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Renewables: the UK’s new industrial revolution

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Andrew Morton, account director at Footprint Renewables, describes how renewable energy – which by definition is dependable, predictable and sustainable – can be the driving force behind future economic growth.

This piece originally featured in B&GT’s Guide to Limitless Clean Energy 2012.

As a country, the UK can claim to have seen it before. Rising unemployment, the threat of widespread government cuts and a crippling recession – all set against the worrying backdrop of an energy crisis.

As many economists, historians and politicians have pointed out, the scenario faced by the country in the 1970s is very similar to the problems we are battling both as businesses and individuals in 2012.

But there is, thankfully, a critical difference between then and now, which could help fuel an economic recovery and also shape a cleaner, greener, future.

Forty years ago, reducing fossil fuel use and living more sustainably was only a storyline on episodes of The Good Life. Whereas, today’s financial woes come at a time when corporations, communities and countries are agreed on the need to move towards a low-carbon existence. This outlook is coupled with the genuine need to slash energy costs.

Collectively, this unique situation presents the chance for a new industrial revolution. And the good news is that it is a transformation many of us can join and even benefit from.

Moreover, the UK’s expanding renewable energy industry, and the wider environmental sector, is big business and we should not be afraid to talk about it in this sense.

The issue of powering our workplaces and homes in the decades to come is not going to disappear. The challenge is considerable – with equally considerable investment needed to overcome the hurdle. So, in switching to greener fuel, we can potentially improve our balance sheet at the same time.

When you think the offshore wind power sector alone could be employing nearly 100,000 people in the UK by 2020 – according to a report released in June by the Centre for Economics and Business Research – you begin to realise the scale of this economic opportunity.

This is even more impressive when you realise that this wasn’t really an industry for the country until only about a decade ago.

Importantly, before understanding how this can be our new industrial revolution, it is useful to remember why there is an energy crisis.

We have as a country – for the first time in decades – become a net energy importer. The UK has become increasingly dependent on uncertain, and in some cases volatile, parts of the world for our energy requirements. This means we are vulnerable to the rise and fall of global energy prices.

As we have seen with household bills and fuel costs, this reliance on imported energy impacts on every one of us and the prices we ultimately pay for goods and services. It is also worth considering emerging economies, such as China and India, have an ever-greater appetite for diminishing fossil fuels.

So, this means we have a responsibility – and a pressing need – to carefully think about creating a more dependable, predictable and sustainable energy source.

Perhaps the best way to achieve this, and economic growth, is by fully exploiting our range of renewable energy resources in and around the UK.

This also goes some way to prove why there is such political will, from all quarters, behind green energy, notwithstanding mostly local debates on issues such as the popularity of onshore wind farms. Indeed, president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, has said the opportunity could “create thousands of new businesses and millions of jobs”.

But how is this emerging industry taking shape and how is it creating a new economy in the UK?

Some of the action involves big projects that are attracting, understandably, big headlines.

An example is the development of bio-renewables, including biomass and bioethanol, which will take a share of the new green energy mix. Up to 40 new production facilities are expected to be built in Europe in the next five years, with the UK taking a prominent role.

In East Yorkshire, commissioning is underway at the Vivergo Fuels site – one of the largest bio-refineries in the continent.

The plant will produce 420m litres of fuel a year, using 1.1m tonnes of locally sourced wheat. The company is investing £350m in the area and creating and sustaining more than 1,000 jobs.

Given the potential for this technology, and how such developments will support local supply chains, it is a tangible demonstration of how large-scale renewables can make strong contributions to an area’s economic wellbeing.

But perhaps the area of clean energy that has attracted the most focus – and where there is the most hope of a green-inspired industrial revolution – is offshore wind.

The UK is now widely-regarded as the global leader in this sector and the work developing the massive “Round Three” wind zones off our coastline is among the world’s largest civil engineering projects.

Remember, some of these sites in North Sea are the size of English counties – filled with turbines that need designing, assembling, transporting, installing, operating and maintaining.

Industry-backed reports suggest this activity could return the country to being a net energy exporter by the middle of the century, generating electricity equivalent to one billion barrels of oil a year.

Based on predictions of delivering 33 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind power by the early 2020s, it is also thought the sector could contribute 0.4% of GDP per year around the same period.

Being just a decade away from realising this – and with such impressive forecasted numbers – it is a bold example of a new industrial revolution.

Already, so-called “super clusters” of expertise, businesses and supply chains are forming in pockets of the UK that will assemble the Eiffel Tower-size turbines destined for the Round Three sites.

Hull and the Humber, Newcastle and the Tyne and Leith in Scotland are all offering homes for this industry and engineering giants such as Gamesa are developing plans.

The positive impact Siemens’ proposed turbine assembly plant in Hull – employing about 700 people – could have on the entire Humber region and business community is vividly illustrated by the parallels drawn with similar economic revolutions elsewhere in the UK.

Some have said renewables will be to Hull what oil and gas have been to Aberdeen and car manufacturing continues to mean for places like Sunderland and Derby.

In the Humber’s case, up 10,000 jobs are being talked about in terms of the supply chains and wider area, with everyone from lawyers and training providers to caterers and engineers required as part of this sector.

Proving UK manufacturing and traditional industry is far from extinct; ship building will also happen, with modern vessels required to ferry equipment and crews offshore.

The recent announcement by Danish firm Vestas to drop plans for a large turbine facility in Kent may have led some to question the future of the industry. But this is surely a small bump in an overwhelmingly positive-looking journey – irrespective of on-going arguments about government subsidy levels and other political issues.

In fact, the bigger danger in making sure this new industrial story has a happy ending may be the readiness of companies in the UK to actually believe it and fully seize the opportunity.

Our supply chains must prepare now for their golden chance and be ready to compete with overseas rivals in a fast-paced and dynamic industry that has existing relationships with renewables businesses in mainland Europe – notably Germany – where offshore wind already has an established presence.

Having local advantage will not be enough on its own to win this work, generate investment and create jobs.

Carbon capture and storage and tidal and wave power also present huge economic opportunities for the UK, once research and issues surrounding commercial viability have been concluded.

But these big projects are only part of the green industrial revolution.

Micro-generation and the related field of energy-efficiency in domestic properties have the potential to be a crucial, lucrative, market.

Already, solar power is responsible for employing more than three times the number of people the wind industry does – many in small and medium-sized enterprises (SME).

There are about 55,000 companies active in the low-carbon and environmental goods and services sector in the UK, of which 18,000 are involved in manufacturing. Some 90% of the firms are in the industry are SMEs.

And these numbers will only improve as our appetite for renewable energy comes from lifestyle, comfort and cost-reduction choices, rather than subsidies and tariffs.

As a nation, we have a target of getting 15% of our energy requirements from renewables by 2020, with everyone having a role to play, whether as a homeowner or a director of a business.

Working towards this goal – and others associated with carbon emissions – will mean we have economic growth underpinned by a reliable and secure power source.

In the process, we have the chance to create green jobs, generate new business and build a home-grown industrial success story.

Andrew Morton is a journalist and account director of Footprint Renewables – a UK-based public relations, marketing and research company that works exclusively in the green energy sector.

Further reading:

The Guide to Limitless Clean Energy 2012

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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