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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

Features

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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Features

How Going Green Can Save Your Business Thousands

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Running a company isn’t easy. From reporting wages in an efficient way to meeting deadlines and targets, there’s always something to think about – with green business ideas giving entrepreneurs something extra to ponder. While environmental issues may not be at the forefront of your mind right now, it could save your business thousands, so let’s delve deeper into this issue.

Small waste adds up over time

A computer left on overnight might not seem like the end of the world, right? Sure, it’s a rather minor issue compared to losing a client or being refused a loan – but small waste adds up over time. Conserving energy is an effective money saver, so to hold onto that hard-earned cash, try to:

  • Turn all electrical gadgets off at the socket rather than leaving them on standby as the latter can crank up your energy bill without you even realizing.
  • Switch all lights off when you exit a room and try switching to halogen incandescent light bulbs, compact fluorescent lamps or light emitting diodes as these can use up to 80 per cent less energy than traditional incandescent and are therefore more efficient.
  • Replace outdated appliances with their greener counterparts. Energy Star appliances have labels which help you to understand their energy requirements over time.
  • Draught-proof your premises as sealing up leaks could slash your energy bills by 30 per cent.

Going electronic has significant benefits

If you don’t want to be buried under a mountain of paperwork, why not opt for digital documents instead of printing everything out? Not only will this save a lot of money on paper and ink but it will also conserve energy and help protect the planet. You may even be entitled to one of the many tax breaks and grants issued to organizations committed to achieving their environmental goals. This is particularly good news for start-ups with limited funds as the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) is keen to support companies opening up their company in a green manner.

Of course, if you’re used to handing out brochures and leaflets at every company meeting or printing out newsletters whenever you get the chance, going electronic may be a challenge – but here are some things you can try:

  • Using PowerPoint presentations not printouts
  • Communicating via instant messenger apps or email
  • Using financial software to manage your books
  • Downloading accounting software to keep track of figures
  • Arranging digital feedback and review forms
  • Making the most of Google Docs

Going green can help you to make money too

Going green and environmental stability is big news at the moment with many companies doing their bit for the environment. While implementing eco-friendly strategies will certainly save you money, reducing your carbon footprint could also make you a few bucks too. How? Well, consumers care about what brands are doing more than ever before, with many deliberately siding with those who are implementing green policies. Essentially, doing your bit for the environment is a PR dream as it allows you to talk about what everyone wants to hear.

Going green can certainly save your money but it should also improve your reputation too and give you a platform to promote your business.

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