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Crowdfunding could provide much needed turbo-boost to clean energy investment

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Ramsay Dunning of Co-operative Energy writes how crowdfunding could play an integral part in the UK’s energy future.

The world needs to find $1 trillion (£590 billion) a year of clean energy investment if we are to have any chance of avoiding runaway climate change. Last year, just $254 billion (£150 billion) of finance was found globally – which is less than flowed in 2012 and down a fifth on 2011’s record $318 billion (£188 billion) of investment. Europe in particular is seeing a fall-off in finance: in 2013, investment in clean energy slumped by 41% to $58 billion (£34 billion).

The UK was one of the more positive areas of Europe last year, with investment falling just 8% from 2012’s record figure of $14.3 billion (£8.5 billion). But then the UK is well behind most European countries when it comes to renewable energy. We derive just 4% of our energy from renewables, lagging behind Sweden (51%), Austria (32%), Denmark (26%), Italy (14%), France (13%) and Germany (12%). In fact, the only two nations we better are Luxembourg and Malta.

The UK needs to tap new sources of clean energy finance to move things forward at an accelerated rate. It can’t rely on the ‘big six’ energy providers or mainstream banking establishment to drive change – they are far too wedded to their large fossil fuel assets. Pensions and investment funds will be increasingly important in the future, but in many countries a combination of community energy generation and crowdfunding has been a key additional part of the answer.

A quarter of Germany’s electricity is from renewables, and one reason for this is that nearly half of its renewable energy capacity is owned by individuals, community groups and private developers. Between them, tens of billions of euros have been leveraged to produce a community energy revolution. In Denmark, 30% of power consumption was from renewables in 2013 (at some days more than a 100% of demand was covered, with the excess being exported) – with a contributing factor being the requirement for wind developers to offer at least 25% of a project to local investors. In the US, the country’s largest solar power provider has predicted that crowdfunding will provide rooftop solar projects with $5 billion (£3 billion) of investment within five years.

A recent publication from ResPublica, Community Energy: Unlocking Finance and Investment, which is supported by Co-operative Energy, sets out how crowdfunding could help realise a community energy revolution here in the UK.

Co-operative Energy has been supportive of community energy and crowdfunding since its inception in May 2011. We currently have power purchase agreements in place with six community energy groups; and enjoy productive strategic relations with innovative crowdfunders such as Abundance Generation and successful community developers such as the Resilience Centre. However, there is insufficient community energy in the UK to meet our needs – never mind other suppliers who may wish to support community energy.

The Unlocking Finance report calls on the Treasury and the financial services regulator to offer further support to crowdfunding platforms. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) needs to move beyond its narrow focus on risk protection and play a much greater role in facilitating a diverse financial sector. Regulation should allow smaller and more innovative crowdfunding and peer-to-peer initiatives to thrive, not hold them back.

There also needs to be greater incentives to encourage more people to invest. The newly introduced Social Investment Tax Relief (SITR) should be opened up to a wider range of community businesses. In parallel, Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) reliefs that were dropped in the small print of this year’s budget need to be reinstated for community energy schemes. Tax-free saving via ISAs should also be extended to include the debt-based securities that are offered by peer-to-peer lenders.

Earlier this year, the UK Government launched a highly welcome Community Energy Strategy. However, this does little to address how finance will be encouraged to flow – a critical point when major banks are failing to lend to community energy businesses in this country. The UK needs a strategy for unlocking the billions sitting in the bank accounts of the large majority of the population who support renewable energy. Crowdfunding could be the turbo-boost that is needed to finally bring ‘power to the people’.

Ramsay Dunning is general manager of Co-operative Energy.

Photo: Mark Alan via freeimages

Further reading:

Budget 2014: Investment tax relief to boost social enterprises

Treasury and financial watchdogs can help crowdfunding ‘thrive’

‘Alternative’ finance no more: Crowdfunder on why it’s eyeing up the mainstream

Peer-to-peer lending doubles in size to £843m in 2013

Treasury looks to extend ISA reach to peer-to-peer finance and crowdfunding

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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