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The real green deal: bringing energy, water and waste under control

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Cutting energy and water consumption in the home is the best way to take control of your bills. For the hard-pressed consumer, the only effective way to reduce energy and water costs is to use less. Mark Sait, managing director of SaveMoneyCutCarbon, shows you how. 

This article originally appeared in Blue & Green Tomorrow’s Guide to Sustainable Spending 2013.

Consumption is crucial for every energy and water consumer in the UK as utility bills continue to rise way ahead of inflation and earnings, while the government’s green policies are, frankly, in disarray.

It is not surprising that utility companies are less trusted than even the banks. The recent price increases from five of the big six energy companies have rightly provoked anger and criticism from consumers. It is the wake-up call we all needed.

It’s true that by switching supplier, we can all cut bills and challenger brands like Ovo Energy are showing the way by simply being more efficient in the way they do business. But currently, the vast majority of us do not switch and so are paying for inefficient utility companies, with the government apparently unable to act decisively.

We know that the green deal, which aimed to provide financial support and advice to households and businesses, has not delivered on its promises. Even if it had, the scope of the strategy was extremely limited in terms of helping people to reduce their use of electricity, water and gas.

Energy efficiency is a good thing and the green deal offers help with insulation, heating, draught-proofing and double glazing, together with renewable energy generation (solar panels, heat pumps). With double glazing, a semi-detached house could save around £290 a year over 20 years, but payback on the purchase cost might take more than 15 years. Loft insulation payback is quicker (around two years) and if done right could save up to £180 a year.

But there is a real green deal – much simpler, more cost-effective and proven ways to cut energy and water consumption that should save a typical home around £650 a year on current prices.

And with energy prices forecast to rise well above the rate of inflation for the next 17 years, driven by increased global demand and increased production costs, now is the time to cut consumption by replacing traditional lighting with LEDs and water/heat saving solution like eco shower heads, eco taps and tap aerators.

Trusted data from Lux magazine shows that for a typical UK home, installation of LEDs would reduce the amount of lighting electricity used from 2,063.3 kilowatt hours (kWh) to just 364kWh, a saving on current prices of £254 a year – and payback would be around a year.

There are LED products for the widest range of settings, from bulbs to spotlights and downlights, panels, tubes, capsules and more. Did you know that only 5% of the energy drawn by an incandescent bulb is converted into light? They are actually more efficient as heaters. And if you put an LED bulb in a new baby’s room now, it would probably not have to be replaced until the child goes to college.

Savings associated with water use are even more impressive than LED lighting solutions. For a typical household, installation of eco shower heads, eco taps and tap aerators should save more than £380 a year, with swift payback on purchase costs.

Many of us in the UK are in regions where the water supplier is rolling out meter installation programmes. It’s pretty clear that water meters will be a fact of life for all of us sooner rather than later, and current data shows that the average household faces a £200 hike in bills after installation. The savvy response is to cut consumption without affecting quality and so take control of your bills.

As you may know, eco showers, like the range from leading manufacturer Hansgrohe, effectively mix air with the water flow. You still get the same quality of ‘shower experience’, and many people say the ‘champagne effect’ is an improvement, while you reduce the amount of heated water used by at least 50%.

Eco taps and the best-quality tap aerators work in a similar way to eco showers, with comparative savings but the key in all this is to choose wisely from the bewildering range of products in the market because, as with LEDs, many cheap solutions are really not worth buying.

What every consumer wants, I think, is peace of mind, and for thousands of people in the UK, this means moving out of fuel poverty. A recent BBC Radio 4 Report programme on energy prices narrated the shocking story of a single mother with two children whose salary as an NHS administrator did not allow her to pay to heat her home for much of the time – sometimes it was so cold that you could see your breath.

Reporter Hannah Barnes concluded, “The only way to stop our bills spiralling out of control is if we use less.”

That’s why we think there should be a national focus on cutting energy and water consumption, with substantial government support that goes way beyond loft insulation, double glazing, draught-proofing and solar panels.

This focus for both consumer and business is a topic that Blue & Green Tomorrow should continue to talk about, because the debate over energy and water will only grow in importance over the next decade.

There are two other energy effects that every consumer should be aware of – the threat of power cuts and blackouts, and the real ecological benefit of cutting consumption.

National Grid recently warned that demand for electricity could reach 95% of available supply if the country is hit by a prolonged cold snap. This could lead to power cuts and blackouts, particularly if an ageing power plant breaks down or imports are interrupted.

The better news is that by cutting consumption we take the strain off the Grid and also reduce significantly the amount of CO2 emissions. SaveMoneyCutCarbon has a unique calculator showing how much people can save in energy and water bills while at the same time indicating the reduction in tonnes of CO2 a year.

We need to bring consumption under control, while helping to reduce carbon emissions and we deserve a more responsive and efficient market that is being reshaped by challenger brands. We need more consumer control, closer attention to the costs of renewable energy and a national policy that really does makes a difference to consumer utility bills.

Mark Sait is managing director of SaveMoneyCutCarbon, a uniquely positioned full-service efficiency partner to organisations and homes that want to reduce energy, water and carbon to improve sustainability. Clients include major hospitality groups, property ownership groups, distribution centres, theme parks and corporate offices as well as SMEs and private residences.

Further reading:

Households ‘could save £600m’ through simple energy and water-saving measures

Public urged to consider waste and recycling over Christmas period

Carbon Trust says engaging workers on energy and waste could save UK £300m

The Green Doctors: making the world more sustainable

The Guide to Sustainable Spending 2013

Mark Sait is managing director of SaveMoneyCutCarbon, a uniquely positioned full-service efficiency partner to organisations and homes that want to reduce energy, water and carbon to improve sustainability. Clients include major hospitality groups, property ownership groups, distribution centres, theme parks and corporate offices as well as SMEs and private residences.

Economy

Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?

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self-driving cars for green environment
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Zapp2Photo | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/zapp2photo

Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?

But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?

The Big Picture

The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.

That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.

Driver Reduction?

One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.

There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.

As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.

Deadheading

Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.

Make and Model of Car

Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.

On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.

The Bottom Line

Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?

Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.

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Economy

New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035

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renewable energy policy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Eviart / https://www.shutterstock.com/g/adrian825

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.

Sources: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-11-06/green-dream-risks-energy-security-as-kiwis-aim-for-zero-carbon

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-hydrocarbons/france-plans-to-end-oil-and-gas-production-by-2040-idUSKCN1BH1AQ

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