Six uplifting cleantech stories to warm you up this Winter

There’s a cold front moving in, and as new renewable subsidy cuts threaten like thunder on the horizon, the cleantech industry seems to be wrapping its shroud of gloom closer around its shoulders.

The Government's ‘bonfire of green policies’[1] as James Murray defines it is one of the worst pieces of news for UK cleantech in a long time. It is confusing that the government is making cuts to two of the cheapest sources of energy in the UK when its primary motivation is cost savings[2], and this confusion seems to have affected market confidence – the UK has now dropped out of the top 10 places to invest in renewable energy for the first time[3], slipping from eighth place to 11th in June’s Renewable Energy Country Attractiveness Index (RECAI) report[4].

The UK is no longer on track to meet its 2020 carbon targets[5], and, combined with regular new environmental warnings and the perpetual difficulty of engaging the public with the topic of climate change, it’s easy to feel perplexed and despondent about the near-future of cleantech in the UK.

Bad news is dominating the headlines, so we decided to shine a spotlight on some of the more cheerful pieces of news this year. From revolutionary technologies to genius inventions, it seems there are some things still worth celebrating.

1. New technology could halve our energy bills and encourage widespread adoption of solar

We’re hearing about ever more sophisticated technology all the time now, and one such solution is the new hybrid solar panel roofing system developed at Brunel University, which will halve energy bills in new homes. If the government needed more proof that renewables are profitable, the proof lies in new technologies like this.The patented new system harnesses a unique mixture of technologies to pre-heat domestic hot water for radiators, baths and showers while also generating electricity. More than half of domestic energy use in the UK is to heat water… Our flat heat pipes are so efficient that they can actually capture the energy from early morning dew evaporating off the trial roof,” said Dr Hussam Jouhara of Brunel’s Institute of Energy Futures, who led the British team that developed the new system.[6]

2. 3D-printing solution to waste disposal

There’s a major waste disposal crisis in Samoa right now, but a student from New Zealand has come up with an award-winning solution involving a 3D printing. Put simply, if implemented, the system will transform and repurpose waste plastic into 3D printing filament for a number of 3D printed end products, for example tourist souvenirs and gifts. This could also theoretically aid Samoa’s economic development. Read more here.

3.Carrier bags finally carry a charge

Many people are irritated with the new so-called ‘bag tax’, but of course the whole point of it is to discourage people from using the non-biodegradable plastic bags, and to switch to durable reusable bags. British supermarket shoppers used 8.5 billion free plastic bags in 2014[7], and now they’ve joined Irish and Welsh shoppers in thinking twice before they use a new plastic bag.

As many supermarkets replace your ‘bag for life’ free of charge if it wears out, consumers needn’t be worse off monetarily. And as for benefits – it will reduce litter and the amount of plastic going to landfill. And hopefully it will clear some space in the carrier bag cupboard!

4. Renewables now power more than a quarter of Great Britain

Despite disappointing actions from the government recently, Great Britain is still a greener country than it was ten years ago. The Department of Energy and Climate Change has revealed that from April to June this year, renewables generated 25.3 per cent of UK electricity.[8] Wind power alone was responsible for 10.7 per cent of the country’s needs. Data from the National Grid backs this up, revealing that it now gets more electricity from renewables than from coal power. The West Country is almost entirely self-sufficient now[9], and even able to export green energy on sunny days, showing the rest of the UK what can be achieved when we fully embrace renewable energy.

5. Renewable energy is still incredibly cheap

If one thing is going to encourage continued adoption of renewable energy it’s affordability. The cost of solar panels has dropped 70% since 2009, making it cheaper than fossil fuels in certain countries[10].

6. People still care

It might feel as though renewables has dropped off the agenda, but every day people around the world continue to fight for a better, cleaner world. According to the Guardian, in 43 countries, more than 400 organisations with a collective worth of $2.6tn – including Stanford University, the Church of England, the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund and the Australian city with the largest coal port on the planet – have made commitments to move their investments out of fossil fuels.[11] It might feel like we live in a world in which our politicians are holding us back, but we’ve come so far – and many, many people are obviously committed to finishing the job.