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‘Renewables will win. It’s just a question of when’

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RWE Npower director Nina Skorupska was recently unveiled as the Renewable Energy Association’s (REA) new chief executive. At the end of July, she will take over from Gaynor Hartnell, who has been with the REA since launch in 2001. Reflecting on her time at the helm of the trade body, Hartnell spoke with Blue & Green Tomorrow.

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

We spoke to you for the first Guide to Limitless Clean Energy in July 2012. Can you talk us through the major events in the renewables industry between then and now?

Quite a bit has happened, but the common thread running through it all is increased complexity, which of course is not helpful.

Support levels for large-scale power to 2017 were finally set last summer – although this spawned a series of spin-off consultations in the autumn that have still not been fully resolved. At the smaller scale, the feed-in tariff scheme sought to draw a line under the PV fiasco with a complicated set of rules to change the tariffs in response to deployment levels.

Click here to read The Guide to Limitless Clean Energy 2013

Not to be outdone, the renewable heat incentive produced three consultations last year – with major expansion to the scheme now delayed until April 2014. Meanwhile, transport biofuels are still waiting for government to say what it wants from them – a policy limbo that’s lasted since July 2008.

Last time we spoke, you said the government was “undermining investor confidence” in the renewable energy sector. Do you think this is still the case?

I do think that we’re in an unusual situation here. We’ve got a coalition government with a very tight focus on financial control, and it’s resulting in very complex policy and very little certainty on anything going forward.

It’s uniquely challenging. I’m sure the government hasn’t set out to undermine investor confidence, but that has been the consequence of its actions.

The energy bill was published in December. Summarise your thoughts on whether the government did enough for the renewable sector.

I would say that the energy bill isn’t really for the renewables sector. One of the drivers was getting renewables support into a shape the government was more comfortable with, but I see the main reason for the energy bill is to bring nuclear forward. That’s much of what it’s for.

Many people have latched onto the lack of a decarbonisation target as being the most significant shortfall. I think that’s a symptom of the immense uncertainty created by conflicting messages coming out from this government.

I’m sure the government hasn’t set out to undermine investor confidence in renewable energy, but that has been the consequence of its actions

It seems to want to pitch gas versus renewables or nuclear versus renewables; it’s wrong to have done this, whether by design or by mistake.

The REA conducted a survey earlier this year that showed 96% of the industry was apprehensive about the UK meeting its 2020 renewables target. Why is this and do you think this lack of confidence is salvageable?

Just to put it in context, the UK has never met a renewables target since it started setting them in 1990. So missing a target is par for the course. Usually, a near-term target is missed; it is superseded by a longer-term target which is bigger; and the trajectory carries on with greater investment in renewables.

There’s a balance to be struck between near-term targets, which keeps the focus and pressure on, and simply making sure we’re on the right trajectory.

Whilst renewable capacity is clearly increasing and public support is there for it, I personally wouldn’t imagine that this renewables target is going to be met by 2020. It’ll be met eventually, and then we’ll go on beyond it, but I don’t think 2020 is realistic. But we shouldn’t let up the pressure.

Do you think consumers and investors share this lack of confidence in renewables displayed by the industry?

If you’re talking about the average consumer – the man or the woman on the street – I don’t think most even realise that there is a renewables target. They’re far more concerned about the energy bills.

Beyond that, if they think about it in great depth at all, they will likely believe what the media tells them, which is unfortunately a bit of a distorted message.

As far as investors go, it varies by sector. Debt lenders are going to struggle to get to grips and be confident with UK policy, but set against that the UK generally has a good reputation for not making retrospective changes – and long may that continue.

We’ve got a coalition government with a very tight focus on financial control, and it’s resulting in very complex policy and very little certainty on anything going forward

Many of them will hopefully see beyond the current policy uncertainty and just realise that renewables are on the right trajectory. Those investing in technology development are still looking at this market pretty favourably.

You announced in March that you would be stepping down from your role after over a decade at the REA. What was the hardest part of making that decision?

I feel like I’m walking away from something I’ve been striving to achieve for 20 years now – but the job’s not actually done.

I wanted there to be one single, professional, united and well-resourced trade body for renewables. That became my objective not long after I started working at the British Wind Energy Association back in 1995.

I’ve not achieved it during my time and I’m not sure anyone could’ve achieved it actually. Just at this moment, if anything, it’s looking more distant now than it ever did, which is a frustration.

Tensions generally are mounting within the industry, and this administration, I must say, is particularly difficult to work with.

What advice would you give to your successor?

Running a pan-technology trade association is difficult, but you’ve got to have some principles and you’ve got to stick to them like a limpet otherwise things start to fall apart. If I regret anything, it’s not making that point clearer all the way through.

What’s the biggest challenge going forward for the REA?

So far we’ve been supportive of all of the different renewable technologies – even the ones that are currently more expensive, because we see potential for them in terms of their costs coming down and the economic, industrial benefit that they offer to UK plc.

But it is coming to the time when things might start dropping off, either because they have become commercial, or they are clearly never going to achieve that. I think that will be a challenge for the REA going forward – how to manage that transition.

What has been your greatest achievement while REA chief executive?

It’s difficult to single out one particular thing but I am leaving the REA as the largest energy trade association in the UK with more than 1,100 members, with renewables firmly in the energy mix and an industry moving in the right direction, although still facing a bumpy ride at times.

The government recognises the economic opportunity within renewables but there’s clearly still some way to go.

What are your predictions for renewables in the UK?

We desperately need a positive balance of payments to deal with our debt. Increasing dependence on imported gas flies in the face of this, and exploring our renewable resources seems the only credible alternative.

Personally, I don’t think that nuclear is going to make a major difference. If there was a dash for gas and it’s imported gas, that will be really bad news for the UK.

If we can exploit our shale gas in an environmentally sustainable manner – and that’s a big if – that would be better, but only if we accompany it with a really dedicated push for renewables.

Ultimately, I think renewables, will win out over all alternatives. It’s just a question of when.

Further reading:

RWE Npower director Nina Skorupska to lead renewables trade body

Renewable energy: awkward teenager, but exceptional achiever

Shortlist unveiled for prestigious renewables awards

96% of the renewables industry apprehensive about UK targets

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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