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Happy Earth Overshoot Day 2020!

Parts of the following article were taken from our July 2019 blog.


‘Eh?’ Would be a totally understandable reaction to this statement. The only anniversary that gets earlier every year as we just cannot wait to get there to celebrate this auspicious occasion. So, what is it? The planet triumphing at overshooting its potential, going beyond what is deemed possible, a big ‘look at me!’ to the rest of the supposedly barren solar system? If only, quite the opposite. It is the day when “we will have used more from nature than our planet can renew in the whole year”. This statement alone is pretty scary, the fact that it is getting earlier and earlier every year is genuinely terrifying.


The first recorded Overshoot Day was in 1970, December 29th from which this trend began; there was an initial fightback in the mid-70’s, almost pushing it back to December again and followed by another good few years in the early 80’s, but bar the odd year of a couple of days’ improvement the pattern is clear. One positive to take is that the advancement is slowing down – since 2010 the anniversary held firm at early August, before slipping to the end of July in 2018…and it has, for the first time in too long, gone back to August this year at least – scant consolation indeed, but perhaps a sign that we are starting to take back control of the runaway climate change train.


Or is it? Recent studies indicate that the COVID 19 lockdown will have a negligible impact on the climate change pandemic. As ever with our climate though, it is never straight forward. Last year saw the UK generate more renewable energy than ever before, recording its biggest year-on-year increase whilst coal almost became a forgotten commodity with coal-free records smashed, over 2 months without needing it. Many hoped that the COVID 19 lockdown would significantly reduce carbon emissions, which it may well have done, but only temporarily and on such a small scale compared to the damage (and resulting lag effect) caused by the decades preceding this year. The danger now as we urgently re-start our economy is that we take the cheats path of burning fossil fuels, avoiding public transport and slipping back into other nasty polluting habits.


The other slightly paradoxical issue is the August heatwave. The UK sweltered, just when many offices were turning off their air conditioning in an attempt to restrict the spread of COVID 19 (for guidance on fresh air intake it is well worth checking out the CIBSE guidelines – increase fresh air, decrease circulating stale air, offices legally must have some form of fresh air!) and guess what, 2020 is set to become one of the hottest years on record (despite travel restrictions and the pandemic). One of the strange outcomes of this heatwave highlights the problem we have, in the UK at least and largely worldwide; we do not have enough renewables. It got so hot that our gas turbines could not cope and their efficiency plummeted, requiring us to burn coal to keep the lights on.


So, let us get that straight; burning coal causes global warming…which requires us to burn more coal to survive…which causes increased global warming…you can see the problem. Of course it is not as simple as that but this unusual event was caused by cloudy skies restricting solar generation and the still and oppressive air restricting wind generation; these are our main renewable energy generators and by relying so heavily on just these two it shows that it doesn’t take much to render them largely ineffective, especially on the limited scale that we have.


In short, we need more solar and wind energy combined with a greater range of renewable energy technologies such as tidal power (we live on an island after all), coupled with battery storage to avoid the frustrating and quizzical sight of wind turbines standing motionless during a gale during periods of low demand…if only we could store the energy generated and release it when we need it…oh, wait…


Figure courtesy of overshootday.org

We all have a part to play though; too often the mantra of ‘someone else higher up should sort this mess out’ gets played. It is a very fair comment, the powers that be should be doing more, but there are signs that things are heading in the right direction on that point. However, it is everyone’s role and duty to do something. At home it is the simple things; turning off lights when leaving a room, recycling as much as possible, turning down the thermostat, insulating the loft and walls. In the workplace it is the simple things; turning off lights when leaving a room, recycling as much as possible, turning down the thermostat, insulating the loft and walls…


Yes, that last bit was very easy to write by using copy and paste, but it is true! So often the basic, ‘boring’ bits of energy efficiency get overlooked, despite energy being the second highest cost to a business! Often, especially with SMEs, a lack of resource, time and expertise lead to energy being forgotten about, bills just being paid regardless, because the act of running that business naturally takes priority as well as all the time and cash available.


There are various funding options available across the UK to help businesses reduce their energy costs (Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership, Aston Business School, Worcestershire Business Central, Low Carbon Across the South East and University of Nottingham Energy Technologies Research Institute to name a few) and save on carbon emissions (ideal for reporting!), allowing them to make a greater profit and be the best business they can be. A great starting point is to understand where the energy is being wasted and implementing the basic zero-cost options, some of which are listed above.


Getting a friendly energy consultant in to assess your building, its services and operations within is the next step; they can analyse your energy data to look for anomalies and provide energy saving opportunities with access routes to that all important funding to get your energy project off the ground.


So yes, let us celebrate Earth Overshoot Day…hopefully one day we will never have to celebrate it again. #movethedate


kW Energy Consultants provide consultancy support to all sectors and industries to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions within buildings and deliver building energy compliance – Display Energy Certificates, Energy Performance Certificates, Energy Savings Opportunities Scheme, bespoke energy audits & reports. To find out more visit www.kwenergyconsultants.com

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