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Power Post-Paris: Is Constant Change the ‘new normal’?



In the run-up to PennWell’s annual POWER-GEN Europe and Renewable Energy World Europe* in Milan this June, conference director Nigel Blackaby examines the key themes that will drive the debate – with change at the heart of the agenda like never before. The COP21 climate talks in Paris were an important milestone in the battle to control climate change.In a show of overwhelming consensus, global leaders agreed to keep temperature rises well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels by 2100. But while the Paris Agreement is certainly an impressive demonstration of collective will, it’s important that we understand that the real work starts now. We need to truly unpack what the Agreement will mean in practice, how it will affect the power industry in Europe and what policymakers and practitioners need to do to respond.

In short, we need to ask ourselves: what now? Has the Agreement sped up the green transition and the role of renewable energy? Does nuclear still have a role to play? Is coal dead or can carbon capture fuel its renaissance? And perhaps most importantly, where does that leave gas fired generation as the bridge technology to get us to this decarbonised energy system? It’s relatively cheap and available, and new gas plants are increasingly efficient and low in emissions. But is that enough without a stronger carbon market?

These are all crucial questions the industry needs to find an answer to. And these answers are now more important than they have ever been. While the last few years have seen much soul searching over the implications of the energy transition, 2016 is the year when we should start seeing the transformations the industry has been contemplating come to fruition.

Supercharging storage Energy storage is a great example, with huge implications for the power sector. This could be the year when energy storage achieves its breakthrough – creating a seismic shift in energy generation, delivery and consumption. We are at a critical pivot point for the industry as a whole and there is growing optimism for a variety of storage technologies.

If the industry can get the storage issue right, both in the scale and cost, the green transition moves from aspiration to reality. The ability to store large amounts of electricity generated from renewable sources creates the buffer needed to offset the intermittent nature of wind and solar energy. This is the role currently being played by traditional baseload generation power plants, which were not designed for this purpose.

At the other end of the supply chain, a breakthrough in storage could very quickly see swathes of savvy households becoming totally energy neutral. There are already signs of real technological advancements. Improved, higher capacity batteries are coming to market, at a more affordable level. And not just at the top end of the market. We’re also seeing attempts to innovate at the consumer level.

Take the Tesla PowerWall, for example. A home battery that charges using electricity generated from solar panels – or the grid when utility rates are low – and stores energy to power homes in the evening, it quite literally devolves power to the consumer. Such is the importance of this issue that an entire day of this year’s POWER-GEN Europe and Renewable Energy World Europe conferences will be dedicated to energy storage and its impact on the power industry. A viable and cost-effective energy storage mechanism could help manage the peaks and troughs of demand, ending the frequent need to quickly ramp up supply, and changing the game for renewables integration and the energy industry as a whole.

It’s not just energy storage that’s changing the game. Change is gathering pace in all areas of power For instance, as more types of generation come online – including from more localised sources supported by battery technology – the need to balance supply and manage intermittency has driven increased interest in the development of smart grids. Traditional energy grids were not designed to deal with two-way power delivery and extensive decentralised generation. Newer, smarter grids need to deal with devolved power generation, at a consumer level, as well as spiky generation from sources like renewables, while closely managing a far more complex infrastructure matrix.

By incorporating more intelligence into the power grid and distribution networks, operators and utilities can react more quickly to changes in demand. If the grid has in-built intelligence and communications capability, then it can react more quickly to peaks and troughs in demand, and send messages to the parts of the system necessary to reduce or ramp up both power supply and demand as required. Replacing today’s infrastructure with a complete smart grid is a vast undertaking but it holds the key to unlocking the energy cloud of tomorrow. Change is the only constant Of course change and modernisation have their challenges. For one, they come with a hefty price tag, and so the industry must always consider how to finance the investment needed to meet these demands. Developers and financiers will meet at POWER-GEN Europe and Renewable Energy

World Europe to negotiate such deals. But that’s not the only issue the industry faces. Indeed, making decisions about big investments in power generation is difficult, especially when faced with increasing policy uncertainty – both at a national and international level. This is an issue that players across Europe must contend with. Germany is often praised for leading the way when it comes to energy policy, yet its volte face on nuclear perfectly illustrates the fact that when it comes to power, the ground is ever-shifting. And while its ambitions on emissions are laudable, the decision last summer to mothball large amounts of brown coal and to create a reserve capacity, instead of imposing a planned emissions levy, shows that the industry must be prepared for unexpected policy decisions around every corner.

Yet 2016 is a year to be optimistic. Increasingly, the world is favouring electricity as its energy media of choice. Europe’s power engineering concerns are positioning themselves to meet the new market challenges, new entrants are injecting fresh ideas and thinking into the sector creating momentum in an industry ready to embrace the opportunities of change. The future will be a more innovative, more efficient and more effective powering of people’s lives and businesses. The real question we’re looking to answer in Milan is, in a post-Paris world, how quickly can we get there?


Is Wood Burning Sustainable For Your Home?



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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7 Benefits You Should Consider Giving Your Energy Employees



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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