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Mind the energy gap

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Three-day weeks and brownouts may seem like a distant and unpleasant memory. We face a similar crisis in the coming decade unless our government acts soon to secure our energy supply. Brownouts will damage our fragile economic recovery through business closures, falling confidence and rising energy prices from imports. This is the energy gap.

This piece originally featured in Blue & Green Tomorrow’s Guide to Limitless Clean Energy 2013.

In the 1970s, rampant inflation and capped pay rises triggered a bitter power struggle between the National Union of Mineworkers and the Edward Heath government. The mineworkers’ union worked to rule depriving power plants of coal, leading the government to declare a three-day week to conserve energy. An oil crisis with OPEC in 1973 didn’t help.

Fast forward 40 years, inflation and union power may have been curbed, but the failure of successive governments to address our ageing energy generation plants has put us in the same invidious position. This time they don’t have unions or foreigners to scapegoat.

The UK was a net energy importer until 1980, and then North Sea oil and gas started to flow, making us a net exporter until 2004. Since then, we have been a rapidly rising importer, taking 8% of our energy in 2005, the year the balance switched. Net import dependency in 2012 had increased to 43%, its highest level since 1976.

Click here to read The Guide to Limitless Clean Energy 2013

In 2005, a panel of 150 energy experts, under the auspices of the UK Energy Research Centre and Geological Society of London, reported that by 2020, the UK may only be producing 80% of the energy it needs. That’s an unprecedented shortfall, which heralds brownouts and a four-day week.

Ofgem’s Project Discovery report in 2009 identified the problems that Britain faced. It stated that the combination of a global financial crisis, tough environmental targets and the closure of ageing power stations would increase the risk to consumers’ energy supplies and could lead to higher bills.

In 2010, parliament published a briefing paper describing the ‘looming’ energy gap. It said,“There will also be a substantial loss of generating capacity during the next decade as coal-fired capacity closes around 2015, following the emissions standards set by the Large Combustion Plant Directive, and most nuclear power stations reach the end of their productive lives.”

In October 2012, Ofgem warned that there may have to be “controlled disconnections, or brownouts, of homes and businesses in the middle of the decade because Britain has so far not done enough to make sure it has sufficient electricity.

Ofgem’s outgoing CEO Alistair Buchanan, writing in the Daily Telegraph in February, said, “If you can imagine a ride on a rollercoaster at a fairground, then this winter we are at the top of the circuit and we head downhill – fast. Within three years we will see reserve margin of generation fall from below 14% to below 5%. That is uncomfortably tight.”

A reserve margin of 5% is too slim a reserve if we have a particularly cold spell and energy consumption rises beyond.

In March 2013, the UK lost 10% of its generation capacity as coal and oil-fired power stations went offline.

Dithering over nuclear and divided over renewables, the government’s solution appears to be to import scarce fossil fuels with volatile prices from unstable and unsavoury regimes

Despite the clear warnings and apparent recognition of the energy gap we face, the government has still not secured generation capacity to meet our future needs. Dithering over nuclear and divided over renewables, the solution appears to be to import scarce fossil fuels with volatile prices from unstable and unsavoury regimes.

But the world has not stood still.

The economic growth of China, India and other emerging economies means the demand for fuel supplies has risen. Our success in promoting free trade and economic growth means we now have more competitors for increasingly scarce resources. Energy exporters have a greater choice of customers they can serve. Russia’s gas can flow west into an interfering Europe or east into a grateful Asia.

Two reports that have largely been ignored by government demonstrate that the UK could become a net exporter of energy if it produced and implemented a coherent energy strategy, with a pivotal role of renewables.

The National Grid’s Future Energy Scenario report 2012 indicated that the UK could become a net exporter of energy by the 2020s, by delivering on the commitment to have 15% of energy generated by renewables.

Meanwhile, the Offshore Valuation demonstrated that using just a third of our offshore energy potential could make us a net energy exporter.

And this isn’t the pipedream of treehugger, although we probably count on their support.

In March, Good Energy CEO Juliet Davenport wrote, “Last week [March 22] the combination of a cold snap, dwindling gas supplies and a pipeline failure meant gas prices spiked within hours on Friday. As the events unfolded they provided a dramatic example of how our over reliance on importing expensive fossil fuels like gas, leaves us exposed to volatile prices.

“At the same time, on Friday morning high wind speeds led to 11.6% of demand being met by wind. According to RenewableUK, Saturday was another record breaking day for UK wind, and over the weekend clean British energy was generating enough to power the equivalent of nearly four out of every 10 UK homes and consistently over 10% of GB’s overall electricity needs.

“The wind dial on Gridwatch, which displays near real-time data on what the UK’s electricity grid is doing, consistently showed over 5 gigawatts (GW).

“We have been given a glimpse of the future if we fail to make the most of the abundant resources we have here in the UK. On Monday last week, Denmark produced enough energy from wind power to satisfy the whole country’s electricity demand.

“Wind is not a silver bullet, but it must be an important part of the energy mix in the years to come if we are to meet the challenge of greater energy security, cheaper costs and cutting carbon emissions. For those who would ignore the potential of renewables, Friday provided a fantastic example of what we would be missing.”

There doesn’t need to be an energy gap if politicians with vision and courage support the renewable sector with conviction

A government’s first duty is the defence of the realm and its people from enemies, both foreign and domestic.

There could be no greater twin threats to our national security than climate change and the energy gap. The first is existential; the second economic.

The energy gap makes us dependent on increasing imports of scarce fossil fuels with volatile prices from unstable and unsavoury regimes. Burning those fossil fuels makes us a primary cause of climate change and leaves us open to its many and unpredictable threats. More extreme weather events are the most obvious threats, destroying agriculture, flooding homes and businesses and harming communities.

The domestic enemies are those in the media who claim that burning more fossil fuels is just fine and that human-caused climate change is a myth.

The UK could secure a domestic, clean and limitless supply of energy by tapping into the wind, wave and tidal resource that we have in abundance.

Solar and nuclear both play a role. Solar due to their easy small scale installation and rapidly falling costs. Nuclear may be a necessary evil if we can bear the risks of waste storage and proliferation.

Energy efficiency, including residential, commercial and transport initiatives, all play their part in reducing demand as we clean up the supply.

It would support thousands of new jobs domestically, from engineers to construction workers to insulation fitters. It would also help create a valuable new export industry in a global renewable market worth $1 trillion.

Davenport makes the point, ”Instead of relying on rescue from a tanker from far flung places like Qatar or gambling on the hope that we’ll find new unconventional sources of gas, we could become self-sufficient in clean energy. It not only makes economic sense but environmental sense too.”

There doesn’t need to be an energy gap if politicians with vision and courage support the renewable sector with conviction. There doesn’t need to be an energy gap if the electorate commit to punishing those who do not address the challenge we face.

The year of brownouts, 2015, is the year of the next general election.

Further reading:

Does Griff Rhys Jones have a point about renewable energy?

A sustainable versus unsustainable recovery

Government plans could allow communities to reject wind farms

Harnessing the power of a community

The Guide to Limitless Clean Energy 2013

Simon Leadbetter is the founder and publisher of Blue & Green Tomorrow. He has held senior roles at Northcliffe, The Daily Telegraph, Santander, Barclaycard, AXA, Prudential and Fidelity. In 2004, he founded a marketing agency that worked amongst others with The Guardian, Vodafone, E.On and Liverpool Victoria. He sold this agency in 2006 and as Chief Marketing Officer for two VC-backed start-ups launched the online platform Cleantech Intelligence (which underpinned the The Guardian’s Cleantech 100) and StrategyEye Cleantech. Most recently, he was Marketing Director of Emap, the UK’s largest B2B publisher, and the founder of Blue & Green Communications Limited.

Economy

How Going Green Can Save A Company Money

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going green can save company money
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By GOLFX

What is going green?

Going green means to live life in a way that is environmentally friendly for an entire population. It is the conservation of energy, water, and air. Going green means using products and resources that will not contaminate or pollute the air. It means being educated and well informed about the surroundings, and how to best protect them. It means recycling products that may not be biodegradable. Companies, as well as people, that adhere to going green can help to ensure a safer life for humanity.

The first step in going green

There are actually no step by step instructions for going green. The only requirement needed is making the decision to become environmentally conscious. It takes a caring attitude, and a willingness to make the change. It has been found that companies have improved their profit margins by going green. They have saved money on many of the frivolous things they they thought were a necessity. Besides saving money, companies are operating more efficiently than before going green. Companies have become aware of their ecological responsibility by pursuing the knowledge needed to make decisions that would change lifestyles and help sustain the earth’s natural resources for present and future generations.

Making needed changes within the company

After making the decision to go green, there are several things that can be changed in the workplace. A good place to start would be conserving energy used by electrical appliances. First, turning off the computer will save over the long run. Just letting it sleep still uses energy overnight. Turn off all other appliances like coffee maker, or anything that plugs in. Pull the socket from the outlet to stop unnecessary energy loss. Appliances continue to use electricity although they are switched off, and not unplugged. Get in the habit of turning off the lights whenever you leave a room. Change to fluorescent light bulbs, and lighting throughout the building. Have any leaks sealed on the premises to avoid the escape of heat or air.

Reducing the common paper waste

paper waste

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Yury Zap

Modern technologies and state of the art equipment, and tools have almost eliminated the use of paper in the office. Instead of sending out newsletters, brochures, written memos and reminders, you can now do all of these and more by technology while saving on the use of paper. Send out digital documents and emails to communicate with staff and other employees. By using this virtual bookkeeping technique, you will save a bundle on paper. When it is necessary to use paper for printing purposes or other services, choose the already recycled paper. It is smartly labeled and easy to find in any office supply store. It is called the Post Consumer Waste paper, or PCW paper. This will show that your company is dedicated to the preservation of natural resources. By using PCW paper, everyone helps to save the trees which provides and emits many important nutrients into the atmosphere.

Make money by spreading the word

Companies realize that consumers like to buy, or invest in whatever the latest trend may be. They also cater to companies that are doing great things for the quality of life of all people. People want to know that the companies that they cater to are doing their part for the environment and ecology. By going green, you can tell consumers of your experiences with helping them and communities be eco-friendly. This is a sound public relations technique to bring revenue to your brand. Boost the impact that your company makes on the environment. Go green, save and make money while essentially preserving what is normally taken for granted. The benefits of having a green company are enormous for consumers as well as the companies that engage in the process.

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Energy

5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable

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sustainable homes
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By Diyana Dimitrova

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

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Olivier Le Moal

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.

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