Could the Solution to Renewable Energy Storage be Beneath our feet?

National Power

The UK has a long history with the coal industry. The engine of the Industrial Revolution was fuelled by the dirty black rock and led to this small island nation becoming a superpower and a world leader in engineering. By 1920, 1.19m people worked in coal mines stretching from the Central Belt of Scotland to Kent. However, the industry suffered a steep decline in the 1950s and the next 3 decades saw the decimation of King Coal. By the 21st century hardly any mines remained open with the UK instead relying on imports from Russia, The US and Columbia. A remarkable milestone in the transition to low-carbon energy generation was reached on 21st April 2017 when the UK went a whole day without burning coal for electricity for the first time in 135 years.

An estimated 59,000 mine shafts lie dark and disused today. The closures of these mines left some communities enduring decades of unemployment, but this could all be about to change, and the whirr and clank of motors and winches could be heard again.

Disused mine shafts around the UK could soon be given a new lease of life and used as giant gravity batteries, capable of reacting to grid demands in under a second. This novel form of energy storage under development by a Scottish engineering company could be used like chemical batteries to rapidly respond to fluctuating grid demands.

Edinburgh based start-up, Gravitricity which has just received a £650,000 grant from Innovate UK is developing a surprising new source of “gravity energy”. They hope to use Britain’s long abandoned mines to make better use of clean electricity at half the cost of lithium-ion batteries.

Britain’s least expensive “virtual battery” could be produced by hoisting and dropping 12,000-tonne weights (half the weight of the Statue of liberty) down disused mine shafts according to London’s Imperial College. Gravitricity plans to supply enormous weights and winches for these disused mine shafts. When energy is plentiful, the weights will be winched towards the surface, in much the same way that water is driven uphill in pumped hydro storage. However, unlike pumped hydro, the system should be able to respond to variations in demand almost instantly as well as having a potential degradation-free operational lifespan of 50 years. Surplus power will be drawn from the grid to raise the weights closer to ground level. When the time comes to inject energy back into the grid, the weights can be released for a burst of power generation by dropping the weights hundreds of metres down vertical shafts.

The scheme imitates the way that hydropower projects work. Hydropower projects have played a key role in helping to balance the electricity grid since the Dinorwig project in Wales began operating in the mid-1970s.

Imperial’s report found that electricity released by a typical 10MW lithium-ion battery project, capable of releasing 24MW of electricity per hour, would cost $367 (£283) per megawatt-hour over its lifetime compared with a cost of $171 (£132)/MWh for electricity from a Gravitricity project.

Oliver Schmidt, the lead author of Imperial’s report said:

 “I don’t expect Gravitricity to displace all lithium batteries on grids, but it certainly looks like a compelling proposition.”

The system was first developed by Gravitricity’s founder, Peter Fraenkel, who also invented the world’s first full-scale tidal energy turbines. The design was bought by the German industrial firm Siemens.

Gravitricity’s managing director, Charlie Blair said:

“So far there is a lot of focus on batteries, but our idea is quite different. Gravitricity uses a heavy weight – up to 2000 tonnes – suspended in a deep shaft by cables attached to winches. When there is excess electricity, for example on a windy day, the weight is winched to the top of the shaft ready to generate power.

This weight can then be released when required – in less than a second – and the winches become generators, producing either a large burst of electricity quickly, or releasing it more slowly depending on what is needed.

As we rely more and more on renewable energy, there is an increasing need to find ways to store that energy – so we can produce quick bursts of power exactly when it is needed. The beauty of this is that this can be done multiple times a day for many years, without any loss of performance. This makes it very competitive against other forms of energy storage – including lithium-ion batteries.”

According to Blair, the system would be able to operate for decades without degradation and could have a lifespan of around 50 years. Models from 1 to 20MW will be offered, with a part-scale demonstrator planned for later this year.

A full-scale project would drop 24 weights totalling 12,000 tonnes to a depth of 800 metres to produce enough electricity to power 63,000 homes for more than an hour.

Gravitricity has said it could increase this period by carefully controlling the winches to allow the weights to fall at a slower rate leading to the release of electricity over a longer period.

Miles Franklin, lead engineer at Gravitricity, says:

“The system is a bit like solid-state pumped hydro. The basic concept is the same as that inside an 18th-century grandfather clock. You’re winding up a weight to store some energy in the position of that weight… that weight descending then powers the system for a period.” 

Miles Franklin also said:

“It’s not the case that we’ll be able to employ the same numbers of people as a mine once it is operating, but there will be a long period of installation which can employ as much local labour as possible, and then in the longer term it does bring some new life to those kind of old mining assets.”  

However, Charlie Blair says that the focus will shift to digging new shafts in the future which he feels would make a really big difference. This way systems could be built where storage is most needed closer to cities for example instead of in mine shafts which are most often found in rural areas.

Gravitricity hopes to keep to a target date for a part-scale demonstration model later this year with a full-scale operating prototype lined up for 2020.

They are building an above-ground 250kW demonstrator, aiming to prove simulations of start-up behaviour, stable operation and predicted one-second response times. The team says the technology could eventually operate in the 1MW to 20MW peak power range, with output duration from 15 minutes to eight hours. The company predicts impressive system efficiency of 80-90%.

Currently, Gravitricity is looking to partner with investors including those who can bring mining expertise to the team. They are also investigating several disused mine shafts both in the UK and South Africa.

This new energy-storage technology is part of a wave of projects looking underground to prevent a future energy crisis. Together they could help to keep the lights on and make sure renewable energy has the era-defining impact that coal once had.

The new technology is aimed at solving renewable energy’s greatest problem which is how to store electricity generated by intermittent sources such as wind and solar. Failing to create enough storage after switching from fossil fuels to renewables could otherwise lead to frequent power shortages during periods of high demand.

Find out more about solar here

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Does Renewable Energy have the Potential to grow by 50% in the Next 5 Years?

Renewable Energy

A resurgence in solar power is accelerating the growth of global supplies of renewable electricity. The International Energy Agency (IEA) found that solar, wind and hydropower projects are advancing at their fastest rate in 4 years.  This growth is faster than expected and the IEA believes that global renewable power capacity is set to expand with the installation of solar PV systems on homes, commercial buildings and industrial facilities. This is having the effect of revolutionising the way electricity is consumed.

The IEA’s latest forecast finds that the world’s total renewable-based power capacity will increase by 50% in the next 5 years. This expansion is being driven by cost reductions and concerted government policy efforts.

The IEA in its latest report has predicted that there could be a new dawn for cheap solar power by 2024 which sees the world’s solar capacity grow by 600GW. This number is almost double the installed total electricity capacity of Japan. Overall electricity is expected to grow by 1,200GW in the next 5 years which is the total electricity of the US.

The number of home solar panels is anticipated to more than double and to reach 100m rooftops by 2024 with the strongest per capita growth in Australia, Belgium, California, the Netherlands and Austria.

 IEA’s executive director, Dr Fatih Birol said:

“This is a pivotal time for renewable energy. Technologies such as solar photovoltaics (PV) and wind are at the heart of transformations taking place across the global energy system. Their increasing deployment is crucial for efforts to tackle greenhouse gas emissions, reduce air pollution, and expand energy access.”

The IEA believe that distributed PV accounts for almost half of the growth in the overall solar market through 2024. Commercial and industrial applications will make up three-quarters of new installations over the next five years. The number of solar rooftop systems on homes is set to more than double by some 100 million by 2024.

Dr Fatih Birol said:

“Renewables are already the world’s second largest source of electricity, but their deployment still needs to accelerate if we are to achieve long-term climate, air quality and energy access goals.”

Earlier this month the Guardian reported that a renewable energy revolution could bring an end to global increased demand for oil and coal in the 2020s, decades earlier than oil and mining companies have forecast.

Currently 26% of the world’s electricity is sourced from renewable energy but according to the IEA its share is expected to reach 30% by 2024. The world is experiencing a resurgence in renewable energy after a slowdown last year, due to falling technology costs and growing environmental concerns.

IEA’s report advises that to ensure this growth is sustainable, important policy and tariff reforms must be implemented. They believe that unmanaged growth could disrupt electricity markets by raising system costs, challenging the grid integration of renewables and diminishing the revenues of network operators.

Dr Birol warned that although the potential for solar power was “breathtaking” the rapid rollout could disrupt electricity markets unless regulators and utilities adapt.

Dr Birol said:

“Distributed PV’s potential is breathtaking, but its development needs to be well managed to balance the different interests of PV system owners, other consumers and energy and distribution companies. The IEA is ready to advise governments on what is needed to take full advantage of this rapidly emerging technology without jeopardising electricity security.”

However, Dr Birol has cautioned that the role of renewables in the global energy system would need to be accelerated if the world hopes to meet its climate targets.

The biggest role in driving the IEAs forecasts higher is played by the growing climate ambitions in the European Union and the US though it will be China which paves the way in rolling out wind and solar energy projects.

Because falling costs are already below retail electricity prices in most countries the IEA expects solar energy to play the biggest role in accelerating fresh growth in renewable energy.

Further growth is likely to be spurred on by the cost of solar power which is expected to decline by a further 15% to 35% by 2024.

In the UK, the National Grid revealed that in 2019 the greater part of Britain’s electricity will come from zero carbon energy sources rather than fossil fuels.

For the UK to reach its target of net zero emissions by 2050 and demonstrate leadership in addressing a global challenge, the move to clean energy will be essential.

The biggest driver of the solar power boom is expected to be the appetite of energy hungry businesses and factories as company bosses exploit falling costs to help cut their energy bills.

Despite the spectacular growth expected for solar over the next 5 years solar panels will still only cover 6% of the world’s available rooftops, leaving room for further growth.

Find out more about solar here

Top Universities sign Ground-breaking Renewable Energy Deal

University of Exeter

Twenty of the UK’s largest universities have teamed up to buy renewable energy directly from wind farms. It’s the first time that public sector entities have come together to buy clean electricity.

The deal known as a “Power Purchase Agreement” or PPA is worth 50m and guarantees the price of power sourced from a portfolio of wind farms over a 10-year period.

The collaborative clean energy deal will supply electricity from wind farms across Scotland and Wales to universities including Newcastle University, University of Exeter and Aberystwyth University.

James Rolfe, the chief operating officer at Anglia Ruskin University, which is part of the deal, said the university has joined others in declaring a climate emergency.

James Rolfe said:

“We aim to source all of our electricity from zero carbon sources by 2025, and this power purchase agreement makes a significant contribution towards this goal whilst delivering financial savings and budget stability.”

The PPA was organised by deal brokers at The Energy Consortium (TEC) in conjunction with its framework partner EDF Energy, onshore wind operator Statkraft and Squeaky-Clean Energy, a 100% renewables supplier that will provide balancing services. The agreement fixed the price of renewable electricity from a portfolio of British farms for the next 10 years thus minimising the exposure to market volatility. The universities have been guaranteed clean energy by the windfarm owner, Norwegian energy giant Statkraft which will issue certificates matching the output of the windfarms.

Richard Murphy, the managing director of The Energy Consortium, said the deal would help universities reduce their carbon emissions as well as save them money while highlighting how the PPA market could be opened up to a wider market of public sector bodies and smaller businesses.

Richard Murphy said:

“The corporate PPA market has long been touted as a means for larger organisations to procure renewable power and enable subsidy-free development,” he said in a statement. But to date, it has largely been the preserve of very large companies, requiring substantial commitments from buyers. By acting together in a collaborative approach facilitated by the energy expertise here at TEC, these institutions, whether large or small, have been able to navigate a previously inaccessible market. The combined challenge facing the wider public sector is to secure reduced carbon emissions whilst saving money and I am delighted that these universities have secured both.”

In 2008 Mr Murphy helped arrange one of the first major corporate energy deals in Europe supplying supermarket, Sainsbury’s, with renewable energy.

According to Richard Murphy, because most energy developers require substantial deals over long contract periods PPAs have up until now remained the preserve of larger multi-site corporations.

Last year one of the UK’s largest deals was struck between Budweiser brewer AB In Bev and solar developer Lightsource BP to build 100MW of solar power, without subsidy, to help power their nationwide operations.

Even bigger still on 19th September this year Google, the search engine giant announced that it was making a major investment in renewable energy. The company’s $2bn plan is made up of 18 separate agreements to supply Google with 1,600MW of electricity from wind and solar projects across the world.

In recent news UK based Green Investment Group has declared that its Kisielice onshore wind farm in Poland has signed a 10-year virtual power purchase agreement (VPPA) with lighting technology giant Signify.

Carbon emissions will be cut by 73kt CO2e for four of Signify’s factories and several offices throughout Poland with the application of the output sourced under the VPPA from the 42MW wind farm.

Nicola Kimm, head of sustainability, environment, health and safety at Signify said:

“This VPPA is a major milestone on our journey to become carbon neutral in 2020. It’s crucial for our transition to 100 per cent renewable electricity next year, as well as supporting Poland’s energy transition.”

PPAs are generally regarded as a means of hedging against future energy price volatility at the same time as giving developers a route to market for new onshore renewable projects that are currently unable to access government-backed clean energy contracts.

Despite this, though the market is growing rapidly in the US and parts of Europe observers have seen the UK struggling to scale in the UK blaming limited liquidity in the market and a reluctance amongst corporate customers to take on new contract arrangements.

Mr. Murphy put forward a clear case for the environmental and commercial benefits offered by PPAs.

He said:

“It allows members to protect budget, they know what they are going to pay for power over the term, but it also provides flexibility – because they are not committing 100 per cent of annual baseload volume to the agreement,” he explained. “For example, by committing to 20 per cent of baseload via the PPA, if a university subsequently outsources part of its campus, such as student accommodation and volume falls, or they add self-generation energy assets they have sufficient headroom to allow for future developments. The combined challenge facing the Higher Education and wider public sector is to secure reduced carbon emissions whilst saving money and I am delighted that the TEC team have secured both through this ground-breaking deal.”

New Milestone Reached for UK Renewables

Chart Growth

According to new research July, August and September saw renewable energy sources provide more electricity to UK homes and businesses than fossil fuels for the first time, setting a record by increasing it’s share of the electricity mix to 40%.

Earlier on this year government statistics also showed that more than half of the UK’s electricity in 2018 was generated from low-carbon sources with renewables and nuclear reactors providing 52% of power generation.

Analysis by the National Grid suggested that 2019 would see more British electricity coming from zero-carbon sources including wind, solar, hydro and nuclear than from fossil fuels since the industrial revolution. Their analysis also included the mix of power coming through underwater cables known as interconnectors from other countries, such as France.

Just ten years ago fossil fuels made up four fifths of the UK’s electricity supply. Climate website, Carbon Brief said that this is the first time since the first public power generating station opened in 1882 that renewables have outpaced traditional fossil fuels. Wind farms, solar panels, hydropower and biomass plants have outdone their rivals, fossil fuel plants. Carbon Brief found that renewable sources generated around 29.5 terawatt hours of power higher than the 29.1 for power stations fired by coal, gas and oil. Latest analysis by Carbon brief shows that coal-fired power was less than 1% of all electricity generated.

Responding to the latest analysis, RenewableUK’s, Luke Clark, director of strategic communications said:

 “This is great news not just for the environment but also for consumers. The expansion of clean power is set to accelerate in the years ahead, as our offshore wind capacity will more than treble by 2030, generating more than a third of the UK’s electricity.”

However, Luke Clark also went on to say:

“The public wants to see faster action to tackle climate change and meet our net zero emissions target. If Government were to back a range of technologies – like onshore wind and marine renewables – in the same way as it is backing offshore wind, consumers and businesses would be able to fully reap the benefits of the transition to a low carbon economy.”

Luke Clark pointed out that with the cost of offshore wind projects falling to an all-time low, on and offshore wind was the cheapest largest scale source of power adding that the industry hoped to treble the size of its offshore wind sector by 2030 to generate more than a third of the UK’s electricity.

The next generation of offshore windfarms is predicted to cost about £40 for every megawatt hour of electricity generated, less than the average market price for electricity on the wholesale energy markets.

Solar power has continued to contribute to the rise in renewable energy use. It was the fastest-growing source of power worldwide in 2018, overtaking the growth in all other forms of power generation for the first time.

A milestone has been reached with new offshore windfarms opening in the third quarter of this year. These windfarms helped push renewables past fossil fuels creating a crucial tipping point in Britain’s energy transition. Wind power has long been considered an excellent green energy alternative.

The Labour party have discussed plans for a Green Industrial Revolution should they come to power to include growing the off-shore wind industry five-fold in a decade by building an extra 37 giant offshore wind farms which would in turn create 70,000 new jobs.

British coal plants are shutting down in advance of the 2025 ban. Just 4 coal plants will remain in the UK by next spring: The West Burton A and Ratcliffe-on-Soar plants in Nottinghamshire, Kilroot in Northern Ireland and two generation units at the Drax site in North Yorkshire, which are designated for conversion to burn gas.

The bulk of the diminishing share of fossil fuels in the energy system is made up of gas-fired power at 38%. In the last quarter slightly less than a fifth of the UK’s electricity was provided by nuclear power.

Following a series of windfarm openings in recent years wind power has become the UK’s strongest source of renewable energy making up 20% of the UK’s electricity. Electricity from renewable biomass plants made up 12% of the energy system, while solar panels contributed 6%.

The UK boasts the world’s largest offshore windfarm, the Hornsea One project which reached a peak capacity of 1.200MW in October. This followed the opening of the Beatrice windfarm off the north-east coast of Scotland over the summer.

Working together these schemes almost doubled the 2.100MW of offshore capacity which began powering homes in 2018.

Kwasi Kwarteng, the minister for energy and clean growth, said

¨The renewables record is “yet another milestone on our path towards ending our contribution to climate change altogether by 2050. Already, we’ve cut emissions by 40% while growing the economy by two thirds since 1990. Now, with more offshore wind projects on the way at record low prices we plan to go even further and faster in the years to come.”

Renewable UK has expressed that as well as being good for the environment the growth of the renewables industry is good news for energy bills due to the steep fall in the cost of wind and solar power technologies in recent years.

Find out more about solar here

People Power in Local Energy Market Trial

housing estate

Elmore House in Brixton, south London is set to be the site of an advanced energy project, an exciting new development in the provision of energy in the UK. Residential solar and storage will provide flexibility to UK Power Networks (UKPN) as part of this new local energy market (LEM) trial in Brixton. The project will test whether households in Britain could in years to come reduce their dependence on large utility companies and buy and sell their electricity to neighbours. The 62 flat block looks like many other social housing estates from the outside but could become one of the first to trial peer-to peer trading which is already well established in other industries such as financial services. This peer-to-peer trading trial is being run by EDF and sees residents trade energy generated from solar and stored in batteries between each other. The trial will test how residents can support local power supplies by offering flexible power services to respond to supply and demand. The project nicknamed Urban Energy Club is being run jointly by EDF, UKPN and Repowering London.

UKPN said that historically residents of apartment blocks and flats have been deterred from using low carbon technology but the Urban Energy Club project has the potential to allow more people to use renewables and generate new income for individuals and communities who are otherwise unable to engage with the flexibility market.

Currently British householders have very little control over how to reduce the costs of their energy other than to shop around for better deals as the energy system is traditionally built on households buying their electricity or gas from one supplier only.

Analysts say that in all probability this will change in the years to come as households increasingly turn to local sources to buy their energy such as neighbours or local businesses that generate their own electricity via solar panels or wind turbines. Alternatively, householders will purchase energy as part of a bundle of services such as through a home assistant device or when they buy an electric vehicle.

Simon Virley, UK head of energy and natural resources at KPMG, the consultancy said:

“We may not have much contact with our energy supplier in a few years’ time, as energy becomes a by-product of another purchase, like an electric vehicle, or ordered via your Alexa or Dot [home assistant device]. Peer-to-peer, and other forms of local energy market trading, will also dilute the relationship we have with conventional utilities.” 

Ian Cameron, head of innovation at UK Power Networks, said:

“Elmore House residents will be able to dip their toes into the water of managing renewable energy, generated from their own rooftop.”

UKPN has previously used residential solar and storage for flexibility services, integrating the technologies into a virtual power plant in 2018.

The distribution network operator (DNO) agreed a bi-directional contract with Powervault, to install 40 8kWh batteries in the London Borough of Barnet in order to aggregate 320kWh of energy storage capacity and deliver localised flexibilities.

UKPN offered an availability payment for a two-hour period within the evening peak (5:30-7:30pm) during which time they would be able to call on the combined capacity of the solar-charged batteries to discharge in unison in order to alleviate pressure on the electricity network. Residents were set to benefit from utilisation payments between December 2018 and February 2019.

Dr Maria Brucoli, smart energy systems manager at EDF Energy R&D, hopes that the Urban Energy Club will inspire “many more” of its kind.

She said:

“Working with UK Power Networks on this new project is the first step to understanding how domestic, local energy markets like this can interact with the grid and flex to match market demands.”

Solar is likely to play a central role in the government’s proposed Future Homes Standard with a preference in new build housing for a more ambitious course of action in carbon emission reductions.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government published the consultation on changes to Part L (conservation of fuel and power) of the Future Homes Standard on Tuesday, 1st October 2019. The consultation said that there were two options set to come into effect from 2025 which were outlined for raising the bar on energy efficiency standards in new build homes. The first option would deliver a 20% reduction in carbon emissions via “very high” fabric standards. The second option would deliver a 31% reduction based on both better fabric standards and carbon saving technology such as solar PV.

Find out more about solar here

Are we at a Turning point in Solar Cell Development?

Solar Cell

We could see a revolution in the way we produce electricity in the next few years that could help fight climate change. Researchers are working on organic photovoltaic (OPV) cells, the third generation of solar cell technology.

Solar panels are now a common sight on houses, fields and larger dedicated solar farms with run up costs often the same or cheaper than a coal power station.

Conventional solar cells are the individual parts that make up a solar panel, which then amplifies and directs the energy absorbed and generated by each cell.

Solar cells currently have a lifespan of 25 to 30 years which is transforming the system, but new research is experimenting with using a different material that is thinner, less expensive and more flexible.oweverH

Silicon has been used by manufacturers to make solar panels up to now because the material was found to be the most efficient at converting sunlight into electricity.

Organic cells are very strong absorbents of light, being able to utilise larger amounts of sunlight than other solar cells. Organic power is the future of solar technology. Even when conventional solar technologies have met their match, organic power continues to offer almost boundless possibilities thanks to its extraordinary properties.

However, organic photovoltaics made from carbon and plastic have the potential to be a cheaper way of generating electricity.

The word organic relates to the fact that carbon-based materials are at the core of these devices rather than silicon. Most of us are already familiar with the square or rectangular solid solar panels which need fixed installation points usually on roofs or in flat fields.

Organic photovoltaics (OPV) can be made of compounds that are dissolved in ink which means they can be printed on thin rolls of plastic. They can then be bent or curved around structures or even be incorporated into clothing.

Organic photovoltaics (OPV) has many advantages including its lightweight nature, large area coverage and low cost of manufacturing. These thin-filmed solar cells have the possibility of storing larger amounts of solar energy than the widely used silicon solar cells. This new technology is driving the solar energy industry forward as new R&D makes it possible for increased sustainability.

Though organic solar cells have a higher efficiency than their silicon- based counterparts their operational lifetime is not currently as long. Organic solar cells are still in their development phase with various new materials, processing methods and device architectures being tested.

Research is being led by Dr Ross Hatton in the UK, associate professor of physical chemistry at the University of Warwick. The research is focusing on converting light directly into electricity using semiconducting materials while removing the need for parts, emissions and fuel.

The most recent thin film technologies are printed at room temperature and produce no toxic materials using carbon-based molecules rather than silicon.

The research shows that this new technology is so efficient that the energy it takes to make them could be made back in just a week compared to about a year for current solar panels.

This could lead to Britain being able to create its own energy and help off-grid homes and businesses.

Dr Hatton said:

“These new solar cells could be available in the next few years. We are at a turning point. Renewable energy gives us an opportunity to make a difference and do something really meaningful.”

Dr Hatton believes that big changes to the way we generate electricity are on their way and reminds us all how quickly technology has evolved and affected the way we go about our lives.

He went on to say:

“Eleven years ago, the iPhone had just come out, revolutionising communication. In the UK, one to two percent of total electricity generated 11 years ago was renewable, today that is 11%. The UK has committed to reduce greenhouse emissions to zero. In 11 years’, time, I am optimistic we can deliver on our promises. We have created the technology; it is about deployment of the technology and behavioural changes.”

Dr Hatton believes that young people are in the best position to embrace the new technology and bring about change, citing the influence of teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg.

The research into organic solar cells formed part of a climate change discussion at the British Science Festival.

Chinese researchers have also been making major steps forward in the development of a new generation of solar cells in the last couple of years.

In the past commercial solar photovoltaics have usually converted 15-22% of sunlight reaching a world record for a silicon cell of 27.3% in the summer of 2018.

Up until recently organics have stuck at around half this rate but this is changing. Last year researchers were able to reach 15% in tests, but new studies push this beyond 17% with the authors of the study saying that up to 25% is possible.

This is important because according to estimates, with even 15% efficiency and a 20-year lifetime, organic solar cells could produce much cheaper electricity.

Organic Solar Cells is the next step for solar energy, making this technology affordable for more people due to the solar cell price reduction of solar cells.

Does Your Energy Provider Genuinely Supply 100% Green Electricity?

green energy

Low carbon and renewable sources supply more of our electricity all the time. In the UK more power was generated from clean energy than from fossil fuels between January and May 2019 for the first time since the Industrial Revolution. Almost 50% of total electricity production in the UK came from carbon free sources of electricity, including nuclear and renewables in 2018.

Only six coal-fired power plants remain operational in the UK today supplying around 3% of our electricity. Just ten years ago coal accounted for 30% of all electricity generated. The highest percentage of renewable energy is provided by wind farms. Notably new offshore wind farms have added to the creation of renewable energy in recent years. A significant contribution is also made by biomass fuel and solar PV to renewable energy generation. The amount of electricity generated from renewable sources is increasing year by year with one third of the UK’s electricity being supplied by renewable sources in 2018 compared to 29.7% in 2017.

Whatever tariff you’re on with your energy provider it is likely that some of the electricity supplied is sustainably generated as low carbon sources are making up an increasingly larger percentage of the national grid. All electricity suppliers are required by government to buy some renewable electricity in the mix of sources at this time. In addition to this some energy providers offer green tariffs.

A green tariff means that some or all of the electricity you buy is ‘matched’ by purchases of renewable energy that your energy supplier makes on your behalf. Your electricity could come from a variety of renewable energy sources including wind farms and hydroelectric power stations. Some green supply tariffs are also nuclear-free. Your energy provider should advise you as to what sources are included in the mix and what proportion of your supply is renewable. Some tariffs will be ‘100% renewable’ whereas others will offer a percentage of the total.

However, energy suppliers that do not generate or directly source green energy are at risk of misleading their customers if they claim they are 100% renewable according to a recent report.

Some suppliers purchase certificates from companies that generate renewable electricity which allows them to make the claim that they are providing zero-carbon energy despite the fact that much of the power they actually supply may come from fossil fuels. This practice is known as ‘greenwashing’.

Companies such as Green Star Energy, Ovo Energy, Pure Planet, Robin Hood Energy, So Energy, Tonik Energy and Yorkshire Energy all claim to sell ‘100 per cent renewable’ electricity tariffs when they neither generate any renewable energy nor buy any directly.

These companies buy Renewable Energy Guarantee of Origin (REGO) certificates, the aim being to prove to the final customer that a given share of energy was produced from renewables.

Each household uses on average a little over 3MWh of electricity per year, meaning suppliers can buy the certificates to match this usage for only around £1.55 per customer and claim a tariff is “100 per cent renewable”.

The consumer group, Which? expressed concern that many suppliers claim to be green when they are doing very little to support additional renewable energy supply.

Some suppliers were unhappy with this criticism. Steven Day, co-founder of Pure Planet said the Which? report:

“The report demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the way electricity is generated, certified, traded, managed by the grid and supplied. All green suppliers have to use REGOs to verify that the electricity used by their customers is matched by electricity generated from renewable sources.”

However, Which? found that only 40 suppliers out of the 300 energy tariffs they analysed sold what they described as 100% renewable energy options. They said that greater transparency is needed around how ‘renewable energy’ is defined and marketed to ensure customers aren’t misled.

The results of a survey found that a third of people purchasing a renewable tariff thought it meant that all of the electricity delivered to their home would come from renewable sources.

As it stands it is not possible to achieve this due to power from all sources being linked up to the national grid before it is directed to individual homes.

So, it seems that some companies purchase the certificates to match up the energy they supply with green energy generated. Others go a step further and either generate electricity themselves or buy it from those that do rather than depending on REGO certificates.

Both Ecotricity and Good Energy source enough renewable electricity to match their customers’ usage though this tends to mean that their costs are higher and as a result their tariffs are more expensive.

Bother Ecotricity and Good Energy have been rewarded by the regulator Ofgem exempting both companies from its energy price cap on standard variable tariffs.

Regulator Ofgem said the company could continue to charge its 250,000 customers a premium because bosses at Good Energy were able to trace all their renewable electricity direct to its source.

This is reflected in the average cost of a Good Energy tariff being around £1,422 a year compared with the price cap average of £1,254.

Good Energy uses power purchase agreements (PPAs) which means that they buy electricity directly from wind farm and solar generators rather than buying the majority of their electricity on wholesale markets and then buying ‘REGOs’ which guarantee the equal amount of electricity created from fossil fuels is matched by renewable generation.

Founder and chief executive of Good Energy, Juliet Davenport, said:

“Our tariffs genuinely support the growth of renewables and clean technologies.  If we are going to tackle climate breakdown, individuals must be empowered to choose to be part of the solution. We know customers want the ability to make that choice, and recently it has been complicated by energy companies taking shortcuts to offer cheap ‘green’ tariffs.”

Ofgem said the decision was made because it recognised customers on Good Energy’s standard variable tariff (SVT) had chosen to be on it.

Officials added that the support for renewables provided by the extra cash is “materially greater” than “regulatory mechanisms”.

Good Energy strongly believes in supporting independent renewable generators by giving them a competitive price for the electricity that they export. Good Energy sources around 10% of our electricity from SmartGen customers.

Richard Headland at Which? said:

“As consumers grow ever-more environmentally-conscious, it’s concerning that some suppliers appear to be ‘greenwashing’ their energy tariffs, which could risk misleading customers. We believe there needs to be greater clarity on how renewable electricity is defined and marketed. People can only make informed decisions about where to buy their energy from if firms are more upfront and transparent about their green credentials.”

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Can Innovative Group Buying Schemes Kick Start the Solar Boom?

Solar Panels

Residents in Bolton have the opportunity to join together to establish an innovative group buying scheme to install solar panels on their homes.

The scheme has been created to help Bolton homeowners feel confident that they are not only paying the right price but getting a high-quality installation from a vetted installer. ‘Solar Together Greater Manchester’ has been designed to boost local renewable energy generation.

The new initiative follows three highly successful schemes run across the country last year which led to over 1650 installations and an impressive 35,000 tonnes of avoided lifetime carbon emissions.  

Bolton and the nine other Greater Manchester local authorities have partnered with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA), and the group-buying specialist, iChoosr Ltd to bring this opportunity to Greater Manchester’s homeowners.

From 17 September 2019, Greater Manchester residents can join ‘Solar Together Greater Manchester’, the solar photovoltaic (PV) group-buying scheme. It is free to register and there is no obligation to install panels.

Greater Manchester Green City-region lead, Councillor Andrew Western said:

” We want Greater Manchester to be the UK’s leading green city region and by working together with local councils, businesses and residents, we can take action to achieve our ambition to reduce carbon emissions. This scheme will contribute to Greater Manchester’s aim to become a carbon neutral city region by 2038.

The Greater Manchester Solar Together scheme is an innovative new scheme which will collectively deliver more local renewable energy and reduce carbon emissions. It’s a great opportunity to install solar PV panels at a competitive price.”

An auction will take place on 22nd October where pre-vetted solar PV suppliers can participate in a competitive environment. They will be able to offer compelling pricing due to the volume and geographic concentration of the potential installations which will make it possible for them to realise greater efficiencies.

After the auction registered households will receive a personal recommendation which is specific to the details they submitted in their registration. If they wish to go ahead with the recommendation the specifics of their installation will be confirmed with a technical survey. Once the technical survey has been completed a date can be set for the installation of their solar PV system.

Telephone and helpdesks will be provided throughout the whole process as well as information sessions that will allow households to make an informed decision in a safe and stress-free environment.

Marie-Louise Abretti, iChoosr UK Solar Manager said:

“Solar Together Greater Manchester reaches out to the thousands of households interested in reducing their environmental impact by exploring solar energy but would welcome a helping hand on their journey to making an informed decision.”

Widely supported Executive Cabinet Member for Strategic Housing, Cllr Toby Hewitt, also said:

“As part of our commitment to reduce carbon emissions, we are promoting this innovative scheme which will collectively deliver more local renewable energy and reduce carbon emissions. It’s a great opportunity for our residents to install solar PV panels at a competitive price.”

iChoosr has a strong track record of delivering group purchase schemes for local authorities. It has worked with 160 UK local authorities on its collective energy switching schemes. Furthermore, in 2018 UK councils, in collaboration with iChoosr, initiated their collective purchase schemes for solar PV systems. iChoosr’s collective schemes have been embraced by 120 local authorities in The Netherlands and Belgium. Over 25 schemes led to 50,000 residents installing solar PV systems – a total of 175 MW of power.

Manchester is not the only UK city to embrace a similar scheme. Earlier this year, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Kahn launched ‘Solar Together London’ which is only part of a plan that sees solar power as one of the cornerstone renewable energy sources required to accomplish his vision of making London a zero-carbon city by 2050.

Solar Together London is a group-buying scheme for households and small businesses across the capital. Basically, homeowners and businesses can register their interest in having solar panels on their home or building. Then with the support of local authorities, photovoltaic (PV) panels can be purchased in bulk at low cost and installed, passing on savings to registered parties.

Initially, Solar Together London was rolled out to four city boroughs, but this has now been expanded to encompass 12 boroughs due to the success of the first phase of the scheme. The first phase of the scheme attracted 4,000 London residents to register their interest in the programme, and more than 1,100 people went on to accept the offer of affordable solar panels.

Though solar panels might not work for the city’s high-rise complexes there is still an abundance of untapped potential in London, especially in residential areas. SELCE is a community energy organisation based in South East London that, alongside providing energy advice and support to the local community, also operates a scheme very similar to the Mayor’s Solar Together London initiative.

Dr Giovanna Speciale, director and co-founder of SELCE explains:

“We are bringing together residents who want to install solar and we’re using scale to reduce cost. The savings the installer makes from being able to do three installations in a day rather than one get passed on to the local residents. We did this completely without funding and it’s much smaller, but the savings are of a similar scale,” Those who are part of our collective purchasing scheme obviously think it’s brilliant, so we have direct experience of how beneficial one of these schemes can be. I’m very impressed with this current administration’s commitment to renewables. Is it the panacea to everything? No, but it’s one of a number of measures that are going to help. The only suggestion I would have for the Mayor is perhaps to work a little closer with organisations like ours, who already have in-roads into the community…it’s just so much easier if you create community enthusiasm around solar by concentrating on small geographical areas.”

Dr Giovanni Speciale isn’t the only one praising this initiative.

James Watson, SolarPower Europe CEO said of the scheme:

 “This is a fantastic campaign; we need to see more mayors taking the same sort of approach as Sadiq Khan. Such schemes really put people at the heart of the energy transition and give them a direct experience of the benefits of solar. We encourage other mayors in the UK and Europe to also adopt such supportive schemes and help put solar on all the suitable rooftops of Europe.”

While these schemes might only be small initiatives in the wider scheme of the solar energy market in the UK any way uptake can be increased will most definitely benefit the cities, the broader national energy market and communities themselves. The hope is that the rest of the country will take the lead from London and Manchester’s example and become switched on to solar. The Mayor of London’s office estimates that in order to make London a truly zero-carbon city by 2050, 20 times more solar generation equipment will need to be installed.