23 Jan 2017
New skyscrapers are being built in London and other major cities all the time, with rooftop solar panels now being included as standard – excellent news for anyone concerned about the environment. If solar panels could be integrated into entire buildings however, the amount of energy that could be generated, and the consequent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, could be a giant leap forward in the battle against climate change. In this blog, we look at how close we are to achieving that goal.
Cambridge-based startup Polysolar is developing see-through panels that can be designed into buildings, greenhouses and canopies. It has already utilised the new technology at two Sainsbury’s petrol stations and a canopy at the Barbican Centre in London, and its latest installations include a transparent solar bus shelter in the centre of London’s Canary Wharf. However, research funding and green subsidy levels will dictate how quickly these panels become a widespread mainstream commodity.
To make this technology more affordable, government subsidies and investment in green technologies are necessary. Despite breakthrough innovations in creating a clear solar panel, production on a large scale is restricted by technological limitations and high costs.
The UK government could help by investing in greater research and development, with the result that once a mass production technique is achieved, it could be sold to other countries and companies around the world. Widespread uptake of the technology would further drive down costs and could make this practice an industry standard in the not too distant future.
However, such a radical transformation of energy generation is unlikely to go unchallenged by existing fossil fuel energy companies. Businesses with a focus on centralised distribution may increase funding of political lobbying to stop or restrain government support for such innovation for their own self-preservation.
Regardless of the challenges, once ‘clear solar panels’ can be readily integrated into the windows of our houses, workplaces, and leisure centres, our capacity to generate clean energy will be enormous. Clear solar panels will bring a huge change not only to local communities but also to our planet by massively reducing the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that come from our buildings .
22 Nov 2016
A giant £100 billion black hole is predicted to dominate the coming year’s economic outlook for the taxpayer, judging by recent comments made by our new Chancellor, Philip Hammond. This eye-watering annual deficit represents a doubling of the national debt since the economic crisis of 2008.
Naturally, the government will continue its slash and burn tactics to supposedly lower the national debt by making more cuts to the valuable social services that distinguish us as human beings. The impending Autumn Statement is expected to announce the continued pursuit of policies (disguised as an economic strategy) that do not yield improvements to our collective quality of life, lead to economic recovery, strengthen our currency or even deliver the promise of balancing our national budget.
Failure to deliver on this last point in particular makes it abundantly clear from Mr Hammond’s Autumn Statement that the relentless pursuit of austerity is ideological, magically aspirational and zealously misguided. Even Conservative Ian Duncan Smith accused the Government of balancing the books on the backs of the most vulnerable in society.
The way out of this black hole is not by cutting social services. It is by investing in important infrastructural projects like renewable energy and public transport networks, and increasing lending to creative, responsible entrepreneurs. The old excuse that this government inherited the deficit from the previous one is tired, worn, and devoid of any responsibility or complicity. The massive deficit inherited in 2010 was £76.6 billion, but the Tories have managed to increase this deficit to over £100 billion while destroying the quality of life for many of our most vulnerable citizens.
The latest BBC Panorama programme about Care Homes showed the appalling conditions that residents were subjected to at centres managed by the Morleigh Group. The directors of this private care home operator lived in a large stately home, a stark contrast to the residents and attendants alike. In one example uncovered by the programme, care home attendants had to separate a bedpan from a neglected 90 year old patient’s buttocks because she had been sitting on it for so long, her buttocks had slipped into the pan. The poignant and burning questions are:
– Why do we neglect our elderly when they took care to raise us from small infants?
– Why has taking care of our elderly, become something to be outsourced? With the exception of hospice, surely our own families can look after each other?
Social services do not and should not deliver commercially attractive returns for taking care of our family members, providing medical assistance, public transport or other support services that may have once been provided by the community.
Clearly the government has money for the projects that they want to undertake. For example –
- Hinkley C Nuclear Power station, which will be funded to a great extent through the ‘Capacity Mechanism’, which basically means it will be financed by the taxpayer.
- The extraction of shale gas from our land, a process that is not proven safe, can turn our water into a toxic cocktail of hydrocarbon chemicals and is not expected to be economically attractive due to the poor quality of the extracted gas
- the expansion of Heathrow, where the government should be challenged on the robustness of their traffic projections into the next 20 years, considering the availability of fossil fuels for our transportation and energy services, the certain increase in the cost of flying and with proper value for money analysis undertaken to consider alternatives, like travel by train and other public services.
- the renewal of the Trident Nuclear Missile deterrant, at a cost of over £205 billion of tax payer money. The nature of a deterrent is that we must be attacked first. In this age of information technology, can this government demonstrate the value for money to the taxpayer of this enormous investment that only works after the damage has been done?
This is one more reason why the transition from fossil fuels is so important. As we take more services like the provision of energy away from fossil fuels by building more renewable energy generation, we have more gas and oil to run other industries, like transportation, where energy prices are certain to rise due to scarcity. Oil prices have already doubled since last February. Conventional sources of cheap oil have disappeared and the growing cost of generating energy under the government’s current energy strategy can be solved with current, proven technologies.
We believe that the government needs to apply austerity to its own practices; to eliminate departmental waste, to be accountable for responsible spending of taxpayers’ money, and to invest our money in projects that are well run. Our government seems to have sufficient funds for the military industrial complex and for short-sighted investments like Trident and Heathrow, so the money is there for a fully functioning welfare state should we choose to use it this to this end. Therefore we believe it is vanity projects like HS2 and Trident that must be sacrificed by Mr Hammond first, before cuts are made to our invaluable social welfare system.
14 Oct 2016
29 September 2016 was a landmark day for the British people. Greg Clark, the newly appointed head of the newly formed department of Business, Energy and Industrial strategy, signed an agreement with EDF, a company owned by the French government and with the Chinese government as a 33% investor, to proceed with the construction of the first new nuclear power plant in the UK in a generation. Despite all the fuss and furore, the dream of Hinkley C in Somerset is poised to become a reality, albeit by 2030. The Government claimed that UK businesses will benefit from 60% of the estimated £18 billion to be spent on the plant, with 26,000 jobs and internships created.
This decision is a disaster for our nation, primarily because it is an extreme waste of taxpayer money, poses a great threat to our country’s energy security, and to the safety and security of future generations.
Extreme waste of taxpayers’ money
60% of 26,000 jobs is no benefit when one considers that over 27,000 jobs have been lost in the past two years by the solar industry, decimated by Government cuts to the Feed in Tariff and by the death of the Green Deal. The EPR technology is not yet proven in the three countries already constructing the new nuclear power plants, causing each of their budgets to skyrocket out of control. The Olkiluoto 3 (OL3) plant in Finland was supposed to be operational in 2010. It is still not running today.
In December 2012, Areva (the nuclear plant supplier), estimated that the full cost of building the Finnish reactor will be about €8.5 billion, or almost three times the original delivery price of €3 billion. Compare this to the estimated price of the UK plant, estimated at between £18 billion to £29 billion. The UK taxpayer is not privy to the reasons why the plant cost more than 3 times the price in Finland. In Flamanville, France, cracks were found in the plant’s construction. Cracks have also been found in the Taishan facility, in China creating delays and mounting fear of radioactive leakage in Hong Kong, just 130 miles away.
If it is ever completed, the Hinkley C plant is expected to account for 7% of our electricity supply, with a capacity of 3.2GW. UK Power Networks has recently revealed that it has applications to install 6GW of energy storage to our electricity network, virtually eliminating the issue with renewable energy intermittency for a fraction of the cost of Hinkley C and a bringing lot more safety.
Dangerous stockpiles of plutonium in Britain
A catalogue of errors that occur unresolved eventually culminates in disaster. On 5 September 2016, the BBC broadcasted a Panorama programme on the serious accident that is likely to happen at Sellafield in Cumbria. It is hard to believe that our government will ensure UK jobs through the nuclear industry when Sellafield does not employ sufficient employees to sustain reliable safe operations.
The Nuclear Management Partnership, a consortium of French, UK and US companies that were running Sellafield was sacked in 2015 because they were spending too much money. The government has taken over control of the management of Sellafield. Since then, alarms are frequently reset without being investigated, creating conditions that pose an intolerable risk according to those who have managed Sellafield.
The Windscale fire on 10 October 1957 ranks 5 out of seven on the International Nuclear Event Scale. While the name has been changed to Sellafield, the severe dangers persist. An accident occurred in November 2013 forcing the plant to close for 11 months because exposure to radioactive dust made it unsafe to work there.
Experts who have worked at Sellafield say that if something happens, the safety team employed there are not equipped to handle it. Many experts believe that an accident is inevitable, because the plant frequently operates at below minimum safety levels. The poor management and run down infrastructure could lead to a fire that would emit a radioactive plume contaminating our air for 150km. Cracks could allow seepage that could expose the radioactive chemicals to the air. To date, no nuclear waste has been removed from a building that won’t last another 25 years.
Sellafield has the largest stockpile of plutonium in the world, more than the United States and Russia combined. Experts estimate that it will cost £162 billion to clean up Sellafield to make it safe. This experience alone makes it very clear that there is no room for new nuclear power generation on our small island home.
National & Energy Security
Concerns about our national security were raised by politicians and energy experts because of a lawsuit in the US against a Chinese investor in their nuclear power station. The concern is that the Chinese are using their position as investor to improve their knowledge of nuclear science that could be threatening to the national security of the host country.
Real energy security comes when our electricity and heat are affordable for everyone. The Hinkley C plant will not create energy security; in fact it is sure to increase our energy prices because of the guaranteed price that has been secured in the energy Capacity Market. The only way to create real affordable energy is for communities to take the power back into their own hands. This is what we at BHESCO believe, and this is what we will ceaselessly work towards until our own dream has become a reality, when the people of the UK will be writing about a new landmark day in our history.
26 Sep 2016
2016 Annual General Meeting of Brighton & Hove Energy Services Co-operative Ltd
BHESCO are delighted to announce that we will be holding our second Annual General Meeting (AGM) on Thursday 29th September 2016 at Wagner Hall in Brighton (click for map).
The business of the evening will include:
- The receipt of the accounts and balance sheet and of the reports of the Board.
- The appointment of an Auditor, if required.
- The election of the Board.
- The application of profits.
- Decide on the distribution of interest to members.
After the meeting there will be a social event with canapés and soft drinks where we will hear from Liz Whitehead of Fabrica art gallery on the relationship between art and the environment, Paul Pillai from Montessori Place about working with BHESCO, and Mark Kenber from Mongoose Energy on how community energy is changing the UK’s energy supply market.
All are welcome – we’d love to see you there!
Guest Blog, by Jaden Yang of University of California, Berkeley
Distributed generation such as rooftop solar panels creates an economic democracy where every person can generate electricity from their own solar photovoltaic cells. Another benefit is lower transmission losses since the solar energy comes directly from their rooftop. However, one of the biggest challenges of renewable energy is energy intermittency. Solar panels on a rooftop can only generate electricity during daylight hours, and if a solar panel generates more electricity than you can use in the moment or does not generate enough, electricity must be exported or drawn from the grid to compensate. For this reason, solar panels do not always generate electricity when the domestic demand is greatest.
Renewable energy has always faced challenges of consistency of supply and system integration. Some flexibility options to complement renewable energy are flexible peak power plants, grid integration, demand side management and battery storage. In California, a Net Metering policy that credits solar energy system owners for the electricity they add to the grid has given considerable benefits to solar panel owners. Unlike California, the UK has not implemented this policy widely, making battery storage systems a more attractive proposal to encourage the uptake of solar. Battery storage is not a new technology. Up until now, due to its expense, it hasn’t been widely used in the UK. It would allow solar PV owners to generate, convert and save excess electricity for use at a later time, enabling users to make maximum use of the electricity they have generated themselves, as well as providing a solution to intermittency and production/demand mismatch.
In order to make battery storage affordable and feasible, government subsidies on green technologies can enhance both business and environmental performance. First, clean technology businesses can increase their research budget with government subsidies to improve and reduce the cost of battery storage. Secondly, if battery storage becomes popular, less people use electricity from the grid. Thus, once solar panels and battery storage systems become prevalent in a community, people have less dependence on traditional fossil fuel power generation, which will have the effect of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, we believe there is enormous potential for battery storage to enhance domestic renewable energy production, which itself encourages the development of better batteries in a virtuous circle.