Optimist Energy is a space for good news, where you can discover some of the steps being taken towards a healthier planet.
In the climate crisis, humanity is facing a huge fight, and we need hope and bright ideas to win it. While hopelessness leads to disengagement, stories about positive, meaningful developments are more than just a breath of fresh air – they also show us ways forwards, towards a climate friendly future.
We'll update whenever there's something fantastic and green to share – big or small, global or local. If you've got any suggestions, let us know on Twitter.
19th February 2021
The US officially rejoins the Paris Climate Agreement
After a 30 day wait, the US has officially rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement! Following the election of Joe Biden on a strong climate platform (thanks to efforts by activists like the Sunrise Movement and politicians like Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez) the Biden administration will pledge to improve upon carbon commitments some time later this year. Alongside President Biden's commitment to reach net zero emissions by 2050, this new target, which may be set for 2030, could not come at a better time. The UN have recently called out international goals - we currently are on track to ‘stabilise’ emissions by 2030, but must halve our emissions by then if we are going to meet the 1.5C ‘safe’ warming target.
3rd February 2021
Connect with the natural world from afar with My Green Pod's new Slow TV
A still from My Green Pod's Slow TV episode, Two Hours of brook
We could all benefit from spending a little more time in the natural world. Studies consistently suggest that being in nature reduces stress and anxiety. But for many of us, lockdown has put serious limits on our access to the outdoors. With that in mind, green champions My Green Pod have put together the next best thing: Slow TV.
Incredibly, studies suggest a healthy ‘dose’ of nature can come in many forms, and though it sounds unbelievable, screens seem to work too. Psychologists have demonstrated that watching natural scenes can encourage ‘soft fascination’, which gently holds our attention, allowing us to relax and reflect while soaking in some of nature’s stress busting effects.
My Green Pod, which doubles up as the Guardian’s green supplement, is a family run business, set up by Katie Hill and Jarvis Smith. They work hard to make sure the world knows about people who dedicate themselves to offering ethical, environmental services.
Indonesia, Vietnam, Bangladesh, and the Philippines cancel coal power projects en masse
These four major Asian Nations recently cancelled over 80% of their planned coal power projects, pivoting towards more cost-effective renewable alternatives. The cancellations have seen 45 gigawatts of proposed coal power mothballed, thanks to government regulation, changing energy usage patterns (influenced by Covid-19), and the ever-increasing attraction of renewables.
Over 50 countries are coming together to protect 30% of Earth's land and oceans
The High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People, which includes the UK, alongside over 50 countries from across six continents, have pledged to protect at least 30% of the planet’s land and oceans at this week’s One Planet summit. With human activities driving the Earth’s sixth mass extinction, those behind the commitment hope that it will come to form the core of a “Paris agreement for nature”. We should, as always, see these successes in context - and there is concern, especially in the UK, that the goal will be achieved by diverting cash from funds established to tackle climate change.
31st December 2020
2020 was the greenest year on record for UK energy
According to National Grid ESO data, 2020 was the greenest year ever for the UK’s electrical grid. With an average of 181 grams of CO2 emitted for every KWh of energy generated between January to November, there was a serious drop in the carbon intensity of energy when compared to 2019’s figure, which averaged out at 215gCO2 /KWh. There’s still a little way to go before we hit 2030’s target of 100gCO2 Kwh, but this does mean that energy in 2020 was 66% less carbon intensive than in 2013 (529gCO2/KWh). What’s more, on boxing day, Storm Bella saw wind energy generate more than half of the UK's electricity for the first time ever!
2nd November 2020
Investment into UK 'tech for good' is booming
A recent report has revealed that ‘tech for good’ firms are attracting almost ten times as much investment as they were five years ago. This year, in the UK alone, startups set up to address one or more of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (including gender equality, climate action and tackling poverty) have raised an eye-watering €1.4bn so far. Of these companies, clean and climate tech firms have attracted the most funding, raising a whopping €9.8bn since 2014. It’s clear that what was once considered ‘fringe investment’ is becoming central to Europe’s financial landscape, and these firms are set to play an increasingly important role in the fight against the climate crisis.
Introducing Black Science Matters!
In the wake of Black History Month, our team has been finding new ways to amplify black voices engaged in the struggle for a climate friendly future... So in October we were honoured to host our first Black Science Matters talk with Miranda Lowe, Principal Curator and museum scientist at the Natural History Museum. Miranda is passionate about the role collections play in informing climate science (for example, her work with older coral specimens from the Chagos Islands is being used to analyse coral bleaching there today)!
1st October 2020
China surprises the world with an unexpected Net Zero pledge
China, the world’s biggest polluter, has pledged to reduce its carbon emissions to a net-zero level by 2060, following similar pledges by South Korea and Japan earlier this year. China will have to reduce its carbon emissions by as much as 90%, and find ways to cancel out the rest with solutions that take in more carbon than they emit. Exactly how the Chinese state plans to do this remains unknown, but the pledge does represent both a recognition of the severity of the climate crisis, a growing confidence in technological solutions, and shows that China is keen to present itself as a responsible global leader.
3rd August 2020
Fossil Fuel divestment campaigns are gathering pace
On the 29th July, Nest - UK’s largest pension fund announced - that it is divesting from firms involved in coal extraction, tar sands and Arctic drilling. Nest, who handle many workers’ pensions under the government’s “auto enrolment” scheme, have said they will shift £5.5bn into “climate aware” investments instead. What’s more, several days later the world’s biggest insurance market, Lloyds, announced that as of 2022, it would no longer be issuing insurance cover for coal, oil sands and Arctic energy projects.
27th May 2020
Coronavirus is causing immense disruption, but it could mark a turning point in our fight for the climate
In this edition of Optimist Energy, we wanted to talk about how this tragic, complex time is also providing a chance to reflect and reinvent. Despite heartbreak and disruption, we also have an unparalleled opportunity to move towards a green, climate-friendly future. Coronavirus has dealt a massive big blow to fossil fuel polluters, and renewables are going stronger than ever.
The energy industry that emerges from this crisis will be significantly different from the one that came before.
Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency (the world’s energy watchdog)
This could well be a turning point for a green economy, laying the groundwork for renewables and green ideals to cement their position at the heart of a post-corona recovery. Let's look into the global changes we've seen so far in energy and beyond...
1)In unprecedented circumstances, global carbon emissions have fallen a record 8%
Of course, this big reduction in emissions is incredible, but the means are unsustainable. Life as we know it has ground to a halt. Still, this stand-alone 8% emissions cut isn't the only silver lining. With renewables looking stronger than ever, and fossil fuel polluters in serious trouble, coronavirus might also have provided an unprecedented opportunity to move towards further decarbonisation.
2) Britain has run for a month (and counting) without burning coal
This coal free stretch has cut our electrical grid’s carbon emissions by more than a third when compared to the same period last year. There has never been a better opportunity for renewables to establish their dominance within the energy supply system!
3) Renewables will be the only energy source to resist the biggest energy shock in 70 years
The world’s energy watchdog has forecast the largest energy shock for 70 years, with global electricity demand set to dip 5% (seven times lower than during the 2008 financial crisis). Coal, oil, and gas have already been badly affected, with demand falling dramatically, but because renewables are so much cheaper to run once installed, they’re on course to grow another 5% this year, accounting for 40% of global electricity generation.
4) We have an unrivalled opportunity to experiment with a greener energy grid
With demand low and renewables making up a record-breaking share of the UK's power, the rest of the industry have a crucial opportunity to learn more what it takes to support a greener grid – one where the sources (sun, wind, hydro) are intermittently generated – rather than burned, to meet demand.
Last weekend, there was so much green energy in the grid that some renewable generators were told they might have to temporarily shut down. So, we ran a trial - The Big Switch On - where customers were paid to use up this excess green energy so it didn’t go to waste. We're investing millions into trials and experiments that support a green grid, like our Big Switch On and Octopus Agile (which encourages customers to use energy when it is both cheapest and greenest), and we’re not alone! The National Grid has also taken the opportunity to experiment with their new ODFM and Demand Turn Up schemes, which encourage energy users and generators to increase demand or reduce generation to better balance a greener grid.
5) Renewables could spearhead our post-coronavirus economic reconstruction
A report from the International Renewable Energy Agency has shown that investment in renewable energy could also help spur our post-corona economic recovery, and massively heal our environment in the process. IREA suggests that investment in renewables could generate almost $100tn in global GDP before 2050, paying for itself, and returning between $3 and $8 on every dollar invested. They claim that this investment would also create 42m jobs and measurably improve global health and welfare too.
Director General Francesco La Camera is urging governments to take advantage of the opportunity and invest in renewable energy, to kickstart economic growth and help meet climate targets. The next step will involve investment in smart tariffs, smart homes, and energy storage, so that we can support renewables with a well balanced, low carbon, smart electrical grid.
6) 30 world leaders just met to discuss a green economic recovery
School students in Germany ask their leaders to choose a green recovery. Image credit: Fridays for Future
Moving forwards, governments face a choice. Some leaders (like Donald Trump) will roll back environmental regulation and double down on fossil fuels, bailing out doomed polluting companies in a bid for a speedy ‘recovery’. Others, thankfully, are leaning towards the economic opportunities posed by renewables, investing in green generation and infrastructure, and healing our planet at the same time.
With that in mind, last month, leaders from 30 countries met online for the ‘Petersberg Climate Dialogue’, to discuss working towards a green economic recovery. UN chief, Antonio Guitierres, urged that “where taxpayers’ money is used to rescue businesses, it must be creating green jobs and sustainable and inclusive growth” and Frans Timmermans, the EU’s green deal chief, said that ‘every euro spent on economic recovery measures after the COVID-19 crisis would be linked to the green and digital transitions’. Actions will speak louder than words, but with enough public support, this could be a big step in the right direction!
9th April 2020
A new enzyme can recycle plastic bottles overnight
The enzyme, which was first discovered in a compost heap, is able to break bottles down into their chemical building blocks, so they can then be recycled into new high-quality plastic. It can leave a tonne of waste plastic bottles 90% degraded in just 10 hours. Carbios, the company who first discovered how to artificially create the enzyme, began by screening 100,000's of micro-organisms. After finding the perfect match, they're now working with biotechnology company Novozymes to use fungi to produce the new enzyme on a massive scale. Carbios hope to be up and running commercially by 2024, but also realise that they are only part of the picture. To reduce plastic waste, the recycling of plastic bottles must go hand in hand with an overall reduction in plastic usage.
2nd April 2020
In the midst of the Coronavirus outbreak, a dose of green good news goes a long way!
This year we're on course for largest ever annual drop in global carbon emissions
The Coronavirus outbreak is proving enormously challenging for people everywhere. But despite causing disruption and difficulty, precautions put in place to prevent the spread of the virus aren’t just saving lives, they also have an environmental silver lining too. For example, a quarter of China’s CO2 emissions disappeared in a four-week period after the Chinese new year celebrations. These reductions are set to contribute to the first real drop in climate emissions since the global recession of 2008-2009. These actions have also inadvertently shown that a 25 per cent carbon dioxide cut can reduce traffic and create cleaner air with only a relatively small reduction in economic growth.
Coronavirus should not be taken lightly, but it does demonstrate that around the world, we are capable of taking drastic steps when faced with a crisis. Over the next few months, life will begin to return to normal, but if we choose to, we could emerge emboldened - willing to take on our greatest ever challenge, the climate emergency.
Elon Musk’s battery farm gambit is paying off
Image Credit: Hornsdale Power Reserve
Two years ago, Elon Musk was challenged (on Twitter) to build a battery storage facility in southern Australia. More than two years after winning the bet, Musk’s resulting Australian facility is a total success. In 2016, South Australia experienced a near total blackout after an apocalyptic storm, which saw two tornadoes and about 80,000 lightning strikes. In the aftermath, a politician blamed renewable energy for the extent of the blackout. Tesla stepped in to create a 100MW battery storage farm to help balance the grid - the Hornsdale Power Reserve, which is largely supplied with wind and solar power. This has saved the government $116 Million AUD in two years, reducing the south Australian grid’s regulation costs by an impressive 91%. It just goes to show that renewable energy is viable, as long as you build the infrastructure to support it!
Together with Yeo Valley, we’re planting an Octopus Orchard!
We’re all about trees at Octopus - we’ve planted thousands over the last few years, and now we’re working with Yeo Valley to plant a giant apple orchard in the British west country! As we well know, trees are wonderful for the environment - cleaning the air and sequestering carbon, but the orchard will also be a win for British ecology. The apple is woven into the legends and history of England’s western counties where the cider maker’s art is still revered. However, over the last 100 years, apple orchards have disappeared from the British landscape, so ours will be planted at the site of a lost orchard where only a couple of ancient trees remain. There, the trees will suck carbon out of the atmosphere, and act as a supportive habitat for endangered British birds, insects, and mammals - like the vole!
Carbon negative clothes will soon suck greenhouse gasses from the air
Image Credit: Charlotte McCurdy
The fashion industry is responsible for a large portion of global carbon emissions (a horrific 1.2bn tonnes last year) but several designers are attempting to buck that trend. The London based Post Carbon Lab have started making clothes that photosynthesize, with a layer of living algae woven into their garments. They emit oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide, turning that carbon into sugar. One large T-shirt can generate about as much oxygen as a six-year-old oak tree. And they are not alone! Similar projects are popping up everywhere. For example, New York designer Charlotte McCurdy is also using algae to make transparent raincoats that behave like little carbon sinks, while other environmentally friendly materials being used include Piñatex, which is made from pineapple leaves, and has been picked up by Hugo Boss and H&M.
An innovative plan to help British farms become more biodiverse seems to be working!
This month, it was revealed that a two year pilot aimed at increasing biodiversity on farms around the UK has been a massive success. The scheme, which operates on a ‘payment by results’ basis, gives farmers more freedom to choose how they manage their land to improve biodiversity than existing agri-environmental subsidies, which are more heavily prescriptive. The participating farms, situated in Norfolk, Suffolk and Yorkshire, saw 43% more seed-bearing plants than other nearby sites. These plants provide a rich food source for birds each winter.
Participating Farmers were given access to training and have since reported feeling more motivated to manage their land in a way that enhances nature. Given the results, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs has decided to extend the pilot for another two and a half years.
6th March 2020
Exciting breakthroughs in the world of nuclear fusion!
Nuclear fusion has long been seen as energy’s holy grail - promising nearly unlimited power. However, since it was first achieved on a small scale in 1973, it’s always seemed to be twenty years away. Unlike tried and tested nuclear fission (which splits atoms to get energy), nuclear fusion generates energy by combining two smaller atoms to make a new, bigger one. The new fused atom will be just slightly smaller than the sum of its two previous parts. The little bit of leftover mass, with nowhere to go, is converted into a huge amount of energy (E = mc2). This is how the Sun shines!
So far, getting nuclear fusion off the ground has proved difficult. The problem is that it takes a huge amount of heat to make two atoms fuse into a new one, and so far, scientists haven’t been able to get out more energy than they’ve put in. However, Over the last couple of months, there have been not one, but two interesting developments!
First, scientists at First Light Fusion in Oxfordshire have taken inspiration from the pincer shrimp (of all things) to generate the high temperatures needed. These little crustaceans click their claws so quickly that they generate shockwaves louder than a SpaceX rocket and temperatures of over 4000C. The scientists have scaled up the shrimp’s technique, and will soon trial the firing a copper bullet - at 43 times the speed of sound - into a fuel capsule, which is expected to release enough energy for fusion to take place.
On the other side of the world, in Australia, HB11 Energy have also met with success. Remarkably, they’ve developed a method that does away with the need for massive amounts of heat and energy. Instead, they'll use brand new, extremely precise lasers to initiate fusion (the new tech was awarded the 2018 Nobel prize). One laser triggers a fusion reaction in a tiny pellet of fuel, and another creates a containment field for the plasma. The charged particles generated by the fusion reaction are expected to create an electrical flow that can be channeled directly into an electricity grid!
24th February, 2020
As 2020 gets underway, here's another instalment of green good news to ease your winter blues!
This January was the UK electric grid’s greenest yet!
!Record alert!👊 January was the greenest 🍃 ever in terms of GB's #electricity ⚡️ system! Mild temperatures 🌡️ led to the lowest ever average carbon intensity - (the amount of carbon produced for every kilowatt). (Jan 2020 figure of 209gCO2/kwh is the blue dot below🔵!) 1/2 pic.twitter.com/P6yKcJ6TxZ
On February 11th, the National Grid announced that the UK’s electricity system had just experienced its greenest January to date. Overall, the carbon intensity of electricity (how many grams of carbon are emitted on average to generate a kWh of electricity) was 209gCO2/kWh. To put that into context, in January 2017, the average carbon intensity was almost double that.
This year, high winds and more wind farms meant that more renewable wind energy was added to the mix, and milder temperatures also meant there was a decreased demand for electricity overall.
1st February, 2020
Friends of the Earth are combating ‘eco-anxiety’ by making direct climate action more accessible!
Research shows 70% of 18-24-year olds are more worried about climate change than they were a year ago. The good folks over at Friends of the Earth don’t want this eco-anxiety to take over, so they’re fighting it at the source – by helping more people get involved in practical climate action.
Step one is to sign their climate action pledge! Friends of the Earth have also created a network of action groups across the country and are producing brilliant films like the one we've featured here to raise awareness. Their latest victories include the recent ban on fracking, and getting a number of councils to declare climate emergencies.
Vietnam’s solar generation has skyrocketed in just two years, setting an impressive precedent
In 2017, Vietnam was barely generating any solar. Now, only two years later, the South-east Asian nation is generating more solar power than Australia, whose economy is almost six times their size. It all started when the government decided to incentivise suppliers with a generous $0.09 for every kilowatt-hour of solar energy produced – but only if they could get operations off the ground within two years. By now, officials only expected around 850mw of capacity to be online. Instead, recent figures show that the country is generating 5 gigawatts. This just goes to show what is possible when a government gets behind renewable generation in a meaningful way!
You can snag a free copy of critically acclaimed climate magazine It’s Freezing in LA!
As we move into 2020, there are a wealth of new groups coming forward with new, inventive ways to communicate the climate crisis. We’re all about championing fresh climate ideas, perspectives and solutions, and so we’ve recently teamed up It’s Freezing in LA!. This up-and-coming, fully illustrated, sustainably-printed climate magazine uses a multi-medium, multidisciplinary approach to stand out from other more repetitive climate communication. In their most recent issue they’ve used our research to put together a feature about the future of the energy grid, and you can also explore 3D printed coral reefs, climate migration, the role the Moon landings played in the green movement, and much more.
The power of the sun is now being harnessed to clean up industrial processes
Image Credit: Heliogen
Many industrial activities currently count on the burning of dirty fossil fuels to generate extreme temperatures. Processes like heating limestone to make concrete are so carbon intensive that they're responsible for 10% of all global greenhouse gas emissions. Recently, Wired reported that for the first time ever, California-based company Heliogen has harnessed the power of the sun to achieve these blistering temperatures without burning any fossil fuels at all.
They use 400 mirrors to concentrate sunlight on a receiver which sits on top of a five-story tower. As this little black dish glows white, it reaches temperatures of over 1,800 degrees – hot enough to begin manufacturing cement and other industrial products. Other attempts have only been able to hit 1,000 degrees because the mirrors would often fall out of alignment. Heliogen’s bright idea was to use a combination of cameras and machine learning to adjust their position in real time. This could be the first step towards decarbonising industrial activities that have long been considered impossible to clean up.
January 17th, 2020.
We kicked off Optimist Energy in the spirit of Octopus, with eight things to be hopeful about as we head into 2020!
1) UK renewable generation overtook fossil fuels for the first time!
In the third quarter of 2019, renewable energy sources provided more of the UK’s energy than fossil fuels for the very first time. A string of new offshore wind farms were brought online, meaning that 40% of the UK’s energy mix came from renewable sources, compared to the 39% generated by burning fossil fuels.
This is huge. In 2010, three-quarters of the energy we used came from fossil fuels. Ten years on, renewable generation in the UK has more than quadrupled. What’s more, coal - the dirtiest, most carbon intensive fossil fuel, was almost entirely phased out in 2019. Of the 39% of UK energy generated by fossil fuels last year, only 1% came from coal and oil, the other 38% was generated by burning natural gas. We still have a long way to go until our energy is carbon neutral but this is a big step in the right direction.
2) Ethiopia have smashed the world record for tree planting
In the face of mounting deforestation, people all over the world are ramping up the fight for their forests. In China, 120 million trees have been planted over the last 4 years thanks to a mobile minigame - Alipay Ant Forest. This year we also found out that over the last three decades, Costa Rica's forest cover has doubled. This is in part thanks to a radical ‘payments for environmental services’ program, which amongst other solutions, can compensate landowners for reforestation work.
3) Waorani People protected half a million acres of the Amazon
Image Credit: Amazon Frontlines
Last April, after a hard fought legal battle against the Ecuadorian government, the Waorani people of Pastaza successfully protected a large swathe of the Amazon Rainforest from oil drilling. This sets an important precedent for Indigenous Rights and rainforest protection, having halted the non-consensual auctioning of rainforest inhabited by Indigenous Peoples to oil companies. This also represents a major setback for the Ecuadorian government’s plans to auction another 16 ‘oil blocks’ of land, covering 7 million acres of indigenous territory in south-central Ecuadorian Amazon, in the same way.
4) The UK and EU have voted to ditch single-use plastics
A UK ban on single use plastics, including cutlery, cotton buds, straws and stirrers will finally come into effect in April 2020. Following a vote by MEP’s in 2019, the ban will be enforced in all EU member states by 2021. This is a massive step towards tackling the 25million tonnes of plastic waste generated by Europeans every year.
In similar news, it was announced that the number of plastic bags sold in England’s largest supermarkets has fallen by 90% in the four years since a 5p charge was set up. However, it is worth remembering that the introduction of 'bags-for-life' have seriously undercut this progress with over 1.5 billion being sold last year.
5) The UK is using citizens assemblies to tackle climate change
Citizens’ assemblies are increasingly being hailed as a new way to beat climate inaction, and this year several were hosted for the first time by devolved governments in Scotland and Wales. Some councils in England also hosted their first citizens’ assemblies, like the Camden Climate Assembly in July 2019. Here, randomly chosen members of the public came together to discuss the climate crisis, and put forward measures to tackle it.
In January 2020, The first citizens’ assembly organised by Westminster - the Climate Assembly UK - will take place. 100 lucky people have been randomly selected to represent the UK population, and after talking with a range of experts, will make recommendations about what the UK should do to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
6) The Seychelles have developed an innovative plan to preserve their environment
Like many island nations, the Seychelles finds itself on the frontlines in the fight against climate change, and they are dealing with the effects in an ingenious way. In the first deal of its kind, the nation has swapped 5% of its national debt for a cash injection to fight the effects of global warming. The debt was bought up by the Nature Conservancy (a US charity), amongst others, and is now held by the new ‘Seychelles Conservation and Climate Adaptation Trust’. This trust offers the country lower interest rates on its debt repayments, and the savings - over $8 million - are being used to handle the climate crisis. Projects include a pioneering marine conservation plan to protect 30% of its national waters (an area twice the size of the UK), with fishermen compensated in exchange for allowing fish stocks to replenish.
7) Hugh Myddelton Primary School is the UK’s first Clean Air School
A state primary school in Islington, London, is spearheading efforts to tackle air pollution and carbon emissions. Hugh Myddelton, once one of the UK's more polluted schools, took revolutionary measures to protect children’s lungs using some pretty cutting edge tech – an electrostatic tower that traps carbon in the playground, ion-producing mesh systems on the school gates, and clean-air technology that “neutralises” toxic air within classrooms.
Once up and running this system actually pays for itself! The technology’s ability to kill viruses and remove harmful pollutants from the air, results in an average 30% drop in missed days due to sickness, cutting costs and leading to happier, healthier students and teachers. The ‘We Share Clean Air’ system - which costs £30 a month per classroom - actually works out as cheaper than covering two hours of lessons when a teacher is ill.
We're pretty proud to have helped get this project off the ground and happy to say that the wheels are already turning on more projects like this one. Watch this space!
Cutting edge ion-producing mesh for the school gates
8) Wildlife is thriving in the River Thames once again
In the 1950s, London’s River Thames was so polluted it was declared biologically dead. However, after 62 years of conservation efforts, the River Thames has once again been deemed a “hub of life” by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). In 2019, ZSL launched its Mother Thames campaign, calling for public awareness of – and participation in – conservation efforts. In September, after their first comprehensive survey, the charity announced that 138 seal pups had recently returned to the Thames’ riverbanks!
They join more than 120 species of fish, including two species of shark, short-snouted seahorses and the critically endangered European eel.