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Turning Natural Gas Into Fuel Just Became Cheaper

The advantages of natural gas over the other two fossil fuels—coal and crude oil—seem to be indisputable when it comes to carbon emissions. Natural gas is a much less carbon-intensive fuel, which has drawn attention to it as an alternative to oil-derived liquid fuels. However, there have been challenges that now a team of Chinese scientists claim to have come closer to solving.

Natural gas consists mostly of methane and some propane. Methane is a sticking point between the industry and environmentalists because it is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon. But if this methane can be turned into fuel it would be a win-win situation since the byproducts of burning natural gas are water vapors and carbon dioxide.

Processing natural gas into liquid fuel is tricky, Phys.org reports in an article on the Chinese scientists’ breakthrough. This processing involves the introduction of oxygen-hydrogen compounds into the gas, which rearranges its atoms. However, not all atoms react to the oxygen and the hydrogen at the same speed and this could ruin the resulting alcohol that would be used as a fuel.

What the Chinese researchers did, essentially, was increase their control over the conversion process, which allowed them to manipulate the speed at which the carbon and hydrogen in the methane and propane rearranged themselves to create alcohol molecules. This, according to the team, would make gas-derived fuel more economical to produce.

The potential of natural gas as a replacement for gasoline and diesel should not be underestimated especially amid the current abundance of natural gas, notably in the United States, thanks to the shale revolution.Related: Why Oil Prices Plunged Today

“Our conclusion is that natural gas as a transportation fuel has both adequate abundance and cost advantages that make a strong case to focus interest in the technology as a real game changer in U.S. energy security.” This is what one engineer from the Argonne National Laboratory told Talking Points Memo, a news outlet, seven years ago, a few months after the Obama government launched a US$30-million grant program for research into making natural gas a more popular fuel for vehicles.

Since then, however, little progress has been made and part of the reason is that challenging conversion process. A simpler form of natural gas—compressed natural gas or CNG—is already in use for some countries’ public transport vehicles and also in passenger vehicles, but it has yet to become a real challenger for gasoline and diesel. While cheaper and more efficient, CNG gets burned up more quickly, it requires a larger tank, and has less torque than gasoline and diesel.

This is where the potential of liquid natural gas fuels lies. In liquid form, natural gas would probably be more competitive with oil-derived fuels but only after the challenges with its conversion into liquid are overcome.

It’s a positive that scientists are working on this. If research is successful it could eventually motivate oil producers to seek ways to reduce gas flaring, which in the U.S. last year grewby 48 percent driven by the shale boom. That’s a lot of methane being burned for no revenues when it could be captured and turned into fuel at some point in the future.

By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com

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Low-carbon energy makes majority of UK electricity for first time

Rapid rise in renewables combined with nuclear generated 53% in 2018

Low-carbon energy was used to generate more than half of the electricity used in the UK for the first time last year, according to official data.

A rapid rise in renewable energy, combined with low-carbon electricity from nuclear reactors, made up almost 53% of generation in 2018, the government’s annual review of energy statistics revealed.

Renewable energy sources set a new record by meeting a third of the UK’s power generation last year after the UK’s capacity to generate power from the sun, wind, water and waste grew by 10%.

The UK’s use of coal fell by a quarter to a record low of just 5%, according to the report.

The government’s annual “energy bible” confirms a string of record green energy records broken in recent years, as the UK undertakes more renewable energy projects and shuts down old, polluting coal plants.

National Grid said earlier this year that the UK had recorded its greenest ever winter due to windy weather and dwindling coal-fired power.

This followed the second greenest summer, which fell narrowly short of the 2017 record for renewable energy due to a long heatwave. Very hot weather can have a negative impact on renewable energy generation because high pressure weather systems can suppress wind speeds, and solar panels produce less electricity if temperatures climb too high.

The rise of renewables has edged out coal and gas plants which together made up less than 45% of the UK’s electricity last year.

Gas generation fell to 39.5% of the generation mix last year, from 40.4% in 2017. Coal generation continued to decline, falling to 5.1% last year after the Eggborough coal plant shut and Drax converted one of its units to burn biomass instead.

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Only five coal plants will be left running by the end of the coming winter after SSE announced plans to shut its last coal plant at Fiddler’s Ferry near Warrington, Cheshire, in March 2020.

Emma Pinchbeck, the deputy chief executive of Renewable UK, said the record-breaking figures “clearly show that investment in renewables and the government’s championing of offshore wind is delivering rapid change to our energy system”.

“As well as helping keep prices down for consumers and boosting the competitiveness of our businesses, renewables are a huge economic opportunity, bringing employment and investment to all parts of the UK,” she said.

The government threw its weight behind the offshore wind sector earlier this year by promising developers the chance to compete for a share of £557m of state subsidies in exchange for industry investment of £250m over the next 11 years.

The deal could help offshore wind grow to 30% of the UK’s electricity by 2030 as the UK works towards a 2050 target to cut emissions from the economy to net zero.

But ministers have refused to lift a block on support for new onshore wind farms, which are unable to compete for subsidies despite being one of the cheapest forms of electricity.

“To achieve its net zero ambitions, the new government needs to go further and faster – and the first steps should be removing the barriers to onshore wind which is our cheapest source of power, and building on our successes in innovative technologies like tidal energy and floating wind where the UK can be a world leader,” Pinchbeck said.

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jul/25/low-carbon-energy-makes-majority-of-uk-electricity-for-first-time

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EDF Energy expects UK nuclear plant where cracks found will reopen

LONDON (Reuters) – EDF Energy said on Friday it was confident its Hunterston B nuclear plant in Scotland would eventually reopen, having been offline since last year after cracks were discovered in the reactor’s graphite core.

The plant, which is more than 40 years old, can generate enough electricity to power more than 1.7 million homes, and is one of Britain’s eight nuclear plants which provide around 20 percent of the country’s electricity.

“Hunterston B will operate until 2023,” said a spokeswoman for EDF Energy, the British arm of French utility EDF.

The two Hunterston reactors have suffered several restart delays and are currently scheduled to return to service at the end of June and July.

EDF Energy said a 100 million pound, 5-year research process had been undertaken into issues surrounding the lifetime of its plants.

“Market rules mean we would immediately have to announce if this extensive research had altered our expectations about the closure of our power stations,” the spokeswoman said.

She was responding to a report by the Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), a non-profit organisation, published on Friday, which said Britain’s climate target could be in jeopardy if the plant does not re-open and if the six other nuclear plants in Britain, with the same Advanced Gas-cooled Reactor (AGR) design, were also forced to close early.

“If this happens it is unlikely that the lights will go out, but it could make hitting our carbon targets more challenging,” said Jonathan Marshall author of the ECIU report.

The ECIU report said the government should launch fresh support for new renewable projects, to ensure any gap in nuclear generation is filled by low-carbon sources instead of gas plants.

EDF Energy said the scenario outlined in the report was unrealistic.

“The extensive work we have carried out at Hunterston B has given us a greater understanding of how graphite ages and for that reason we don’t expect other AGRs to have to undergo the same lengthy outages,” she said.

The ultimate decision on reopening Hunterston lies with Britain’s Office for Nuclear Regulation which must be satisfied the reactors would be safe even in an extreme and unlikely earthquake scenario.

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UK power prices turn negative for nine hours, balancing costs spike during ‘extraordinary’ weekend

UK power prices turned negative for nine consecutive hours on Sunday in what’s been billed as an “extraordinary turn of events” for the country’s electricity system.

Unusually low demand, some 2GW below forecasts, combined with high wind generation to send prices spiralling, and National Grid was even forced into instructing onshore and offshore wind farms to turn down their generation.

Between the hours of 12:00pm and 9:00pm on Sunday 26 May, the UK endured an extended period of negative pricing, with wholesale power prices falling to as low as -£71.26/MWh.

National Grid Electricity System Operator’s daily balancing report for 26 May 2019 reveals that the SO paid more than £6.6 million on balancing costs, having spent just £300,000 the day before, providing an indication as to the scale of the volatility experienced on the system throughout the day.

At nine hours long, it amounts to the longest consecutive period of negative pricing the UK has encountered and has been described as “unprecedented” by energy tech company Limejump, which acts within the balancing mechanism.

In addition, after a slight recovery, the market dipped back into negative pricing between 11:45pm on Sunday and 1:45am on the morning of Monday 27 May, meaning that negative prices were in action for around 11 hours within a 24 hour period.

The instances of negative pricing left the average system price for power on Sunday 26 May at -£12.16/MWh.

Those prices were essentially created by low demand. The average power demand on Sunday was just 25.4GW, while the minimum demand in that period was 19.8GW, recorded between 3:45am and 4:15am, right towards the lower end of minimum demand forecasts within National Grid’s 2019 Summer Outlook.

The event comes just two months after the previous long run of negative system prices, a period of six hours which occurred on Sunday 24 March that witnessed system prices fall to similar lows.

Limejump said in a trading note issued to customers: “The question traders have been asking themselves earlier this year – ‘Are negative system prices an anomaly or are they here to stay?’ – has now been answered without a doubt by these an a number of other observed similar scenarios.”

Speaking to Current±, a Limejump spokesperson said that those operating battery storage plants over the weekend were obvious winners.

“Smart trading strategies deliver great revenue especially those with accurate forecasting. Batteries that were charging during these negative prices time frame, including Limejump’s, were definitely happy recipient.”

It was also a significant weekend for the carbon intensity of the grid, which at times dipped well below the 100g CO2/kWh threshold required to comply with the Fifth Carbon Budget. Sunday afternoon saw carbon intensity dip to just 69g CO2/kWh on the back of surging wind and solar activity.

Coal meanwhile is in the midst of yet another record breaking absence from the UK’s power mix, having not generated for more than 250 hours, equivalent to almost 11 days. Only earlier this month Britain celebrated its first coal-free month since the Industrial Revolution, and coal has now experienced more than 1,500 hours off the grid in 2019.

Wind meanwhile spent large portions of Sunday afternoon providing more than 11GW of power, equivalent to 37-39% of total demand.

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Government sidesteps Committee’s call for Scottish oil and gas sector dea

The Government’s response to the Scottish Affairs Committee’s report on the future of the oil and gas does not directly address the Committee’s call for a sector deal, and instead states that the Government’s relationship with the sector is already “well-established.”

The Committee today publishes the Government’s response to its report on the future of the oil and gas industry. The Government sidesteps addressing the Committee’s headline recommendation of an ambitious sector deal to ensure Scotland’s energy industry can navigate the challenges of its future and continue to prosper.

Chair’s comments

Chair of the Committee, Pete Wishart MP said:

“Though there are some positive noises from the government, such as their enhanced funding for carbon capture and storage technologies and the recently announced centre of underwater engineering, we are disappointed by its reluctance to give a clear answer about whether it will implement an over-arching sector deal that would truly transform the oil and gas industry in Scotland. A sector deal would provide the coordinated approach needed to support transition to a new clean energy industry. The last thing the industry needs now is continuing uncertainty, so I have written to the Minister to press for more clarification on the Government’s stance on a sector deal.”

Sector deal

The Committee recommended an oil and gas sector deal that has the detail and ambition needed to support the industry’s challenging future and reflect the Government’s climate change targets by setting out a coordinated way for the sector to transition to green energy production. However, the Government response merely “acknowledges” the Committee’s support for a sector deal and argues that the Government already has a “well-established relationship” with the sector.

The Government suggests that a phased approach to funding and supporting the sector may be preferable to a formal deal. The Chair of the Committee has written to the Energy Minister, Claire Perry MP, to press the Government for more detail on its approach to supporting the industry, including its stance on a formal sector deal and to ask how it will ensure its phased approach does not lead to areas of less immediate economic benefit to the sector, such as work on energy transition and carbon capture, being neglected in favour of the areas of the deal that promise a more immediate economic return.

Climate change and new technologies

The Committee’s report outlined that one of the biggest challenges facing the industry is climate change and called on Government and industry to take a visibly more proactive approach to limiting the sector’s carbon footprint. The Government’s has responded positively to the Committee’s recommendations for increased support for carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS) technologies.

In particular, the Government highlights its enhanced funding for CCUS innovations through the BEIS
call for funding applications for feasibility studies, industrial research and experimental development.

The government recently announced its support for a new underwater engineering centre at Aberdeen, which would bring together industry and academia from across the UK to develop new technologies which would enable the sector to move towards a low carbon economy. The Committee called for this in its report, however suggested it should be part of a more structured sector plan.

Decommissioning and skills transfer

The Committee’s report recommended that decommissioning – the process by which oil and gas infrastructure is shut down, or reconfigured, after oil and gas production ceases – should be made a central part of a sector deal. While the Government response acknowledges that decommissioning expertise presents a global economic opportunity for Scotland’s industry, little tangible progress has been made. The Government response points to the launch of a call for evidence on decommissioning in spring 2019, however this announcement had already been made in the 2018 Budget, marking a significant delay in opening the consultation.

Additionally, the Government does not make it clear whether it supports the Committee’s recommendation to set measurable targets for skills transfer as oil production ceases and industry professionals seek new work in clean energy technologies. The Chair of the Committee asks the Minister to provide more information on what the Government is doing to support decommissioning and skills transfer as the sector prepares for its future.

Commenting on the response, Pete Wishart MP said:

“Though the oil and gas industry will have a challenging future, these new circumstances could bring
significant opportunities and help the Government meet the UK’s climate change targets.  If the economic potential of decommissioning and cleaner energies is to be harnessed, the Government must act now by providing strategic vision, and support for the industry.”

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Ofgem announces strategic review of microbusiness energy market

3rd May 2019
Information types

Policy areas

  • Ofgem is concerned some microbusinesses are struggling to engage with the market and paying more for their energy than they should.
  • Our evaluation of the impact of the CMA’s price transparency remedy suggests that wider issues remain in the £3.5 billion microbusiness energy market.
  • Ofgem presents its initial analysis on consumer harm and seeks further views and evidence on the challenges microbusinesses face.

Ofgem has announced its strategic review of the microbusiness energy market to better understand and address the issues faced by microbusinesses.

Our initial analysis shows that market information is often inaccessible, resulting in customers paying high prices and struggling to make informed decisions.

Microbusinesses play a central role in the UK economy. According to government data, there were over five million microbusinesses in the UK in 2018, accounting for a third of employment and 21% of turnover. Last year microbusinesses paid £3.5 billion in total in electricity and gas bills.

Ofgem has concerns that the energy market isn’t working as well as it should for these customers.

The complexity of the market with the wide variety of contracts and lack of accessible helpful information about prices means many microbusinesses find it hard and costly to engage in the market to find a better deal.

Ofgem has found that microbusinesses who do not engage in the market still pay a higher “loyalty penalty” than disengaged domestic consumers.

Following its investigation into the energy market, the Competition and Markets Authority ordered suppliers in 2016 to provide clear prices to microbusiness customers through a quotation tool on their websites or through price comparison websites to help them engage in the market.

Ofgem implemented the remedy in 2017 and today has published an evaluation of its effectiveness. The regulator has found while the remedy has improved the level of price information that is available to microbusinesses, it has had a limited impact on microbusiness engagement levels and has failed to address some of the fundamental problems in the market.

We will gather further evidence through the call for inputs and other evidence gathering activities before publishing our action plan in winter 2019.

Ofgem has already introduced a number of reforms to help microbusinesses get a better deal. This includes stopping suppliers from automatically rolling over microbusiness customers onto expensive deals, banning suppliers from backbilling microbusiness customers for energy used more than 12 months previously and introducing an overarching principle to treat microbusiness consumers fairly.

The review and any subsequent actions will complement other reforms being taken forward by Ofgem and government focused on micro and small businesses including smart meters, and the half hourly settlement and switching programmes.

Anthony Pygram, director of conduct and enforcement at Ofgem, said: “Microbusinesses are the backbone of the country’s economy. Yet too many are still finding it hard to navigate what is a complex and at times opaque market to get a better energy deal and are suffering significant consumer detriment as a result.

“Our review announced today, combined with our continued work with the government and industry, aims to deliver a properly functioning competitive retail energy market which works for all microbusinesses.”

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Customers entitled to automatic compensation for switching problems from 1 May

30th April 2019

Information types

Policy areas

  • From 1 May consumers will receive at least £30 compensation for “erroneous switches” and delayed refund of credit balances.
  • New requirements from Ofgem will boost consumer protection and confidence in the switching process.
  • Compensation for delayed switches and late final bills will be introduced later this year.

Customers will automatically receive compensation from 1 May if they are not returned to the correct supplier when they are mistakenly switched or if suppliers are late in refunding the credit balances of customers who have switched away.

The new requirements will give customers peace of mind that they will be compensated if something goes wrong.

They should also serve as a wakeup call for suppliers to reduce the number of problems and boost confidence in switching.

Ofgem will separately introduce new requirements for suppliers to pay automatic compensation for delayed switches and providing late final bills later this year.

For switches initiated from 1 May, customers will automatically receive compensation for so-called “erroneous switches”, where they are mistakenly switched to another supplier.

Under the new rules, customers will be entitled to compensation up to a maximum of £120 if their supply is not restored to the correct supplier in a timely fashion. Both the gaining and losing and suppliers are subject to these new guaranteed standards.

Customers will also be entitled to a £30 payment if their previous supplier is late in refunding them their credit balance after they have switched.

Under Ofgem’s rules, suppliers must refund these credit balances within 10 working days of a final bill being issued.

Suppliers are required to pay compensation automatically to the affected customer within 10 days of the breach occurring. If they fail to make the initial payment, they will be required to make a further payment of £30.

Suppliers will have to report data on payments to Ofgem which will monitor their compliance to ensure that suppliers are implementing new regulations correctly.

While the vast majority of switches go smoothly, more problems are occurring as more people switch to get a better deal.

Rob Salter-Church, director, retail systems transformation at Ofgem, said: “When a switch goes wrong, it can cause inconvenience, and in some cases, real worry and stress for those affected.

Automatic compensation payments from 1 May, and additional payments this year, should serve as an incentive for suppliers to raise their game and get switches right first time.

These new requirements, together with the introduction of the price cap, and tightening the rules on new suppliers entering the market, demonstrate our commitment to protecting consumers and ensuring they get a better deal.”

Further information

For media, contact:

Claire Duffy: 0141 331 6390

Media out of hours mobile: 07766 511470 (media calls only).

Notes

1. Ofgem had proposed introducing automatic compensation for relevant switching problems at the same time. However, following a consultation, Ofgem decided to introduce payments in stages and is reviewing the best way of structuring compensation payments for delayed switches and late final bills. This follows feedback that the original proposals did not set appropriate incentives because suppliers not at fault for these problems could still be liable for compensation.

2. The new Guaranteed Standards introduced from 1 May will apply in the following situations:

  • When a customer reports a potential erroneous switch, the customer will receive a standard payment of £30 from each supplier if they are unable to agree within 20 working days whether an erroneous switch has occurred;
  • The customer will receive £30 from the contacted supplier if they fail to return the 20 Working Day Letter as required by the Erroneous Transfer Customer Charter within 20 working days;
  • An erroneously switched customer will receive £30 from their old supplier if they fail to re-register the customer within 21 working days; and
  • Where a switch has been completed, customers will receive a payment of £30 if suppliers fail to return a credit balance within 10 working days of issue of a final bill.
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‘Zombie firms’ a major drag on UK economy, analysis shows

A rising number of underperforming “zombie firms” are creating a major drag on the UK economy and threaten to exacerbate a future downturn, says a new analysis by KPMG.

As many as one in seven UK firms are potentially “under sustained financial strain” and had been able to “stagger on” partly thanks to low interest rates, the accountancy firm warned. These struggling firms are crowding out healthy rivals, when under more normal economic circumstances they would probably have ceased trading.

In a report issued on Monday, KPMG warned that “the rise of zombie firms in the UK could spell trouble ahead”.

The authors said there were differing views as to what constituted such a firm, but that in their view it was a company where turnover was static or falling, profitability was persistently low, margins were being squeezed, cash and working capital reserves were limited, leverage levels were high, and there was a limited ability to invest for the future.

The authors looked at 21,000 UK companies, using information from their last three sets of annual accounts, and found that 8% of UK firms were displaying “zombie-like symptoms”. However, they added that based on the latest figures and other economic data, the proportion of such companies across the UK could be as high as 14%.

The highest concentrations of zombie firms were in the energy, automotive and utilities sectors.

In the energy sector, many firms will have been hit by the 2018 oil price slump, while carmakers and utility firms were facing fierce competition from start-ups and technological developments.

KPMG argued that in previous recessions, businesses that were not productive enough would have ceased trading, thereby eventually making way for “new dynamic companies” and ensuring capital was invested in high-growth businesses.

Construction group Carillion is a high-profile example of a UK firm that is said to have been in financial difficulty for several years prior to its collapse in January 2018, but which had managed to limp on, taking on contracts that could have gone to its financially healthier competitors during those years.

On 2 May, Bank of England governor Mark Carney warned that a modest recovery over the next three years would warrant higher interest rates than financial markets were currently anticipating.

KPMG said if interest rates were to rise further, some of these businesses might soon find their loans more difficult to repay, and if the economy continued to stutter, they would be left especially vulnerable to adverse market forces or a tightening of liquidity.

Yael Selfin, KPMG’s chief economist, said: “The threat that zombie companies pose to the wider economy is very real, regardless of what the post-Brexit environment looks like. Many unproductive businesses have been able to stumble on in recent times, generating just enough profits to continue trading but without the innovation, dynamism or investment necessary to sustain bottom-line growth. This has [created], and will continue to create, a drag on UK productivity.”

Britain’s productivity has been persistently poor since the financial crisis, and is about 16% below the average for advanced G7 economies. Business investment has been falling for the past year, according to the Bank of England, which predicts muted productivity growth in the near term.

 

Of the 21,000 private companies analysed by KPMG, 60% were said to display one or more of the symptoms associated with such underperforming firms, while 8% displayed three or more.

Blair Nimmo, head of restructuring at the firm, said that in the event of a liquidity squeeze, many of these businesses would fail. If that happened, “the potential for contagion is very real, creating broader challenges for an economy already struggling to deal with a plethora of issues”.

Others define a zombie firm as one that has been around for several years but is unable to cover its debt-servicing costs with its profits – a definition that, looking at well-known companies, could arguably be applied to firms such as Tesla, which recently announced it had lost $702m (£534m) in the first three months of the year and ended the quarter with about $10bn in debts.

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‘Zombie firms’ a major drag on UK economy, analysis shows

A rising number of underperforming “zombie firms” are creating a major drag on the UK economy and threaten to exacerbate a future downturn, says a new analysis by KPMG.

As many as one in seven UK firms are potentially “under sustained financial strain” and had been able to “stagger on” partly thanks to low interest rates, the accountancy firm warned. These struggling firms are crowding out healthy rivals, when under more normal economic circumstances they would probably have ceased trading.

In a report issued on Monday, KPMG warned that “the rise of zombie firms in the UK could spell trouble ahead”.

The authors said there were differing views as to what constituted such a firm, but that in their view it was a company where turnover was static or falling, profitability was persistently low, margins were being squeezed, cash and working capital reserves were limited, leverage levels were high, and there was a limited ability to invest for the future.

The authors looked at 21,000 UK companies, using information from their last three sets of annual accounts, and found that 8% of UK firms were displaying “zombie-like symptoms”. However, they added that based on the latest figures and other economic data, the proportion of such companies across the UK could be as high as 14%.

The highest concentrations of zombie firms were in the energy, automotive and utilities sectors.

In the energy sector, many firms will have been hit by the 2018 oil price slump, while carmakers and utility firms were facing fierce competition from start-ups and technological developments.

KPMG argued that in previous recessions, businesses that were not productive enough would have ceased trading, thereby eventually making way for “new dynamic companies” and ensuring capital was invested in high-growth businesses.

Construction group Carillion is a high-profile example of a UK firm that is said to have been in financial difficulty for several years prior to its collapse in January 2018, but which had managed to limp on, taking on contracts that could have gone to its financially healthier competitors during those years.

On 2 May, Bank of England governor Mark Carney warned that a modest recovery over the next three years would warrant higher interest rates than financial markets were currently anticipating.

KPMG said if interest rates were to rise further, some of these businesses might soon find their loans more difficult to repay, and if the economy continued to stutter, they would be left especially vulnerable to adverse market forces or a tightening of liquidity.

Yael Selfin, KPMG’s chief economist, said: “The threat that zombie companies pose to the wider economy is very real, regardless of what the post-Brexit environment looks like. Many unproductive businesses have been able to stumble on in recent times, generating just enough profits to continue trading but without the innovation, dynamism or investment necessary to sustain bottom-line growth. This has [created], and will continue to create, a drag on UK productivity.”

Britain’s productivity has been persistently poor since the financial crisis, and is about 16% below the average for advanced G7 economies. Business investment has been falling for the past year, according to the Bank of England, which predicts muted productivity growth in the near term.

 

Of the 21,000 private companies analysed by KPMG, 60% were said to display one or more of the symptoms associated with such underperforming firms, while 8% displayed three or more.

Blair Nimmo, head of restructuring at the firm, said that in the event of a liquidity squeeze, many of these businesses would fail. If that happened, “the potential for contagion is very real, creating broader challenges for an economy already struggling to deal with a plethora of issues”.

Others define a zombie firm as one that has been around for several years but is unable to cover its debt-servicing costs with its profits – a definition that, looking at well-known companies, could arguably be applied to firms such as Tesla, which recently announced it had lost $702m (£534m) in the first three months of the year and ended the quarter with about $10bn in debts.

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Invest directly in new wind farms while saving on energy bills with new UK startup

Ripple Energy aims to put wind power in the hands of the people while giving them cheap, reliable energy at a stable price

Britain is home to a resource that’s enormously abundant, produces electricity much more cheaply than oil or gas, emits no carbon dioxide and – unlike fossil fuels – involves no devil’s bargain with regimes like Putin’s Russia or the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Wind energy produced locally could supply the majority of the UK’s electricity needs, yet there is no gold rush around this valuable energy source. Yes, wind is growing in importance as a way of powering our homes and businesses, but, worryingly, last year investment in renewable energy dropped to its lowest in a decade.

Recent headlines have pointed to Britain going “coal-free” for almost four days – the longest period since the Industrial Revolution – but much of the energy we consumed instead of coal came from gas or was imported from overseas.

These stories hide the fact that green energy subsidies have been ditched and the government has been accused of creating a “hostile environment” for new renewable generation.

Even if the future of the planet wasn’t at stake, this would be a criminal underinvestment in an area where Britain has a clear inbuilt natural advantage.

Ripple Energy gives UK consumers the chance to bypass big suppliers with their rip-off tariffs and overpaid execs. Instead of waiting for stuck-in-the-mud ministers to take the action to support the transition away from fossil fuels Ripple allows consumers to directly fund cheap, clean, renewable energy, in a simple way.

As consumers, we stand to save £85 to £175 a year on our energy bills while funding the expansion of the cleanest, cheapest, safest energy currently available produced right here on our shores.

Here’s the offer: You put in around £1,300 for a stake in a new onshore wind farm. You can invest more if you want but this is the amount Ripple reckons will give you the amount of energy needed for an average home.

For that you get electricity at a low price which will remain stable for the entire 25-year lifespan of a wind farm rather than seeing bills shoot up based on the whims of global energy markets.

It’s simple to sign up online. Enter a few details such as where you live and how big your house is. After that you agree to become a member of what’s known as a Community Benefit Society. It’s like a company but, in keeping with its name, it benefits the wider world rather than just its shareholders.

You can get involved in the society if you want but this is by no means an obligation. Ripple will run things and you’ll get a bill from one of the two suppliers the company is currently working with.

The whole idea came about because, after 18 years working in renewable energy, Ripple founder Sarah Merrick, saw a huge and unnecessary gap in the market.

“People love wind power”, says Merrick. “But it’s not that easy for them to get it.” There are green energy tariffs but these mostly serve to reallocate existing renewable supply amongst different customers. By contrast, Ripple sources new money to promote the construction of extra wind capacity.

Big firms have been pumping money into their own renewable energy projects for several years, but it’s so far been pretty much off-limits to the consumers.

“It’s great that companies like Google and Ikea can access cheap renewable energy,” says Merrick. “But we think everyone should be able to do that.”

“When you work out the numbers it’s pretty simple and even people who have worked in renewable energy for a long time are surprised.”

Ripple is currently crowdfunding to support its growth as it works towards its first project – a single wind turbine that will supply around 800 homes.

It’s been so popular that after a week Ripple is already at close to two thirds of its £750,000 target.

The crowdfunder will enable Ripple to complete the development of its clean energy ownership platform and market its first pilot project later this year. Merrick is now eyeing up a 20-megawatt farm that will provide power to around 18,000 households.

As well as cheaper bills Ripple offers something else that is extremely valuable in the face of political inaction. As thousands of protestors take to Britain’s streets to protest and demand a ‘Citizens Assembly’ on climate change, Ripple presents a way of democratising the ownership of energy, our most crucial resource.

“We don’t think that in the future people will need big utilities, or pensions funds for that matter, to own renewable energy supply,” says Merrick.

“They can do it themselves.”

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