Could Scotland become the renewables capital of Europe?

Bag piper beside wind turbine in Scotland

Photo: rechargenews.com

Very soon, Scotland may have its first opportunity in 307 years to end UK-rule and gain independence, stand alone as a state and, crucially, fend for itself.

To describe this as a hot topic in the press would be a massive understatement (especially north of the border, where only one other topic of conversation has got cabbies in the capital more animated: *whispers* trams).

The truth is, it is understandably difficult to measure, speculate or indeed prove just how successful an independent country could be until it gains such independence.

However, the debate has raised more than a few interesting points on energy, and the power that this comparatively small stretch of land seemingly has access to.

A couple of weeks ago OilPrice.com was fortunate enough to discuss just this in a pretty full and frank interview with the man at the centre of the debate; First Minister of Scotland and head of the Scottish National Party, Alex Salmond. Rightfully renowned as a champion of Scotland’s energy potential, Salmond used the opportunity to demystify a few facts and figures that have been brought to the table.

Even without our offshore oil and gas reserves, Scotland currently has the third highest output per head in the U.K., after London and the South-East. And when oil and gas output is included, Scotland’s output per head is 15 percent above the U.K. average,” he said.

And it’s easy to see why such large numbers are being thrown about too. If Scotland did gain independence it would effectively own a 90% geographic share of North Sea oil and gas fields. Or to put it another way, 81% of current UK oil and gas receipts. Or to put it an even more significant way: access to oil and gas worth $9.67 – $19.34 billion annually.

But an abundance of fossil fuels hardly equates to a greener future, does it? In response to this Alex Salmond has proposed an oil fund – a managed and developed pot which would be invested during financially solid years and dipped into during any economic downturns.

It certainly sounds like a good idea, but sceptics have been quick to suggest that by ‘economic downturn’, Salmond actually means ‘when the renewable technologies under-deliver’. Statistically though, there doesn’t seem to be much suggestion that Scotland won’t meet it’s quite exceptional 100% renewable electricity target by 2020.

In 2011 alone renewable generation in Scotland was up by 28.1% from 2009 and the current practical offshore renewables resource has been estimated at 206 GW. By harnessing even a third of this Scotland could meet its own domestic electricity needs seven times over.

Any investment in harnessing this sort of potential isn’t just speculative or determined on a yes-vote though; it’s already underway. Ministers announced this week that four Scottish renewables companies will compete for the £10 million Saltire Prize– a competition set up to encourage the development of wave and tidal energy devices in Scottish waters – and consent has already been given for a 10-megawatt tidal power array in the Sound of Islay, which would be the world’s largest consented wave or tidal stream project.

In fact the Scottish energy industry is said to have made an investment of £2.8 billion since 2009, supporting around 11,000 jobs. “These figures show Scotland’s renewables industry is very much bucking the economic trend.” Said Niall Stuart, chief executive of Scottish Renewables.

Of course not all of Scotland’s existing renewables solutions have proved favourable, especially for certain American oligarchs who fear that their view from the 9th could be compromised. However, from a community level the threat that the likes of giant wind turbines provide is indeed very real; as after energy, tourism is arguably Scotland’s key cash cow.

Giant rotating blades dotted around the coastline may put the fear up small communities who rely on their scenery for tourism (or even a livelihood in the case of fishing villages like Anstruther), but again there seems to be effective ways round even this.

Community-owned islands like Gigha and Eigg have been real success-stories in generating their own electricity and, if anything, have possibly put themselves even more on the tourist map by taking energy generation into their own hands.

There’s mileage in this…

The other week we made the media by saying some things about sensible car user in firms that we’ve been talking about for some time – only on this occasion we had some pretty cracking new stats to construct a cast iron case.

Our headline was that UK companies could save £1billion on their company car fuel bills by using a robust mileage management system, while cutting 2.4million tonnes of carbon emissions. We drove the point home (pardon the pun) by equating the latter to circumnavigating the globe 374,300 times in a fleet car. A bit silly, but why not.

But what is this mileage management business, you may well ask. In short, clever software. To expand a little, very accurate logging of vehicles when in company use that can help pinpoint ways to reduce mileage reimbursement costs and cut emissions, and even assess whether the best vehicles for the job are being used – all part of a leaner, cleaner company.

What’s more, using software means it’s less work for driver and manager. The technology works by using postcodes which allows mileage to be calculated automatically, and regular destinations can be saved and reused by drivers as required.

We’ve worked with some big boys on this. Firms like  Heinz UK, who saw its overall mileage claims fall by 28 per cent and its pence per mile rate by 10 per cent after working with us and trialling Vertivia Mileage Management’s Internet-based software on its 410- vehicle fleet.

Now Red Bull has introduced the same software to its 106-strong fleet of UK company cars, and we’re hoping for a similar success story. Think of this not as clipping Red Bull company car drivers’ much-vaunted wings, but merely helping them fly from A to B more efficiently.

There are a massive four million fleet vehicles in the UK – our stats make abundantly clear that collective action in getting more for less from firms’ journeys can make a huge difference. Sing along now: “I would log 500 miles and I would log 500 more…”

We’ve got a mileage management webinar taking place on Thursday 13 September 2012. Visit www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/transportwebinars for the details

Our green home networker is opening doors

Scottish home with solar array on roof

If the idea that students are workshy freeloaders hadn’t been laid bare as a total myth long ago, the work of Rebecca Worrall at Energy Saving Trust Scotland will certainly help to kill it altogether.

Rebecca has been working at our Scottish offices on the Green Homes Network  – a scheme that pretty much does what it says on the tin: showing people real green technologies working in real homes. It can often make the difference between taking the plunge towards energy self-sufficiency and deciding to put it on the back-burner.

We’re very pleased to report that Rebecca’s work has won the Central Scotland heat of the Environmental Placement Programme, beating nine other students who each had to demonstrate how they have helped their host organisation achieve a particular project.

She is now through to the final next week where she will compete with other finalists from across Scotland. The event will be launched by Stewart Stevenson MSP.

This is of course great news for her, but also great for raising awareness of the Green Homes Network amongst other environmental organisations who may want to get involved, so we’re especially pleased with our super student’s efforts.

While we’re on theme of awareness raising, there was a good piece in The Scotsman earlier this week about exactly the project Rebecca excelled in, in which our Scottish director Mike Thornton makes an excellent point about the reasons Scots have more reason than most to explore the idea of home renewables:

“With wind, sunshine and rain, sometimes all within the space of 24 hours, our weather can be unpredictable – but it can also be a great source of energy for your home.”

There’s an open day of all the green homes we’ve got signed up taking place on Saturday 29 September. You can find out more at www.greenhomesopenday.org.uk

Mind the gap to make a Green Deal breakthrough

A bit like the reactions required to engineer consumer trust. Kind of.

By Julian Roberts 

Having been to a dozen or so meetings, debates and roundtable discussions on Green Deal over the last six months, it’s clear there’s a recurring theme: lack of consumer trust.

Get parachuted into a Green Deal conference with no briefing on what it’s about, miss the context setting, experience the combination of tension in the air and those big searching questions, and you could easily be forgiven for thinking it’s a discussion about the discovery of the Higgs boson.

Stick around and you’d realise it was a discussion on the discovery of trust. It would be easy to say that gaining trust is not rocket science – but in this case the more topical cliché would be particle physics.

We know for sure that this thing called ‘trust’ exists and is the thing that will hold the Green Deal together, but up to now we have been unable to find it.

Libor rates, MPs expenses, phone hacking, executive bonuses, banking and price-fixing are the most high profile examples of where trust evaporated overnight.

Much great work has been done to win over consumer trust when it comes to energy efficiency. Nonetheless some nagging doubts persist.

All trust issues come down to one thing: the gap between what we promise and what we deliver.

With green products and services, the gaps come about as the result of a relatively young and burgeoning green economy. We’ve been learning, trialling technologies, feeling our way. But we know much more now. It’s a time for reassurance. It’s time to close the trust gap, and businesses looking to enter into the Green Deal can do it.

We went looking for ‘the trust gap’ in Energy Saving Trust’s very own sort of Hadron Collider and this is what we found:

1.      Motive – start and finish with a sound one

Too many approaches to customers are based on a single product and overly simplistic fuel bill saving claims. A better position is to help householders manage their fuel bills for the long-term. We can show customers how one energy saving product is one part of a journey to becoming a low energy, low bills household. We can also show what else they can do – from basic changes in their energy-using behaviour to installing other, complementary measures in the future. This help builds an on-going relationship with the customer and with great advice helps ensure that they will make savings.

2.      Embrace uncertainty………..talk to people

There is still uncertainty out there about a lot of products. But rather get into black and white arguments which can come across as denial, take the time and care to talk through concerns. An early example of this is low-energy light bulbs. Some early and cheaper versions of low-energy light bulbs (which didn’t produce great light and did take a while to get bright) were kicking around in the market place for some time. Advocates rightly defended low-energy light bulbs but this was in conflict to some people’s experiences [of the lesser light bulbs]. Never a good tactic. Of course the newer and high quality ones are fantastic, but positive perceptions of low-energy light bulbs became contaminated by the older product. This confusion and uncertainty needed to be embraced, discussed and explained.

3.      Hyper-local

If big above-the-line advertising campaigns didn’t work then big companies wouldn’t do them. But when it comes to energy efficiency, don’t forget the ‘hyper-local’. Third-party advocacy can play the lead role here and people in communities share knowledge and experiences, instilling confidence in their peers. Engaging local newsletters and council magazines is a really effective way to build trust in communities.

4.      Targeting, targeting…..targeting

How many times have you received junk mail, had a knock on the door or been cold called by someone selling you something that is not right for you. You’ll win the trust of consumers if you offer them something that’s right for their circumstance. There’s lots of insight and data available to make sure you target affectively. There’s lots of evidence to show that we are more likely to undertake work on our homes to make them more energy efficient at key ‘trigger points’ in our life: moving house or starting a family for example. Engage customers is the right way at the right time and they’re more likely to have faith that you know what you’re doing.

5.      Set expectations

We undertook some pilots which gave us some good insight on the Green Deal. One of the key things we learnt is the importance of setting expectations. We came across instances where people were quoted to have renewable kit installed but when the work started it transpired that extra plumbing was required. Other cases found that people really wanted a solar panel and were told they could have one. When it turned out that their property was unsuitable they were so disappointed and decided not to take up any of the measures of offer. Make sure customers get quoted for all the expected work and make sure you’re upfront with what they can and cannot have installed.

6.      Right property, right product

If there’s one thing we’ve learnt from our field trials it’s the importance of installing the right product in the right property. Get that wrong and your great product can get a bad reputation, not because it’s a bad product but because it’s in the wrong set of circumstances.

7.      Golden Rule

You’ve got a great product, you’ve installed it in the right way in the right property but you didn’t give your customer great advice. You can’t have a low-carbon house without a low-carbon citizen. The insulation’s gone in and the householder is enjoying the extra warmth so much so that they crank up the heating.Under the Green Deal the ‘Golden Rule’ is that the amount of money paid back by the household must be less than the savings they make from energy saving. Without the right customer advice, consumers might not adopt the right behaviours which can contribute to the ‘Golden Rule’ failing.

8.      Certification’s key

If you’re going to be a Green Deal installer then you need to be certified. I think we’re all backing this idea.

Find out where to go for certification.

9.      Work with others

Local authorities, housing associations and estate agents know the local area better than anyone. They already have a relationship with local people. Rather than go in cold, why not explore working with others in order to reach your audiences.

10.  Reputation arrives on foot and leaves on a [race] horse

We do, on average, about two regional radio interviews a week about stories of residents concerned that they might be being mis-sold green products and services. It’s really important to make sure that you get everything right before you go to market. Because once you become the centre of a media story you will find it hard to win long-term trust thereafter. Start by making sure you have great products, are targeting in the right way, giving the right advice. Build a trust with the hyper-local media first and then watch your reputation grow. It’s about SHOW and not TELL.

We found the Higgs Boson.

We landed on Mars.

Next to this fare, winning the trust of consumers looks achievable. And if we mind the gap, we’ll do just that.

Is it a terrace? Is it a bungalow? No, it’s a SuperHome!

By Jack Melling

SuperHomes! Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? While SuperHomes don’t have similar powers to the comic book heroes we know and love, it is indeed a very exciting and pioneering initiative for people looking to green their homes with the latest energy efficiency measures.

One of the best things about SuperHomes is that they are actually all refurbished older properties that are intended to provide their owners with greater comfort, lower bills and lower carbon emissions – this has to be by at least 60 per cent to qualify for SuperHome status. Tough stuff.

So what does a SuperHome look like? Are they clearly noticeable? They must be, they’re super!

Well, just like Clark Kent, who you would’ve never guessed was Superman, the same can be said of most SuperHomes. While the inside is radically altered with the most superior insulation and alternative heating sources, the front of the SuperHomes in most cases retain their original look and charm.

And, just like a superhero, every home and renovation is different; every home has its own unique quality that makes it stand out from the crowd.

Some homes use passive solar designs; some have underfloor heating; others use the latest technology in thermal insulation; and some just use the latest double-glazing to achieve ultimate energy efficiency.

And it seems that SuperHomes are more relevant than ever before. Many of the home improvements seen in SuperHomes will be eligible for support under the Green Deal which is set to launch this October.

In recognition of this, the owners of SuperHomes across the UK will be opening their doors to the public and inviting them for tours this September. Owners will also be on hand to talk about their experiences, including both the challenges and the financial and environmental benefits of turning their home Super.

Gordon Glass from Superhomes says:

The open days demonstrate the benefits of switching to low energy living, so visitors leave with actionable ideas and greater confidence to green their own home.”

So if people are interested in turning their home “Super” with the latest energy efficiency measures then visiting one of the open days could definitely be worth a look. More details can be found on the SuperHomes website which shows where people can find their closest SuperHome.

Alternatively, for other green open home events see Heritage Open Days and Open House London.

Getting the most from your battle-bot

Note: not an accurate rendering of current models

What do you expect from your average robot? To make your tea? Run your home? Defuse a bomb, if you’re in that line of work?

Those involved mainly in the latter kind of thing in the United States want more from their robots – quite literally. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has put a call out for technological brains to design robots offering a hefty 2,000 per cent increase in energy efficiency.

Current models, which do the aforementioned bomb disposal, plus lifting and carrying over difficult terrain, shutting off leaks and other perilous tasks, only last between 10 and 20 minutes. Limiting, especially when dealing with the no-doubt fraught complexities of such matters.

Given who scientists considering entering this challenge are dealing with, it comes as no surprise that the rewards are handsome – anything from $1-5million. But it could be said just reward, because DARPA’s vision is by no means modest:

“Humans and animals have evolved to consume energy very efficiently for movement. Bones, muscles and tendons work together for propulsion using as little energy as possible.

“If robotic actuation can be made to approach the efficiency of human and animal actuation, the range of practical robotic applications will greatly increase and robot design will be less limited by power plant considerations.”

So not much then – just make a robot that’s about as energy efficient as Man.

Of course the area of automation, especially of the military kind, is an uncomfortable issue for many, so it’s fair to say that some of the most ardent supporters of energy efficiency might have issues with getting fully behind this kind of advancement.

When the issue came up a couple of years ago with a contract awarded, also Stateside, to build a battle-ready robot-cum-mobile power generator that can switch between diesel, sun, wind, and battery storage, Treehugger.com among others raised the ethical issue, and also suggested that the power needed to make the thing could well negate all the apparent benefits. The embodied energy of any product has got to be at front of large if you’re trying to talk about benefits wider than just making something last a lot longer when it’s in action.

If you want to know more and you’re interested in robots more of the sci-fi, home assistant of the future variety, you can read a fairly complex paper on energy efficiency in humanoid robots. At this stage, we’re not giving out official advice energy-saving on more benign home robotics than have been mainly featured in this blog – we’ll see smart metering gets up and running successfully first.

Centres of excellence?

Green communities are a topic we like here. We’ve recently covered rural community-scale renewables in the North West of England, as well as Scotland’s progress in generating energy at similar scale.

We’ve also not so long ago awarded a whole bunch of grants to projects across the UK through the Leaf scheme, and more recently still, posted up lots of case studies of those successful to hopefully inspire others.

So, while there’s clearly a lot more to be done to make communities act as one in pursuit of a greener locale, things are ticking over quite nicely. But communities often have community centres, the bricks and mortar where the meetings that get projects off the ground are held. Surely energy efficiency right there would provide the ultimate beacon and example – so what of them, then?

Handily, there’s the ultimate example just opened its doors. Gamlingay Eco Hub claims to be the world’s first fully self-heating community centre, and “probably the most energy efficient community building in the country.”

Where green building is concerned, it’s important to consider all the materials and their life-cycles. In this case, materials were either locally-sourced or recycled. Then there was the super insulation, the heat pump and solar water heating, the use of natural lighting to avoid the need for electric lights during the day, and lots more.

Not that any of this means compromise to community centre staple activities: there’s nurseries, Parish Council meetings, am-dram, and even a library there. Best of all, in the midst of this being an ambitious work-in-progress involving local groups, they still found time to support Energy Saving Week

This is all well and good of course, but what help is out there to retrofit or even start thinking about bringing together resources to build a new community centre where you are? Well, Action for Communities in Rural England (ACRE) offer a service to provide centre energy audits and advice on making the most of incentives like Feed-in Tariffs.

Then there’s the modern phenomenon of ‘crowd-funding.’ Spacehive offers community groups the chance to generate funding for their big idea online via grants, trusts and foundations out there. There’s a great example this working for exactly what this blog’s about: Glyncoch Community Centre in Wales raised nearly £800k to get their project heading towards reality.