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What Do Energy Ratings Mean?

There is a lot of jargon in the world of energy. Some of it is easy to get your head around, while other bits seem utterly indecipherable. One area that causes confusion for individuals is that of energy performance certificates, otherwise known as EPCs. In this article we are going to explain what EPC labels mean and what factors are taken into consideration when assigning an energy rating to a property. By the end of this article you’ll be fully versed in EPCs and ready to share your knowledge with the rest of the world.

What Is an EPC Rating?

Let’s start with the very basics. What does an EPC tell us and why is it important? Briefly, EPC ratings tell a would-be buyer or renter how energy efficient a house or flat is. This is important because a house that has good energy efficiency will have lower energy bills and a lower impact on the environment. An EPC assessor will assess a property and look at the amount of energy used per square meter and the level of carbon emissions released by the house. After a brief survey, the assessor will assign the house a rating from A to G, A being the most efficient and G being the least.

Once a house has an EPC rating, it is valid for ten years. If you look at a property that has one older than this, you should alert them to the fact and request a new one. Similarly, you will not be able to sell or rent your property without an up-to-date EPC. This is one reason why an EPC is important. Another is that when buyers and renters are deciding between several different properties, the EPC rating can be a deal breaker. Everyone would rather have a highly efficient property over one that is not very efficient. Of course, if you are selling your property and are not satisfied with your rating, there are things you can do to improve it before you list your house on the market.

Understanding the Different Sections of an EPC

The first section on the EPC is the estimated costs of running the house. This is divided into heating, lighting, and hot water. This does not take appliances into account and you should bear in mind that energy costs are forever fluctuating. This next section contains the letter grade of the property. Most houses in the UK are graded D, but this may change in the next decade or so as people find more innovative ways to make their homes energy efficient.

Next, is a section detailing actions you can take to improve energy efficiency, such as installing solar panels. This is more suitable for buyers than renters as it could involve a costly one-off construction or installation. The following sections contain a breakdown of the house’s energy features and its heating demand.

In the final sections you will find whether the house has the benefit of any low or zero emission energy sources; recommendations for how to improve your house’s EPC rating; and, finally, the environmental impact of your building. The impact is determined by how much carbon dioxide is produced by your home.

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Everything You Need to Know About Tight Oil

If you do not already work in the energy sector or have some sort of educational background in the field, you can be forgiven for not knowing what tight oil is. In fact, you might not have ever even heard of it. But, tight oil plays an important role in our energy mix, so it is good to have at least a basic understanding of what it is, how it works, and where it comes from.

What is Tight Oil?

Let’s start with the very basics. Tight oil is a form of crude oil that has been trapped within tight rock formations. These rocks have very low permeability and porosity, meaning it is virtually impossible for the oil to seep into or through the rocks. Thus, the oil is held in these tight spaces and cannot move. Tight oil is a fossil fuel, meaning there is a finite supply of the resource. We are plowing through the world’s oil reserves at an unprecedented rate, so the question of how to move away from a dependency on tight oil is hot on everyone’s lips.

How Do We Get to It?

Due to the tight geological constraints surrounding tight oil, this resource is difficult to access. Advanced drilling techniques have been developed in order to tap into the world’s tight oil supply. These techniques include horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking. It is thanks to the discovery of fracking that the United States has become one of the world’s largest producers of petroleum.

While fracking has seriously boosted the USA’s oil economy, it is a highly controversial extraction method. There are more jobs available in the energy industry and the US has a greater energy security than ever before, which will come in handy in the event of an energy crisis.

However, environmentalists lament the negative effects it has on the planet. Each well requires around 11 million liters of water and side effects of the process include contamination of the surrounding air, ground, and water. Furthermore, each well can only drain a small area, so more wells are needed when fracking for tight oil.

Challenges of Tight Oil

Of course, tight oil has its challenges and disadvantages. Aside from the environmental concerns raised by its extraction, there are also issues surrounding its transportation. There is a lack of pipeline infrastructure for tight oil and without this in place, it is a challenge to get the tight oil from the wells to the refineries, where it can then be turned into gasoline and diesel. There are also difficulties associated with the refining process as tight oil comes in varying compositions and contains a number of impurities that need to be extricated.

Moving Forward

The world is on the road to being 100% dependent on renewable energy, but there is still a long way to go. Slowly, but surely, the energy industry will need to adapt to this plan and ease off of oil production, but it will only do so when we stop using so much oil. Tight oil is not eco-friendly, nor is it a sustainable energy source. As clean fuel alternatives are explored, tight oil will become less and less and relevant.

Everything You Need to Know About Solar Power

Did you know that in one hour the sun sends down enough energy through its rays to satisfy the global energy demand for a whole year? That’s a pretty impressive statistic for an energy source that is tragically underused.

It is highly likely that you have heard of solar power – you might even have seen solar panels on the tops of schools, offices and houses. Solar power is one of the world’s most popular forms of renewable energy, not least because the costs associated with generating solar power have plummeted over the past decade or so.

But, do you know the more intricate details of solar power and how it works? If you’re curious to know how this sustainable, green energy source functions read on.

How Do Solar Panels Work?

Let’s start with the basics: how do solar panels work? To put it simply, solar panels convert sunlight into electricity. The panels contain photovoltaic cells and when sunlight hits these cells the electrons are separated from their atoms and flow through the cell. This generates electricity. Most domestic solar panels can convert around 20% of the sunlight they absorb into electricity, while commercial equipment can convert as much as 40%. However, rapid advancement in this area means that these percentages should rise in the near future.

How Much Do Solar Panels Cost?

Initial costs for solar panels are high and this is the main reason why they are not more widespread among households. Start-up costs can be up to £6000 for one household. It can take between seven and 20 years for the panels to pay for themselves by way of energy bill savings, but you will also be doing your bit to save the environment, which is, arguably, priceless. What’s more, once the panels are installed they do no require any further expenditure.

What Else Do You Need to Think about With Solar Panels?

Solar panels are really low maintenance. Most come with a guarantee of 25 years of more and the only thing you need to do regularly is make sure they are clean as they will not absorb as much sunlight if they are dirty. Of course, solar panels are more valuable to those that live in sunny countries. While solar panels can still work on a cloudy day, you want a clear, sunny day for maximum efficiency. The panels should be tilted at a 30 degree angle to the sky and should be away from anything that might cause them to be in the shade, such as trees or other houses.

What If I Generate Too Much Energy?

You may end up generating more power than your house needs. You have two options for dealing with excess energy. You can use an energy storage device to store solar energy for when supply is low, such as during the night and during the winter months. Alternatively, you can sell your excess energy to the grid.

Are There Any Disadvantages to Solar Power?

The disadvantages of solar power are few and far between. There are some that argue that the transportation and installation of solar panels causes unnecessary pollution. Furthermore, some panels contain hazardous materials. However, once installed, the panels release no emissions and cause very little pollution. The main problems with solar panels right now are the initial cost and the fact that they are wholly weather dependent – something we cannot control.

Nevertheless, the future of solar looks bright and scientists are constantly working on ways to increase efficiency whilst bringing down prices.

Everything You Need to Know About Energy Storage Technologies

Humans have long been capable of generating energy. In fact, we are so good at it that sometimes we generate more than we actually need. When the sun is out or the wind is blowing, solar and wind farms can generate more than enough energy to meet their demand targets. However, at night time or on a still day, they do not generate a sufficient amount of energy. This makes these energy sources unreliable, despite their sustainability and clean nature. This is a major reason why renewable energy sources are yet to become bigger players in the energy mix.

 

The key to solving this problem is energy storage. Energy storage allows the surplus energy generated during times of high productivity to be stored so that it can be used when demand is particularly high. There is a lot going on by way of development in this sector at the moment and scientists are yet to strike gold with energy storage.

 

Here are the methods we know about so far and how well they are working.

 

Batteries

 

Battery storage is the main method of energy storage that is being focused on right now. They are great for storing energy during the night, when demand is low, and then discharging it during periods of high demand. Unfortunately, the battery is far from perfection and developers still have a number of kinks to work out. The power density of lithium-ion batteries is reaching its peak so advances need to be made to work out how to extend this. Furthermore, batteries degrade over time – especially if they are exposed to extreme heat or cold. Replacing or upgrading batteries will add significantly to the cost of an already expensive energy storage method.

 

Pumped-Storage Hydroelectricity

 

This method of energy storage is popular but still has a long way to go before it will be competitive with other up and coming methods. The way it works is during demand lags, the excess power pumps water into a reservoir. When demand goes back up, the water from the reservoir flows into a lower reservoir, passing though electricity-generating turbines as it goes. Unfortunately, pumped storage is highly capital intensive and dependent on the right kind of geography being available.

 

Compressed Air Storage

 

Compressed air storage is used alongside wind farms and is a promising storage method that is still in its fledgling phase. When the wind is strong, air is drawn into a maze of underground chambers and held in a high-pressure system. When the wind outside slows down and the demand goes up, this pressurised air is then released from storage to carry on powering generators or turbines. The air is usually mixed with a small amount of natural gas to give it an added kick.

 

Magnetic Storage

 

It might sound a little too futuristic to imagine energy being superconducted and stored in a magnetic field, but magnetic storage is real and it has the potential to be ground-breaking. Right now it is the only energy storage that can store electrical current. The current essentially loops through a coil that has been cryogenically cooled to below the material’s superconducting critical temperature. When it is needed, it can be instantly discharged and used to meet demand. It is currently the only energy storage method capable of this kind of instantaneous discharge.

The Changing Face of the Power Sector

Since the discovery by humans that we could harness natural resources to create power, there has been a constant stream of development in this sector. From the earliest cavemen lighting fires to complex technologies that underpin modern power generation, our ingenuity is seemingly boundless. And, this doesn’t look like it will be slowing down anytime soon. Scientists are really just getting started when it comes to energy generation and it is truly fascinating to speculate at what might emerge in the near future that will power the world of tomorrow.

 

Here are some of the ways the power sector is expected to change over the next few decades.

 

Electrification

 

There is a huge amount of electrification going on in various sectors of society. Vehicles and heating are two of the main areas where electrification is prominent. However, the rate of early adoption for electric technology is low and the uptake has generally been slow. However, old regulations and legislation are being revised and new infrastructures are being installed with the aim of making electrification more widespread and mainstream.

 

Decentralisation

 

No-one likes the idea of having a central body controlling all of the power. That is why Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies have become so popular. There has been a notable shift towards decentralisation in the power sector as more and more individuals are looking at ways to generate their own energy. As the cost of generating solar power has plummeted over recent yeas, this has become one of the most common ways for individuals to create their own power, through the use of photovoltaic panels.

 

Digitalisation

 

As a society we are becoming more and more connected. We can now control our homes through one central remote controller and we can use smart metering to monitor and then reduce our energy usage and expenditure. Automation has also been an important factor in the digitalisation of the energy sector. This has maximised quality and yields whilst keeping energy usage to a minimum. Now, we are seeing the use of drones and other technologies to further enhance the efficiency of the energy sector.

 

The Bid for the Environment

 

The question of how we are going to bring the environment back from the brink of destruction is in the back of everyone’s mind – especially power companies. The public is looking harder than ever at where investment of its money is going and they will no longer tolerate it being poured into fossil fuels. Companies now need to factor the environment into their processes to keep the people happy. Thus, energy companies are looking for the most efficient and least environmentally harmful way to generate energy and this is changing the face of the sector.

 

Changes in Demand

 

We have looked at how the face of the power sector is changing from the supply side, but it is important to also consider the demand aspect. Digital technologies and data analytics are changing the way we consume energy. We can more effectively reduce our consumption on an individual basis. On a corporate level, energy efficiency targets are reducing the amount of energy being consumed by the industry.

The government shutdown isn’t affecting Wind Generation, oil exploration

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When we think of oil, we don’t tend to quickly turn our thoughts to Venezuela, however, this South American nation’s oil output rivals that of Mexico, Nigeria, and Kuwait. Refineries and importers of oil in the US could see a big hit in their profitability and stability of supply, should sanctions take effect.

Concerns over the political stability of the country, with many foreign leaders weighing in on the subject, have left markets worrying about the price of oil, which has already started to creep up. Supply problems from this OPEC nation would help the cartel achieve its goals of reducing output and raising prices, but political instability is also on the minds of OPEC leaders as they try to calm the markets.

Other factors, too, are pushing oil prices up this week as the trade outlook continues to look bleak with concerns of a global economic slowdown. Politically, the US is poised to impose sanctions on Venezuela which would hit oil markets hardest. A spike in US output has, so far, kept markets in check, however, the question remains if this will continue should demand start to fall.

The government shutdown in the US is also affecting overall demand, domestically, for oil products with money being held from the economy through the salaries of government workers and other private sector businesses affected by the government shutdown.

If that wasn’t enough, China-US relations are still teetering between escalation into a trade-war and de-escalation into a fragile status-quo. Analysts foresee this being a very significant factor for the medium term as far as oil prices are concerned.

Which Countries Have the Most Electric Vehicles?

There is an awful lot resting on the heads of electric vehicles. Scientists and environmental activists alike are banking on this invention to help bring the planet back from the edge of destruction. While Tesla is the name that most people associate with electric vehicles, they are far from the only manufacturer in the game. High-end car makers, such as Jaguar, Porsche, and Audi, have all joined the race to build the best and most affordable electric vehicle on the market.

There are innumerable benefits to using electric vehicles, but the most important is its lack of polluting emissions. The vehicles run on batteries that can be charged up at home or at various charging points dotted around cities. Tesla’s Model 3 electric vehicle is expected to be able to cover 310 miles off a single charge. And, while electric vehicles are not cheap, they are not prohibitively expensive either – and manufacturers are constantly looking for ways to bring the price down and make them more available to the general public.

However, there are some downsides and problems that still need to be tweaked in the electric vehicle world. A charging infrastructure is one of the main concerns. People do not want to risk running out of battery somewhere and not being able to charge up. There is also an air of nervousness among consumers as to being pioneers. Once more people start buying electric vehicles, the market will become saturated much quicker. Nevertheless, early adopters are proving challenging to find.

electricvehicleWith all of that in mind, let’s take a look at which countries are ahead of the game when it comes to electric vehicles.

Norway

Norway has a population of around 5.3 million, so it is very rarely a major player in anything. However, in 2018, almost 50% of all new car sales were electric vehicles. This is a phenomenally large percentage, especially when compared with the USA, where electric vehicles totalled just 2.1 % of new car sales.

China

When it comes to sheer numbers, China is a head and shoulders above anyone else in the game. In 2017 it was calculated that the total number of electric vehicles in the country was around 5.79 million. This accounts for around 30% of all the electric vehicles in the world. Admittedly, China has a lot of people to whom electric vehicles can be sold, but nevertheless this statistic is impressive. China has long been a leader in renewable energy so it will be interesting to see what they do next.

USA

Coming in behind China is the USA, which is home to around 2 million electric vehicles. There is a good chance this number will continue to increase, thanks to tax credits available for the purchase of electric vehicles as part of a government incentive to increase sales.

Japan and Germany

With around 55,000 electric vehicles each, Japan and Germany are playing their part in the campaign to promote electric vehicles. Proportionate to their population, these numbers are promising. We would expect nothing less from such developed and progressive countries.

As you can see, the world of electric vehicles is growing and needs to continue to do so to effect real change.