The report of the Warburton inquiry, commissioned by Australia’s government as a hatchet job on the renewable electricity industry, has unintentionally demonstrated that renewables pose a real alternative to coal-fired electricity and are undermining the viability of incumbent generators.
But can renewable energy provide a solution to the problem of decarbonising the economy? To understand the problems and the process, it is worth thinking about the “paperless office”.
The paperless office started out as a visionary idea. In turn, it became a marketing slogan and a target of derision. Now, after four decades, it is finally becoming a reality.
The development of minicomputers and word processors in the 1970s led some farsighted thinkers to realise that computers would eventually have the same impact on office work, based on text, as they had already had on numerical tasks like payroll calculation. The phrase “the paperless office” came to prominence in a 1975 Businessweek article, The Office of the Future.
Twenty years later as personal computers became ubiquitous, the cost of storage plummeted, and email became generally available, it seemed that the time was right.
But supporters of paper started to push back, with arguments that are now familiar. Paper has marvellous properties that can’t be reproduced by any computer system. It is light, accessible anywhere, and (at least in its acid-free archival form) lasts forever. It can be read in any light, and annotated with ease. Improved technology, it was claimed, would lead to more paper, not less.
A new survey carried out by the Federation of Small Business (FSB) has found that almost a third of it’s members said the cost of energy was a barrier to growth for their company.
Carried out across the 8,000 FSB members, the survey revealed that the cost of electricity, water and gas for their business remains a significant concern for owners. With little spare capital to invest in renewable energy solutions such as solar panels, it seems that as many corporations are able to make grandstand launches of energy efficiency measures (like Microsoft’s solar-powered offices or Google’s wind-turbine-fuelled data centres) smaller businesses are being left behind.
According to Mike Cherry, FSB national policy chairman, the options for smaller businesses are limited.
“Small firms do have the appetite to be more energy efficient, namely because of the obvious benefits to keeping the cost of doing business down. However, for firms to take on energy efficient measures in real numbers, they need the payback to be quick and the upfront costs to be small.
Hospitals are being asked to share how prepared they are – if at all – for climate change by the NHS’s Sustainable Development Unit (SDU).
The query comes after warnings nine in ten hospital wards are at risk of overheating because of climate change-related rising temperatures. The worrying research for the Committee on Climate Change was published in July.
Ability to control ward temperatures is often limited, pointed out the subcommittee of the CCC behind the report, advising that the Care Quality Commission should consider setting standards for maximum temperatures in hospitals.
Following on from last month’s news that Wales would be testing a UK-first tidal wave generator as part of a new commercial energy development, Scotland are building what they are already calling the ‘World’s Biggest’ tidal array.Currently in the midst of an ongoing independence debate, Scotland have been dragging up the UK’s renewable energy percentage with a number of innovative projects, of which the new Pentland Firth installation will be the latest.
Ofgem has outlined plans to change the rules surrounding non-domestic automatic roll-overs and contract renewals.
No ban in sight
Automatic roll-overs occur when a business customer is migrated to a new contract in the event that they do not take action to negotiate a new deal or switch. Currently suppliers are permitted to automatically place existing fixed-term business customers onto a further fixed 12-month period if the customer does not contact the supplier to terminate their contract.
The company has issued its winter outlook consultation, with this year’s draft forecast exhibiting a wider range of scenarios as a result of tensions between Russia and Ukraine.
In assessing the winter of 2013-14, the report, published on 31 July, stated that the six-month period from October to March was the fifth warmest on record and had the warmest “cold day” in 86 years. Higher than average temperatures helped lower power and gas demand across the winter months – gas demand fell to its lowest level in seven years. This low demand picture impacted supplies, with gas storage remaining high throughout the winter.
Escalating Russia/ Ukraine tensions and unexpected nuclear outages supported rises in power and gas prices in August, as contracts saw their first monthly increases this year.
Following on from the crash of flight MH17 over Eastern Ukraine in July, geo-political tensions have dominated market focus. Sanction announcements by Europe, Ukraine and Russia have heightened gas security of supply fears for the winter-ahead.
It’s an example which could spell the end of impromptu workplace wastepaper-cum-basketball games forever – or perhaps not.
Welsh business BI WORLDWIDE claims to have sent recycling at its office rocketing by ditching individual bins at desks in April.
The “performance improvement” agency swapped the desk bins at its UK office in Newport Pagnell with 20 bio-degradable recycling points.
Consumers are being urged to buy powerful vacuum cleaners while they can after it emerged that some of the most powerful models on the market will disappear in September when a new EU rule comes into force.
An EU energy label, to be introduced from 1 September, means manufacturers will not be able to make or import vacuum cleaners with a motor that exceeds 1,600 watts.
The Which? consumer group said many of its Best Buy models had motor sizes that exceeded this, “so if you’re in the market for a powerful vacuum, you should act quickly, before all of the models currently available sell out”. The wattage will be limited to only 900 watts by 2017 – further restricting choice. Current cleaners typically boast an average of 1,800 watts.
Which? warned that many of the models that appear in its Best Buy tables have motor sizes in excess of the new limit.
Of seven awarded Best Buy status since January 2013, five have motors of more than 1,600 watts. A Best Buy 2,200w vacuum costs around £27 a year to run in electricity – around £8 more than the best-scoring 1,600w it has tested.
The consumer group argues that the move is self-defeating – claiming that householders would simply use the less powerful models for longer to achieve the same degree of cleaning.
The move has also angered manufacturers who agree the move will do nothing to make cleaners more environmentally friendly and will simply reduce efficiency in the home.
The picture could be from any small town in the United States. The only thing that stands out is the colour of the road and car park in the town in Idaho: they have been surfaced with hexagonal plates that are green.
The plates are made of tempered glass and hide solar panels underneath. The road and car park produce electricity. The image is only an artist’s rendition of the novel idea but a small car park complete with solar panels already exists in reality.
Electrical engineer Scott Brunsaw and his wife Julie Brunsaw are the founders of Solar Roadways, a company developing technology for generating electricity with solar panels embedded in the road surface.
The Brunsaws worked on their idea for a long time in the noughties before receiving funding from the Federal Highway Administration in 2009, which they put towards developing a prototype of a road with solar panels.
At the first phase, they tested the solar panels indoors. Research teams at universities focussed on the durability and traction of the glass surface and found that using tempered glass as a surface material was a feasible idea.
On the strength of these promising results, the Brunshaws were able to secure more funding, allowing them to produce a combined solar power plant and car park.
Now they have launched a crowdsourcing campaign to raise funds needed to gear up for production at a commercial level. So far, they have collected more than 1.5 million dollars.
Testing carried out in January and February revealed that the glass surface cuts the amount of electricity produced by panels by around 11 per cent but the technology still produces enough energy to make it a promising innovation.
Scott Brunsaw has calculated that if all the roads in the US were surfaced with these panels, the energy generated would be triple the current US energy consumption.
He erred on the side of caution in his calculation as it is based on winter conditions in Northern Idaho.