Electric vehicle uptake; how ready are we?

EV

It’s no surprise that we’re beginning to see a decline in the uptake of diesel cars throughout the country, with the news the government will ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2040, and with electric vehicles (EVs) becoming more accessible, affordable and genuinely attractive purchases for more and more people.

Whilst many of the more established models of electric car have higher upfront costs than their petrol and diesel counterparts, in their lifetime they make back those costs. Currently, fully charging a Tesla costs just £1 to £3 per day, with a £10-a-year fee to use nation wide charging points.

Among the wider motive of tackling climate change, poor air quality is becoming the focal subject for incentivising people to ditch the combustion engine, citing it as the “biggest environmental risk to public health in the UK”.

Yet, with electric cars presently comprising less than 1% of new sales, prompting a mass shift will require a lot of changes, and it appears the country is less than ready for such a dramatic move.

As of December of last year, figures show there were 132,000 electric and hybrid cars on UK roads, with 2017 seeing the biggest increase in EV purchases: 47,000 for the year. This is a stark contrast to the 25.5 million petrol and diesel cars currently out there.

However, although the likes of Gloucester and the Cotswolds rank 4th and 10th respectively on a list of the highest percentage of electric vehicles in the UK, neither area seems well enough equipped for an influx of electric car purchases. Gloucester has just 2 working public charge points in the city, equating to less than 0.001 public charging points per electric vehicle.

This is a similar story in the city of Bristol.

Although research has found that Bristol has the third highest number of people who have considered purchasing an electric vehicle at 63%, a survey of drivers has found that 73% of Bristol motorists could not name a charging spot near them.

While it is still early days and the existing picture seems somewhat bleak, there are those being proactive in helping create a greener future on the roads.

The Government announced last year that £400 million would be pumped into creating a world-leading electric car charging infrastructure, with charging locations being added around the UK daily. Even in July of last year, 255 locations were added in just 30 days.

One particular company looking at helping to incentivise the electric vehicle uptake by providing the latest charge points for homes and places of work, as well as solar PV, is Mypower.

Managing Director, Ben Harrison, said that while the number of charge points throughout the country may appear low, they don’t actually take into account businesses and public facing enterprises that provide charge points, as well as personal home charging points. Adding these would produce a figure of well over 100,000 dedicated EV charging points in total.

Speaking of Gloucestershire’s high number of electric car owners, he said, “We’ve seen enquires for charging points at homes and commercial properties increase significantly in the last 6 months. Those really savvy home and businesses owners are also installing solar panels on their roofs to generate their own electricity which means they charge their cars for free.”

This idea is being touched upon by some of the electric car giants such as Tesla and Nissan, both offering the option for home solar PV panels to produce your own electricity, and pump it straight into your car, saving you money on household bills alongside your now non-existent petrol bills.

Combining this with an energy storage device for use when it’s needed can set a family on its way to being nigh on self-sustainable.

Purchasing all of this technology can be pricey to begin with, leading into a few thousand before a car is even bought, however with the certainty that this will be the norm in the next few decades, costs will plummet and become accessible to practically everyone.

It’s currently being suggested that charging points can be implemented into existing street lamps with government grants distributed throughout councils to help with the adaption.

We look forward to the days of solar-powered electric cars, but until then, there are plenty of great options that will help you do your bit.

The State of Solar Shingles

solar shingles

When Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced the birth of the Tesla Solar Roof last year, it was greeted with enthusiasm by the entire solar market. A photovoltaic solar system in the form of roof tiles, invisible to the naked eye? The solar world marveled at the ingenuity of Tesla, once more.

But the concept of solar shingles is not a new one. In fact, the technology to create such a product has been public knowledge since 2009 and solar shingles have been gracing the roofs of users since 2011.

As we move into 2018, when Tesla’s Solar Roof will see its full rollout, it’s important to remember where this technology came from, so that we can better predict where it is going.

The History of Solar Singles

DOW Chemical

The solar shingle concept was created by DOW Chemical Company, who first unveiled it in 2009. The company rolled out its Powerhouse Solar Shingle in 2011, and predicted at the time of announcement that it could see up to $10 billion in revenue by 2020.

The shingles were designed to blend in with a typical asphalt roof. They were heavily touted, due to their being an aesthetically pleasing alternative to traditional solar panels. Another added benefit of the shingles were the ease in which they could be installed, as there was no need for locating rafters and anchor points to bolt into, like with solar panels.

Using Copper Indium Gallium Slenide solar cells, the shingles worked the same as most standard panels, pulling in the rays of the sun and converting it to electricity, before transferring it to an inverter box, from which it enters the home.

In 2009, when TIME Magazine declared DOW’s solar shingle one of the 50 Best Inventions of 2009, it was estimated that the solar shingle would sell for 10% to 15% less than traditional solar panels.

Unfortunately, that did not prove to be the case, as solar shingles ranged in price from $4 to $12 per-Watt, while traditional solar panels in 2015 were only $3.50 per-Watt (learn more about Solar Costs at PowerScout). Federal, state and local incentives helped to decrease the price point, sometimes by almost half, but the product was failing to catch on as predicted. Before it’s downfall, Powerhouse had only been installed on 1,000 homes.

DOW discontinued the Powerhouse line in mid-2016, announcing the news on the same day the company cut 2,500 jobs globally.

Enter Tesla

Tesla threw their hat into the clean energy game in 2016 with its $2 billion acquisition of Solar City. Following the termination of DOW’s Powerhouse shingles, many companies attempted to take over the industry. CertainTeed and Atlantis Energy Systems tried to compete, but Tesla has become the major name in the solar shingle game.

Once Tesla announced the Solar Roof to the masses they seemed to solidify their hold on the industry. In 2017, the first two variations of the Solar Roof were released in the form of textured and smooth glass.

The Future of Solar Shingles

The Tesla Solar Roof

In 2018 we will see a full roll out off the Tesla Solar Roof, with Tuscan and French Slate designs on their way to American homes this year. While the performance of this new product remains to be seen, there are certainly a large number of pros and cons associated with it.

For starters, the Tesla Solar Roof touts an impressive layer of protection as compared to the average roof. Tesla has released a video test, which shows a Solar Roof panel pelted with a 2-inch ball of hail traveling at 100 mph. The Solar Roof withstands the impact perfectly while traditional roof tiles shatter like glass. Coupled with a lifetime warranty, it seems like a smart investment at face value. Traditional solar panels, however are equally durable, so this is not a viable advantage that one product seems to have over the other.

The main issue plaguing the future of the Solar Roof seems to be its pricing. Much like DOW before them, Tesla may suffer from a market unwilling to shell out big bucks for their product when traditional solar panels cost so much less. Tesla’s Solar Roof is estimated at being 70% more expensive than installing solar panels on a home with a sturdy roof and 35% more costly than installing a solar panel system and having your roof fully replaced.

Another potential roadblock for the technology powerhouse is the energy output of their costly system. While the Solar Roof does produce enough power to save you money on your utility bills, it only produces 70% of the power generated by a traditional solar power system.

To top it off, competition is looming as DOW seeks to reclaim its lost throne.

The Return of DOW

Following an agreement between RGS Energy and DOW, the solar shingle market could start to see competition in the form of Powerhouse 3.0. Backed by the commercial prowess of RGS, the original solar shingle system could return with a bang and challenge Tesla’s dominance over the industry.

The major differentiating factor between Powerhouse 3.0 and its previous incarnations is an adoption of silicon solar cells, which reduces the cost of production, thus eliminating the biggest opponent of DOW’s past success, pricing.

The 2018 Battleground

2018 proves to be a fascinating year for the solar shingle industry. The success of the Solar Roof is far from assured and it will be interesting to watch its successes or failures as the full rollout concludes. What’s more, are we fixing to see a knock-down drag out battle between Tesla and DOW? Could DOW’s new, less expensive Powerhouse shingles reclaim its lost industry?

The Benefits of Offshore Wind Energy

Offshore Wind

More and more people have heard of clean energy and wind energy but wonder if such an energy solution could benefit them or their communities. Information is available to support many of the benefits of offshore wind energy and wind energy farms. Offshore wind energy may also serve to improve the health of local residents and supply new jobs to the area, in addition to being a better energy choice for the environment.

How Maryland Uses Wind Energy

Two offshore wind projects were approved near the Ocean City coastline in Maryland. The projects are projected to produce enough clean energy to provide electricity to 147,000 Maryland homes. These two projects will allow Maryland to cut its carbon emissions by as much as 19,000 tons every year. Unfortunately, Maryland is ranked fifth in the country when it comes to adult asthma and many children are afflicted. This may be linked to the air pollution in the area. Offsetting carbon emissions by supplementing tradition energy sources with wind energy in the state may serve to improve the health of adults and children affected by pollution-related health problems and improve the air quality for all Maryland residents.

An investment into offshore wind energy will make for 9,700 new jobs, help Maryland become a leader for the offshore wind industry along the Atlantic, and provide Maryland residents with a clean energy source that may be used for generations to come. Wind power is one of the clean energy alternatives being embraced around the world.

Going Green

Wind power is a green energy solution to the world’s continued demand for energy to power homes, businesses, transportation and the most common of appliances. Traditional sources of energy, such as oil and coal, produce potentially toxic by-products in their extraction and processing. Additional fuel is used when the refined products are transported for use. The harnessing of wind energy does not produce additional pollution or result in dangerous chemical by-products that may seep into the groundwater or damage the surrounding ecosystem. No climate gases are emitted when electricity is produced via a wind turbine. This makes wind energy, like geothermal and solar energy, attractive clean energy sources for many communities.

Exceeding Our Needs

If communities and residents get behind the potential of wind power, it can provide 20 times more power than what is needed for the current human population. This efficient energy source is growing at a rate of 25 percent annually and operational cost of turbines are low. Wind power has great domestic potential as residents can be protected from power outages and enjoy energy savings.

Wind Energy Is Renewable

Traditional sources of energy rely upon non-renewable resources. As the human population grows, so will the demand for energy which adds further pressure and reduces the amount of finite resources. In comparison, wind energy cannot be depleted. Wind occurs naturally and is due to nuclear fusion processes happening on the sun. Wind energy will be able to be captured and harnessed to produce electricity for as long as the sun continues to shine.

The Future, and the Potential

Good-paying jobs are created with the investment into wind energy, as can be seen in the projects approved in Maryland. Wind turbine technician was named as the “fasted growing American job of the decade” according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statisticians. In 2016, over 100,000 people were employed in the U.S. wind sector. The wind industry has the potential to add many more jobs across various areas including supporting services, installation, maintenance and manufacturing. States with high unemployment rates may greatly benefit from investment into wind energy solutions.

The costs associated with harnessing wind power have greatly decrease but some sites are not suitable for a wind farm or off shore wind energy solution. It may be necessary to build in remote locations to take advantage of a good wind site. Noise pollution and the visual sight of wind turbines may be factors for some. Community planners and residents must consider all of the benefits and challenges when it comes to taking advantage of wind-generated electricity prior to any investment into this clean energy option.

The Future of Energy: Pivotal Technology and Trends to Watch

Renewables Future

The world continues to struggle with the switch to renewable energy. Despite the plentiful natural resources handed to us through wind, water and sun, governments around the world are wrestling with ‘selling’ the idea to their citizens. Standing in the way of on-mass innovation adoption is, often, cold-hard cash.

To illuminate just how imposing a problem this is, consider this – despite unparalleled growth in the sector over the coming years, by 2040, all renewables will still only account for less than 10% of global power supply (Fortune). Sobering figures indeed. With this in mind here we look toward the most promising forms of technology, and a couple of key trends, as we continue to grapple with the burning of fossils.

Trends emerging on the horizon

New tariffs will be introduced to work more seamlessly with grid operating costs

Whilst the cost of rooftop solar continues to nose dive, we now face another problem: the cost of managing and upgrading grids to allow for two-way energy flows.

Hawaii has been home to an industry leading case study in this respect, with the introduction of a wide range of differing tariffs, including multiple options for “self-supply”. This transition from legacy NEM tariffs, to next gen, will certainly make for interesting viewing.

Smart tech will only become ever smarter, helping us to become greener

Smart technology may be one of the most exciting realms to be working in right now – and for renewable energy consumption, the potential is practically unmatched. Central to the successful merging of this area and energy consumption, are thermostats and heating/AC units that are becoming more intelligent; and as more of us continue to adopt smart home tech, the accompanied costs will continue to drop. A final benefit of smart tech is that consumers themselves become smarter and more informed as to how and where it is that their energy is being consumed.

Key tech promising to be pivotal to the renewable energies market

The home powering battery

Further to the issue of cost, is the issue of being able to rely upon renewable energy. For too long homes have faced the prospect of having to have a back-up should their renewable energy system fail. For this, there comes one innovative solution from the makers of the world’s most ground breaking electronic car.

We talk, of course, of Tesla, who have just announced development of their ‘Powerwall’ – which is effectively a battery for homes that allows them to tap into the power of solar or wind energy. Not only could it make energy consumption far cheaper, but it promises also to allow householders to feedback any surplus energy and actually make money, rather than burn it.

The traditional Central heating System (may) finally be thrown out

The Big Magic Thermodynamic Box – cutting-edge and forward-thinking in equal measure, this technology demonstrates that the future of energy storage does indeed promise much in the way of an energy storage revolution. However, whilst the technology is cutting-edge, the concept is a simple one – providing a renewable heating system for a property, and hot water, through the power of solar. Going into a little more detail, The Big Magic Thermodynamic Box features Thermodynamic Panels which are free from the need of direct sunlight for energy; instead, they harvest energy from the temperature of the atmosphere around them – making them an optimal choice all year round when compared to weather reliant solar panels.

A further defining (and rather HUGE) selling point of the Big Magic Thermodynamic Box is that the average home can have hot water all year through for, wait for it, the tiny price of approximately £80.

Finally, it seems that renewable energy can be harnessed in a way that makes it accessible for all – overcoming high costs with serious savings all year through and doing away with consumer rejection of seasonally hit and miss alternatives.

https://youtu.be/-hOfVw3-Ujw

It truly seems that we may be on the cusp of tapping into renewable energy on-mass – which is certainly something to be celebrated given how decades have passed by with only relatively limited success of renewable energy acceptance.

What is the Future of Renewables in the UK?

Houses Of Parlament

In the end the Government only slashed the Feed in Tariff for solar by 65% rather than the touted 87, something that is still going to cost the industry thousands of jobs and is seen as a backward step for those who believe passionately in the green agenda.

Despite the rest of the world getting enthusiastic about lowering carbon emissions and becoming less dependent on fossil fuels after the Climate Change Summit in Paris, many UK observers are sceptical about the future here.

According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, growth could see the sector thrive worldwide as a 24 million jobs are created by 2030. The change to a more active carbon free energy sector would not only help stop climate change but improve world economies across the board.

Particularly in Asia, this confidence has been boosted largely by the growth of the solar industry. It seems everyone but Britain is pushing forward with the race for a cleaner world. Here, the Government has put the brakes on wind and solar and are investing heavily in nuclear while also trying to get fracking off the ground despite the general population being against it.

According to the CEO of Regen SW, Merlin Hyman:

“The Paris agreements have fired the starting gun on the global race to clean energy and made the shift to a radically different decentralised energy system unstoppable. The UK clean energy sector is determined to play a leading role despite the UK Government’s attempts to prop up fossil fuel and nuclear power.”

There are some minor skirmishes going on in the renewable energy sector at the moment which are not necessarily making front page news. Two solar panel companies are taking the Government to court over their retrospective cut to subsidies for large scale developments two years ago. There are further clashes anticipated between energy secretary Amber Rudd and the Lords as she seeks to bring about the end for subsidies for onshore wind farms.

The truth is that many observers believe that the renewables industry is under fire in the UK and some areas will be hard pressed to survive Government back tracking.

The only good news is that the cost of installing solar is still coming down. When the first panels were installed in the late 1950s the cost was around £1,300 per watt in today’s money. That’s dropped to just 50 pence per watt on average in the UK in 2016. According to Oxford University researchers:

“Since the 1980s, panels to generate electricity from sunshine have got 10% cheaper each year. That is likely to continue, the study said, putting solar on course to meet 20% of global energy needs by 2027.”

The cry from the solar industry is not that they don’t want to exist without subsidies (as fossil fuels globally have failed to do) but that they don’t want the economic rug pulled from under their feet too quickly. There are still some major issues for solar to navigate over the coming years, not least the best way to store an energy supply that is more available at certain times of the day than others.

Research is continuing robustly, even with the current decline of governmental enthusiasm for all things green. Prospects of solar paints that can be used to cover buildings with thin, cheap coats of electricity producing material could be a major advance that comes in the next few years. Better storage and integration with other renewable technologies such as wind and hydro are on the cards also.

While a Western country like the UK is procrastinating, though, developing countries such as Costa Rica, Afghanistan and India are all working hard towards a future with full power from renewables. Costa Rica, strangely, is leading the way, professing to have provided 100% of their energy needs from renewable sources for a succession of 94 days.

The trouble is that the Government’s confused energy policy has had damaging knock on effects beyond solar and wind. Tidal constructions such as the lagoon in Swansea Bay are being put on hold as investors wonder where the Government are going to cut next. This wide ranging uncertainty is causing those with the money to help change our world to think twice. Unfortunately, the damage has been done and the length of time that it will take for confidence to be restored could set the UK a long way back in the development of renewables compared to the rest of the world.

Is it Time to Worry When UN Scientists Sound Off?

United Nations

This week, support for the beleaguered renewables industry came from an unlikely source. Professor Jacquie McGlade is chief environment scientist for the UN, someone who you would think knows a lot about the renewable agenda. She expressed her disappointment that the UK has appeared to do an about turn and is running headlong away from technologies such as solar and wind whilst the rest of the world is rushing forward with open arms.

She told the BBC:

“What I’m seeing worldwide is a move very much towards investment in renewable energy. To counterbalance that you see the withdrawal of subsidies and tax breaks for fossil fuels. What’s disappointing is when we see countries such as the United Kingdom that have really been in the lead in terms of getting their renewable energy up and going – we see subsidies being withdrawn and the fossil fuel industry being enhanced.”

Whilst politicians still seem intent on coming out with the same tired old phrases about how they are trying to get a better deal for bill payers, there is some concern in the wider global arena that the UK has decided to abandon its leadership on climate change. McGlade even went as far as to call the signal that the UK was sending out to other countries ‘perverse’.

What Does a Reset Mean?

One thing that hasn’t been discussed in great deal is the Government’s idea of a reset to the industry and what that actually looks like. You’d be forgiven for thinking that they may not have much of a clue themselves with the lack of information that has been forthcoming. The sensible option would have been to say we are going to get rid of this (the FiT) and replace it with this (place your own idea here). All we have is a spurious promise that they are committed to renewables and something is on its way.

Meanwhile some big investors are starting to look elsewhere. According to the same BBC article, the CEO of ACWA Power in Saudi Arabia said:

“Everyone is running around the world looking for other places. Thank you very much, I’ve picked up experience now, the UK is not the best bet, let me go somewhere else. Even the UK companies are looking aggressively elsewhere.”

Most people in the industry agree that the FiT subsidy should eventually be phased out but cutting by 87% in fell swoop has brought cries of frustration from the market and outside investment. According to a recent report by EY, government initiatives to remove the FiT and threats to other subsidies in the future is baffling many investors to the point where they are taking their business elsewhere.

The organisation suggested that this might indeed mean that the UK was trying to make renewables the first unsubsidised market in the world. If that’s the case many in the UK believe they are making an unholy mess of it, akin to throwing a baby from its pram in the vain hope that it will land on its feet.

Solar School Charity Now Unviable

Solar Schools

On the face of it, a charity working to put solar panels on the roofs of our schools is a great idea. But the Government’s proposed changes to the Feed in Tariff in January have put the project at risk and may well see the charity close next year if the decision to cut subsidies is not reversed.

What is Solar Schools?

Solar Schools strapline is ‘Powered by Sunshine, Funded by Everyone.’ The idea is that schools fund the work to install solar panels either by themselves or through the community and then benefit from the Feed in Tariff to achieve lower fuel bills and a good return on investment that can then be ploughed into important things like educational resources or community initiatives. It’s an excellent way to get our children involved in the green agenda and reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

The Guardian reported recently that campaigners were worried that:

“the ‘solar schools’ project run by environmental charity 10:10 would become unsustainable under government proposals to dramatically cut the feed-in tariff for householders and communities who install solar panels on rooftops.”

That said however, The Renewable Energy Hub still aims to continue its support for schools via its crowd funding initiative. Their system still enables schools across the UK to benefit from 100% owned, free solar panels even after the proposed cuts to the FiT have come into force. Crowdfunding for Schools – Solar Panels

Changes to the Feed in Tariff

There had been some noise about changes to the Feed in Tariff and possible reductions in subsidies for a while but the announcement and the size of the cuts at the end of the summer came as a major shock to the industry. The Government are looking to reduce FiTs by as much as 87%, effectively removing the incentive for people and businesses to invest in renewable technologies such as solar panels.

It shouldn’t have been that much of a surprise. Back in July, Energy Secretary Amber Rudd tweeted that shale gas (from fracking) was ‘effectively a low-carbon source’ of energy. It raised a few eyebrows at the time but in fact signalled where the current Government believes the energy infrastructure of the country is heading.

Support from Gove et al

Only last year Michael Gove, then Tory Education Secretary said:

“Solar panels are a sensible choice for schools, particularly in terms of the financial benefits they can bring. It is also a great way for pupils to engage with environmental issues and think about where energy comes from.”

There were also plenty who supported the growth of solar panels on our rooftops and the benefits it could bring. At the time, the Government’s position was to move emphasis away from large solar panels to smaller units across towns and cities. Not only that, they lauded the job creation possibilities. According to the Government of the time it was a win-win situation.

So what changed? Of course, these views were expressed under the coalition government of the time and may have had more to do with the Liberal influence than what the Tories actually wanted. This means that the majority win at the May 2015 election could have been the big turning point for renewables and our hopes for a greener UK as it allowed the Tory government to implement the plans it really wanted and not to compromise.

Protests Drowned Out

The biggest noise during this week’s Tory conference was over the changes to tax credits which may well see many poorer members of our society struggle to make ends meet. Whilst this is obviously something that we should all be concerned about, for the renewables industry this presents something of a problem. To try and push back the changes planned for the Feed in Tariff this January, protestors need to get the green agenda at the top of the news. The simple fact is that without media pressure to support industry concerns, then the changes may well slide through without most of the population noticing.

In the meantime, bright initiatives such as Solar Schools may well become a thing of the past, a good idea consigned to the ideological rubbish bin. If we are to save the renewables industry and prevent it from being irreparably damaged, voices have to be heard and the Government has to listen. Time is beginning to run out if we want to make a difference.

 By Steve M.