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Cambridge University blacklist coal and tar sands sparking student and academic revolt

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cambridge uni by Mihnea Maftei via Flickr

The University of Cambridge stated it won’t invest directly in coal and tar sand companies after pressure from students and academics on fossil fuel investments. A meeting of the University Council approved the report of a Working Group set up in May 2015 to explore ethical investment, with coal and tar sands excluded from current and future holdings. However, it has not divested from oil and gas industries, despite pressure from students and academics to do so.

The Cambridge Zero Carbon Society, a student group which campaigns for the University to divest its endowment of over £4billion from fossil fuels, has  criticised the University’s decision and vowed to fight on by taking the issue to Regent House, Cambridge University’s senate of academics.

Angus Satow, Campaigns Officer at Cambridge Zero Carbon Society, said: “Whilst we welcome these tentative first steps to divestment, this is too little, too slow. The University has failed to live up to its own mission statement, including ‘concern for sustainability and the relationship with the environment’. University administrators have ignored the overwhelming scientific evidence that the fossil fuel industry is not viable if we are to avoid breaching the 2°C warming limit, they have ignored the strong demands of a united student body, and they have ignored financial common sense. Civil society must stand up to the fossil fuel industry if we want a liveable future, and Cambridge University has a moral duty to lead. We are confident that a battle of ideas among Cambridge academics will see divestment emerge as the only viable option. We will win a vote among academics next year, and Cambridge will divest from fossil fuels.”

The decision comes after a year in which Cambridge University has faced intense pressure on its fossil fuel investments. Nearly 2200 students have signed a petition for divestment, while the Student union council voted 33:1 in favour of divestment. In April 100 academics and notable University figures signed an open letter calling for divestment, with former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams among those backing action on the “life-and-death” question of climate change. On the 30th of April over 250 people marched through Cambridge calling for divestment, with local MP Daniel Zeichner among those speaking.

Andrew Taylor Co-Director Campaigns & Communication, at People & Planet said: ‘It’s great to see world leading universities like Cambridge blacklisting coal and tar sand companies. But it is arrogant of them to think that companies like BP and Shell are going to stop making vast profits from oil and gas just because they ask nicely.’

The University has, however, not ceded to the pressure. Instead the report prioritises “engaging with fund managers” and using Cambridge’s voting rights as shareholders. There will also be an open letter from the Vice-Chancellor of the University to fund managers, calling on them to anticipate changes as carbon pricing and regulation is introduced by governments. Respected figures such as Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, have in the past warned of a “carbon bubble”. The report mentions “progressive divestment” as an option for the future.

Campaigners have criticised the move as insufficient, attacking the Working Group for a lack of transparency and engagement with students. Last month shareholder resolutions at Exxon Mobil’s Annual General Meeting all fell, leading some to argue that engagement with fossil fuel companies is a ‘doomed task’. The issue will be decided at a vote of academics next term.

Alice Guillaume, a second year undergraduate and campaigns officer for the
Cambridge Zero Carbon Society, added: “This has been a deeply flawed process from the beginning. From a refusal to hear divestment witnesses to the dismissal of the student body, the Working Group buried its head in the sand to avoid facing the obvious: fossil fuels are our past, not our future. Indeed, the universally acknowledged 2°C warming limit was doubted by the chair of the Working Group. The University has refused to face up to facts. Our campaign will continue.”

Earlier this month Newcastle University, Southampton University and Queen Mary University London, all committed to divest from fossil fuel companies.

 

 

Energy

Are the UK Governments Plans for the Energy Sector Smart?

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The revolution in the energy sector marches on, wind turbines and solar panels are harnessing more renewable energy than ever before – so where is it all leading?

The UK government have recently announced plans to modernise the way we produce, store and use electricity. And, if realised, the plans could be just the thing to bring the energy sector in line with 21st century technology and ideologies.

Central to the plans is an initiative that will see smart meters installed in homes and businesses the length and breadth of the country – and their aim? To create an environment where electricity can be managed more efficiently.

The news has prompted some speculation about how energy suppliers will react and many are predicting a price war. This could benefit consumers of electricity and investors, many of whom may be looking to make a profit by trading energy company shares online using platforms such as Oanda – but the potential for good news doesn’t end there.

Introducing New Technology

The plan, titled Smart Systems and Flexibility is being rolled out in the hope that it will have a positive impact in three core areas.

  • To offer consumers greater control by making smart meters available for all homes and businesses by 2020. Energy users will be able to monitor, control and record the amount of energy they use.
  • Incentivise energy suppliers to change the manner in which they buy electricity, to offer more smart tariffs and more off-peak periods for energy consumption.
  • Introduce new standards for electrical appliances – it is hoped that the new wave of appliances will recognise when electricity is at its cheapest and at its most expensive and respond accordingly.

How the Plans Will Affect Solar Energy

Around 7 million houses in the UK have solar panels and the government say that their plan will benefit them as they will be able to store electricity on batteries. The stored energy can then be used by the household and excess energy can be exported to the national grid – in this instance lower tariffs or even payment for the excess energy will bring down annual costs significantly.

The rate of return on energy exported to the national grid is currently between 6% and 10%, but there are many variables to take into account, such as, the cost of battery storage and light levels. Still, those with state-of-the-art solar electricity systems could end up with an annual profit after selling their excess energy.

The Internet of Things

Much of what the plans set out to achieve are linked to the now ubiquitous “internet of things” – where, for example, appliances and heating systems are connected to the internet in order to make them function more smartly.

Companies like Hive have already made great inroads into this type of technology, but the road that the government plans are heading down, will, potentially, go much further -blockchain technology looms and has already proved to be a game changer in the world of currency.

Blockchain Technology

It has already been suggested that the peer to peer selling of energy and exporting it to the national grid may eventually be done using blockchain technology.

“The blockchain is an incorruptible digital ledger of economic transactions that can be programmed to record not just financial transactions but virtually everything of value.”

Don and Alex Tapscott, Blockchain Revolution (2016)

The upshot of the government’s plans for the revolution of the energy sector, is that technology will play an indelible role in making it more efficient, more flexible and ultimately more sustainable.

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Energy

4 Case Studies on the Benefits of Solar Energy

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Demand for solar energy is growing at a surprising rate. New figures from SolarPower Europe show that solar energy production has risen 50% since the summer of 2016.

However, many people are still skeptical of the benefits of solar energy.Does it actually make a significant reduction in our carbon footprint? Is it actually cost-effective for the company over the long-run?

A number of case studies have been conducted, which indicate solar energy can be enormously beneficial. Here are some of the most compelling studies on the subject.

1.     Boulder Nissan

When you think of companies that leverage solar power, car dealerships probably aren’t the first ones that come to mind. However, Boulder Nissan is highly committed to promoting green energy. They worked with Independent Power Systems to setup a number of solar cells. Here were the results:

  • Boulder Nissan has reduced coal generated electricity by 65%.
  • They are on track to run on 100% renewable energy within the next 13 years.
  • Boulder Nissan reduced CO2 emissions by 416,000 lbs. within the first year after installing their solar panels.

This is one of the most impressive solar energy case studies a small business has published in recent years. It shows that even small companies in rural communities can make a major difference by adapting solar energy.

2.     Valley Electric Association

In 2015, the Valley Electric Association (VEA) created an 80-acre solar garden. Before retiring from the legislature, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid praised the new project as a way to make the state more energy dependent and reduce our carbon footprint.

“This facility will provide its customers with the opportunity to purchase 100 percent of their electricity from clean energy produced in Nevada,” Reid told reporters with the Pahrump Valley Times. “That’s a step forward for the Silver State, but it also proves that utilities can work with customers to provide clean renewable energy that they demand.”

The solar energy that VEA produced was drastically higher than anyone would have predicted. SolarWorld estimates that the solar garden created 32,680,000 kwh every year, which was enough to power nearly 4,000 homes.

This was a major undertaking for a purple state, which may inspire their peers throughout the Midwest to develop solar gardens of their own. It will reduce dependency on the electric grid, which is a problem for many remote states in the central part of the country.

3.     Las Vegas Casinos

A number of Las Vegas casinos have started investing in solar panels over the last couple of years. The Guardian reports that many of these casinos have cut costs considerably. Some of them are even selling the energy back to the grid.

“It’s no accident that we put the array on top of a conference center. This is good business for us,” Cindy Ortega, chief sustainability officer at MGM Resorts told Guardian reporters. “We are looking at leaving the power system, and one of the reasons for that is we can procure more renewable energy on the open market.”

There have been many benefits for casinos using solar energy. They are some of the most energy-intensive institutions in the world, so this has helped them become much more cost-effective. It also helps minimize disruptions to their customers learning online keno strategies in the event of any problems with the electric grid.

4.     Boston College

Boston College has been committed to many green initiatives over the years. A group of researchers experimented with solar cells on different parts of the campus to see where they could produce the most electricity. They discovered that the best locationwas at St. Clement’sHall. The solar cells there dramatically. It would also reduce CO2 emissions by 521,702 lbs. a year and be enough to save 10,869 trees.

Boston College is exploring new ways to expand their usage of solar cells. They may be able to invest in more effective solar panels that can generate far more solar energy.

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