The last four months has seen wave after wave of policy attack against the renewable energy industry. At the end of October industry bodies were hastily gathering evidence in support of keeping the feed-in tariff (FiT), and just days later the treasury announced that tax relief incentives will no longer apply to energy projects. For this reason renewables enthusiasts cannot be blamed for looking for something to raise their spirits. Vijay Bhopal, Projects Director of Scene Consulting writes.
The sun appeared to break through the gloom for a moment a few weeks ago when the Scottish Government announced that it has reached its 500MW target for ‘community and locally owned energy’, five years ahead of schedule. The announcement was lapped up by press and practitioners alike, who claimed ‘Scotland smashes community energy target’.
I don’t wish to put a damper on this Indian summer, but the ethos and impacts of this achievement require closer scrutiny.
Community energy is very popular concept. With community owned schemes there is a virtual certainty that the proceeds will be reinvested locally – this chimes with people of all political persuasions.
With the alternative model, private ownership, which encompasses most of what counts as ‘local energy’, there is absolutely no such guarantee of local investment, although, for example, circumstantial evidence reveals some farmers recapitalising farms on the back of renewable energy income streams. For this reason Scotland has received international recognition for its support of community energy via support programmes, loan funds, policy statements and targets.
Unfortunately ever since the government’s 500MW target was announced in 2011, it has been poorly understood by the public and has been an excellent tool for increasing popularity around renewable energy agenda. The government chose to wrap two ownership types, ‘community’ and ‘local’, into one target despite, generally speaking, a gulf in popularity of one type over the other.
Thereafter it released the Community Energy Policy Statement which references the target throughout. In the policy statement progress towards the target was stated as 361MW, with the community energy portion of that being as little as 46MW (12.7%). The largest contributor to the target is stated to be Farms and Estates, including some of some of Scotland’s richest landowners, with 146 MW. The recent announcement that the target has been surpassed came with no mention of the community energy contribution, but from our analysis we expect it to be around 58 MW.
The Scottish community energy sector has achieved some amazing things in the face of a myriad of obstacles. Community energy generally trails private sector trends by a year or two, and projects have longer lead times, the combination of which means that community projects have a harder time with grid and falling tariff rates.
Add availability of land (and therefore natural resources) and capital to the mix, and it is clear that the barriers to successfully completing projects are significant. Is hiding this relative lack of progress of the community energy sector, within a target that has been ‘smashed five years early’ a helpful thing to do?
Looking more widely at the UK policy landscape, few can argue that the FiT has been not been a monumental success in terms of uptake. But has it served its intended purpose? The government’s original state aid request includes the following “16. The beneficiaries of this scheme are non-energy professionals and include for instance households, community groups and schools.”. An unforeseen popularity of the scheme to private developers, estate owners, farmers and SMEs has created tremendous pressure on the viability of the framework, leading to major cuts in the first FiT review in 2012 and proposed major cuts again this time around.
By creating and championing a combined 500MW target which includes a myriad of different market actors, the government has conflated private and community ownership. This is turn has led to an unfortunate overstated understanding of the success of the community energy sector.
Whatever happens in the FiT review this time, it is vital that community energy is seen for what it is; an amazing socio-economic opportunity for non-profit groups that requires a different type of support than privately developed projects. Ironically this support was introduced in 2010, in the shape of the FiT itself.
So we read the Scottish Government’s announcement of 6th October in a different light. Well done to the Scottish community energy sector for having been able to develop 58MW of community owned renewable energy, despite being in direct competition with those with more resources. We hope the FiT review supports rather than hinders growth of the sector. As for the rest? Well, let’s leave the spinning to the turbines.
Vijay Bhopal is Projects Director of Scene Consulting
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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