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Community Energy Fortnight: Regen SW

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Not-for-profit Regen South West (SW) is offering sustainable energy expertise ahead of September’s Community Energy Fortnight, and will be hosting a poetry slam at the unique renewable energy focused event.

Regen SW will be taking part in the fortnight with an evening of poetry with Matt Harvey. Harvey will introduce a full programme, featuring many special guests, and will entertain with his energy-inspired collection of poems. The event will take place on September 23 from 7pm – 11pm at the Bike Shed Theatre in Exeter.

Regen SW told Blue & Green Tomorrow about the challenges faced and the vision for community energy in the UK.

Tell us a bit about your organisation

Regen SW is a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee with a membership of over 260 businesses, local authorities and community groups. Regen’s aim is to enable ground-breaking renewable energy and energy efficiency projects that create local jobs and benefits to local communities.

We are based in the south west of England and use our detailed knowledge and relationships with key partners to trial initiatives and projects here. It is a core principle of our approach that this work is scalable and we can use the knowledge and lessons to have an impact on policy and practice nationally and internationally.

What excites you about community energy?

The extraordinary potential for ordinary people to change the way our energy system works, and opening the debate up to make it truly inclusive and interesting.

Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt a small group of people can change the world, indeed it’s the only thing that ever has” which is very pertinent to community energy right now. There is a cultural shift taking place because the existing reality is not satisfactory, our options are to accept it, or to get involved and change things for the better, localising our energy systems and creating jobs and resilience.

The way we currently talk about energy is not encouraging enough people to join the debate, and if we want to get everyone involved we need to make it far more exciting, that’s why we have an arts and energy programme at Regen which supports artists to join the debate and team up with community energy groups.

What is the biggest challenge in scaling up community energy across the UK?

Involving everyone. There are over 5000 community energy groups in the UK and nearly all of them struggle to get enough people involved to share the amount of work it takes to make a project successful. Opinion polls consistently show between 70-80% of people support renewable energy, energy is fundamental to our way of life and yet few people have the time or energy to get involved.

The people who do make a start need your support, everyone has something to offer and there are so many ways to get involved, from making a cake; writing a letter; developing a business plan; starting a Facebook page; making a banner; writing a funding bid; building a model; managing money; doing legal agreements; to chatting to people in the street.

What’s your vision for community energy in the UK?

Resilient communities with well sited and popular renewable energy projects that create jobs and generate income. There are loads of ways for communities to benefit from energy, whether it’s starting a 100% community owned project or partnering with the renewable energy industry to share the ownership of projects, or even managing a community benefit fund from a local commercial renewables scheme to spend on local community projects.

Would you encourage others to get involved in community energy?

Absolutely, working with community energy groups is incredibly rewarding. Where our energy comes from and the money we spend on energy affects us all, and doing something about it needn’t be boring, the more fun we make it, the more people will want to join in. Community energy is a huge opportunity for us to make our society and localities more resilient and brilliant places to live, through security of supply, greater control over where the money goes, how the jobs are created and how we get along with our neighbours.

At Regen we run a communities programme that offers free support to community energy groups at the early stages, there are over 200 groups in this network who share learning at our events and training and support each other with their projects.

Our regular updates keep this network informed about the latest funding, policy changes, and issues affecting community energy. We do a lot of work to prepare the ground by influencing the policy that affects community energy, and sharing positive renewables stories with the media. We are a not-for-profit membership organisation and many community energy groups at the later stages choose to join Regen so that they can forge links with our members including local authorities and the renewables industry, and keep up to speed with sector developments.

 

The Community Energy Coalition (CEC) formed in 2011 and runs the Community Energy Fortnight, with the first one taking place last year.

The CEC is made up of 36 members, made up of a wide range of organisations and charities, including Forum for the Future, Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) and Co-operative Energy.

The fortnight hopes to inspire and engage people about the benefits of clean, green energy and encourage community groups to set up their own projects.

The public can see renewable energy projects close up with a variety of events and open days held across the UK from September 13 – 28.

Photo: Regen SW

Further reading:

Community Energy Fortnight: Drumlin Wind Energy Co-operative

Community Energy Fortnight: Scene Consulting

Community Energy Fortnight gears up for second series of events

Community Energy Strategy launched to help local renewables projects

Public shows renewables interest ahead of Community Energy Strategy unveiling

Community Energy Strategy: the reaction

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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