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The Countdown Is On For Solar Energy

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Solar Decathlon 2011

Over the coming years, the role of renewable energy, for example sun and wind energy, is predicted to rapidly increase.

At this stage it is hard to pinpoint exactly which companies will benefit the most, but it is already clear that a lot of damage will be caused in the energy sector, utilities and car manufacturers.

Less than 5% of our energy is produced by sun and wind. But this is changing rapidly. Since 2000, solar energy’s weight in the energy mix has doubled seven times. For wind power there have been four doublings, increasing the wind contribution to 3% of the energy mix in 2015. This exponential growth can be fully explained by the continuous price declines and the improved efficiency of solar panels and wind turbines.

We have left the first phase of renewable subsidies and goodwill behind us. We have already reached the next phase in which plain economics take over, as in windy or sunny areas it is already cheaper to produce unsubsidised solar or wind energy than burning coal or gas. Solar panel costs declined from roughly USD 100 in the 1970s to USD 0.60 today for a single-watt solar panel. Since 2005, the decline in solar panel prices has coincided with stellar growth in installed capacity.

Plummeting prices

Wind power prices have also declined on a remarkably steep path in the last decades, albeit less steep than solar power. Contrary to solar, wind power is an ancient old mechanical technology. Due to major efficiency enhancements in wind turbines, such as size and new locations at sea, the price of wind power still declined. In fact, offshore wind mills are able to generate 100X more power versus 30 years ago. This has made wind power prices decline by roughly 40% over the last five years. In comparison, solar power has declined by roughly 75% over the same period.

Most experts predict a continuation of the price declines in both solar and wind power, although at slower rates than in the recent past. Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicts that these two technologies will become the cheapest ways of producing electricity in many countries during the 2020s and in most of the world in the 2030s. They see onshore wind costs falling by 41% and solar photovoltaic (PV) costs falling by 60% by 2040. Also Deutsche Bank, CLSA and Tony Sheba from Stanford University predict the price decline in solar to continue. Goldman Sachs expect that between 2015 and 2020 wind and solar will add more energy supply than US shale did between 2010 and 2015.

Deutsche Bank expects that in 2016 it will be cheaper to produce solar energy than fossil based electricity in 47 states of the US. In 2017 this will be the case in 80% of the world. Bloomberg New Energy Finance sees 2025 as the turning point. From 2025 onwards Bloomberg expects all of the growth in the energy market to come from solar and wind energy. From here onwards they see solar power growing sixfold to become the cheapest energy resource. UBS Investment bank is even more optimistic and expects wind and solar to be the cheapest power generation technologies across the world by 2020.

Political tailwind

The 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP 21 or CMP 11, was the first climate conference after Kyoto 1997 where an agreement was reached between all participating 196 countries. According to COP21, all countries need to pursue all possible efforts to limit global warming to less than 2 °C compared with pre-industrial levels. The agreement calls for zero net greenhouse gas emissions to be reached during the second half of this century. Although the positive mindset is there, COP21 still needs be ratified by local parliaments. Although this seems trivial, this is something where the Kyoto agreement went wrong as the US simply never ratified and Canada withdrew from the protocol. However, hopes are high as in September 2016 both China and the US officially ratified

It is clear that the fight against emissions has become a global one after COP21. The number of national laws or regulations to reduce emissions and stimulate renewables has increased steadily over the last decade. It is expected that this will continue thanks to COP21.

Another advantage of solar energy is that it is truly abundant and only a limited amount of the surface of the earth is required to fully supply our world with solar energy. Both solar and wind energy have almost zero marginal costs and this changes the game for power production. It just takes more sunlight and or more wind to produce an additional unit of power. Due to these zero marginal costs, the total costs of electricity will go down the more renewable energy is used in the energy mix. Interestingly enough, the lower the cost of electricity the lower the costs of solar panels, as one of the biggest input costs for producing solar panels is electricity.

Zero marginal costs are changing the game

These zero marginal costs change the game on the energy markets in many ways. The German grid, for instance, has a hard time handling zero marginal costs as shown by all those sunny days where German electricity had negative wholesale prices. Negative pricing makes cheap energy storage the holy grail of renewable energy. The grail will soon be found in the combination of much cheaper batteries and new stationary storage technologies.

These cheaper and better batteries will also lead to the breakthrough of electric vehicles (EVs). Next to cheaper driving, EVs might as well become the ultimate storage for the cheap solar and wind energy we are going to harvest in the next decade.

Cheap solar energy combined with cheap batteries could cause a lot of damage among companies in the energy sector, utilities and car manufacturers. Spotting future winners is much harder in such a highly deflationary environment. The most obvious winners are of course mankind and our planet Earth.

Energy

Is Wood Burning Sustainable For Your Home?

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sustainable wood burning ideas

Wood is a classic heat source, whether we think about people gathered around a campfire or wood stoves in old cabins, but is it a sustainable source of heat in modern society? The answer is an ambivalent one. In certain settings, wood heat is an ideal solution, but for the majority of homes, it isn’t especially suitable. So what’s the tipping point?

Wood heat is ideal for small homes on large properties, for individuals who can gather their own wood, and who have modern wood burning ovens. A green approach to wood heat is one of biofuel on the smallest of scales.

Is Biofuel Green?

One of the reasons that wood heat is a source of so much divide in the eco-friendly community is that it’s a renewable resource and renewable has become synonymous with green. What wood heat isn’t, though, is clean or healthy. It lets off a significant amount of carbon and particulates, and trees certainly don’t grow as quickly as it’s consumed for heat.

Of course, wood is a much less harmful source of heat than coal, but for scientists interested in developing green energy sources, it makes more sense to focus on solar and wind power. Why, then, would they invest in improved wood burning technology?

Homegrown Technology

Solar and wind technology are good large-scale energy solutions, but when it comes to small-space heating, wood has its own advantages. First, wood heat is in keeping with the DIY spirit of homesteaders and tiny house enthusiasts. These individuals are more likely to be driven to gather their own wood and live in small spaces that can be effectively heated as such.

Wood heat is also very effective on an individual scale because it requires very little infrastructure. Modern wood stoves made of steel rather than cast iron are built to EPA specifications, and the only additional necessary tools include a quality axe, somewhere to store the wood, and an appropriate covering to keep it dry. And all the wood can come from your own land.

Wood heat is also ideal for people living off the grid or in cold areas prone to frequent power outages, as it’s constantly reliable. Even if the power goes out, you know that you’ll be able to turn up the heat. That’s important if you live somewhere like Maine where the winters can get exceedingly cold. People have even successfully heated a 40’x34’ home with a single stove.

Benefits Of Biomass

The ultimate question regarding wood heat is whether any energy source that’s dangerous on the large scale is acceptable on a smaller one. For now, the best answer is that with a growing population and limited progress towards “pure” green energy, wood should remain a viable option, specifically because it’s used on a limited scale. Biomass heat is even included in the UK’s Renewable Heat Initiative and minor modifications can make it even more sustainable.

Wood stoves, when embraced in conjunction with pellet stoves, geothermal heating, and masonry heaters, all more efficient forms of sustainable heat, should be part of a modern energy strategy. Ultimately, we’re headed in the direction of diversified energy – all of it cleaner – and wood has a place in the big picture, serving small homes and off-the-grid structures, while solar, wind, and other large-scale initiatives fuel our cities.

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Energy

7 Benefits You Should Consider Giving Your Energy Employees

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As an energy startup, you’re always looking to offer the most competitive packages to entice top-tier talent. This can be tough, especially when trying to put something together that’s both affordable but also has perks that employees are after.

After all, this is an incredibly competitive field and one that’s constantly doing what it can to stay ahead. However, that’s why I’m bringing you a few helpful benefits that could be what bolsters you ahead of your competition. Check them out below:

Financial Advising

One benefit commonly overlooked by companies is offering your employees financial advising services, which could help them tremendously in planning for their long-term goals with your firm. This includes anything from budgeting and savings plans to recommendations for credit repair services and investments. Try to take a look at if your energy company could bring on an extra person or two specifically for this role, as it will pay off tremendously regarding retention and employee happiness.

Life Insurance

While often included in a lot of health benefits packages, offering your employees life insurance could be an excellent addition to your current perks. Although seldom used, life insurance is a small sign that shows you care about the life of their family beyond just office hours. Additionally, at such a low cost, this is a pretty simple aspect to add to your packages. Try contacting some brokers or insurance agents to see if you can find a policy that’s right for your firm.

Dedicated Time To Enjoy Their Hobbies

Although something seen more often in startups in Silicon Valley, having dedicated office time for employees to enjoy their passions is something that has shown great results. Whether it be learning the piano or taking on building a video game, having your team spend some time on the things they truly enjoy can translate to increased productivity. Why? Because giving them the ability to better themselves, they’ll in turn bring that to their work as well.

The Ability To Work Remotely

It’s no secret that a lot of employers despise the idea of letting their employees work remotely. However, it’s actually proven to hold some amazing benefits. According to Global Workplace Analytics, 95% of employers that allow their employees to telework reported an increased rate of retention, saving on both turnover and sick days. Depending on the needs of each individual role, this can be a strategy to implement either whenever your team wants or on assigned days. Either way, this is one perk almost everyone will love.

Health Insurance

Even though it’s mandated for companies with over 50 employees, offering health insurance regardless is arguably a benefit well received across the board. In fact, as noted in research compiled by KFF, 28.6% of employers with less than 50 people still offered health care. Why is that the case? Because it shows you care about their well-being, and know that a healthy employee is one that doesn’t have to worry about astronomical medical bills.

Unlimited Time Off

This is a perk that almost no employer offers but should be regarded as something to consider. According to The Washington Post, only 1-2% of companies offer unlimited vacation, which it’s easy to see why. A true “unlimited vacation” program could be a firm’s worse nightmare, with employees skipping out every other week to enjoy themselves. However, with the right model in place that rewards hard work with days off, your employees will absolutely adore this policy.

A Full Pantry

Finally, having a pantry full of food can be one perk that’s not only relatively inexpensive but also adds to the value of the workplace. As noted by USA Today, when surveying employees who had snacks versus those who didn’t, 67% of those who did reported they were “very happy” with their work life. You’d be surprised at how much of a difference this could make, especially when considering the price point. Consider adding a kitchen to your office if you haven’t already, and always keep the snacks and drinks everyone wants fully stocked. Doing so will increase morale tremendously.

Final Thoughts

Compiling a great package for your energy company is going to take some time in looking at what you can afford versus what’s the most you can offer. While it might mean cutting back in other areas, having a workforce that feels like you genuinely want to take care of them can take you far. And with so many different benefits to include in your energy company’s package, which one is your favorite? Comment with your answers below!

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