Category Archives: Finance

What went right? January to March 2017

From political upheaval to natural disasters, the first three months of 2017 have seen many challenges. But behind the headlines, there are signs of progress and possibility. Here are 20 of our favourites

  1. China is planning a national park three times larger than Yellowstone in the US, to help boost the wild population of giant panda. It will link 67 existing reserves to make mating easier
  2. A seven per cent annual drop in teenage suicide attempts among US high school students is linked to the legislation of same-sex marriage, say researchers
  3. More than 30 million people in Kerala, India, will given access to free WiFi after the state declared it a basic human right
  4. El Salvador became the first country in the world to ban metal mining
  5. Clean energy jobs in the US now outnumber jobs in oil and gas by five to one
  6. Denmark announced it has reduced food waste by 25 per cent in five years
  7. Experts revealed that 86 per cent of new power in Europe came from renewable energy sources in 2016 with wind energy overtaking coal as the largest form of power capacity
  8. The world’s largest fund manager, BlackRock, has warned it will vote out directors of companies who fail to address the risks posed to their businesses by climate change
  9. A teenager is on track to plant a trillion trees. Felix Finkbeiner, 19, who began his tree-planting quest when he was nine, founded environmental group Plant for the Planet. It has overseen the planting of more than 14bn trees in 130 countries and aims to plant 1tn – 150 trees for every person on Earth
  10. The value of UK ethical markets grew to almost double that of tobacco, new research suggests

Read on here for the other ten points; https://www.positive.news/2017/society/media/26491/went-right-jan-mar-2017/?mc_cid=e55ab60695&mc_eid=99a7ecd039

 

 

 

A good report from the Ecology Building Society

The Ecology Building Society is dedicated to improving the environment by supporting and promoting ecological building practices and sustainable communities.

It aims to build a greener society by providing mortgages for properties and projects that adopt environmental building practices and improve the energy efficiency of the UK’s building stock, funded through their range of simple, transparent savings accounts.

History

In 1980, during a conference of the Ecology Party (the forerunner of the current UK Green Party), a Yorkshire based solicitor complained of the difficulty he had in finding a mortgage for a property needing extensive renovation. Someone asked ‘Why don’t we start our own building society?’ In those days, a building society could be started with just £5,000. Ten people put in £500 each and some of those still save with the society. It began trading in 1981, from a tiny upstairs office in Cross Hills, West Yorkshire, just a few miles from the current headquarters’ eco-build offices (section above).

April AGM approaches

Several reports have been written about this year’s progress. The first lead was a link from the Business Desk (Yorkshire), which led to an article recording another year of solid results, which continues more than 30 years of uninterrupted profitability with record assets and savings balances for 2016.

For the year to December 31, 2016, it recorded assets of £173.1m (2015: £145.9m):

  • gross lending stood at £30.7m (2015: £42.1m)
  • savings balances rose to £163.1m (2015: £134.7m)
  • and net profit increased to £920,000 (2015: £881,000).

In 2016 Ecology lent more than £30.7m for sustainable properties and projects, with 94% of mortgages advanced on residential properties, including new builds, renovations and shared ownership, and 6% on community-led housing, including charities, housing co-operatives and community businesses. Chief executive Paul Ellis (left) said: “Our priority for 2017 is to continue to grow our mortgage book, particularly supporting more and more people to renovate their homes to a high environmental standard.

“Our financial success is based on sticking to our core principles: thinking long-term, putting our members first and focussing on our social and environmental impact”.

 

 

 

Rooftop solar power systems on India’s railway stations funded by coal tax

Saurabh Mahapatra is a young solar enthusiast from India who has reported on emerging solar power markets in several countries. On the Clean Technica website, he records that in  February’s union budget Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced that 7,000 railway stations will be fed with solar power as part of the Indian Railways’ mission to implement 1,000 megawatts of solar power capacity.

The minister stated that work to set up rooftop solar power systems at 300 stations has already started, and this number will increase to 2,000 stations.

According to data released by the Minister of Railways, India had 7,137 railway stations at the end of March 2015. The project developer will sign a long-term power purchase agreement with Indian Railways.

In addition to rooftop solar power systems (above, Udaipur station), Indian Railways earlier announced plans to launchtender for 150 megawatts (MW) of rooftop systems. IR entered into a partnership with the United Nations Development Programme to set up 5 gigawatts of solar power capacity.

Indian Railways has identified solar power resources in two states so far — Gujarat and Rajasthan — where 25 MW of rooftop and 50 MW of ground-mounted capacity is to be commissioned in the first phase of the program. In the second phase, 60 MW of rooftop and 660 MW of ground-mounted capacity will be installed in nine other states. During the third phase, 400 MW of rooftop and 3,800 MW of ground-mounted capacity will be installed in the rest of the country.

Sputnik International adds that to pay for these solar platforms, as well as other renewable energy sources, India has collected $1.8 billion in taxes on coal mined in India and imported from elsewhere. The revenue from the tax has also gone to cleaning drinking water and conserving forests. India has collected about $8 billion from the coal tax, about 40% of which has gone to the National Clean Energy Fund (NCEF). 

 

 

SciDev, Positive News and a Palestine Polytechnic bring good news

hebron7In 2009 Israeli physicists Elad Orian and Noam Dotan (below) set up an Israeli group Community Electricity and Technology Middle East (COMET-ME which became an Israeli-Palestinian NGO). It was initially set up to help people to make their own renewable power, funded in large part by the German foreign ministry.

The Palestinians living in this part of the West Bank are mainly off-grid and either have no electricity at all, or use expensive diesel generators if they can afford them. Area C, which spans two-thirds of the West Bank and is under Israeli control, is home to 300,000 Palestinians. For villages in the mountains of South Hebron — often no more than a few households living in caves in the hillside — Palestinians living in this part of the West Bank are mainly off-grid and either have no access to basic services is a daily struggle. According to Israeli-Palestinian NGO Comet-ME, the Israeli authorities refuse to provide energy to Palestinians as part of a systematic campaign to push them off their lands, into Areas A and B. But these arid, windswept lands are perfectly suited to solar and wind energy

As work proceeded, from 2012 onwards, several disturbing reports came of threats to this work. The following paragraph is typical of such reports.

2013 HEBRON (Ma’an) — Israeli forces on Sunday demanded Palestinians remove 10 solar panels from their rooftops in the Yatta region south of Hebron, a local group said. The team often had to erect turbines at night to avoid confrontation with the Israeli authorities who previously halted installations.

An escalation from state threats in 2014 was widely reported: settlers destroyed solar panels and olive trees in the West Bank on Thursday, local news agencies reported. A group of settlers from the illegal outpost of Mitzpe Yair attacked and smashed solar panels belonging to a Palestinian community in the south Hebron hills, locals told Ma’an news agency.

hebron-1

An off-grid solar system in Sha’eb el Buttom, a village in the South Hebron hills. In the background is an illegal Israeli settlement that Israel has fully connected to the grid. 

Positive News and SciDev report that, more recently, persistence appears to have won the day, bringing renewable energy to around 2,000 people in 24 villages in the southern West Bank. In 2015 Comet-Me summarised a few years’ work with people in South Mount Hebron to set up small-scale renewable energy systems based on these technologies. These have improved lives and livelihoods by providing clean energy for refrigeration, cooking, making butter and cheese, and communications.

hebron-2Hajeh Nuzha pours milk into a new butter churner, powered by renewable energy. Electric churners slash the time it takes women to make butter and cheese — one of the staple livelihoods here.

Many of the villagers in the Mount Hebron hills live in caves such as this one in Tuba. Family incomes have grown by as much as 70% since the electric goods were introduced.

hebron-3Women also use renewable energy to run laundry machines, such as this one in a home in Sha’eb el Buttom. Electricity has “revolutionised the lives of women”, Orian says, because they tend to do household tasks and take care of butter and cheese production.

As many Palestinians in Mount Hebron had to rely on rainwater harvesting, Comet-ME has built clean water systems for the communities — 70% of whom, the UN reports, are not connected to the water network. In some villages, people use as little as a fifth of the World Health Organisation’s recommended level. Because this often fails to meet their needs, families have paid high prices for extra water brought in by tanker. To reduce this burden, Comet-ME supplies equipment to improve access to clean water. Here the team are installing meters to monitor water use for new water systems.

hebron6

A pump and priming tank on top of a cistern in which rainwater is stored. Pipes carry water from the cistern to homes, where taps are installed. Before reaching the tanks, the water goes through particle filters to clean it. The new systems mean that children no longer have to carry heavy loads of water to their homes.

In July 16 the Palestine Energy Ministry granted licensing and permits for its first large-scale solar power plant near the city of Hebron, according to the two companies involved in the development. To develop the 5.7MW PV project, US-owned, Holland-based solar power firm Gigawatt Global formed a joint venture with Jordan and Palestine-based energy engineering and technology solutions company Rack Tech. As reported by Saur Energy International, Fadi Bkirat, Rack Tech founder and CEO said, “This project really is very important at this time because of the shortage of electricity in the vicinity. Also it will be a good way for employment for the Palestinian engineers. It will be very good for the country.”

An MRES course is now being offered at Palestine Polytechnic University in Hebron. The Master of Science in Renewable Energy & Sustainability is a project of eight universities, three from European countries & five from Mediterranean countries, with financial support from the European Union (EU) under the umbrella of TEMPUS projects. It aims to establish a program that will effectively utilize the renewable energy resources and help to support the sustainability of these sources and local environment. 

 

 

 

 

Cheaper batteries for domestic solar energy and grid-scale storage

As disturbing news piles up, so does news of the sort of positive developments covered on this site. Today’s post was going to be about the news that “as of the first of January this year, all public transport trains in the Netherlands are being powered by renewable energy” (wind) first brought to me by Futurism.

elon-muskThat subject is being set aside as it has been very widely covered in the MSM. So instead we turn to specific news about the work of Elon Musk (left), a co-founder of PayPal who is now chairman of Tesla Motors.

The FT reports that householders are starting to buy more battery storage systems as costs come down and consumer interest is rising in Tesla, the electric car company founded by Elon Musk, which is also making the Powerwall domestic battery.

“Tesla’s market entry has led to a surge of interest from the media and public alike in a way that rarely happens in the energy sector,” the UK Renewable Energy Association said in a report published earlier this week.

In February last year the Guardian reported that Mark Kerr became the first British owner of a Tesla Powerwall. Kerr and his family tend to be out at work and school when the sun is shining and the 16 solar panels on the roof of their home in Cardiff are producing power. The excess is fed into the grid and they make a return on it but they are not able to use the power from their panels.

powerwall-battery

 

 

 

 

 

However, from now on, energy produced but not used during the day will charge the Powerwall and provide them with the energy they need when they’re at home and their lights, music centres, computers, televisions and myriad other devices need feeding.

Jonathon Porritt – who recently wrote about the relatively low prices of solar tiles produced by Musk – gives a ‘wee glimpse’ into the transformative impact of cheaper storage technologies, on this video of a presentation by Tony Seba which focusses on their use in cars..

While cheaper battery storage offers potential benefits to renewable power stations and homeowners, industry analysts said that grid-scale storage could also produce large savings by reducing the need for new power stations and transmission lines.

News of others working on battery storage systems (Agassi and Khosla) may be seen here: http://www.economist.com/node/10766460.

 

 

 

WEF: installing new solar panels is now cheaper than comparable investment in coal, natural gas, biomass or fracking

michael-corenThe bearer of this week’s good tidings is Yale graduate Michael J. Coren (left) of Quartz, which is designed by its experienced founders to deliver information primarily to users of tablet and mobile then to website readers.

To summarise: the World Economic Forum (WEF) reported in December that the renewable energy future has arrived – solar and wind is now the same price or cheaper than new fossil fuel capacity in more than 30 countries.

Coren reports that Michael Drexler, who leads infrastructure and development investing at the WEF, issued a statement adding that renewable energy is not only a commercially viable option, but a compelling investment opportunity with long-term, stable, inflation-protected returs.

wef-re-coverIn 2016, utilities added 9.5 gigawatts (GW) of photovoltaic capacity to the US grid, making solar the top fuel source for the first time in a calendar year, according to the US Energy Information Administration’s estimates. The US added about 125 solar panels every minute in 2016, about double the pace last year, reports the Solar Energy Industry Association.

But global investment in renewable energy still lags behind levels needed to avoid potentially catastrophic global warming, according to the United Nations. Global renewable investment last year was $286 billion, or 25% of the $1 trillion goal set by nations at the Paris climate change accord.

As prices for solar and wind power continue to fall, two-thirds of all nations will reach the point known as “grid parity” within a few years, without subsidies. Renewable energy technology, especially solar and wind, has made great gains in efficiency in recent years with advances in manufacturing processes and economies of scale considerably reducing production costs

Solar photovoltaic systems have seen a reduction of up to 22% for every doubling in production capacity and price compression of 80% since 2009, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) citing EPIA, 2011a and Kersten 2011. Its working paper is part of a set of five reports on solar photovoltaics, wind, biomass, hydropower and concentrating solar power that address the current costs of these key renewable power technology options. Wind turbine prices have fallen by more than 30% over the past three years. Solar is projected to fall to half the price of electricity from coal or natural gas within a decade or two. That milestone has already been reached in some places. In August, energy firm Solarpack contracted to sell solar electricity in Chile at just $29.1 per megawatt hour, 58% below prices from a new natural gas plant.

grid-parity2-2015See clearer version here: https://www.db.com/cr/en/concrete-deutsche-bank-report-solar-grid-parity-in-a-low-oil-price-era.htm

It is estimated that more than 30 countries have already reached grid parity without subsidies, and around two thirds of the world should reach grid parity in the next couple of years. If electricity costs were to rise by 3% annually, 80% of the global market would reach grid parity in the next couple of years, according to Deutsche Bank. A search produced the Deutsche Bank 2015 report: Solar grid parity in a low oil price era and the map above. Countries that have already reached grid parity include those in which demand is rising at a fast pace (e.g. Chile, Mexico) or insolation is high (e.g. Brazil, Australia).

Dolf Gielen, Director, Innovation and Technology, stresses in the preface to the Irena report that though in recent years there have been dramatic reductions in renewable energy technologies’ costs as a result of R&D and accelerated deployment policy-makers are often not aware of the latest cost data.

Many will share his hope that presenting this data will inform the current debate about renewable power generation and assist governments and key decision makers to make informed decisions on policy and investment.

 

 

 

There are plenty of brilliant plans for getting us moving without trashing the planet

George Monbiot asks: “So why aren’t they happening?”

In the Guardian he described and denounced the current inefficient and polluting transport system.

traffic

“If you controlled the billions that are spent every year, privately and publicly, on the transport system, and your aim was to smooth the passage of those who use it, is this what you would do? Only if your imagination had been surgically excised.

“Even in a small, economically mature, densely-populated nation like this one, where change is easy, we’re still driving in the wrong direction.

“The simplest, cheapest and healthiest solution to congestion is blocked by the failure to provide safe transit. Last year the transport department crowed that it could cut £23m from its budget, as a result of an “underspend on the Cycle Cities Ambition budget”. Instead of handing this money back to the Treasury, it should have discovered why it wasn’t spent and ensured that it doesn’t happen again”.

So here’s a novel idea: how about a 21st Century transport system for the 21st Century? Here is a summary of the excellent constructive advice he gave:

  • aggregate people’s requests via a smartphone app,
  • use minibus services to collect people from their homes and deliver them close to their destinations while minimising their routes.
  • build a network of such safe, pleasant and convenient walking and cycling paths (like those in Hamburg) that no one with the ability to do otherwise set a date by which no new car is manufactured unless it’s electric,
  • set up household charging points, allowing people to plug in without having to take their car off the road,
  • introduce a scrappage payment to replace old cars with no car at all: it would take the form of public transport tokens,
  • facilitate ‘walking buses’ to school: parents take turns to lead a crocodile of children,
  • organise local drop-off points, so that parcel companies don’t clog our streets, and we never miss deliveries,
  • provide bikes to hire at train and bus stations,   synchronising bus and train timetables,
  • reopen old rail lines which were closed in the mistaken belief that train travel was on the way out and build new lines to bridge the gaps,
  • bring train services under public control and use the money now spent on road building to make tickets affordable for everyone,
  • implement the brilliant plan proposed by Dr Alan Storkey: for an intercity bus network faster and more convenient than car travel, using dedicated lanes on the motorways and interchanges at the motorway junctions and
  • build new settlements around public transport hubs – light rail, tram and electric bus systems – rather than around the car.
  • (Ed: place more bulky freight on our waterways.

What is difficult about any of this? What technological barriers stand in the way? None. Transport is among the simplest of our problems to solve.