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Renewable energy: awkward teenager, but exceptional achiever



James Beard of the Renewable Energy Association writes about some of the brilliant companies nominated for gongs at the British Renewable Energy Awards on June 13.

Renewable energy seems to be in its awkward teenage years in the UK at present. In its infancy, all was loveliness and smiles, as people got excited about new technologies which didn’t have any of the problems associated with existing energy technologies like fossil fuels and nuclear power.

When it is fully grown up, it will be the major contributor to our energy mix, producing several terawatt hours of clean energy every day, while displacing millions of tonnes of CO2, sustaining possibly up to a million green jobs, and helping get energy costs under control with stable prices.

The past is bright, the future’s bright, and yet the present? Well, the UK is floundering in the relegation zone of the EU renewables league table (we get about 4% of our energy from renewables at the moment).

Our newspapers are full of grumps and groans about the visual impact of wind and solar farms on the one hand, and sensationalised, fact-light scare stories about renewables forcing up energy bills on the other.

Even the media more traditionally sympathetic to renewables tends to focus on the government’s complete inability to deliver consistent signals on energy policy. Renewables are currently struggling with poor self-image, and doubt that the powers that be have their best interests at heart. Just like a shy, troubled teenager.

However, we mustn’t stretch this metaphor too far, as time alone will not turn renewable energy into a grown-up industry. If political will crumbles, then renewables will never fully mature. We need to take responsibility, to show the world how good we can be and why it needs a grown-up renewables industry.

The best way to achieve this is to show just how much good renewables are doing to the UK economy today, when they make up only a tiny fraction of our energy needs. The shortlist for this year’s Renewable Energy Association (REA) Awards is a great place to look for examples.

Let’s start with our shortlisted Pioneers (an award sponsored by Blue & Green Tomorrow), who are showing the rest of the world how it’s done.

Take Lancashire County Pension Fund, for instance. Pension funds tend to be risk averse, and as such they have an inherent distrust of new, disruptive technologies. However, Lancashire did its homework and decided that the actual risk of investing in the Westmill Solar Co-operative was very low. By being one of the first movers in this area, it has reduced the perceived risk for future investors, and is helping other pension funds get into renewables.

Or how about Golden Gates Housing Trust? GGHT saw the potential not just for renewable energy to improve the quality of life of its residents, but actually decided to offer them the chance to become part of the process. The Trust has expanded into a fully certified installer of solar PV, solar thermal and ground source heat pumps, clocking up nearly 1,000 installations to date.

Then there’s Dytecna, who, after realising it was over-dependent on defence contracts, has decided to diversify its operations into a wide range of renewable technologies, from closed loop biomethane-based transport fuel production to the development of solar ovens for humanitarian development projects overseas.

Read more about our Pioneers in Blue & Green Tomorrow’s Guide to Limitless Clean Energy 2013.

Renewables are also breaking new ground in the Community enterprises arena (an award sponsored by Infinis). The Devon Association for Renewable Energy (DARE) has been helping communities realise their renewables ambitions since 2000. Not content with advising specific projects, DARE also works hard to educate communities, businesses and even schoolchildren about the benefits of community renewables.

South London meanwhile is home to the Repowering group, which is looking to expand its community energy model across the UK following its excellent success so far. It is not just the 20 tonnes of CO2 displaced by a typical Repowering solar PV project which makes it special; it is its focus on community engagement and empowerment. This is shown in the 10 paid work experience placements Repowering has created with each project, as well as the six internships and four energy audit Train the Trainer workshops.

Indeed, Skills Development is another aspect of renewables we are celebrating this year, with its own award category for the first time. Our 2012 Made in Britain report showed Britain had the potential for up to 400,000 renewables jobs by 2020. However, massive up-skilling is needed to attain this prize, and it is wonderful to see the great work that industry is doing on this.

In Hull, for example, Vivergo Fuels has recruited several employees directly through the local Job Centre, as part of an innovative partnership with Hull College. You might think then that this is a small company doing just a little bit of renewables. Think again – Vivergo is the largest single producer of bioethanol and animal feed in the UK, with annual outputs of 330,000 tonnes and 450,000 tonnes respectively.

Then there’s NatWest, which realises it’s not just engineering where we need to learn up, but financing, too. Three hundred NatWest managers have now been successfully trained in the bank’s innovative Renewable Energy Financing Programme, and sustainable energy is now one of four ‘key pillars’ for the Royal Bank of Scotland Group.

Finally, let’s take a look at some of those landmark renewable energy Projects (an award sponsored by reNews). Some of these projects serve a strong iconic function, such as the Solarcentury Blackfriars Bridge. This project, the largest solar bridge in the world, links renewable energy to the great British engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel and the UK’s strong heritage in bridge building and railways. It is renewable energy built, quite literally, on Victorian foundations.

Other projects impress for the downright never-give-up attitude of the developers. The Wick district heating scheme, for instance, suffered setback after setback in its troubled development, and the plug was almost pulled on multiple occasions. But Ignis was this year finally able to announce the project as operational – and one of the turning points for the project was Ignis’ immediate decision upon taking on the project to switch the fuel source from heating oil to biomass, which turned the floundering economics of the project on their head.

Or maybe Prince Charles’ Poundbury biomethane project will take the crown? The first commercial scale green gas to grid project in the UK is a remarkable achievement. The collaboration between JV Energen and Scotia Gas Networks has come to serve as a pioneering exemplar of UK biomethane, and the challenges this scheme has encountered and overcome have helped remove technical and regulatory barriers for new entrants into the market.

This is just a small taster of the stories we’ll be telling on June 13. I’ve not covered the whole shortlist for any of the categories above, and that’s before we even get on to the inspiring Installers and Innovators, the crème de la crème of Companies, the exemplary Leaders and the deserving Champions.

To hear these stories in full, along with first-rate networking, a delicious dinner, plentiful wine and after-dinner entertainment from former Conservative politician Michael Portillo, join my colleagues and I at the Jumeirah Carlton in Knightsbridge next Thursday. I look forward to seeing you there.

James Beard is press officer at the Renewable Energy Association. To book your place at the REA British Renewable Energy Awards 2013, click here

Further reading:

Shortlist unveiled for prestigious renewables awards

The energy bill: it’s time to talk about ‘energy and climate security’

Renewables: the UK’s new industrial revolution

The Guide to Limitless Clean Energy 2013


How Going Green Can Save A Company Money



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




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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