Forget launching space rockets to Mars, perhaps the most impressive of Elon Musk’s achievements has been to make renewable energy aspirational. The industry was once the preserve of eco-warriors, but entrepreneurs are now at its cutting edge – and making money. Fleur Macdonald investigates.
At lunchtime on a warm and sunny day in June last year, a milestone was crossed. For the first time in Britain, renewables generated more electricity than coal and gas. Power from wind, solar, hydro and wood- pellet burning produced more than half the total energy of the UK.
For a brief moment the nation experienced what the future might look like. The UK has committed to reduce emissions to at least a fifth of 1990 levels by 2050, under the Climate Change Act. The legal deadline should spur on governments to support green energy with investment.
This means huge business opportunities for UK companies working to reduce carbon emissions, increase renewable energy production and develop technologies and expertise in harnessing, distributing and (crucially) storing green energy. Growth in the low-carbon economy is estimated at 11% per year between 2015 and 2030, more than four times the overall projected growth of the economy.
Businesses based at Workspace are jumping on the opportunities this presents. Never mind Uber, Green Tomato Cars has been on a pioneering mission to transport Londoners without damaging the environment for well over a decade. Back in 2006, two City lawyers teamed up to create the city’s greenest car service, based in Q West in Brentford.
Environmental products were then considered niche, expensive and only for tree huggers, says Co-founder and MD, Jonny Goldstone. Today, Green Tomato Cars has more than 600 drivers on its books and more than 400 vehicles, such as the hybrid electric Toyota Prius. Its customers include big names such as the BBC, NHS and Sky. Goldstone says, “In 2018 we want to bring all of our fleet to low-emission, zero or hybrid vehicles.”
How? Green Tomato Cars is adding electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles to its feet and removing diesel. executive vehicles and replacing them with hybrid vehicles or plug-ins. This goal is timely. The government’s blueprint for Britain’s low-carbon future, the Clean Growth Paper, announced subsidies for the purchase of low-emission taxis; Green Tomato Cars is applying for government-related grants. Transport for London is installing 150 rapid-charge points for taxis and commercial fleets by the end of this year.
Norvento Enerxia, established in Spain and now in the UK at Workspace’s The Light Box in Chiswick, develops, promotes and operates multi-renewable technologies. Its 25 turbines in the UK are used or owned by small businesses that have a reasonable energy usage, good wind resource, and, of course, space for a turbine. These range from factories and farms to a small port site on the south coast. It can take a business as little as five years to pay back the half a million or so spent on the turbine.
Take-up of onshore wind generators has been greater than the government expected, says Robert Styles, Norvento’s Business Development Manager. “Eventually all these technologies need to become subsidy- free,” he says. “It’s just a question of how quickly the subsidies get removed before the industry is ready to stand on its own two feet.”
The main obstacle to this has been the unreliability of green energy; many sources of renewables are dependent on the weather. Plus, the electricity generated is not necessarily needed at that particular moment. The answer could lie in better batteries. In December, Tesla built the world’s largest ever lithium-ion battery next to a wind farm in southern Australia.
This is just the beginning. Musk is promising batteries for homes and commercial buildings, and Dyson is investing huge amounts in developing battery technology. Producing and using energy locally will soon be the norm, says Styles. For that to be possible, “battery storage is going to become a very large part of all renewable installations”. Microgrids powered by renewable energy that is generated on site and stored in batteries are a long-term focus for Norvento.
Green energy is a priority for Workspace. It procures 100% renewable electric energy. Solar photovoltaic panels have been installed at five Workspace centres, with 85 sq. m of 230W panels fitted at The Record Hall in Hatton Garden alone. Six more business centres will follow suit in the near future, explains Karen Jamison, the company’s Energy and Sustainability Manager.
In addition to the solar panels at The Record Hall, nearly 300 sq. m of green roof space has been added on two levels, including a wildflower turf vegetation layer. The building’s design scored a BREEAM Excellent sustainability rating.
Look out for smart sub-metering systems coming soon to Workspace; these allow customers to track their energy consumption. Jamison says, “A lot of our customers are focused on reducing their environmental impact.”
Green Tomato Cars, for example, has six offices at Workspace, which are ISO 14001 certified. This is an international standard for an environmental-management system, aimed at reducing the impact of a company’s operations on the environment. It can be used by any organisation regardless of its activity or sector. “Everyone has to do their bit,” says Goldstone.
Help the green cause
Coffee cups and the latte levy have hit the news lately but what about your computer? 43 million tons of electronic waste was generated in 2016, according to a UN report. That’s up 8% in only two years. We’re producing e-waste at double the rate of plastic refuse. One company based at Workspace has decided to do something about it — and you can help.
Social enterprise Camara Learning recycles computers and distributes them to schools. It performs safety checks, wipes data, installs educational programmes and ships them to Africa, where they are distributed to schools, and teachers are given IT training. Camara Learning plans to deliver 31,500 computers to schools in Ethiopia by March 2019, as well as expanding its programmes in Tanzania, Kenya, Zambia and Lesotho.
“The legal requirement is for computers to be recycled properly,” says Anna Norman, General Manager at Camara Learning. “And from an environmental perspective, it’s a no-brainer.”
Do your bit and dispose of your e-waste safely. Camara Learning accepts all computers in good condition and welcomes large batches. Get in touch with Anna at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 020 8670 1225
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