Renewable energy subsidies are paid for via energy bills through a number of schemes including the Feed-in Tariff scheme and Renewable Obligation scheme. Government decided on a set amount that would be paid to renewables by 2020 and earlier this year, the Office for Budget Responsibility projected that the amount would be exceeded, meaning bill payers would have to pay more.
The Government has taken action to reduce this overspend which includes the announcements being made today.
RenewableUK’s Chief Executive, Maria McCaffery, said: “It’s good that the Government has listened carefully to our concerns about their original proposals, and has modified some of them based on evidence we have supplied.
“The cuts in tariffs for small and medium-scale wind energy projects remain challenging, but they are not as severe as those originally proposed, meaning that a greater level of new capacity can come forward.
“However, we do have concerns about the use of deployment caps and the pace of degression rates, as these may limit the abilities of homeowners, farmers and small businesses to get involved in generating their own power, and secure ongoing cost reduction.
“We welcome the fact that the Government has heeded our requests on certain specific issues, such as re-introducing pre-accreditation for medium-scale wind projects – this means that developers will have confidence to invest and deliver cost savings. We are also pleased to see that our request for the introduction of a specific level of financial support for smaller turbines (50-100 kilowatts) has been accepted by Ministers.
“The next steps are crucial – we need Government and industry to work together to set out a clear vision for small-scale renewables, tackling red tape and stimulating innovation. This will deliver subsidy-free renewables and bring power to the people.
“The vast majority of the public wants us to make greater use of renewable energy in our homes, on our farms, and in our factories and offices. The Government has seen the benefits of this, and has gone some way towards heeding that message with the publication of today’s review”.
Renewable Energy Association (REA) CEO, Dr Nina Skorupska said: “From where we were after the initial consultation this is a real improvement and praise has to be given to DECC ministers in their willingness to listen and change.
“The past 6 months have been challenging for our members and the renewables industry, but we now have to draw a line and turn our attention to building a stable, robust and enduring industry leading to a business built without subsidy.
Paul Barwell, CEO of the Solar Trade Association said: “Government has partially listened. It’s not what we needed, but it’s better than the original proposals, and we will continue to push for a better deal for what will inevitably be a more consolidated industry with fewer companies.”
“However, in a world that has just committed to strengthened climate action in Paris and which sees solar as the future, the UK Government needs to get behind the British solar industry. Allocating only around 1% of its clean power budget to new solar is too little, particularly when solar is now so cost-effective. Poor ambition for solar risks missing out on not only our renewable energy targets in the UK, but on the world’s greatest economic opportunity too.”
“The industry will certainly try its hardest but we will be pressing Government to do much more to boost solar power.”
Commenting on today’s announcement, Friends of the Earth renewable energy campaigner Alasdair Cameron said: “Less than a week after the UK Government agreed in Paris to keep global temperatures well below two degrees, the government has shown its true colours – and they’re certainly not green.
“These huge, misguided cuts to UK solar are a massive blow for jobs and the economy, and further undermine the government’s already tarnished credibility on tackling climate change.
“Massive public opposition to the government’s original proposal may have forced ministers to modify their plans, but this is still terrible news for the for UK and its small-scale renewables industry.
“It’s outrageous that the government continues to hand out billions of pounds in subsidies every year to climate-wrecking fossil fuels, while trying to block the clean energy sources we urgently need to power our homes, hospitals and schools.
“The good news is that the global renewable revolution is unstoppable, and the technology is advancing far faster than government thinking. But that will be scant comfort to the thousands of people whose jobs are under threat as a result of this short-sighted decision.”
Graham Ayling, Head of Energy Saving Trust Foundation, said: “In September we asked for the government to maintain the FiT over the course of this parliament and develop a longer term plan to phase out support gradually. Therefore, we welcome this response in that it will provide greater stability to the sector and give investors and manufacturers more time to plan. However there is a fundamental lack of ambition reflected in this response.”
“Renewables are the future of energy generation, but there is an air of unreality between what was agreed in Paris last weekend and renewable energy policy today. The playing field is not level and these changes are wilfully drawing support away from renewable energy and towards nuclear and fossil fuels.”
Juliet Davenport OBE, chief executive of green energy company Good Energy, one of the largest Feed-in Tariff administrators in the UK, said: “The Feed-in Tariff has transformed how the UK generates electricity with more than 750,000 homes now generating their own power. It’s helped move us away from fossil fuels towards a cleaner, local, more democratic energy system.
“The new measures are a slight improvement on the original proposals but still mean that installing solar panels will no longer be attractive to British home-owners and the changes will also make it harder for housing associations and councils to use FIT to help those in fuel poverty.
“Just last week, world leaders agreed to ambitious plans to reduce carbon emissions. The UK government really needs to get behind new low carbon technology and take a global lead in seizing the new opportunities.”
Maria Connolly, partner and head of Energy & Renewables, TLT, said “It’s a small step in the right direction but uncertainty still prevails. Despite the positive news of reintroducing pre- accreditation; the government hasn’t gone far enough to support such a critical UK industry. The introduction of maximum deployment caps and a queuing system for those applicants who miss out on a cap are not helpful for a sector already shackled by red-tape.”
Scottish Renewables Senior Policy Manager Joss Blamire said: “Government has ignored clear evidence provided by industry that proposed cuts would curtail development and slashed hydro tariffs even further than proposed, in some cases by up to 45%.
“With the vast majority of hydro projects in Scotland, reductions at this level will now mean a recent renaissance in the sector north of the border will effectively come to an end.”
Mongoose CEO, Jan-Willem Bode, and Chairman/former Energy Secretary, Ed Davey: “By preparing us for the worst possible scenario and then climbing down slightly, it feels like they’re trying to make bad news look good.
“The industry needs to be subsidy free in the long term, and can do it in the medium term. Mongoose is big enough that it probably won’t affect us, but the announcement will have consequences both the smaller players in the community energy market and the renewables industry in general.
“The FIT has, in the government’s words, ‘been hugely successful in attracting investment’ for renewables – and it has played a vital part in helping to slash the cost per unit of solar energy.
“But the FIT needs to be more than just a way to get people to invest in tiny projects if we are to meet the commitments that we agreed to in Paris [at COP21], to maintain energy security and diversity.”
Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?
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.
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 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.
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.
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