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Bringing clean technology home: community led cleantech

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Clean or greentech encompasses a broad variety of markets and technologies focused on sustainable economic development and progress. However, more often than not, a narrow subsector of cleantech, namely renewable energy generation, grabs the most headlines.

The financial pages have been awash with solar sector stories with the feed-in tariff withdrawal and some spectacular business failures. The industry has been subjected to multiple waves of government interventions, inevitable cost pressures and the heat of intense Chinese pressure. These have seen even some mighty German cleantech companies fall – one of the early success of the venture capital (VC) backed cleantech sector, Q-cells, announced its plans to file for bankruptcy in April 2012.

Typically, VC backs new technologies on a massive scale. For example, Solyndra received an investment of over $500m, but went bust in 2011. The received wisdom is that disruptive technology needs to be rolled out at large scale to bring the unit costs down.

Generation and consumption where you live

Not only is waste produced near to population or production centres, but any recovered or recycled materials or energy can often be used by those waste producers

High competition for funding has led to a novel approach to cleantech VC company development – ‘community led cleantech’.  This is not just scaling down cleantech but rather, it develops disruptive technology while also recognising the value of existing industry, infrastructure, and the way people live.

Renewable energy is available wherever the sun shines, waves lap, or plants grow. Unsurprisingly, that also corresponds well to where people actually consume energy (where we live and drive).

Interestingly, in the UK we need twice as much heat as we do electricity, and whereas electricity is relatively easy to transport once the investment is in place, heat is much harder to move. This fits in with the small scale and local theme. The two enablers here are storage (heat and power) and intelligence on power generation and use to help us move from large centralised power stations to distributed energy sources where consumption and generation are concentrated in one place.

Beyond renewables, waste is another industry which is distributed and is ideal for a community led model. Not only is waste produced near to population or production centres, but any recovered or recycled materials or energy can often be used by those waste producers.

Nimbyism aside (which of course is a zero-sum game since waste has to go somewhere), does it really make sense to transport waste large distances with the risk of spillage and the certainty of further transport-related emissions?

Mercia Fund Management is currently working with a new waste treatment technology business which promises to revolutionise household waste and offers the potential for every household to source all its power and heat requirements from domestic waste. This of course offers enormous cost savings to local authorities.

Again, since this technology works on a household scale and uses existing large-scale cost-down production techniques, it is very capital efficient. Technology roll-out to demonstrator level will require far less capital than the same at conventional power station level which may require £100m rather than £1 million.

Solar and waste companies leading the way

Molecular Solar is an example of a solar company that fits in the community led cleantech model. Based on vacuum technology that already exists in the food packaging industry, this third generation company promises a cost structure and performance features which can open up completely new distributed solar applications.

The food packaging industry is looking ways to reduce the amount of packaging employed so that household waste is reduced. The disruptive nature of the innovation is the simplicity of the technology which enables food packaging manufacturers to build solar panels with Molecular Solar technology.

This community led cleantech approach also offers enormous advantages to  Venture Capital investors. Molecular Solar is projected to reach profitability within £5 million of investment. Compare this to a £200 million typical investment in solar to build a dedicated specialised factory to subsidise early sales to gain gain economies of scale later on. The scarcity of £1 billion+ acquisitions or IPOs underscores how hard it is to make an attractive return on investment with £200 million invested. With only £5 million invested, the maths look much more plausible.

Can the government support community led cleantech?

The government plays a critical role in cleantech. Costs related to emissions and pollution are borne by everyone. This classic ‘tragedy of the commons’ can be overcome by governments, regulators and tax authorities setting appropriate standards/taxes/permits and so on.

The government also has a role in stimulating innovation through publicly funded research. Occasionally, the fruits of the research can lead to the next disruptive technology company, leading to job creation and an increased tax revenues through a growing economy.

The government also recognises that the journey from research to commercial exploitation can be a risky one and offers a range of generous tax incentives, for example within the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) and the recently introduced Seed EIS to emphasise extra support for early-stage ventures.

The government also has a role in stimulating innovation through publicly funded research

The recently announced DECC £35m energy entrepreneurs fund is a welcome addition to the sector and is targeted at filling the gap between research and exploitation at large scale. If this funding could be applied in a community led cleantech fashion, the impact would be greater. The fund also targets the built environment which again is a welcome move given the high proportion of emissions from this sector and complements the green deal and Energy Company Obligation due later in 2012.

There have been incentives for renewable energy generation and to a smaller extent heat. What is missing is an incentive for energy storage. Renewable energy must be generated when it can which does not always fit with peak demand. Again the community led model helps since demand and supply can be aggregated over many sources, but this does not completely obviate the need for storage (heat and power) to temporally shift supply and demand.

Energy storage is fertile ground for start-ups since there are many market niches to serve covering a range of power and energy levels which allows the start-up to get established and realise some scale economies. This is in contrast to renewable generation where often the only thing that matters is £/kWh.

In summary, there is a great opportunity to invest in an emerging class of community led cleantech companies as the larger more capital intensive approach falters and the funding dries up. The community led approach is particularly suited to some areas of Solar, Energy from Waste, and Energy Storage. Government incentives and targets will of course help but need to ensure their alignment with the emerging needs within community led cleantech

Andrew Oldfield is head of cleantech at Mercia Fund Management; a company that invests in a range of technology sectors including community led cleantech from its existing two funds, and is currently raising further funds to extend this activity to capitalise on the opportunity to invest in the cleantech sector.

Further reading:

Clean energy faces “challenging” year, but long-term outlook still positive

Ireland expects cleantech job and GDP surge

Renewable energy: the foundation of a blue and green tomorrow

Features

What Kitchen Suits Your Style? Modern, Classic or Shaker?

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shaker kitchen designs

A kitchen is the centre of the home. Your kitchen ranges between where friends and family gather, talk about their day, cook meals, have drinks, to somewhere you can just enjoy each other’s company. The kitchen is the heart of the home. But, everyone’s lifestyle is different. Everyone’s taste is different. So, you need a kitchen that not only mirrors your lifestyle but matches your taste too. Whilst some prefer a more traditional design, others want a modern feel or flair – and it’s all down to personal taste.

When it comes to redesigning your kitchen, what style would you go for? It’s a difficult one isn’t it. With so many different styles to go for, how can you know exactly what you want until you’ve seen it in action? Leading kitchen designer, Roman Kitchens, based in Essex, have provided three examples of bespoke kitchens and styles they specialise in, accompanied with beautiful images. This design guide will get you one step closer to picking your dream kitchen for your home.

1. Modern

New home in the city centre? Or even a sleek new modern build? You want a trendy and modern kitchen to reflect your city lifestyle. In modern kitchen design, colours are bolder and fresher, with sleek design and utilities that are distinctive and vibrant.

modern kitchen designs

This modern kitchen is sleek and smooth with flawless design and beauty. Minimalism doesn’t stop this kitchen standing out. Featured walls of wood and vibrant mint green draw the eye, whilst the white surfaces reflect the light, illuminating every nook and cranny of this kitchen. This kitchen features products from Rotpunkt, innovators of modern kitchen design. Made with German engineering, a Rotpunkt Kitchen is the ultimate modern addition to your home. Rotpunkt Kitchens have timeless design and amazing functionality, they work for every purpose and are eco-friendly. Sourced from natural materials, a Rotpunkt kitchen uses 37% less timber, conserving natural forests and being more environmentally conscious.

2. Classic

Prefer a homely and traditional feel? Classic kitchens are warm, welcoming and filled with wood. Wood flooring, wood fixtures, wood furniture – you name it! You can bring a rustic feel to your urban home with a classic kitchen. Subtle colours and beautiful finishes, Classic kitchens are for taking it back to the basics with a definitive look and feel.

classic kitchen designs

With stated handles for cupboards, Classic kitchens are effortlessly timeless. They convey an elegant but relaxing nature. Giving off countryside vibes, natural elements convey a British countryside feel. The wood featured in a classic kitchen can range between oaks and walnut, creating a warmth and original feel to your home. Soft English heritage colours add a certain mood to your home, softening the light making it cosier.

3. Shaker

Any kitchen planner will tell you that the meeting point between traditional and modern design, is a Shaker kitchen. They have a distinctive style and innovative feel. Shakers are fresh, mixing different colour tones with stylish wood and vinyl. The most important feature of a Shaker kitchen is functionality – every feature needs to serve a purpose in the kitchen. Paired with stylish and unique furniture, a Shaker kitchen is an ideal addition to any home.

shaker kitchen designs

The ultimate marriage between Classic and Modern kitchens, this Shaker kitchen has deep colour tones with copper emphasis features. All the fittings and fixtures blur the line of modern and tradition, with a Classic look but modern colour vibe. Unique furniture and design make Shaker Kitchens perfect for the middle ground in kitchen design. Minimal but beautifully dressed. Traditional but bold and modern at the same time. Storage solutions are part of the functionality of Shaker kitchens, but don’t detour from conveying yours as a luxury kitchen.

Whatever you choose for your new kitchen, be it Modern, Classic or Shaker – pick whatever suits you. Taste is, and always will be, subjective – it’s down to you.

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Ways Green Preppers Are Trying to Protect their Privacy

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Environmental activists are not given the admiration that they deserve. A recent poll by Gallup found that a whopping 32% of Americans still doubt the existence of global warming. The government’s attitude is even worse.

Many global warming activists and green preppers have raised the alarm bell on climate change over the past few years. Government officials have taken notice and begun tracking their activity online. Even former National Guard officers have admitted that green preppers and climate activists are being targeted for terrorist watchlists.

Of course, the extent of their surveillance depends on the context of activism. People that make benign claims about climate change are unlikely to end up on a watchlist, although it is possible if they make allusions to their disdain of the government. However, even the most pacifistic and well intentioned environmental activists may unwittingly trigger some algorithm and be on the wrong side of a criminal investigation.

How could something like this happen? Here are some possibilities:

  • They could share a post on social media from a climate extremist group or another individual on the climate watchlist.
  • They could overly politicize their social media content, such as being highly critical of the president.
  • They could use figures of speech that may be misinterpreted as threats.
  • They might praise the goals of a climate change extremist organization that as previously resorted to violence, even if they don’t condone the actual means.

Preppers and environmental activists must do everything in their power to protect their privacy. Failing to do so could cost them their reputation, future career opportunities or even their freedom. Here are some ways that they are contacting themselves.

Living Off the Grid and Only Venturing to Civilization for Online Use

The more digital footprints you leave behind, the greater attention you draw. People that hold controversial views on environmentalism or doomsday prepping must minimize their digital paper trail.

Living off the grid is probably the best way to protect your privacy. You can make occasional trips to town to use the Wi-Fi and stock up on supplies.

Know the Surveillance Policies of Public Wi-Fi Providers

Using Wi-Fi away from your home can be a good way to protect your privacy.However, choosing the right public Wi-Fi providers is going to be very important.

Keep in mind that some corporate coffee shops such a Starbucks can store tapes for up to 60 days. Mom and pop businesses don’t have the technology nor the interest to store them that long. They generally store tips for only 24 hours and delete them afterwards. This gives you a good window of opportunity to post your thoughts on climate change without being detected.

Always use a VPN with a No Logging Policy

Using a VPN is one of the best ways to protect your online privacy. However, some of these providers do a much better job than others. What is a VPN and what should you look for when choosing one? Here are some things to look for when making a selection:

  • Make sure they are based in a country that has strict laws on protecting user privacy. VPNs that are based out of Switzerland, Panama for the British Virgin Islands are always good bets.
  • Look for VPN that has a strict no logging policy. Some VPNs will actually track the websites that you visit, which almost entirely defeats the purpose. Most obviously much better than this, but many also track Your connections and logging data. You want to use a VPN that doesn’t keep any logs at all.
  • Try to choose a VPN that has an Internet kill switch. This means that all content will stop serving if your VPN connection drops, which prevents your personal data from leaking out of the VPN tunnel.

You will be much safer if you use a high-quality VPN consistently, especially if you have controversial views on climate related issues or doomsday prepping.

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