Energy companies, technology and communications

If you think about how how much technological advance there’s been in the past two or three decades, it’s soon pretty clear that the greatest moves forward have been concentrated in certain areas – for instance, while trains still run on diesel or electricity like they did 30 years ago (and are late like they were 30 years ago, and a bit grubby) look at what computers have done in the meantime:

1981 – the release of the IBM PC. Shipped with 16k or 64k RAM, which seems almost unbelievable these days since sixty four thousand bytes is a drop in the ocean compared to four billion you’d get with a mid-range laptop now.

2011 – the PC is down in sales, being overtaken by laptops, net books and tablets, and the PC itself is much changed since 1981 – modern versions have all the electronic gubbins in the screen, so no need even for a box beside the screen. And the computer can do all kinds of things now, from helping out SETI to playing old episodes of Star Trek. Computers are now merging with mobile phones too – your iPhone or HTS Wildfire is (of course) a way more powerful computer than anything IBM were selling in 1981.

And with the revolution in computers comes a revolution in communications – the only way companies could two-way communicate with customers in 1981 would be:

By fixed line telephone
By letter
Face to face

Or maybe by smoke signals if anyone knew how to use them. In 2011 the armory of communications channels includes:

mobile telephone
voice mail
company website contact form

And there are probably others, but Twitter is a big one right now – it’s used partly as a way of giving out info – news, offers etc but it’s also used as a customer services tool. One challenge for companies – whether they’re energy companies or otherwise, is how to use Twitter effectively – in on etweet I saw that someone was complaining to an energy company about a hole in the road – but of course the energy company don’t own the infrastructure, so are unable to help. This is the difference between Tweets and phone calls – a Tweet costs nothing so potentially there are a lot of people out there to communicate with. Obviously Twitter is just one communication medium out of many – we’ll see how it develops and matures over time as a mode of customer services.

New electric cars

There was a lot of media coverage last year in the run up to the first electric car, but initially there were only a few models being talked about, with Nissan’s Leaf getting most of the attention.

A few short months in and things have moved on quite a bit already, with the Volvo C30 looking impressive in its online promotional material, and then there’s the nippy looking Peugeot iOn looking good, with exciting sounding vehicles like the Audi R8 e-tron and Renault Fluence Z.E. in the pipeline, plus others.

Have you seen any electric cars in action yet? Or, even better – do you own one yourself? If so, please let us know in the comments…

Germany Joins Offshore Wind Energy Race

The first of Germany’s planned offshore wind farms is now in operation, the first of several planned in their effort to generate 20-25,000 megawatts by 2030. The wind farm, located just off the German coast in the Baltic sea, contains 21 of Siemens 2.3 megawatt turbines and covers around 2.5 square miles with the entire farm capable of supplying clean energy to at least 50,000 homes.

With the catchy name EnBW Baltic 1, it’s the first in a series of Siemens built wind farms with EnBW Baltic 2 up next. It’s a big increase on it’s predecessor and is due to have 80 turbines with individual capacities of 3.6 Megawatts, and if completed as expected in 2013 it will be capable of supplying some of the cheapest electricity to around 340,000 households.

Siemens is also contracted to build another 3 offshore wind farms in Germany this year, with Borkum Riffgat, Borkum Riffgrund 1 and Dan Tysk all scheduled for the near future which should help bring the total German offshore wind output up to around 1050 Megawatts

4 Free Ways To Keep Your Home Green

OK, there are loads of guides out there to help people be more energy efficient and reduce their carbon footprint, but today we’re going back to basics to look at a few simple (and more importantly free) things which you can do to make your home a little Greener. Obviously the big things like better insulation, more efficient appliances and low flow toilets are some of the most important changes which can be made, but while you’re saving up the pennies for that new refrigerator here are a few things you can try

1. Reduce your use of plastic bags – Yes, this is a fairly obvious step and most people will be aware that the massive amount of plastic bags manufactured each year has a negative impact on the environment, however I will bet that 90% of people reading this have an ever-growing collection of polythene bags in a cupboard or a drawer in their kitchen. Despite being the main instigator of the problem most supermarkets are trying to tackle the number of plastic bags issued to customers by encouraging people to recycle ones they’ve used previously. The next time you’re doing your weekly shop, make an effort not to have to say “sorry, I forgot” when you’re asked if you have your own bags!

2. Save water – Outside of installing low flow toilets and showers there are plenty of simple behavioral changes people can make to save on their water usage. Things like not leaving the tap running when you’re washing the dishes, using a bucket and sponge to wash your car instead of the hose, and only running the washing machine when you have a full load are such simple changes to make. The Water : Use It Wisely site has a fantastic ‘100 ways to save water’ list which is well worth a read. I was surprised at how many things I would never have thought of.

3. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – A fantastic term used on the Recycling Guide website. You can reduce by simply being selective about the items you buy and the items you throw away. Looking for items with reduced packaging or buying a multipurpose cleaner instead of separate ones for each room can make a big difference, while old toys and clothes can be passed on to friends or charity shops. Look to reuse as many things as possible, jars can be used to store home cooked food, carrier bags can be used multiple times and old car tyres can be given to local garages who will be able to recycle them. Recycle by using your bins properly, buying products which can either be recycled or are made from recycled materials, and make better use of local recycling facilities instead of just taking everything to the local skip.

4. Find A Greener Energy Supplier – There are plenty of energy companies out there, but you should be searching for those who make good use of renewable energy sources and are as green as possible. With most people sticking with the same company year after year this is one method that could end up saving you some money, so it’s worth looking into. Companies like Southern Electric also offer iPhone applications to monitor your energy usage so you know what you’re using every day.

Energy sources in the UK: Renewables and Nuclear in mix

Recently at Green Electricity blog we’ve been thinking a lot about the mix of energy sources here in the UK – specifically where the energy mix might be heading in the future. We’re sure that in the wake of the German decision to choose a future based on renewables, many of you are having similar thoughts! Anyway, we apologize in advance for the rather rambling nature of this post – but sometimes its good to spill out thoughts and see what happens!

Nuclear option So, where does the German decision leave the UK? Where do the majority people stand on nuclear power playing a major part of the UK energy solution? A recent Populus poll for the Financial Times seemed to indicate that the UK population would broadly support the continued use of nuclear power:

The Populus survey found more than eight in 10 people were either fully supportive of nuclear as the best way to tackle climate change or thought it might have a role to play in the UK’s future energy mix. Only 16 per cent opposed it under any circumstances. These are about the same figures Populus has found every time it has asked the question since 2007.

However, as The Low Carbon Kid has pointed out:

“Would you be cross if a new generation of nuclear power stations in the UK was to go ahead?” 89% said yes and only 11% said no.

Also, we came across a rather interesting survey from Deloitte in 2005 (PDF), in which 49% of respondents answered that they opposed nuclear power on principle – would this be a lot higher now in the wake of Fukushima? In the same report 92% of respondents answered YES to the question: “Do you think the government should do more to explore alternative power generation technologies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions/greenhouse gases?”

Renewables in the UK energy mix

One major fear of those who are supportive of the nuclear power option would be the potential cost to the consumer of a renewable-only energy mix. They would argue that the cost to replace the energy deficit left by abandoning nuclear with renewable power sources would be too great. And what if wind power or other sources are unable to fill the gap? Would we see a return to Coal power?

As always, these are interesting times in energy supply. There are a number of issues to be discussed:

  • How do you think the future mix of energy energy supply could be shaped?
  • What is the best balance of energy sources going forward?
  • Should the UK follow German example and scrap nuclear as an option?
  • What would this mean for consumers? Higher bills and energy shortages?

We would be very interested to hear your thoughts in the comments.

  • The Populus/FT poll ‘British attitudes to new nuclear power stations’ can be downloaded here.

Resources on the UK energy mix – nuclear and renewable:

Energy news – emissions trading and China

In any discussion of carbon or climate change, there’s always one factor that should be remembered: China.

China’s pace of change means that in terms of carbon output, it makes our own seem rather slight, after all, their population is twenty times ours, so no wonder.

It’s reassuring therefore that China has very real plans to cut emissions. And among these plans is the brilliant idea to introduce a carbon market. Essentially what emissions trading does is put limits on carbon output, but it does so in a dynamic way that can actually change things without laying down a strict law that applies to all in the same way. It makes green competitive.

And when a country as mighty as China gets involved in something like emissions trading, you can bet that the rest of the world will take notice.

Hello and welcome to the new Green Electricity Blog

Hello there! and thanks for visiting the Green Electricity blog. If you are a regular reader you will have known us from our previous address at – well, we have finally got round to moving to our own domain! For those visiting for the first time we have imported all our old posts so you can get a feel for the topics we discuss here. We have some nice posts lined up for the coming weeks and are looking for as much interaction as possible, so get commenting! Thanks and we hope you enjoy the site – the Green Electricity Blog team.

Warmer weather – electricity and energy saving?

Well despite some sleet earlier in the week, it is beginning to look like we may finally have gotten free of the cold weather. I mean, all that -10 Celsius stuff was just way too cold for even a winter lover like me. Going to the newsagents for a bag of crisps was actually uncomfortably cold – and for once, that old, hackneyed, worn out joke that people make – you know, the Scott of the Antarctic one – actually kinda made sense for once.

Of course the energy companies will have been kept busy during the cold snap but now the warmer weather’s here, now is the time to make some late resolutions regarding energy use. It’s much easier to save energy during the milder weather – not so much need for heating, you can have a quick shower instead of an hour’s hot soak, then also because of the weather there’s less desire to eat comfort stodge, so the oven gets used less.

It’s also worth asking your electricity company about a smart monitor – these little beauties can actually tell you the amount of energy being used, and help manage consumption.

Scotland May Follow Germany’s No Nuclear Plan

The recent decision in Germany to begin completely phasing out nuclear dependency has sparked a rather heated debate within Scottish politics. With Germany having declared plans to shut all their nuclear power stations by 2022, they will be by far the largest industrial power to have taken this step. Moreover it would seem that if the SNP have their way then Scotland will be following suit.

A prominent SNP politician has been quoted as saying it demonstrates the same “route that Scotland wishes to go down”. The Nationalist MSP’s were all over the announcement as soon as it was made with the Energy Minister Fergus Ewing claiming that the decision in Germany “adds further weight” to the SNP’s plans for Scotland to be entirely dependent on renewables within 10 years.

That being said its not all positive from Scotland the Scottish Conservative’s energy spokesman Jackson Carlaw has said that the plan for Scotland to be nuclear free by 2020 shows “extreme recklessness” and if a shortfall in energy should occur then we would be forced to buy nuclear energy from England.

It appears from all the back and forth between the two parties, that it comes down to a question of, will renewables be able to meet the demands that nuclear energy currently satisfies, within the rather ambitious time scale that the SNP have set?

As it stands at the moment it seems the SNP have been unable to provide any assurances as to whether renewables will be able to meet this demand or even how they intend to go about implementing what is certainly an ambitious idea.

Personally, I think it would be a good idea to see how the Germans get on first, and use their experiences to help decide what the best choice is for our nation.

Scottish Marine Energy Developments

Scotland’s ambitious green energy drive was given a boost this week as the wave energy development firm Aquamarine Power unveiled their latest cutting edge hydro electric wave energy technology. Dubbed the Oyster 800, the device is capable of generating 250% more power than the first ‘Oyster 1’ device at only one third of the cost. Oyster 1 was connected to the grid at the end of 2009 and to date has contributed over 6000 working hours at the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney.

The Oyster 800 is set to be deployed over the next two years, with the EMEC transporting the device to sea before connecting it to an on shore hydro electric plant. The developments are staggering considering the short time frame between the initial deployment of the original Oyster device and this new and improved design, and it could prove a significant step towards the country’s goal of a near total dependence on renewable energy.

The CEO of Aquamarine Power has hinted at further improvements in the future, aiming to reduce the production costs of the Oyster 800 and making the device cost competitive over the next few years. The output of the device is fairly impressive, with the company claiming that a farm of just 20 of the devices would provide enough power for 15,000 homes, and the reliability of marine power makes it the ideal partner to Scotland’s extensive wind power program. With investments from some top companies, notably Scottish electric company SSE, the future looks bright for the technology.

The apparent goal for the marine power industry in the short to medium term appears to be development and the reduction of production costs to allow the industry to become a truly viable competitor to the nuclear and onshore wind industries. Stephen Wyatt from The Carbon Trust has hinted at a bright future for the UK marine energy sector should they continue to develop at this impressive rate. The UK already has a notable lead in the marine energy sector, and Wyatt has suggested that they could corner up to a quarter of the global marine energy market. With the right investment and support they predict that the sector could be worth up to £76 billion to the UK economy by 2050, generating almost 70,000 jobs.