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Cashing in on solar panels

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“Somewhat smug” solar array owner Gavin Smith describes his experiences with the Feed-in-Tariff scheme and its significant impact on his decision to invest. But is the party over?

Michael Beard, the anti-hero of Ian McEwan’s timely 2010 novel Solar, ultimately sees the light despite wasting his scientific genius and bingeing his way to flabby dissolution.

The light in question is the virtually infinite stream of particles showered onto us by our local cosmic fusion reactor, the Sun. Michael Beard sees a human race thirsty for the energy that falls in dazzling abundance around them. Yet, so addicted is humanity to excavating the carbon-locked energy of eons past, it insists on failing to see—or at least seize—the light.

I’m the somewhat smug owner of a 2.5 kWp roof-mounted, domestic solar array. I commissioned the system in time to grab the 43.3p/kilowatt feed-in-tariff (FiT) extracted by the government from the UK’s principal energy suppliers. The now expired tariff—in addition to a small but pleasing 3.1 pence per kilowatt ‘export tariff’ in recognition of our reduced consumption from the national grid—is fixed, for me, for 25 years.

On estimated and actual performance, I expect to recoup the £10,000 purchase cost in 10 years or less. I can reasonably expect the 15 years thereafter to be pure profit.

I submit quarterly readings from my generation meter to my electricity supplier and they duly stump up a pleasing amount of cash—in effect, purchasing a measured quantity of solar radiation from me. I’ve asked if they’ll buy some old rope I’ve found, but they’ve yet to reply.

I continue to pay my electricity bills in the usual manner—having a solar array doesn’t make you independent of the national grid. Not only do we live in a temperate climate, but the energy cannot currently be stored.

To use a water analogy, it is like collecting rainwater without a storage tank. What I collect flows straight into the national grid, unless we happen to draw electricity while the panels are working. On a sunny day, we use less juice or none at all from the national grid. This inverts the old economy of running more appliances at the ‘night rate’ of yore.

Indeed, while our electricity bills have shrunk, in the absence of batteries it remains the case that we are both a buyer and a seller from the utility company’s point of view.

So, I’m alright, Jack.

Yet, in getting to this stage, I gained an insight into the piecemeal, stuttering and arguably chaotic shape of the government’s approach to renewable energy. I benefitted. Many did not. If we’re to get a grip on climate change, there needs to be a benefit for all.

I learned from the experiences of friends and relatives who lost time and money dealing with fly-by-night companies set up to cash in on the rush to grab the 43.3p tariff. When, at the end of 2011, the government was panicked into closing the tariff window early, the warping effect of irresponsible private sector exploitation became apparent.

For home-owners unable or unwilling to buy and own a system, they could get one for free. Their electricity bills would be slashed, but that was the end of the good news. The installing company retained the 43.3p per kWh profit, as well as ownership of the panels and an interest in the roof space the panels were bolted to.

This may well be a headache for householders who want to sell their homes, but it also meant that the whole scheme was being undermined. Many companies exploited a preferential tariff wholly intended for domestic users by creating what were in effect dispersed and over-subsidised commercial solar farms across thousands of residential roof-tops. The utilities and the government balked at the price. The party was brought to an end.

I picked a large, local electrical contractor whose solar business made up a relatively small part of its portfolio. I was confident they’d finish the job and wouldn’t disappear into the ether along with my warranty. Sustainable investment, for me at least, has to involve solid, trustworthy business basics.

The domestic scheme still exists, but the tariff has been slashed. Those prepared to wait 20 or more years to recoup their investment can still go solar. But I wouldn’t have joined on those terms because I’m just not that committed. The world may burn, but my car, holidays and video games won’t pay for themselves.

Policy-makers seem to be hamstrung, wrangling over whether nuclear or less controversial, renewable options should be aggressively pursued. Privately and publicly, some would favour both. Either way, the only product of the current political diffidence is faltering renewable investment and a continued dependence on fossil fuels.

In the meantime, domestic users are deterred or at least left with the impression that renewables are a gimmick unworthy of private investment. Many fledgling solar installers have gone to the wall. This doesn’t suggest we’re taking solar—or global warming—seriously enough as a culture. I don’t see big pharmaceuticals, oil companies and fast food giants tripping over their own shoelaces with such abandon.

Solar has to be the way forward. As solar photo-voltaic technology develops, it will only get cheaper and easier to hoover up the riches of solar fusion at all latitudes. Indeed, our high-end Mitsubishi panels are optimised for low light and cooler temperatures. They’re markedly better than the technology of five years ago, and will seem crude five years from now.

But it all has to be made worthwhile for the private punter. I found my window of opportunity but it was a tight squeeze. Many didn’t and perhaps never will.

Still, not to worry. What’s the worst that could happen?

 

Despite a good year for renewable investment in the UK, the impact of government FiT tinkering and a lack of commitment going forward will undoubtedly have a negative effect solar uptake. Gavin Smith, for one, would not invest in the current climate. A quick look at Google Trends tells the story very succinctly. UK searches for the term “solar panels” rose throughout 2011 to take advantage of the, in hindsight perhaps over generous, FiT scheme. At the end of 2011 though, as government announcements added confusion and doubt to the mix, it seemed as though the party was indeed over and only a lucky few had benefitted.

The real question is: can the message about climate change and energy security be made clear enough to counter the less generous FiT scheme? Blue & Green Tomorrow certainly hopes so. One way you can switch to renewable energy without directly investing in your own system but while retaining a clear conscience is by contacting Good Energy – the UK’s only 100% renewable energy supplier.

Further reading:

UK renewable energy investment surged in 2011

Supreme Court rejects Government FiT appeal

The Rise of Renewable Energy 2012

Editors Choice

2017 Was the Most Expensive Year Ever for U.S. Natural Disaster Damage

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Natural Disaster Damage
Shutterstock / By Droidworker | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/droidworker

Devastating natural disasters dominated last year’s headlines and made many wonder how the affected areas could ever recover. According to data from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the storms and other weather events that caused the destruction were extremely costly.

Specifically, the natural disasters recorded last year caused so much damage that the associated losses made 2017 the most expensive year on record in the 38-year history of keeping such data. The following are several reasons that 2017 made headlines for this notorious distinction.

Over a Dozen Events With Losses Totalling More Than $1 Billion Each

The NOAA reports that in total, the recorded losses equaled $306 billion, which is $90 billion more than the amount associated with 2005, the previous record holder. One of the primary reasons the dollar amount climbed so high last year is that 16 individual events cost more than $1 billion each.

Global Warming Contributed to Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Harvey, one of two Category-4 hurricanes that made landfall in 2017, was a particularly expensive natural disaster. Nearly 800,000 people needed assistance after the storm. Hurricane Harvey alone cost $125 billion, with some estimates even higher than that. So far, the only hurricane more expensive than Harvey was Katrina.

Before Hurricane Harvey hit, scientists speculated climate change could make it worse. They discussed how rising ocean temperatures make hurricanes more intense, and warmer atmospheres have higher amounts of water vapor, causing larger rainfall totals.

Since then, a new study published in “Environmental Research Letters” confirmed climate change was indeed a factor that gave Hurricane Harvey more power. It found environmental conditions associated with global warming made the storm more severe and increase the likelihood of similar events.

That same study also compared today’s storms with ones from 1900. It found that compared to those earlier weather phenomena, Hurricane Harvey’s rainfall was 15 percent more intense and three times as likely to happen now versus in 1900.

Warming oceans are one of the contributing factors. Specifically, the ocean’s surface temperature associated with the region where Hurricane Harvey quickly transformed from a tropical storm into a Category 4 hurricane has become about 1 degree Fahrenheit warmer over the past few decades.

Michael Mann, a climatologist from Penn State University, believes that due to a relationship known as the Clausius-Clapeyron equation, there was about 3-5 percent more moisture in the air, which caused more rain. To complicate matters even more, global warming made sea levels rise by more than 6 inches in the Houston area over the past few decades. Mann also believes global warming caused the stationery summer weather patterns that made Hurricane Harvey stop moving and saturate the area with rain. Mann clarifies although global warming didn’t cause Hurricane Harvey as a whole, it exacerbated several factors of the storm.

Also, statistics collected by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from 1901-2015 found the precipitation levels in the contiguous 48 states had gone up by 0.17 inches per decade. The EPA notes the increase is expected because rainfall totals tend to go up as the Earth’s surface temperatures rise and additional evaporation occurs.

The EPA’s measurements about surface temperature indicate for the same timespan mentioned above for precipitation, the temperatures have gotten 0.14 Fahrenheit hotter per decade. Also, although the global surface temperature went up by 0.15 Fahrenheit during the same period, the temperature rise has been faster in the United States compared to the rest of the world since the 1970s.

Severe Storms Cause a Loss of Productivity

Many people don’t immediately think of one important factor when discussing the aftermath of natural disasters: the adverse impact on productivity. Businesses and members of the workforce in Houston, Miami and other cities hit by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma suffered losses that may total between $150-200 billion when both damage and sacrificed productivity are accounted for, according to estimates from Moody’s Analytics.

Some workers who decide to leave their homes before storms arrive delay returning after the immediate danger has passed. As a result of their absences, a labor-force shortage may occur. News sources posted stories highlighting that the Houston area might not have enough construction workers to handle necessary rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Harvey.

It’s not hard to imagine the impact heavy storms could have on business operations. However, companies that offer goods to help people prepare for hurricanes and similar disasters often find the market wants what they provide. While watching the paths of current storms, people tend to recall storms that took place years ago and see them as reminders to get prepared for what could happen.

Longer and More Disastrous Wildfires Require More Resources to Fight

The wildfires that ripped through millions of acres in the western region of the United States this year also made substantial contributions to the 2017 disaster-related expenses. The U.S. Forest Service, which is within the U.S. Department of Agriculture, reported 2017 as its costliest year ever and saw total expenditures exceeding $2 billion.

The agency anticipates the costs will grow, especially when they take past data into account. In 1995, the U.S. Forest Service spent 16 percent of its annual budget for wildfire-fighting costs, but in 2015, the amount ballooned to 52 percent. The sheer number of wildfires last year didn’t help matters either. Between January 1 and November 24 last year, 54,858 fires broke out.

2017: Among the Three Hottest Years Recorded

People cause the majority of wildfires, but climate change acts as another notable contributor. In addition to affecting hurricane intensity, rising temperatures help fires spread and make them harder to extinguish.

Data collected by the National Interagency Fire Center and published by the EPA highlighted a correlation between the largest wildfires and the warmest years on record. The extent of damage caused by wildfires has gotten worse since the 1980s, but became particularly severe starting in 2000 during a period characterized by some of the warmest years the U.S. ever recorded.

Things haven’t changed for the better, either. In mid-December of 2017, the World Meteorological Organization released a statement announcing the year would likely end as one of the three warmest years ever recorded. A notable finding since the group looks at global land and ocean temperature, not just statistics associated with the United States.

Not all the most financially impactful weather events in 2017 were hurricanes and wildfires. Some of the other issues that cost over $1 billion included a hailstorm in Colorado, tornados in several regions of the U.S. and substantial flooding throughout Missouri and Arkansas.

Although numerous factors gave these natural disasters momentum, scientists know climate change was a defining force — a reality that should worry just about everyone.

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Environment

How to be More eco-Responsible in 2018

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eco-responsible
Shutterstock / By KENG MERRY Paper Art | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/kengmerrymikeymelody

Nowadays, more and more people are talking about being more eco-responsible. There is a constant growth of information regarding the importance of being aware of ecological issues and the methods of using eco-friendly necessities on daily basis.

Have you been considering becoming more eco-responsible after the New Year? If so, here are some useful tips that could help you make the difference in the following year:

1. Energy – produce it, save it

If you’re building a house or planning to expand your living space, think before deciding on the final square footage. Maybe you don’t really need that much space. Unnecessary square footage will force you to spend more building materials, but it will also result in having to use extra heating, air-conditioning, and electricity in it.

It’s even better if you seek professional help to reduce energy consumption. An energy audit can provide you some great piece of advice on how to save on your energy bills.

While buying appliances such as a refrigerator or a dishwasher, make sure they have “Energy Star” label on, as it means they are energy-efficient.

energy efficient

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By My Life Graphic

Regarding the production of energy, you can power your home with renewable energy. The most common way is to install rooftop solar panels. They can be used for producing electricity, as well as heat for the house. If powering the whole home is a big step for you, try with solar oven then – they trap the sunlight in order to heat food! Solar air conditioning is another interesting thing to try out – instead of providing you with heat, it cools your house!

2. Don’t be just another tourist

Think about the environment, as well your own enjoyment – try not to travel too far, as most forms of transport contribute to the climate change. Choose the most environmentally friendly means of transport that you can, as well as environmentally friendly accommodation. If you can go to a destination that is being recommended as an eco-travel destination – even better! Interesting countries such as Zambia, Vietnam or Nicaragua are among these destinations that are famous for its sustainability efforts.

3. Let your beauty be also eco-friendly

eco-friendly

Shutterstock / By Khakimullin Aleksandr

We all want to look beautiful. Unfortunately, sometimes (or very often) it comes with a price. Cruelty-free cosmetics are making its way on the world market but be careful with the labels – just because it says a product hasn’t been tested on animals, it doesn’t  mean that some of the product’s ingredients haven’t been tested on some poor animal.

To be sure which companies definitely stay away from the cruel testing on animals, check PETA Bunny list of cosmetic companies just to make sure which ones are truly and completely cruelty-free.

It’s also important if a brand uses toxic ingredients. Brands such as Tata Harper Skincare or Dr Bronner’s use only organic ingredients and biodegradable packaging, as well as being cruelty-free. Of course, this list is longer, so you’ll have to do some online research.

4. Know thy recycling

People often make mistakes while wanting to do something good for the environment. For example, plastic grocery bags, take-out containers, paper coffee cups and shredded paper cannot be recycled in your curb for many reasons, so don’t throw them into recycling bins. The same applies to pizza boxes, household glass, ceramics, and pottery – whether they are contaminated by grease or difficult to recycle, they just can’t go through the usual recycling process.

People usually forget to do is to rinse plastic and metal containers – they always have some residue, so be thorough. Also, bottle caps are allowed, too, so don’t separate them from the bottles. However, yard waste isn’t recyclable, so any yard waste or junk you are unsure of – just contact rubbish removal services instead of piling it up in public containers or in your own yard.

5. Fashion can be both eco-friendly and cool

Believe it or not, there are actually places where you can buy clothes that are eco-friendly, sustainable, as well as ethical. And they look cool, too! Companies like Everlane are very transparent about where their clothes are manufactured and how the price is set. PACT is another great company that uses non-GMO, organic cotton and non-toxic dyes for their clothing, while simultaneously using renewable energy factories. Soko is a company that uses natural and recycled materials in making their clothes and jewelry.

All in all

The truth is – being eco-responsible can be done in many ways. There are tons of small things we could change when it comes to our habits that would make a positive influence on the environment. The point is to start doing research on things that can be done by every person and it can start with the only thing that person has the control of – their own household.

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