Category Archives: Finance

Fair Isle’s community group gains support for extending its renewable energy supply

Fair Isle was bought by the National Trust for Scotland in 1954 from George Waterston, the founder of the bird observatory. It is 24 miles south of Shetland, surrounded by rich fishing waters. Most of the islanders live in the crofts on the southern half of the island (below).

Fair Isle’s fifty-five residents hope to develop the three-mile long island’s infrastructure to sustain and attract more people to live here in the most remote place in the British Isles, inhabited since the Bronze Age. Its distinctive knitwear has a worldwide reputation – see: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/explore/fair-isle-knitting-patterns/

As powerful winds mean that Fair Isle is often plunged into darkness, with blackouts usually striking at the most inopportune moments, a community group, the Fair Isle Electricity Company, is leading plans to install three 60kW wind turbines, a 50kW solar array and battery storage. This scheme will bring round-the-clock electricity to the island and help to bolster its dwindling population.

Existing wind-power will be extended to the north of the three-mile-long island, enabling grid connections to the water treatment works, the airstrip, North Haven harbour and the Fair Isle Bird Observatory, after securing £2.6 million in funding.

  • Earlier this year the company was awarded capital funding of more than £1 million through the Low Carbon Infrastructure Transition Programme (LCITP).
  • Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) agreed to contribute £250,000 to the renewable energy project
  • There was a lottery grant of £600,000.
  • The scheme has received £250,000 from Shetland Islands Council
  • and £245,000 from the National Trust for Scotland (which owns Fair Isle).
  • Scottish Water gave £208,000.
  • The island’s bird observatory donated £100,000.
  • The Fair Isle Electricity Company is contributing £20,000.

The island houses a series of high-technology relay stations (left)  carrying vital TV, radio, telephone and military communication links between Shetland, Orkney and the Scottish mainland.

A Fair Isle resident, David Wheeler, a former meteorologist who worked on the introduction of the original wind power system, said continuity of supply would transform domestic life on Fair Isle. “It’s the little changes to our lives that will make a difference, like the television no longer cutting off when the snooker is on or the washing machine shutting down in the middle of the cycle with the clothes still inside. They’re small issues but they do matter.”

Robert Mitchell, director of the Fair Isle Electricity Company, said the project would bring new employment opportunities to the island and sustain existing jobs. “Having a constant electricity source may help to attract more people. This ambitious project is the first step in ensuring that the community of Fair Isle continues to thrive.”

Sources include:

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/scotland/mood-is-electric-as-long-suffering-islanders-anticipate-24-hour-power-6hc52bgtl

http://www.shetnews.co.uk/news/14946-fair-isle-moves-closer-to-round-the-clock-power

http://www.shetland.org/plan/areas/fair-isle

 

 

 

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Fintech startups – Bethnal Green Ventures: Paul Miller

Our attention has been drawn to  a recent article by Paul Miller, partner at Bethnal Green Ventures.

He recalls that in the midst of the financial turmoil of 2008 BGV decided to try something new. They brought together technologists and engineers with people who worked at the sharp end of social and environmental problems in ‘social innovation camps’.

The fintech startup scene had yet to emerge and whole swathes of society, low-income households, people dependent on care, former prisoners, migrant workers, homeless people, refugees and asylum seekers had been poorly served by traditional financial institutions.

In a report, Access to Financial Services in the UK, the Financial Conduct Authority painted a bleak picture of how well the existing financial services companies are rising to the challenge. Paul says: “Fast forward almost ten years and a lot has changed. Now there is a huge startup scene in the UK and the tech for good community has mushroomed with thousands of people putting their technology skills to use, solving problems in health, education, the environment and democracy”.

The FT reports that Bethnal Green Ventures is another early stage UK investor backing tech innovators addressing social problems.

Since 2012, the company has helped launch more than 90 “tech for good” ventures through a twice-yearly accelerator programme. Funded by Nesta and Nominet Trust — the company’s founding partners — as well as the UK Cabinet Office’s Social Incubator Fund, these three-month programmes offer start-ups a £20,000 investment as well as mentoring in return for 6% equity.

Investments include Dr Doctor’s appointment management service, which claims to save the NHS more than £1.2m a year by reducing the number of patients failing to attend medical appointments, and Open Utility, which plans to allow people to buy excess solar power from their neighbours instead of power stations.

Bethnal Green Ventures holds meetings every few months for nearly 6,000 members, many of them working at banks or advertising agencies, but with an interest in donating their time to social projects at the weekend. Paul Miller, chief executive of Bethnal Green Ventures, says it has so far doubled the estimated market value of its investments.

Paul continues: “At Bethnal Green Ventures we want to invest in these new ventures tackling financial inclusion and income inequality. We’re interested in ideas that could:

  • Enable excluded people to gain access to a bank account in the first place. There are an estimated 1.5 million ‘unbanked’ people in the UK and evidence suggests that some groups of people are more likely to experience difficulties proving their identity and/or their address in order to open an account. There’s no need to change the know your customer rules but new services are needed to help people identify themselves in a way that is realistic in their circumstances.
  • Provide fair access to credit. We’re interested in new business models that help reduce risk (both real and perceived) in lending to groups that have found it hard to get loans in the past.
  • Create high quality financial advice extended to previously excluded groups. The wealthier you are, the more likely you are to be offered financial planning advice, augmenting the assets of those who are already financially secure. There’s an opportunity to provide financial education and advice into new markets at low cost.
  • Provide access to benefits and insurance that are relevant to the modern world of work. With the rise of the gig economy and changing patterns of work people need new ways of protecting themselves for when things go wrong or their circumstances change”.

He ends: “If the fintech sector is to avoid the social pariah fate of the financial services sector following the 2008 crisis, it needs to take creating a positive social impact seriously. It’s not just about ‘doing good’, we believe that it presents a brilliant business opportunity as well”.

Analysis: use of renewable energy technologies saved billions of dollars (2007- 15) because of avoided deaths, fewer sick days and climate-change mitigation

Akshat Rathi* focusses on the debate ‘raging across the world’ about subsidies to the renewable industry. Though the results of a new analysis in Nature Energy are directly applicable to the US, he points out that many rich countries have similar factors at play and are likely to produce similar cost-benefit analyses.

The study, by Dev Millstein of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and his colleagues, finds that the fossil fuels not burnt because of wind and solar energy helped to avoid between 3,000 and 12,700 premature deaths in the US between 2007 and 2015.

They found that the US saved between $35 billion and $220 billion in that period because of avoided deaths, fewer sick days, and climate-change mitigation.

“The monetary value of air quality and climate benefits are about equal or more than state and federal financial support to wind and solar industries,” says Millstein.

Rathi continues: “Creation of a new industry spurs economic growth, creates new jobs, and leads to technology development. There isn’t yet an estimation of what sort of money that brings in, but it’s likely to be a tidy sum. To be sure, the marginal benefits of additional renewable energy production will start to fall in the future. That is, for every new megawatt of renewable energy produced, an equal amount of pollution won’t be avoided, which means the number of lives saved, and monetary benefits generated, will fall. But Millstein thinks that we won’t reach that point for some time—at least in the US”.

 

We add that In 2015, an LSE article referred to an IMF report which quantified the subsidies provided for the fossil fuel industry, finding the UK was to spend £26 billion that year, far more than the subsidies provided for renewables. It would be good to see a similar cost-benefit study for the UK – China and India have already been covered.

One of the biggest criticisms of the renewable-energy industry has been that it is propped up by government subsidies (often disregarding those delivered to the fossil fuel industry). As Rathi adds, there is no doubt that without government help it would have been much harder for the nascent technology to mature.

There has been a financial return on taxpayers’ investment and above all, we repeat, the enormous benefits of avoided deaths, fewer sick days, and climate-change mitigation.

Akshat Rathi is a reporter for Quartz in London. He has previously worked at The Economist and The Conversation. His writing has appeared in Nature, The Guardian and The Hindu. He has a PhD in chemistry from Oxford University and a BTech in chemical engineering from the Institute of Chemical Technology, Mumbai.

 

Read the full article here: https://qz.com/1054992/renewable-subsidies-are-already-paying-for-themselves/?mc_cid=d6d241ad3c&mc_eid=d89c5d2450

 

 

 

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Working for the common good: Ketumile Masire,1925-2017

Emily Langer in the Independent has written an obituary of Ketumile Masire – a statesman who described himself as ‘a farmer who has been drawn into politics’.

A summary with added links and photographs

Masire herded cattle before enrolling in a primary school at 13 and receiving a scholarship to attend a high school in South Africa that trained many leaders of the first government of independent Botswana. When his parents died he supported his siblings, becoming a headmaster. He later earned a Master Farmers Certificate, and having saved enough money to buy a tractor,  became a BBfarmer, using modern agricultural techniques.

Botswana cattle

He served on tribal and regional councils and was a founder and secretary-general of the Botswana Democratic Party, now the country’s leading political party. He once travelled 3,000 miles of the Kalahari desert to attend two dozen meetings over two weeks.

After serving as minister of finance and development planning and Vice President, Ketumile Masire became President of Botswana (1980-1998): roads and schools were built, healthcare improved, access to clean water expanded, farming techniques advanced and life spans extended.

The discovery of diamond reserves had transformed the country’s prospects and Masire continued to use the revenues for the public good after the death of his predecessor Seretse Khama.  He became ‘a model leader in a model nation on a continent where poverty, corruption and violence had crushed the hopes of many for stability and prosperity’. 

After leading Botswana through a drought that persisted for much of the 1980s, he shared the Africa Prize for Leadership awarded by the Hunger Project in recognition of the food distribution efforts that helped the country avoid starvation during the crisis.

Though South Africa was Botswana’s major economic partner, Botswana opposed apartheid. “He had to walk a fine line in a really rough neighbourhood,” said Chester Crocker, a former US assistant secretary of state for African affairs. “He had to get along with everybody, without sacrificing his principles.”

After leaving office, in addition to tending the cattle on his ranch, Masire advised other African leaders and chaired an international panel that investigated the Rwandan genocide of 1994. He made important contributions to peace efforts in Congo and, more recently, Mozambique. He established a foundation which seeks to improve agriculture, governance and children’s health in the region.

He once said: “We have a saying in Botswana: A man is never strong until he says what he believes and gives other men the chance to do the same. I am proud to say without a doubt – we are a strong democracy.” 

A more chequered account of his life is given in Wikipedia.

 

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Textiles: returning to domestic production, rebuilding local economies

Five years ago Inbusiness reported a British textile manufacturing revival, ‘led’ by Lancashire. It reported that, after decades of decline due to rising foreign competition, tariffs and protectionism, and Britain’s high cost base, some manufacturers are successfully competing with overseas suppliers. This 2012 text prompted a search to see what is happening today.

Leigh Spinners, once a cotton mill, operated by the family firm that built it, now focuses on making  carpets and synthetic turf. John Morrison, managing director explains:”About three years ago we decided to convert to tuft grass, artificial grass,” he explains. “We make 150,000 square metres a year. There is big demand, for school playing fields, and so on”. Its huge listed building is now underutilised and Leigh Building Preservation Trust is working with the Prince’s Trust and Leigh Spinners to restore the building for additional uses.

Lance Mitchell, of Mitchell Interflex in east Lancashire, makes cloth, furnishings, interlining and traditional narrow striped fabrics for deck chairs and might have further diversification in mind as he finds the ‘industrial side of fabrics’ fascinating: “Modern fibres are being developed all the time – McLaren cars are based on a woven product, and the next generation of aircraft, they say, will be woven”. This brings to mind the work done on hemp-based panels for the car industry (‘biocomposites’) piloted earlier at the University of Bangor.

S Dawes Weaving in Nelson makes ‘high end’ jacquard fabrics for the furnishing, upholstery, industrial and apparel markets (including organic cotton), as well as high-performance fabrics for the automotive and defence sectors. In 2015 Dawes upgraded its design capability with the purchase of the Ned Graphics software system along with new Jacquard looms. This was followed by further capital investment last year when they took delivery of a Karl Mayer GOM Sample Warping Machine. June 2017 saw another major investment: a new single end Jacquard machine – one of only 3 in Europe.  Their prices are similar to those of comparable material made in the Far East because of the difference in transportation costs and taxes. Dawes’ designer Joanna Brocklebank (above) oversees the designs for such clients as John Lewis and Laura Ashley.

Community Clothing is a manufacturers’ cooperative (workforce above). On top of intense competition from cheap labour markets one of the biggest challenges the UK factories face is the seasonality of demand. For several months of every year even the best factories are operating at well below full capacity. Community Clothing was founded in 2016 to address this exact issue. By utilising the spare capacity to make a range of stylish, great quality, British-made clothing, Community Clothing are able to create job opportunities and stability, filling British factories all year round.

David Collinge manages John Spencer Textiles, a family-owned company in Burnley, which had formerly specialised in shirt materials but had to find a new market. They began to make fabrics for the Ministry of Defence, for combat clothing, artillery uses and parachutes. They also developed their own brand in furnishings and home textiles. They are to invest £400,000 in new technology and equipment with the support of a £55,000 grant from the N Brown Textiles Growth Programme.

Bolton Textiles Group supplies contract furnishing fabrics and production and design services to retail, hotel, cruise ship, restaurant and bar operators The Bolton Textiles Group comprises four companies, Rufflette, Cliq Designs, Sinclaire and JH Cunliffe & Co, covering textiles, manufacturing, weaving, yarn processing and ‘cut, measure and trim’ services. The companies share two factory sites in historic converted mills in Bolton and Rochdale, producing curtains and curtain tapes, quilted and bedding products and fabric designs.

Lancashire Textiles persevered throughout the difficult times and continues to be a strong and successful business. Its workforce produces superior quality products manufactured in-house to British Standards 5335 1994, 5852 parts 1 and 2 and 7175. It has a vast range of online products and an experienced sales team. Its products range from quilts, pillows, cushions, mattress toppers, mattress protectors, duvet covers and other bed linen, to bath towels and made to measure items.

The latest news from the county is that the Lancashire Textiles Manufacturing Association ran its 7th Student Study Tour on 17th May this year.  The study tours give textile undergraduates from Manchester Metropolitan University an opportunity to see commercial textile production. They visited D H J Weisters in Darwen, which weaves quality fabrics, Blackburn Yarn Dyers (cotton and blended yarns) and John Spencer Textiles in Burnley where they saw a range of fabrics being produced, including curtaining, protective clothing, fashion  and industrial fabrics.

It is often recorded that investment in better machinery brings rewards and a fairly new development in the SME sector is the acquisition of software for a whole range of purposes from marketing management to stock control; Dawes installation of  NED Graphics is one example. Another company recently recommended OrderWise which automatically accounts for stock levels, forecasts demand, forwards orders, records minimum stock requirements and even emails, faxes or prints orders then sent directly to suppliers in their native currency.

27 textile companies in Lancashire have been supported by the N Brown Textiles Growth Programme delivered across the UK and funded by the Regional Growth Fund. Set up by the Manchester Growth Company for the Combined Authority in Greater Manchester and the Alliance Project, this programme has created or safeguarded 443 jobs in Lancashire and encouraged investment by these companies: with over £1.7m of government funding since 2014, the textile companies in Lancashire have invested almost £7m.

 

 

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Swiss voters embrace shift to renewables and ban new nuclear plants

Reuter journalists Michael Shields and John Miller reported from Zurich that Swiss voters have backed the government’s plan to provide billions of dollars in subsidies for renewable energy, ban new nuclear plants and help to bail out struggling utilities in a binding referendum.

The Swiss initiative mirrors efforts elsewhere in Europe to reduce dependence on nuclear power, partly sparked by Japan’s Fukushima disaster in 2011. Germany aims to phase out nuclear power by 2022, while Austria banned it decades ago. “The results shows the population wants a new energy policy and does not want any new nuclear plants,” Energy Minister Doris Leuthard said:

“The law will boost domestic renewable energy, cut fossil fuel use and reduce reliance on foreign supplies”.

Leuthard said the package would cost the average family 40 francs more a year, based on a higher grid surcharge to fund renewable subsidies. Under the law, 480 million francs will be raised annually from electricity users to fund investment in wind, solar and hydro power. An additional 450 million francs will be set aside from an existing fossil fuels tax to help cut energy use in buildings by 43 percent by 2035 compared with 2000 levels.

Solar and wind now account for less than 5% of Switzerland’s energy output, compared with 60% for hydro and 35% for nuclear. Under the new law, power from solar, wind, biomass and geothermal sources would rise to at least 11,400 gigawatt hours (GWh) by 2035 from 2,831 GWh now.

Most parties and environmentalists hailed the result. “The voting public has … paved the way for a future that builds on sustainability, renewable energies and energy efficiency. Today’s decision is good for the climate, the environment, our jobs, the Swiss economy and the whole population,” the Social Democrats said.

The growing number of American visitors to this site (left) will contrast this decision with the stance of Myron Ebell, who led President Donald Trump’s transition team for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. He recently complained that the new administration is moving too slowly to unravel climate change regulations.

 

Visitors from 10 countries came to this site in May. Noting the Slovenian contacts we were pleased to read that the European Commission has agreed to finance a grid-integration project between Slovenia and Croatia through the Connecting Europe Facility. It will improve the links between the electricity grids of Slovenia and Croatia, and drive renewable energy development across the region, allowing smaller power producers to participate in the local market, and including storage solutions in order to stabilize security of energy supply. Source: https://www.pv-magazine.com/2017/05/22/eu-supports-integration-of-renewables-between-croatia-and-slovenia-with-e40-million/

 

 

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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