Being the voice of over 1,000 different companies is no easy task – as Nina Skorupska, chief executive of the Renewable Energy Association (REA) has learnt during her first year in the job. She tells Blue & Green Tomorrow why she is optimistic about the future of clean energy.
This article originally appeared in Blue & Green Tomorrow’s Guide to Sustainable Clean Energy 2014.
You’ve been in the job at the REA for almost a year. Has it been how you expected?
My expectations about the importance and enormity of this job have been well met! One thing that has been a new adjustment is being responsible for so many different businesses at once. It’s a very different kind of responsibility to the kind I lived with in the private sector. We’re trying to help a whole industry be profitable and sustainable, not just one company. I have a responsibility to each and every REA member. That means a lot of listening and a very open mind, whilst also being firm and practical to deliver results.
What has surprised you most about the job?
The polarisation of the renewables debate. It seems that battle lines were drawn long before I arrived on the UK scene and positions are now well entrenched. Some politicians and stakeholders will always have time for the REA, while others have slammed the door in our face. That surprised me. But I’m tenacious, and I will open those doors!
You told Blue & Green Tomorrow last November that the REA has got to be able to say things in a voice that appeals to all its members. How difficult has this proven to be?
It has been challenging. We came up with a good plan though and we stuck with it. We changed the way the REA board is structured. The previous board was trying to do lots of things at once, and while the people in the room were brilliant, the structure did not enable us to move forward efficiently. Now we have two boards with tightly defined responsibilities: a policy board, which gives direct representation to every sector we represent and shapes the REA’s lobbying positions and priorities, and a governance board, which is smaller, enabling more efficient decision making on matters such as the REA’s membership, budget, finances and so on. I must pay testament to all our directors past and present, who have really helped make this transition a success.
You said your 90-day vision when you started was to do lots of listening. Presumably you have done that, so what were the main noises you heard?
Access to finance came up again and again. At one end of the scale, we have early stage technologies like marine, geothermal, and gasification and pyrolysis. The stage between concept and commercialisation is often called the ‘valley of death’ as investment risk is seen as being very high. At the other end of the spectrum, mature technologies like biomass, solar and wind are being unsettled by the ‘shifting sands’ of government policy. This is why we’ve set up the Finance Forum, to cut through all the noise and put renewable energy developers and the finance community directly in touch with each other. The plan is that these new relationships and the exchange of information will lead to more and more successful investments in renewable energy at all scales and across all technologies.
Tell us about some of the major developments that have taken place in renewables since you took over?
It’s very encouraging that the policy fog for renewable transport at EU level is beginning to clear. Now the focus shifts back to the UK government, which could unlock substantial investment in current and advanced renewable fuels by mapping its green transport policies out to 2020.
The launch of the domestic renewable heat incentive (RHI) and the expansion of the commercial RHI are also very welcome. The policy framework is more or less sorted for green heat now, so the next step is to raise awareness about the opportunities that are out there for homes and businesses across the full range of technologies.
We’ve also seen steady progress on electricity market reform (EMR), but there is still work to do to ensure it supports all different scales and applications of large scale renewable power, and especially independent generators.
Finally, the community energy strategy will fundamentally reshape the way communities engage with renewables, especially the commitment to increasing the shared ownership of new projects, which is shared by government, industry and community groups alike. The transition will not be easy, but it is important for the long-term success of our industry.
What state would you say the renewable energy industry is in compared to this time last year?
We’ve grown! The latest data shows that almost a fifth of UK electricity was renewable over the last quarter. That’s some achievement. Things are improving for heat and transport too, but not as fast as required to meet government’s targets. However, individual successes must be contrasted with the scale of the overall challenge. The need to rebuild consensus for renewable energy and energy efficiency as solutions to energy security and climate change is stronger than ever in a world where politicians are now so fixated on nuclear power and shale gas. We must bust the myth that ‘technology neutral’ policy delivers technology neutral results.
The REA recently unveiled the launch of its Finance Forum, which aims to connect the finance world with the thriving renewables industry. How important are investors in the low-carbon transition?
Investors are the lifeblood of the renewable energy economy. No investment means no new business. I’m really excited to see what lessons the finance community and the renewables community can take from each other. As Greg Barker said at our Awards Gala Dinner in June, “No-one does financial innovation better than us. The City of London leads the world in low-carbon finance. Our industry must innovate with finance as well as technology.”
Where next for the REA and UK renewable energy?
The general election is our next major focus. With our policy board in place we plan to deliver a coherent manifesto, with each sector singing its own piece in harmony with the overall tune: which is that clear, stable policy will deliver investment, jobs and cost reductions in renewable energy, so it can make an increasing, and increasingly cost effective contribution to reducing the energy security and climate change risks of an energy system dependent on fossil fuels.
Nina Skorupska is chief executive of the Renewable Energy Association (REA).
Photo: Karla Gowlett
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5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable
Increasing your home’s energy efficiency is one of the smartest moves you can make as a homeowner. It will lower your bills, increase the resale value of your property, and help minimize our planet’s fast-approaching climate crisis. While major home retrofits can seem daunting, there are plenty of quick and cost-effective ways to start reducing your carbon footprint today. Here are five easy projects to make your home more sustainable.
1. Weather stripping
If you’re looking to make your home more energy efficient, an energy audit is a highly recommended first step. This will reveal where your home is lacking in regards to sustainability suggests the best plan of attack.
Some form of weather stripping is nearly always advised because it is so easy and inexpensive yet can yield such transformative results. The audit will provide information about air leaks which you can couple with your own knowledge of your home’s ventilation needs to develop a strategic plan.
Make sure you choose the appropriate type of weather stripping for each location in your home. Areas that receive a lot of wear and tear, like popular doorways, are best served by slightly more expensive vinyl or metal options. Immobile cracks or infrequently opened windows can be treated with inexpensive foams or caulking. Depending on the age and quality of your home, the resulting energy savings can be as much as 20 percent.
2. Programmable thermostats
Programmable thermostats have tremendous potential to save money and minimize unnecessary energy usage. About 45 percent of a home’s energy is earmarked for heating and cooling needs with a large fraction of that wasted on unoccupied spaces. Programmable thermostats can automatically lower the heat overnight or shut off the air conditioning when you go to work.
Every degree Fahrenheit you lower the thermostat equates to 1 percent less energy use, which amounts to considerable savings over the course of a year. When used correctly, programmable thermostats reduce heating and cooling bills by 10 to 30 percent. Of course, the same result can be achieved by manually adjusting your thermostats to coincide with your activities, just make sure you remember to do it!
3. Low-flow water hardware
With the current focus on carbon emissions and climate change, we typically equate environmental stability to lower energy use, but fresh water shortage is an equal threat. Installing low-flow hardware for toilets and showers, particularly in drought prone areas, is an inexpensive and easy way to cut water consumption by 50 percent and save as much as $145 per year.
Older toilets use up to 6 gallons of water per flush, the equivalent of an astounding 20.1 gallons per person each day. This makes them the biggest consumer of indoor water. New low-flow toilets are standardized at 1.6 gallons per flush and can save more than 20,000 gallons a year in a 4-member household.
Similarly, low-flow shower heads can decrease water consumption by 40 percent or more while also lowering water heating bills and reducing CO2 emissions. Unlike early versions, new low-flow models are equipped with excellent pressure technology so your shower will be no less satisfying.
4. Energy efficient light bulbs
An average household dedicates about 5 percent of its energy use to lighting, but this value is dropping thanks to new lighting technology. Incandescent bulbs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. These inefficient light sources give off 90 percent of their energy as heat which is not only impractical from a lighting standpoint, but also raises energy bills even further during hot weather.
New LED and compact fluorescent options are far more efficient and longer lasting. Though the upfront costs are higher, the long term environmental and financial benefits are well worth it. Energy efficient light bulbs use as much as 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent and last 3 to 25 times longer producing savings of about $6 per year per bulb.
5. Installing solar panels
Adding solar panels may not be the easiest, or least expensive, sustainability upgrade for your home, but it will certainly have the greatest impact on both your energy bills and your environmental footprint. Installing solar panels can run about $15,000 – $20,000 upfront, though a number of government incentives are bringing these numbers down. Alternatively, panels can also be leased for a much lower initial investment.
Once operational, a solar system saves about $600 per year over the course of its 25 to 30-year lifespan, and this figure will grow as energy prices rise. Solar installations require little to no maintenance and increase the value of your home.
From an environmental standpoint, the average five-kilowatt residential system can reduce household CO2 emissions by 15,000 pounds every year. Using your solar system to power an electric vehicle is the ultimate sustainable solution serving to reduce total CO2 emissions by as much as 70%!
These days, being environmentally responsible is the hallmark of a good global citizen and it need not require major sacrifices in regards to your lifestyle or your wallet. In fact, increasing your home’s sustainability is apt to make your residence more livable and save you money in the long run. The five projects listed here are just a few of the easy ways to reduce both your environmental footprint and your energy bills. So, give one or more of them a try; with a small budget and a little know-how, there is no reason you can’t start today.
Is Wood Burning Sustainable For Your Home?
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?
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.