Renewable Energy Keeps Getting More Popular

renewable energy

Renewables enjoy a rising wave of support

The UK Government monitors public attitude towards renewable energy technologies and climate change through a regular survey. The tracker was launched in March 2012 by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), now part of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

Known as the ‘Energy and Climate Change Public Attitudes Tracker’ (PAT), the main survey is carried out annually in March, with three supplementary short surveys in June, September and December. The repeat questions track the public’s views on important energy issues.  Each survey is known as a ‘Wave’ and the results of the Wave 25 survey were published recently. Wave 25 comprised 2,102 face-to-face, at-home interviews with a representative sample of UK adults. The background and detailed data are available on the UK Government website (here).

The latest survey results suggest a rising tide of public anxiety over climate change issues, with 74% of respondents saying that they were ‘very concerned’ or ‘fairly concerned’. The rise from 71% in May 2017 is a continuation of a growing trend. Perhaps due to on-going coverage in the media, a greater proportion of the public now accepts that climate change is the result of human activity rather than natural process. Just less than 50% said that they believed climate change problems were caused mainly by human activity, compared to only 10% who believed they were down solely to natural processes.

The latest Wave 25 results show overwhelming backing for renewable energy technologies, especially solar power and offshore wind farms. A comparison with the results from previous years reveals that public support for the use of renewable technologies to supply electricity, fuel, and heat has been climbing steadily.  It has now reached 85%, the highest recorded level since the tracker was set up. Only 3% were opposed.

In terms of the individual clean energy technologies, solar was given the greatest vote of confidence at 87%, with offshore wind reaching a record high of 83%. Close behind came wave and tidal power at 81%, onshore wind turbines at 76% and biomass power stations at 69%. The survey results also seem to indicate a reducing NIMBY effect, with people getting used to seeing and accepting large scale renewable projects in their own areas. 66% now say that they would be happy to have a development locally, compared to 58% in the same month of 2017.

By comparison, support for nuclear energy was largely unchanged over the year at 38%, with 22% opposed. The public’s attitude to shale gas extraction also remained essentially stable at just 18% in favour and 32% opposed.

The Wave 25 survey also included questions about perceptions of home energy efficiency.  Interviewees were asked what two things they thought use the most energy in the home. The answers included central heating (71%), large appliances (45%), and hot water (37%). When asked about home energy efficiency measures, 78% had installed double glazing, 65% loft insulation and 44% cavity wall insulation. Awareness of under floor insulation and solid wall insulation was much lower than for the other energy efficiency measures.

A question was also asked about home Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs).  63% were aware of EPCs, an increase over recent years, but only 9% claimed to know the rating of their own home.

It seems renewable energy is here to stay and will continue to play a greater role in all of our lives.

If you’d like to book an EPC, please feel free to contact us.

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Can Switching Save Energy as well as Money?

EPC - Switching

Back in 2006, householders had only ten energy suppliers to choose from, and most bought from one of the ‘big six’, British Gas, EDF Energy, E.ON, npower, ScottishPower or SSE. Today, domestic customers have a choice of more than 40 suppliers, but the big six still supply well over 90% of British households with gas and electricity.

Despite advertising campaigns by the new entrants and price comparison websites, many people still believe that switching supplier is a daunting process. In reality, market reforms by Ofgem to create a more level playing field for small suppliers have made the process quite straightforward.

Customers can research and handle the changeover themselves with the assistance of their newly chosen supplier, or they can use one of Ofgem’s accredited energy comparison websites such as uSwitch, Moneysupermarket or Simply Switch. The full list is available here.

Ofgem suggests that switching can bring annual savings of around £300, according to its latest research. Of course, householders may also want to take the quality of customer service provided by the suppliers into account when choosing, and Ofgem can also help with customer complaint performance results (here).

Smaller suppliers are gradually gaining a presence, making the market more competitive. At the moment, the majority of them have fewer than 250,000 customers, but names like Ecotricity, OVO Energy, First Utility, Bulb, Octopus Energy, Robin Hood Energy, First Utility, Good Energy and LoC02 are becoming more well known. Many of them provide 100% of their electricity from renewable sources, an important consideration for many consumers choosing a new supplier.

Some people find that gathering information to make a decision about potentially switching supplier encourages them to record their electricity use more carefully, identifying trends and focusing on the number of units used as well as the costs. In so doing they become more aware of their usage and this leads to savings in consumption as well as unit costs, a double benefit of switching.

While a series of meter readings will be useful to get a more accurate report, all you actually need to make energy supplier comparisons is your postcode and a recent energy bill (or information about your household and lifestyle). It only takes about ten minutes. Ideally, use an Ofgem Confidence Code accredited comparison site, and be aware that you may need to opt in to seeing the data about suppliers that the website does not directly deal with.

Enter the information that is requested, review the results, and pick a new plan. It is as simple as that. Some options will be variable rates, some will be fixed over a specified term, and some will have early exit fees. The choice is yours.

The switchover will take around three weeks, and there will never be an interruption to supply. The same cabling and meter will be used. The only noticeable changes will be the company name on the bills, and the reduced amount on the bottom line!

Energy Storage – What’s in Store for Out Electricity Supply

Energy Storage

What exactly is in store for our electricity supply?

Despite the drive to make our homes more energy efficient, the demand for electricity remains strong.  As the traditional generating stations come to the end of their lives and we strive for a lower carbon economy, there is an ever-increasing reliance on renewable sources of power. The costs are coming down, but wind is unpredictable and intermittent and we cannot rely on the sun to provide us with the electricity we demand at the flick of a switch, especially at night.

It looks as though energy storage will need to become an essential part of our electricity supply system if we are to achieve our green goals and keep the lights on. Electricity storage technology can overcome the issues associated with the intermittency of renewables and help to meet the morning and the evening peaks in demand, whether at a domestic, community or national scale.

At present, energy storage capacity in the UK represents a tiny part of our electricity consumption and depends heavily on a few pumped storage hydroelectric facilities. We are otherwise reliant on switching generating stations on and off, or on importing renewable hydropower from Norway to deal with the fluctuations.

Research into battery technology has really taken off. The Government’s January 2017 Industrial Strategy Green Paper (here) states:

Given the UK’s underlying strengths in science and energy technology, we want to be a global leader in battery technology…’

The Government went on to launch a £9 million competition to find ways of reducing the cost of energy storage technologies, including the Faraday Challenge – a £246m commitment up to 2021 on battery development for transport, home and industrial applications.

The costs of storage are reducing as this research progresses.  In its 2016 report to the Renewable Energy Association, The development of decentralised energy and storage systems in the UK, KPMG predicts that there will be a ‘steady cost decline of 12% per annum through to 2020…’ (available here).

At the moment, most of the interest is in lithium-ion batteries and this technology accounted for 83% of installed global storage capacity in 2016 (excluding pumped hydro). The costs continue to fall with close to a 20% reduction in 2016.  Some issues remain with the relatively short life of the batteries and a deterioration in their efficiency as they are cycled through charging and discharging.  The focus could change in the medium term to developments in hydrogen and heat storage that are creating some excitement.

Products are already appearing for domestic use. They are arguably led by Tesla which is building a ‘Gigafactory’ in the US to produce batteries for its vehicles and for other domestic and commercial uses. Once complete, Tesla expects the Gigafactory to be the biggest building in the world, and it will be entirely powered by renewable energy sources. The factory brings an economy of scale that should make batteries more efficient and affordable.

Tesla is already marketing its solar roof tiles and ‘Powerwall’ domestic energy storage systems. These harvest and store electricity produced during the day for use when household demand is greater in the morning, evening and at night.

New Records for Renewable Energy

Renewable Energy

Recently released figures show that 2017 was a great year for energy sustainability in the UK, with record-breaking levels of renewable energy production and historically low prices for electricity generated by the wind. It was our greenest summer ever, with nearly 52% of electricity generation between 21 June and 22 September 2017 coming from low-carbon sources.

For the first time in history, on 7 June 2017, low-carbon technologies (nuclear and renewables) provided more electricity than all of the fossil fuel sources combined (oil, gas and coal).

Another symbolic milestone was achieved on Friday 21 May 2017, the first full day since the Industrial Revolution of the 1880s when no coal was used to generate our electricity, an important step towards the Government’s commitment to phase out Britain’s coal power plants by 2025.

In the offshore wind industry, spectacular progress in turbine efficiency, larger turbine rotor sizes and growing experience with offshore engineering and maintenance technologies have all contributed to huge savings. Government figures show that the price paid for electricity generated by offshore wind farms fell by more than 50% in less than five years. The data suggest that new offshore wind farms that are due to open in 2022/23 will be viable with public subsidies as low as £57.50/MWh, compared with the £92.50/MWh subsidy that was secured for the Hinkley Point C new nuclear power station.

The UK now has the fourth greenest power system in Europe (and seventh in the world), and the British electricity sector has halved its carbon emissions since 2012, a remarkable record. Despite this, the UK is lagging behind schedule for achieving its longer-term carbon reduction targets. Going forward, other sectors will need to match the level of achievement of the electricity sector, and attention is being increasingly focused on transport and agriculture.

There is similar good news from the energy markets around the world. Global renewable energy capacity grew by a record amount in 2016, and nearly 25% of electricity came from renewable sources. Hydropower provided most of this, with contributions from wind and solar at around 4% and 1.5% respectively. 

Solar power is following in the footsteps of offshore wind as an increasingly viable technology, and power supply deals in countries around the world, including Mexico, Denmark, Egypt, India and the UAE, saw renewable energy projects being priced well below fossil fuel and nuclear power alternatives. 

Worldwide, new renewable energy projects accounted for some 161GW of new capacity in 2016 (a 10% increase over 2015 and another new record) at a cost of $242bn, which, despite representing a 23% reduction in investment compared to 2015, was greater than that for fossil fuel generation.  New solar power accounted for half of the new capacity, while wind power added a third and hydropower 15%.