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Day 12: Renewable energy
t Renewable energy technologies are gaining ground rapidly. According to the International Energy Agency, in 2013, 13.5% of the planet’s total energy was supplied by renewable sources. They have been growing at a steady 2.2% each year from 1990. Even more impressively, renewables were the world’s third largest electricity production source, at nearly 21.6% in 2013, behind coal (41%) and a smidgeon behind gas (21.8%), but kicking nuclear into fourth place (10.6%).
This is a fantastic success story and one that has really taken off in this new century for solar and wind power in particular. However, that success story needs to thrive and greatly accelerate over the next few decades if we are to have a fighting chance of keeping the planet’s warming within 2 degrees, and decarbonise our energy sources almost completely by 2050. If we continue at around a 2% annual increase, it will take longer than we have to achieve an almost carbon-free energy future. We need to up our game, and we need to do so quickly!
What eco actions can we take?
So how can we all, in our roles as citizens, community members, employees and business owners, play our part to help achieve a clean, green, renewably charged future?
Citizens: Do you own your property? If so, look into whether renewable energy sources can work for your home. The popularity of domestic solar (PV) electricity generation has taken off extraordinarily in the last decade, resulting in costs dropping dramatically. Also, think about alternative heating sources. Could a wood-fired stove work for you? That would mean you could have a carbon free heating supply and reduce your reliance on gas, oil or electricity for heating. If you don’t own your home, how about switching your energy supplier to one of the independent energy suppliers, such as ecotricity, that provide 100% exclusively clean, renewable electricity?
Civil Society: If you are a community group with property, you too could investigate the potential for solar, or other renewable technologies, to power your buildings. Crowdsourcing campaigns, where local people buy a stake in the power that is produced is proving a very popular and effective way to self-financing small renewable installations in the community. Additionally, if you live in the UK why not get your local community groups to all sign the petition to stop the 87% cut in solar subsidies which would add just £1 to household energy bills. You can sign the petition here.
Corporates: Be part of the rapidly growing 100% renewable pledge movement. Businesses can, and should, take the lead in the renewables transition, showing governments (the UK in particular) how it should be done! The RE100 campaign is gaining strength quickly and has on-board some of the biggest corporate names on the planet. Whatever size business you are, make the 100% renewable pledge and show your government it matters!
Thought piece: Why renewable technologies are the future of energy
The good news is that renewable energy penetration has grown far more quickly than anyone anticipated. By 2013, at least 30 nations globally had embraced renewables to such an extent that they were contributing more than 20% to their electricity supplies. In fact, Norway obtains nearly all of its electricity from renewable sources (97 percent from hydropower). The capital costs of renewables are dropping rapidly too, with PV, for example, reducing in price by 75% within a decade. So, we can confidently say that the dream of powering our planet on 100% renewables is looking more and more a plausible reality. It seems to be the case that barriers to implementing the big, bold, audacious plan of a renewably powered future are more socially and politically driven, rather than of a technological or economic nature.
In fact, in late 2015, Bloomberg released a report that confirmed that renewable energy is the cheapest source of energy we can build! It’s very depressing then, despite the mounting evidence that the future has to be renewable, that here in the UK, for reasons beyond what we can fathom, the government seems to have developed a wide-ranging allergy to most forms of renewable technologies and consequently has stripped away vital support for these fledgling industries. The most unfathomable decision made recently was to ‘un-exempt’ renewable power sources from the ‘Climate Change Levy’ – the government measure put in place to discourage the use of fossil fuels, and encourage the use of clean, low carbon fuels instead – go figure? It calls for a hashtag: #bonkers
But we are not about the ‘doom and gloom’ here, instead we want to celebrate what is optimistic and positive in the renewables world. And currently, with COP21 coming to a close, we can report on some very positive vibes and declarations from the business world, amongst others, that a bright, renewable world is actually on the cards
The 100% renewables (RE100) movement Over the past 12 days of COP21 we have seen a multitude of pretty ginormous blue-chip corporations all coming out with the same message – ‘we pledge 100% renewables’. The RE100 is an initiative pioneered by the Climate Group. It has called on big businesses to pledge to source all of their energy requirements from renewable sources. As we write, the 53 companies (and counting) that have signed up to this make an impressive roll call of the globe’s most well-known, iconic, brands. The likes of Ikea, Coca-Cola, BMW, Microsoft, Google, BT, H&M, M&S, Mars, Nike, Nestle, Unilever, Walmart, Goldman Sachs and Starbucks to name just a few. So, we can say that every aspect of our lives – from the clothes we wear, to the food & drink we consume, the shower gels and deodorants we use, the cars (some of us drive), the IT and telecoms we rely on – will have been produced by renewable power in the future. It’s a powerful story and one wonders when the UK government will eventually prick up its ears and take note.
Can bills make mills? If we turn now to the energy generation market, there are some great, innovative, energy generation ideas in full flow already. Take for example, ecotricity, they are on a mission to turn our ‘bills into mills’, windmills that is. They take a proportion of the profit from the company each year and invest it into additional renewable electricity generating capacity. And not only that, ecotricity is the only company in the UK to provide a ‘green gas’ option. Currently this ‘green gas’ has 5% lower emissions then the typical gas grid mix, but when their own anaerobic digesters come online in a few years’ time, the carbon dioxide content of ecotricity’s gas will reduce even further.
So, in conclusion, what can we say that sums up our feelings as the negotiations come to a close? These 12 days of COP21 have been the most positive and encouraging we can remember of all the previous 20 meetings that have taken place over the last decades. Countries of the world finally seemed to have awoken with a start – sadly the UK’s government still seems to be napping – to the imminent dangers that we, the flora and fauna of the planet and the globe itself are facing. The need to contain the global temperature rise to 2 degrees, and indeed talk now is of aiming for 1.5 degrees, is foremost in everyone’s mind and top of the agenda. The way we power our Earth is the single most important aspect of this goal. Businesses get it, the people get it, a great number of the world’s economies get it, we hope that the UK government will very quickly ‘get it’ and if not we must simply get on with it without them.
Merry COPmas everyone.