already attracting a lot of attention. So far we are collaborating with oil and gas stakeholders at Bacton and EDF at Sizewell to create local low carbon infrastructure, and have also launched our Hydrogen Highways initiative: a project to create hydrogen fuelling points running from east to west of the region.


Is there anything particularly interesting going on in East Anglia when it comes to fighting climate change?

Yes, plenty. As well as groups such as Hydrogen East and New Anglia Energy, our region is home to world-leading scientists and research into climate change.

While East Anglia has plenty of green initiatives, some of these pushes are perhaps a little isolated. If you look at the interactive map of community energy projects on Community Energy England, you’ll see that our region is very poorly represented.

I have made it one of my personal objectives to join up energy and climate change initiatives in the region. While there’s plenty of hard work happening here, these organisations and groups aren’t working together and I think we need a systems-based approach to negotiate that. We also need to share access to skills and infrastructure to help projects scale up.


What are some achievable steps that businesses or organisations can take to operate more sustainably?

The fight against global warming requires change at both an individual and systemic level. Reducing our carbon emissions by 80% was already very hard, but instigating the behavioural changes needed to achieve net-zero by 2050 is a profound challenge. Everyone can start by being more aware of their own carbon footprint. I think those within the energy sector, especially, could be accused of not practising what they preach.

I have personally started to pay much more attention to my carbon footprint. As we speak, it’s a Friday afternoon, it’s windy, and the sun is shining. Therefore, I have set my EV charger and washing machine to start at times when there will be an abundance of energy and low demand. By being more organised, I can achieve the things I need to do anyway while saving a few quid and supporting the system.


What do you think is the single most important change that must be made for the world to manage the climate crisis?

We need a fundamental knowledge shift and resetting of expectations if we are to make any kind of climate recovery work.

Public awareness is increasing. Relative to where we were two years ago, most people see that extreme weather events across the world are linked, and recognise that the climate is already changing. However, people who keep abreast of climate change news can see that the planet is already changing much faster and greater than scientists predicted.

I am a great watcher of policy, and I engage well with policy-makers, but I feel that global political policy has not yet grasped the severity of the climate crisis. And until it does, any progress made will be fraught. We need more institutionalised solutions, with problem-solving powers devolved among local authorities and delivery bodies.

At the moment, there seems to be a lot of political ‘fudging’. Things like carbon budgets aren’t comprehensive enough, so we’re not able to accurately measure progress, and policy is inconsistent. At the start of lockdown, one of the few good news stories was the improvement in air quality. And yet the government’s strategy for building back better includes the creation of more roads. We seem to have a disconnect here.

In your opinion, are local authorities doing enough to respond to the climate crisis?

Some are, some aren’t. I know Norwich is very proud of its award-winning green initiative, but we can still do more. Progress is much slower than it needs to be. Local authorities are notoriously poorly-funded, so, despite their good intentions, they are often unable to deliver due to a lack of resources.

Do you think a top-down approach or grassroots impetus is more important in the fight against climate change?

Both are important. In an ideal world, we’d have a lot more leadership on climate change, supported by the right policy. However, changing policy takes time and is unfortunately weighed down by corporate interests. The scale of the challenge necessitates that everyone is aware of the changing world around them and does their bit to tackle the problem.


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the interviewee. If you’d like to be part of RenEnergy’s Future Voices series, email Melissa.


Future Voices: Q&A with Leon Davies of Goodery

Photo of leon davies featuring the Goodery logo

Welcome to the second instalment of RenEnergy’s Future Voices content series. Every month, we’ll be talking to a different individual with a clear vision on how we can safeguard the future of the planet. Our Future Voice this month is Leon Davies. Leon previously ran Norwich-based zero-carbon taxi firm, Zero Taxis. He now works as a consultant on green initiatives.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I’m Welsh by birth but have lived in Norfolk for the last twenty years. After leaving school at 16, I enjoyed a great military career for fifteen years. I eventually left the military to start a family and started working offshore. Here I gained specialist knowledge of oil and gas, but also renewable energies such as solar and wind.

Two years ago, as I was travelling in Holland, I got in an electric taxi at Schiphol Airport. It really inspired me, and I decided to see if I could do something similar in Norwich. With the support of Broadlands Council, I launched Zero Taxis.

Unlike other ‘green’ taxi firms, Zero Taxis didn’t just stop at electric vehicles. We used solar power and battery storage to charge the taxis overnight. You can’t get any cleaner than going from sun to solar, to battery, to car! The business was a great success, achieving rapid growth and multiple business award wins. However, I was still working offshore at the time and couldn’t keep up with the firm’s growth. So, last year Zero Taxis was acquired by one of Norwich’s largest taxi firms, ABC Taxis.

I still work as an electric vehicle consultant and am supporting ABC Taxis on their mission to create a fully EV fleet by 2025.

When Covid-19 happened, I also started work on a new venture. I was approached by a group of East Anglian entrepreneurs to create an organic food delivery solution for people shielding from coronavirus. I thought it sounded interesting, so I agreed to manage the logistics for Goodery. Over the last few months, this initiative has really taken off. We now deliver 100% organic groceries to over 400 local customers.

As well as being an entrepreneur, I’m also a family man. I have two sons, and I love rugby, Guinness, and doing what I can for the planet.


Can you tell us more about Goodery?

We created Goodery to provide those who were shielding from coronavirus with organic food, delivered straight to their doorstep.

Everything we sell is 100% organic, including fruit and vegetables, baked goods, coffee, eggs, and soap. That means absolutely no pesticides or chemicals. We believe that choosing organic produce is a vital way to protect the health of our planet. The quality of the world’s soil is failing due to intensive farming and pesticide use. Some scientists predict that the UK has just 100 fruitful harvests left. By choosing organic, we can all do our own bit to help maintain a plentiful food supply for many years to come.

Goodery’s operations are also 100% net zero emissions. Where possible, we use electric vehicles for transit and delivery. We offset any emissions we do create by planting trees. We’re also zero waste: we don’t use plastic, only reusable containers that our customers return to us when finished.

We know that cost is one of the biggest obstacles stopping customers from buying organic produce. As we refine our operations, we’re able to lower our prices weekly to support our customers and encourage more people to shop organic. Since we purchase our stock directly from organic farms, our farmers receive a greater profit share too. We source produce as locally as we can and currently work with organic farmers in Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridge, and Hertfordshire. Twelve weeks in, we have already acquired Arthur’s Organics: a Norwich-based veg box delivery service launched in 2002. We also support local farmers that want to switch back organic farming methods.

Since launching, the reception for Goodery has been amazing and we’ve received some amazing reviews. We have already outgrown our premises and moved to a larger industrial unit. Our goal now is to reach 2,000 customers in a year.


What are some achievable steps that businesses or organisations can take to operate more sustainably?

Firstly, if your business owns its own roof, why wouldn’t you put solar there? In my opinion, it’s a no-brainer. It allows businesses to save money on their energy bill and do their bit for the environment. Securing your own method of on-site energy generation also allows you to future proof your business.

For those that can afford it, swapping to EVs can make a huge impact to your business’s carbon footprint. In just two years, Zero Taxis prevented over 100 tonnes of C02 from entering the atmosphere.

Other than cost, I know that one of the greatest obstacles to EV adoption is range anxiety. As an EV consultant, I work with a lot of big businesses that are greening their fleet with EV. I provide training on EV charging, and support to alleviate range anxiety. After trying an EV and receiving just a little more education, most businesses find that the typical EV range is suitable for their needs.

And finally, I advise all companies to check out what government grants and tax reliefs are available for implementing green measures in your business.


What sort of green future would you like to see for East Anglia?

I believe that if the council got behind it, Norwich could be a frontrunner for EVs. Our city is home to a lot of forward-thinking people who can make a change, but the council needs to open the door.

Although Norwich is a green city overall, regions such as Oxfordshire and Dundee put us to shame. These councils have really bought into EV technology, and so have set up the required networks. Our local authority, on the other hand, can be a little slow to embrace change. Norwich, especially the Prince of Wales Road area, is very polluting. If you’d like to make a difference, start by writing to your MP and asking why we have 15-year-old buses on our roads. The technology is available for EV or at least hybrid buses, now we need the infrastructure.

Personally, I’d like to see more people take small steps to action positive change for the planet. We could all afford to live the way we did 40-50 years ago: walking more, eating local and organic produce, and taking holidays within the UK. If everyone did what they were comfortable with, together we could create a sizable and sustainable impact for the planet.


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the interviewee. If you’d like to be part of RenEnergy’s Future Voices series, email Melissa

How solar PV can increase the profitability of your business

Increasing profits is always a priority for businesses, but it may feel like the coronavirus pandemic is causing business growth to falter. Although the economy has recovered fractionally in recent weeks, it’s still all a little up in the air. Whether you’re B2B or B2C, selling more simply may not be possible right now.

Of course, increasing sales isn’t the only way to increase profits. This article will explore how tightening up your overheads with an investment in solar PV can increase the profitability of your business. Make your finances work smarter, not harder: just because your top line can’t grow doesn’t mean your bottom line can’t.


Solar PV: a small tweak to tighten the purse strings

Since we’ll be using these financial terms a lot, let’s start with a quick recap. Top line refers to a company’s revenue, or how efficient it is at selling. Its bottom line, on the other hand, represents how efficiently a business manages its operating costs. As explained by Investopedia, the top line “does not take into consideration operating efficiencies which could have a dramatic impact on the bottom line.”

Ideally, a business’s top and bottom line grow in tandem to generate a profit. But, if you can’t grow the top line, improving one’s bottom line is another way to increase profit. Introducing on-site renewable energy generation, such as on-site solar PV, is a small tweak that can improve a business’s bottom line, and therefore its profitability. Increasing one’s top line typically takes a lot more effort.

For example, say your business has a profit margin of 20%. This means that you need to sell £5 worth of products or services to generate a £1 profit. However, gaining a £1 efficiency on one’s bottom line immediately equates to £1 in profit.

Simply put, it’s easier to increase one’s bottom line than the top line. However, in our experience, many businesses neglect or forget this, especially among smaller companies. We’ve seen many businesses leaders run themselves ragged trying to increase their revenue. This approach simply isn’t sustainable, and not necessarily effective. An increase in sales may not always equate to an increase in profitability since selling more usually comes with the associated costs of manufacturing or delivering more services.


Energy efficiency and the bottom line

As we mentioned above, the top line does not consider inefficiencies that could be hindering business growth. For many businesses, this could be something as seemingly simple as energy inefficiency.

According to BEIS’s SME Guide to Energy Efficiency, “almost a third of small firms highlight the cost of energy as a barrier to the growth and success of their business.” The guide goes on to state that “the average SME could reduce its energy bill by 18-25% by installing energy efficiency measures”.

Improving energy efficiency for a business isn’t just about improving energy consumption (although this is a good place to start). As a strategy for bottom line improvement, it goes beyond switching to LED lightbulbs and upgrading inefficient machinery., Solar PV provides a long-term financial saving by cutting a business’s spend on grid energy. Whilst the cost of grid energy is volatile and always rising, solar PV helps protect your business from erratic market fluctuations, providing the stability needed for sustainable growth

Ultimately solar is a very safe investment. No matter what’s going on in the world, the sun will always continue to shine.


Profitability and Power Purchase Agreements

Although purchasing and installing your own solar system will deliver a fantastic return on investment, this isn’t a possibility for every business. Any long-term financial savings are preceded by an immediate outlay, particularly in an uncertain economic climate.

However, businesses without immediately available capital can still benefit from solar through a Power Purchase Agreement. Under a PPA, the solar installer rents the customer’s roof space and uses it for solar. The client keeps their existing grid supply arrangement but purchases the solar energy through the installer. The efficiencies of onsite generation mean that solar energy can be sold cheaper Th than the going market rate, and therefore the client saves money, improving their bottom line without any upfront investment. At the end of the lease, ownership of the panels transfers to the customer and they receive 100% of the benefit at no additional cost.

While purchasing solar provides customers with a larger annual saving, PPAs have their own unique benefits.  Installing solar on your own premises can cause an increase in business rates, but under a PPA much of this increase can be mitigated, and it is the installer that is liable to pay it, the building owner is exempt. Additionally, under a PPA contract servicing and maintenance is included, so there are no unexpected bills, you simply pay less for the energy you use. Regular cleaning and servicing help ensure an array is performing at its peak, increasing its efficiency. Finally, as there is no initial investment you are not impacting your balance sheet, leaving your borrowing capacity available for core operational spend.


The bottom line

While this article unashamedly focuses on the financial benefits of solar, for many businesses this isn’t the driving motivation.

Regardless of whether a company chooses Capex or PPA solar, the overwhelming benefit is the ability to green your business. If the UK is to meet its demanding carbon reduction targets in line with the Paris Agreement, every company must do its bit.

Solar panels are a clear indicator of your business’s commitment to reducing its environmental footprint. With stakeholders such as customers and partners also becoming increasingly environmentally aware, embracing renewables could be what gives your company the cutting edge over its competition.

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.

Future Voices: Q&A with Dr. Nigel Hargreaves

Photo of Nigel Hargreaves with Synfo logo

Welcome to a new series of articles from RenEnergy: Future Voices. Every month, we’ll be talking to a different individual with a clear vision on how we can safeguard the future of the planet. Our Future Voice this month is Dr. Nigel Hargreaves: chair of local renewables cooperative, Norwich Community Solar, and consultant systems architect. 

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I’m a Norwich-based chartered engineer, and I currently work across several different roles, each one related to improving our environment and tackling climate change.

I am a systems architect and operate my own consultancy, Synfo Ltd. I work alongside businesses and organisations, helping them play their part in meeting carbon reduction and sustainability targets.

Much of my consultancy thinking is based on the idea of the Doughnut Economy. This is a circular economic system that strives to fulfil human needs including social, environmental and economic justice, without overshooting available natural resources and regenerative capacities. An overshoot results in scenarios such as climate change, pollution, and biodiversity loss. Undershoots are also evident in areas such as social and economic justice.

I use my understanding of complex systems to promote change ‘on the ground’ and am particularly interested in local solutions. Synfo’s work has covered a wide range of applications from smart grids and smart cities to community energy. It has also contributed to publications by the UEA on visions for sustainable futures and the Green Party’s plans for decarbonising the East of England. With abundant offshore and onshore wind and solar in East Anglia, I believe there is much to be done in bringing the right stakeholders together to develop a clean energy industry here. This could involve renewable electricity, hydrogen and a coastal waters seagrass industry to contribute to carbon drawdown. After all, we have a county-wide carbon budget of only 27.9Mtonnes CO2 (not including aviation, shipping and land-use emissions) to last us until 2100. This figure comes from the SCATTER model developed to help local authorities understand what their budget would be under our national commitment to the Paris Agreement.

Other parts of my work include Norwich Community Solar, whose mission is to provide community facilities with cost-effective, renewable energy. As the Chair, I have had the pleasure of seeing membership grow considerably, despite challenges posed by unsupportive government policies. I’m also part of two new start-ups. I am helping Goodery to set up the best system for fulfilling customer demand for good food through a zero-carbon, local economy. I also support XLwerks, a group of architects, sustainability consultants and system thinkers, collaborating to offer designs on sustainable built environments.


How did you end up where you are now?

My career path is a long and varied one! As an engineering graduate in the 1980s, I became an apprentice aircraft mechanic for British Airways and developed software for the Boeing 757. I wanted to give something back, so after seven years I left for Bangladesh with the Voluntary Service Overseas. Here I worked on renewable energy projects and designed an engine powered by waste rice husks. This experience taught me a lot about resilience; I saw some of the world’s poorest people survive by sharing and collaborating in creative ways. This sparked my interest in the interconnection between social, environmental, economic and technical systems.

From there, I went to Sudan, where I had my first experience of solar PV. Based in a remote part of the country with no infrastructure, I installed solar arrays to power electric water pumps.

On returning to England, I joined a workers cooperative, manufacturing equipment for environmental science. Delta-T Devices help develop better systems around growing food. I founded the international technical support and training part of the business.

Following a lot of overseas travel, work and health issues, I wanted to try something different. Interested in alternatives to pharmaceutical dependency, I trained as a homeopath and worked in an alcohol and drug rehabilitation centre in Norwich in the early ’00s as well as seeing private clients.

Following this, I used my dual nationality to move to Australia. I worked as a site engineer at a permaculture farm growing organic produce. I then revisited my previous experience of renewables, becoming a project manager for a firm installing domestic solar thermal systems.  While in Australia, I suffered a serious accident: I broke my back and nearly died. I felt I was given a second chance; from here I decided to use my skills to help others live healthier and more sustainable lives.

I returned to the UK and enrolled on a Masters degree at Brunel University studying climate change impacts and sustainability. This was around 2008, and climate change was becoming a big topic. My global travel had shown me the environmental and social impacts of global warming, and I knew I wanted to help. Getting a distinction, I was fortunate enough to receive PhD funding from the National Grid and the EPSRC to research how smart electricity grids can be developed. This eventually led me back to Norwich where I did research at UEA into the sociotechnical aspects of smart grid adoption, culminating in a report revealing how different understandings of the meaning of smart are presented by different smart grid users.

Since completing my research, I have worked as a consultant within several organisations, including the Energy Systems Catapult, exploring the integration of heat into electricity decarbonisation. I also worked with Pixie Energy in Norwich: a renewable energy consultancy born from energy analyst, Cornwall Insight. Here I worked on local energy markets and advised the Scottish Government on how to support community energy initiatives.

Following these consultancy projects, I launched Synfo Ltd and joined Norwich Community Solar.


Can you tell us more about the Doughnut Economy?

Donut economy diagramIn my opinion, one must take the view that achieving change requires intervention in complex systems. The notion of net-zero, for example, opens a box of interconnecting systems: food and its supply chain, energy, transport, infrastructure, etc. They must all align or trying to reach the target will be like a game of ‘whack-a-mole’. As soon as one problem is resolved, another will pop up elsewhere working against it. Sustainability on the other hand, is about striking a regenerative balance.

The challenge is not complicated, but it is complex. Our current methods of tackling climate change aren’t working, so we need to use more systems-based approaches. For example, our current economic model is linear: we make items, use them, and throw them away. Waste happens all along the lifecycle and is polluting our air, water and food chains, creating issues for biodiversity and toxicity, as well as global warming. A more circular economy (like the Doughnut model) closes this loop and prevents wasted resources. A climate change solution that adheres to a linear economic narrative, or siloed thinking, simply cannot be effective. This means opening to the emergence of distributed clean energy networks and embracing the collaborative economy with interdependent systems such as food, transport housing and water for example. We need integrative systems design for a resilient and sustainable future where we can thrive without compromising the existence of species in the future.


Can you tell us about an interesting climate change project happening in East Anglia?

East Anglia has some of the best conditions for developing a clean energy industry in the UK, if not the world. I see offshore wind as having the greatest impact here but we are missing out on opportunities to turn some of that energy into a local clean energy industry that powers our local economy as well as exports to the rest of the country. We must start to work together to set out our priorities beyond temporary disturbance to the look of the countryside, by understanding the necessity of a zero-carbon economy. Of course, onshore wind and solar (prioritising rooftop installations initially) will complement offshore wind, but I see the integration with our local economy and supportive government policies being the enablers of such sustainable transformation.


What are some achievable steps that businesses or organisations can take to operate more sustainably?

There are many great organisations that can help businesses transit from a linear and polluting model into a greener and more circular one. Science Based Targets is one such organisation.

Their mission is to drive “ambitious corporate climate action” by helping businesses set targets for operating more sustainably. This has now been extended to SMEs. As the name suggests, these targets are created in line with the latest research on climate change and require businesses to track and report their progress.

I believe businesses also have a responsibility to fundamentally understand the consequences of their actions, including designing-out waste in their processes. While systems-based change for sustainability should be led by local authorities, that doesn’t always happen. We need entrepreneurial and open-minded thinkers to step up and contribute their expertise to designing the changes required that are compatible with our local resources and overarching goals.


What sort of green recovery would you like to see happening?

There are many civil, commercial and local government stakeholder groups in East Anglia, each with their own green initiatives and agendas. But what’s missing is coordinated action in line with the realities posed by the limited carbon budget we have according to our central government pledges and policy commitments. To reach net zero by 2050 even is a terrifying challenge that we haven’t yet got to grips with, but will depend in a large part upon the availability of clean energy for everything.  We don’t have enough cross-stakeholder collaboration, let alone aligned local policy objectives and business synergies around sustainable economy.

I’d like to see a forum where these groups can agree on a green strategy that allows our region to thrive while setting targets in line with the Paris Agreement. Ideally, these local organisations, including community enterprises would be financially rewarded by central government, and granted more of their own decision-making powers for local matters. There are some great stakeholder groups in the region. Together we are greater than the sum of our parts, with the power to decide our own future.


Do you have any future predictions on how businesses and organisations will engage with renewable energy or tackle climate change?

I believe there will be winners and losers in the future of energy. Local generation will become the norm. Rather than a centralised energy system, there will be a network of nodes: small renewable ‘power stations’, even down to an individual house level, generating energy for their local areas. This system is much more resilient: one node may fail, but the rest of the system remains safe.

Those that don’t engage with distributed energy models will be the losers. Organisations that embrace local generation and/or install their own renewables solutions will have a better chance of success.

Overall, I think we’ll see more bottom-up impetus for tackling climate change. People will be increasingly anxious to drive change (in the absence of centralised leadership affecting local requirements) within their local environment to meet sustainability targets. We’ll see people engaging with education, the built environment, energy, transport, and food systems to action collective change. As carbon and other forms of pollution advance relentlessly, I hope the lessons learnt from lockdown, that dramatic change is possible if we focus on the right measures and issues, will be developed and widely implemented. But we need to work together to address the complex system involved and the Doughnut model, scaled for our locale or region, could be a great framework to capture the problem and illustrate the pathways we will have to develop.


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the interviewee. If you’d like to be part of RenEnergy’s Future Voices series, email Melissa

The new normal: life after coronavirus

Photo of person on a walk

The coronavirus situation in the UK develops constantly, with daily updates as experts learn more. The UK does not yet have a clear exit strategy, nor a successful vaccine. Some experts predict periods of social distancing for months.

With so much uncertainty, it’s impossible to say how much normalcy will resume, and when. We’re sure many of us have wished for things to “go back to normal” at one time or another. But the world cannot go back to how it was before coronavirus: our habits and attitudes certainly weren’t ‘normal’. Our throwaway culture and casual approach to fossil fuels were incredibly unnatural, harming ourselves and the planet.

The current lockdown has paused many of these dangerous practices, accompanied by improvements in air quality and a reduction in C02 emissions. It’s likely these figures will bounce back to normal levels when lockdown ends. But, this period of pause is encouraging people to create new, environmentally friendly habits that we hope will continue after coronavirus. Scientists are hopeful, too; research shows that times of change are powerful opportunities for encouraging new behaviours.

We must reject this preoccupation with life returning to ‘normal’. In order to overcome climate change, we must create a new normal that prioritises the health of the planet and its inhabitants. In this article, we’ll explore what that new normal could look like across sectors.


A transport revolution?

Passenger cars are responsible for 60.7% of C02 emissions in the EU, with the average new car emitting 120g of C02 per KM. Currently, there are very few reasons for travelling anywhere: to work, to buy groceries and supplies, and for medical reasons. Traffic levels haven’t been this low since 1955. As a result, roads and streets are quiet, and the air is clean.

With all-but-essential car travel discouraged, people have realised that they can make a lot more journeys on foot. More people are walking around their local neighbourhood for leisure and exercise, often combining this with a stop in their local grocery store.

We hope that after lockdown, people will continue to be more conscious and considerate about their car usage and C02 output. It’s encouraging to see that some steps are already being taken to make this happen. For example, Milan plans to implement a low carbon city centre infrastructure, by turning 35km of streets into cycle and pedestrian lanes.

Early research also suggests that the quiet, pollution-free streets are encouraging consumers to consider electric vehicles. In a survey by Venson, 45% of people said the improvement in air quality has made them positively reconsider their EV ownership plans. A further 17% said it reaffirmed the decision they had already made to make the switch to an EV. With consumer attitudes to EVs improving, this could increase the adoption of commercial and fleet EVs too.


Oil vs renewables

We think the many parallels between climate change and coronavirus will encourage more businesses to explore renewable energy, as this is one of the easiest ways for them to act against climate change.

For businesses with the capital to invest, solar PV provides the best long-term financial savings. The economic future of the UK remains uncertain, so investing in solar allows businesses to reduce their energy overheads and improve profit margins. Businesses unable to commit to their own array can still cut their energy spend with cheaper-than-grid energy through a Power Purchase Agreement.

The current state of the oil market also raises questions about the future of fuel post-coronavirus. With decreased demand due to paused manufacture and airline operations, oil is at its lowest price for two decades. While some experts believe that oil demand has now peaked and will start to decline, others believe that dirt-cheap oil prices will hinder the adoption of renewables.

The crash in oil price has highlighted its extreme volatility, and raises questions as to whether the global economy should be underpinned by a single commodity (or any commodity for that matter). In our opinion, it would be much better to build a sustainable green economy that relies on multiple diverse technologies and industry sectors working together, mitigating the risk of any one industry crashing.


The future of work

Due to the lockdown, remote working is now a normal practice for many businesses. While we don’t think the workforce will go fully remote post-lockdown, we think flexibility will be encouraged. The coronavirus lockdown has shown that you just don’t need to be face-to-face to do business. Travelling for meetings creates unnecessary time burdens and C02 miles.

A study by Regus suggests that working closer to our homes could save 7.8 million tonnes of C02 per year by 2030, and save 115 million hours of commuting time. Plus, employees that can work flexibly are happier, healthier, and more productive.

This embrace of remote work will continue across sectors. The Guardian predicts GP surgeries will continue to offer remote appointments after coronavirus, but why stop there? Perhaps your next appointment with your solicitor, accountant, or bank will be a virtual one.


Food and shopping

With the government advising to only buy essentials, shoppers are forced to consider what the essentials actually are. With most high street stores closed, people can’t pop to the shops for a bit of retail therapy. Good news, since the UK’s obsession with throwaway ‘fast fashion’ usually costs 50 tonnes of C02 every minute. However, old habits die hard; March 2020 saw a 74% increase in online shopping, as people purchase items to keep themselves entertained in lockdown.

After an initial wave of panic buying, the UK’s food shopping habits have adapted during the coronavirus pandemic. With most supermarkets prioritising vulnerable customers for delivery slots, the rest of us must venture instore for our essentials. As a result, we’re seeing a boom in popularity for food subscription services like Gousto and Hello Fresh, as well as deliveries of locally-grown seasonal veg as shoppers do their best to stay home. There has also been an increase in people shopping in local corner shops, and a general desire to support small and independent businesses.

Going forward, we hope this shift in our shopping habits proves to be a long-term change. Shopping locally, only buying the essentials, and making more conscious purchases are all vital steps in the fight against climate change.


Healthy planet, healthy people

While the above changes offer a crucial lifeline for our planet, they can also aid our own health, too. The coronavirus pandemic is a trying situation for many and has greatly raised awareness about the importance of mental health as part of our overall wellbeing. Going for a walk is now a part of everybody’s daily routine, and the effect lockdown has on mental health is a large part of the coronavirus conversation.

Climate change is a mammoth challenge, and shopping more locally for a few months won’t turn it around. We need a sustained change in consumer habits, led by climate-friendly policy. Consumers want green options, so the government needs to encourage businesses to provide them. The coronavirus pandemic has shown that, given the right encouragement, the public is willing to adapt their behaviour to safeguard public health and the economy. Led by the right examples and systems, there’s no reason why the British public can’t come together in the same way to take action on climate change. What a welcome thought.

Why solar PV is a must-have for the food production industry

Photo of fresh vegetables in a supermarket

Why solar, why now?

The current situation in the UK is a new experience for businesses of all sectors. For those in the food production industry, the coronavirus pandemic has provided both great challenges, and opportunities.

Following a wave of panic buying, supermarkets are trading “above Christmas levels”: customers spent an additional £2bn on food in March 2020. Along with intensive cleaning, social distancing, and staff shortages, supermarkets are hiring an additional 30,000 staff to keep up.

Of course, other players in the food industry have needed to adapt to a challenging and fast-moving situation. Hospitality has ground to a halt, but suppliers are moving into new verticals: supplying produce to the NHS, food delivery services, and easing the increased burden on supermarkets. Customer panic buying has not helped, creating empty shelves one week, and an increase in food waste the next.

Despite the hardships, the current situation also provides opportunities. This ability to adapt shows the food industry can think on its feet and is ripe for disruption. If, going forward, food producers are to re-evaluate the way they operate, what better time to embrace the power of renewables. Solar PV can help businesses save money, increase profits, and gain a competitive advantage.


Bespoke solar PV for the food industry

There are several common traits among food producers that make them an ideal candidate for commercial solar PV.

Like most manufacturers, those in the food industry typically use a lot of energy: machinery, refrigeration, and processing are all energy intensive. Such costs will only increase as firms become more automated and reduce their labour costs. The higher a firm’s energy bill, the more money they can save by generating their own solar energy. Additionally, even small to medium-sized facilities have ample roof space to install an unobtrusive system on an otherwise unused space.

As well as high usage, the energy load profile for food producers typically peaks during daylight hours. This means any self-generated solar energy can be used in real-time, ensuring the maximum benefit from the installed system. However, businesses with high night-time energy usage can also reap the benefits of solar with an additional battery storage system.


Financial benefits of solar

Other than materials and labour costs, energy is often one of the greatest expenses for food manufacturers. Securing lower energy costs is one of the easiest ways to gain control over your business costs. The price of electricity from the grid will climb, sometimes erratically. But solar provides long-term fixed energy costs, protecting your business from market volatility and allowing you to grow sustainably.

By cutting energy expenses, businesses can improve their bottom line and become more profitable. This also frees up budgets to invest elsewhere, such as business growth, or expansion into new verticals.

Although solar PV provides long-time financial benefits, finance is also one of the biggest barriers to adoption. Many companies feel they cannot justify the up-front expense of installing their own solar, especially in uncertain times. These customers can benefit from a Power Purchase Agreement: a finance option that allows customers to achieve on-site solar, without the usual upfront investment. You can find out more about PPAs in this article.


Providing a competitive advantage

By now, we all know how solar can tie into a business’s CSR initiatives. A solar array is a very visual signal of an organisation’s commitment to sustainability. This is especially important for B2C food producers. Consumers are becoming increasingly environmentally conscious, and many will pay more for a greener option.

Even if you’re a B2B organisation, remember this: there’s always a consumer at the end of the supply chain. Players in the food sector such as caterers, manufacturers, and stockists may all be more inclined to choose a sustainable option to appease consumers. A stronger green policy could give your organisation an edge over its competitors, as many market leaders seem to prioritise suppliers that meet certain environmental credentials. Marks & Spencer encourages suppliers to work through its sustainability benchmark scheme: 56% of their food products comes from sites that have reduced their energy use by at least 20%. Unilever also has its own mandatory requirements for suppliers, in line with the brand’s sustainability policy.


Green from ‘farm to fork’

When you’ve been in the renewables industry as long as we have, you spot certain trends emerge. When we first started out, agriculture was one of the first sectors to embrace the financial benefits of solar. Now, they’re embracing renewables to engage in environmental stewardship – and it’s time for the rest of the food supply chain to catch up.

Growers and farmers are already saving carbon and energy by adopting solar, but it is critical that the often more energy-intensive and polluting parts of our food supply chain, from processing to distribution, adopt a similar stance if we are to be truly green from farm to fork.

Despite the challenges we all face, there is also the opportunity to reflect and strategize about the future direction we wish to take, a future where sustainability is the new normal.

What the coronavirus means for climate change

Image of chimneys releasing air pollution

As life takes on an unfamiliar shape during lockdown, many media outlets are quick to draw parallels between life under coronavirus and the effects of unchecked climate change. Scientists have long forecasted that food shortages and economic downturn could accompany climate change, should it continue at its current rate.

While both the coronavirus and climate change are natural phenomenon, their root is human activity. In fact, the two even share common causes. The human population is spreading into increasingly wild areas, due to over-population, over-farming, and deforestation: all causes of climate change. When human life is closer than it should be to the wild, this also increases the spread of infectious diseases. Over 75% of infectious diseases emerge from the wild.

However, there is a key difference between coronavirus and the climate crisis. Thanks to decisive, state-enforced action, scientists and leaders agree that we will overcome coronavirus eventually – even if we don’t know when. The same cannot be said of climate change. While this threat is less immediate, it remains, with no clear strategy past it.

When it comes to fighting climate change, we can learn a lot by examining how the human and natural worlds have negotiated coronavirus.


Nature is winning vs coronavirus

During this challenging time, we’d like to start by focusing on the positives. With humans on home lockdown, nature has already started to reclaim newly vacant spaces.

In the town of Llandudno, Wales, mountain goats have moved into the now quiet streets. In Italy, the water quality has improved greatly, and there are now dolphins inhabiting the usually busy harbours.

Across Europe, levels of air pollution have fallen dramatically, due to a 60% reduction in car journeys during lockdown. As well as being harmful to health, pollution in the atmosphere can also damage the ozone layer and contribute to climate change. graph of air pollution in coronavirus lockdown

Dr Phillip Williamson, a professor at the University of East Anglia, is positive about this reduction in emissions. He estimates that this provides the world with another year or two to “avoid a climate catastrophe”.


Challenges ahead

As ever, we urge against too much optimism in the climate change fight: we cannot be complacent.

While wildlife is recovering in some areas, coronavirus has made conservation almost impossible in others. Here, some of the world’s most vulnerable wildlife will suffer.

It is also likely that emissions and air pollution will bounce back quickly after the lockdown ends. There may even be more: following the 2008 financial crisis, emissions rose by 5% due to government stimulated booms in production.

Fighting climate change and decarbonising society is an expensive battle. If the fight against coronavirus depletes national budgets, there will be less to invest in a greener future. The Guardian reports that coronavirus could cost the global economy $1.1tn in lost income, alone.

There are also potential challenges ahead for the renewables industry. In uncertain times, businesses are less adventurous with their spending, and may feel less inclined to invest in renewables. Many solar projects are on pause due to the lockdown, and there may be temporary supply chain disruption.


Lessons learnt

When the world emerges at the other end of the coronavirus pandemic, climate change will still be there. But we hope the world can take valuable lessons learned now and apply them in the fight against global warming. Perhaps we’ll all take the climate threat a lot more seriously, now we know first-hand what a threat to society looks and feels like.

There are some coronavirus habits we hope will continue: rethinking our attitudes towards food. Over the last few weeks, the Royal Horticultural Society and National Vegetable Society have reported an increase in people growing vegetables at home. This is great for the environment, as it means zero food miles and no C02 emissions. We’re also seeing people become more appreciative of nature in their local areas.

Like coronavirus, Governments must take strong decisive action on climate change in order to stop it in its tracks. While communities have been pulling together to fight the virus, the direction is set from above. So far, climate change has mostly been tackled from the bottom: by grassroots movements, and dedicated individuals and businesses.

While nobody wants heavy-handed state intervention in order to tackle climate change, government and local authorities can, and should, do more. If businesses are less inclined to invest in renewables due to economic uncertainty, green options should be incentivised and subsidised. Authorities should lead by example, embracing renewables for their facilities, and encouraging it among the public sector.

We’re heartened to see that several local authorities are already taking steps in the right direction. The Liverpool City Region has pledged to be carbon neutral by 2040, and Eastleigh Borough Council aims to ensure its own operations and functions achieve carbon neutrality by 2025. For local authorities keen to do more, Friends of The Earth has some great resources that can help. In our opinion, the increased use of renewables is imperative here.

The global response to coronavirus gives us hope. It shows that great things are possible when we pull together. But we cannot wait until the climate change crisis reaches pandemic-level severity. By then, it’ll be too late.


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Solving the misconceptions around commercial EVs

Photo of two EVs and EV charger

EV Myths: busted

The number of electric vehicles (EVs) on our roads is growing fast. In March 2020, there were 273,500 EVs on UK roads (including hybrid and electric-only). Further stats show that 5.7% of new car registrations are electric vehicles, with 3.2% electric-only.

However, we have a way to go to meet the government’s targets: 50% of new car sales to be electric by 2030. This target is in line with the government’s strategy for cutting C02 emissions and tackling climate change.

When it comes to meeting international climate and carbon targets, we all have a part to play – especially businesses. For brands committed to fulfilling their environmental responsibilities, the course of the next year is the perfect time to explore the EV opportunity.

The Government offers several initiatives to encourage corporate uptake of EVs. Currently, employees are exempt from Benefit in Kind tax for fully electric company cars. All new EVs are subsidised, providing customers with a discount of up to £3,000. And, all businesses and household can receive a grant of up to £350 for every EV charge point they install.

While most charging takes place at home, around 30% of people charge their EV at work. As uptake in electric cars increases, businesses will find themselves under pressure to provide more charge points for employees. These government initiatives won’t last forever: the EV charge point grant has already reduced from £500 to £350. Futureproofing for the EV revolution now allows businesses to do so at the most affordable opportunity.

Unfortunately, there are still a lot of myths about commercial electric vehicles.

To set the record straight, we asked Andrew Verney – our EV charging consultant – to help us bust some common misconceptions about electric vehicles. Andrew has driven an electric vehicle for the last five years and is our trusted advisor on all EV installations.


EV range is not good enough for commercial use

When EVs were first developed, the limited battery capacity meant they were unsuitable for long journeys.

Now, most new EVs have a range of at least 150 miles between charges. Some, as much as 200-300 miles. Most car journeys are, of course, much shorter than this. According to the RAC Foundation, the average commute is just 10 miles in England and Wales.

Even for customers that regularly make longer journeys, a range of 150-200 miles should be enough, as the AA recommends all drivers stop for a 15-minute break every 2-3 hours. If you’re stopping anyway, you might as well charge your car for 30 minutes.

EV drivers do currently have to plan their routes more carefully than other car-owners. Not all service stations have facilities to charge EV vehicles yet – but this will change soon!


EVs are much more expensive

It is more expensive to buy a new EV: about 20% more than an equivalent fuel vehicle. But, new EVs are subsidised by the government to make them more affordable.

However, running an EV is around six times cheaper than a fuel car. While petrol or diesel costs around 12 pence per mile, you can charge your car overnight at home for two pence per mile. Most energy providers offer tariffs that give EV owners a good window to charge cheaply at night. Some public spaces even offer free EV charging.

Maintaining and servicing an electric car is also much cheaper. They only have about 5% of the same moving parts as a fuel car, so there’s simply less to maintain.


EVs take a long time to charge up

In most cases, charging an EV is something that takes place in the background. Unlike fuelling a car, you rarely go somewhere specifically to charge an electric vehicle. There are a range of different charging options, some of which take longer than others. However, the charging option (and speed) always suits charge point location.

The most popular option is home charging, usually overnight to make the most of cheaper energy tariffs. This is the cheapest option, but also the slowest: they charge at around 10-30mph. However, this slow speed is irrelevant, as you’d be at home with your vehicle anyway.

The quickest are ‘rapid’ chargers. These are usually located at service stations and ‘traditional fuelling stations. Operating at 50 kw+, these charge at a rate of 180mph or more.

Then there are ‘destination’ chargers. These are slower, but they are usually located in a place you might stay for a while. Again, the charging takes place in the background. For example, a supermarket or shopping centre. These 7-22kw chargers work at about 30-90mph. Businesses typically choose ‘rapid’ or ‘destination’ chargers.

EV charge technology is constantly advancing. Some ‘ultra-rapid’ public chargers are being installed in the UK that will provide 180 miles of charge in ten minutes.


There are not enough EV charge points

As previously mentioned, not all service stations feature EV charge points. As interest in EVs rises, public charge infrastructure will scale accordingly. While there are enough, more would be appreciated.

Most EVs come with Sat Nav to find charge points, but these systems are not wholly accurate. The directory is not exhaustive and cannot inform you if an EV charge point is out of order. This means many EV drivers rely on a mobile app to plot routes around EV chargers.

A flat battery is the biggest fear about EVs. However, it is just not that common. On all the major trunk roads, you’re never more than 50 miles away from an EV charge point. Plus, every EV comes with a cable that can be plugged in to charge at a normal 13-amp house socket. In an emergency, you can technically charge at any building – provided the cable reaches.  Take a look at Zap-Map to see over 30,000 public charging sockets across the UK.


EVs are unsuitable for a commercial fleet

Currently, there’s not much choice for electric vans and trucks. A wider range of options will emerge in the next year.

Infrastructure changes are also required. Employees who take a company van home would need to charge the EV at their property. With at least 20% of the population lacking off-street parking, this poses a potential challenge. Employers would also need to reimburse employees for charging their EV from their home energy supply.

For travelling tradespeople, there’s also the issue of charging at their destination (where necessary). There’s currently not a lot of on-street public charge points available, although this will increase shortly.  RenEnergy is working to fit EV charge points into Council car parks, where they can be used overnight by local residents who don’t have access to a personal charge point.

For now, EVs are more suitable for ‘last-mile delivery’. Many delivery drivers travel less than 100 miles per day and often return their vehicles to a depot overnight: perfect for EV charging. EVs are also more efficient for journeys that require a lot of stop-starting (such as deliveries): an electric engine completely stops when it is not in use. This means no idling and much less pollution.

Gloucestershire Constabulary is already embracing the potential of EVs. They have the largest electric fleet in the country: 21% of their fleet is fully electric.


EVs are unsuitable for commuters

Again, this is untrue. Unless your commute is over 50 miles each way, you should be able to comfortably commute on a fully charged EV battery.

More businesses are installing on-site EV chargers to meet employee demand – especially large companies. Remember, businesses can also receive the £350 grant for each EV charge point they install.

One thing that companies will need to negotiate is how they bill staff for the electricity to charge their vehicles. We expect that most businesses will charge employees through an app or card, just to cover the energy costs and maintaining charge points.  Some employers are offering free electricity to staff, and RenEnergy is working to install EV charging in solar carports, to help provide the renewable electricity required.


EVs are unpleasant to drive

Personally, I disagree. They’re much smoother and easier to drive.

They’re also much smarter than a normal car. On a cold winter’s morning, you can warm your car via an app on your phone, before you’ve even got out of bed. And when you’re in your house at night, you can check your app to ensure your car is plugged in and charging.

This level of communication is beneficial if you have solar panels. If your home array is generating a surplus of energy that would otherwise go back to the grid, you can choose to use this energy to charge your car. If not, the system knows to charge the car only using the cheap overnight grid energy.

After five years, I’m a true EV convert: I can’t imagine going back to a ‘normal’ car now.


Want to find out? Check out our EV charging page or get in touch with Andrew.