No sunny weather at 11am but I’m still smiling…
Wednesday 3rd October 2018 marks the day I was lucky enough to buy the solar panels that have graced my roof for the last 7 years. Like thousands of other fortunate UK residents, I rushed to get solar PV installed on my roof before the UK government’s feed-in tariff (FITs) dropped below 42.5 pence per kilowatt hour back in December 2011.
At the time I couldn’t afford the initial outlay, so the installer agreed to receive the feed-in tariff and I got the free electricity. I was very lucky as since then my electricity costs have remained static. I pay circa £300 per year for electricity on a 2-bed terrace and I’m on a green tariff, but, I know others have been less fortunate.
Let’s pose the question - were the government right to invest in these technologies when they potentially benefit so few?
I can see now how very extravagant the original FITS (pre 12th December 2011) payments were for those who bought their new technologies - it gave a lot more return on investment (circa 15% p.a.) than you’d get from even the best savings accounts today (2.75%). For a system that cost £10K to install, it should return upwards of £37,500 over its 25 year lifetime. However, there will probably only be an additional £500 of expense in terms of a replacement inverter half way through the life of the panels. How can that be right? A minimum of £37.5K return on a total £10.5K investment? Is it right for a select few to be making a profit from going green?
Looking at an assessment written in 2015 for DECC of the impact of FITs, the cost per Megawatt Hour (MWh) of energy produced was rated at £261 per MWh (in 2013-14). In comparison, new nuclear production costs £92.50 per MWh and new offshore wind £57.50 (by 2022-23) . At the very least, a better approach may have been to fund installations for those who could not afford them, rather than (as ever) expecting a broken market to fix a problem with an incentive package most likely to be accessed by those that have the cash to access it - and not by those that don’t :o(
So, what is the best solution? Moving forward, the most equitable investments with the best ROI for both the government and for us are clearly offshore wind- I’m not even considering anaerobic digestion, hydropower and other technologies in this assessment.
Offshore wind is better than supporting micro-generation (financially) and definitely better than nuclear (both financially and environmentally). But, despite this, there’s no accounting for the positive behavioural benefits of having your own micro-generating systems - before you know it, you will become a RENEWABLE GEEK! How many folks do you know who know the energy ratings of their appliances off by heart?!
So, would I have solar panels fitted without the feed-in tariff? Not necessarily. But, with the price of the installation probably closer to £5,500 in today’s money (solar panels have reduced in price by around 75%) and with a £300 saving on electricity each year, a solar installation still gives a better ROI than the best savings accounts out there!
So, what can you do? The feed-in tariff completely ends in April 2019. Despite being vastly reduced from its starting point (down to just short of 4p per kWh) if you are half-thinking of a solar installation and have a decent roof then now is the time to do it! If cost is an issue, consider renting out your roof- this still leaves you with the benefit of cheaper and electricity bills and the option to become your own GEEK!
P.S. The sun did come out eventually!
P.P.S. This is how much of a geek I am, I just read my electricity generation meter for the second time in two days (!) and I can announce that I’ve generated 5 whole kWhrs of energy today for which I will be paid £2.64 pence through the FITS scheme and I’ve just run my fully-loaded dishwasher on it. Bonus. ;o)
 The 42.5 pence was a guaranteed minimum amount – in actuality the FITS payments track the RPI so right now (3/10/18) they are worth 52.75 pence per unit.
 See www.runbythesun.co.uk for details.
 The best interest rate for a fixed rate bond on 3rd October 2018 is given as 2.75%. The ROI for my solar panels is around 15% per year on the old FITs scheme (pre-2011) and this doesn’t even include the saved costs of the free electricity. Moneyfacts.co.uk (2018). Best savings rates. https://moneyfacts.co.uk/savings/best-savings-rates/ Accessed on 3rd October 2018 at 11.56am
 Solar installations were awarded a 25 year FIT rather than 20 years for all other renewable technologies – I have no idea why! Powerful solar lobby perhaps?!
 Nolden, C. (2015). Performance & Impact of the Feed-in Tariff Scheme: Review of Evidence. Science Policy Research Unit on behalf of DECC: London. Available at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/456181/FIT_Evidence_Review.pdf Accessed on 3rd October 2018
 BBC News (2017). Offshore wind power cheaper than new nuclear. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-41220948
 Berners-Lee, M. (2010). How Bad are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything. London. Profile Books.
 Moneyfacts.co.uk (2018). Best savings rates. https://moneyfacts.co.uk/savings/best-savings-rates/ Accessed on 3rd October 2018 at 11.56am
Emma hopes to inspire by writing about her own sustainability journey - please share your own experiences below.
I first saw a version of this recipe when I took part in Veganuary in 2017. At the time my interest in food had been reawakened as I was learning to plan wholefood, plant-based meals for the first time and the whole month of January was an awesome journey of food discovery.
I found the original recipe lacked a little punch and interest (and the quantities in the recipe seemed way too much for just little me!) so I started to experiment each time I made it…
My favourite way of making this dish has been to use my homegrown tomatoes and Nero di Toscano Kale. You can also experiment with different gluten-free spaghetti options; I tried Aldi’s Black Bean Spaghetti in the dish this week and it was stunning. I found it chewier than a normal spaghetti but it was nicely filling and cooked even faster than regular spaghetti. It is black in colour which means you lose the olives but the taste compensates for the different colour!
I liked the idea of this recipe as it only messes up one large saucepan (instead of several) and literally only takes the cooking time of the spaghetti (or a minute or too longer) to make. So… quick and easy was the initial draw…
One-Pot Spaghetti Wonder
Serves: 2 people
Cooking time: 10 – 12 minutes (dependant on your spaghetti cooking time)
Preparation time: 5 minutes (although some of this can be prepped as you cook)
Unusual equipment: One large, deep and wide heavy-based frying pan and a grater/zester
60-80 g wholewheat spaghetti per person (or any other type to suit you)
Zest of 1 unwaxed lemon
150-200 ml boiled water
3 tbsp olive or rapeseed oil (you can use flavoured oils such as garlic, chilli or smoked – I use a mix of garlic and chilli)
200-300gs fresh tomatoes chopped (please buy seasonally: UK in summer and Italian or Spanish in the winter as they have a lower carbon footprint than UK ones which are grown in heated glasshouses)
½ tsp of sea salt
200gs kale (washed and chopped into 1 inch pieces)
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 tsp bouillion powder of other organic/vegan stock granules
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp green vegan pesto (optional)
Toppings (these are all optional)
Half a jar of cheap black olives (chopped in half)
A few tsps of tapenade
Sainsbury’s Blue-style cheese
Handful of toasted pumpkin/sunflower seeds
Emma began enjoying veganism in 2016 and loves prepping and eating food almost as much as helping others learn about saving the world.
A carbon footprint is a measure of the total greenhouse gases (GHG) produced by a person, activity, product, service or country. It is usually expressed in equivalent tonnes of carbon dioxide or CO2e”.
So from this definition we can see the spotlight isn’t just on carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere… but all the other GHGs too! But what are they? Where do they come from? And what is this CO2e of which you speak? - I hear you say…
Carbon dioxide is only one of six main gases or groups of gases that humans emit into the atmosphere and which the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) monitor.
Those gases are:
Are you asleep yet? ;o)
But wait, doesn’t water vapour have a big warming effect too (you assert)? Yes – you’re correct. Whilst water vapour within the atmosphere has the largest potential to warm the planet,  the other gases have warming potential that can last into the tens of thousands of years because they don’t break down or they breakdown very, very slowly. :o(
However, just to complicate things more, there’s also the feedback loop of increased water vapour in a warming world, which can make the whole thing hotter still.
But there’s still five more gases to account for… so where do they come from?
Methane is released from ruminating animals like cows or sheep and even some humans too when we ‘trump’ (do you see what I did there?!) or even burp! Not everyone emits methane when they trump though – it’s all to do with your gut flora!
Anyway… back to GHGs - although this one will definitely have you laughing! :o)
Nitrous oxides, discovered by Joseph Priestly in 1772, was originally used as an anaesthetic. Nowadays, it is mostly released through the breakdown of nitrogen-based fertilisers through agricultural methods. You might recognise the name as its most commonly known as ‘laughing gas’ coined by Sir Humphry Davy in 1800 when he observed how it made people giggle!
Sulphur hexafluoride (number 4 on our list above) is a colourless, odourless, non-flammable and extremely potent greenhouse gas but, an excellent electrical insulator used in a number of industrial processes. Unlike laughing gas, it has the opposite effect on the voice if inhaled – making your voice sound deeper more akin to Darth Vader, David Suchet or Alan Rickman than Mini Mouse!
The last two groups of gases (often known collectively as F-gases or fluorine gases) – perfluorocarbons and hydrofluorocarbons (PFCs and HFCs) were developed to replace CFCs in the 1990s when we discovered that CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) were depleting the ozone layer. They are mostly used as refrigerants. Unlike methane, which does breakdown relatively quickly in the atmosphere (around a decade) carbon may persist for 200 years and the F-gases for millennia. So, although they are released in much smaller quantities, the overall warming potential of these gases is pretty big over time.
But, if all these other greenhouse gases are included, why do we call it a ‘carbon’ footprint?
Well – to make the maths of GHG accounting just a tiny bit easier, we make all the gases equivalent to carbon when we’re calculating the total carbon footprint of something. Hence we produce a number which is the CO2e or carbon equivalence.
So, what could we do about the misnomer of ‘carbon footprint’?
Probably nothing really. A GHG footprint or ‘Greenhouse Gas Footprint’ (woot! It just rolls off the tongue doesn’t it?!) is just not as sexy as its carbon shorthand. There’s something so much more tangible about carbon dioxide (or carbon for short), as your average person might conjure up images of smoke rising into the air from the burning of coal, oil or other fossil fuels.
However, as a final thought, does the term ‘carbon footprint’ encourage too much emphasis on burning fossil fuels as the main problem, pushing the less visible but equally important effects of humming fridges, burping bovines and farmers scattering fertilisers onto the side-lines. By using the word ‘carbon’ are we fuelling a one sided image of the effects of climate change all in the attempt to name it as one thing? Please discuss in the comments below!
 See this article by Mike Berners-Lee for his definition of a carbon footprint www.theguardian.com/environment/blog/2010/jun/04/carbon-footprint-definition
Dr Emma Fieldhouse is a learning enthusiast and loves to help others understand climate change and the positive things we can all do to slow it down.