By Tom Lawson
21 July, 2017
A community microgrid is helping New Yorkers exchange renewable power
Residents in two New York City neighbourhoods are helping to keep each other’s lights on by sharing energy generated by solar panels.
Using a TransActive Grid, people in Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal and Park Slope neighbourhoods are able to give away or sell excess solar power they produced with rooftop panels to those living nearby.
I wanted to sell my power locally, so that the dollars stay in Brooklyn and in New York City
Community microgrids like the Brooklyn microgrid are able to operate independently of larger regional or national grids. They can give those connected to them more control over what happens to any excess energy produced.
“It just makes sense from an environmental picture, and from a financial picture,” said Park Slope resident Milton Ross. “I got interested in the microgrid because I wanted to sell my power locally, so that the dollars stay in Brooklyn and in New York City.”
By Lucy Purdy
26 July, 2017
The sale of petrol and diesel cars will end in the UK in 2040, with a new tax on diesel drivers to be introduced from 2020
The government has confirmed plans to ban the sale of new diesel and petrol cars in the UK from 2040. It comes amid fears that rising levels of nitrogen oxide pose a major risk to public health.
The commitment follows a similar pledge made in France.
Ministers are expected to unveil a £255m fund to help councils tackle emissions from diesel vehicles, as part of a £3bn package of spending on air quality. From 2020, new pollution taxes will also be levied on diesel drivers who use congested highways – targeting busy roads in major towns and cities, as well as some motorways.
Campaigners have described the measures as promising, but say more detail is needed.
Aston University car industry expert Professor David Bailey has said he believes the timescale is long enough to be taken seriously and could speed up the transition to electric cars.
The industry wants a positive approach which gives consumers incentives to purchase these greener cars
The industry trade body, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, said an outright ban on diesels would hurt the sector and have urged instead for efforts to persuade people of the benefits of greener vehicles.
Chief executive Mike Hawes told the BBC: “The industry instead wants a positive approach which gives consumers incentives to purchase these [greener] cars.”
By Martin Wright
18 August, 2017
Plunging solar and wind prices have led to the brokering of new green power deals, from India to Mexico. Martin Wright gets energised about renewables
No one, it’s fair to say, really saw this coming. Even pundits who’d been predicting it for ages didn’t think it would happen so fast. ‘It’ is, of course, the renewables revolution, which has spun conventional wisdom on its head.
Like many revolutions, at its heart lies money. Driven by ambitious government programmes in Germany, India and China, along with fierce competition, prices of solar and wind power have plummeted farther– and faster – than anyone imagined possible. They have now reached the magical tipping point at which they start to compete head-on with fossil fuels. In Chile, a solar-based scheme won a major power auction by offering to supply electricity at a record low price of $29.10 (£22.80) per megawatt hour – well below the wholesale average. Prices in India, too, have tumbled, as that vast country cottons on to its solar potential. Chinese companies scrabbling for market share help push costs to new floors.
As revolutions go, it’s so far been surprisingly apolitical. Conservatives may have traditionally opposed renewables, but the sheer weight of economic logic is shifting opinion, and fast. Over half of the renewable capacity recently installed in the US is in Republican-governed states. More US citizens are employed in solar power than in generating electricity through fossil fuels. The president may ‘dig coal’, as his campaign slogan had it, but when it comes to hard business logic, the markets trump Trump.
It’s not too much of a leap to imagine hardened Brexiteers jumping on to the green bandwagon with a cry of “British sparks from British wind!
Politics is playing its part, too. Every vehicle powered by electricity rather than petrol means less dependence on oil imports, many of which, of course, come from the Gulf states, with all the political entanglements that entails. The search for ‘energy independence’ helped fuel the drive for fracking; it’s starting to do the same for renewables. It’s not too much of a leap to imagine hardened Brexiteers jumping on to the green bandwagon with a cry of “British sparks from British wind! Let’s take back control of our energy!”
But before overheating with excitement, it’s only fair to remind ourselves that these are still early days. As a proportion of overall energy supply, renewables remain relatively puny. Wind and solar together accounted for just 4.4 per cent of world electricity production in 2015. Then there’s the inconvenient fact that the wind doesn’t always blow, and our sun doesn’t always shine. No matter how cheap the source, electricity grids needing to balance supply and demand struggle to accommodate large amounts of such ‘intermittent’ generation. So the day when renewables dominate the power market is still some way off.
But it is surely coming. Rapid advances in battery storage, led by Tesla, are helping to overcome intermittency issues. Electric vehicles are part of the storage solution as well, with their batteries acting as micro power plants to help balance the grid. The more there are, the more effective that role will be.
The president may ‘dig coal’, but when it comes to hard business logic, the markets trump Trump
Meanwhile, as growing numbers of households and businesses start to invest in their own generating capacity – principally solar – so we will start to see a network of ‘prosumers’: people who are not only consuming power, but producing it too, and earning income into the bargain. In turn, that could be the basis of a whole new pattern of energy infrastructure; one that’s moved away from a few centralised fossil or nuclear plants sending power down the grid, and towards a much more sophisticated, decentralised web of millions of producers and consumers, with electrons flowing to and fro: an ‘energy internet’, as it has been called. And in turn, that could herald a revolution not only in energy technology, but in its economics and its politics.
Renewable energy has experienced a few false dawns in its time. But few doubt that the sun is finally, and irrevocably, on the rise.
Martin Wright is a writer and editor specialising in environmental solutions and sustainable futures, and a director of Positive News
By Lucy Purdy
21 August, 2017
Love lattes, but worried about waste? Here are three projects putting leftover coffee grounds to good use
1. Fantastic fungi
GroCycle, launched by Devon-based social enterprise Fungi Futures CIC, grows oyster mushrooms from waste coffee grounds. The team test ideas in their Exeter mushroom farm and sell home ‘gourmet mushrooms’ kits. They say they have so far taught the technique to people in more than 40 countries.
2. Cool beans
Bio-bean recycles waste coffee grounds into biomass briquettes and pellets, and is researching biodiesel and biochemicals production too. It sells coffee logs for stoves and fires, plus coffee pellets to heat buildings – a sustainable alternative to imported woody biomass.
3. Latte arty
Indonesian artist Ghidaq Al-Nizar puts coffee leftovers to creative use: he produces intricate works of art using coffee grounds and shares them on social media using #zerowastecoffee. He paints on to paper, plates and even leaves.
By Tom Lawson
24 August, 2017
Canada’s largest national marine conservation area is to be created to protect a large, biodiverse area of Arctic water
The Canadian government and Inuit group the Qikiqtani Inuit Association have reached an agreement to create a new marine conservation area in Arctic waters.
Located predominantly in Lancaster Sound (known as Tallurutiup Imanga by Inuit people) in northern Canada, the reserve will cover more than 50,500 square miles of ocean and will more than double the total area of Canada’s marine protected waters.
The area is one of the most ecologically sensitive regions of the Canadian Arctic and provides habitat for narwhal, beluga and bowhead whales, seals, walruses and polar bears.
“These waters have supported the lives of Inuit since time immemorial,” said P.J. Akeeagok, president of the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, which represents 14,000 Inuit, including communities that border the new reserve.
“For almost five decades, Inuit have strived to ensure these incredible resources continue to provide our traditional way of life and our survival.”
The new protections will ban mineral extraction, but allow shipping to continue. Although the protection boundary has been agreed upon, an enforcement date is yet to be announced.