Holly Owen – artist in residence

Artists close up-1

Holly Owen, environmental artist, came to live at the Centre for Alternative Technology seven months ago as our artist in residence. Holly’s time here has been inspiring, not just for her artistic practise, but for all the staff that have been a part of her continuing journey into low impact art.

“Playing with materials bound to the earth lifts us out of the commonplace and into a world re-imagined. Art has the ability to re-enchant our consciousness with the world when the facts and figures of climate change leave us numb.”

Holly Owen, 2016


Holly’s art and climate change journey started eight years ago, when she began to explore natural, low impact materials and processes in her artistic practice.

Experimenting with golden-yellow Dartmoor beeswax, Holly began to unravel the ecological mysteries surrounding the decline of the honeybee during her residency at Buckfast Abbey. This was the first step in an ongoing journey, exploring local and global environmental issues that affect humanity in both subtle and devastating ways.

“In the first week of my residency at the Centre for Alternative Technology, I realised how surface level my knowledge was about global climate change. This was going to be a sharp learning curve from the ground up.
Thankfully my residency was connected with CAT’s education department, so alongside many groups of school kids I spent my first few months eagerly absorbing the wealth of knowledge that this enthusiastic team have to share,” said Holly.

Holly joined CAT in the summer of 2015, in months before COP21 in Paris. It was then that she realised the significance of the timing of her residency.

“Two years prior to my CAT journey I began working with digital artist Kristina Pulejkova on a multi-media project entitled Switching Heads-sound mapping the Arctic.
The project took us to a community deep within the Arctic Circle where we worked alongside local people to collect the sights, sounds and stories from one of the most endangered environments on earth.
We were invited to take the resulting film to the art and culture festival ArtCOP21 that ran in conjunction with COP21 in Paris.
As our anticipation of this important global event grew, so did the atmosphere at CAT. Embracing the opportunity to delve into the political world that CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain programme resides in, and encouraged by the active work of groups such as Reclaim the Power, Kristina and I hurtled towards COP21 fully fuelled with knowledge and a sense of people power.
I feel proud and humbled to have had the opportunity to play an active role in the events surrounding COP21, made even more poignant by the timing of my connection to CAT.”

Switching Heads (Llwyngwern slate)
Switching Heads (Llwyngwern slate)

Inspired by this life changing foray into international climate talks and activism, Holly’s piece Switching Heads (Llwyngwern slate) looks out through the withered leaves of the sparse winter beds of CAT’s central polytunnel. A life-sized head, formed from slither-thin shards of CAT quarry slate, blends organically into its surroundings.

In April, Holly will be making a welcome return to CAT, with fellow artist Kristina to record a second film for their on-going series Switching Heads – sound mapping the […] – exploring climate change through the voices of people who live and work in places of environmental significance.
Their current films – and the adventures they had making them – can be seen here.

Allotment, by Holly Owen, 2015

Holly’s piece Allotment uses the Fibonacci sequence to showcase seeds collected from CAT head gardener Roger McLennan’s historic seed bank. Using a pattern that appears regularly in natural forms – think sunflower seed heads, trees branches, an artichoke flower, an unfurling fern – this piece shows the seeds oscillating out from the center of a disc painted in Llwyngwern slate pigment.
Allotment spans a UK food-growing year challenging food production, food miles and waste and encouraging locally grown, organic, seasonal produce that can give extra enjoyment to the food we eat and share.

My Earth, 2015

explores CAT through the infinite colours, tones and textures under our feet. Thirty two different postcard sized swatches were painted with mud pigments map the site, each accompanied by an individual story of discovery. It is a snapshot of Holly’s seven months at CAT, her journey and the re-enchantment of finding beauty in the mundane and overlooked.
Accompanying this work, stories from CAT’s passionate, skilled and creative community are shared, demonstrating why CAT is so important to them. These stories create a colourful, unique and positive patchwork of individual journeys that collectively form a community like no other.

As this phase of Holly’s work comes to a close, and she is set to embark on another adventure curating art for a festival in the Severn valley, Holly reflects.
“The months that I have spent living and working in this reclaimed Welsh slate quarry amongst the ancient history, the realised dreams and the shared futures has focused my creativity in ways unimagined. As my art and climate change journey continues, it has been enriched with a deeper focus for an alternative way of life, imagined through the arts and made possible by all of us.”

Thank you for helping us here at CAT appreciate what we have under our feet, Holly. We are looking forward to sharing a Welsh Spring with you when you return.

Allotment, Holly Owen, 2015
Allotment, Holly Owen, 2015

Developing Partners for Sustainable Learning in Green Graphic Design

Andy Stevenson from University of Worcester shares his experiences in bringing students to CAT.

For some years now I’ve been developing the teaching in ‘Green’ or (possibly better described as) ‘sustainable’ graphic design techniques as part of the Graphic Design and Multimedia degree course at the University of Worcester. In order to broaden the experiences and learning of students in this area further, I’ve also been developing both links and lecture visits with other specialist organisations outside of the University.


One of these organisations is the Worcester Resource Exchange – a ‘scrap store’ of post industrial materials allied to the Duckworth Trust and based in the city. We’ve also developed links with the larger Centre for Alternative Technology (or ‘CAT’ as it’s often known as in shorthand) based in Machynlleth, mid Wales. I firmly believe as a lecturer that not all learning takes place within the classroom and that facilitating students to both engage with and see other experiences on site at such places can be hugely beneficial to them too. This comment doesn’t just relate to the students’ learning experiences, but rather it also relates to the galvanising effect on a cohort that an occasional trip or visit outside of the University can also achieve.

Green Graphic Design

The Green Design module’s link with CAT has been evolving year on year now for nearly a decade. Students have benefited from a range of new perspectives that the staff and facilities on site there have provided. In particular I want to highlight their ground-breaking latest research into how we might practically start to ‘decarbonize’ the British economy – which is called ‘Zero Carbon Britain’ (again known in shorthand as ‘ZCB’). This body of findings is the output of many years of painstaking research and analysis by specialists at CAT. It compares where we are now with resource and power use and where we could potentially be – albeit if we started to make small, practical changes to the ways in which we live. Now this might immediately worry readers of this article, who are probably imagining us at this point going back to the horse and cart – but CAT’s vision is anything but this. They see a modern-day society that is less oil and gas reliant and instead is more efficient with it’s use of fuels and one that has also invested more in diversifying heat and power generation utilising more renewables and other related technology.

Closed loop cycles

Linking with such external organisations brings various additional benefits to students and we’ve now adopted a core set of considerations that focus around working towards the core idea of a ‘closed loop’ of product development & usage. Closed loop cycles are also a key theme within CAT’s own ZCB research too if we’re to effectively lower our resource uses. In practical terms, this asks students to look at a lowered, ‘cleverer’ and more sustainable use of resources in their packaging solutions for their ‘live’ clients. Crucially, it also means that students are introduced to the idea of a ‘second use’ for their packaging concepts too.


Second solutions

Their latest project for regional sustainable brewer Oldfields Orchard Cider (Hobsons) actively encourages them to seek a follow-up use for their packaging once it has safely delivered the goods/bottles to the intended user. This could take one of many forms and in previous projects students have designed their packaging so it easily dismantles as traditional pub games, into small recipe books, and in one case rice paper spice tabs to be put directly into cooking. While there’s often no ‘ideal’ second use solutions, the idea is that students experiment and suggest additional ‘value added’ features for their packaging concepts that either delay or even stop the pack going into the waste systems by ultimately transforming it into another appropriate and useful artefact. While this idea isn’t brand new, the industry appears to be slowly changing and there are more and more sustainable design and packaging precedents appearing now that students are actively bearing in mind for their own concepts.

CAT Educational Lectures

Green Design students were fascinated by CAT’s ZCB research at a recent lecture and workshop on site in the unique Sheppard Lecture Theatre – one of the largest ‘rammed-earth’ structures in Europe. CAT Educational lecturer Ann MacGarry discussed many of the research’s salient findings within their ZCB proposals.. The debates to be had in this area clearly impacted on many of the students – who had only seen overviews to date but nothing in this in depth. Reactions were broad and when audio-interviewed en route back to Worcester, student comments included:

With (the concept of) ‘Zero Carbon Britain’, I really do think it’s achievable – but I think it’s only going to be possible by getting politicians to ‘pull their fingers out’ – it won’t happen without new legislation.. There’s only so much individuals can do really.


I found the visit and lecture really interesting, a lot of people talk about sustainability and low impact living but CAT seems to actually ‘do it’. I thought their ethics were really interesting too – not taking funding from big business or being biased or in anyone’s pockets.

Despite the broad-ranging nature of the day’s lecture, students could clearly see how these additional layers of information and context could widen their thinking with their own sustainable packaging projects ongoing. Third year graphic design student Jimi O’Doherty adds:

It (the lecture) was broad in nature – but I think much of the information was transferable and I’ll be bearing some of it in mind when I’m thinking about my further packaging idea.


Project focus & themes
We are looking forward to visiting CAT in Autumn 2015 and are planning for the group to develop a set of e-resources for other students (.pdf e-book) around the best usage, simple recipes for and top tips for maintainance of an earth oven.. Students will also be required to develop a multi-use working prototype ‘assistive 3D artifact’ out of suitable materials that supports this design brief (we were initially thinking a re-usable pizza plate with simple recipe/instructions on it or possibly flour measuring device with a similar multi-use)..

Bursary fund for Welsh schools and colleges studying STEM subjects

A fantastic opportunity for KS 3, 4 and 5 STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) groups in  North Wales to visit CAT with bursaries covering  travel, tuition and entry.15682048387_1e66b99e41_z

The Thomas Howell Education Fund for North Wales is now being extended from September 2015 to July 2016, to allow a greater number of pupils aged between 11 and 18 in to access the grant. The fund has been granted to provide pupils in the North Wales region with the opportunity to gain knowledge around climate change and sustainability issues and to encourage young people to pursue excellence in their studies around STEM topics.

Schools can get free or subsidised visits to CAT that will inspire young people to make positive changes in their schools, homes and communities through its stimulating learning environment and hands- on solution focused teaching.

For further details follow this link   or to book a visit contact: Gabrielle Ashton Education Dept – 01654705983   education@cat.org.uk


Study Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) at CAT.

At CAT we offer day and residential visits with a diverse range of practical and theoretical activities which can be adapted to tie in with STEM curricula.

Providing education to pupils of all ages for over thirty years, CAT complements all STEM subjects with a solutions-focused perspective on climate change, global poverty, finite resources and biodiversity loss.

  • Sustainable design
  • Renewable energy
  • The Dyfi Biosphere
  • Zerocarbonbritain2030

Putting energy, the environment and sustainability into context with a visit to CAT, could open doors for STEM learners who may not respond well to traditional classroom methods. Not only would students have a unique opportunity to gain essential skills and knowledge for the future but also to interact with a community consciously creating a more ecologically sound future through cooperation, understanding and education.

‘We really had an awesome time.
The success was so big that our members are asking for only one thing: MORE TRIPS!
We will definitely come back and until then keep up the good work because CAT is amazing!’
Engineers Without Borders – Cardiff University

For more information and to book your visit contact education@cat.org.uk or telephone 01654 705 983. Please mention your interest in STEM when responding.

Please note, all residential visits are for a minimum of two nights.

Gabrielle Ashton Education Dept – 01654705983 education@cat.org.uk



For further details follow this link http://learning.cat.org.uk/for-your-subject?lang=en   or to book a visit contact:




Italian teenagers explore zero carbon future

CAT Education Officer, Ann MacGarry, reflects on her recent experience of teaching a group of 17 year olds from Italy. 

I recently had a very satisfying week teaching a lovely group of 15 seventeen year olds from Italy who came as part of a European project. They were both easy going and really interested in the activities.

I’d done a bit of research into energy potential in Italy and renewable energy use across Europe so they had some appropriate data to use, particularly when it came to doing the Zero Carbon Futures session. I’d got hold of a map of Italy and they populated it with skilful modelling with plasticine and intelligent use of the models I have collected over the years. There was a tidal stream device between Sicily and the mainland, geothermal by Mount Vesuvius, solar systems in various places and wind farms in the appropriate windy areas. There were also more trees and the only vehicles were a bike, bus, train, tractors and emergency vehicles. They also had local foods in the appropriate places. This was really interesting as I’m sure that if you asked a group of seventeen year olds from Britain to locate local foods on a map of Britain, they’d be scratching their heads.

map activity
The group with Zero Carbon Italy


This reflects both what has happened to traditional foods in Britain and also our knowledge of it.

footprint activity
Understanding the origin and production of different products

They also explored the impact of the stuff we buy through using our Where’s the Impact? cards, used the new version of Energy Trumps to learn all about energy sources, did our Water footprint activity, collaborated to see how to reduce carbon footprints with The Green House and put huge enthusiasm into designing and building wind turbine models. We also managed to fit in a walk up the hill to the reservoir, quarry and wind turbines and they were the only group I have ever seen do our Hooded Adventure with no-one cheating by peeping.

outdoor activity
The Hooded Adventurer – no peeping!

CAT welcomes our new artist in residence

Working alongside the CAT’s Education Team, Holly Owen is the latest artist in residence at the centre. Through her often-sculptural artistic practice she will be responding to the sustainable themes that are central to CAT’s core mission and using creatively inclusive ways to engage children and young people in art and sustainability. She is keen to explore the multi-skills and disciplines across the centre to inform her environmental and community led practice. Alongside artworks made at CAT Holly will be keeping a blog of her experiences as artist in residence on her website.

In her work Holly’s uses earth-bound materials to immerse audiences in a world where natArtists close up-1ure and art collide. Through the sharing of traditional craft, scientific knowledge, experiences and stories she invites others to reflect upon and reconnect with the environmental and human world around us.

As one half of a collaborative duo she recently embarked on an artistic expedition to the Arctic Circle. Using un-intrusive sculpture, binaural sound technology and film the project invited local people to talk about life in one of the worlds most severe and endangered environments. The film produced in the Arctic will be shown at ArtCOP21, the arts and culture festival that will run in conjunction with the UN Climate Conferences in Paris in winter 2015.

The site-specific nature of Holly’s work has enabled her to work and show both nationally and internationally. She spent a year as an artist in residence at Buckfast Abbey honey farm in Devon and holds a Masters in Art and Science from Central St Martins, London. Most recently has been working as one of five artists on Plymouth University’s Artists Access to Art Colleges programme.

CAT at Latitude fesitval

The Face your Elephant project is a partnership between CAT, Woodcraft Folk (a youth organisation that empowers young people and are strong on sustainability issues) and de Montfort University. The title was created by young people some years ago, after seeing CAT’s Carbon Gym, where they were introduced to the idea that our carbon emissions weighed the same as two large elephants (now three). The project goes to festivals with a marquee with activities and a group of young people who educate people about climate change and sustainable futures. The current group are particularly keen and creative. They really liked our Zero Carbon visioning workshops so they’ve been using that as a focus for discussion with festival goers of all ages.6713657685_fe185562c1_z

It means that Deirdre and Ann are sometimes obliged to go to festivals like Latitude to support the young people. Not only is it great going to the festivals, it is also extremely satisfying to see them developing new communication skills and often surprising themselves by what they are able to achieve.

So, if you are going to Latitude this year, look out for us. We wont be in the central area but usually somewhere on the way towards it.


Llangynfelyn pupils visit CAT for British Science Week

Photos on Flickr.

Pupils at Llangynfelyn Primary School have been on a trip to the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) as part of activities going on nationwide for British Science Week. During the visit they had a tour of the centre and took part in a wind power workshop, in which they designed and tested model wind turbines.

turbine spins
Testing model wind turbines in a wind power workshop

The trip was organised by the school for pupils from years three to six. Miss Cerys, a teaching assistant who accompanied the group alongside class teacher Miss Siwan, said:

“It has been a wonderful, out of the box, learning experience. I’ve learned about things I didn’t even think were possible, like using straw bales in walls. I have also been impressed by how much the children already knew, and it has given them a chance to express that too.”

Toni, a year six pupil said the day had been a lot of fun:

“I like how everyone has worked together. I like how we got to make our own wind turbine because it teaches you how energy works. I have also learned about solar energy and hydro energy. I think it would be good for people to look out and see their energy being produced.”

hydro kids
Understanding the hydro turbine

Ben and Harvey, also in year six, said:

“It has been fun and exciting and we have learned a lot about heating and buildings, and better ways to keep them warm. Doing things like this encourages you to do more science because it is fun and you do it with your friends.”

CAT tour
John Urry gives a tour

Gabi Ashton from the education department at CAT said:

“The focus of the trip was to give the children a hands-on experience of the sustainable technologies they’ve been learning about in the classroom. They were a wonderful group to have here up here as they seemed to really engage with with CAT’s practical approach to learning and enjoyed the challenge of using science in a constructive way to solve problems”

Other schools wishing to visit the centre for tours, workshops and activities should contact the Education Department on 01654 705983 or email: education@cat.org.uk. CAT will also be open from Monday and throughout the Easter holidays with daily children’s activities.

worm slide
There was also time to just have some fun

Bursary fund for Welsh schools in STEM subjects

Great opportunity for subsidised  visits for KS 3, 4 and 5 STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) groups in Wales

STEM school trip funding



 Schools from North Wales

Until July 2015 schools from North Wales can book a STEM visit to CAT with a bursary towards travel, tuition and entry. Priority will be given to schools in Communities first areas. This bursary may be repeated Sept 2015- July 2016. Funded by Thomas Howell’s Education Fund for North Wales

This offer is on a first come first served basis. Do get in touch as soon as possible.

Gabrielle Ashton 01654705983 education@cat.org.uk


The sun shines on Mynydd Gorddu Windfarm.

The sun shines on Mynydd Gorddu Windfarm.


A REBE trip to Myn ydd Gorddu Windfarm.
A REBE trip to Myn ydd Gorddu Windfarm.


Yesterday the REBE (Renewable Energy and the Built Environment) students were taken to visit Mynydd Gorddu Wind Farm located near Tal-y-bont, Ceredigion, West Wales and given a tour by the site manager. As a media volunteer I get to document all the interesting excursions students make, and so I thanked the weather gods for a sunny day, pulled on my long johns and packed my camera. After bumpy ride down narrow roads on the local coach, we arrived and were greeted by the sites operational manager, a sharp man in his forties. With the sun on our backs, we huddled round like penguins as he explain how this wind farm, which has been successfully running for nearly 20 years was started.


IMG_9713     IMG_9722_1


Developed initially by Trydan Gwynt Cyfyngedig in 1997 – a company owned by a local family, Dr Dafydd Huws and Mrs Rhian Huws, npower renewables was involved in the early stages but in 1993 ceased to be involved with the project. Beaufort wind Limited are listed as the owner now, RWE Innogy as the operator. Dr Dafydd Huws had been inspired by the turbines at CAT and later through visits to Denmark where the technology has been developed further. In 1997 however, npower renewables agreed to assume responsibility for the financing and construction of the wind farm. Trydan Gwynt Cyfyngedig became a co-operative venture between npower renewables, now called RWE Innogy and the Huws family company, Amgen, the welsh for “positive change”. Dr Huws and his company Amgen continue to have, a leading role in the development of the wind farm and its operation.


By all accounts this wind farm was remarkably successful, with a good track record of fulfilling its potential, but like all machines they do need maintenance.It was interesting to hear direct from the horses mouth what its like to manage a site such as this, what kind of decisions you have to make when lightening strikes and melts the conductors. Calling crane companies and having to pay them double so they can come lift off the hub and propellers the next day, and get the turbine back in action as quick as possible. These kind of quick financial calculations, mixed in with practical monitoring and maintenance are all part of a days work for a wind farm operational site manager.



The site was awarded European grant of £1.3m to trial four different types of turbine but today there stands 19 turbines, with two different diameters, as the planning authorities weren’t so happy with the idea of too many different machines scattered across the hills. The planners also ensured that the sub-station, where the electricity is sent into the grid and where the turbines are monitored (with P.C’s STILL running from 1995, a little fact to amaze the techo- heads) is built in a true vernacular style, with stone walls, wooden doors and iron detailing.


Myn ydd Gorddu Windfarm
Myn ydd Gorddu Windfarm


If you are interested in the performance of these medium sized wind turbines then you may be interested in the following; 7 of the turbines are each rated at 600 kilo Watts with a hub height of 34 metres  and a rotor diameter of 43m. The other 12 are rated at 500kW each with a hub height of 35m and rotor diameter of 41m. The rotors on both turbine sizes turn at an approximate speed of 30 revolutions per minute (rpm), driving a gearbox within the nacelle which is in turn connected to a generator. The turbines start to generate electricity automatically when the wind speed reaches around 11 miles per hour (mph), and achieve maximum output at around 33 mph. They shut down when the wind speed exceeds 56 mph, which is rare. The farm has a combined maximum output of 10.2 megawatts.


IMG_9818IMG_9834REBE Students taken notes about the Mynydd Gorddu windfarm.

I have no pretentions of being an engineer, and so many of these technical details the REBE students were avidly scribbling down passed me by and I tuned into the gentle sound of the blades swooshing above me in the cold winter wind and their majestic white silhouettes cutting into the crisp blue sky, a symbol to me of beauty and hope. I was also noticing the red kites sailing high in the sky, the fresh strong blast of cold wind whipping around my ears and noticed a suprising birds nest above one of the windmills doors at the base.

I am interested in the politics and people behind these endeavours and was intrigued to hear how carefully Dr Dafydd Huws tried to maximize the returns to the community by ensuring the windfarm infrastructure spread across more than one owners land. There is a fund, “Cronfa Eleri” that’s administered by Amgen, who have set up the Cronfra Eleri Advisory Committee, ensuring that people who understand the needs of the community decide how the money is spent to provide the widest community benefit. The fund yields about £10,00 a year and in 2011 the fund helped buy a new heating system for a community centre in Ysgoldy Bethlehem, Llandre, a new shed for the local Talybont nursery,  the re-wiring and renovation of the local church in Bontgoch, and towards a new tennis court in conjunction with the Playingfield Society Rhydypennau.


the wind blows us back to


As we wandered back to the coach, we waved good-bye to the beautiful bullocks, (the wind farm was fully integrated with the traditional farming practices of the area, with sheep and cows grazing beneath the turbines) and all looked forward to a delicious lunch awaiting us at CAT. The electricity from the farm traced our steps, passing along a cables supported by wooden poles from Bow street to Machynlleth, carrying clean electricity to the local electricity grid network for use in local homes, schools and businesses.  All in all it had been a very successful trip, but lets see what Alexandra King, a REBE student who came too had to say;


An interview with REBE student Alexandra King.
An interview with REBE student Alexandra King.


Who are you and what do you do when your not studying at CAT?


“I’m Alexandra King. I live and work in Bath. My husband is a consulting engineer, I work with him, mainly as a support at the moment, but hope that after finishing this course, I will be more involved in the engineering design.”


Why did you decide to study at CAT?


“CAT is the obvious choice – to my knowledge it is the best place in the country to study renewables. Why? For a long time now I was a mecologist by choice. I believe in sustainable lifestyle. We’ve installed PVs on our roof as soon as we had a chance. Renewable energy is clean and available everywhere, even in the most remote locations. It will not run out anytime soon, unlike fossil fuels. And if we start making changes now, by the time we do run out of coal and gas, we should have good enough infrastructure to keep us going. I don’t know if we could slow down the climate change, but there is always hope.”


What did you learn from the trip to the windfarm?

“I’ve always liked wind turbines, and this visit just reinforced this affection. They are so elegant and not at all noisy. The footprint of a turbine is very small. I love the possibility of the double use of land (cattle or crops), turbines scale easily, the construction time is relatively short, unfortunately so is the lifespan of a wind farm. But I am sure we can overcome this in the future.

One more thing, I’ve visited several wind farms and yet to see a single dead bird, yet, driving home a few days ago, saw 8 corpses on the motorway…  one of them was a badger, I think, but still.”



How do you find the teaching on the course, and is there anything you would change about your student experience with CAT?


“I love CAT, wouldn’t change a thing. Except I wish I’d started earlier, like several years ago, but never mind now. I think this course is well balanced; it will give me a broad understanding of principles and technologies that will be very useful in my future work.”


Many thanks Alexandra !



Catalan independence is about energy as well as politics

Paul Allen, who heads CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain project, is in Girona Province talking about the possibility of Zero Carbon Catalonia. 

From almost every balcony, rooftop or garden, flags have been flying the hopes and dreams of their owners, for the 9th of November is decision day for Catalonia. In many ways the decision of the central Spanish Government to refuse an official referendum on independence for Catalonia has deepened their resolve to press ahead, albeit with a less official status. For many there is a clear link between energy independence and political independence for Catalonia, hence an enthusiasm for hearing about the Zero Carbon Britain research.

energy independence Catalonia
Paul Allen heads for Catalonia

Girona Province has a long tradition of cooperatives and energy projects. Every year the Girona Province regional government supports a day-long education programme for all environmental educators in the area to increase their knowledge and skills in a particular area, and this year the topic was energy. The key aims of the event were as follows:

  • To provide environmental educators with practical tools and concrete ideas needed for energy education activities.
  • To encourage and support more environmental educators to offer activities on energy education.
  • To exchange ideas and best practices.
La Fábrica de Celrá
La Fábrica de Celrá

At La Fábrica de Celrá, the newly refurbished industrial heritage building which would host the event, the final panes of glass were being fixed in place as we arrived. This 19th century dye and pigment factory, with its vast chimneys and castellated roofline, was an icon of the fossil-fuelled industrial revolution and offered an ideal backdrop for the ‘Extraordinary Story of Human Beings and Energy’ I use as a scene-setter for the Zero Carbon Britain scenario, which was to open the conference proceedings. This was followed by a series of presentations exploring practical projects active in the Girona area, from improving the energy efficiency of sports facilities to arranging ‘Green Drinks’ sessions to bring people together in any particular locality. The emphasis then shifted to practical workshops designed to give educators new skills in addressing four key target groups:

  1. Kids and youngsters
  2. Municipal Councils, employees, buildings and facilities
  3. Citizens (in general)
  4. Private companies (both employees and customers).

I had been given client group B, and a clear steer to be very practical, giving examples, showing specific tools and practices, etc. This allowed me to draw on my work around the Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill in Wales and the ‘Wales We Want’ national conversation to devise a workshop that could share the practical experience I have gathered as a Climate Commissioner for Wales in engaging local councils. The initial part of the workshop offered space for smaller groups to gain both the tools and confidence to envision a positive future, followed by a session exploring how the municipal decision-making in their areas could be enhanced to consider the wellbeing of future generations in the choices they make today.

It was a fascinating gathering, provoking many interesting questions and conversations. There is clearly strong enthusiasm to re-think the energy future in Catalonia, and an increasing desire to establish a physical site like at CAT.

A La Cucina information display
A La Cucina information display

My old friend Josep Puig Boix has been a long-time motivator behind ‘Ecoserveis’, the educational charity running the event, and is now spending a happy retirement getting the area’s first fully community-owned large wind project up and running. Wind is by no means new to the area, but Josep is devising this project in such a way as to make the process behind its development accessible to all. The costs for large wind power projects have now come down so much that it is viable with no subsidies at all, so it could be replicated anywhere. In addition Josep has been part of a group that are just publishing an economic analysis of the energy costs of running both Catalonia and Spain on both business as usual and a high renewables transition. The initial figures I saw make a clear case that – even with conventional economic analysis – the switch to renewables is a very good investment.

Although this was a long train journey, it felt like a very worthwhile trip: helping to support the vision for a Zero Carbon Catalonia, which has led to an invitation for a return visit to present at a 100% renewables conference in 2016, planned to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Chernobyl.

by Paul Allen