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‘Renewables are the only long-term energy solution for the planet’

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The Renewable Energy Association (REA) bills itself as “the voice of the renewables industry in the UK”. With this in mind, Blue & Green Tomorrow caught up with its chief executive, Gaynor Hartnell.

 

Who is the REA?

We’re the only renewable energy trade body that covers renewable heat, transport fuel, power generation and bio-methane or green gas. We have over 900 members so we’re the largest trade association in terms of number of member companies, and our main focus is from the perspective of the renewable energy producer – people selling heat, or installing heat projects and so on.

We have lots of members that are also service providers to the industry, anything from lawyers to consultants and so on, and we also have some of the main utilities in membership, but obviously it’s the renewable energy producers that we are seeking to be the voice of.

Our mission is to secure the best markets for our members, and to help meet the 15% renewable energy target by 2020 and go beyond it.

If we weren’t here, there might be lots of smaller trade associations just trying to do one small part of the industry. But many companies are actually involved in a portfolio of different renewable energy technologies and they want to be a member of one trade association that has a holistic view of renewable energy and doesn’t require them to join lots of different trade associations.

What do you think the government could be doing more with regards to renewable energy?

One thing that the government is doing which isn’t helping at all is serially undermining investor confidence in the sector. We are supposed to have had the application of the Renewables Obligation banding review at the end of May, but it wasn’t published then, and the reason we understand it’s been delayed is because government is considering reducing the banding level for onshore wind below the level that it consulted upon.

It feels like that’s been driven by politics rather than evidenced-based research. And it’s very destabilising because normally what happens when the government consults on something is it sets out its proposed tariffs or prices, and those are widely reviewed as the worst case scenario.

One wouldn’t expect them to come up with those figures after having gathered evidence, and one doesn’t expect it to actually go beneath that. It will have a very destabilising effect.

There are numerous examples in other technologies where there have been changes of policy view, and altogether, in the context of introducing new electricity market arrangements under the Electricity Market Reform (EMR) process, it’s very important that investor confidence is maintained and if the government doesn’t start improving its performance in this respect, it’s going to be very difficult indeed to meet the renewable targets.

What has the government done positive with regards to renewable energy?

On the Electricity Market Reform, there are lots of concerns expressed. I would say that the concept of the contracts for difference (CfD) feed-in tariff is laudable, and if it can be made to work, it will be a good thing.

There are lots of caveats however, and most of the stuff you read at the moment about EMR is very negative, but I can understand what the government wanted to achieve by way of these CfD, and the objective is a sound one for renewables, but the devil’s in the detail.

It’s positive that it’s getting the feed-in tariff for PV onto a more stable, predictable pathway, and that it has revised its review of what contribution PV can make in the longer term. It has recognised finally that the costs are coming down so dramatically that it expects it to play a major part from 2020 onwards, and it’s going to revise the Renewables Roadmap to make that clear, which is good.

What’s your background in renewable energy and how has the sector changed since you entered the industry?

I’ve been at the REA since it started. In fact, I was there helping to get it off the ground. Renewable energy has been one of my long-term objectives or desires to see the industry present a strong and united voice to government.

I got into renewables in the mid-1990s, and I’ve worked with a number of different trade associations. When I started, there was a lot of competition between different renewables as to which one was best.

They were such small players then that it wasn’t constructive. The important thing was to actually work together, and so that’s why I felt motivated to try and bring these competing trade associations altogether.

There have been tremendous changes. One of them is just the sheer number of government officials and departments involved. Back in the 1990s, there were really only three civil servants that one really needed to have a relationship, as opposed to a renewable energy trade association. And the growth’s been exponential since then.

Blue & Green Tomorrow often prefers to use words like ‘clean’, ‘alternative’ or ‘green’ when describing renewable energy. Do you think the word ‘renewable’ has picked up negative connotations?

No, I don’t think it has at all; in fact it’s almost the opposite. There’s an assumption that something isn’t really totally environmentally wonderful unless it is renewable energy.

So you’ll have people talking about the recovery of waste heat, and they describe it as renewable energy. Now, it’s not renewable energy necessarily, unless it’s waste heat from a renewable energy source. But that doesn’t mean to say it’s not a fantastically sound thing to be doing for the environment.

Renewables doesn’t have the monopoly on being green, I’d certainly argue that. It can be that doing something like recovering coal mine methane that’s just venting out the ground, for example, could be a more environmentally sound thing to do than to actually build a new biogas project.

There’s an environmental problem going on there with that coal mine methane venting that needs to be addressed urgently. It’s a very environmentally sound thing to do. I wouldn’t call it renewable energy, but that’s not to say it’s not a very important thing to do.

What’s the long-term goal for the REA?

Trade associations exist to serve their members. They should always take account of what is best for the industry and the members. They don’t really exist in their own right. And I think that how far we go is more a question for commercial businesses.

But in the end, it may be best that the REA doesn’t even exist because come the time when our energy is pretty much 100% renewables, different renewables will be competing against each other and there will be no role for a body that’s seeking to unite them all like the REA is.

The ideal scenario is 100% renewables and different renewable technologies competing against each other.

Finally, what would you say to encourage and inspire people into switching to renewable energy?

Renewables are the only long-term energy solution for the planet. The fuel sources for renewables aren’t going to run out, and you haven’t got issues like dealing with radioactive waste or waste carbon that you’ve got to store because you can’t let it out in the atmosphere.

They’re totally the answer for the long-term, and increasingly also the answer for the short-term as well, because fossil fuel prices are only going upwards, and many businesses and individuals want to insulate themselves against future price rises.

Photo: Peter Heilmann via Flickr

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 Further reading:

#GE2015: Renewable energy industry and campaigners ‘worried’ about future government plans

Renewable jobs growing 7 times faster than average

Renewable energy job industry to benefit contractors across Europe

Study: climate action can add 1m jobs by 2030 across EU, US and China


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Energy

7 New Technologies That Could Radically Change Our Energy Consumption

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Energy Consumption
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Syda Productions | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/dolgachov

Most of our focus on technological development to lessen our environmental impact has been focused on cleaner, more efficient methods of generating electricity. The cost of solar energy production, for example, is slated to fall more than 75 percent between 2010 and 2020.

This is a massive step forward, and it’s good that engineers and researchers are working for even more advancements in this area. But what about technologies that reduce the amount of energy we demand in the first place?

Though it doesn’t get as much attention in the press, we’re making tremendous progress in this area, too.

New Technologies to Watch

These are some of the top emerging technologies that have the power to reduce our energy demands:

  1. Self-driving cars. Self-driving cars are still in development, but they’re already being hailed as potential ways to eliminate a number of problems on the road, including the epidemic of distracted driving ironically driven by other new technologies. However, even autonomous vehicle proponents often miss the tremendous energy savings that self-driving cars could have on the world. With a fleet of autonomous vehicles at our beck and call, consumers will spend less time driving themselves and more time carpooling, dramatically reducing overall fuel consumption once it’s fully adopted.
  2. Magnetocaloric tech. The magnetocaloric effect isn’t exactly new—it was actually discovered in 1881—but it’s only recently being studied and applied to commercial appliances. Essentially, this technology relies on changing magnetic fields to produce a cooling effect, which could be used in refrigerators and air conditioners to significantly reduce the amount of electricity required.
  3. New types of insulation. Insulation is the best asset we have to keep our homes thermoregulated; they keep cold or warm air in (depending on the season) and keep warm or cold air out (again, depending on the season). New insulation technology has the power to improve this efficiency many times over, decreasing our need for heating and cooling entirely. For example, some new automated sealing technologies can seal gaps between 0.5 inches wide and the width of a human hair.
  4. Better lights. Fluorescent bulbs were a dramatic improvement over incandescent bulbs, and LEDs were a dramatic improvement over fluorescent bulbs—but the improvements may not end there. Scientists are currently researching even better types of light bulbs, and more efficient applications of LEDs while they’re at it.
  5. Better heat pumps. Heat pumps are built to transfer heat from one location to another, and can be used to efficiently manage temperatures—keeping homes warm while requiring less energy expenditure. For example, some heat pumps are built for residential heating and cooling, while others are being used to make more efficient appliances, like dryers.
  6. The internet of things. The internet of things and “smart” devices is another development that can significantly reduce our energy demands. For example, “smart” windows may be able to respond dynamically to changing light conditions to heat or cool the house more efficiently, and “smart” refrigerators may be able to respond dynamically to new conditions. There are several reasons for this improvement. First, smart devices automate things, so it’s easier to control your energy consumption. Second, they track your consumption patterns, so it’s easier to conceptualize your impact. Third, they’re often designed with efficiency in mind from the beginning, reducing energy demands, even without the high-tech interfaces.
  7. Machine learning. Machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies have the power to improve almost every other item on this list. By studying consumer patterns and recommending new strategies, or automatically controlling certain features, machine learning algorithms have the power to fundamentally change how we use energy in our homes and businesses.

Making the Investment

All technologies need time, money, and consumer acceptance to be developed. Fortunately, a growing number of consumers are becoming enthusiastic about finding new ways to reduce their energy consumption and overall environmental impact. As long as we keep making the investment, our tools to create cleaner energy and demand less energy in the first place should have a massive positive effect on our environment—and even our daily lives.

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Energy

Responsible Energy Investments Could Solve Retirement Funding Crisis

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Energy Investments
Shutterstock / By Sergey Nivens | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/nivens

Retiring baby-boomers are facing a retirement cliff, at the same time as mother nature unleashes her fury with devastating storms tied to the impact of global warming. There could be a unique solution to the challenges associated with climate change – investments in clean energy from retirement funds.

Financial savings play a very important role in everyone’s life and one must start planning for it as soon as possible. It’s shocking how quickly seniors can burn through their nest egg – leaving many wondering, “How long your retirement savings will last?

Let’s take a closer look at how seniors can take baby steps on the path to retiring with dignity, while helping to clean up our environment.

Tip #1: Focus & Determination

Like in other work, it is very important to focus and be determined. If retirement is around the corner, then make sure to start putting some money away for retirement. No one can ever achieve anything without dedication and focus – whether it’s saving the planet, or saving for retirement.

Tip #2: Minimize Spending

One of the most important things that you need to do is to minimize your expenditures. Reducing consumption is good for the planet too!

Tip #3: Visualize Your Goal

You can achieve more if you have a clearly defined goal in life. This about how your money can be used to better the planet – imagine cleaner air, water and a healthier environment to leave to your grandchildren.

Investing in Clean Energy

One of the hottest and most popular industries for investment today is the energy market – the trading of energy commodities. Clean energy commodities are traded alongside dirty energy supplies. You might be surprised to learn that clean energy is becoming much more competitive.

With green biz becoming more popular, it is quickly becoming a powerful tool for diversified retirement investing.

The Future of Green Biz

As far as the future is concerned, energy businesses are going to continue getting bigger and better. There are many leading energy companies in the market that already have very high stock prices, yet people are continuing to investing in them.

Green initiatives are impacting every industry. Go Green campaigns are a PR staple of every modern brand. For the energy-sector in the US, solar energy investments are considered to be the most accessible form of clean energy investment. Though investing in any energy business comes with some risks, the demand for energy isn’t going anywhere.

In conclusion, if you want to start saving for your retirement, then clean energy stocks and commodity trading are some of the best options for wallets and the planet. Investing in clean energy products, like solar power, is a more long-term investment. It’s quite stable and comes with a significant profit margin. And it’s amazing for the planet!

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