On Wednesday night, the south west’s green energy industry gathered at a glittering awards’ ceremony in Bath sponsored by British Solar Renewables to showcase and celebrate the companies, projects and individuals at the forefront of the region’s growing renewable energy industry.
More than 100 companies entered the twelfth annual South West Green Energy Awards, organised by Regen SW. But last night it was all about the finalists, as seven category winners were announced by awards’ host Matt Harvey poet and writer.
The winners, which represent the very best examples of sustainable energy in the south west were:
BEST BUSINESS INNOVATION: Energy Local Limited
LEAD JUDGE: Sara Bell, Tempus Energy
BEST COMMUNITY INITIATIVE: TRESOC
LEAD JUDGE: Emma Bridge, Community Energy England, sponsored by SSEPD
BEST RENEWABLE ENERGY SCHEME: Wiltshire Wildlife Community Energy
LEAD JUDGE: Nicola Waters, Primrose Solar, sponsored by Naturesave
INSTALLER OR SUPPLIER OF THE YEAR: sungift Energy (Exeter)
LEAD JUDGE: Alan John, Osborne Clarke
MOST PROACTIVE PUBLIC SECTOR BODY: Cornwall Council
LEAD JUDGE: Lord Robin Teverson, sponsored by Ashfords
SW SUSTAINABLE ENERGY CHAMPION: Andrew Garrad (Bristol)
LEAD JUDGE: David Charlesworth, The Crown Estate sponsored by The Crown Estate
BEST ENERGY EFFICIENCY SCHEME – Devon and Cornwall Housing Ltd
LEAD JUDGE: Steve Edwards, Wales and West Utilities Ltd
“Since we launched the awards in 2004 we have seen exceptional growth in the south west sustainable energy industry which now generates 15 per cent of our electricity and supports 13,000 jobs,” said Merlin Hyman, chief executive of Regen SW, which organises the awards. “From a fledgling industry 12 years ago, we now have world-leading renewable energy companies in the south west.”
He continued “I hope this showcase of great companies and inspiring community energy groups will help persuade the government to think again about their proposals for drastic reductions in support for renewables.”
The winners were chosen from a high-quality shortlist of entrants from across the region by an independent panel of expert judges (see above).
THE WINNERS: PROJECT DETAILS
BEST BUSINESS INNOVATION: Energy Local Limited
Social enterprise Energy Local aims to transform, bottom up, the electricity market for communities and small-scale renewables in the UK. They aim to do this by allowing communities to pool their generation and match this to local demand through a local community energy services company and then only purchase from a supplier the extra energy needed.
BEST COMMUNITY INITIATIVE: TRESOC, sponsored by SSEPD
TRESOC initiated the Shine Project with South Devon Rural Housing Association (SDRHA) and Beco Energy Solutions. The goal is to put as much solar PV as is feasible on social housing roofs in and around Totnes; to provide power to local households, reduce their electricity bills and open up the conversation about the real need for and benefits of clean energy.
BEST RENEWABLE ENERGY SCHEME: Wiltshire Wildlife Community Energy, sponsored by Naturesave
Braydon Manor Solar Farm is a community led project with a projected annual output of just under 5 MW – enough to provide energy for about 1,400 homes, saving 2,500 tonnes of carbon. The site is grade four grassland and over the 25 years of the project they plan to turn it into a wildflower meadow to act as a biodiversity bank within the designated Braydon Forest Project.
INSTALLER OR SUPPLIER OF THE YEAR: sungift Energy
Sungift has demonstrated high-quality service in 2014/2015, putting customer satisfaction before profit and growing their domestic and commercial business. Sungift Energy also went on to win the 2014 Solar Power Portal UK Installer of the Year and have seen a 547 per cent increase in turnover for commercial sales on the same 12 month period last year.
MOST PROACTIVE PUBLIC SECTOR BODY: Cornwall Council, sponsored by Ashfords
Cornwall Council’s Future Economy Programme provides funding and support to help unlock the value of the sustainable energy sector for Cornwall. It has delivered: over 600 MW of sustainable energy; funding for 19 community energy groups; the UK’s first comprehensive local planning framework for community energy projects; 3,000 home retrofits; over £10 million in community benefits and £500,000 in savings for residents through collective switching.
SW SUSTAINABLE ENERGY CHAMPION: Andrew Garrad, sponsored by The Crown Estate
Dr Andrew Garrad has demonstrated complete and unwavering support for the renewable energy sector over the past 30 years. In 1984 Andrew co-founded the Bristol based consultancy firm, Garrad Hassan, which became the largest renewable energy consultancy in the world and twice won the Queen’s Award for International Enterprise. In 2015 he has put huge effort into leading Bristol’s year as European Green Capital.
To view information on all of the finalists, click here.
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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