Being the voice of over 1,000 different companies is no easy task – as Nina Skorupska, chief executive of the Renewable Energy Association (REA) has learnt during her first year in the job. She tells Blue & Green Tomorrow why she is optimistic about the future of clean energy.
This article originally appeared in Blue & Green Tomorrow’s Guide to Sustainable Clean Energy 2014.
You’ve been in the job at the REA for almost a year. Has it been how you expected?
My expectations about the importance and enormity of this job have been well met! One thing that has been a new adjustment is being responsible for so many different businesses at once. It’s a very different kind of responsibility to the kind I lived with in the private sector. We’re trying to help a whole industry be profitable and sustainable, not just one company. I have a responsibility to each and every REA member. That means a lot of listening and a very open mind, whilst also being firm and practical to deliver results.
What has surprised you most about the job?
The polarisation of the renewables debate. It seems that battle lines were drawn long before I arrived on the UK scene and positions are now well entrenched. Some politicians and stakeholders will always have time for the REA, while others have slammed the door in our face. That surprised me. But I’m tenacious, and I will open those doors!
You told Blue & Green Tomorrow last November that the REA has got to be able to say things in a voice that appeals to all its members. How difficult has this proven to be?
It has been challenging. We came up with a good plan though and we stuck with it. We changed the way the REA board is structured. The previous board was trying to do lots of things at once, and while the people in the room were brilliant, the structure did not enable us to move forward efficiently. Now we have two boards with tightly defined responsibilities: a policy board, which gives direct representation to every sector we represent and shapes the REA’s lobbying positions and priorities, and a governance board, which is smaller, enabling more efficient decision making on matters such as the REA’s membership, budget, finances and so on. I must pay testament to all our directors past and present, who have really helped make this transition a success.
You said your 90-day vision when you started was to do lots of listening. Presumably you have done that, so what were the main noises you heard?
Access to finance came up again and again. At one end of the scale, we have early stage technologies like marine, geothermal, and gasification and pyrolysis. The stage between concept and commercialisation is often called the ‘valley of death’ as investment risk is seen as being very high. At the other end of the spectrum, mature technologies like biomass, solar and wind are being unsettled by the ‘shifting sands’ of government policy. This is why we’ve set up the Finance Forum, to cut through all the noise and put renewable energy developers and the finance community directly in touch with each other. The plan is that these new relationships and the exchange of information will lead to more and more successful investments in renewable energy at all scales and across all technologies.
Tell us about some of the major developments that have taken place in renewables since you took over?
It’s very encouraging that the policy fog for renewable transport at EU level is beginning to clear. Now the focus shifts back to the UK government, which could unlock substantial investment in current and advanced renewable fuels by mapping its green transport policies out to 2020.
The launch of the domestic renewable heat incentive (RHI) and the expansion of the commercial RHI are also very welcome. The policy framework is more or less sorted for green heat now, so the next step is to raise awareness about the opportunities that are out there for homes and businesses across the full range of technologies.
We’ve also seen steady progress on electricity market reform (EMR), but there is still work to do to ensure it supports all different scales and applications of large scale renewable power, and especially independent generators.
Finally, the community energy strategy will fundamentally reshape the way communities engage with renewables, especially the commitment to increasing the shared ownership of new projects, which is shared by government, industry and community groups alike. The transition will not be easy, but it is important for the long-term success of our industry.
What state would you say the renewable energy industry is in compared to this time last year?
We’ve grown! The latest data shows that almost a fifth of UK electricity was renewable over the last quarter. That’s some achievement. Things are improving for heat and transport too, but not as fast as required to meet government’s targets. However, individual successes must be contrasted with the scale of the overall challenge. The need to rebuild consensus for renewable energy and energy efficiency as solutions to energy security and climate change is stronger than ever in a world where politicians are now so fixated on nuclear power and shale gas. We must bust the myth that ‘technology neutral’ policy delivers technology neutral results.
The REA recently unveiled the launch of its Finance Forum, which aims to connect the finance world with the thriving renewables industry. How important are investors in the low-carbon transition?
Investors are the lifeblood of the renewable energy economy. No investment means no new business. I’m really excited to see what lessons the finance community and the renewables community can take from each other. As Greg Barker said at our Awards Gala Dinner in June, “No-one does financial innovation better than us. The City of London leads the world in low-carbon finance. Our industry must innovate with finance as well as technology.”
Where next for the REA and UK renewable energy?
The general election is our next major focus. With our policy board in place we plan to deliver a coherent manifesto, with each sector singing its own piece in harmony with the overall tune: which is that clear, stable policy will deliver investment, jobs and cost reductions in renewable energy, so it can make an increasing, and increasingly cost effective contribution to reducing the energy security and climate change risks of an energy system dependent on fossil fuels.
Nina Skorupska is chief executive of the Renewable Energy Association (REA).
Photo: Karla Gowlett
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7 New Technologies That Could Radically Change Our Energy Consumption
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Responsible Energy Investments Could Solve Retirement Funding Crisis
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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