[Guest feature] Is switching to a green electricity tariff a good thing to do?

How do you know if the energy powering up your appliances is green energy? And, can green tariffs really help play their part in getting us to 100% renewable energy? It’s an issue we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about, so here’s our thoughts.

Where we are, and where do we need to be?

The world is on a precipice. We have roughly a decade to avert catastrophic climate change, and our progress in cutting emissions right now is too slow. 

Here in the UK, around 40% of our electricity is already sourced from renewables, compared with just 7% in 2009. Great progress, but government forecasts estimate that this will rise to only 52% by 2025. This needs to be 100% and as fast as humanly possible. Can green tariffs help this happen?

What is a green tariff?

Firstly, let’s clarify what a green tariff is. When you’re on a green or renewable electricity tariff, your supplier promises that, however much electricity you use in your home, the same amount of renewable electricity will be put into the National Grid.

How do you know it’s green energy?

Here’s where it gets more complicated. You can’t point at a wind farm and know that the electricity it produces will be supplied to your home. Most renewable electricity goes into the National Grid, where it’s jumbled up with electricity from other sources, just like streams feeding a big pond. When we take electricity out of the pond, it’s a mish mash of energy from lots of different generators – both clean and dirty. 

So, how can we prove that a renewable electricity tariff is actually sourced from renewable energy?

To solve that problem, the government gives renewable generators a certificate for every unit of clean electricity they put into the National Grid. These certificates are known as REGOs (which stands for ‘Renewable Energy Guarantees of Origin’). 

Your energy supplier can buy REGOs from generators to prove that every unit of electricity you take out of the National Grid is matched by an equivalent unit of green electricity going into the grid. (They then have to ‘retire’ the REGO to make sure no-one can claim the same unit of green power twice.) 

Are there different types of green tariffs?

Not all green tariffs are the same. Green tariffs vary depending on how the supplier buys their green energy. Suppliers have three choices:

1.     Build your own

First, they can build their own renewables generation. Ecotricity and Good Energy have been pioneers in this area. This is arguably the greenest option as buying electricity from a supplier who purchases their energy directly from clean generators channels your spending directly to the renewables industry. However, in the UK this is not widespread and it’s often expensive to do this at scale.

2.     Buy direct

Alternatively, suppliers can enter into contracts directly with the generators of renewable electricity. This usually involves committing to buy a certain amount of electricity at a set price for a set number of years. When suppliers buy electricity in this way, the REGOs and the electricity are sold together. This is arguably the next greenest option, but can be relatively expensive due to the lack of flexibility and locked in prices.

3.     Wholesale

Most UK suppliers currently buy their electricity through wholesale markets. Wholesale markets aggregate demand, which gives access to lower prices. They also allow both suppliers and generators to sell surplus capacity, helping to balance the system. All of this improves efficiency and reduces costs for the end user. 

When you’re on a renewable tariff and your supplier buys their power through the wholesale markets, they have to buy their REGOs separately, directly from renewables generators. That way, they can demonstrate that the electricity they’re selling to you is matched by clean electricity that has been put into the grid. Most suppliers in the UK use this approach for buying green energy. This is mainly because it delivers green energy at lower cost to customers.

How can households and businesses switching to green tariffs help us get to 100% renewable energy?

There are many things outside of green tariffs that dictate the pace of renewable deployment in the UK. Government policy and the commercial attractiveness (and stability) for renewable generation companies to put up more wind and solar farms are big drivers.

Green tariffs are not the silver bullet to speed up our transition to renewables. However, here are a few ways that switching your energy tariff can make a difference:

1.     Demand can drive supply

Basic laws of supply and demand. If 100% of electricity consumers can be persuaded to buy renewable electricity, then it follows that 100% of supply will have to be from renewable sources. This is the fundamental principle that underpins everything we do at Big Clean Switch. Our goal is to get every home and business onto a renewable electricity tariff.

If every home and business in the UK was on a REGO-backed tariff, all of the electricity going into the pond would have to be clean. This makes REGOs a useful tool in transitioning the UK to a 100% renewable electricity mix. Although not outright the absolute greenest option, the REGO backed wholesale green tariffs that most suppliers in the UK offer, are making it possible for millions and millions of homes who would otherwise be unable to afford green tariffs to demonstrate their demand for clean electricity. This is important if we’re to achieve the speed and scale of change we need. 

2.     Divestment

Moving the money you pay for your energy bills from a supplier who is rooted in the fossil fuel industry (British Gas for example) to a renewable energy supplier can, and is, disrupting the finances of Britain’s biggest energy companies. The Big 6 suppliers in the UK have all been losing customers at a staggering rate. This has caused two of The Big 6, Scottish Power and Eon, to mover over to supplying 100% renewable electricity to all their customers in the last year. They ultimately see supplying green energy as a way to retain customers and make money. The decisions that these big energy companies make can definitely put us on track for a 100% renewable electricity system sooner.

3.     Signals it sends

Did you know that just under half (around 45%) of all households in the UK are on renewable electricity tariffs? This really does show that people want green energy. This can be used to send signals to politicians about the public’s desire for renewable energy and ultimately, influence the government and businesses regarding their decisions about where the UK’s energy comes from.

Given it only takes 5-10 minutes to switch, why wouldn’t you play your part in nudging us faster towards a 100% renewable electricity system?

DISCLAIMER: Featured image courtesy of LKABMinerals.

How to recycle tender and mature coconuts?

On a scorching hot summer day, what’s better to quench your thirst than with coconut water? Coconut water is known to have a lot of health benefits and some people even like to have it daily (in moderation). Not only this, a fully mature (brown) coconut is also used as offering to the Gods in temples, especially in the Hindu culture in India. So, what happens to the coconut shells and husk afterwards? For the tender coconuts, it is a common site for the coconut vendors to pile them nearby owing to lack of established infrastructure to recycle them despite them being clearly classified as dry waste. As for the mature coconuts, owing to the religious sentiments attached, sooner or later they end up in landfills as people refrain from throwing them in dedicated bins for dry waste recycling. This article discusses some of the efficient ways to recycle the shells and husks of coconuts to ensure they do not end up in landfills.

Recycling the husk

The coconut husk a.k.a., coir or coconut fibre is the outer “hairy” coating of the coconut especially visible in the mature (brown) coconut. The husk of the coconut consists of very strong fibres and hence, can be converted into value-added items like ropes, bio-degradable chairs and erosion control matting. Additionally, the by-product of the husk is the coco peat which is the light weight, corky material that holds together the coir fibre in coconut husk. Coco peat is being widely used for hydroponic agricultural practices.

Recycling the shell

Finally, people are starting to take note of the lack of proper infrastructure for recycling tender coconut, at least in Mumbai, India. The tender coconut shells have multiple reuse cases. For instance, they can be used to make low-cost, eco-friendly, DIY hutments or can be shredded and converted into mulch to protect the trees from erosion and harsh weather especially on hilly terrain.

The mature (brown) coconut shells can be recycled and converted to activated charcoal. Some companies like the ArSta Eco and the Sustainable Green Field Enterprise (SGFE) have come up with an innovative technique to convert coconut shell into charcoal to curb the environmental pollution caused by burning wood for fuel. Often in the backwards communities, the fire stove lit with wood sticks is a common source of heat for cooking. However, this fuel has a significant carbon footprint and is not eco-friendly. This combined with the need to recycle coconut shells can be solved jointly by converting the shells into eco-friendly charcoal. For this, the shells are dried, sifted and combined with other raw materials. Then, they are efficiently carbonized at 300-500°C for 3-5 hours, crushed, mixed and shaped into a convenient and efficient size, and finally dried to guarantee high performance. Aside from this, the coconut shell can also be used for making eco-friendly craft items or bowls.

[Guest feature] Hydroponics: Water-based farming that saves water?

Hydroponics, by definition, is a method of growing plants in a water based, nutrient rich solution. Hydroponics does not use soil, instead the root system is supported using an inert medium such as cocopeat, perlite or clay pellets. The basic premise behind hydroponics is to allow the plants roots to come in direct contact with water, containing the nutrient solution, while also having access to oxygen, which is essential for proper growth.

Hydroponics is a precision farming technique that allows for absolutely no pesticide to be added for any plant being grown.

The facts are the growing with hydroponics comes with many advantages, the biggest of which is the amount of water that Hydroponics lets you save. Most hydroponic systems work on the principles of re-circulation – allowing for great savings and no wastage. Hydroponic systems use upto 95% less water than conventional growing methods. Another factor is a greatly increased rate of growth in your plants. With the proper setup, your plants will mature faster and produce more than the same plants grown in soil as they do not have to work as hard to obtain nutrients. Even a small root system will provide the plant exactly what it needs.

Think of it this way: plant will focus more on growing upstairs instead of expanding the root system downstairs.

At FutureFarmsTM, the  focus is on commercial application of this technology. With our population increasing at unprecedented levels – it is integral that new and improved methods of production are available. Their Hydroponic solutions allows plants to grow 4x faster than any soil Farm could, over each acre. It is a great choice because it gives you the ability to meticulously control the variables that affect how well your plants grow. A fine tuned hydroponic system can easily surpass a soil based system in plant quality, nutrition and amount of produce yielded.

All of this is possible through careful control of your nutrient solution and pH levels. Their hydroponic system will also use less water than soil based plants because the system is enclosed, which results in less evaporation. In fact, hydroponics is better for the environment because it reduces waste and pollution from soil runoff.

If you want to grow the most nutritious, juiciest, cleanest plants you can possibly imagine, then hydroponics is the right choice for you.

DISCLAIMER: This guest feature was submitted by FutureFarmsTM, a Hydroponics based precision agriculture firm established in Chennai, India.

How to save energy and water doing laundry?

Ever wondered if it is possible to save energy and water somehow when you do your laundry?

Almost every middle-income household these days has a washing machine to assist with reducing the workload of household chores. However, the key challenge is the increased consumption of water and energy when doing the laundry. To this end, there are some corrective measures that can help with doing water and energy efficient laundry.

How to save water?

The key ingredient to saving water while doing the laundry is to begin by selecting a laundry machine that is water efficient given its wash process. For instance, it is known that while front-loading machines cost more, they are often more water efficient that the top-loading machines. While this sounds easy, this solution may not appeal to those who already have a top-loading washing machine. In that case, such consumers can look to alternative solutions like using XorbsTM to save water. These are spheroidal shaped polymer balls that assist with absorbing dirt and unwanted stains from the foiled clothes whilst allowing for reducing the amount of water needed to clean the load. Yet another pragmatic solution to conserve the water required is to store the grey-water in tanks and recycling it for the next wash cycle (preferably within the next 24 hrs).

How to save energy?

Those were a few pragmatic tips to save water but running a washing machine also consumes energy. Part of this energy comes from the utilization of hot water for wash cycle. This can be either avoided by using cold water (whenever possible) or using solar energy like renewable sources to heat water with minimal energy overhead. A major part of the energy is consumed by the washing machine itself, so when buying a machine, the consumer should look out for proper energy ratings and preferably buy the high efficiency machines that suffice the usage. However, if the machine you already own does not come with energy rating and replacement is not a viable option, consider pre-soaking the soiled clothes and try to execute a full-wash cycle only when you have a full-load. Every little bit helps, so please do you part in saving the planet.

Can we use robots for environmental conservation?

Of late, a lot of natural calamities are disrupting the daily life: bush-fires in Australia, forest fires in California and flooding of thirteen Indian states, Venice and several regions of the the United Kingdom owing to torrential rainfall. To some extent, our negligence towards the environment is to blame. The challenge here is that the environment to be monitored is often large and usually not feasible to be covered with static sensors. A passive solution to this could be to use robots as mobile sensor nodes, given their agility, to simply observe and transmit the data to a base station. But why stop there when the robots can also be endowed with decision making capabilities using artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms to actively process incoming data.

To this end, announcing the official launch of my book titled “Multi-robot Exploration for Environment Monitoring” which presents a one-of-a-kind resource constrained perspective. This is the first-of-a-kind book length discussion pertaining to deployment of mobile robots for environmental monitoring and the challenges faced therewith. For instance, when deploying robots, they are destined to deal with resource allocation problems, which has been described in-depth and I have attempted to provide solutions for it. The book is designed to cater to both machine learning and robotics enthusiasts alike. The book also discusses some success stories from researchers around the world and opens up new arenas for further research along these lines.

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