The Renewable Energy Association (REA) bills itself as “the voice of the renewables industry in the UK”. With this in mind, Blue & Green Tomorrow caught up with its chief executive, Gaynor Hartnell.
Who is the REA?
We’re the only renewable energy trade body that covers renewable heat, transport fuel, power generation and bio-methane or green gas. We have over 900 members so we’re the largest trade association in terms of number of member companies, and our main focus is from the perspective of the renewable energy producer – people selling heat, or installing heat projects and so on.
We have lots of members that are also service providers to the industry, anything from lawyers to consultants and so on, and we also have some of the main utilities in membership, but obviously it’s the renewable energy producers that we are seeking to be the voice of.
Our mission is to secure the best markets for our members, and to help meet the 15% renewable energy target by 2020 and go beyond it.
If we weren’t here, there might be lots of smaller trade associations just trying to do one small part of the industry. But many companies are actually involved in a portfolio of different renewable energy technologies and they want to be a member of one trade association that has a holistic view of renewable energy and doesn’t require them to join lots of different trade associations.
What do you think the government could be doing more with regards to renewable energy?
One thing that the government is doing which isn’t helping at all is serially undermining investor confidence in the sector. We are supposed to have had the application of the Renewables Obligation banding review at the end of May, but it wasn’t published then, and the reason we understand it’s been delayed is because government is considering reducing the banding level for onshore wind below the level that it consulted upon.
It feels like that’s been driven by politics rather than evidenced-based research. And it’s very destabilising because normally what happens when the government consults on something is it sets out its proposed tariffs or prices, and those are widely reviewed as the worst case scenario.
One wouldn’t expect them to come up with those figures after having gathered evidence, and one doesn’t expect it to actually go beneath that. It will have a very destabilising effect.
There are numerous examples in other technologies where there have been changes of policy view, and altogether, in the context of introducing new electricity market arrangements under the Electricity Market Reform (EMR) process, it’s very important that investor confidence is maintained and if the government doesn’t start improving its performance in this respect, it’s going to be very difficult indeed to meet the renewable targets.
What has the government done positive with regards to renewable energy?
On the Electricity Market Reform, there are lots of concerns expressed. I would say that the concept of the contracts for difference (CfD) feed-in tariff is laudable, and if it can be made to work, it will be a good thing.
There are lots of caveats however, and most of the stuff you read at the moment about EMR is very negative, but I can understand what the government wanted to achieve by way of these CfD, and the objective is a sound one for renewables, but the devil’s in the detail.
It’s positive that it’s getting the feed-in tariff for PV onto a more stable, predictable pathway, and that it has revised its review of what contribution PV can make in the longer term. It has recognised finally that the costs are coming down so dramatically that it expects it to play a major part from 2020 onwards, and it’s going to revise the Renewables Roadmap to make that clear, which is good.
What’s your background in renewable energy and how has the sector changed since you entered the industry?
I’ve been at the REA since it started. In fact, I was there helping to get it off the ground. Renewable energy has been one of my long-term objectives or desires to see the industry present a strong and united voice to government.
I got into renewables in the mid-1990s, and I’ve worked with a number of different trade associations. When I started, there was a lot of competition between different renewables as to which one was best.
They were such small players then that it wasn’t constructive. The important thing was to actually work together, and so that’s why I felt motivated to try and bring these competing trade associations altogether.
There have been tremendous changes. One of them is just the sheer number of government officials and departments involved. Back in the 1990s, there were really only three civil servants that one really needed to have a relationship, as opposed to a renewable energy trade association. And the growth’s been exponential since then.
Blue & Green Tomorrow often prefers to use words like ‘clean’, ‘alternative’ or ‘green’ when describing renewable energy. Do you think the word ‘renewable’ has picked up negative connotations?
No, I don’t think it has at all; in fact it’s almost the opposite. There’s an assumption that something isn’t really totally environmentally wonderful unless it is renewable energy.
So you’ll have people talking about the recovery of waste heat, and they describe it as renewable energy. Now, it’s not renewable energy necessarily, unless it’s waste heat from a renewable energy source. But that doesn’t mean to say it’s not a fantastically sound thing to be doing for the environment.
Renewables doesn’t have the monopoly on being green, I’d certainly argue that. It can be that doing something like recovering coal mine methane that’s just venting out the ground, for example, could be a more environmentally sound thing to do than to actually build a new biogas project.
There’s an environmental problem going on there with that coal mine methane venting that needs to be addressed urgently. It’s a very environmentally sound thing to do. I wouldn’t call it renewable energy, but that’s not to say it’s not a very important thing to do.
What’s the long-term goal for the REA?
Trade associations exist to serve their members. They should always take account of what is best for the industry and the members. They don’t really exist in their own right. And I think that how far we go is more a question for commercial businesses.
But in the end, it may be best that the REA doesn’t even exist because come the time when our energy is pretty much 100% renewables, different renewables will be competing against each other and there will be no role for a body that’s seeking to unite them all like the REA is.
The ideal scenario is 100% renewables and different renewable technologies competing against each other.
Finally, what would you say to encourage and inspire people into switching to renewable energy?
Renewables are the only long-term energy solution for the planet. The fuel sources for renewables aren’t going to run out, and you haven’t got issues like dealing with radioactive waste or waste carbon that you’ve got to store because you can’t let it out in the atmosphere.
They’re totally the answer for the long-term, and increasingly also the answer for the short-term as well, because fossil fuel prices are only going upwards, and many businesses and individuals want to insulate themselves against future price rises.
Photo: Peter Heilmann via Flickr
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New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035
New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.
New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.
Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.
Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”
The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.
Zero net emissions by 2050
Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.
Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.
She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.
Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”
A worldwide shift to renewable energy
Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.
Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.
Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.
Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.
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.
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