Fresh clean water and it’s impact on humanity’s very survival

Water

Whilst much of the emphasis has been on finding the right renewable energy technologies to reduce our carbon footprint on the world, there is one other growing problem that we will, at some point, need to address. You might think that water shortage would just apply to the hotter regions of the globe but nothing could be farther from the truth.

Estimates suggest that by as early as 2030, our own water supply in the UK & US could well fall short by as much as 40%. Water is critical to our future growth and without it we would not be able to survive. Our industries need it on a large scale and our houses need it to perform simple tasks like doing the washing and flushing the toilet – not to mention that we actually need good clean water to exist at all.

According to the growing blue website: “Today, many regions of the world are already water stressed due to population and economic growth. In fact, 2.5 billion people (36% of the world population) live in these regions and more than 20% of the global GDP is already produced in risky, water-scarce areas affecting production, as well as corporate reputations when competition over water usages develops.”

Why we all need to start saving water

In the UK, we probably take our water supply for granted more than any other place in the world where resources are more limited. After all, we simply need to turn on the tap and there it is, pouring out of the faucet, as much as we want. Yes, we’re used to those drought warnings every so often but they’ll pass soon enough and things will get back to normal.

Except that our population is growing and the water is not as infinite as we think.

Severe water shortages because of the growing population and lack of resource could cause us major problems in the next decade or two. Water shortages could, for instance, affect our farmers and the crops we produce, putting a large strain on the nation’s resources. It could also stop industry from performing properly and even damage our ability to supply power through electricity to our homes and businesses.

Rainwater harvesting will become important

Making the most of our water supplies will become of increasing importance in the future and all of us need to start thinking about measures such as rainwater harvesting. Many of people with an interest in gardening already do it by installing devices such as water butts which can be used to water plants during the summer. But rainwater harvesting offers so much more and can even be used to feed into your toilet for flushing and piped to your dishwasher or washing machine through a separate network.

Rainwater harvesting basically takes the water that lands on an area like the roof top and, instead of letting it drain away, channels it into a water tank. This filtered water can then be pumped for what are called potable uses such as running the washing machine in your house. You use the main, cleaner, water supply for your daily cooking and drinking but use the harvested water for everything else.

For those who have a water meter that means you can also help to reduce your overall bills because you are using less water from the mains. Whilst rainwater harvesting may not be at the forefront of our minds at the moment it should certainly be so in the near future. If resources become more limited, then the price of that cup full from the tap could well begin to go up quite sharply.

How the National Trust is leading the way

One major organisation that is beginning to lead the way in greater water sustainability is the National Trust which has installed several rainwater harvesters on its properties across the country. They have a large number of garden spaces that require significant amounts of water and having a rainwater harvesting system is the most economic and efficient way to ensure they get the supply they need. One such installation is at Calke Abbey in Derbyshire where two tanks have been installed at a cost of just over £11,000.

Domestic properties and rainwater harvesting

It might be something we are seeing more of, but will there be a time when every home has a rainwater harvesting system installed? Many large scale business and properties, particularly in areas like London and Manchester are beginning to take grey water and rainwater harvesting more seriously. Whilst there is little in the way of legislation in place at the moment, planning permission for new builds are looked on more favourably by councils if they include some sort of rainwater harvesting system.

Installing a system on your own property could well come at a significant cost – not only for the installation but also for the components such as the storage tank and there are currently no real incentives, as there are with renewable energy technologies, to make it worth everyone’s while. That may change in the future when resources become a little tighter but for now we can switch on that tap and help ourselves whenever we want.

But remember, your water supply is valuable and you should make savings wherever you can.

Find out more about harvesting rainwater.

Get Ready for the Solar Rooftop Revolution

Commercial Rooftop Solar Panels

When Ed Davey said last year that he believed the future of solar was in the rooftops of businesses and homes rather than on open land and large farms, he may have set in motion a renewables revolution that could be difficult to halt.

Companies like Lightsource Renewable Energy, who have put aside nearly £125 million for rooftop installations, have quickly realised that the ground market is becoming increasingly more difficult to operate in. Their move to commercial rooftop could be the norm rather than the exception if industry speculation is anything to go by.

A 10 MW solar farm installation in Wales that was originally denied planning approval has recently won on appeal to go ahead with the Welsh government. The application was initially refused on the basis of the visual impact the solar panels would have on the local area. Such reversals are, however, few and far between and getting that initial planning permission has proved difficult for a number of proposed sites.

Commercial solar has been slow to take off in the UK compared to our European counterparts. By the middle of last year, around 500,000 domestic homes had had solar panels fitted while only 400 commercial premises considered it prudent to take up the investment and cost cutting benefits of having their own rooftop array.

Why Commercial Solar?

There are two main reasons why the development of commercial solar in the UK is going to be important for the renewables agenda in the next few years:

  • There is a large amount of commercial roof space out there, from office buildings and factories to supermarkets and warehouses that could provide a significant part of our electricity needs.
  • Companies can save, and often make, a good deal of money by having their rooftops solarised. And with excellent returns on investment the rooftop revolution can provide an important source of income for a wide range of businesses.

According to the Guardian, the fact that we are lagging behind the rest of Europe in solar is worrying: “The total amount of solar PV installed in the UK now exceeds 4.6GW. In comparison, the total in Germany – world leaders in solar as well as football – exceeds 30GW.”

The government are planning to use the tried and trusted method of Feed in Tariffs to encourage more commercial involvement in solar panels though there is some suggestion that this needs to be higher if it is going to cause a rush to install the technology. Most companies that have already taken the plunge and put solar on their roofs have found little to complain about with reduced electricity bills and the prospect of more money once the initial investment has been paid off.

Blackfriars Bridge

Solar Century have been at the forefront of installing commercial solar panels for a while now. Their project for London’s Blackfriars Bridge has seen them working with Network Rail to put 4,400 solar panels on the roof that can generate 935,000 kWh a year making it the largest solar powered bridge in the world (at the time of writing).

Five Star Fish

Seafood company Five Star Fish have got together with Norse Energy to install solar panels on the roof of their factory in Grimsby. The 250 kWp array produces enough power to keep over 50 homes going for an entire year and the company benefits from free electricity whilst Norse Energy benefits from selling the excess back to the National Grid with a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA).

According to Ellis Ward of the Five Star Fish Company: “We have a strong commitment to sustainability and innovation. We’re delighted to agree this project which will help Five Star Fish meet site financial and environmental targets.”

United Utilities

Water company United Utilities is the one of the latest companies to get the solar bug, installing panels across four roofs at its Fleetwood Water Works. With a 1.32 MW capacity the arrays can produce over a million kWh each year, enough to provide power to thousands of properties. The cost of the four installations came in at around £1.5 million and there are plans to give other United Utilities plants a similar makeover.

CIS Manchester

The CIS building in Manchester is one of the city’s most well-known landmarks but not many people realise that its blue windows are making the most of the sun’s power. Three of the four sides of the building use a total of 7,244 solar panels to generate electricity with the installation privately funded to the tune of £4 million.

The Future of Rooftop Solar in the UK

The number of rooftop solar panels in the commercial sector may well rise considerably in the next year or two as businesses realise the benefits of going green in their electricity production. We might still lag behind the rest of Europe at the moment but all the indications suggest that this is set to change. With new incentives and greater returns on investment commercial solar could take the UK by storm in 2015.

You can find out more about commercial solar panels and their return on investment on our main website.

Why the UK is Still Crazy for Off Shore Wind

Offshore Wind Farm

Stretching over an area of 430 square miles, the wind farm project planned for Dogger Bank off the coast of Yorkshire is set to be the biggest in the world, with a capacity of 2,400 MW and the potential to provide power for some two million homes in the UK. The £8 billion project has just been given the green light and reinforces the government’s current commitment to wind power, at least when it is installed off shore.

In the last four years, the UK has invested nearly £15 billion in the wind power industry, not only creating thousands of jobs for local workers but also producing plenty of electricity for the UK that reduces our reliance on harmful fossil fuels and makes us more energy independent. The project is utilising the shallow waters out on Dogger Bank which should make it far easier to lay foundations and the installation is set to be the furthest constructed out from the mainland in the UK.

According to RenewableUK: “It is a project that pushes the offshore engineering envelope, demonstrating how far this technology has evolved in the 10 short years since the first major offshore windfarm was installed in North Hoyle just five miles from shore.”

Investing in our coastal towns

Despite those who have rallied against wind power in the recent past, including some of our more prominent media outlets, the industry still seems to be thriving particularly off shore where several major installations have been undertaken in the past ten to fifteen years. The surprise for many people is that, not only is wind adding valuable clean energy to the grid, it is also helping to create investment in our coastal towns and cities by another route.

The reason is The Coastal Community Fund which receives a good portion of its money from leasing out offshore land which belongs to the state to wind farm companies. That money is currently being used to refurbish areas like Blackpool and Cornwall and is an example of the renewables industry putting more back into the community through more indirect means than producing clean electricity.

The public backs wind farms

Whilst politicians and those with a vested interest in other fuel sources might get their voices heard more often in the media, recent polls suggest that the UK public are far more in favour of wind farms than some of the debate in past years might have suggested. This could have an effect on the future development of onshore wind farms which have come under attack over the last year or so. According to PM David Cameron last year on shore wind farms had to be curtailed as ‘enough was enough’. They were a blot on the landscape and people didn’t want them.

However, a recent survey of 2,000 households found that the majority of people are in favour of wind farms and see them as an integral part of the UK’s energy future. In contrast, support for initiatives such as fracking remains in the low 20% with many concerned about its effect on the environment. According to Gordon Edge at Renewable UK: “It’s so hard to understand why the Conservative Party is turning its back on onshore wind, threatening to kill off the industry if it wins the next election. Independent polls show that David Cameron is totally wrong to claim that people are ‘fed up’ with onshore wind – they show the reverse is actually true, and that being anti-wind is a net vote loser.”

The amount of power wind produces

The truth is that with our weather conditions, the UK is one of the best places to put up renewable technologies such as wind turbines. According to the New Scientist the contribution of all renewables to the UK’s energy production has increased significantly over the last four years (from 6.8% in 2010 to 14.9% in 2013) and is set to overhaul nuclear in the near future. A large part of that contribution has come from wind power and an installation like the one at Dogger Bank is set to improve the offshore contribution by a further two thirds.

2014 was a pretty good year for turbines with the National Grid statistics confirming that wind power generation jumped by 15%, providing enough power to feed into over 6 million homes in the UK. That is set to increase over the next few years and should see wind as the major large scale renewable energy source in the country for some time to come, even with the recent push towards a solar rooftop agenda.

Despite numerous articles in the media in past years saying that wind farms are either ‘milking us of trillions of pounds’, not producing enough electricity, or destroying the indigenous wildlife, it seems the majority of us are happy to have the technology and believe it makes a real contribution to lowering our carbon emissions and making us more energy independent.

You can find out more about how wind turbines work on our main website.

Can Biomass Play a Key Part in Our Future Energy Needs?

Large Scale Biomass Boiler

Focus has turned to the future of biomass in recent times. Could it be providing a more significant part of our energy needs, not only in localised situations such as offices and homes, but also on a grander scale with large power stations fuelled by wood burning?  The truth is, it’s not all good news for the industry – there have been rumblings the Renewable Heat Incentive is only benefiting rich landowners and that it could even end up costing UK tax payers billions in subsidies.

What is Biomass?

Biomass is fuel derived from a wide variety of organic material that includes scrap lumber, crops and the debris from forests, as well as waste products such as manure. Rather than putting these waste products in landfills or burning them away on open ground, biomass fuels can be used to create heat and electricity on both small and large scales.

In large biomass power stations, the burning of the waste is used to create steam that then drives a turbine and produces electricity and, for many, it is seen as the ideal replacement for our coal fired stations – a clean, renewable energy source that could have a substantial impact on our sustainable power production.

Can We Fire Up Large Scale Biomass?

According to energy chief executive Dorothy Thompson in the Telegraph recently, burning waste is a more efficient way to produce energy and could well be the prime renewable source of the future. The problem that biomass often suffers from, especially on a grand scale, is that it is associated with the cutting down of forests to provide the wood needs to be burned. This is not the case as wood is only taken from sustainable forests and a large amount of the biomass created comes from off cuts and debris that would otherwise be left to rot.

Another issue is whether transporting the fuel to the energy plants is a good way for the UK to reduce its carbon footprint. Whilst the actual process of burning and creating electricity in a large power station is attractive, you need to take into account the fuel costs of transportation and the footprint created in gathering and processing the biomass in the first place.

These environmental credentials are the things that currently dog a company like Drax which is working in Yorkshire to convert units to operate on biomass. In relation to coal transportation, which these stations are largely replacing, the savings of 80% may at first seem creditable and a recent commissioned report has suggested that biomass can produce more overall savings than other renewables such as wind.

The jury is still out on biomass on a large, industrial scale and there are many who believe, particularly in the Government, that it is more suited as a transitional technology, cutting down our emissions whilst reducing our reliance on fossil fuels such as coal.

Is Biomass as efficient as we think?

The Renewable Heat Incentive was introduced to encourage businesses to take up and install more sustainable energy sources. It was later expanded to include domestic premises and covers biomass boilers, air and ground heat pumps and solar thermal. Whilst on the surface all seems well with this kind of subsidy, a recent report by the Department of Energy and Climate Change has raised doubt on whether biomass is as green as we all think and whether it is contributing properly to our reduction in carbon emissions.

Biomass accounts for the vast majority of payments under the RHI but the technology is now thought to be between 10 and 20% less effective than at first thought. This is bad news for the government who have pushed biomass as one of the leading technologies that can help the UK reach their targets for 2020.

Added to this is the suspicion that payments under the RHI are generally going to wealthy landowners who are benefiting unduly from this particular subsidy. According to Simon Lomax from the Kensa Group: “It is concerning that government has belatedly recognised that many biomass installations will seemingly not contribute to its renewable energy targets despite billions of pounds of public money being committed via the RHI.”

Is Biomass Benefitting the Rich?

A slightly more disturbing news story this year came from the Mirror which suggests that biomass is largely benefiting rich landowners and property tycoons rather than other businesses and domestic homes. The complaint is that whilst many of us are living in fuel poverty and having difficulty in making ends meet, the rich are getting a combined guaranteed income that could reach in excess of £10 billion over the next 20 years. The newspaper cites the owner of a manor house who invested £95,000 to heat his home and stables and who is expected to receive profits from the RHI of around £23,000 a year.

The Future of Biomass

There’s no doubt that if you have the money for the initial investment, having a biomass boiler installed to heat your property can lead to a pretty good return on investment over the 20 to 25 year life of the device. There may well be a change of heart from the government in the future however (though current installations have their RHI payment guaranteed), influenced more by the notion that they are not as efficient as previously thought. The case of biomass of course raises that perennial question as to whether renewables can grow and develop without the input of government subsidies that make them more favourable for homes and businesses alike.

Technological advancements and their impact on renewable energy sector

Renewable Energy Advancement

In addition to environmental issues, development of renewable energy also responds to a need for diversification of energy sources. Although renewable energy is theoretically unlimited, their potential varies with climatic, geographical location and storage possibilities. The advantages and disadvantages of the different renewable energies are surmounted below

Solar power

Solar is a relatively expensive energy source and, therefore, still undeveloped, although starting to take off with the increasing prices of fossil fuels. Although it cannot alone replace fossil fuels, it has the advantage of achieving significant energy savings, but also a clean energy that does not produce toxic waste and that releases no greenhouse gases. Furthermore, the technologies of domestic solar energy are on the rise and are particularly effective and proven. Solar energy still has some drawbacks because investing in this clean energy is still very expensive. Thus, it is often necessary to obtain state subsidies, associations or banks to be able to embark on a development project of solar energy.

– Solar thermal energy

Advantages: Solar thermal energy produces a high yield and return on investment after she allows to have hot water for free. It also produces 50% of the useful heat energy in a home.

Disadvantages: Not only is it a very expensive energy, but the return on investment is quite long (about 10 years) and the lifetime of the panels is limited (20 to 25).

– Photovoltaic solar energy

Advantages: It is ideal for remote sites or sites that are not connected to a large grid.

Disadvantages: Not only the yield is quite low but the amount of energy produced by the photovoltaic panels depends on the climate and geographical location.

Biomass

Advantages: it is an energy that emits little greenhouse gas that can be stored. Particularly concerning wood energy, there is a wide availability of the resource and the price of firewood is not keeping oil prices.

Disadvantages: It can only have a limited supply because the intensive use of biomass would cause negative impacts on the environment such as deforestation phenomena (when intensive exploitation of wood energy), soil erosions, soil and water pollution (in case of intensive biofuel production).

Wind energy

Advantages: It’s a totally clean and renewable energy and its exploitation does not generate waste materials or rejection. In addition, small plants allow electricity to isolated sites, and sites where the turbines are located are still usable.

Disadvantages: Performance depends entirely on the wind and the wind does not always blow when you need it. Furthermore, wind turbines are unsightly for the landscape and they require some maintenance (cleaning the blades, lubrication …) not to lose their qualities because they are moving mechanical systems.

Geothermal energy

Advantages: It’s an energy that produces no waste and resource is inexhaustible as the received quality geothermal energy is less than the heat from the center of the Earth.

Cons: Overuse of a deposit results in a temperature drop of the basement, so that the quality of the deposit gradually decrease until it runs out completely. In addition, there may be a competition between the water that is pumped to the heat and the water is pumped to itself.

Hydropower

Advantages: It is energy available as streams are dry. In addition, it provides high power and can be stored in reservoirs. It also has great potential as only 20% of sites are being exploited in the world.

Disadvantages: Its use has ecological impacts in the sense that the dams threaten extinction of terrestrial and aquatic species, but they also deal damage to biodiversity. Moreover, the biggest dams sometimes require the displacement of people and there is always the risk of dam failure that can cause considerable human and material damage.

Biomass goes BIG in Sweden

Sweden Biomass

When it comes to thinking out of the box and implementing extravagant and world changing renewable initiatives, the Nordic countries seem to be in a league of their own. Sweden has been at the forefront of using green technologies such as district heating and now they are proving how they can bring style and innovation to the biomass industry.

The Scandinavian town of Uppsala is the proposed site for a light transparent biomass power station that is will be in the shape of a futuristic geodesic dome. It’s the brain child of the Bjarke Ingels Group who have an international portfolio and have already innovated by combining a ski slope with an incinerator plant in the capital Copenhagen.

The plan for the Uppsala dome project is to provide an energy producing plant that complements the old town architecture. With solar panels that change colour on each of the dome’s facets it’s hoped the biomass plant will also double as a tourist attraction when it is closed down in the summer.

BIG are an award winning team of designers, architects and builders based in Copenhagen and New York, building innovative solutions for urban environments. They are typical of Swedish design companies that are working to bring out of the box thinking to our use of renewable energies in modern constructions.

Why the UK lags behind in biomass

Whilst in Sweden biomass is explored as a viable and valuable source of renewable power, in UK the reception has been a little cooler. Three large scale commercial projects were given the go ahead last year, two converting existing coal power stations to biomass. The issue is that the UK government tends to see biomass as a transitional technology rather than something that could provide a significant part of the UK’s energy needs.

Other objections to developing large scale biomass operations are that it has a significant impact on the environment with the amount of wood that needs to be supplied (90% from outside the UK) and the eventual cost to our overall carbon reduction targets.

The solution may be in the way that BIG has introduced innovation into the Uppsala design. The dome construction is designed to have a dual function, working as a biomass plant during the winter months but shut down and used as a greenhouse in the summer providing a chance to turn it into a tourist attraction and place of education. The solar panels on the surface of the dome change colour depending on the amount of sun that is falling on them, ranging from red (hot) to blue (cold).

Sweden and renewables

Compared to many other countries in the world, Sweden has a significantly higher proportion of renewable energy production and has lead the way in areas such as district heating and creating a sustainable future for the region. Their commitment grew out of the oil crisis of the 1970s which led to the political decision to make Sweden as energy independent as possible, utilising renewable technologies such as wind, solar and biomass.

In 1970 Sweden was highly dependent on oil, the fossil fuel accounting for 75% of the country’s energy supply. By 2012 this had been reduced to a little over 20%. The interesting thing is that Sweden consumes a lot more energy than other countries in Europe but has some of the lowest carbon emissions. Over two thirds of their electricity is produced through nuclear and hydroelectric with around 10% coming from CHP power plants like the one planned for Uppsala.

Sweden’s commitment to biomass might be because it has a large area of forest compared to other countries that means it gets approximately 85% of its bioenergy from home grown wood. In the UK this is the major problem as the large amount of wood biomass that would be need for industrial scale plants has to be imported from other countries.

Another interesting thing to note in Sweden’s power market is the amount of choice available for consumers. Whilst many in the UK complain about the monopoly of the ‘Big Six’, Sweden’s consumers have the choice of around 130 different suppliers that helps keep prices down. Legislation has also been introduced to encourage industry to improve its energy efficiency with generous tax breaks. And for domestic premises each of the 290 municipal regions has its own energy advisor to whom people can turn for advice on how to improve their efficiency.

For those wondering whether we should be moving more quickly towards a renewable future, Sweden is hoping to have 50% of their energy supplied by renewable sources by as early as 2020. That target is significantly ahead of their European counterparts including the UK.

The Solar Panels Saving a UK Council Thousands.

Solar Panels for Councils

4 Business Benefits of Going Solar

It’s clean and it’s more affordable than ever. For businesses both large and small that have some roof space or land available, opting for solar panels can have a number of benefits that more than make up for the initial outlay. There’s no doubt that it’s an increasingly attractive proposition for businesses to go the renewable route and, with the right incentives in place, many are choosing to make the investment.

With electricity prices set to rise even more over the next few years, finding an alternative that cuts the costs is forming a primary part of the future business plans for many SMEs. Even local councils are starting to get in on the act with many using it to save on fuel bills and generate an additional and very useful income.

The Solar Panels Saving a UK Council £30,000 a Year

Take the example of Halstead Leisure Centre in Suffolk. The council have installed nearly 600 panels on a roof that covers the area of 4 tennis courts. This allows the centre to produce around 160,000 kWh of electricity a year and makes for a profit of £30,000 annually. The council see it as sound investment for the local area of Braintree with reduced carbon emissions as well as a healthy return on investment that can benefit the community.

A Reduction on Energy Bills

Of course, the primary benefit of producing your own electricity through solar panels is that you don’t have to pay the utility companies for the pleasure. For big businesses as well as small ones this change in outlay can have a huge impact and the savings can help release funds that can be invested in more important things like product development and staff employment. Yes, there are upfront costs for the installation but it’s more like prepaying your electricity bill for the next 20 to 25 years and at a much cheaper cost.

A Sound Return on Investment

Here’s where it begins to get more interesting for businesses that have installed solar panels. You can sell your electricity back to the grid and make an even better profit. The scheme that allows this to happen is called the Feed in Tariff and it basically pays your business a certain amount of money for each kWh that you produce. You have to pay tax on this as profit but there is still chance of a substantial return on investment if you chose the right system.

For an average sized system, you would expect to pay off the initial investment within 6 or 7 years, assuming that you qualify for the Feed in Tariff. That means everything else after that, apart from any maintenance, is considered pure profit which can be fed back into your business.

Low Maintenance and a Reliable System

Unlike other renewable technologies, solar panels have few moving parts. That means they are generally considered low maintenance and one of the most reliable sources of power you can get. The average lifespan of a solar panel array is between 20 and 25 years and many are expected to last for up to 40 years if they are taken care of properly.

Boosting your Business Green Credentials

More and more customers and other businesses are starting to take an interest in the green credentials of who they do business with. That means making a marketing point of your investment in renewables may well give you kudos with consumers – after all you’re helping to cut down on your carbon emissions and save the planet. If you take a look at the websites of many big companies nowadays they will have a whole section devoted to their green credentials including how they source goods responsibly and how they are helping to cut down their environmental impact.

Going Green Works for Business

Promens installed a large solar panel array on their factory back in 2011 and have seen numerous financial benefits from the electricity they produce. But they also believe that it has had a significant effect on getting new business. According to manager Adrian Banks: “I think it has put out a very positive message to our staff and customers alike. It’s difficult to say if business has been won as a direct consequence, but our greener credentials certainly impress when customers visit our site and see our aerial photos.”

You don’t need access to a large roof area such as a factory or supermarket to make an impact with solar panels. Many smaller businesses with low staff numbers are beginning to see the benefit of going solar rather than depending on the vagaries of fuel prices delivered by the major utility companies. Even if they do not make a substantial profit through the Feed in Tariff there is the opportunity to keep those fuel bills down and make savings that will have an impact on the future running of the company.