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Ashden Gold Award Winners Revealed



The 2016 Ashden Awards took place last night at a prestigious ceremony at the Royal Geographical Society in London. The Ashden Awards recognise and celebrate innovation and excellence in the sustainable energy industry. The Gold winners of the Awards, hosted by the BBC journalist Mishal Husain, have been announced as smart energy pioneer Open Energi and global finance enterprise SunFunder.

Celebrating excellence in the field of sustainable energy, the Awards include tailored support for both organisations to scale up their work along with up to £30,000 in prize money.

Winner of the Ashden International Gold Award, SunFunder is filling a crucial funding gap between investors and businesses specialising in off-grid solar energy that need short-term loans.  The judges were impressed by the game-changing nature of Sunfunder’s work – by unlocking capital for debt finance they are enabling solar companies to make power an affordable reality for the millions living off-grid.

Based in Tanzania and the US, SunFunder has so far provided over $8 million of finance to solar businesses in ten countries, helping them to offer solar electricity to thousands of people, and next year is hoping to grow sufficiently to be able to provide $50 million of finance.  SunFunder also wins the 2016 Ashden Award for Innovative Finance, supported by Citi.

Winner of the Ashden UK Gold Award, Open Energi is revolutionising the way the national grid is kept stable in a low carbon way and enabling its transition to renewable power.

Open Energi works with large corporate users, such as Sainsburys and United Utilities, and is able to invisibly adjust their electricity consumption to match available supply.  Its technology allows it to respond rapidly to fluctuations on the national grid, turning equipment up or down in under two seconds.  By intelligently shifting demand in this way, it is supporting greater use of renewable energy generation and helping to make the UK’s electricity system more efficient. Open Energi also wins the 2016 Ashden Award for Energy Innovation, supported by Impax.

After the Gold Award winners were announced, Ashden’s Founder-Director Sarah Butler-Sloss made an impassioned speech to guests at the Royal Geographical Society contrasting the boom in renewable energy that she witnessed on a recent visit to Kenya and Tanzania with the sweeping cuts to the sector in the UK.

She said: “In Kenya I visited a market town on the outskirts of the Maasai Mara nature reserve with no grid power but where SteamaCo, one of last year’s Ashden Award winners, has helped install a solar powered minigrid.  For the first time shops have lights so they can stay open after dark, cafes and bars can serve cold beer and have TV or music playing.  The butcher has a fridge.  A cinema has opened and there is an internet café.

“In the UK however it has been a tough year for sustainable energy.  The Feed-in Tariff rate for small scale solar power has dropped by over 60% and there have been other policy U-turns that are very challenging for the young solar, clean energy and energy efficiency industries.  We’ve seen some of our Award winners having to cut back on their staff and their growth plans, with their futures looking far from secure.

“I am disappointed that the UK, who had been leading in this sector, is now moving backwards, withdrawing subsidies fast and furiously – rather than being ahead of the curve and building on a very exciting industry that could provide so many jobs and help grow the economy.  I call on those with influence to persuade this government to think again and put the UK back at the forefront of renewable energy innovation.”


Is Wood Burning Sustainable For Your Home?



sustainable wood burning ideas

Wood is a classic heat source, whether we think about people gathered around a campfire or wood stoves in old cabins, but is it a sustainable source of heat in modern society? The answer is an ambivalent one. In certain settings, wood heat is an ideal solution, but for the majority of homes, it isn’t especially suitable. So what’s the tipping point?

Wood heat is ideal for small homes on large properties, for individuals who can gather their own wood, and who have modern wood burning ovens. A green approach to wood heat is one of biofuel on the smallest of scales.

Is Biofuel Green?

One of the reasons that wood heat is a source of so much divide in the eco-friendly community is that it’s a renewable resource and renewable has become synonymous with green. What wood heat isn’t, though, is clean or healthy. It lets off a significant amount of carbon and particulates, and trees certainly don’t grow as quickly as it’s consumed for heat.

Of course, wood is a much less harmful source of heat than coal, but for scientists interested in developing green energy sources, it makes more sense to focus on solar and wind power. Why, then, would they invest in improved wood burning technology?

Homegrown Technology

Solar and wind technology are good large-scale energy solutions, but when it comes to small-space heating, wood has its own advantages. First, wood heat is in keeping with the DIY spirit of homesteaders and tiny house enthusiasts. These individuals are more likely to be driven to gather their own wood and live in small spaces that can be effectively heated as such.

Wood heat is also very effective on an individual scale because it requires very little infrastructure. Modern wood stoves made of steel rather than cast iron are built to EPA specifications, and the only additional necessary tools include a quality axe, somewhere to store the wood, and an appropriate covering to keep it dry. And all the wood can come from your own land.

Wood heat is also ideal for people living off the grid or in cold areas prone to frequent power outages, as it’s constantly reliable. Even if the power goes out, you know that you’ll be able to turn up the heat. That’s important if you live somewhere like Maine where the winters can get exceedingly cold. People have even successfully heated a 40’x34’ home with a single stove.

Benefits Of Biomass

The ultimate question regarding wood heat is whether any energy source that’s dangerous on the large scale is acceptable on a smaller one. For now, the best answer is that with a growing population and limited progress towards “pure” green energy, wood should remain a viable option, specifically because it’s used on a limited scale. Biomass heat is even included in the UK’s Renewable Heat Initiative and minor modifications can make it even more sustainable.

Wood stoves, when embraced in conjunction with pellet stoves, geothermal heating, and masonry heaters, all more efficient forms of sustainable heat, should be part of a modern energy strategy. Ultimately, we’re headed in the direction of diversified energy – all of it cleaner – and wood has a place in the big picture, serving small homes and off-the-grid structures, while solar, wind, and other large-scale initiatives fuel our cities.

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7 Benefits You Should Consider Giving Your Energy Employees



As an energy startup, you’re always looking to offer the most competitive packages to entice top-tier talent. This can be tough, especially when trying to put something together that’s both affordable but also has perks that employees are after.

After all, this is an incredibly competitive field and one that’s constantly doing what it can to stay ahead. However, that’s why I’m bringing you a few helpful benefits that could be what bolsters you ahead of your competition. Check them out below:

Financial Advising

One benefit commonly overlooked by companies is offering your employees financial advising services, which could help them tremendously in planning for their long-term goals with your firm. This includes anything from budgeting and savings plans to recommendations for credit repair services and investments. Try to take a look at if your energy company could bring on an extra person or two specifically for this role, as it will pay off tremendously regarding retention and employee happiness.

Life Insurance

While often included in a lot of health benefits packages, offering your employees life insurance could be an excellent addition to your current perks. Although seldom used, life insurance is a small sign that shows you care about the life of their family beyond just office hours. Additionally, at such a low cost, this is a pretty simple aspect to add to your packages. Try contacting some brokers or insurance agents to see if you can find a policy that’s right for your firm.

Dedicated Time To Enjoy Their Hobbies

Although something seen more often in startups in Silicon Valley, having dedicated office time for employees to enjoy their passions is something that has shown great results. Whether it be learning the piano or taking on building a video game, having your team spend some time on the things they truly enjoy can translate to increased productivity. Why? Because giving them the ability to better themselves, they’ll in turn bring that to their work as well.

The Ability To Work Remotely

It’s no secret that a lot of employers despise the idea of letting their employees work remotely. However, it’s actually proven to hold some amazing benefits. According to Global Workplace Analytics, 95% of employers that allow their employees to telework reported an increased rate of retention, saving on both turnover and sick days. Depending on the needs of each individual role, this can be a strategy to implement either whenever your team wants or on assigned days. Either way, this is one perk almost everyone will love.

Health Insurance

Even though it’s mandated for companies with over 50 employees, offering health insurance regardless is arguably a benefit well received across the board. In fact, as noted in research compiled by KFF, 28.6% of employers with less than 50 people still offered health care. Why is that the case? Because it shows you care about their well-being, and know that a healthy employee is one that doesn’t have to worry about astronomical medical bills.

Unlimited Time Off

This is a perk that almost no employer offers but should be regarded as something to consider. According to The Washington Post, only 1-2% of companies offer unlimited vacation, which it’s easy to see why. A true “unlimited vacation” program could be a firm’s worse nightmare, with employees skipping out every other week to enjoy themselves. However, with the right model in place that rewards hard work with days off, your employees will absolutely adore this policy.

A Full Pantry

Finally, having a pantry full of food can be one perk that’s not only relatively inexpensive but also adds to the value of the workplace. As noted by USA Today, when surveying employees who had snacks versus those who didn’t, 67% of those who did reported they were “very happy” with their work life. You’d be surprised at how much of a difference this could make, especially when considering the price point. Consider adding a kitchen to your office if you haven’t already, and always keep the snacks and drinks everyone wants fully stocked. Doing so will increase morale tremendously.

Final Thoughts

Compiling a great package for your energy company is going to take some time in looking at what you can afford versus what’s the most you can offer. While it might mean cutting back in other areas, having a workforce that feels like you genuinely want to take care of them can take you far. And with so many different benefits to include in your energy company’s package, which one is your favorite? Comment with your answers below!

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