Hugo House, head of business development at Good Energy, writes how the Government’s controversial move to cut funding for the Feed-in Tariff scheme will affect the solar industry.
The government’s Feed-in Tariff (FiT), an initiative to provide financial rewards to small, independent renewable electricity generators, has been a huge success. Good Energy now supports 7,000 households and small businesses all over the country generating their own electricity. These small producers are the ‘mini power stations’ of the future.
The FiT has recently been high on the media agenda due to the government consultation announced last week. A reduction in the subsidy was expected in line with falling costs in solar panel installations and a cap on funding.
But in a controversial move which surprised the industry, the government announced that from April 1st 2012, the current FiT level for solar PV installations below 250kW will not be paid for any projects registered after December 12th 2011.
Those registered after that date will receive a new, lower-level of support from April 1st. For domestic-size schemes, it is proposed to reduce payments from up to 43.3p per unit to 21p for sites of 4kW or below (the size of a large domestic solar PV system).
So what to do now for people keen to reduce their carbon footprint and generate their own electricity? Firstly, those already registered for the FiT will not be affected by the change and will continue to receive existing rates, index-linked and guaranteed for 25 years.
If you have a solar PV project underway but not yet completed and registered, you will need to do so by December 11th. According to the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), this means a project must be commissioned (in working order) and have had its request for accreditation received by a Feed-in Tariff licensee, such as Good Energy, for schemes up to 50kW.
So the message for those already in the process of installing solar PV is make sure your paperwork reaches your FiT licensee by December 12th. Any installation whose application is received by Good Energy after midnight on December 11th 2011 will be subject to the lower rate of FiT from April 1st 2012 onwards.
As a champion of small independent electricity producers, Good Energy will provide efficient, expert support throughout the process. The company has the systems in place to process applications as quickly as possible so long as the applicant meets the new December deadline.
If you have not yet accepted a quote, now is a great time to be researching the options and making sure you make the right decision on renewable generation. Costs for solar panels have fallen sharply in the last year, and are expected to continue falling. After the deadline of December 12th, it may well become a ‘buyers’ market’ as consumer interest in installing solar PV falls sharply.
For those committed to reducing their carbon footprint, solar PV still represents a sensible investment. Even under the proposed new FiT rates, the average family household (a three bedroom domestic property) who installed a 2.5kWp solar PV after December 11th 2011 could earn an income of almost £500 from the FiT.
They could also save up to £150 per year in electricity bills, depending on the pattern of their energy usage. As long as the UK continues to rely on imported energy, electricity bills are expected to keep rising. Micro-generation will still provide some shelter from price rises.
Will Hitchcock (pictured) from Suffolk, renovated his family’s Victorian cottage, introducing energy efficiency improvements and a 2.7 kWp solar PV system.
“We’re now into our second year of generating our own electricity using solar PV”, Hitchcock said. “The output has exceeded our expectations for both years and we’ve been really pleased with it so far.”
Good Energy customers who have installed their own solar PV (the ‘mini power stations’ of the future) report a drop in domestic energy consumption from a combination of learning the best way to use their own electricity and increasing energy efficiency. Nearly one quarter claim to have cut consumption by more than 20%.
“It’s been interesting to see how generating my own electricity has resulted in changes to my routine”, Martin Stott, a solar generator from Oxford, said.
“Before having solar PV, I used to put the washing machine on in the evening and run the dishwasher at the same time. Now I run them in the morning when the solar panels are working. Because the energy is yours, you take more ownership over it.”
To find out more about renewable energy and the Feed in Tariff, click here.
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.
Two Ancient Japanese Philosophies Are the Future of Eco-Living
Our obsession with all things new has blighted the planet. We have a waste crisis, particularly when it comes to plastic. US scientists have calculated the total amount of plastic ever made – 8.3 billion tons! Unfortunately, only 9% of this is estimated to have been recycled. And current global trends point to there being 12 billion tons of plastic waste by 2050.
However, two ancient Japanese philosophies are providing an antidote to the excesses of modern life. By emphasizing the elimination of waste and the acceptance of the old and imperfect, the concepts of Mottainai and Wabi-Sabi have positively influenced Japanese life for centuries.
They are now making their way into the consciousness of the Western mainstream, with an increasing influence in the UK and US. By encouraging us to be frugal with our possessions, (i.e. using natural materials for interior design) these concepts can be the future of eco-living.
What is Wabi-Sabi and Mottainai??
Wabi-Sabi emphasizes an acceptance of transience and imperfection. Although Wabi had the original meaning of sad and lonely, it has come to describe those that are simple, unmaterialistic and at one with nature. The term Sabi is defined as the “the bloom of time”, and has evolved into a new meaning: taking pleasure and seeing beauty in things that are old and faded.
Any flaws in objects, like cracks or marks, are cherished because they illustrate the passage of time. Wear and tear is seen as a representation of their loving use. This makes it intrinsically linked to Wabi, due to its emphasis on simplicity and rejection of materialism.
In the West, Wabi-Sabi has infiltrated many elements of daily life, from cuisine to interior design. Specialist Japanese homeware companies, like Sansho, source handmade products that embody the Wabi-Sabi philosophy. Their products, largely made from natural materials, are handcrafted by traditional Japanese artisans – meaning no two pieces are the same and no two pieces are “perfect” in size or shape.
Mottainai is a term expressing a feeling of regret concerning waste, translating roughly in English to either “what a waste!” or “Don’t waste!”. The philosophy emphasizes the intrinsic value of a resource or object, and is linked to hinto animism, the notion that all objects have a spirit, or ‘kami’. The idea that we are part of nature is a key part of Japanese psychology.
Mottainai also has origins in Buddhist philosophy. The Buddhist monastic tradition emphasizes a life of frugality, to allow us to concentrate on attaining enlightenment. It is from this move towards frugality that a link to Mottainai as a concept of waste can be made.
How have Wabi-Sabi and Mottainai promoted eco living?
Wabi-Sabi is still a prominent feature of Japanese life today, and has remained instrumental in the way people design their homes. The ideas of imperfection and frugality are hugely influential.
For example, instead of buying a brand-new kitchen table, many Japanese people instead retain a table that has been passed through the generations. Although its long use can be seen by various marks and scratches, Wabi-Sabi has taught people that they should value it because of its imperfect nature. Those scratches and marks are a story and signify the passage of time. This is a far cry from what we typically associate with the Western World.
Like Wabi Sabi, Mottainai is manifested throughout Japanese life, creating a great respect for Japanese resources. This has had a major impact on home design. For example, the Japanese prefer natural materials in their homes, such as using soil and dried grass as thermal insulation.
Their influence in the UK
The UK appears to be increasingly influenced by thes two concepts. Some new reports indicate that Wabi Sabi has been labelled as ‘the trend of 2018’. For example, Japanese ofuro baths inspired the project that won the New London Architecture’s 2017 Don’t Move, Improve award. Ofuro baths are smaller than typical baths, use less water, and are usually made out of natural materials, like hinoki wood.
Many other UK properties have also been influenced by these philosophies, such as natural Kebony wood being applied to the external cladding of a Victorian property in Hampstead; or a house in Lancaster Gate using rice paper partitions as sub-dividers. These examples embody the spirit of both philosophies. They are representative of Mottainai because of their use of natural resources to discourage waste. And they’re reflective of Wabi-Sabi because they accept imperfect materials that have not been engineered or modified.
In a world that is plagued by mass over-consumption and an incessant need for novelty, the ancient concepts of Mottainai and Wabi-Sabi provide a blueprint for living a more sustainable life. They help us to reduce consumption and put less of a strain on the planet. This refreshing mindset can help us transform the way we go about our day to day lives.
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