UK pushes for cleaner, greener energy

The UK’s Clean Growth Strategy looks to renewable technologies — like biomass boilers and solar panels — for a lower-carbon future.

The following post is by John Hannen, Outreach Executive at Mediaworks UK. 

Around the world, countries are typically encouraged to adopt green practices. In the UK, the government has taken strides in this department by compiling the Clean Growth Strategy. Designed to detail a comprehensive approach to ensuring a lower-carbon future, the initiative has been welcomed by many environmentalists around the UK.

This comprehensive document was put together by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) — read it here — and is set to change the eco-friendly landscape of the UK. From domestic to business gas operations, we’ve summarised the key points here:  

How is the UK dealing with climate change?

The Clean Growth Strategy is big news in the UK. In 2008, the UK introduced the Climate Change Act, and as a result, it became the first nation in the world to self-impose a legally binding carbon reduction target. The crux of it? To reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by 2050 (compared to 1990 levels).

Will the UK make a success of its environmental target?

BEIS data revealed in 2017 suggests that the nation is right on track to accomplish its goal. Overall carbon emissions have dropped by 42% since 1990! While this progress is encouraging, the government acknowledges that there is still plenty more work to be done — and that’s where proposals like the Clean Growth Strategy come in.

Is the Clean Growth Strategy going to be a significant help?

Essentially, there are two major objectives of the UK’s Clean Growth Strategy bringing down harmful emissions and increasing economic development. The two aims behind the strategy include:

  • Maximising the social and economic benefits for the UK from this transition.
  • Meeting domestic commitments at the lowest possible net cost to UK taxpayers, consumers and businesses.

Of course, it’s essential that the country collectively gets on board with this initiative if it is going to be a success. To help, the government will implement lower-carbon processes, systems and technologies all over the country — doing so in only cost-effective ways for businesses and homes.

What are the main proposals of the Clean Growth Strategy?

The following are all accountable for the significantly reducing the UK’s carbon emissions, according to the Clean Growth Strategy:

  • Boosting business and industry efficiency (25% of UK emissions)
  • Speeding up the shift to low-carbon transport (24% of UK emissions)
  • Offering clean, smart, flexible power (21% of UK emissions)
  • Enhancing the benefits and value of our natural resources (15% of UK emissions)
  • Improving our homes (13% of UK emissions)
  • Leading the public sector (2% of UK emissions).

Find the full list of 50 pledges in this executive summary.

How much will UK homes and business operations by affected?

From UK homeowners to UK companies, this is an initiative that includes everyone living and working in the UK. A major focus will be reassessing the fuels we use for jobs like heating, cooking, and powering industrial and manufacturing processes — and embracing cleaner, greener alternatives.

There’ll be a rise in renewable technologies — like biomass boilers and solar panels — as well as a drive towards cleaner energy sources. For example, for off-grid homes and businesses, the strategy sets out specific plans to phase out high-carbon forms of fossil fuels like oil. As the lowest-carbon conventional off-grid fuel, oil to liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) conversions will play a key part in replacing oil in rural parts of the country.

For buildings that are connected to the UK’s main power network, natural gas — a clean and efficient source — will stay a common option. Flogas, a leading UK energy provider, also expects to see the use of natural gas and the ‘green gas’ phenomenon (natural gas injected with a proportion of environmentally friendly biogas) grow in the next few years.

What do the experts say? 

This initiative has been very well received since its announcement in the UK. Lee Gannon, Managing Director of Flogas, said: “Through the publication of its Clean Growth Strategy, the government has made clear its intention to reduce carbon emissions from off-grid UK homes and businesses. Natural gas is affordable, versatile, widely available, and – most importantly – emits significantly less carbon than the likes of coal and oil. As such, it will continue to play a central role as the UK works towards cleaning up its energy landscape. We look forward to working alongside policymakers and wider industry stakeholders to make the Clean Growth Strategy the success that it deserves to be.”

Trade body Oil & Gas UK also predicts great things from the new initiative. Mike Tholen, its Upstream Policy Director, commented: “Oil & Gas UK welcomes the government’s commitment to technology in the strategy, especially with regards to carbon abatement measures such as carbon capture, usage, and storage. Oil & Gas UK looks forward to working with the government to see how these technologies can further reduce emissions across the economy.”

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Step inside the world’s top interiors for 2018

INSIDE World Festival of Interiors, the leading global interior design and architecture awards program, has announced the shortlist of 77 projects that will compete to be crowned World Interior of the Year 2018.

Projects from across the globe were entered across nine diverse categories, ranging from health and educational buildings to hotels, bars and restaurants, and residential homes. Hosted alongside the World Architecture Festival (WAF), the event attracts more than 2,000 attendees each year for its three days of talks, awards, exhibitions, and fringe events.

Highlights from this year’s shortlist include:
Civic, Culture and Transport category – Danish practice BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group for its ‘Lego House’ project in the heart of Billund.
A life-size re-creation of the traditional Lego brick house, the 23-meter-tall ‘Lego House’ is an immersive experience center. Twenty-one overlapping blocks are placed like individual buildings, which frames a 2,000 m2 LEGO urban square that is illuminated through the cracks and gaps between the volumes. The central square welcomes locals and visitors to further amenities such as a café, restaurant, LEGO store and conference facilities.

 

Creative Re-use category – Nocenco Café by Vietnamese practice VTN architects (Vo Trong Nghia Architects).
This renovation project includes a café on the rooftop of a 7-floor middle-rise concrete building which has been transformed into a local landmark in the city center of Vinh City, north of Vietnam. Unlike other post-war buildings in the local area, bamboo has been used extensively throughout the café and to the exterior of the existing building due to its accessibility, weight, and durability as a building material.

 

Display category – Studio Chris Fox for their ‘Interloop’ design.
This innovative design sits above the main entrance of Wynard station in Sydney, Australia. Made from re-used 1930s OTIS escalator treads, the Interloop measures more than 50 meters in length, weighs more than five tons, and weaves in 244 wooden treads and four combs from the original escalators.

 

Civic, Culture and Transport category – WATG and Wimberly Interiors (Turkey) for Belmond Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. 
Art Deco interiors are featured in this renovated train. Wimberly Interiors renovated three ultra-luxurious private suites aboard the train. Drawing inspiration from the heritage and style of each of the destinations the train weaves through – Paris, Venice, and Istanbul – Wimberly Interiors has used ornate detailing, hand-beaded embroidery and lavish fabrics to reflect each city’s unique character.

 

Retail category – Waterfrom Design’s ‘Molecure Pharmacy’ in Taiwan.
The design is inspired by the original pharmaceutical process of extracting molecules from nature to create healing drugs. The metal, lightweight glass, and transparent acrylics are crisscrossed, and straight lines are used to build the display racks; similar to the expansion of a molecule – with medicines placed on them, the display racks seem to disappear from the space, while the varied pharmaceutical packaging adds color to the walls.

Additional projects from this year’s shortlist include:

Display category – Fleur Pavilia Sales Gallery by New World Development Company. The fleur floating island in the city, Hong Kong, China. 

 

Hotel category – Hisvahan Hotel by GEO_ID, Istanbul, Turkey.

 

Retail category – Genius loci – House of Fritz Hansen, Jakarta, Indonesia.

 

 

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Speak out for the trees

Where is your favorite tree? Tell your story on the Forest for the Trees Storymap!

Artist Katherine Wimble Fox and SoCoCulture (the South King County Cultural Coalition) 
announce an open call to the public to contribute to the crowd-sourced, online, interactive Forest for the Trees Storymap. Participants locate their favorite tree or trees on a map and upload an image and story of their tree. Forest for the Trees is meant to inspire stewardship and awareness of our tree neighbors, attunement to nature, community sharing, and attachment to place. It will also become a record of the social value of trees in South King County communities. 

This mapping project is funded by a Tech Specific artist grant from 4Culture. It is a component of SoCoCulture’s Engaging Trees Initiative, and for autumn 2018, SoCoCulture is planning a tree-centric speaker series, supported by the Port of Seattle’s Airport Community Ecology Fund, to encourage further participation in the project. Nonprofit partner support is provided by Pacific Bonsai Museum and the Highline Historical Society.

Why Trees?
As developers eye South King County’s plentiful undeveloped parcels, with chainsaws at the ready, residents stand to lose cherished trees. The loss would be immense, as people depend on the ecosystem services trees provide as producers of oxygen, shade, food, habitat, carbon storage, clean air, and clean water. In recognition of the ecological and economic value of trees, King County has pledged to plant 1 Million Trees by 2020, and communities across south King County are initiating tree canopy surveys to map current canopy coverage from the air.

Down on the ground, trees provide a social value as well. People benefit from the presence of trees, finding beauty, silence, respite, solace, shelter, fortitude, and camaraderie. They are inspired by trees, responding with physical play, storymaking, placemaking, and dreaming. Most people can recall at least one memorable experience involving a special tree or group of trees, and can tell a story about that experience.

Who Can Participate?
The Forest for the Trees storymap project is fully inclusive: anyone can contribute a story in any language about any tree that matters to them (past or present) anywhere in the world. Outreach activities and programming aimed at increasing participation will be carried out in South King County, WA.

As South King County communities are steadily becoming more culturally diverse, Forest for the Trees is a way for newer communities, too, to make their mark on the map, by introducing them to plants to facilitate familiarity and personal connections to existing trees.

How Will Stories be Collected and What Will be Done with them?
The public can navigate to sococulture.org/engaging-trees to:   

  1. Locate their tree on the map;
  2. Upload an image of their tree, and 
  3. Upload a story about their tree.   

Because the storymap can be publicly accessed anywhere via smartphone, people can explore stories and contribute to the map at the site of their tree. Contributions to the map are public and will be stored on ESRI‘s (the maker of the Storymap app) server. Stories will accumulate on the Storymap for all to read and explore.

Programs
To further strengthen the connections between people, place, and trees, and to encourage more contributions to the map, selected partner organizations will organize public programs in autumn 2018. The programs will be posted online at sococulture.org/calendar.

About Katherine Wimble Fox
Katherine Wimble Fox is driven by the belief that experiential awareness can bond people with place, connect communities, and support environmental sustainability. Her artwork converges on the intersection of art, environmentalism, and history through feminist practices defined as those that underscore participation, pluralism, embodiment, and contextualization. Katherine has collaborated on site-specific outdoor art installations as a founding member of the Unearth Collective, plus landscape architecture projects with Hapa Collaborative, site-specific art installations with Haddad|Drugan LLC, and currently works as the Communications Manager at the Pacific Bonsai Museum in Federal Way, WA. She holds a Master’s degree in landscape architecture from the University of Washington, a post-baccalaureate graduate degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and a B.S. in Forestry & Wildlife resources from Virginia Tech.

About SoCoCulture
The South King County Cultural Coalition (SoCoCulture) consists of local arts, heritage and botanical organizations that have joined forces to promote a vibrant cultural life in South King County. SoCoCulture provides advocacy, collaborative marketing, and professional development opportunities for its members. To learn more about SoCoCulture’s Engaging Trees Initiative, visit: sococulture.org/fomenting-a-pro-tree-movement-in-south-king-county

About 4Culture 
4Culture provides funding and support for the cultural work that makes King County
vibrant. Arts 4Culture funds individual artists, artist groups, and arts organizations that
provide access to art experiences for all King County residents and visitors.

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Opinion: Does Seattle City Council Actually Want Affordability?

Image provided by Plymouth Housing Group

Listening to City Council members’ rhetoric you might think they want cheaper housing. But do most of them, really?

The Council has done nothing about accessory units, which would be helpful to both homeowners and accessory-unit residents. They actually outlawed most of the smaller micro housing options, which used to allow unsubsidized construction affordable at the low-middle range. Land that can be redeveloped into multifamily housing or mixed-use is getting scarcer, with skyrocketing prices, because a small fraction of the city allows anything but houses. The Council hasn’t done much about that either.

Other than limit parking requirements (kudos for that), we seem to be going backward.

There’s a theme here. The Council is doing what’s popular and fits a narrative, not what’s effective.

Now they’re looking at a head tax on jobs. Isn’t it convenient that voters won’t pay anything, at least not directly? Only big bad employers.

Techs are other big companies are the lifeblood of our local economy, bringing new money in from elsewhere. The rest of us — contractors, hospitals, bakeries — mostly shuffle money that was already local. The head tax avoids small businesses but look where their money comes from. The Council seems intent on shrinking the tax base that already supports the same good things.

More money is needed for housing and human services, but we should all share the burden, in a way that doesn’t create its own headwinds for the intended causes. If the cost can’t be spread nationally or statewide, at least Seattle’s tax can make sense. For example a property tax.

A fair tax would probably pass an election. But that would be scary for the Council, and they wouldn’t be seen sticking it to big business. Maybe an affordable future isn’t as important as job security (for them, not us) and an image.

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How will commercial solar be affected by tariffs?

The following post is by Kyle Pennell, Content Manager at PowerScout.

This week, the Trump administration slapped tariffs on imported solar panels and solar cells. Set to start at 30 percent, the tariffs will decline each year by five percent and expire after four years.

Commercial and residential rooftop solar installations emerged relatively unscathed from the tariff ruling. Compared to utility-scale solar installations, rooftop installations have higher “soft costs” – the costs associated with customer acquisition, marketing, supply chain costs, installation labor, and so on. Soft costs account for nearly two-thirds of the overall commercial solar installation price tag. Of the remaining hard costs (those associated with equipment), the panels themselves only comprise about 10 to 15 percent of the overall installed system price.

In other words, for a typical commercial solar installation, the total cost will increase only about three or four percent. A standard system costs around $20,000; a three percent increase, then, would add just $600 to the price tag.

Overall, however, many analysts believe that the tariffs won’t have a significant effect. Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, said, “The global solar industry will adjust. The penetration of solar in the U.S. will continue.”

MJ Shiao, head of GTM Research’s Americas division, said the tariff decision “has a meaningful but not destructive impact on solar installations.”

And for at least some in the solar industry, the tariffs actually spell good news. While they comprise a small minority (about 15 percent) of jobs in the solar industry overall, domestic panel manufacturers broadly stand to gain from the tariffs. Companies that produce novel solar products could also benefit.

Tesla, for instance, will begin nationwide installations of its solar roof this year. Unlike traditional solar panels, the solar roof is composed of roofing tiles that look like any other but contain solar cells to generate electricity. Tesla imports the solar cells used in the tiles, but the tariff on solar cells won’t go into effect unless 2.5 gigawatts’ worth of cells are imported. Since only 0.5 gigawatts of cells were imported last year, the tariff on cells is unlikely to limit production. Tesla has also announced their plans to use imported solar cells to produce traditional solar panels.

Like other U.S. panel manufacturers, First Solar also stands to benefit from the tariffs. The company produces thin-film panels made with cadmium telluride and doesn’t even require imported solar cells. First Solar has announced plans to expand its existing manufacturing capacity in Ohio, and its share price climbed nine percent in after-hours trading following the tariff announcement. Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown (D) said the trade decision was “welcome news” and suggested that tariffs will “help level the playing field” for American panel makers.

Even some installers, who were broadly united against any kind of tariff, have benefited (at least temporarily) from the tariff announcement. Share prices for Sunrun and Vivint Solar, for instance, were bolstered by relieved investors who had expected even steeper tariffs.

Jigar Shah, the founder of SunEdison, said the tariffs were “exactly what the solar industry asked for behind closed doors” and characterized them as “good news” overall.

Still, over 80 percent of U.S. solar installations utilize foreign panels, and the tariffs will hurt some segments of the industry, especially solar installers. Abigail Harper, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, said the tariffs will “create a crisis in a part of our economy that has been thriving, which will ultimately cost tens of thousands of hard-working, blue-collar Americans their jobs.” The SEIA estimates that 23,000 jobs could be lost this year alone – though that figure is considerably lower than last year’s estimate from Bloomberg New Energy Finance and Clearview Energy Partners, which projected that tariffs could cause the U.S. solar industry to shed 88,000 jobs this year.

As prices rise, previously anticipated installation rates are expected to slow. While the tariffs are in effect, total installations will decline about 10 percent relative to the level that was previously projected. But utility-scale solar, not commercial and residential solar, will suffer the most. Prices for utility-scale installations could jump by 10 percent, and 65 percent of the overall decline in installations will be due to the slowdown of utility-scale projects.

The tariffs stem from a trade complaint brought by solar panel manufacturers Suniva and SolarWorld. The companies filed a petition with the U.S. International Trade Commission last year, blaming foreign competition for crippling domestic solar panel manufacturing. Together, they argued in favor of severe tariffs on imported solar panels.

The petition and the ITC’s subsequent ruling were broadly opposed by solar installers, as well as free trade advocates and developers of solar power plants. A bipartisan group of 69 members of Congress sent the ITC a letter urging the commission to oppose tariffs.

The tariffs were primarily aimed at panel makers in China and other Asian nations. Trump regularly vilified China and its trade policies during the 2016 presidential campaign.

But China’s Jinko Solar, one of the world’s largest panel producers, said the tariff decision was “better than expected” and even suggested that it might build a manufacturing plant in the U.S. And despite the fact that it’s owned by Shunfeng International Clean Energy Ltd., a Chinese company, Suniva thanked the president for “holding China and its proxies accountable.”

China and South Korea have criticized the White House’s decision and may petition the tariffs before the World Trade Organization. Under pressure from the WTO, the administration might withdraw the tariffs.

China might also retaliate with tariffs of its own. And since China is America’s number one trading partner, Chinese tariffs could badly damage the U.S. economy.

Kyle Pennell is the Content Manager at PowerScout — we help homeowners figure out if installing solar is right for them and get competitive bids from multiple installers. Our long-term mission is to accelerate the adoption of solar (and other smart home improvements), which will help mitigate climate change.

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