The latest dire warnings from the UN’s intergovernmental panel on climate change again conclude that if the world is going to avoid meltdown then we need to move to renewable energy sources pretty sharpish.
Here in the UK, with less than 5% of our energy needs met by renewables, we’re still a long way from the official target of producing even 15% of our energy from renewable sources by 2020. The good news is that there’s an increasing number of reports, roadmaps and studies which all share the vision that the UK can obtain the majority of its energy from renewables.
WWF-UK, for example, concludes that by 2030 up to 90% of our electricity could come from a combination of solar, tidal, wind and other sustainable sources, with the rest supplied via an international supergrid and gas power stations.
It’s not just the UK that could look forward to a low-carbon future; Europe could meet at least 80% of its energy needs from renewables by 2050 without paying more for electricity than it would under the current fossil-fuel based infrastructure, according to the European Climate Foundation. But just how realistic are these targets and, crucially, will they ever attract the support of both government and industry?
“These goals are most definitely achievable,” concludes Paul Ekins, a member of the energy systems team at the UK Energy Research Centre. “The technologies are there, and enough of them have already been rolled out at scale in different countries for us to be clear that they work and that they can generate the power that we need.”
Alistair Cameron, renewable energy campaigner at Friends Of the Earth, agrees: “We can definitely do this. We’re on the verge of a massive technological transformation in the renewable energy sector, and the costs of solar and other renewable technologies are already rapidly falling.”
Despite the positive attitudes, a voice of caution comes from an unexpected corner. “Although future scoping is helpful for showing what’s technically possible,” says Nina Skorupska, chief executive of the Renewable Energy Association, the trade body for the UK’s renewables industry, “100% renewables by 2050 is not something we are calling for. Expanding renewable energy is very important, but calling for too much, too soon, when governments have so many other priorities, will not get you very far. The key thing is to keep the momentum going and the industry growing.”
Need to ring your energy provider? Then be prepared to wait, as it’s more likely to answer the phone quickly if you’re a sales call, a Which? investigation has discovered.
Which? made 384 calls to 16 different energy suppliers’ customer service and sales numbers at set times of the day in April 2014, and each time recorded how long it took to get through to a human being.
They found that 11 out of the 16 suppliers answered sales calls faster than customer service calls, and existing customers were left to wait up to 13 times longer than those enquiring about joining as a new customer with Npower and Scottish Power were among the worst.
The graphic below shows the average call wait times for both customer service and sales, for each of the 16 suppliers we called. 11 out of the 16 energy suppliers answered sales calls faster than customer service calls.
via Which? Report focus on Energy Company’s waiting times – How does your contact centre compare?.
Billionaire Elon Musk has become embroiled in a row with British green energy company Ecotricity, which has accused his electric cars firm Tesla of “old-world” business dealings and a “smash-and-grab raid” on its intellectual property.Ecotricity, which has built an Electric Highway network of electric car charging posts, claims Tesla used commercially sensitive information on installing charging stations to bypass Ecotricity and approach landlords to create its own network.Tesla has a raft of highways in the US dotted with electric car charging stations which can power a car for 150 miles of driving.Tesla opened its first UK dealership in Westfield London in October and is set to deliver orders for its new Model-S electric cars. Ecotricity showed Tesla “the best locations, introduced them to our landlords and partners and started building the first two chargers for them,” founder Dale Vince said.Vince claimed he then received a “shocking and brutal” email from Tesla setting out plans for its own charging network. He said: “This is nothing more than an attempted smash and grab raid.”
Four fifths (81%) of small firms think energy suppliers don’t care about their needs, according to a new poll by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).
The results suggest businesses are sceptical of energy providers’ fairness in energy contracts.
The survey of more than 1,400 FSB members comes after Big Six suppliers pledged to essentially scrap the controversial practice of auto-rollovers.
This is when suppliers put firms onto a new, often more expensive, tariff when their contract runs out.
Now it seems businesses are struggling with other parts of their energy contracts.
One third (36%) in the survey say they found it difficult to switch energy supplier, pointing to unclear notice periods, complex contract terms and the speed of the switching process.
John Allan, FSB National Chairman said: “It’s clear from our research that many small businesses don’t trust the big energy suppliers to deliver a smarter, fairer and more transparent billing process.”
Scottish Power has been fined a symbolic £1 for charging lower prices to customers who paid by direct debit.
The Spanish-owned energy group, which supplies 3.2 million households in Britain, also agreed to pay £750,000 to Energy Best Deal, a public awareness campaign backed by Citizens Advice, as part of the settlement with Ofgem, its regulator.
Under Ofgem rules, suppliers must be able to justify charging customers different prices according to how they pay.
Whilst the UK’s status as an energy importer rather than exporter is no secret, a new study by researchers warns that what little remaining fossil fuels Britain does have at its disposal will likely run out in a little over five years.The report from the Global Sustainability Institute says that Britain has just 5.2 years of oil, 4.5 years of coal and three years of its own gas remaining, and should form part of a Europe-wide drive towards renewable energy.
Scottish Power has agreed to pay £750,000 following an Ofgem investigation into price differences between its standard credit and direct debit tariffs.The investigation found that between September 2009 and December 2012 Scottish Power did not have a robust process to assess the cost of different payment types and set prices accordingly.Under Ofgem rules, suppliers can only have different prices for different payment methods if the amount reflects the costs involved in supplying those accounts.These rules are designed to protect consumers and take into account that some payment methods are more expensive to administer than others.Scottish Power will pay the £750,000 to the Energy Best Deal campaign run by Citizens Advice which helps consumers with their energy accounts.Ofgem said the size of the penalty reflected the scale of the breach and took into account Scottish Power’s willingness to accept its failings and make payments that benefited consumers.
The public are being asked to vote which technology idea deserves a jackpot of £10 million to solve “one of the greatest issues of our time”.
Creating aeroplanes capable of short-haul flights from London to Edinburgh that are zero carbon is one of six issues jockeying to win the Longitude Prize 2014.
Others are access to safe and clean water for all; stopping the rise of resistance to antibiotics; helping people with dementia live independently for longer; nutritious and sustainable food; and helping people who are paralysed to move again.
The winning challenge will become the Longitude Prize 2014 and then it will be open to anyone to solve.
Voting begins at 10pm on Thursday after the episode of Horizon on BBC Two.
Security of the UK’s energy supply has become a defining issue for politicians, the business community and voters. That insecurity has been brought into sharp relief by the threat of increased gas prices from Russia, at a time when European renewable energy targets and a dysfunctional power supply pose their own challenges.
To better understand how some of these challenges can be met, the Guardian hosted a roundtable discussion at the Bristol Chamber of Commerce as part of the #bigenergydebate.
Bristol and the south-west leads the charge in the UK shift to renewable energy. So how has this been achieved? Merlin Hyman, chief executive of sustainability consultancy Regen SW, said co-operation had been crucial.
“I think we’ve worked together a bit better than other places. The south-west bioheat programme, for example, has been run by a broad partnership of people. The energy industry here involves other interested parties such as farmers, the tourism industry and households. The south-west now has twice the renewable heat installations of any other region, including Scotland, and the industry directly employs 10,000 people – something that has grown by 40% through the teeth of the recession.”
Hymen believes a key determinant of success has been grassroots support, describing community-based energy initiatives as “perhaps the most interesting trend” to emerge in recent years.
“They are saying ‘let’s have a different relationship between energy generation and local communities, where we have a stake in these developments’. It’s a small movement but expanding rapidly,” he said.
Paul Isbell, energy manager at Bristol city council, echoed the point. He cites Bristol’s decision in 2011 to create its own energy company, and the growth of similar initiatives around the country, as evidence of this.
“Right now we’re trying to develop our own district heating system” he said. “We have our own local authority, multi-utility company too. London is doing something similar, and Nottingham also. This model of ‘big six’ and big supplies – it’s not working.”
The experts gathered around the table agreed that government policy on energy wasn’t working, either. Several participants lamented the politicisation of such a crucial sector and the resulting uncertainty. Richard Bonner, partner at asset consultancy EC Harris, gave an example of the damage this is doing to the wider UK economy:
Public support for fracking for shale gas in the UK has fallen below 50% for the first time, new polling suggests.
Just 49.7% of people now say they think the controversial process should be allowed in the UK, marking the third fall in support since high-profile protests last summer in West Sussex which saw dozens of arrests including that of Green MP, Caroline Lucas and ongoing protests at a site in Salford.
Support for shale gas was at a high of 58% in July 2012, which slumped to 54% last September and 53.3% this January, the long-running survey by YouGov for the University of Nottingham shows.
Last week, the Tory peer Lord Howell, who is chancellor George Osborne’s father-in-law and who caused a furore last year when he said fracking should take place in the “desolate” north-east, warned that fracking could cost the Conservative party electorally.