The Big Business Plastics Debate (Part Two): How can we create a 'ripple effect' of change?

4 June 2019, source edie newsroom

In the second of our two-part feature from the Big Plastics Debate at edie Live 2019, we move the conversation on to explore how businesses and policymakers can harness the momentum of environmental campaigns and protests to drive a new 'social norm' around plastics.

It does appear that we’re entering an era where a single lightning rod moment can spark global change

It does appear that we’re entering an era where a single lightning rod moment can spark global change

As the first part of this feature concluded, the global shift away from single-use plastics is already beginning to have an undeniable impact on society. Plastic straws, stirrers, cotton buds, cups, bags and bottles are all on the way out, offering a glimpse at how our current linear economy is shifting to a closed-loop, resource-efficient model. Workplaces are being transformed into ‘single-use-plastic-free’ spaces, driven by staff understanding the simple steps that they can make as individuals to reduce their plastics impact.

---READ PART ONE OF THE BIG PLASTICS DEBATE HERE---

The Bank of England is a prime example. The organisation’s head of corporate sustainability and responsibility Charles Joly has witnessed an internal change that has seen an 80% reduction in plastic item use, a difference of around two million items annually. More than 500,000 plastic coffee cups have been replaced at water fountains and internal “Green Champions” now challenge colleagues to swap out disposable items.

For Joly, a key way for any business to reduce its reliance on plastics is to integrate that view as part of a way of life for staff.

“Viewing plastics differently is now integrated into our culture,” Joly explained. “People were bringing disposable cups and bottles to meetings. Now, we can put 15 people around the table and instantly see that re-use has become the new norm in the business... advocates are waking up and taking ownership across different areas of the business. Integration is the Holy Grail.”

To achieve this Holy Grail, Joly believes communication is a vital way of “getting people used to the new world” to “open a new train of thought about new areas of resource efficiency”.

Inspirational business

Turning from the world of banking to telecoms, Sky has emerged as one of the leaders when it comes to inspiring widescale change regarding resource efficiency, both across its supply chain and amongst the wider public.

The Sky Ocean Rescue campaign's engagement stats are nothing short of remarkable: more than 33.5 million people have so far interacted with Sky Ocean Rescue across its core markets, with more than a million people engaging with Sky’s #PassOnPlastic campaign on Twitter. The broadcaster has also used its influence in the sporting world to drive the agenda to a market that is considered hard-to-reach for topics like environmental stewardship. By partnering with the Kia Oval cricket stadium, Sky was able to hand out 20,000 limited-edition re-usable bottles during the England cricket team’s match against South Africa in July 2017.

Elsewhere, Sky worked with the Premier League to commit to eliminating single-use plastics from the organisation by 2020, whilst encouraging football clubs and fans across the country to stop using certain plastics. The broadcaster announced that all single-use plastics will be removed from its products, operations and supply chain by 2020 and that it will also invest £25m into an Ocean Rescue Innovation Fund to develop remedies to the amount of waste seeping into oceans.

For Sky’s head of inspirational business and Sky Ocean Rescue, Fiona Ball, businesses should look to create a “ripple effect” by engaging other companies and consumers on plastics in a way that could eventually shift entire markets away from single-use.

“The greatest opportunity that business has is to see who else you can engage around this particular issue,” Ball said. “Take responsibility for the products you put out on the market, only in that way you will have a ‘circular economy’ approach to market products. It’s a reputational issue as well to continue doing something we know is irresponsible, so from a brand-value perception, things should start changing as well.”

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Social norms

Whether the plastics debate can be used as a gateway to improve understanding on other sustainability issues is another discussion entirely (incidentally, ZSL’s Fiona Llewellyn and Waitrose’s Tor Harris from the first part of this discussion believe it can act as one). But it does appear that we’re entering an era where a single lightning rod moment can spark global change.

Environmental charity Surfers Against Sewage’s chief executive Hugo Tagholm noted that the Blue Planet series that ignited the current wave of action on plastics dedicated just 14 minutes of airtime to plastics pollution. In a similar fashion, it took just one speech from a 16-year old schoolchild to kickstart the ongoing wave of climate youth strikes and Extinction Rebellion protests, which have opened eyes on the wider climate battle. The climate strikes have echoed across Parliament halls and it looks increasingly likely that the UK will enshrine a net-zero carbon target into law in the near future.

Tagholm is a firm believer that policymakers must also drive change to combat plastics pollution and push the nation towards a closed-loop economy.

“It took 14 minutes to change how industry considers its approach to plastics, how government is legislating and how NGOs and broadcasters have responded to the plastic crisis,” Tagholm said. “The plastic crisis is now, the plastic emergency is now, and we need radical solutions within the established business community.

“Change often relies on Westminster – it’s the place where legislation can incentivise and penalise industry for doing the right or the wrong thing. People need a new plastic eco-system where plastic is trapped in the economy rather than the environment.”

Carrot and stick

Indeed, speakers from across both of our Big Plastics Debate sessions highlighted the importance of legislation in order to set the precedent on how business and society should consume plastics. A deposit-return scheme for plastic bottles, for example, could reduce one-third of UK plastic seeping into the oceans, according to the think tank Green Alliance.

Bank of England’s Joly claimed that any new way of consuming or disposing of plastic will come with a “grief period” but the business and policymakers alike can bridge these issues through clear communication. BaxterStorey’s Hanson, meanwhile, reiterated that legislation is required to spur action, especially in sectors where action is too slow.

“We need legislation and you need the carrot and the stick,” Hanson said. “The stick is generally more effective.”

For ZSL’s Llewellyn, the end goal for an organisation should be to create an environment where a resource efficient economy is the “new norm”, to the point that people won’t be fatigued by the conversation on plastics, especially regarding the trade-offs and uses. “I think success would look like all of us not having to talk about this,” Llewellyn said. “It is fundamentally about changing our relationship with plastic and creating a new norm where we don’t abuse it and that it becomes so ingrained that it would be ludicrous to throwaway such value.

“If we achieve our goals of moving towards a new social norm, then people won’t be fatigued by the conversation or the issue and we can address other big issues. It doesn’t have to be in silo, and we need to make it easier for people to achieve these changes.”


The Big Business Plastics Debate (Part One): Are we throwing the baby out with the bathwater?

3 June 2019, source edie newsroom

Over two days at edie Live 2019, sustainability and resource efficiency experts from across the country gathered for the Big Plastics Debate - a live, on-stage panel discussion about the drivers, challenges and opportunities behind eliminating single-use plastics. Here, we summarise the first part of what was a highly provocative discussion.

Two expert panels discussions outlined how the debate on plastics has moved on from target setting to holistic action

Two expert panels discussions outlined how the debate on plastics has moved on from target setting to holistic action

Our chair, Industry Council for Packaging and the Environment (INCPEN) chief executive Paul Vanston, set the scene for the Big Plastics Debate with an interesting comparison; likening the current scramble to ditch single-use plastics to the ongoing furore surrounding the UK’s exit from the EU.

“Over the past 18 months, the plastics discussion has felt a little bit like Brexit,” Vanston said. “It’s become very binary – you’re either a leaver, or you are a remainer; there’s no in-between. With plastics, you’re either for or against.”

The recent flurry of plastics-related documentaries – from Sky Ocean Rescue to Blue Planet via Drowning in Plastics – has placed the large majority of consumers in the ‘against’ camp when it comes to plastics. Indeed, 82% of UK shoppers now believe the amount of plastic packaging needs to be “drastically reduced”, while 57% view plastic pollution as the single greatest threat to the environment in the modern era.

This surge in demand for radical action to reduce plastics has placed business in a somewhat precarious position. Collaborative initiatives such as the UK Plastics Pact have welcomed a large number of paying corporates seeking solutions that will accelerate the transition away from single-use plastics. But moving too quickly on the issue could well cause trade-offs or unintended consequences.

Plastics pollution has been in national headlines for almost two years now, and it remains one of the few subjects of great national interest that have united MPs who are otherwise fractured over Brexit. But, as our edie Live panel began to discuss, the plastics debate has changed since the wave of momentum began, and a more nuanced conversation is starting to emerge.

“Plastics aren’t an evil product,” Zoological Society of London’s (ZSL) senior marine project manager Fiona Llewellyn said. “It’s an amazing product that has changed our lives for the better in so many ways. The trouble is its durability. When we talk about throwing plastics away, there is no away, it’s always somewhere. Bottles are one of the most common items found in the ocean. They are the flagship species for ocean plastics pollution and are a gateway to engaging people with other environmental issues and the misuse of plastics.”

Spurred by conservation projects which ensure that “wildlife thrives and where humans and animals can live cohesively”, Llewellyn and ZSL have seen first-hand the devastating impact that plastics can have on the natural environment, notably marine ecosystems where plastics could outweigh fish by 2050. It is this rather distressing narrative that has seemingly ignited consumer demands for alternatives, and ZSL has been keen to trial city-wide action to combat the issue. The Society, in partnership with Marine Collaboration, has used the #OneLess campaign to galvanise businesses, policymakers, NGOs and the public to reduce single-use water bottles in the city of London. The average London adult buys 3.37 plastic water bottles every week – equivalent to more than one billion per year on a city level.

Llewellyn’s comments that plastics aren’t evil was a mirrored by numerous other speakers during edie Live’s Big Plastics Debate, with the experts pointing to unsustainable behaviours, poor infrastructure, bad design and prohibitive policy as the less immediately obvious causes of plastics pollution.

To this point, hospitality provider BaxterStorey’s head of sustainable business Mike Hanson noted that he is anti-litter rather than anti-plastic and that consumerism in general is in need of a massive overhaul, not only to reduce virgin resource use, but to “better articulate the value” of materials such as plastic. Instead, Hanson said that the current engagement and interest on the issue can be used as a springboard to start conversations that address some of the major causes of plastics pollution – namely the aforementioned issues of design, behaviour and infrastructure.

“There is no single solution, no magic bullet to combatting plastics,” Hanson said. “You need to focus on design, resource efficiency and waste management and tap into the current enthusiasm. We have a great opportunity and now is the perfect storm, awareness is absolutely massive, and we need to make fundamental change.

“But we also need to recognise that plastic has a huge role to play. We need to understand what we’re using and if we have the right waste stream for it. What we replace single-use plastics with can have a larger impact on society, on the environment and on cost, but we are at danger of almost throwing the baby out with the bathwater because the impact of an alternative could be far higher.”

Unintended consequences

Hanson used plastic’s interdependent relationship with food as a prime example where any changes to the packaging – which are much quicker for businesses and policymakers to introduce compared to infrastructure – could cause net-negative results. Some retailers have taken steps to remove shrink wrapping from loose produce ranges, but Hanson pointed out that this type of packaging helps increase the shelf life of cucumbers from three days to 14. These “knee-jerk” approaches to the issue could create more problems than solutions across the environmental spectrum, Hanson said.

This sentiment was echoed to some extent by Waitrose’s head of CSR, agriculture and health Tor Harris. On plastics, Waitrose has committed to a 2025 goal of making all its own-brand packaging is either recyclable, reusable or home compostable and has banned the sale of single-use plastic straws and disposable coffee cups in all of its UK stores, following earlier phase-outs of products such as plastic-stemmed cotton buds and microbead-based health and beauty lines. It has additionally pledged to remove black plastic, which is notoriously hard-to-recycle, from all own-brand products by the end of 2019. But alongside this, the retailer has pledged its support for a joint commitment to halve food waste outputs by 2030, in line with the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). A key aspect of this commitment is ensuring that fresh produce does not go to waste – so, packaging that extends shelf-life is only becoming more important for the retailer.

For Harris, the current furore around plastics has created an opportunity for the retailer to “push the boundaries” on what can be achieved in reducing single-use plastics, provided it doesn’t create trade-offs for food waste.

“The reason we use plastics is to protect quality and prolong shelf life for food,” Harris said. “We have to weigh up the environmental benefits of the packaging against the environmental benefits of prolonging the shelf life of a product so that we or a customer don’t end up throwing it away. We are going to be taking packaging off some items to see where we can push the boundaries and remove it without any negative impact on food waste or quality.”

Waitrose’s balanced approach to plastics has seen it home in on “problem” plastics in the first instance, such as single-use items and black plastics. As such, the firm is now trialling fibre-based packaging across its range of Italian ready meals. These will replace the black plastic trays currently used for three of its Italian ready meal products with the alternative material, which it claims is 100% FSC-certified and widely recyclable. Harris also noted that some plastic replacements are still too costly for businesses to implement. Citing coffee cups, she claimed that it is relatively easy economic shift from disposable to reusable variants, but that introducing refill stations at shops “is a much different conversation” – although Waitrose is looking to introduce refill stations at locations where refurbishing and retrofitting has been scheduled.

The panel discussion seemed to be in a consensus, then, that rapid moves away from certain plastics could create unintended consequences in the near future. Could it be that, in 10 years’ time, we are debating the use of field crops for packaging when land use for food becomes strained, or whether biodegradable and oxy-degradable are, in fact, forms of greenwash? And, as Part Two of the Big Plastics Debate goes onto explore, there is a huge societal aspect to the conversation which must also be considered.


The 10 clean growth policy 'shortfalls' and how to address them, according to MPs

22 August 2019, source edie newsroom

The Science and Technology Committee has published a new report warning that the UK isn't remotely close to reaching upcoming carbon budgets up to 2032, outlining 10 key policy areas that need to be addressed if the UK is to deliver on its net-zero ambitions.

edie summarises the 10 key shortfalls and recommendations for UK clean growth

 

The Committee’s ‘Clean Growth: Technologies for meeting the UK’s emissions reduction targets’ report welcomes the Government’s recent announcements that it will strengthen the existing Climate Change Act in order to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

However, the report warns that existing policies and progress put the UK off-course to meet existing and legally binding carbon budgets. In response, the report has highlighted 10 policy “shortfalls” and the measures that should be taken to address them in order to deliver a Clean Growth Strategy aligned to the needs of net-zero emissions.

The shortfalls

1) The report criticises the decision to reduce the 'plug-in grant' for the lowest-emission vehicles in October 2018, with financial incentives cut completely for some low-emission vehicles.

2) Despite public transport fares for trains and buses being allowed to increase year-on-year over a nine-year period, fuel duty has been frozen over that timeframe.

3) The closure of the feed-in tariff for low-carbon power generation has been criticised by many, and the report lists the closure as another key shortfall.

4) The Energy Companies Obligation scheme was restricted to vulnerable households in November 2018, despite the Government conceding that this would result in lower carbon emissions reductions being achieved, the report notes.

5) In 2017, the Government launched a consultation on how to build a market for those able to pay for their own domestic energy efficiency improvements. However, the report states that this has still not been announced as a new policy framework.

6) No consultation has been launched on improving energy efficiency in relation to building regulations, despite the Government claiming it would do so after the zero-carbon homes policy was axed in 2015.

7) Business rates on solar panels have increased between three to eight-fold since 2017, according to the report, creating thousands of pounds in additional costs for businesses, schools, SMEs and hospitals each year.

8) Both onshore wind and large-scale solar have been excluded from the Contract for Difference (CfD) financial support mechanism since 2017. In the same time, planning permission for onshore wind farms has become “more difficult to obtain”, the report states.

9) The ‘Renewable Heat Incentive’ scheme is due to close in 2021 but no replacement scheme has yet been announced

10) The Government’s White Paper on ‘The future of the energy market’ was due to be published in the early months of this year, but is still yet to be published as we approach autumn.

The recommendations

To remedy the shortfalls, the report includes 10 key policy recommendations:

1) A Strategy for decarbonising heat: The report calls for the urgent development a clearer strategy for decarbonising heat that includes large-scale trials of different heating technologies, such as heat pumps and hydrogen gas heating, operating in homes and cities to build the evidence base required for long-term decisions.

2) Incentive scheme for energy efficiency home improvements: previous energy efficiency initiatives for households have failed because of “narrow” financial support. The MPs suggest that the Government should consider adjusting Stamp Duty so that it varies according to the energy performance of the home as well as the price paid for it. A ‘Help to Improve’ scheme should also be introduced by July 2020.

3) Plan for reducing vehicle emissions: The report urges the Government to bring forward the proposed ban on the sales on new conventional cars and vans to 2035 and reconsider financial incentives to assist the uptake of low-carbon transport. Increased uptake of public chargers and considerations into the emissions from the manufacturing of low-carbon vehicles should also be explored.

4) Support for onshore wind and solar power: The Government must ensure that there is strong policy support for new onshore wind power and large-scale solar power projects. The Government should ensure that national planning policy facilitates the re-powering of existing sites, with a clear planning permission framework for re-powering existing onshore wind farms in place by the end of 2020.

5) Review of the Smart Export Guarantee: The Government must review the Smart Export Guarantee― which has been named as the replacement for the Feed-in Tariff scheme ―by the end of 2020, and should be ready to include a minimum price floor if there is evidence of a lack of market competitivity.

6) Sustain nuclear power without growing the industry: The Government must make a decision on the future finance framework for new nuclear power by the end of 2019 in a way that sustains the market but doesn’t grow it. Consideration of the energy generation gap should be examined and renewables prioritised to fill the gap.

7) Removal of greenhouse gases: The Government should launch a consultation to inform the development of a future framework for managing and incentivising greenhouse gas removal on the scale required for net-zero emissions. This would include substantial private funding, so incentives and encouragement of the private sector should be prioritised.

8) Clear action on carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS): The Government should provide clarity on its CCUS plan, which could have the first plant live by 2021. Definitions on “deployment at scale”, “cost-effective” and what the milestones of the plan need to be ironed out.

9) Clean growth regulation of the energy market: The Government should consider amending Ofgem’s principal objective so that it includes ensuring that regulations align with the emissions reduction targets set out in climate policies such as the Climate Change Act.

10) Support for local authorities: The Government should support local authorities and members of the public in contributing to the UK’s net-zero target, including access to long-term finance, and central guides and an advice service for the public.

Industry reaction

Commenting on the report, Dr Nina Skorupska, chief executive at the Renewable Energy Association (REA) said:

“Amongst a number of valuable recommendations, the report accurately highlights the need to focus on the hard to decarbonise areas of heat and transport. With the RHI ending in 2021 and no alternative route to market in place, we wholeheartedly support the view that decarbonising heat should be a top priority for the Government.

“As well as this, emphases on ramping up the switch to electric vehicles through incentives and a review of the Smart Export Guarantee after a year of operation are policies that will benefit not only the industry but the wider public. We also recommend the introduction of E10 to further tackle the concerning levels of vehicle emissions highlighted in the report.”

David Smith, chief executive of Energy Networks Association said:

“Today’s report highlights how our system of private investment has helped make Britain a superpower of renewable energy, with carbon emissions now at their lowest level since 1888. We need to build on that to ensure our country takes the smartest, most innovative and fairest approach to deliver net-zero.

“We support the Committee’s recommendations for government to develop a heat strategy including large scale technology trials including both heat pumps and hydrogen gas heating, to make further commitments on CCUS and provide further clarity and support around decarbonising transport. We also welcome the Committee’s recognition of the work that the networks have already been doing particularly to develop smarter energy systems and committing to increase flexibility, and it will be vital for Ofgem to keep their focus on innovation into the next price control period.”

Bean Beanland, chairman of the Ground Source Heat Pump Association said: 

“We are pleased that the Commons Committee has urged the Government not to delay further the tightening up of Building Regulations to reflect both the reduction in the carbon intensity of grid electricity and the tighter emissions standards that are necessary for homes in a fabric-first approach.

“As well as wanting to see Building Regulations that better deliver the low carbon homes of the future, the GSHPA urges the Government to bring in a new support framework for low carbon heating beyond 2021, including a capital grant for the installation of heat pumps, with a target of 1 million installations a year by 2035. It is also necessary for Government to recognise that the energy efficiency retrofit of existing homes is a national infrastructure priority, and to bring forward policies to facilitate this.

STA Chief Executive Chris Hewett, chief executive of the Solar Trade Association said:

This report is a welcome addition to the growing body of literature that is calling on the government to bring down barriers to solar and energy storage in the UK. With a legally-binding commitment to reach net-zero by 2050, urgent action is needed now. The solar industry is ready to deliver on a scale and must be recognised as part of the solution.


The Electric Vehicle Revolution Is About To Get Messy

August 21st, 2019 by at CleanTecnica


Those of us who have followed the electric vehicle market for several years (or, for some of you, decades) can easily get complacent about where the EV revolution is and where it’s headed. We can be lulled into a semi-sleeping state by monthly sales reports, by routinely seeing EV market share of 1–2% in some markets, 5–10% in others, and 50% in Norway. We can be blown away by the Tesla Model 3’s success, while at the same time underestimating what it means.

As Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently mused, it’s super hard for humans to comprehend exponential growth. Indeed, we are not good at thinking in exponential rather than linear ways. It’s one reason why there are popular riddles or tricks related to exponential growth. I’d argue that, in general, we are not good at forecasting, at processing changes that take more than a day to occur. Just think about some major changes in your life that you knew were coming — your brain probably couldn’t digest them, could absorb them until the changes occurred, and even then you might have needed a while to mentally adjust.

Getting practical for a minute, much has changed in the electric vehicle industry — beyond Tesla — that has gone under-noticed for various reasons. A new Nissan LEAF today is not much different in price from a new Nissan LEAF 7 years ago, in 2012. The big difference, the big evidence of change, is that the car now has much more range, more than double the range of a 2012 LEAF. The battery inside the Nissan LEAF is much better and holds considerably more energy despite coming at essentially the same price. The same thing has happened for other models or types of vehicles.

The thing that I think we get complacent about is that we inherently assume the battery technology is now settled and static. Of course, if we think about it, we know that’s not true, but we don’t think about it much. Our brains just accept today as reality. Just as the 73 mile LEAF of 2011 wouldn’t last long and range would more than double in 7 years, EV technology of today won’t last long. In 7 years, a LEAF could have much more range or be much cheaper.

While the LEAF has gotten much better in the past 7 years, Tesla has developed and rolled out the Model 3, a car that is much better than a 2012 Model S in many regards while also being significantly cheaper. In another 7 years, imagine what continued battery improvement will do for Tesla.

In 3–7 years, the Model 3 won’t be the only EV in its class that crushes any gasoline competitor. Nissan should have a model that does so, Volkswagen certainly will, Ford should, GM should, everyone should. If the don’t, they will struggle to stay in business.

Tesla’s vehicles will keep improving and Tesla will make more money on them as underlying prices come down. Elon has said they don’t plan to bring the Model 3 any lower than $35,000. That means reduced costs will put more money into Tesla’s piggy bank for additional investments/projects. Additionally, Tesla could end up rolling out a “Model 2” for $25,000–30,000. If the Model 3 looks like a disruptive top seller, imagine the Model 2! Who could sell a gasoline car at that point?

In general, much more of the public will soon find out that you can’t buy a gas car in most classes that can hold a candle to its electric competitors, and automakers still trying to push gasmobiles onto consumers will get burnt. Tesla will still be setting the pace for the industry, but that won’t be nearly as necessary. Other automakers will have mass-market electric vehicles that regularly rank at or near the top of sales charts (like they do in Norway today), because automakers know the technology is ready and they know that if they don’t sell the cars, a competitor will, and they will die.

Of course, we can assume some automakers are still not prepared, some continue to stick their heads in the sand, and they will be punished for it. Perhaps some of them will get bailed out by their respective governments. Others won’t.

Gasoline/diesel cars that come off lease or hit the used car market will struggle, since consumers won’t want to adopt cars that are costly to fuel, polluting, and expensive to maintain. Automakers that try to hold onto the gas/diesel era will file for bankruptcy or beg for government support. Tesla will continue seeing word-of-mouth sales light its future, while other electric vehicles will offer traditional options to go electric without compromise or worry.

And then there’s autonomy.

We see growing EV sales right now, and dropping gasmobile sales in some countries and globally, but what we don’t appreciate is that multipliers come into effect as the market changes. All of a sudden, an engine factory closes, an EV factory opens, a company folds, EV leaders gobble much more of the pie. As these things occur, more people find out about the revolution, and the revolution grows. As people’s preferred brands enter crisis mode, they look for new brands, and many find Tesla. Others catchword of VW’s hot new ID lineup, or Nissan’s electric crossover and sedan, or the new & improved Jaguar I-PACE. Of course, the automakers that evolve fast and intelligently will have a lot of opportunities to grow their market share.

The change is not just coming — it’s underway. The battery evolution that brought us the Model 3, a Nissan LEAF with 2–3 times more range than a 2011 LEAF, the Hyundai Kona EV, and the coming VW ID.3 will not stop. Batteries will keep evolving. We’ve already entered the crossover point where an EV beats its competitors in about 10 ways and doesn’t lose in any significant ways. We’ve already entered the vortex. As word of mouth blows around and awareness rises, the forces pushing us from 1% to 2% EV market share will become much more powerful and demand will start to skyrocket. At that point, things get messy.

A CleanTechnica Tesla Model 3 at Volkswagen HQ in California.

I wrote last night about Volkswagen’s opportunity to actually gain market share from the EV revolution. I knew it would be a controversial, divisive article, and it was. But there’s an underlying point, which is indeed still a question. Well, let me present it as a series of questions and answers:

Is it clear electric vehicles are the future? Yes. Does Volkswagen Group agree with that? Yes, I think it does.

Is it clear that it’s a big financial challenge for traditional automakers to switch to EVs? Yes.

Is it clear that battery supplies are critical to competing in the electric revolution, if that is indeed what it is? Yes. Is Volkswagen Group working to address that problem? It seems like it, but that’s not entirely clear.

Does Volkswagen Group realize that being able to thread these needles carefully and ramp up EV production quicker than the competition (other traditional automakers) gives it the best chance of survival and financial success? I think so, and I think that’s exactly what it’s aiming to do.

What do other automakers think that they need to try to aggressively thread this needle? Which automakers think there’s a bigger threat to slow-walking the EV transition than there is to accelerating into it? That’s the big fundamental question. Some are convinced Renault is intent on being a leader (or remaining a leader). I hope so, but I’d like to see a bit more evidence of that. Some are convinced Hyundai–Kia is intent on being a leader. I know they have done a great job building competitive EVs, but I haven’t seen strong evidence they are working hard to secure the battery supplies needed (in fact, they have been really bad at this so far) or that they have a solid EV platform for quickly rolling out EVs of various classes in a financially efficient manner. PSA Group, GM, and Ford all have their supporters, but solid evidence that they are focused more on ramping up than PR is limited and scattered. There was some hope Nissan would be intent on retaining its hold on the “top-selling EV in history” title, and adding some other titles to that one, but then it apparently committed corporate self-sabotage and seems to have abetted the illogical jailing of its #1 spokesperson and one-time corporate savior. It’s hard to have much hope for Nissan these days.

Looking at that long paragraph in total, who’s likely to jump into the messy transition most enthusiastically and come out on top? Who is looking at the pace of technological change and calculating that EVs will soon be so much more competitive than gasmobiles that the early majority will be driving millions of them home from European and US dealers year after year? Feel free to place your bets, and be sure to watch closely. I’ve got my own hunch, but I’m not yet placing any bets (beyond my bet on Tesla/TSLA).


Peer-to-peer energy trading could trigger earnings boon for DER, study finds

LO3's Brooklyn microgrid. Image: LO3 Energy

LO3's Brooklyn microgrid. Image: LO3 Energy

Peer-to-peer trading could enable those with distributed energy resources (DERs) to earn up to 37% more for their electricity, according to LO3 Energy.

The energy tech firm conducted a 12-month local energy marketplace (LEM) trial in Australia looking at the associated network and market charges of P2P, which it said is one of P2P’s main challenges.

Three scenarios were modelled - one scenario where neither buyers or sellers paid network charges, one where the costs were split between the two and one where all costs were charged to the consumer.

The modelling was conducted alongside Siemens, Sustainable Australia Fund, CommPower Industrial, Simply Energy and Dairy Australia.

It found that trading local energy within a community incurs fewer losses and is more cost efficient than transmitting power over long distances.

When the consumer paid the costs – a scenario LO3 said is most consistent with existing markets and regulation – they could potentially save 6-12% by buying locally. And those selling the electricity generated from DERs could make 18-37% more than they currently do.

The findings could increase the adoption of DERs in much the saw way that the economics of DERs themselves have accelerated demand from consumers, LO3 said.

LO3’s blockchain-powered energy trading platform was used in the trial, with the 100 participants paying a small fee to access the platform it intends to launch commercially later this year.

The firm is involved in 10 trials worldwide, including Centrica’s Cornwall LEM trial. However, in the UK P2P trading can only go ahead as part of Ofgem’s regulatory sandbox due to regulation restricting consumers to one electricity supplier. This creates barriers for P2P, where a consumer could be buying electricity from any number of neighbours.

Belinda Kinkead, director of LO3 Australia, said: “The study showed the community wanted to embrace new technologies, wanted to keep energy spend in the community and wanted to buy their energy more cheaply.

“The test results demonstrated that even under existing restrictions a local energy market delivers that. The next step is to get these markets set up and then explore regulation changes to provide even bigger benefits.”


Ofgem awards clean power trio permanent price cap derogation

Image: Getty.

Image: Getty.

Clean power suppliers Good Energy, Ecotricity and Green Energy UK have been awarded permanent derogations from Ofgem’s price cap by the regulator.

Those agreements mean their respective standard variable tariffs will not have to comply with Ofgem’s controversial tariff cap in a move designed to prevent any hindrance to the procurement of renewable energy.

At the start of the year, the three suppliers were given temporary derogations until 31 March, agreements which were then extended until 1 September pending further work by Ofgem.

However, all three companies have today been issued enduring derogations from the price cap, which will last until the price cap is removed in 2023.

Juliet Davenport, chief executive at Good Energy, said the derogations were important so that individuals are “empowered to be part of the solution” to climate breakdown.

“We know customers want the ability to make that choice, and recently it has been complicated by energy companies taking shortcuts to offer cheap ‘green’ tariffs.

“When you choose a renewable tariff, you are choosing more than ‘net zero’ or some cheap certificates. You are choosing regeneration — support for the growth of clean energy. Ofgem’s decision recognises that Good Energy’s model does precisely this.”

Davenport has been a vocal critic of alleged workarounds or shortcuts to establishing clean energy tariffs, taking particular aim at Shell Energy earlier this year after it was able to switch all of its customers to clean energy supply overnight by purchasing Renewable Energy Guarantee of Origin (REGO) certificates, rather than generating or procuring renewable power directly.

Last month Mark Hollands, energy strategy director at renewables developer BSR Energy, wrote for Current± on the subject of REGOs calling for a fresh approach to the system.


The next Prime Minister: Exploring Boris Johnson's enigmatic views on the environment

23 July 2019, source edie newsroom

Boris Johnson, the MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, will be announced as the new Prime Minister on Wednesday afternoon (24 July). But what are his views on climate change, the environment, and sustainability?

MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip Boris Johnson: our next Prime Minister? (Image: Wikipedia/Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip Boris Johnson: our next Prime Minister? (Image: Wikipedia/Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

At first glance, it would appear Boris Johnson, an ex-mayor of London who is passionate about cycling, would be a prime candidate for being one of the greenest Prime Ministers in history. But dig deeper and you find a number of comments and policy decisions about the environment which perhaps don’t match the public persona.

Policy positions

His opposition to Heathrow Airport expansion as mayor of London is well known, but as with many issues to do with Johnson, the true picture is unclear. Was his opposition to Heathrow expansion because of the environment, or was it because he wanted his own “Boris Island” Airport in the Thames Estuary? He has also changed his mind about Heathrow in recent months, according to reports. What happened to the man who would “lie down in front of the bulldozers” over the scheme? Such is the green contradiction at the heart of the man entering Number 10 on Wednesday evening.

It is instructive to look at his voting record on climate issues to get past the rhetoric. As an MP, he has voted against policies to include a carbon capture and storage strategy and also against the implementation of emissions-based vehicle taxes. He also voted for applying the Climate Change Levy on electricity generated from renewable sources. Interestingly, Johnson has never voted on a new high-speed rail infrastructure.

As mayor of London, his environmental record is mixed. It was discovered in 2016 that he held back a report about air pollution impacting deprived schools, but he also planned the first Ultra Low Emission Zone and slapped an additional £10 on diesel vehicles to drive into the centre of London. He also committed to electrifying the bus fleet and improving the capital’s rapid charging network, spending £330m on hybrid buses, zero-emission taxies and trees. But he also scrapped the proposed western extension of the Congestion Charge Zone, which could have had a significant impact on vehicular traffic and air pollution throughout the capital.

More recently as an MP, he has backed calls for greater regulations on fracking, and spoken out against the US’s decision to leave the Paris Agreement. However, during hustings for the leadership of the Conservative Party, Johnson also didn’t refer to the “climate emergency”, which was passed by the House of Commons, and his language has often been more muted on climate change than Jeremy Hunt, his rival for the job.

Recent actions

A news story in June again illustrated the contradiction at the heart of Johnson’s views on climate. It was revealed that 60% of climate attaches around the world were cut by the Foreign Office, just at the time that Boris Johnson was the secretary for state. Professor David King, the former chief scientist, told the Guardian that although the cuts began just before Johnson took up the role, he did not reverse them, and when challenged by King on the issue, he begged him to not go public with it. Johnson said he was unaware of the cuts.

Additionally, Johnson has received donations from Terence Mordaunt, the director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a leading climate denial group established by prominent denier Lord Lawson, and who push for greater deregulation and oppose action to climate science.

One of the other more eyebrow-raising elements of Johnson’s climate scepticism is seen in his series of articles for The Telegraph newspaper, in which he promotes the work of Piers Corbyn – brother to Labour leader, Jeremy – who is a prominent climate science denier. Corbyn believes that rising temperatures are due to solar activity creating natural climate change cycles rather than being anthropogenic – a standard view of climate deniers. Concerningly, this wasn’t a one-off Johnson “gaff”, and he has made the same point three times in Telegraph articles – originally in 2010, another in 2013, and yet again in 2015.

Johnson wrote in his 2015 Telegraph article: “In the view of Piers and his colleagues at WeatherAction, it is all about sun spots, and he is on record as believing that we are now due for a new 'Maunder Minimum' – like the famous cold spell in the 17th century, when the Thames froze several times. Whatever is happening to the weather at the moment, it is nothing to do with the conventional doctrine of climate change.”

Green Brexit

One of the main reasons Boris Johnson will walk into Number 10 has been his support for Brexit.

Johnson has liked to position any potential environmental policy and shift in standards as “taking back control” and although there is hope that all EU environmental law will be ported into UK law – there is a concern that rather than keeping up with European standards, the UK may slip. This is particularly concerning under a Johnson Premiership as he has previously stated he is a fan of deregulation and reducing the role of the state. In 2018, Johnson indicated that any deal with the EU should include freedoms on the ability to change standards and legislation, including environmental laws.

Johnson has also emphasised that green growth post-Brexit “meant jobs”. He said: “We should be unabashed about talking about the achievements we are making in the environment and the jobs that we are creating in the economy. There is massive scope for employment in green technologies of all kinds.”

Speaking during a hustings event for the Conservative leadership election, Johnson said the party had “a fantastic record” on environmental improvements, and championed clean battery technology and air quality legislation. He said Tories had “done so many things…whether it’s reducing the use of plastic bags, or whatever”.

Johnson said the environment was “a winner for us” and jobs in clean technology would expand in years to come – and that was a message “we can really sell to young people”.

Lib Dems and Jo Swinson

The news about Boris Johnson becoming the next leader of the Conservative Party, and therefore the next Prime Minister of Great Britain, has coincided with the announcement of Jo Swinson as leader of the Liberal Democrats.

Swinson does not necessarily have the green credentials that might be expected of a Liberal Democrat leader, despite describing it recently as the defining issue of our time. As a former member of the coalition government with the Conservatives between 2010 and 2015, she voted against a number of climate change issues. She has voted against a moratorium on fracking permits, in favour of cutting subsidies for renewable energy and also in favour of selling off national forests.

Swinson has already said that “Britain deserves better than Boris Johnson” and her first comments on the future Prime Minister were scathing: “I rage when Boris Johnson is more interested in sucking up to Donald Trump than standing up for British values of decency, equality and respect.

“He has shown time and time again that he isn’t fit to be prime minister. Boris Johnson has only ever cared about Boris Johnson. Just ask Sir Kim Darroch or Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. Whether it is throwing people under the bus or writing a lie on the side of one: Britain deserves better than Boris Johnson.”

James Evison


A New Kind Of Geothermal Energy And Faster Charging Batteries Are Coming

July 18th, 2019 by  at CleanTechnica logo

 

Renewable energy and energy storage research is going on at hundreds of laboratories around the world, so it is no surprise that new discoveries are being announced almost weekly. Here are two of the latest.

Making Electricity From The Heat Of The Earth’s Crust

Image courtesy NREL

It’s hot underneath the Earth’s crust, hot enough to boil water and in some cases turn that boiling water into steam to run turbines that generate electricity. Getting to the source of the heat deep underground is filled with technical challenges which drive up the cost of any electricity produced.

A research team at Tokyo Institute of Technology led by Dr. Sachiko Matsushita reports success using sensitized thermal cells to generate electricity at temperatures below 100º C. If the research leads to commercial grade products, a limitless supply of electricity could become available.

“With such a design, heat, usually regarded as low-quality energy, would become a great renewable energy source,” says Matsushita. “There is no fear of radiation, no fear of expensive oil, no instability of power generation like when relying on the sun or the wind.”  He and his team are excited about their discovery because of its applicability, eco-friendliness, and potential for helping solve the global energy crisis.

The sensitized thermal cells consist of three layers sandwiched between electrodes — an electron transport layer, a semiconductor layer composed of germanium, and a copper electrolyte layer. According to a report by Science Daily, electrons go from a low-energy state to a high-energy state in the semiconductor by becoming thermally excited and then get transferred naturally to the electron transport medium. The results of their research have been published in the Journal of Materials Chemistry. Here is the abstract of the study.

You can find thermal energy everywhere in the world, including geothermal energy. Here we report an amazing battery that could supply power semi-permanently by simply burying the cell in a heat source and turning the switch on and off. We examined the discharge termination process of a sensitized thermal cell (STC), a new thermal energy conversion system for generating electrical power from heat previously reported by the authors.

To observe this termination process, we constructed a new STC system using a narrow-bandgap semiconductor, germanium (Ge), and surprisingly found that the battery characteristics were restored after discharging by placing or burying the battery in a heat source. This discovery should bring us closer to solving global energy problems.

A New Take On Solid State Batteries

Researchers at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium say they have discovered a new material they call LTPS — whose chemical composition is LiTi2(PS4)3 — that has the highest lithium diffusion coefficient (a direct measure of lithium mobility) ever measured in a solid. According to Science Daily, LTPS shows a diffusion coefficient much higher than in other known materials. The results are published in the scientific journal Chem from Cell Press. Here is a summary of that report.

“Solid-state materials with high ionic conduction are necessary for many technologies, including all-solid-state lithium (Li)-ion batteries. Understanding how crystal structure dictates ionic diffusion is at the root of the development of fast ionic conductors. Here, we show that LiTi 2(PS 4) 3 exhibits a Li-ion diffusion coefficient about an order of magnitude higher than that of current state-of-the-art Li superionic conductors. We rationalize this observation by the unusual crystal structure of LiTi 2(PS 4) 3, which offers no regular tetrahedral or octahedral sites for Li to favorably occupy. This creates a smooth, frustrated energy landscape resembling the energy landscapes present in liquids more than those in typical solids. This frustrated energy landscape leads to a high diffusion coefficient, combining low activation energy with a high pre-factor.

The increased lithium mobility is a direct result of the unique crystal structure of LTPS. This discovery opens new avenues of inquiry in the field of lithium ion conductors including the search for new materials with similar diffusion mechanisms.

The researchers say there is a need for further study to improve the material for future commercialization. If it is as successful in practice as it is in the lab, it could lead to new lithium ion storage batteries that can be recharged much faster than current li-ion batteries and eliminate the risk of fire or explosion inherent in today’s batteries.

There’s an interesting twist to this story. The research was conducted in collaboration with and financially supported by Toyota. Wouldn’t it be interesting if a company that has downplayed the significance of electric cars for years should be the one that fosters the solid state battery breakthrough that could make electric cars cost less and charge faster?


Citizens Advice: Government lacking 'credible' plan to decarbonise heat

12 July 2019, source edie newsroom

The Government's failure to implement a "credible" framework for the decarbonisation of heat for commercial and domestic use could undermine public confidence in the net-zero transition, Citizens Advice has warned.

The UK's heat networks currently serve about 500,000 customers, but this could rise to five million by mid-century 

The UK's heat networks currently serve about 500,000 customers, but this could rise to five million by mid-century

In a letter to Ministers today, the charity criticises the Government for leaving “large gaps” in policies surrounding the regulation of low-carbon technologies like heat networks.

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has consistently claimed that heat networks could deliver up to 18% of UK heating demand by 2030. Taking notice of this, the Government has recently launched a £320m scheme to help accelerate the adoption of low-carbon heat networks across the UK's public, private and domestic sectors and an Energy Systems Catapult centre to assist small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) with decarbonising their heat systems.

While welcoming this progress, Citizens Advice is arguing that policy is not currently sufficient to protect consumers during the decarbonisation of heat and is likely to result in customer confusion, infrequent and inaccurate billing, and, therefore, overpayment. The charity is voicing concerns that, as most of the costs related to the decarbonisation of the energy system are currently paid for through energy bills, those on low incomes could end up paying a disproportionate share of that cost.

The organisation’s key recommendation for preventing this is the establishment of an independent commission on a “just” transition to low-carbon energy, including heat. It is additionally calling for a consultation on the Government’s upcoming Energy White Paper, to be made open to industry and the general public, as well as legislation to extend Ofgem’s regulation powers to cover heat networks.

Citizens Advice’s chief executive Gillian Guy has claimed that these moves need to be undertaken as soon as possible “to prevent the bad practice of today becoming the standard practice of tomorrow”.

“The way we heat our homes needs to undergo a major transformation, and how we manage that process and fairly distribute the costs needs the urgent attention of Government,” Guy said.

“An independent commission is the only way to make sure the pathway to net-zero is assessed in a rigorous, transparent and timely way.”

Industry progress

The UK currently plays host to around 14,000 heat networks, which collectively serve more than half a million customers – both business and domestic.

However, much more will need to be done in this space if the UK is going to meet its new 2050 target of a net-zero carbon economy, the CCC has claimed. Heating and hot water account for around 15% of the UK's overall carbon footprint, with the nation currently off-track to meet a key target of ensuring 12% of heat is generated using renewables by 2020.

Responding to Citizens Advice’s report, the Association of Decentralised Energy’s (ADE) head of operations Lily Frencham said: “Citizens Advice are right that there is a need for a credible plan from the Government, working with industry and other key interests, to decarbonise heat if net-zero is to be delivered.

“The building of more heat networks is widely acknowledged to be a key component to any future plans. They are key in urban areas, allowing towns and cities up to capture otherwise wasted heat and deliver it to homes and offices driving down emissions.  Appropriate regulation of heat networks is necessary, to provide customers with confidence and protection around issues such as billing, while giving businesses and local authorities confidence to make the necessary investment in the new heat networks that will be needed.”


UKPN, Piclo herald ‘significant milestone’ as winners emerge from maiden commercial flexibility tender

Image: UKPN.

Image: UKPN.

UK Power Networks (UKPN) and energy technology firm Piclo are celebrating the completion of a new flexibility auction, the first time the latter’s online platform has been used for commercial purposes.

The platform, years in development, has been tested extensively but has now been used at the commercial scale for the first time, helping UKPN procure 18.1MW of flexibility.

Contracts worth £450,000 have been awarded to AMP Clean Energy, Limejump, Powervault and Moixa, with the flexibility procured used by UKPN to offset more costly grid reinforcements in constrained areas of the network.

The Piclo platform creates a heat-map of areas of congestion, correlating them with providers of flexibility with resources such as demand side response, battery storage and behind-the-meter generation. Network operators can then contract this capacity to minimise these bottlenecks.

The auction was first announced in May this year, with details to follow “in due course”, and following its success, UKPN has now handed Piclo an ongoing commercial contract, the tech company’s second such contract having secured a similar arrangement with Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks earlier this year.

James Johnston, chief executive and co-founder at Piclo, said the company was thrilled from the results of its first auction, realised after “years of trials and ongoing development”.

“As renewables have boomed across the UK and internationally, grid congestion and the network flexibility required to affordably alleviate it have become top priorities for network companies.

“This first full, commercial auction will be the first of many as distribution companies across the UK and even internationally take UK Power Network’s lead in enabling the shift to a smart, flexible, low-carbon power system.”

Piclo continues to work with all six of Britain’s distribution network operators after penning an agreement with Western Power Distribution late last year, and the company also counts tens of flexibility providers in its ranks.

Sotiris Georgioupoulos, head of smart grid development at UKPN, said flexibility offered the DNO a “wealth of opportunities”.

“All of the bids we accepted in this tender round met our robust economic criteria to ensure they will benefit our customers by offering lower costs in comparison to the traditional approach of building new assets. The UK is a world-leader in smart grid technology and flexibility has a key role to play as we move towards a decarbonised, decentralised and digitised network that will offer significant benefits to our customers.”