Solar farms across the UK opened their doors to the public on July 4 as part of Solar Independence Day. Blue & Green Tomorrow’s Jemma Collins went to visit the Hollies solar farm in sunny Skegness, Lincolnshire.
Solar Independence Day, set up by the trade body the Solar Trade Association (STA), was set up to raise awareness about the many benefits of solar farms, while giving communities the chance to visit a site for themselves.
The date of the event, July 4, was not an accident. Coinciding with the US Independence Day, the STA was keen to promote the energy independence provided by solar power.
Clear blue skies and high temperatures in Skegness, Lincolnshire, made for perfect conditions for the Hollies solar farm, which has over 35,000 solar panels and a capacity of 8.6 megawatts (MW). A variety of people came to visit the site, including members of the public and local landowners who were thinking of doing the same on their land.
The Hollies solar farm was connected to the grid in April 2013 and the electricity generated can power approximately 25% of the homes in the Skegness area – or just under 2,500 to be specific.
West Midlands-based renewables firm Juwi Renewable Energies is one of the co-managers of the site along with Lightsource Renewable Energy. An active member of the STA, it has completed nine projects in the UK, with Hollies the largest in its portfolio.
Jan Sisson is the managing director of Juwi in the UK, and said it held the open day with the aim of building “a bit more enthusiasm in renewables”.
The farm in Skegness was approved quickly and with very few problems. Sisson says the support from the council made the project much easier than others.
Juwi is currently working on a range of renewable projects around the UK. Sisson explains, “Juwi as a company is actually founded by two guys with farming backgrounds and the vision is that sooner or later 100% of our power and energy needs can be met from renewables. There’s no good reason why not; it’s mainly just due to politics and people’s perceptions that is stopping us doing it.”
The site’s landowner Tim Spencer has been enthusiastic about clean energy for quite some time. His land was one of the first places in Lincolnshire to have wind turbines and he has now turned his attentions to solar.
“We are very very much into renewable energy and think that it’s the way forward and we all need to do something about climate change”, Spencer says.
“I feel that this area in particular, with being a costal location, there’s always the risk of sea level rises and I think we have to improve the situation and reduce our emissions of CO2 to prevent global warming.”
Spencer has seen vast benefits since the installation of the solar farm, and not just from the reduction of harmful emissions. He explains how the farm has boosted the local economy and helped wildlife.
“When we built this, local builders built the sub-station, local civil engineers built the roads, local electricians worked on site, all the stone for the roads came from local quarries. There were colossal opportunities for local businesses here.”
He adds that the benefits to the local ecosystem had been one of the best, but most surprising, things about the solar farm. The fencing around the site has provided protection from predators, creating an ‘oasis’ of sorts where flora and fauna can thrive.
“Because predators can’t get into the fenced area as easily, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of hares, partridges, pheasants and we’ve got now five or six pairs of breading lapwings with chicks on site, which are becoming very endangered in this area. It does show that a small amount of effort can bring great rewards to the wildlife.”
Spencer has planning permission for an extension scheme, but says he doesn’t think he will install more wind turbines as he feels pubic opinion has moved away from this sector. He says solar power is now “the more acceptable face of renewable energy to the general public than perhaps turbines”.
Spencer and the developers hope the success of the Hollies solar farm can inspire others to follow suit in the local area. Indeed, Rebecca Whitehead, who came to visit the site with a view of installing a solar farm on her own land, says, “I’ve been saying to my children for years that they are going to be shivering [in the future] because our generation has gobbled up all the resources. And I really feel that we have to do something now to try and secure our energy for the future.”
An increasingly popular form of renewable energy, some predict that solar could be the biggest source of power on the planet by as soon as 2025. But this could be undermined by policy decisions, with the UK government looking to scrap subsidies for large-scale projects.
Chris Summers, another visitor who came to find out more about the solar farm after seeing it advertised online, says one of the reasons he likes renewables is that the surrounding area can be used for other things, “Electric is going up so it’s about what can you do to bring it down.”
It is clear there is real excitement about the benefits solar power can bring. Not only is it a clean form of energy but it seems to be more acceptable and although we might naturally shy away from change, solar power looks to be the answer for the future.
“The scenario of global warming is not improving; sea levels are rising, polar ice caps are melting”, Spencer adds.
“There are different views on it but we have to do something.”
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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