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Why energy saving, cutting bills and reducing carbon footprint will stay centre stage



Energy saving, cutting bills and reducing carbon footprint are the triplet child stars holding centre stage in the UK power drama.

They are the offspring of a decade or more of neglect in the energy policy arena at the national level, becoming the focus for hopes and aspirations of millions of hard-pressed consumers, businesses and organisations across the country.

And there are a rapidly growing number of groups who are helping to rewrite the script for the triplets, from the Guardian’s Big Energy Debate to the Big Deal on Energy.

We’ve seen these two launched in the past three weeks, joining other new energy and carbon emissions evangelists, whose aims we support wholeheartedly. Any pressure that yields even temporary relief on the pocket and the planet is welcome.

These fresh evangelists include:

– Energy Bill Revolution
– Forum for the Future
– Consumer Futures
– Fit for the Future

We share the broad aims of these groups, seeking a sea change in government energy and climate strategy that addresses the triple challenge of saving energy, cutting utility bills and reducing carbon emissions.

We’ve pushed hard through our blog and media work for radical action that helps households, businesses and organisations in the UK, both in the short-term and sustainably in the next 50 years.

As the Guardian’s environment correspondent Fiona Harvey writes in the Big Energy Debate, “It is strange to remember now that only a few years ago energy was scarcely mentioned in UK politics, and in business was a subject strictly for the nerds. Energy was seen as rather dull, as fears over our ability to ‘keep the lights on’ had long ago receded.

Little wonder that energy – how we make it, where we get it and how much we pay for it – is now one of the country’s hottest political and social issues.”

Fiona echoes our view that one of most effective ways to resolve the “trilemma” of power production, power sources and costs is energy efficiency. We’ve consistently argued that substantial reductions in energy (and water) consumption are the way to cut bills and cut carbon while taking the pressure off the National Grid.

But we’ve seen how ineffective government promotion is in this vital sphere. The green deal just is not delivering for many reasons, including structure, complexity and limited scope. Ed Davey, the energy secretary, advises that the scheme is a slow burner with results being framed within a 20-year period.

Long-term vision is fine but we need more immediate and decisive action to cut consumption, cut bills and cut carbon. From our viewpoint, the expected budget announcement on the freezing of the carbon tax is hardly an energy bill gamechanger.

But the government is struggling with a fiendishly tricky balance act. See how Britain’s biggest independent gas power generators, InterGen, Vitol and Macquarie, have warned the chancellor that freezing the carbon tax would put intolerable strain on them, potentially forcing closure of large gas plants with the threat of blackouts as power capacity shrinks – a case of “damned if you do, dimmed if you don’t”.

The economics of power generation are only now being addressed and while we wait for a number of many-sized miracles, the only real solution is to help people cut energy and water consumption – substantially, sustainably and soon (as in right now!).

We’ve said many times that the era of being green as a ‘nice thing’ is over. There are increasingly intense economic and environmental drivers propelling desire to act in the home, in business and in organisations of all shapes and sizes.

In the business sphere, we’ve just seen that TripAdvisor is expanding its GreenLeaders programme into Europe, which underlines the importance of energy and carbon efficient hotels.

The programme, which was previously only offered in the US, awards qualifying hotels and B&Bs with TripAdvisor GreenLeaders status based on the green practices the property is operating. Properties are tiered with Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum awards. Each award is shown prominently on the property’s listing on TripAdvisor.

According to Green Hotelier,  a recent TripBarometer traveller survey by TripAdvisor showed that 81% of travellers place importance on properties implementing eco-friendly practices, and 85% of UK hoteliers indicate that they have green practices in place.

That’s heartening news, reflecting our experience in the UK hospitality sector, working with a number of hotel groups as well as independent bed and breakfasts.

And with World Water Day being celebrated on Saturday, it’s worth reiterating that a big part of the energy puzzle is fluid. Our water use has huge impact on energy consumption nationally, and every drop saved helps to cut management and distribution costs, as well as reduced bills in the home and at work.

Charlie Farr is chairman of SaveMoneyCutCarbon.

Further reading:

The real green deal: bringing energy, water and waste under control

The government’s admission at Ecobuild hides bigger issues with energy strategy

Energy bills are going up – and it is mostly our lack of responsibility to blame

Households ‘could save £600m’ through simple energy and water-saving measures

The Guide to Sustainable Spending 2013


Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?



self-driving cars for green environment
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By 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 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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New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035



renewable energy policy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Eviart /

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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