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The Renewable Energy Foundation: a dinosaur in our energy debate



The Sunday Telegraph recently revealed “the true cost of Britain’s wind farm industry”, according to its front page article. The source of this claim was the rather ironically titled the ‘Renewable Energy Foundation’ – an “anti-wind lobbying group” whose work is based on ideology rather than evidence, serving only to undermine the constructive debate we need about our future energy mix. 

As a quick summary, the main thrust of the article was the claim that, according to “new analysis of industry and government figures”, each job in the UK wind industry required £100,000 of subsidy.

For a detailed fact-check of this “new analysis” see Robin Webster’s excellent Carbon Brief blog here. But in short, it involves dividing a cherry-picked high number by a cherry-picked low number – hardly a robust approach. It also ignores the other benefits derived from subsidies, like the fact we get non-polluting energy, and fails to acknowledge that such support is critical in bringing the future costs of clean technologies down.

Not a one-off

Click here to read The Guide to Limitless Clean Energy 2013

For those that follow press coverage of energy and climate change issues, you’ll know that this kind of analysis is unfortunately far too common.

For example, a month ago several newspapers (here and here) covered a new “report” suggesting “green energy” will cost each British family £600 extra a year by 2020. This figure has subsequently been shown to contain some outrageous assumptions – for example £5 billion per year for grid upgrades, compared to £8.8 billion in total between now and 2020 according to an industry group which includes National Grid itself.

One problem with these stories is the use of source material which more rigorous fact-checking would show to be often exaggerated and misleading, and sometimes just plain wrong.

So who is the Renewable Energy Foundation? 

REF is a registered charity that claims to promote sustainable development through the use of renewable energy. However, at the same time it appears to campaign heavily against wind energy. Its director John Constable recently described “truly productive energy industries” as being “gas, coal, oil”.

The wind energy trade body, RenewableUK, has described REF as an “anti-wind lobbying organisation”. Julia Davenport of Good Energy has said that “their name is misleading […] what they are really about is trying to block large wind farms”. Dale Vince of Ecotricity goes further, suggesting their real purpose is to give the impression of legitimacy to media outlets who are anti-wind in nature. You can read more on this here.

Beyond this, it’s hard to find out much more about them. An important question for any such organisation, whether ‘pro’ or ‘anti’ an issue, is how they are funded. REF says it is supported by private donations, and a Guardian article suggests these have included former TV presenter Noel Edmonds, and property tycoon Vincent Tchenguiz. However more information – for example the extent of genuine grassroots support – is not easy to come by.

Of course the issue of funding is less important than the quality and integrity of an organisation’s published output. However the “analysis” supporting the “true cost of Britain’s wind industry” article hardly speaks volumes for this. Indeed there appears to be no proper report whatsoever to back up these recent claims (for example on the REF website), let alone peer-reviewed analysis.

What’s the impact on the renewable energy debate?

Interestingly, despite the impression sometimes given by organisations like REF that there is a growing backlash against wind energy, public opinion on renewable energy in general and wind energy in particular has remained remarkably constant over time. A recent Government survey suggested 82% and 68% of Brits ‘support’ or ‘strongly support’ renewable energy and onshore wind respectively – virtually the same as one year ago.

However one negative impact of REF’s work is to polarise debate on renewable energy. Those who already dislike renewables (or the people and politics they associate with it) have their beliefs reinforced. Those who are in favour of renewables will dismiss claims they already believe to be untrue. This is no way to facilitate a healthy democratic debate about something so important and complex as energy.

The approach also does a disservice to genuinely important points that are occasionally delivered alongside the misinformation. For example, whilst REF may have grossly over-inflated their £600 green energy cost to British families, the point that the impact of renewable support stretching beyond consumer bills to affect prices more widely in the economy remains valid. But a loss of credibility in one area undermines a critical-friend role in the other.

Overall, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that it is ideology rather than evidence driving the Renewable Energy Foundation’s work. Whilst many organisations – both ‘green’ and ‘non-green’ alike – are now using the wealth of real-world evidence that exists about renewables to constructively engage in debate, REF seems unable to move on from an approach that lacks transparency and appears aimed at sensationalist headlines above all else.

It’s probably unrealistic to hope that the likes of REF will adopt a different approach any time soon. In the meantime, the rest of us should stick to our guns and continue to rely on evidence as our guide.

Sam Friggens is a writer for renewable energy funding platform Abundance Generation. You can follow him on Twitter: @Sam_Friggens. This article originally appeared on Abundance’s blog

Further reading:

Renewable energy: debunking the subsidy and efficiency myths

Why investing directly in renewables projects is a worthwhile venture

Bruce Davis, Abundance: ‘we can do something different with money’

Does Griff Rhys Jones have a point about renewable energy?

The Guide to Limitless Clean Energy 2013

Sam Friggens is a writer for renewable energy funding platform Abundance Generation. You can follow him on Twitter: @Sam_Friggens.


How Going Green Can Save A Company Money



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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5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable




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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