Category Archives: Small business sector

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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Germany’s people-powered energy and American micro-grids

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Source (2013): https://ilsr.org/germanys-63000-megawatts-renewable-energy-locally-owned/

A 2015 National Geographic article with the most remarkable photographs: Germany Could Be a Model for How We’ll Get Power in the Future … led to the ISLR article written earlier this month.

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ISLR) informs readers that its mission is to provide innovative strategies, working models and timely information to support environmentally sound and equitable community development. To this end, ILSR works with citizens, activists, policymakers and entrepreneurs to design systems, policies and enterprises that meet local or regional needs; to maximize human, material, natural and financial resources; and to ensure that the benefits of these systems and resources accrue to all local citizens.

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Instead of expanding or connecting to the national energy grid, some companies, municipalities, and individuals are creating miniature grids of their own that can operate independently – “microgrids” – providing options for groups that want lower energy bills, more control over where their energy comes from, or a level of reliability that the grid cannot provide.

The costs are high and they are economically viable for only a limited set of situations. As Karlee Weinmann, ISLR Energy Democracy Initiative Research Associate pointed out, however, the cost of new technology invariably falls as it is adopted: “The cost of materials, installation, and maintenance for the components that make up a microgrid are going down, so the value proposition for a microgrid increases in turn. The general viability of microgrid projects is also reinforced through replication, like anything else, so the more that various stakeholders test the technology, prove its value, and improve upon it, the easier it is to justify buying in . . . As we see it, the future of the grid will be far more decentralized than the system we have now. Rather than paying a far off utility for electricity, which in many cases comes from problematic, dirty sources, customers’ money can stay closer to home.”

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Hurricane Sandy, which cut power to 8.5 million people, one million of whom went without power for a week, was cited by the ILSR report Mighty Microgrids as one of the key motivators of regional investment in microgrids. While up to 60% of backup diesel generators failed in medical centers and other essential facilities, Princeton University’s 20 MW microgrid kept the campus operational in island mode for three days while a connection to the grid was being restored.…

Regulations governing interconnection processes can also hinder microgrid adoption, particularly because these regulations vary from state to state. Opposition from utility companies is often a factor that makes the regulatory environment hostile or resistant to positive change. In an ideal world, a national standard would be adopted.

Richardson concludes: “Perhaps in the future, microgrids will be a common feature of communities . . . connected by the larger grid and selling electricity to each other as necessary. For now, they represent a useful tool for businesses and communities that need reliability that the grid can’t offer or that can leverage scale to reduce energy costs”.

 

 

 

Corbyn’s environment and energy plan

Corbyn has launched an environmental manifesto that outlines his plans for the UK to achieve 65% of energy from renewable sources by 2030 – without fracking.

corbyn-eee-manifestoHe undertakes to use the precautionary principle to protect the environment and people from harm – not a pay-to-pollute approach allowing the richest corporations and individuals to wreck our planet.

Jeremy Corbyn plans to put cities, councils, devolved governments and communities at the heart of an efficient decentralised energy system with:  

  • a shift to largely renewably generated electricity and hydrogen powered buses and cars;
  • a network of low-emission zones;
  • cycling on safe cycle lanes and hire schemes in every town and city;
  • more nature corridors created to connect protected nature sites, providing pathways for wildlife such as bats and butterflies and
  • a ban on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides which harm pollinating insects including bees and encourage bee-friendly plants in our parks, urban spaces and countryside.

Jeremy Corbyn also encourages the British public to take action as individuals to help to meet the Paris climate agreement.

A “publicly run, locally accountable energy system”.

He has promised to promote over a thousand local energy companies in the next parliament and legislate to give community energy co-operatives the right to sell energy directly to the communities they serve.

Launching the report in Nottingham, the Labour leader said, “We want Britain to be the world’s leading producer of renewable technology. To achieve this, we will accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy, and drive the expansion of the green industries and jobs of the future, using our National Investment Bank to invest in public and community-owned renewable energy. This will deliver clean energy and curb energy bill rises for households; an energy policy for the 60 million, not the Big 6 energy companies.”

It would launch a National Home Insulation plan to insulate at least 4 million homes and phase out coal-fired power by 2025. The Labour leader estimates over 300,000 jobs would be created in the renewables sector as a result of these measures.

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At the event in Nottingham, Jeremy Corbyn said that Labour would reinstate the department for energy and climate change in its first month of government, as part of its plan to rebuild and transform Britain, “so that no-one and no community is left behind”.

 

 

 

Promoting a cleaner environment: water transport

Why get stuck in a traffic jam and miss delivery deadlines? Cut costs, cut emissions and cut fuel consumption and deliver on time on the waterways. This was one of the themes at the Commercial Boat Operators Association’s AGM at Digbeth’s Bond Warehouse. The full report may be seen here.

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CBOA is a trade organisation which aims to sustain and increase freight carriage on our waterways. Advantages are economies of scale and fuel efficiency, decongested roads, fewer fatalities and injuries and higher energy efficiency, producing less air pollution with lower emissions. Large loads are taken off the roads: from aggregates down the Severn, grain down the Mersey and a ‘serious enquiry’ about carrying sludge and biomass along the Leeds and Liverpool canal. CRT news reports that last June a 270 tonne electricity transformer (weighing as much as 18 doubledecker buses) was delivered to Hull and transported on the River Trent to Staythorpe Power Station.

Peter MathewsThe writer had an informal exchange with Peter Mathews, the chairman of the West Midlands Canals and Rivers Trust. As he said he was keen to make links with local universities he was given three leaflets passed on by Birmingham’s Professor Rex Harris, who has worked with a team to convert a barge to run on hydrogen fuel. Ian Lane, Waterways manager (WMCRT), came for the last hour only, but whilst walking back to city with him it emerged that both have many creative ideas – some centring on the new Icknield Port development.

There were three invited speakers:

The first speaker was Antoon van Coillie of Blue Line Logistics, Belgium. This dynamic entrepreneur said that in due course his company’s barges will transfer to hydrogen fuel. An umbrella organisation, Inland Navigation Europe, promotes waterway transport in Europe: “After all, why get stuck in a traffic jam and miss deadlines when you can cut costs and deliver on time on the waterways? Increased waterway traffic is so important because it is not only cost-effective, it also makes for a more sustainable transport network. INE strongly believes in the innovation power of waterway transport, both in terms of organisation and technology: “On new ships, air emissions such as NOx and PM are also radically decreased. The same development is expected soon for existing vessels . . . Next to optimized propulsion and dual fuel LNG vessels, we see the first vessels emerging that run on hydrogen and electricity”.

cboa greenstream100% LNG driven ship, emission reduction 80% Nox, 100% SO2, 99% PM10, 25% CO2, 18% energy savings

The second speaker was Dr Tom Cherrett, University of Southampton, who described plans to set up a floating depot (dummy barge) like those in Amsterdam. A floating depot will be used by TNT for collecting and delivering parcels in the city centre.

floating depot amsterdamIt will be moved by boat using the canal network and small electric vehicles will undertake the last-mile deliveries. Dr Cherrett is one year into a three-year project for the floating depot which is designed to reduce the impact of freight and service trips. 24 partners are on board.

“We see the first vessels emerging that run on hydrogen and electricity”

The third speaker Steven R. Mears, is a senior naval architect with Keel Marine Ltd, which designs all types of craft and trades worldwide. They are moving towards designing hybrid power systems which offer motors/generators running at optimum efficiency/emissions. This provoked quite sharp questioning from two audience members as to why they were not ‘going for hydrogen’. Mr Mears sees the adoption of hydrogen fuel cell as being ‘some way off yet from being low cost and readily available’, adding that ‘LNG and hydrogen means the tanks take up lot of space’.

Those who support the use of the cleanest form of fuel should note Professor Rex Harris’* point that hydrogen tanks take up the space usually given to ballast – and he lists other advantages here:

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A small team set up the Protium project which applies new technologies (eg solid state hydrogen stores, permanent magnet drives) to a traditional mode of transportation, in a practical demonstration of how to redress atmospheric and fresh water pollution and resource depletion, by long term sustainable means.

Because this is an inherently efficient mode of transportation, the use of hydrogen in this context is expected to become commercially viable at a much earlier stage than in automotive applications.

*Professor Rex Harris, Department of Metallurgy and Materials, University of Birmingham. I.R.Harris@bham.ac.uk Web page: www.hydrogen.bham.ac.uk

 

 

Green Farmer of the Year

andrew hollinsheadAndrew Hollinshead, a farmer from Spring Bank Farm in Arclid, Cheshire has just been named ‘Green Farmer of the Year’ for his pioneering work with eco-friendly power.

His business is 90% powered by “eco-friendly” energy sources – a wind turbine, 200 solar panels and a hydrogen refuelling station which stores excess electricity in batteries and converts it into hydrogen for use as heating fuel and vehicle fuel for his pickup truck. The hydrogen comes from rain, which is filtered and put into an electrolyser which separates water into hydrogen and oxygen.

Andrew’s home and bed & breakfast business is totally ‘green-powered’ and he hopes his farm will soon be fully powered by green energy which saves money, power and gives security and independence from the large utility companies.

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On the Facebook video it was also good to see another farmer known to us as a very active campaigner, setting up a sheep dip sufferers group on behalf of farmers whose health has been damaged after administering sheep dip. Tom Rigby, a finalist in the competition, is seen here with ‘EMMA’ – the energy and microgenerator manager which helps him to make best use of the renewables, ensuring that as much as possible of the power being generated gets used within the farm and not exported to the grid.

Noting another sustainable practice, growing animal feed on farm, instead of importing it, brings to mind William Taylor’s point that, with a fair farmgate price for produce, farmers can afford to invest time and money when raised above the poverty line (1 in 4 UK family farms 2010 figures). They can invest in new technology and less spectacular time-consuming labour-intensive good farming practice.

William points out that profitable farmers can easily produce more food whilst abiding by commonsense environmental laws – doing all this in harmony with nature:

  • applying lime, instead of cutting and spraying rushes,
  • controlling hedges,
  • mending and replacing fences
  • improving drainage

Messrs Hollinshead and Rigby show there is a huge potential for farms to generate energy whilst producing food and – in due course – the harvesting and storing of rainwater undertaken by many farmers will be recorded on one of our sites.


Community-owned solar panels for 25 Edinburgh council buildings

Following news on this site (August 2015) about the development of solar technology in Scotland, official data in December showed that renewable electricity generation in 2014 was – remarkably – equivalent to 49.7% of Scottish demand, up more than five percentage points from 2013.

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Edinburgh Council’s news that community-owned solar panels are to be installed in 25 council buildings throughout the city was published on their website and widely reported in the media: “We are aiming to meet our target of reducing Edinburgh’s carbon emissions by 42% by 2020 and this project is an important step towards us achieving this.”

The Council will work in partnership with the Edinburgh Community Solar Co-operative – (ECSC) supported by Energy4All – to deliver the initiative, believed to be the UK’s largest community-owned urban renewable energy project.

ECSC is organizing a large-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) project on Edinburgh roofs; up to 1.5MW of solar PV will be installed on 25 public buildings that have been investigated with the Council.  The buildings have been selected to provide good income-generating capacity on buildings spread all around the city (see below) and used regularly by communities.

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The directors decided that a project on Edinburgh roofs would offer the best chance of delivering a viable co-operative energy project in the city.  Edinburgh is the lowest on the UK city league tables of installed PV and it is thought that this is because many people live in tenement flats, with no access to the roof. But even so far North historical sunlight figures for Edinburgh in EDSC’s calculations show that – while not as sunny as the South East of England – it works!  South facing roofs have been selected, optimising orientation.

ed solal coop logoThe public share offer was launched on 29th September, 2015, and raised £1.4m. By offering a capped return on share interest to members of 5% per annum and returning capital as we go, the co-op generates a surplus profit for community benefit. This is a model which has proved to work successfully in other cities throughout the UK and Europe.

Two installers were bidding for the work and, as it proved difficult to choose between them,  ECSC decided to let each visit all the sites and come back with a firm price – one that wouldn’t increase during the structural design stages. Emtec was approved as the preferred supplier and ECSC will be proceeding with them subject to contract.  The Board has also approved Onsite Renewables to project manage the construction.

ECSC has offered Edinburgh residents the chance to own solar panels collectively, do something positive about climate change and benefit financially while at the same time helping Edinburgh to become a cleaner, greener city.  With Government incentives for community ownership, project scale and recent reductions in the cost of panels, roof mounted solar PV arrays are now a viable business model.  

 

 

Greg Watson visits Cuba

After visiting Cuba in 2014, as part of a delegation, a report was written by Greg Watson, former Massachusetts Commissioner of Agriculture and now Director of Policy and Systems Design for the Schumacher Center.

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Excerpts

The Cuban agricultural system: beautiful, healthy fruits and vegetables being grown on urban, suburban and rural farms without petroleum inputs.

Much of this success can be attributed to the adoption of decentralized agrarian policies that encouraged individual and cooperative forms of production beginning in the 1990s. Overly bureaucratic state-run farms were replaced with thousands of new small urban and suburban organoponicos, parcelas, and patio gardens, and millions of acres of unused state lands were made available to workers for small-scale farming.

Equally impressive and more surprising were the candid conversations regarding the changes taking place in the country. People spoke openly of the economic failures of socialism while also reminding us of the ethical shortcomings of capitalism. Cuban intellectuals, government officials, and activists are searching for a new economic model somewhere between these two poles, which is certainly an over-simplification of an incredibly complex challenge. The agricultural cooperatives may offer a glimpse of such a model.

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Cuban farmers, researchers, and government officials have over the years developed what is arguably the most comprehensive, time-tested system of agroecology in the world. They have also refined the Farmer-to-Farmer method of communicating information. Troves of technical reports have been amassed. U.S. farmers in search of tools that can help enhance their efforts to build economically viable sustainable farm businesses could benefit from the Cuban experience. In exchange, U.S. farmers could share tips on marketing and distribution that could be helpful to Cuban farmers and cooperatives.

Sharing the lease agreements of the community land trust, as one tool in a new economics tool kit, could provide a method of achieving more ownership opportunities in buildings and crop production for Cuba’s farmers without taking the land itself out of the commons.

Cooperatives are key to the survival of the Cuba’s agroecology system within a new economic environment that will unfold rapidly. The cooperative models have demonstrated that Cuba can integrate some aspects of private enterprise into their society without compromising fundamental social values – in essence an ethical economics based on the premise that people and the environment matter more than profit.

Forty-five days after we concluded our visit to Cuba, the media was abuzz with the news that the United States and Cuba had agreed to re-establish diplomatic relations. This new relationship will unfold while Cuba is in the process of reinventing its economic system.

How will renewed diplomatic relations with the United States affect Cuban agriculture?

The full text of Greg Watson’s report can be accessed here.