Renewable and self-generating energy solutions – what are they?

An increasing number of businesses are waking up to the benefits of using renewable energy. As well as dramatically reducing carbon footprints, many of the modern renewables can also provide huge savings in energy costs, especially in the long run. And as we’ve all seen with the recent volatility in the gas and oil markets, renewables can also provide stability and reliability to a businesses energy requirements. 

Renewable energy sources currently make up around a quarter (26 per cent) of the world’s electricity, but the International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts the share to reach 30 per cent by 2024. 

But what exactly are we talking about when referring to renewables? What are the different forms of renewables – and what exactly are “self-generating” ones? Let’s have a look.

RENEWABLE FORMS

First of all, let’s clear out the term “self-generating”. It simply means that power is being generated on-site – usually in order to reduce the need to purchase electricity from the grid. While technically, any form of energy provided on-site is “self-generating” (whether environmentally friendly or not), the term is, however, often associated with different forms of renewable energy sources. 

So, about those renewable forms. Traditionally, the term “renewable” covers six different energy sources:

  1. Solar energy
  2. Wind energy
  3. Hydro energy
  4. Tidal energy
  5. Geothermal energy
  6. Biomass energy (wood and wood waste, solid waste, landfill gas and biogas etc.)

Solar; Fun Fact – the amount of solar energy that reaches the earth’s surface in one hour is more than the planet’s total energy requirements for a whole year. Are we really fully utilising this amazing resource? 

Wind energy; Wind farms are an increasingly familiar sight all over the world and they are used both to provide energy to the “grid” as well as on-site, off-grid sources. 

Hydro (water) energy; Think dams and barriers! It is one of the most commercially developed sources of renewable energy. 

Tidal energy; A variation of hydro energy, this method utilises twice-daily tidal currents to drive turbine generators. 

Geothermal energy; Geothermal energy can be used to heat a facility directly – or to generate electricity – and is very popular (and reliable) in countries where geothermal heat is freely available, such as Iceland and Japan. 

Biomass energy; By this, we mean the conversion of solid fuel made from plant materials into electricity. Usually, the process involves converting agricultural, industrial and domestic waste into solid, liquid and gas fuel. 

HOW CAN SPAS USE RENEWABLES – SOME EXAMPLES

There are a number of ways spa businesses and wellness facility operators can utilise and transform their energy systems through the use of renewables. 

Take the Two Bunch Palms resort in Desert Hot Springs, California, US, which has created a 3.5-acre solar field to generate 100 per cent of the 270-acre property’s electrical power. It’s a huge commitment to create such a large “power station”, but the benefits are equally huge. According to Two Bunch Palms, the investment is part of a long-term strategy which will result in the solar field preventing – over a 21-year period – more than 13.5 million pounds of carbon emissions from entering the atmosphere.

Solar energy can also be on a smaller scale, as part of a facility’s energy mix. At the NaluKinetic Spa at Turtle Bay Resort in Hawaii, a “green roof” has been covered in 1,500 solar panels. This source produces eight percent of the resort’s daily electricity quota. Solar panels can also be fitted to old, historic facilities. The Titanic Spa in Huddersfield, UK, operates in a converted Edwardian textile mill built in 1911 – but it generates its own renewable energy through rooftop solar panels. 

If your facility is located in an area in which there are geothermally active resources – usually found along major tectonic plate boundaries where most volcanoes are located – then you might want to consider utilising it! An onsen in Gifu, Japan, did just that and partnered with a company called Baseload Power in 2020, during the pandemic. 

“We first got the idea when we were driving around Japan and started noticing signs for closed onsens,” says Baseload Capital COO Pernilla Wihlborg. “We started asking onsen owners if they might be interested in making money by creating power from their hot water.”

Or, you could do what the Saadani Safari Lodge in Tanzania has done and opted for a range of sources – including biomass energy. As well as using solar panels and wind energy (to power a water mill), the lodge has installed a biogas burner on site, which provides a significant portion of the lodge’s energy needs. 

Another resort to utilise its surroundings is the Sadie Cove Wilderness Lodge in Alaska, US. It has sustainably harnessed a local stream to generate hydroelectric power. This is complemented by wind power which has resulted in most of the facility’s energy needs being met by renewable sources. 

Low Wood Bay Resort & Spa in the UK also launched a renewable energy project to generate power using a hydroelectric turbine. The initiative is part of its commitment to reduce its environmental impact while preserving the outstanding natural beauty of the Lake District National Park which Low Wood Bay calls home.

CARBON NEUTRAL VS NET ZERO – WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?

Carbon Neutral. Climate Positive. Carbon Negative. Carbon Positive. Net-Zero Emissions. Net-Zero Carbon Emissions. 

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, there’s an environmental revolution underway, and if you hadn’t already noticed, there’s a wealth of headlines about organisations from IKEA to McDonalds showing off their flashy ‘green’ credentials. 

“We’re aiming to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050”, “we’re reaching net zero”, “we’re going climate positive!”. 

Going green can sometimes feel like a minefield with a new phrase or terminology popping up every which way. But it’s simpler than you think. Here’s a few handy terms it might be worth getting to know:

  • Carbon neutral; CO2 released into the atmosphere through business activity is offset by an equivalent being removed
  • Climate/Carbon positive; means that activity goes beyond achieving net-zero carbon emissions to create an environmental benefit by removing additional carbon dioxide from the atmosphere
  • Net-Zero carbon emissions; refers to businesses reducing all greenhouse gases to the point of zero
  • Climate Neutral; the same as net-zero but with the added bonus of eliminating all other negative environmental impacts that an organisation may cause.

“Carbon neutral” and “net zero” are often the two most seemingly interchangeable terms, but most don’t realise that they aren’t the same.

Carbon neutrality is the process in which businesses seek to not increase their emissions any further and instead offset their businesses carbon activity and emissions through licensed projects, such as local planting of trees to the funding of projects that empower families in developing countries to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels. It’s a quickfire way for businesses to reduce their environmental impact and become carbon neutral while they tackle the wider and more substantial issue. 

On the other hand, achieving net zero carbon emissions is the long-lasting and structural changes to reduce activity emissions to zero. Businesses can reach this through changing operations to a renewable source of energy and installing environmentally-friendly procedures and values within their organisation. 

Whether you’re just starting your climate journey, or looking to make a major step in the right direction, the Sustainable Spa Association can help you sort the facts from the fiction. Get in touch and gain access to our Sustainable Impact Assessment to see where your business is today.