Solar Panels, Electric Cars and Heat Pumps... achieving Net Zero before 2030
Tackling climate change is now top of the agenda for many countries, people and businesses around the world, and we are one of them. If you follow us on Instagram, you'll know that we signed up to the SME Climate Commitment this year. As our shop is on the front of our family home, we live 'above the shop'. Which means the actions we take to reduce our carbon footprint at home affect that of our business, and vice versa. So, in effect, we are committing our Business and Home to achieving Net Zero before 2030.
In July 2019, the UK became the first major economy in the world to pass laws to end its contribution to global warming by 2050. The UK's target is to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.
What does Net Zero Mean?
You may have heard the term Net Zero. It refers to the balance between the amount of greenhouse gas we produce, and the amount we remove from the atmosphere. So we reach 'net zero' when the amount of greenhouse gas we add to the atmosphere is no more than the amount we take away.
We have been taking steps to reduce our carbon emissions for some years now. So it was the obvious next step for us to make a commitment to:
1. Halve our greenhouse gas emissions before 2030
2. Achieve net zero emissions before 2050
3. Disclose our progress every year.
Achieving Net Zero before 2030 is ahead of the year laid down in UK law. In fact, we would hope to achieve it for our business much sooner than that. But that won't only depend on us, because the actions of our suppliers will also impact how quickly we reach our target. It isn't just about what we do in isolation. So this may mean some of our suppliers need to make changes, and/or it could mean we need to change our suppliers to achieve our goal. This just the beginning of a long road ahead.
We made this commitment via the SME Climate Hub website, which was set up to help small businesses like ours deliver on their climate goals.
Net Zero Home and Business
As well as signing up to the commitment, obviously the next step is to take action. Our business occupies the same premises as our family home, which was built as a shop and home well over 100 years ago.
New buildings can be designed with energy efficiencies built-in, but retrofitting an old property to be more energy efficient can be an expensive process. Our shop was purpose built as a grocer's shop and appears in the 1911 Kelly's Directory as the General Store of William Delves. This building is a lot of things, but it could not remotely be described as modern.
We're always looking for the small, incremental changes we can make to reduce our carbon footprint, such as changing our shop packing tape to fully biodegradable kraft paper tape.
We also signed up this year to Ikea's Live LAGOM programme which explores how the power of community, with support, can inspire people to live more sustainably. But major changes to a building as old as this take more planning, and sometimes significant financial investment. So we have taken the big steps in stages over the past 9 years, as finances have allowed. And we continue to do that.
We had Solar Panels fitted on the roof in January 2013. Sadly my Nan passed away in 2012 and we decided to use some of the money she kindly left to me for a Solar PV Installation.
Between savings on our electricity consumption and the feed-in tariffs we have received over 9 years or so, those panels have already paid for themselves. They were our first step at reducing our carbon footprint though at the time, quite honestly, that was not our major motivation. We knew we planned to live and work in this property for a very long time, and were more focused on long term energy savings for our house and our business than saving the planet. As time went on, we realised we liked being less dependent on the national grid and seeing how, in practical terms, we could harness natural energy to power our home and workplace.
Those solar panels are still pumping out power as well as the they did when Ohm Energy installed them back in 2013. But because some of our roof is entirely in shade, and because we live in England, these panels don't generate energy all year round. The more cloudy and shorter days of late Autumn, Winter and early Spring mean than we generate a lot less power in those periods than we do during the rest of the year. In the depths of winter, we can have days where we generate nothing at all.
As we were producing our own electricity, an electric car was the obvious next step for us. In 2017 we test drove a second hand EV and fell in love. Our first Nissan Leaf was the next step in reducing the carbon footprint of our home and business. It has allowed us to reduce our carbon emissions as a family. And from a business perspective, we could now make zero emission local deliveries plus we can use the car for local collections rather than having things sent to us. This has encouraged us to find local suppliers who are happy to offer click and collect. Such as Tidmas Townsend, another Sussex family business down the road from us who supplies most of our packaging materials.
Again we didn't switch to an EV for primarily environmental reasons originally, they were economic ones. Running an electric vehicle costs a fraction of what it costs to run a petrol vehicle, and currently EVs incur no road tax either.
We've had electric cars for approaching 5 years now. Whilst the infrastructure has improved enormously in that time, we still have to plan long journeys carefully to ensure we leave enough time for charging, along with having a Plan B in case the first choice charger is unavailable. We quickly got used to approaching long journeys in a more structured way, because it was important to us. Plus once the family had experienced the peaceful, fume-free EV, they didn't want to travel in our old petrol VW Van anymore. So we had to make it work! And we have since upgraded our Leaf for one with a larger battery range, giving us more flexibility.
I think the old property quite enjoys modelling the modern pod point car charger.
Electric vehicles are not the obvious choice for everyone. But for us in our circumstances, the benefits completely outweigh any inconvenience issues. Plus those issues reduce with every year that goes by, as the infrastructure improves.
Heat pumps have been the topic of conversation around here for a very long time. But the installation costs have historically been prohibitively high. Whilst we are very much committed to environmental change, the reality is we run a business and the financial implications of any major project are also very important to us. We couldn't see a payback for years, perhaps ever, based on pricing structures in recent times and all the changes we would need to make to our property.
In 2020/21 there was a Green Homes Grant initiative from the Government for which we would have been eligible, enabling us to retrofit our old house and shop with a heat pump, and get a large part of it paid for with a grant. But the grant application process was a bit of a nightmare for all concerned, and it became apparent that it wasn't going to happen for a lot of households as was first hoped. Including ours, unfortunately.
Enter Ohm Energy to save us again. They made us aware of the OVO Energy Zero Carbon Heating Trial, designed to test out pioneering energy-efficient systems with willing households. We applied, were accepted and Ohm installed our Heat Pump in 2021.
Once we realised the Heat Pump installation was likely to go ahead, we switched our gas cooker for an electric one. And so it was that the gas supply was capped off, and the heating and hot water for our business and home became run entirely on electricity.
It was a pretty major installation. We already had a secondary heat source which is recommended in old houses, a wood burning stove. And we'd had our old windows replaced with energy efficient ones which, again, is recommended. But even with all that already done, retrofitting in an old property makes things more complicated than in a new-build. We had to have a survey ahead of time and, as we suspected, some of our radiators were not big enough and so they needed replacing. We had a combi gas boiler which didn't need a water tank, so now we needed a water tank. But the project went smoothly and now here we are with a heat pump. It is early days for us, and we are monitoring our electricity consumption and how well the property is heated over the winter months. We are also completing regular interviews and surveys with Ovo as part of the trial.
Becoming a gas-free property should reduce our carbon footprint enormously, plus we had been signed up to electricity from renewables since 2018. However our net zero mission continues, as we find ways to maximise the electricity this property can generate to keep the costs down, and to work more smartly to ensure we minimise energy waste.
Next Steps towards Net Zero
In terms of our next major change, we are considering options for a battery to store our excess solar energy, which we currently export to the National Grid. If we can source a battery which is cost effective for us, we could potentially be off the grid completely for 6-7 months of the year. The added bonus for our business if we are able to do this is that when there is a power cut (unfortunately Horam can be quite prone to these), our business can keep operating from our own battery supply until the power comes back on. Watch this space!
But our main focus now is on the smaller wins to get us to our net zero target. And potentially there are so many of those.
When aiming to achieve a goal, you generally need to know your starting point. Once we'd made the Net Zero commitment, there was masses of information and guidance on the SME Climate Hub website. So much, in fact, that I was struggling to find the time to work my way through it. The needs of a relatively tiny business like ours are entirely different to the many amazing, medium sized businesses who have made the same commitment. A lot of the information available simply doesn't apply to us, and it is taking me a while to work through it all in-between the day-to-day running of the shop.
Then I met Adam Bastock of Small99 by chance, when I was trying to work out which steps to take next towards our Net Zero target. Adam worked out that 96% of the UK economy has less than 9 employees and, like us, they lack the resources and support to achieve Net Zero. Yet we are a huge part of the solution to the climate crisis. Adam founded Small99 to break down the journey to Net Zero into manageable steps for small businesses who don't want the additional costs of consultants to get where they want to go.
That sounded good to me, so I signed up for the Small 99 Community where we are sharing knowledge and Adam is setting fortnightly 30 minute tasks and challenges to get us all one step closer to Net Zero.
Yet another carbon-busting possibility on the horizon for us is Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) and Vehicle-to-Home (V2H) technology, which could enable us to run our business using our electric car as a battery pack. The technology already exists in the UK and is being tested even as I write this.
Exciting times ahead!
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