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Renewable energy: debunking the subsidy and efficiency myths

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One of the criticisms of solar power and other renewable energies are their apparent status as ‘subsidy junkies’; another is their efficiency. In a recent interview, Howard Johns, founder and managing director of Southern Solar, questioned the fairness of both claims.

What other technology in the world has reduced the amount of subsidy that it requires and still continues deployment at the rate that solar has? Nothing. Yet solar – and other renewables – are dubbed ‘subsidy junkies’.

If you want a subsidy junkie, look at what the nuclear industry is going to be charging the country for the next 35 years guaranteed.

Within three years potentially, and certainly within five, solar probably won’t have any subsidy because it won’t need it. Nuclear is trying to do a deal to score a subsidy for the next 35-40 years, to the tune of £1.5 billion a year just for one reactor. Now that is a subsidy junkie.

Click here to read The Guide to Limitless Clean Energy 2013

People look at the subsidies on renewables and say, “You guys, you’re just subsidy farmers.” Actually, the analysis that I’ve seen is that globally, there are more subsidies for fossil fuels than there is for renewables – I believe they have been shown to dwarf renewable subsidies by 6 to 1 – let alone nuclear.

The whole energy industry is subsidised. It’s subsidised by the virtue that it was built by the public sector and sold off. Whether we got good value at that stage, for something that had been built over 40 years by our nation, is debatable.

The playing field is simply not level anyway. All that the subsidies for renewables do is start to redress the balance of things and make it a little bit fairer in many ways. If we can factor in the true cost of these things – the externalities – basically, those businesses that are currently running electricity generation around the world are externalising their costs.

The key thing they’re doing is pumping carbon dioxide and other emissions into the atmosphere, which is going to hit us all. We’re already seeing it with climate instability. These companies are not actually paying the true cost of a massive portion of their business. That’s not the case for renewables. Once it’s up, there are no externalities in the same way.

It’s very easy for people to slam renewables because of subsidies, but when you dig in, my God the case is so different from the very simple picture that’s painted by our critics. They paint this picture because renewables are a threat to the status quo of current businesses.

It’s a fundamental thing. Renewables will undermine current utility models.

I did some maths at the height of the feed-in tariff. In the last weeks, in December 2011, if we were installing at half the rate we were installing that week, we would basically do the entire UK’s domestic housing stock within 11 years. We’d put PV on every house, effectively.

It’s very easy for people to slam renewables because of subsidies, but when you dig in, my God the case is so different from the very simple picture that’s painted by our critics

That’s a theoretical concept, but have a think about what that does to the margins of the utilities. It totally and utterly changes the game. And that is really where we’re going.

If you look at Germany, you’re already getting negative power prices. I’ve seen four or five different reports coming from different angles, all saying they were worried about the utilities’ business models as renewables come on stream.

In Germany, 20% of power is coming from renewables. Of that 20%, only 15% of the assets is owned by the big six. The rest is owned by new people: individuals, farmers, new companies moving and capturing market share.

The big utilities are not nimble enough to cope with this change, so the best way is to try and block the change from happening in the first place, which means blocking things that are truly progressive like the feed-in tariff.

The efficiency of renewables

If you look at generation from solar, and usage profiles on the National Grid, they basically match each other. There’s a small baseload consumption through the night, and in the morning it picks up and peaks about midday, then it drops down again, before another peak after teatime.

Generally, the bulk of the energy is used during the day when people are at work. Solar generates during the day. Production from solar and consumption match very well.

We have seen a lot of seismic shifts in technology around the world, and solar is now leading the way

Certainly, with our commercial customers who are running farms and factories, it’s an absolute no-brainer. Sometimes they’re producing all of the power they need for  a big chunk of the day.

Taking it to the next extreme, in Germany right now, 50% of its entire national consumption of electricity at 12 noon is often being generated by solar. It’s a massive, massive change. What it’s causing in Germany is negative power prices at those times. It totally destabilises the coal-fired power stations that just can’t compete.

We have seen a lot of seismic shifts in technology around the world, and solar is now leading the way.

We’ve been through two big silicon based changes already. The first one was computers. Twenty years ago, they said everybody will eventually have a desktop PC in their house, and people were saying, “Why on Earth would you want that?” Now you couldn’t imagine living without it.

The second one was mobile phones: “Look at that crazy brick, why are you going to want to walk around with that thing in your pocket?” Now you’ve got your internet, emails and everything you need going on within your mobile phones.

In Africa, they’ve leapfrogged landlines and gone straight to mobiles. Solar is going to do exactly the same. It’s already probably the cheapest form of electricity in many countries in the world.

Solar is here, and basically, it’s just a question of time before it appears everywhere.

Further reading:

Howard Johns, Southern Solar: solar power is here to stay

Why investing directly in renewables projects is a worthwhile venture

Bright future predicted for solar as government learns its lesson

Questions of efficiency

The Guide to Limitless Clean Energy 2013

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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