Small business owners often need to find ways to stand out from competitors and snag more market share. While product differentiating and clever marketing can help, another approach could be worth considering. By embracing sustainability, you can connect with eco-conscious buyers. Plus, along with helping the ecosystem, green business practices might reduce your costs, too.
If you’re wondering whether green approaches are suitable for your company, here is a straightforward sustainability guide from The Renewable Energy Hub for small business owners that can help you decide.
Pursuing Sustainable Possibilities
As a small business owner, it may seem like there aren’t many opportunities to reduce your carbon footprint or lessen your eco-impact. However, that isn’t the case. Even small changes add up, so they are worthwhile.
Plus, sustainable practices give you the chance to reposition your company in a way that can increase sales. Many shoppers favour eco-friendly companies over traditional ones, allowing you to snag more market share.
If you aren’t sure how to pick sustainable possibilities to pursue, start with internal processes. For example, implementing a recycling program while going paperless can have a significant impact. Both are viewed positively by customers and can boost your bottom line, all while helping the planet.
Reducing your utility use by switching to LEDs, installing low-flow sinks, and making similar choices is also a great place to start. You’ll save on your monthly bills while making changes customers may appreciate.
However, you also want to explore changes that have a direct impact on the customer. For example, switching to eco-friendly packaging and shipping materials may improve your position, potentially leading to higher sales.
But before you alter anything that impacts the customer, you’ll want to do some market research. Examine every aspect of your operations to find areas where you could use a greener approach. Then, analyse how current and prospective customers will respond to it, ensuring you choose strategies with the strongest return on investment. That way, you can help the planet while supporting your company’s financial success.
Increasing Customer Interest Through Your Shift Toward Sustainability
Once you’ve embraced sustainability, update your advertising to showcase the positive environmental impact of the changes you’ve made. That way, eco-conscious shoppers may find your company more enticing. Plus, you can position it as a differentiator, helping you stand apart from the competition.
If you’re looking for more ways to stand out from competitors and boost brand awareness, a new logo that highlights your commitment to sustainability is a wise addition. If you’ve got a tight budget, go with an online logo maker over a logo design service. You can create a custom design by selecting the style, icon, fonts, and colours, as well as adding your text. That way, the result is genuinely unique.
Another excellent option is launching a new social media campaign to highlight your new green practices. If you’re worried about campaign effectiveness, working with an influencer marketing agency could be the ideal answer. You can learn more about influencer marketing agencies on online job boards, giving you a place to check reviews, weigh experience, and compare costs. That way, you’ll get the perfect match.
Take the Leap and Launch Your Sustainable Business
As you can see, making your business green is simply about making a series of smart operational choices, ensuring sustainability is always a priority. By adopting a “green first” mindset, it’ll start coming naturally in no time.
Once you’re ready to take the leap, you’ll need to select a business structure. For many small businesses, choosing an LLC is a smart move, ensuring you get potential benefits like:
You can even bypass cumbersome attorney fees if you use the right approach. Begin by learning formation laws in your area, as they do vary a bit by state. Then, you’ll know what you need to do to file yourself, or you can turn to a formation service if you’d like a bit of help. Both options cost less than a lawyer, so check them out if you’re worried about cost.
Working from home seems the most viable solution to sustainability when you have zero commutes and office energy consumption. However, whether remote work is better for the environment remains in question. The answer to making the future of work more sustainable isn’t quite that simple.
One would think that taking the commute and office heat out of the equation would positively impact carbon footprint. After all, sustainability relies on reducing emissions and energy consumption from large buildings.
However, this may not be the case.
Work From Home vs. The Office
For the average American worker, 29% of respondents say they spend 15 to 29 minutes commuting to work. Meanwhile, 25% of workers say they do not commute to work. For the employees who commute, that’s plenty of time and energy they could save when getting ready for remote work.
Many people do not enjoy commuting as the work-life balance is of the utmost importance for the modern-day employee. Plus, the expenses add up when it comes to public transit, gas, and maintenance.
Remote work may have its perks on people and the environment. In fact, carbon dioxide emissions from traveling decreased by 11% in 2020 when the pandemic forced people to stay home.
The Environmental Impact of Remote Work
When limiting the carbon footprint, remote work can easily seem like the simple solution to driving sustainability. However, when each person decides to use their home as an office, the following questions come through.
How much energy are people using at home with the air conditioner and heat? Is that energy use coming from clean sources?
According to the International Energy Agency, electrical home energy consumption increased by 20% due to spending time at home. This analysis shows that emissions could increase when working remotely versus someone who uses public transportation or drives less than a few miles each way.
Additionally, employees that live near the office choose to walk, bike, or take public transportation. If those same employees end up working remotely, does this mean they’ll move out of their city apartment and live in a house? Suburban homes account for 43% of energy consumption — meanwhile, apartments with over five units utilize 25% of energy consumption.
Furthermore, if they move into a house, they’ll have to buy a car as well. So, the question is if they buy a car, will it be electric or gas-powered?
As these factors come into play, a hybrid work environment seems to be the more favorable solution to sustainability.
The Possibility of Sustainability Through Hybrid Work
Remote jobs might seem like the future of work, but many companies are navigating the flexibility of working from home and in the office. Could hybrid jobs be the solution to environmental sustainability?
To create better sustainability, people will have to turn to electric vehicles to reduce emissions. On the other hand, it’s more costly for the environment and for companies to have a physical office. So, companies will have to work around the issue by downsizing their offices. In fact, 74% of Fortune 500 CEOs expect to decrease their office space after the pandemic.
A happy medium between employees working remotely and, in the office, could save energy when downsizing and scattering remote days.
However, the carbon will inadvertently fall on individual workers to invest in low emissions with people working remotely. For instance, solar paneling can save energy and reduce billing expenses.
Although solar panels are more expensive, the overall effect, in the long run, will help save on energy costs. Solar power accounts for only 2.3% of energy consumption in 2020. Nevertheless, this will become a work-in-progress as people find solutions to reduce their carbon footprint.
Total Sustainability Will Take Time
We may be close to achieving the sustainable option when working, but we’re not out of the water just yet. When thinking about sustainability solutions, it all comes down to companies and employees working together.
Remote work may not be the most effective way to create a better environment. Regardless, a hybrid approach could temporarily solve the issue until society can ultimately impact climate change. Still, this will take time and energy to rethink the effects of working from home vs. the office.
In a major bid to try and move drivers away from petrol and diesel cars, Boris Johnson announced in November, that electric vehicle charging points will have to be installed in all new buildings from 2022 as part of his carbon slashing plans.
The new legislation making it compulsory to install electric vehicle charging points will apply to new homes and non-residential buildings such as offices and supermarkets. Buildings undergoing large-scale renovations which leave them with no more than 10 parking spaces will also be subject to the measures.
Fresh from the COP26 climate change summit, Boris Johnson revealed in a speech at the Confederation of British Industries (CBI) annual conference in the north-east of England, plans briefed as “world leading”, to toughen up regulations for new homes and buildings.
It is hoped that the new regulations will lead to up to 145,000 extra charge points being installed each year in the run up to 2030 when the sale of new petrol and diesel cars will come to an end in the UK.
Boris Johnson said:
“UK sales of EVs (electric vehicles) are now increasing at 70 per cent a year, and in 2030, we’re ending the market for new hydrocarbon ICEs, internal combustion vehicles, ahead of other European countries.”
This move is another step towards reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Increasing investment in the infrastructure needed to facilitate a transition to electric vehicles was just one of the elements of the wide-ranging Net Zero Strategy document published by the UK government in October.
Boris Johnson said:
“We are investing in new projects to turn wind power into hydrogen and our net-zero strategy is expected to trigger about £90 billion of private sector investment, driving the creation of high wage high skilled jobs as part of our mission to unite and level up across the country.”
Boris Johnson believes that the country is at a pivotal moment saying that: “We cannot go on as we are.”
He told business leaders that it shouldn’t just be public spending that is used to “adapt our economy to the green industrial revolution”, but that the government will focus on science and technology, raise productivity and “then get out of your way”.
The UK government defended the new requirements stressing the importance of regulating less or better and taking advantage of new freedoms. It wants to lead global efforts in the transition to net zero in order to help the economy recover from the pandemic.
On the other side of the political divide, Ed Miliband, the shadow business secretary, accused the government of failing the UK’s automotive companies and workers.
“Ministers have stepped back and left manufacturers, workers and the public on their own, failing to take the action necessary to make the switch affordable for families hit by a cost-of-living crisis. By extending the help to buy an electric car for those on lower and middle incomes and accelerating the rollout of charging points in areas that have been left out, would ensure that everyone could benefit and make the green transition fair.”
Only time will tell whether the current UK government has done enough at this time.
The government is also supporting a new loan programme worth £150m, distributed by Innovate UK over three years, to help UK small and medium-size enterprises commercialise their latest research. The “innovation loans” will be accessible to a variety of sectors, including green businesses and follow a pilot with businesses.
Almost 26,000 publicly available electric vehicle charging devices have been installed so far in the UK, including 4,900 rapid ones. However, the Competition and Markets Authority have estimated that more than 10 times that number will be needed by 2030. A total of 250,000 points have already been put in place in homes and workplaces.
Despite the Covid-19 pandemic and rising costs of raw materials around the world it has been another record year for renewable energy according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).
Recently published, the IEA’s new Renewable Market Report says that the growth of the world’s capacity to generate electricity from solar panels, wind turbines and other renewable technologies is on course to accelerate in the years to come. The Paris based organisation is expecting 2021 to set a fresh record for new installations with nearly 290 gigawatts of renewable power capacity being added across the globe. Even though costs have risen for key materials to make solar panels and wind turbines, renewable energy generation capacity, mostly in the form of wind turbines and solar panels is forecast to surpass the previous all-time high set last year. Solar PV’s growth in renewable electricity is forecast to increase its capacity additions by 17% in 2021 taking it to a new record of 160 GW. Within the same time frame, onshore wind additions are set to be almost one-quarter higher on average than during the 2015-20 period. Total offshore wind capacity is forecast to more than triple by 2026. It is looking likely on current trends, that renewable energy generating capacity will exceed that of fossil fuels and nuclear energy combined by 2026.
The IEA report expects this record growth for renewables to take place regardless of today’s high commodity and transport prices. However, if commodity prices continue to remain high through the end of next year, the cost of wind investments would go back up to levels last seen in 2015 and three years of cost reductions for solar PV would be erased.
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Fatih Birol, executive director of the IEA, said:
“This year’s record renewable energy additions are yet another sign that a new global energy economy is emerging. The high commodity and energy prices we are seeing today pose new challenges for the renewable industry, but elevated fossil fuel prices also make renewables even more competitive.”
The IEA forecasts in its report that the planet’s renewable electricity capacity will jump to more than 4,800 GW by the year 2026, which is equivalent to the current total global power capacity of fossil fuels and nuclear combined. This is an increase of over 60% compared with 2020 levels. Capacity refers to the maximum amount of energy that installations can produce, not what they’re necessarily generating.
Growth has been driven by stronger support from many governments around the world adopting new climate and energy policies with more ambitious clean energy goals on cutting greenhouse gas emissions before and during the COP26 UN climate summit in Glasgow in November.
The report says:
“We have revised up our forecast from a year earlier as stronger policy support and ambitious climate targets announced for COP26 outweigh the current record commodity prices that have increased the costs of building new wind and solar PV installations.”
Renewables are in line to account for almost 95% of the increase in global power capacity through 2026, with solar PV alone providing more than half. The amount of renewable capacity added over the period of 2021 to 2026 is anticipated to be 50% higher than from 2015 to 2020.
This level of growth, however, is still only about half that required to meet net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
As the world has emerged from the Covid pandemic, the world has seen both raw material and energy prices rise. These price increases have cancelled out some of the cost falls of recent years in the renewable sector. If prices continue to rise next year, the cost of wind power will return to levels last seen in 2015, and two to three years of cost falls in solar power will be wiped out.
Lead author of the report, Heymi Bahar, said that commodity prices were not the main obstacles to growth, however. Wind and solar would still be cheaper than fossil fuels in most areas, he noted. Gaining permission for new wind energy projects around the world was the main obstacle to further growth and policy measures were needed to expand use of solar power for consumers and industry.
Heymi Bahar said:
“We need a gear change to meet net zero. We have already seen a very important gear change in recent years, but we need to move up another gear now. It is possible, we have the tools. Governments need to show more ambition, not just on targets but on policy measures and plans.”
According to the IEA, it looks like China will remain the main driver of renewable capacity growth in the coming years, with Europe, the U.S. and India following on behind. China is expected to reach 1200 GW of total wind and solar capacity in 2026 which is four years earlier than its current target of 2030. India is set to come top in terms of the rate of growth, doubling new installations compared with 2015-2020. Deployments in Europe and the United States are also on track to speed up significantly from the previous five years. These four markets together account for 80% of renewable capacity expansion worldwide.
China is the world’s biggest carbon emitter currently, but the Chinese government appeared unwilling to commit to the strengthening of its emissions-cutting targets which had been hoped for by many. China ‘s target is to peak in emissions by 2030 which is considered much too late by many analysts if the world is to limit global temperatures to 1.5% above pre-industrial levels. This was the Paris agreement target which was the focus of the Cop26 talks.
In Fatih Birol’s opinion, China’s rapid expansion of renewable energy could see the country reaching an emissions peak “well before 2030”.
India, the world’s third-biggest emitter, also experienced strong growth in renewable energy capacity in the past year. However, it’s target of reaching net zero by 2070, which was set out at Cop26, is also regarded as too weak by many.
Fatih Birol said:
“The growth of renewables in India is outstanding, supporting the government’s newly announced goal of reaching 500GW of renewable power capacity by 2030 and highlighting India’s broader potential to accelerate its clean energy transition.”
The demand for biofuel in 2021 is expected to surpass 2019 levels despite rising prices which are limiting growth, following a huge decline caused by the pandemic. The demand for biofuel is set to grow strongly to 2026 with Asia accounting for almost 30% of new production. It is anticipated that India will rise to become the third largest market for ethanol worldwide, behind the United States and Brazil.
Governments need to further accelerate the growth of renewables by addressing key barriers such as inconsistent policy approaches, social acceptance issues, permitting and grid integration challenges and inadequate remuneration. Another major obstacle is the high cost of financing renewables in developing countries.
Even with the faster deployment of renewable energy highlighted by the IEA’s report, progress still falls short of what is needed in a global pathway to net zero emissions by mid-century.
To understand what was achieved at the COP26 climate summit it’s helpful to look at the goals that were brought to the table at the outset of the summit.
Two hundred countries were asked to come forward with their most ambitious 2030 emissions reductions targets to align with reaching net zero by 2050 and to keep global warming to well below 2C and to aim for 1.5C.
It was understood that in order to deliver on these targets, countries would need to: accelerate the phase out of coal; curtail deforestation; speed up the switch to electric vehicles and encourage investment in renewables.
Countries were also expected to work together to enable and encourage countries affected by extreme weather events linked to climate change to protect and restore ecosystems and build defences, warning systems and resilient infrastructure and agriculture to avoid the loss of homes, livelihoods and even lives.
For these first two goals to work, developed countries must make good on their promise to mobilise at least $100bn in climate finance per year by 2025. International financial institutions need to play their part too. It was also considered important to look at ways to work towards unleashing the trillions in private and public sector finance required to secure global net zero.
Developing countries have been promised that climate finance will be increased in the next 5 years to $500bn. Developing countries would like more of the cash spent on adaptation rather than emissions cuts. This is important because most of the climate finance currently available goes to funding emissions-cutting projects, such as renewable energy schemes, in middle income countries that could often be funded easily without help, because they turn a profit. But the poorest countries who need money to adapt to the impact of extreme weather struggle to obtain any funding at all. It was agreed to double the proportion of climate finance going to adaptation which was an important first step.
450 financial institutions who between them control $130tn, agreed to back “clean” technology, such as renewable energy, and direct finance away from fossil fuel-burning industries. This initiative is an attempt to get private companies to work towards meeting net zero targets and to for them to commit to providing finance for green technology.
Some environmental organisations believe that this initiative amounts to little more than a PR exercise without a greater commitment to ending fossil fuel finance.
Reaffirming the Paris Agreement
Working together was regarded as the only way that we could rise to the challenges of the climate crisis.
It was considered imperative that those at COP26 work together to finalise the Paris Rulebook (the detailed rules that make the Paris Agreement operational) and accelerate action to tackle the climate crisis through collaboration between governments, businesses, and civil society.
It was agreed that the current national plans on cutting emissions by 2030, known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs), are insufficient to limit temperature rises to 1.5C. According to analysis published during the talks if we continue as we are the current NDCs would lead to a disastrous 2.4C of global heating.
Unfortunately, only one major emitter, India, produced a new NDC at the talks which leaves much work to be done to get more of the major emitters on board.
However, it was agreed that the question of revising NDCs would be on the agenda for next year’s COP, to be held in Egypt, and for the one following in 2023. Up until now, under the 2015 Paris agreement, nations were only required to return every 5 years to set new NDCs. Countries have been asked to republish their climate action plans, with more ambitious emissions reduction targets for 2030, by the end of next year.
Setting a roadmap for revisions next year, rather than several years away is one positive outcome from the talks.
Leaders from more than one hundred countries, representing about 85% of the world’s forests have promised to stop deforestation by 2030. Trees can absorb vast amounts of carbon dioxide, one of the key greenhouse gases adding to global warming. Ending deforestation is seen as a vital way to tackle climate change. However, previous initiatives haven’t stopped deforestation though this one is better funded. It is also unclear how the pledges will be policed or monitored.
Coal is the biggest single contributor to climate change. Although progress has been made in reducing its use, it still produced about 37% of the world’s electricity in 2019. It is the dirtiest fossil fuel, and the International Energy Agency has said that if it is not rapidly phased out the world has no hope of staying within 1.5C of global heating. To hit the target, at least 40% of the world’s existing 8,500 coal-fired power plants must be closed by 2030 and no new ones built.
More than forty countries including major coal users such as Poland, Vietnam and Chile have agreed to shift away from coal. A milestone has been reached at this COP as for the first time the Glasgow Climate Pact has made a direct reference to phasing out fossil fuels. The phrasing of the commitment in the final text of the pact was hard fought. India insisted on changing the final phrase from “phase out” to “phase down” despite pleas from other developing countries. Some of the world’s most coal-dependent countries, including Australia, India, China, and the US, haven’t signed up. And the agreement doesn’t cover other fossil fuels such as oil or gas. However, the first step has been made towards ending coal’s grip on the energy industry.
More than one hundred countries have agreed to a scheme to cut 30% of current methane emissions by 2030. Methane, as one of the most potent greenhouse gases, is currently responsible for a third of human generated warming. Most methane is produced from cattle production and waste disposal. Though the big emitters, China, Russia, and India haven’t joined the scheme it is hoped that they will later.
One of the most surprising announcements made during COP26 came from the US and China. They made a joint declaration to “recall their firm commitment to work together” to achieve the 1.5C temperature goal set out in the 2015 Paris agreement. As the world’s two biggest CO2 emitters, an agreement between the US and China is seen as critical in keeping the 1.5C temperature rise threshold within reach. Steps were agreed on methane emissions, the transition to clean energy and decarbonisation. Despite China being reluctant to tackle its domestic coal emissions in the short term, China does appear to recognise the need for urgent action. Organisations such as Greenpeace though welcoming the joint declaration warned that both countries needed to show greater commitment to reaching climate goals.
By and large, any commitments made by countries at COP26 will have to be self-policed. Only a few countries are making their pledges legally binding. It is hoped however that as momentum builds towards net zero, it will encourage countries to keep up.
The real value of meetings like COP26 is to try and encourage every country to stay involved. There would be little point in imposing sanctions on countries who don’t keep to their pledges as this could see them withdrawing from international agreements completely.
Though COP26 has by no means solved the climate crisis, it has turned out much better than many people had expected. Broadly speaking the conference can be seen as a success as the ultimate aim of ‘keeping alive’ the Paris Agreement global warming goal of 1.5C has been achieved. This does of course rather depend on what happens in the next year or two and all the way up to 2030.
Improving the short-term carbon cutting actions that are so important to hitting that target has become a lot easier with the Glasgow Climate Pact. Hopefully, those nations that are not doing their bit to hit 1.5C will come back with plans to increase cuts up to 2030 at next year’s COP, in Egypt.
Supermarket giant Morrisons has become the latest major company to bring forward its commitment to be net zero. It has pledged to achieve net zero emissions across its own operations by 2035, five years ahead of its previous ambition and 15 years ahead of the UK government target.
The move followed a similar announcement by Sainsbury’s perhaps spurred on by Metro.co.uk who recently called on the UK’s major supermarkets to do more to help save the planet telling them that it was “time to shelve” damaging environmental practices. Like Sainsbury’s, the chain had previously stated that its target was to reach net zero by 2040. Undoubtedly these announcements will pile pressure on other supermarkets to act especially at a time when the world is already focused on the UK hosting the Cop26 summit in Glasgow.
Morrisons has announced plans to work with more environmentally friendly farms in the UK, to use low carbon vehicles, reduce food waste and lower food miles.
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The company which was recently taken over in a £7bn deal has become the first supermarket to own and operate its own solar farm. The solar operation will stretch to 230,000 panels covering a near 125-acre site and generate energy to supply 20% of the power required by the stores involved. The panels will be installed on top of two thirds of Morrisons’s stores and sites by 2025 and are expected to produce over 100MW of electricity. The solar farm will be one of the biggest in the UK. It is also estimated that they will reduce their CO2 emissions by 21,000 tonnes per year which is equivalent to 42,000 return flights to Spain! The supermarket has confirmed that it has already installed over 5MW of solar power across 37 sites but that it now wants to accelerate the roll-out.
The supermarket is not only planning to cut its operational scope 1 and 2 emissions but has further committed to significantly reducing its value chain scope 3 emissions across its own brand supply chains by 30% over the next decade. Here’s an explanation of what’s involved with the different scopes:
Scope 1 covers direct emissions from owned or controlled sources.
Scope 2 covers indirect emissions from the generation of purchased electricity, steam, heating, and cooling consumed by the reporting company.
Scope 3 includes all other indirect emissions that occur in a company’s value chain.
Morrisons is already collaborating with its suppliers to cut its scope 3 emissions and is adopting several new initiatives in order to reduce its own emissions faster than previously anticipated.
These initiatives include switching to low carbon transport and offering EV charging; certifying its palm oil and soy are sourced without deforestation; being directly supplied by ‘net zero’ British farmers; reducing energy and using renewable energy; reducing food waste and food miles; ensuring zero deforestation in it supply chain and as already mentioned installing its own solar arrays on the roof of Morrisons stores to power the store appliances that require the most energy like fridges and freezers. Most of the power generated by the solar panels will be channelled straight into Morrisons stores and sites, rather than going into the National Grid.
The company has committed to reporting its progress every year and is working with the UN-backed Science Based Targets initiative to approve its new Scope 3 targets.
The company is ahead of its forecast as far as reducing its operational emissions are concerned. It promised a 33% cut in carbon emissions by 2025 and the current reduction has already reached 32% which means that almost 300,000 tonnes of CO2 have been saved since 2017. It also plans to help its suppliers audit and reduce their CO2 emissions. Morrisons has a robust carbon reduction plan rather than relying heavily on offsetting which will please environmentalists.
David Potts, CEO at Morrisons, said:
“As a supermarket we depend on a healthy planet to produce the goods we sell to customers. We’ve committed to removing carbon emissions, rather than setting a carbon neutral target that would depend heavily on offsetting. We’re also investing resources to bring forward our net zero commitment by five years which is extremely ambitious but very necessary. Our new solar farm and net zero carbon agriculture programme are just two ways we’ll achieve our commitment.”
The chain has partnered with the National Farmers Union and McDonalds to launch a School of Sustainable Farming at Harpers
Adams University in Newport, Shropshire with the aim of training farmers in low-carbon farming techniques.
Morrisons compares well with most of its rivals and has won praise from Greenpeace for its work on plastics. M&S and Co-op have also pledged to get to net zero by 2040.
Hugh Jones, the managing director of the Carbon Trust which worked with Morrisons to measures its emissions said:
“By aligning its goals with a 1.5°C future, Morrisons is ensuring it builds resilience firmly into its business model and will be positioned to thrive as the global economy moves to zero emissions.”
Traditionally, businesses have relied upon a linear model sometimes described as the ‘take-make-waste’ economy. Companies prioritised decisions that focus on cheapness, ease, and convenience. But with public perception shifting to a preference for sustainable and environmentally friendly thinking – there has been a push towards a circular economy.
Functionally, you can think of the circular economy in terms of three words: reduce, reuse, and recycle. It revolves around making better use of materials and resources to ensure that there is as little waste in the system as possible. And many businesses might assume that the move to a circular economy is simply well intentioned, but too expensive or difficult to implement. In fact, there is good evidence to the contrary.
Studies have suggested that a move towards a circular economy ‘could boost Europe’s resource productivity by 3 percent by 2030, generating cost savings of €600 billion a year and €1.8 trillion more in other economic benefits’. These kinds of cost savings are only one of many benefits of a shift to a circular economy for businesses.
Here we take a look at some of the key benefits of the circular economy for businesses, and why your businesses should consider making changes to the way it operates.
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A path to sustainability
Sustainability is often seen as a goal for businesses, but it is not always appreciated that this can actually be hugely beneficial for organisations, as well as being good for the environment.
Joe Hemsley-Rudd is the Business Development Manager at Countrystyle Recycling, who have recently expanded their operation into Cambridgeshire. He explains the path to sustainability is more viable than ever before: “Businesses are looking for a green alternative to waste management. With landfill diversion, promoting biodiversity and working with local organisations to minimise the impact of waste on the roads and local environment, Cambridgeshire has a very green future”.
There is good evidence to show that customers actually prefer to work with businesses that prioritise the environment and green alternatives. Some studies suggest that 4 of out 5 people prefer to work with companies that have a positive approach to environmental sustainability.
Interestingly, the circular economy can provide new opportunities for profit. Cutting costs associated with waste, reducing energy consumption, and potentially broadening the client base all offer possibilities to increase the profits of your business.
This is something that can often be overlooked – but lowering costs and improving revenue streams are two of the key ways to improve profits.
Moving towards digitisation
Taking things virtual is one of the most important aspects of a circular economy. The simple fact is that traditional, non-digital ways of working are typically far more resource heavy and intrusive, compared with digital.
Let’s take a couple of examples: first, moving to be a paperless office means investing in technology, doing so not only minimises paper usage and waste but also reduces the amount of physical space needed to store large amounts of documents and data. Second, allowing employees to work remotely can often massively reduce the carbon footprint of a business.
The important thing to state here is that digitisation – an important part of the circular economy – has a profoundly positive impact on areas like productivity and profitability. The encouragement on being a part of a circular economy turns out to be a huge advantage.
Reduced material costs
The traditional economy model puts a great deal of emphasis on the use of raw materials. One of the major issues here is that businesses are very rarely in control of the costs associated with sourcing these raw materials – ultimately, then, profits are at the mercy of often volatile raw material prices.
When you recycle a great deal of the materials you use, you are reducing your dependence on raw materials. This is just another example of where the circular economy model can end up saving your business a significant amount of money in the long term.
Many businesses think of a switch to a circular economy model and more sustainable practices as something that is beneficial for the environment. But it can actually have enormous tangible benefits to the company too. Don’t think of the move to this model as being an inconvenience – look to the advantages that it can have from both perspectives.
The UK government has committed to an ambitious target of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions to net zero by 2050 in order to help tackle climate change. Net zero is the point at which the country is taking as much of these greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere as it is putting in. As part of this end goal, the government recently made further pledges to cut emissions this decade by 68% compared to emissions in 1990 and by 78% by 2035.
However, despite the government’s target for all the UK’s electricity to come from clean sources by 2035, it is currently falling short of what will be required to achieve this. More funding and policy interventions will be needed to reach the net zero goal by 2050. Back in June, the Climate Change Committee (CCC), a group of experts that advise the government said that the UK only had credible policies in place to deliver about a fifth of the cut in emissions necessary for the net-zero goal.
The UK government are currently hosting COP26 in Glasgow where the signatories of the Paris Agreement are setting out their targets for reducing national and global emissions of the greenhouse gases that are causing climate change. It’s questionable whether the UK can claim the mantle of climate leadership based on current policy commitments. The emissions projections produced by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, show that greenhouse gas emissions are only expected to fall by 52% relative to 1990, by 2030.
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Successive governments have had relative success in reducing emissions from energy. They fell by 40% between 1990 and 2019 largely due to the closing of coal-fired power stations and more money being spent on solar, wind and nuclear energy.
The UK is leading the world in offshore wind. Presently it has capacity of about 10GW which the government has promised to quadruple by 2030. This increase would generate enough energy to power every home in the UK. Although this is achievable energy companies are concerned that the price, they are paid for wind energy is dropping rapidly which could squeeze their revenues and limit further investment. Another consideration is the need for there to be far more energy storage for the times when the wind does not blow.
British homes account for about 14% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions mostly due to gas boiler heating systems and poor insulation according to the CCC.
The UK government has committed to installing 600,000 heat pumps a year by 2028. Heat pumps transfer heat from the ground, air or water around a property into its heating system and cost upwards of £8,000.
In terms of numbers, about 35,000 heat pumps were installed in the UK in 2019 compared to about 1.7 million gas boilers being sold each year. There are 23.5 million gas boilers in the UK. The government has banned gas boilers from new builds from 2025. In its latest strategy the government has allotted £450m for the installation of heat pumps over 3 years. Grants of £5,000 will be available for homeowners which would be enough for 90,000 grants and that’s if you ignore any administrative costs. The CCC think the overall number installed each year should be higher than the 600,000 a year target and environmental experts are questioning how the government will meet this target anyway. The scheme is part of a wider package, worth £3.9 billion to decarbonise heat and public buildings.
Further to this the CCC has said that insulation rates vital to the decarbonisation of energy in homes are only about a third of what they need to be. The government scrapped the Green Homes Grant scheme earlier this year, which was put in place to help people with the cost of insulating their homes. The latest net zero strategy only mentions insulation once with support promised for low-income households.
Cars and taxis accounted for 16% of UK emissions in 2019 and in a bid to reduce this the government has said that no new petrol and diesel cars will be sold from 2030. After 2040 you will only be able to purchase zero emissions vehicles. Though the number of electric cars being sold is growing quickly only 10% of cars sold in 2020 were electric. This is up on 2.5% in 2018. The government has not brought in a scrappage scheme to help incentivise people to buy electric cars though there is a £2,500 grant available for fully electric cars that cost less than £35,000. There are 25,000 charging points in the UK, but the Competition and Markets Authority believes that 10 times that number could be needed by 2030. Huge growth in publicly accessible charging points is crucial for the move to electric cars.
To get people out of their cars the government has spent £338m on walking and cycling infrastructure in England with a view to building a “world class” cycling network by 2040.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, flying made up about 7% of overall emissions and shipping about 3%. There is very little known about how the government plans to reduce them and there are no targets for these sectors yet. The CCC would like to see a freeze on demand for flights and a strategy to cut emissions from freight transport, aviation and shipping. The government has placed no restrictions on people flying and has claimed that there is technology yet to be developed that will allow domestic flights to be almost emissions free by 2040, and international aviation to be near zero-carbon by mid-century.
The CCC has said that emissions from agriculture need to be reduced by 30% by 2035. In order to achieve this people would need to eat 20% less meat and dairy on average, more land would need to be used for trees and restored peatland and shifted from agricultural use and there would need to be less food waste. The government has yet to publish its food strategy.
The role trees play in removing carbon emissions from the atmosphere is very important. The government does have an ambitious plan to plant 30,000 hectares of trees a year by 2025. Though the government wants to treble planting, in England during this parliament it has a long way to go to meet this target.
Hydrogen is a low-carbon fuel that could be used for transport, heating, power generation or energy storage and the government would like to have a capacity of 5GW of hydrogen production by 2030. However, it’s early days for this industry and in fact there is almost no low-carbon production of hydrogen in the UK or globally now. The industry will need “rapid and significant scale-up” in the coming years if it is to be part of the solution. The government is promising a decision on the role of hydrogen in heating by 2026.
Carbon Capture and Storage
The government is highly reliant on new technologies, such as carbon capture and storage, to allow the continued use of fossil fuels without releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The ability to capture carbon and store it is essential for the UK to reach net zero by 2050. The government is planning to capture and store between 20 and 30 million tonnes of CO2 a year by 2030. The technology is still emerging and is very expensive. A project has been planned for North-East Scotland that can extract as much CO2 from the air as 40 million trees can. Two areas have also been chosen to have priority access to government funding for carbon capture projects. They are the Hynet Cluster covering the North-West of England and North Wales, and the East Coast Cluster in the Humber and Teesside. North-east Scotland will be the reserve cluster. Even if the government’s target is met, it will account for less than 3% of current emissions which is far short of the emissions cut required this decade.
The government has said that it will cut emissions from manufacturing by about two-thirds before 2035. Carbon capture and hydrogen will both play a big role, but substantial progress will be needed in these technologies. The government is also planning to cap the amount of emissions allowed by individual sectors each year, which will reduce gradually. It’s not clear how the scheme will prevent production and emissions shifting to other countries. The CCC has also advised the government that all gas-fired power stations where carbon is emitted and not captured should be phased out by 2035.
Over the past 12 months the government has released several strategies to reduce emissions in key sectors, including transport, industry and hydrogen production. Apart from phasing out petrol and diesel cars in 2030 there have been no new policies that would significantly reduce emissions announced or enacted. Given the limited timeframe between now and 2030, substantially more urgent action is needed if the UK is to live up to its mantle as climate leader.
The current COP26 global climate summit in Glasgow is believed to be crucial for climate change to be brought under control. Almost 200 countries are being asked for their plans to cut emissions, and it could lead to big changes in our day-to-day life.
The UK government has finally revealed its net zero strategy just in time for COP26, the United Nations Climate Change conference in Glasgow. The government has set out its policies and proposals for decarbonising all sectors of the UK economy in a bid to meet its aim of net zero by 2050.
Ministers say that the plan will create 440,000 jobs and “unlock” £90bn in investment in the next decade, most of it from private sector companies. The Net Zero review which was published at the same time by the Treasury says “the costs of global inaction significantly outweigh the costs of action” to tackle climate change. Despite this, experts and campaigners have warned that the UK’s current strategy falls short on ambition and is not backed up with adequate funding.
The plan includes measures designed to drive the transition to new technologies such as electric vehicles, heat pumps, carbon capture, hydrogen and sustainable aviation fuel. There are also plans to restore approximately 280,000 hectares of peat in England by 2050 and create at least 30,000 hectares of woodland per year across the UK in the next 2 to 3 years.
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The announcement of these new measures comes at a time of high energy prices and rising consumer bills. Against a background of uncertainty partly caused by the pandemic, the government is saying that the new investment will provide the UK with energy security and stable prices in the years to come.
Boris Johnson said:
“The UK’s path to ending our contribution to climate change will be paved with well-paid jobs, billions in investment and thriving green industries – powering our green industrial revolution across the country. By moving first and taking bold action, we will build a defining competitive edge in electric vehicles, offshore wind, carbon capture technology and more, whilst supporting people and businesses along the way.”
Households will be offered grants of £5,000 from April 2022 to help them with the installation of low-carbon heat pumps as part of a £3.9bn plan for decarbonising heat and buildings. However, just £450m is being put aside for the 3-year boiler upgrade scheme which amounts to the installation of 90,000 heat pumps in all. This new grant spells the end of the Renewable Heat Incentive, a financial incentive which has been in place since 2011. If you have the funds to cover the initial outlay for a heat pump this scheme is far more generous than the new grant as it is possible to recoup up to 80% of the cost of installing your heat pump over a period of 7 years as well as saving money on your energy bills. The Renewable Heat Incentive is scheduled to end in March 2022.
Many critics including scientists, green campaigners and even the government’s own supporters find the plan for heat pumps wholly inadequate.
Patrick Hall, a senior research fellow at the Conservative, thinktank Bright Blue said:
“The government’s stated aim is to install 600,000 heat pumps per year by 2028, so the maximum of only 90,000 pumps to be covered over the next three years falls far too short. The funding simply isn’t sufficient.”
The government’s new strategy also doesn’t address how the insulation of the UK’s draughty homes will be managed since the failure of the Green Homes Grant earlier this year.
There is an emphasis on carbon capture and storage in the blueprint as well as hydrogen which is controversial as some forms of gas come from fossil fuels. The government had said that it would focus on low-carbon forms generated with renewable energy.
The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has advised the government that all gas-fired power stations where carbon is emitted and not captured should be phased out by 2035.
Ministers have come under fire this year due to the delay in releasing the plan for net zero. The Committee on Climate Change (CCC), the independent statutory body that advises ministers on how to reach net zero, issued a warning this summer that measures were needed urgently as delay would raise their cost.
Katie White, Executive Director of Advocacy and Campaigns at World-wide Fund for nature, said:
“We are finally seeing the UK Government set out a positive vision for net zero, sending a clear signal to every sector of the economy on their role, but we are still lacking the full suite of policies and increased funding to close the gap between climate promises and action. The UK can’t afford to stand still, every climate promise must be kept. Future generations won’t forget, and they won’t forgive those who fail to act while there’s still time.”
So where is the money coming from to fund the green plans? Officials say that £26bn of funding will come from the public sector over the next spending review period, from 2021 to 2025, and more than £60bn is expected from the private sector. Another nearly £6bn is coming from overseas investment in green projects since Boris Johnson set out his 10-point plan last year.
However, the parallel document, the Net Zero Review shows that the government are likely to lose tens of billions in revenues from fossil fuel taxes as we switch to renewables and highlighted the risk that green policies may lead to the need for new taxes.
The promise of 440,000 new jobs has also come under close examination after sources at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) claimed the figure was not intended to mean all newly created jobs, but also those that would undergo a natural transition such as employees in car plants moving over to electric vehicles. The government has been reluctant to clarify how many new jobs it expects to create with the strategy, rather than jobs that transition.
Kevin Anderson, a professor of energy and climate change at the University of Manchester, told the Guardian:
“The UK’s net zero strategy falls far short of both its Paris and G7 temperature and equity commitments. Scour the associated spreadsheets and the numbers reveal a story of subterfuge, delusion, offsetting and piecemeal policies – all dressed up as a shiny new strategy for Cop26.”
Green campaigners distrust the speed, extent and funding of the new plans, pointing out the government’s continued support of the expansion of fossil fuel industries through new oil and gas licenses which is at odds with the government’s green promises.
Rebecca Newsome, the head of politics at Greenpeace UK said:
“This document is more like a pick and mix than the substantial meal that we need to reach net zero. Extra cash for tree planting and progress on electric vehicles doesn’t make up for the lack of concrete plans to deliver renewables at scale, extra investment in public transport, or a firm commitment to end new oil and gas licences.”
Responding to the announcement of the new strategy, Community Energy England, the sector body for energy co-ops and community energy businesses said that the plan contained no practical support measures to harness the potential of community energy.
“We heard that the same benefits will not be achieved if energy decarbonisation is only achieved via commercial, large-scale renewable projects. Due to the urgency of the climate crisis and the vital roles communities will have to play in reaching net zero, it is essential that a timely solution to support the long-term growth of community energy across the UK is found.”
“The Climate Change Committee’s Sixth Carbon Budget said unequivocally, ‘if the people of the UK are not engaged in this challenge – the UK will not deliver Net Zero by 2050… people need to be brought into the decision-making process and derive a sense of ownership of the Net Zero project.’
“Community energy is a key way of engaging people to ‘own’ the Net Zero project and is essential to achieving it.”
Community energy doesn’t go unmentioned. The government have at least declared an intention “to work in partnership with people and communities across the country”.
James Wright, policy officer at Co-operatives UK, has also called for more recognition for the community energy sector though he welcomed recognition in the strategy that SMEs will need help in the transition to net zero.
“Our latest research suggests that 40% of co-ops could benefit from grants to help develop and implement net zero plans while 20% would need investment support to finance their transitions. We are encouraged that the British Business Bank has been tasked with supporting SMEs to move towards net zero, but for this to be useful to co-ops the bank will need to adapt its current investment products to cater to the distinctive features of their model.”
Successive governments have to some extent been successful in cutting emissions from energy. Emissions fell by 40% between 1990 and 2019 as a result of closing coal-fired power stations and spending money on solar, wind and nuclear energy. The UK is a world leader in offshore wind. It currently has capacity of about 10GW, which the government has promised to quadruple by 2030. However, if we are to achieve this, there will need to be much more energy storage for times when the wind doesn’t blow.
It appears that there are many gaps in the government’s new strategy, and we can only hope that the measures that have been introduced are built upon and enhanced as soon as possible and before it’s too late.
Self-building is becoming increasingly popular in the UK and the potential to create an energy efficient home has become an important factor in this.
There has never been a better time than now to invest in carbon neutral technologies with renewable energy prices falling and incentives to go green. This is particularly true for self-build projects which are achieving the greatest results.
It is also worth bearing in mind that the UK government has ruled that gas boilers will be banned in all new homes built after 2025. The government’s “future homes standard” will require all new builds to have low-carbon systems, such as electric heat pumps. Any new homes built from this year on are expected to achieve a 31% reduction in carbon emissions to ensure industry is ready to meet the new standards by 2025.
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It’s invariably cheaper to merge renewables into a new build project than trying to retrofit into an older house. You have the advantage of being able to include renewable energy in your initial self-build planning. This means that you can install renewable energy systems that complement each other without running into restrictions as well as being able to choose the best options available without the need to compromise.
In order to build a sustainable home, you will need to consider what types of renewable energy systems you can use to power your home. Though most people want to save money, many will put a greater priority on cutting their emissions and lowering their carbon footprint. Fortunately, there are several renewable energy systems available which can both reduce your carbon emissions and cut your energy costs.
As heating accounts for most of our home’s energy demand and carbon emissions let’s start by looking at renewable heating options.
Air Source Heat Pumps
The most popular type of air source heat pump (ASHP) in the UK is the air-to water model which absorbs heat from the outside air into a liquid refrigerant at a low temperature. Using electricity, the pump compresses the liquid to increase its temperature. It then condenses back into a liquid to release its stored heat. They distribute heat via a wet central heating system and work much more efficiently at a lower temperature than a standard boiler system would. For this reason, they are more suitable for underfloor heating systems or larger radiators, which give out heat at lower temperatures over longer periods of time. ASHPs can still extract heat when air temperatures are as low as -15°Celcius!
The perfect place for an air source heat pump is outside either at the back or side of your property, ideally in a sunny spot. They require good air flow in order to work at their most efficient as they draw air in through the sides and the back of the unit and then allow cold air to exit from the front once the heat has been extracted. You will also need to bear in mind the space you require indoors for the compressor and a hot water cylinder.
On average the supply and installation of an air source heat pump will cost in the region of £8,000-£14,000. This is more expensive than many traditional heating systems, but the benefit to the environment is considerable and they are currently highly incentivised.
In 2011, the UK government launched the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), a scheme aimed at encouraging the uptake of renewable heat technologies amongst householders, through financial incentives.
To be eligible for RHI payments all renewable technologies must be:
listed as a Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) certified product
issued with a MCS certificate
Technologies that are covered by the domestic RHI are:
biomass (wood fuelled) boilers*
biomass pellet stoves with integrated boilers providing space heating*
ground to water heat pumps
air to water heat pumps
solar thermal panels (flat plate or evacuated tube only) providing hot water for your home
water source heat pumps can potentially be eligible for the Domestic RHI – they are included in the definition of a ground source heat pump.
certain cooker stoves and high temperature heat pumps may also be eligible
If you are eligible, you’ll receive RHI cash payments quarterly over seven years. The amount you receive will depend on a few factors, including the technology you install, the latest tariffs available for each technology and in some cases metering. After seven years of receiving RHI payments, a combination of these plus savings on your heating bills should see you making back a good chunk or in some cases all the initial investment.
Though ASHPs run on electricity they are cheaper to run than traditional heating sources as they should use less electrical energy than the heat they produce. They are generally very efficient and are known for their reliability and consistency. The efficiency of a heat pump is measured by their Coefficient of Performance (COP). That is the ratio of heat produced per unit of electricity consumed when pumping the heat. A COP value of 3 means that you get 3kWh of heat output for every 1kWh of electricity used to run the pump. The average annual heat demand for most homes in the UK is at 12,000 kWh. If you divide the annual heat demand by 3 kWh, the heat production per unit of electricity, your heat pump would use 4,000 kWh of electricity. The average price of a kWh in the UK is around 14.37p. The cheapest price per kWh is around 12p and the most expensive is 24p. Say your electricity was priced at £0.13p per unit your annual heating costs would be around £520.
When calculating the size of heat pump that you require for your self-build the general principle is the bigger the house, the bigger the heat pump you will need. A 100 sq. m house may require a 5kW air source heat pump. This will double to 10kW for 200 sq. m houses. You have the advantage of being able to ensure that your self-build is properly insulated which is vital if you are to enjoy the full benefit of an air source heat pump.
In order to reduce the cost of running your heat pump as well as your carbon emissions you can generate your own electricity by installing solar panels on your roof. The number of solar panels that you can install on your roof will determine the amount of electricity you can generate. More on solar panels to follow.
Another type of heat pump is the air-to-air model. While the system works to produce warm air that is then circulated by fans in order to keep your home nice and warm, it cannot heat your water at the same time. They can generally only be used for one function at a time. Air-to-air heat pumps are also not eligible for the UK government’s Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI).
Ground Source Heat Pumps
A ground source heat pump system (GSHP) harnesses naturally occurring heat from deep underground by pumping water through it in pipes. The heat pump increases the temperature and the heat produced is used to heat homes or hot water. Ground source heat pump systems are made up of a ground loop (a network of water pipes buried underground) and a heat pump at ground level. A mixture of water and anti-freeze is pumped around the ground loop and absorbs the naturally occurring heat stored in the ground. The water mixture is compressed and goes through a heat exchanger, which extracts the heat and transfers it to the heat pump. The heat is then transferred to your home heating & hot water system. A ground source heat pump can increase the temperature from the ground to around 50°C.
Installing a ground source heat pump system is perfect for self-builds as it involves a lot of soil upheaval in your garden or drilling deep down into the earth. Plenty of room is required for digging machinery and the installation process can be quite disruptive. How big the ground loop needs to be will depend on how big your self-build is and how much heat you need. The ground array for a GSHP can be either a horizontal grid of pipes which should be 1.2m below ground level or two or three vertical boreholes which are likely to be more than 70m deep.
Like ASHPs, GSHPs run on electricity, but they are even more efficient than air source heat pumps. For every unit of electricity used by the heat pump, three to four units of heat are captured and transferred. This means that a well installed ground source heat pump can be 300-400% efficient in terms of its use of electricity. Installing a GSHP can lower your fuel bills especially if you are replacing conventional electric heating or an old oil or LPG boiler.
We are all aware that currently electricity is one of the more expensive fuels particularly when you compare it to gas and oil. However, the highly efficient performance of GSHPs means they can convert electricity into 2-4 times as much heat. To give an example if you were paying 14.4/kWh of electricity, each thermal kWh of heat produced by a GSHP with a SCoP of 4 will cost 3.6/kWh. Because gas boilers aren’t 100% efficient this is potentially cheaper than gas. The reason for this is that average gas prices stand at 4.17p/kWh so for a gas boiler with an efficiency of 93% to deliver a full thermal kWh it would cost 4.46p/kWh which is more than a heat pump.
It isn’t cheap to install a GSHP, typically around £18,000 to £30,000 for a horizontal ground array or £25,000 to £40,000 for a borehole system depending on the size of system you choose. However, GSHPs are an attractive choice for self-builds because after you’ve made the initial outlay, the Renewable Heat Incentive payments are higher for GSHPs compared to ASHPs, meaning you will save more in the long term when opting for a ground source heat pump.
To create an energy efficient home, it is essential to ensure it is well-insulated as this will affect the performance of either an ASHP or a GSHP.
Solar panels also known as photovoltaics (PV), use the sun’s energy to create electricity and only require daylight not direct sunlight to work. They generally work better on a south facing roof at a pitch angle of about 30 or 40 degrees. You can fit panels on a flat roof, or on a frame on the ground but a sloping roof is usually the easiest. Though south facing is optimum, anywhere between east and west is possible. When designing your self-build, it’s important to ensure that your solar panel system is not going to be overshadowed by trees or other buildings as this will have a negative impact on the performance of your system. Space is a key consideration. A 4kW solar PV system, usually consists of 10 to 16 panels, and requires around 25m²-30 m² of roof space.
Solar PV is far more affordable today and can be paired with air source heat pumps or used as a standalone system to generate electricity for your household. A typical solar panel system supply and installation with 30m2 of panels will cost between £4,500 and £6,500 and is getting cheaper. If you include a renewable battery in the package the cost will rise to between £7,000 and £10,000. In recent years, the price of installing panels has decreased by 70%.
To make the most of the electricity generated while the sun is shining you would ideally be at home during the day to use appliances such as washing machines and dishwashers etc though you can of course set your appliances to come on during the day when you’re out and about. If you’re generating more electricity than you need during the day the surplus will be fed back to the National Grid for someone else to use. If you want to avoid having to use electricity from the Grid during the night you can invest in a special renewable battery system in order to store any unused energy generated during the day.
Alternatively, you can take advantage of the Smart Export Guarantee (SEG) a government scheme devised so that energy suppliers pay their customers for the renewable energy that they export to the grid. You will need to sign up to a SEG tariff with a company, otherwise you won’t get paid for your excess electricity and will export any you generate but don’t use to the National Grid for free.
Currently the cost of domestic solar electricity is around 8p per kWh which is a lot less than the 14.7p average domestic import cost from the grid which means you will definitely save money on your electricity bills. This cost has increased by an average 4.75% each year over the past decade. Just taking this fact into consideration will make installing solar PV extremely worthwhile as you will be protecting yourself against future increases in the cost of importing power from the grid.
The sun is an infinite renewable energy source which can also be used to heat your hot water using solar thermal systems. Solar thermal panels are ideal for a self-build project. They work by transferring the sun’s heat within special pipes on your roof via copper wires inside. There are two types of solar thermal, Flat plate collectors and Evacuated tubes. Flat plate collectors are heavier, take up more room, and can be cumbersome to install on certain roofs while Evacuated tubes tend to have lighter components which tend to be more fragile but are easier to manage on the roof. Solar thermal systems work best when sited on a roof facing between southeast and southwest, with little to no shading. The optimal angle for solar thermal is quite steep to maximise their performance throughout spring and autumn,
To decide if installing solar thermal is suitable for your build, you’ll need to consider how many occupants will be living in the property. Roughly speaking, you’ll need one metre squared of panel per person, but larger families who use more hot water than single occupants are likely to get the most benefit.
The installation of a typical domestic solar hot water system, with 4m2-6 m2 of panels will cost you between £2,500 – £5,000.
Solar thermal systems are eligible for RHI which means you will be able to get some of your initial layout paid back over 7 years.
In the summer, they should provide all the hot water you require for your home. In the winter, it’s a lot less, however over the course of a whole year, roughly 60% of your hot water needs could be provided by your solar thermal install.
Other than the initial installation cost and a little maintenance, there are no running costs with a solar water heating system as it’s free energy. Solar thermal systems are very low maintenance. Aside from an annual check by you, your system should only need professional servicing every 3-5 years.
Basically, the world is your oyster with a self-build project. You have a range of options to look at, some of which we’ve covered here, but none of the considerations of existing systems you would have with a traditional home.
A final consideration to take into account when making your self-build more sustainable is that your house value will ultimately rise too. With a super energy efficiency rating, your home will be more attractive to potential buyers, especially knowing that they won’t have to go through a ‘transition’ to clean energy later on as the work is already done. That means renewable energy is a true investment into your present and future wealth.