Friday 8 May 2020

Lockdown Day 46 - Road to Recovery Part 4

This post is the fourth in my essay looking at different aspects of how the recovery from Covid-19 should be done in order to tackle climate change, environmental destruction and help fix some of the inequalities in our society. 

Part 1 can be found here
Part 2 can be found here

Part 3 can be found here

In this part I look at I look at how investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency can play a part in powering the recovery from this virus. 

Over the past ten years or so, the strategic investment in renewable energy here in the UK has been one of start and stop. The UK Government virtually halted the construction of onshore wind farms with withdrawing subsidies in 2016 after believing that their supporters were "fed up with them". 

It has though has recently lifted this ban - albeit with conditions - with onshore wind being the cheapest form of renewable energy from wind, after internal polling amongst Conservative membership shows overwhelming support for the technology.

The withdrawal of funding for feed-in tariffs where householders received a subsidy for energy their solar panels were providing to the National Grid back in 2015-16 also was a significant setback, and many companies installing these in what was quite a successful industry were affected.

However, the good news is that renewable power generation here in the UK overall has been increasing, now at 43% (and indeed the generation of power from coal is now often zero for days at a time.) Much of this power is provided by offshore wind farms and indeed there's vast arrays of them now out in the North Sea off the east coast of England and in other areas too. Many of these can be seen from the coast on a clear day including this one (pictured) off Hornsea, East Yorkshire which is 1.2GW and currently the largest operational wind farm project.

Many more are under construction offshore  . In the recovery from Covid-19, the ongoing development of these, perhaps speeding up the go-ahead and contruction of these both on and offshore can help secure jobs in what is one the UK's leading sectors in green energy generation.

In terms of solar power, it would be sensible to have solar panels (or even solar tiles when they become available and more cost effective) incorporated into every new build property, in fact the whole build and design standards for new properties need overhauling to ensure that energy efficiency and eco-friendly materials are built into the specification from day one. For council properties, one way of helping low income households with energy bills will be to have the council fund solar panels and other energy efficiency improvements such as home insulation, better windows etc although for such as rollout, central government funding will have to be in place. However, this again will create lots of jobs in the rollout and improve the housing stock and the lives of many tenants as the quality of their home improves.

A question that gets asked by some is what happens when it is not windy or sunny. Many photovoltaic panels will generate some power even when it is cloudy and efficiency of these is improving all the time, around 28-30% efficient in the newest models. Battery technology is also improving and being able to store the energy provided by the sun or the wind for use at night or on days when generation is low is something that is being incorporated into home installations (for instance via the Tesla Powerwall) and moves are afoot to start putting these into the UK powergrid.

Alongside the generation of electricity, the rollout of electric vehicle charging points should take place at scale, with street level - to the household - infrastructure being brought into use across the UK. One of the problems many households (including ours) have is that we don't have a driveway and as it is illegal to trail an unattended electricity cable across a public footpath or road it would be impossible to charge an electric car or van. There would be synergy I think with the rollout of fibre broadband in some places, i.e. dig up the pavement or road once for more than one job and both would create lots of skilled jobs. The cost of electric cars is, at the moment, out of my reach even with finance options and indeed down the line you have a significant cost of replacement batteries after a few years - don't get me wrong the technology is good but if you want mass adoption you need to have options for the many millions who can only afford a cheap secondhand car.

Electric bicycles are starting to increase their range and become an option. I have seen a lot of use of these in the Netherlands and these also get over the problem of where to charge them as they can be charged indoors or in an outbuilding. However, the range isn't that great on them currently and there are regulatory issues around the speed at which they can travel on electric power. Retro-conversion kits are available for un-powered bikes.

We all - whether we can afford high value items or not - can play a part in improving our energy efficiency. LED light bulbs are cheap nowadays and when replacing an appliance such as a fridge, washing machine or vacuum or indeed a consumer electronic item, go for the most energy efficient that can be afforded. Try and get a sense of the longevity of the item - the longer the item lasts the more chance that the embedded emissions - those caused by the manufacture and distribution of the  item - will be outweighed by the energy saving from the use of the item compared to the item it replaces.

There is now a movement for "repair cafes" (obviously before lockdown and once it finishes!) so that electrical and other items can be repaired rather than scrapped and replaced. Thanks to various YouTube videos I have managed to resurrect a hoover by learning how to fault find then replace a component. Being mindful of energy use within the home, whether switching off appliances and lights when not in use or investing in a secure smart meter (there have been issues with the network security of some in the past) and simple things like only boiling the water you need all help.

Maybe a public information campaign to help instill "good" behaviours in various ways and help lock in the unexpected environmental benefits from this period of lockdown would be useful.

My final post will look at the political reforms needed to help make our governance fairer, less open to abuse and for the benefit of all, not just a privileged few.

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