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UN Urges The World To Double Investment Into Green Energy

The Paris climate talks in December have been hailed by most as a great breakthrough in reaching global agreement on reducing our reliance on energy produced from fossil fuels. The talks agreed to bring nations together to find ways of holding global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius. Whilst this is undoubtedly good news now comes the hard part – to find ways of producing our energy needs from renewable and green sources to match the goal of the agreement.

The agreement on 2 degrees was reached by 196 governments but it also set an aspiration agreement of 1.5 degrees and to produce a net-zero carbon economy in the second half of the century.

However, it is widely recognised that even if all the governments involved in the Paris agreements met their pledges then this would not be enough to hit the agreement’s goal, only achieving a slow-down of global warming to 2.7 degrees.

In the light of this recognition the UN has upped the ante in the issue and called for global business leaders to double their investment into solar and wind energy to £400bn by the year 2020 in order to augment and support investment from governments.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said that there needs to be a drastic rethink of our reliance on fossil fuel-based energy production otherwise the agreement reached in Paris would quickly become meaningless. At a recent meeting of UN investors he said that

“I call on the investor community to build on the strong momentum from Paris and seize the opportunities for clean energy growth. I challenge investors to double – at a minimum – their clean energy investments by 2020.” To achieve this, he continues, would require investors to make the shift from “aspiration to action”.

Rachel Kyte, the UN special envoy for sustainable energy, backed Ki-moon by stating that “We had this extraordinary agreement in Paris, we have got points on the horizon. Now we have got to get down to the nitty gritty of long term development of the low carbon economy and that is a lot less sexy in some respects than things negotiated last year.”

It is estimated by the International Energy Agency that the cost of switching from high-polluting power plants to solar and wind electricity generation in order to meet the commitments made at the Paris agreement will cost approximately $16tr by 2030. However, it is argued by some, that this figure is based on the current costs of solar and wind generation infrastructure. These costs have been coming down rapidly for some time as a result of research and investment and look to continue to do so for the foreseeable future if investment is increased further. If this happens then the $16tr figure could well be an overestimation.

Mindy Lubber, President of Ceres, a non-profit organisation advocating for sustainability leadership, said that

“ultimately, global investment portfolios need to shift far more capital to low-carbon business activity and away from risky high-carbon sectors that may perform poorly in the years ahead.”

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What Effect Does the Paris Deal Have on the UK?

The recent Paris Deal that was agreed after the Paris climate change conference saw almost 200 countries agree to keep global temperatures to under 2 degrees Celsius and to aim for a warming of just 1.5 degrees. So what does this mean for the UK and how should the government be changing its policies to comply with this?

Climate Change Act

Some within the government were quick to point out after the deal that the figures agreed were much the same as those already in place due to the Climate Change Act. The 2008 Act set a long term target with regards to rising temperatures and instituted five year review periods to see how the progress was going.

As part of the Act, the UK committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050 based on the levels in 1990. However, forecasts are already showing that the target for the mid-2020s period isn’t going to be met.

Changes needed

According to one former advisor to Gordon Brown, now an advisor to New Climate Economy, the new international deal may force the government to look at toughening their targets. Michael Jacobs thinks that the new advisory body, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) need to examine the impacts of the new agreement and the implications of a 1.5 degree scenario.

At the moment, the government says that changes aren’t needed as the UK’s carbon budgets are working well. But the recent changes in policies with regards to renewables could have a negative effect on this. Cut backs on subsidies paid for onshore wind farms is one area highlighted as well as recent changes to the payments made to homeowners who are generating power from solar panels.

Opposition figures are already calling for the Chancellor to roll back these and a number of other changes made to renewables that could have a negative impact on the industry. Others say that the major governments around the world are putting policies in place quickly to start achieving what they agreed in Paris and the UK needs to follow suit or risk falling behind.

The CBI have also said that the government needs to provide a ‘stable environment’ that will allow the development of renewable sources of energy that are more affordable and secure. It does also back plans for new gas plants that somewhat contrast with the overall approach required.


Energy Minister Lord Bourne defended the cuts to the subsidies for solar power by saying that subsidies are needed to ‘get things moving initially’ but that no-one wants to be paying them ‘forever and a day’. He added that what was required was a level playing field and this was the position that the government was creating while gaining the ‘moral authority’ to talk about cutting emissions.

Pressure is strong to turn this moral authority into clear decarbonisation policies that will allow the UK to move forward in renewables and be able to fulfill what it agreed to in Paris.

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Investing in Solar Panels is Still a Good Option!

The beginning of 2016 has been bad for renewables, particularly solar which has seen subsidies through the Feed in Tariff cut by 65%. This has led to many in the industry to complain that there will be major job losses when fewer customers decide to have panels installed.

But are solar panels still a good investment for the ordinary man or woman in the street?

The simple answer is that solar panels don’t give as big a return as they did before the Feed in Tariff came down in January. This fell from a healthy 12.92 pence to 4.39 pence which means essentially that it will take much longer to pay off any loan or savings investment and the likelihood of making a clear profit out of the Feed in Tariff is pretty small. This was, no doubt, a huge driving force in people deciding to have solar PV installed in homes and small offices across the UK.

There are, however, a number of other matters to take into consideration when installing solar panels.

First of all, you are going to benefit from cheaper electricity bills and you will be protected from the increasing rise in prices that utilities may charge in the future (which unfortunately for us all, is a certainty).
Your investment will be amplified the more the price of electricity rises and this is expected to be around 2.6% each year for the next fifteen years.
The cost of installing solar panels has also come down dramatically, especially with the Feed in Tariff that was in operation. While this fall might not continue so dramatically in the future, the price of solar PV is still good value.

According to the Solar Trade Association, installing panels provide a good rate of return despite the recent cuts:

“The calculations suggest solar panels offer a higher return rate than most savings accounts. It added that a competitively priced system, costing around £6,400 could see the initial investment paid back in around 13 years.”

The Government has come under criticism for its axing of the subsidies and the impact that it may well have on the industry as a whole. Even before the cut went into effect on the 1st of January this year, a number of solar PV companies had gone to the wall.

Solar PV is not the only technology that is about to experience less than sunny times. Solar thermal, which has been helped by the Renewable Heat Incentive, is set to be taken off the list sometime next year, causing more consternation in the industry. This is another area where the Government believes that the technology can survive on its own and that people will continue to buy solar thermal even with no incentives in place. Many in the industry disagree and complain that they are being unfairly singled out.

According to the Guardian who broke the story recently:

“Discriminating against this globally important technology in the UK would send a terrible message to householders, and it would have very serious ramifications for the British solar thermal sector.”

While subsidies continue to be withdrawn, the installation of solar PV and solar thermal is still taking place but at a slower pace. 340 MW have been installed since the start of 2016 and in the UK we just passed the 10 GW capacity mark. There are some who believe that innovations such as storage batteries which could make the prospect of home energy production more viable will give the industry a further boost in the years to come. But the technology is still in the early stages and may come too late to save many companies.

The truth is that solar PV and solar thermal in the UK are both facing difficult times as they adjust to the new subsidy landscape. That doesn’t mean they are unattractive investments, though returns may be slower in coming.

Find out more about installing solar technologies here.

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Is the Swansea Tidal Lagoon Dead in the Water?

At an estimated cost of £1 billion, the tidal lagoon in Swansea was set to be one of the most ambitious renewable energy projects in the UK since the green agenda began.

Just 10 months ago, things were certainly looking bright. After the Conservative government got in without a coalition to hinder them, Amber Rudd pushed through planning permission pretty quickly and it was hoped that construction would commence in August at the earliest. For many in the renewable industry it was a sign of the bright future to come.

That was about as good as it got for the company in charge of the Swansea Tidal Lagoon. By the turn of last year, there were serious concerns on investment, the cost of the installation when compared to the amount of energy produced, and the need for substantial subsidies to support the venture.

It all seemed to gather momentum far too quickly, causing the Government to back track and call for a review, that time honoured particular way of throwing something into the long grass.

Subsidy Cuts for Renewables

As we know, the Government has been a little harsh on subsidies, cutting them for vital renewable sources such as solar. This change in support has not only sent shock waves through the industry but made investment by outside companies far less attractive.

With the current uncertainty, the tidal lagoon has found it increasingly difficult to bring the right investors on board. From full throated support that saw the project included in the Tory manifesto, the Government has taken a step back and is trying to decide whether the level of subsidy required is appropriate and deliverable.

This February the owners of the project said that a decision needed to be reached shortly if they were to avoid running into severe problems. There are a number of knock on effects from the delay too. The steel work at Porth Talbot was looking to the lagoon construction to save its industry and now faces laying off over nearly 700 staff if there are more delays.

Many outsiders agree that the expected subsidy for the tidal lagoon is too steep for the Government to seriously consider and that the project is doomed. The asking price was some £168 per MW produced over the next 35 years. Compare that to the £95 per MW for the much maligned Hinckley Nuclear Power Station and you begin to see the problem.

Environmental Impact

Despite the speed with which the project was pushed through last year, there have since been concerns raised about the environmental impact of building the tidal lagoon. This is a huge construction that is going to change the coastline of Swansea and Natural Resources Wales feel that the effects of the lagoon, including potential flooding and the damage to wild life, have not yet been adequately addressed.

Cornwall’s Super Quarry

The building materials for the tidal lagoon need to come from somewhere and the company were hoping to create a large quarry on the Lizard Peninsula in Cornwall which would have shipped millions of tons of rock to the site in Swansea Bay. Unfortunately, a recent court case has put this at risk as locals have protested again at the lack of environmental assessment for such a project. The local council came in for damning criticism over their illegal attempt to push planning permission for the quarry when the proper procedures had not been followed.

This means in essence that the tidal lagoon doesn’t have the raw material to start construction even if it were granted permission to go ahead tomorrow.

It is unlikely that anything is going to happen anyway until the Government have finished their review and this is not due until August. There are serious concerns that the project may well fall into the sea before then. According to Liberal leader Tim Fallon:

“I said that the tidal lagoon in Swansea Bay is a litmus test of this government’s position on green energy, and the environmental and economic case for this project is clear. I am concerned that this review could just be used as a smokescreen to try and justify even more cuts to the green energy sector.”

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Is the Climate Deal Worth the Paper?

After two weeks of discussion, drafts, objections and tweaking, we finally ended up with what many were calling ‘an historic’ climate deal in Paris. With nearly 200 hundred countries involved and everyone from presidents and ageing action heroes putting their four pennies worth on the table, the fact that any agreement at all was reached is a miracle in itself.

Even Al Gore was nearly moved to tears.

But do these 40 odd pages of promises and wishes add up to much more than a hill of beans? While there has been a commitment to keeping global temperatures to well below 2° C and funding for poorer developing countries to help meet their obligations, much of what is in the agreement is voluntary and whether countries can keep to it has got some people worried.

There are some legally binding parts to the agreement such as each country submitting their emissions reductions targets and these being regularly reviewed, but how it is all going to operate in reality still remains to be seen.

Some, of course, have said that it is not an ideal solution but it’s a good start, something that can be worked on in years to come. The problem is that governments have had twenty years of talks and arguments to get this right and we are fast reaching the tipping point, when whatever we try to do will have no effect anyway. Many observers think we are past that stage already.

Others have been very vocal in their condemnation of the agreement. Nick Dearden from Global Justice said:

“It’s outrageous that the deal that’s on the table is being spun as a success when it undermines the rights of the world’s most vulnerable communities and has almost nothing binding to ensure a safe and liveable climate for future generations.”

The draft agreement in Paris was originally twice as long, containing as it did potential amends to the work. This included such time honoured words and phrases such as ‘well below’ and ‘pursue efforts’ in neat and seemingly unending brackets before and after various measures. Most of this wording gives everyone potential wiggle room, particularly if home circumstances change. For instance: One promise is stopping the rise of heat trapping greenhouse gas emissions which should be done ‘as soon as possible’.

Having said that, this agreement is something that all the countries present have felt they could sign, which was the main sticking point in the past. It’s better to have a working document everyone is happy with rather than one that half are not prepared to sign, even if there are reservations.

Key Points of the Paris Agreement

To ensure global warm stays well below 2°C and to work to limiting this to 1.5°C. The agreement says also that at some point after 2050 levels of manmade emissions should have reduced to a level that is easily absorbed by oceans and seas.
Countries have all agreed to set 5-yearly targets for the reduction of greenhouse gases though developing populations may well find this more difficult than developed ones. Most countries have already put forward their estimates for 2020 so we’ll soon see whether it works as a way of reducing global emissions.
Governments have committed to reviewing their targets though there isn’t much pressure on them to do so if they are lagging behind. It is ‘hoped’ that they will review and then make the necessary changes to improve performance.
If a country doesn’t meet its emission cutting target, there will be no penalty imposed but all governments have agreed to transparency. Again, there is more flexibility for developing countries (one of the sticking points that China wanted agreement to).
Developing countries will need finance to help them to meet their targets and richer governments have pledged some $100 billion annually to cover this but the exact amount for each country is not stated.
The main area that smaller countries and islands were concerned about was compensation for loss and damage due to climate change. It was a sticking point for the US who were worried about claims that could get out of control. The issue was addressed in the climate change document but removed the concept of liability or compensation on any particular country.

Whether all this makes a difference remains to be seen. We may all look back at the Paris Climate Change Agreement in a few years’ time and hail it as a truly remarkable document that helped change the world. It could lead to real changes in our emissions, how we approach developments such as renewables, and finally begin to drag back the effects of climate change.

Or we could be looking back and highlighting the last two weeks in Paris as another moment when world governments failed to fulfil their duty, failed human kind, and, more importantly, failed the planet. In all though, the preliminary response from most of the world is that this has been a pretty solid success for the 200 countries that took part. According to Al Gore it’s a monumental moment:

“Today, the nations of the world concluded a bold and historic agreement, clearly demonstrating that the global community is speaking with one voice to solve the climate crisis. Years from now, our grandchildren will reflect on humanity’s moral courage to solve the climate crisis and they will look to December 12, 2015, as the day when the community of nations finally made the decision to act.”

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Are Biomass Boilers the Renewable of the Future?

There is an undeniable buzz around the renewables sector this year. We have seen positivity in renewables growth in recent years, and in particular, the growing use of biomass technology in homes and community projects. You’re probably thinking to yourself, ‘Biomass boilers are great for the environment’. We agree with you there – to an extent. By far they are the most energy efficient and low carbon boilers available on the domestic market, but there are a few drawbacks to large-scale usage.

Nevertheless, a biomass boiler installed in a home could potentially save up to 40% on standard oil/gas bills every year. It is a tantalising offer for any consumer, and when the added benefit of its renewable status is involved, can consumers afford not to invest? With government targets required to be met, there may be a revolutionary change in the way we produce heat in our homes.

Meeting Government Targets One Boiler at A Time

The UK Government has had a target of achieving an 80% carbon reduction by the year 2050 through the Pathways scheme. Since then, there have been positive movements for renewable companies and consumers as to the popularity of renewable means of energy production, with renewables seeing a 16.3% increase in use in the UK between 2013 – 2014. In Scotland alone, the Scottish Government has reported 13.1% of all energy in the country came from renewables, with 2.7% of heat energy created by renewable resources – increasing from 0.4% in 2008.[1]

Of all renewable heat energy, 90% came from biomass. With targets for 11% of all energy to be renewable, there is work to be done – but there is hope for a brighter future. Biomass’s use in heat production is undoubtedly starting to set alight the renewable industry. With the potential to create up to 4,800kWh of heat energy per tonne of wood pellets, there are opportunities for consumers and businesses to take real advantage of their carbon fuel emissions and promote renewables as the way forward.
Savings for The Environment and Consumers

When it comes to choosing the right renewable energy source, the amount of carbon reduction and energy generated are taken into account. A home looking for savings of both carbon and money will find that up to £580 per year could be saved on their energy bills. An attractive incentive to any consumer is also the fact that replacing a boiler with biomass can save up to 7.5tonnes of carbon dioxide production per year (Depending on size and scale of the heating system).

The promotion by the government of the Renewable Heat Incentive has also seen a positive trend towards renewables with monetary incentives for consumers and businesses. With the potential to earn back the majority of the installation costs over seven years while contributing to a cleaner environment, there is little stopping consumers today from changing – and that is something positive to take.
The Environmental Cost of Biomass

We cannot deny the positive impact on the environment our reductions in carbon production will have. Greenhouse gases are at an intolerably high level, and it is our responsibility to take action to prevent the worst natural disasters at bay. However, just because biomass reduces carbon emissions does not mean they are entirely clean. Far from it.

Biomass boilers are often using wood chips and pellets as suitable fuel. Organic material is renewable, with growth capable of new resources time and time again, and the ashes from production can be used as fertiliser. Yet, there is one thing people are missing. Consider how long it takes to grow a tree. Decades, maybe, before it is ready to be used in wood chip production. If demand is on the increase for biomass, what does this mean in terms of costs for wood?

Then we have to consider the amount of fuel that is used in the transportation of biomass fuels to and from locations. According to CarbonBrief, the UK is the “the world’s largest wood pellet importer, with a 28% share of the global market.” Considering the UK produces very little of its own wood pellets, the price on the environment from transportation could ultimately level the reduction in carbon that was meant to be saved and bring it straight back through burning fossil fuels such as petroleum. Are we truly saving, or just adding to the problem? We may have to wait for the answers to that question.
Taking Control of Carbon Emissions

It is no surprise that there is still a long way to go for the government to meet targets set for 2050. That being said, positive trends towards renewables are beginning, and the potential for biomass to be used on an industrial scale is one that has not gone unnoticed.

Looking to the future, there is nothing to suggest biomass boilers will not be the renewable of our future. Maybe in ten or twenty years we will see more use for biomass fuels across a range of industries and transportation to cut costs across all areas. Only time will tell, however, if our wood supplies can stand up to the pressure.