20% off WISE venue hire


The Wales Institute for Sustainable Education at CAT makes a fantastic choice of venue for meetings, gatherings, seminars, conferences, weddings and even 40th birthday parties. The range of facilities from the 200-seat lecture theatre, workshop spaces, smaller class rooms,  restaurant and bar area make it an ideal venue for both large and small groups of people.

The award winning WISE building is nestled in the Dyfi valley and surrounded by spectacular scenery.  The building has been constructed using low impact materials such as rammed earth, hemp and lime and locally sourced wood.  It recently won the Dewi Tomos award and has been short listed for a RIBA award in 2011.

CAT is currently offering 20% off discounts on all bookings for the month of April.

For more information please contact Sarah on 01654 704973 or email venue.hire@cat.org.uk



Energy democracy through open source technology


“The beauty of open source technologies and processes is that we can all get involved in developing the idea, whether that be as a geeky developer hacking new code or as a householder testing out kit.” Jonathan Atkinson, Carbon Co-op, Manchester.

A new course at the Centre for Alternative Technology from 25th – 28th of March will be doing just that. The course will include energy monitoring theory and system design from householder to micro-grid scale. The course is taught by Carlos Alonso Gabizon, Trystan Lea, Sunil Tagore and Glyn Hudson who have developed and devised the hardware and software from the openenergymonitor.org project.

OpenEnergyMonitor is a project to develop open-source energy monitoring tools to help us relate to our use of energy, our energy systems and the challenge of sustainable energy.

The future of energy production in the UK depends a great deal on who owns and controls the means of production. There is a choice to be made, between big corporations prioritising profit making and community owned schemes. Climate change, rising energy prices, economic instability and dwindling social cohesion are some of the challenges the world faces over the coming decades. Across the UK and around the world, people are coming together with their neighbours and showing that, with a bit of dedication and community spirit, it’s possible for ordinary people to make real progress on a whole range of big issues- including taking control of their energy usage and production.

Energy democracy means making our energy solutions more open, it brings everybody together in planning, deciding and implementing local and renewable energy. For energy democracy to work open source technologies are vital. Open source takes the control away from large companies and places it in the hands of the people. It stimulates local economies and small scale manufacturing, making technologies accessible to all.

There are a wide range of open source projects, from software such as Mozilla, operating systems such as Android and Linux, hard ware such as Arduino, even some types of beer. There is also an increasing number of inspiring open source energy projects such as Onawi, an organisation that aims to make designs of wind turbines freely available and River Simple who have made their design for hydrogen cars open source.

The open source energy monitoring project is another example. Currently the Big six energy companies are supplying ‘free’ energy monitors to homes. Whilst this is a good thing as it encourages people to become more aware of their energy usage, there is a darker flip side, as Jonathan Atkinson states in his article about open source energy monitoring,

“ For now, big technology companies such as Cisco, Siemens and IBM are involved in a kind of ‘data grab’. They’re aggressively pushing their kit and software, distributing free equipment and incentives to make sure their technology sets the data standard for the smart meters. As with other sectors, the ability to control, manage and sell data is extremely lucrative. The virtual data commons we own and generate are being commodified and stolen.”

This is a complete contrast to open-source monitoring hardware and software that empowers the user to be in full control of when, how and where energy data is logged.

The Carbon Co-op , a co-operative based in Greater Manchester, aims to help members make radical reductions in household power through the installation of energy-saving measures such as external wall insulation or solar panels.

They had been grappling with how to empower members through a better understanding of energy use. Rather than collaborate with one of the big technology companies, they have entered into a partnership with Open Source Energy Monitors.

The open source energy monitor project has been set up by a group who describe themselves as an “active open research community of energy enthusiasts, engineers, programmers and makers pushing open source energy monitoring forward.” They have devised and developed an open source energy monitor that can be assembled and built at home. Using open source technology such as the Rasperry Pi micro computer and Arduino programming language the monitors are flexible, modular and robust and can collect data from a variety of sensors from electricity usage to gas, humidity, temperature and even carbon dioxide (an indicator of air flow and therefore of the draughtiness of a house).”

The OpenEnergyMonitor project are running the first course of its kind at the Centre for Alternative Technology from the 25th to the 28th of March. The course will include

Energy monitoring theory and system design.

● Electronics PCB assembly, soldering

● Arduino firmware

● Web application programming

● Using digital fabrication tools (reprap) Digital objects to physical objects

● 3D CAD programs, and tools chains for controlling an open source 3D printer

● Sensors: CT current, temperature, wind, electricity.. In the evening there will be discussions with facilitation

● Workshop: “What do we value? What are our aims? How does this relate to different ‘systems of production? and the role that open source plays.”

● Workshop: “limits of the technology in the environmental, social and economic aspects”

For more information on the course follow this link.

What are they doing now? We catch up with former students

As part of a new series of blogs we will be talking to some of our former students about what they are  doing now. This week Mauritz Lindeque tells us about how his thesis in MSc in Architecture and Advanced, Environmental and Energy studies has influenced his career.

I was a Distance learning student on the MSc AEES program. I was living in Tanzania at the time that I started on the program. The job and responsibilities that I had while in Tanzania was as a  development manager for a hunting company. We managed 9 Mill Acres of land in very remote parts of Tanzania where all of our 16 camps were off-grid and had to be self sustaining. I started the MSc program to learn more about green and sustainable development as operating with these principles reduces the demand for resources that is very expensive to transport in remote areas of Africa.

Half way through my third second year on the program I returned to South Africa to complete my Thesis. The topic was in Renewable Energy in particular Bio gas from anaerobic digestion (AD). I was employed by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) South Africa, to design build and operate an automated AD. This I completed and am now employed to commercialize the patented system. The CSIR is the National Research institute that is also the largest scientific research institute on the continent of Africa.
We are now using the pilot plant as a research platform to test site specific sludge to establish the energy potential of that sludge for different clients ranging from agricultural to municipal waste to energy projects.
The waste to energy concept from municipal waste is growing in SA and we are now in the process of developing a laboratory to test mechanical or biological interventions for different sludge types that may increase the gas yield of such projects. This is to the benefit of South Africa as we have 343 Municipal waste water plants that use ADs.  This was all started from that thesis for the MSc project and the development of the pilot scale automated AD.

New Green Roof display for CAT building


Thanks to £1996 by People’s Postcode Trust, CAT has been able to build  a new green roof display for the visitor centre, bringing together the two core interests of eco-building and organic gardening. Green roofs are environmentally beneficial in many ways. They have been shown to encourage biodiversity, reduce flooding in urban areas, control temperature in buildings and create garden spaces for people to enjoy.

The project will create a feature in CAT’s visitor centre, and make the building more natural, educational and inspiring for the 50,000 people that come to CAT each year. These will include the visiting public, schoolchildren, adults on short courses and CAT’s own postgraduate architecture students. It will also create a new space cultivable by CAT’s organic gardeners and volunteers.

Carwyn Jones, CAT’s Buildings and Maintenance Officer, said “While we’re doing the work, this will be a great opportunity for visitors and local people to see for themselves the process of making a turf roof. We’re grateful to the People’s Postcode Trust for enabling us to give a new lease of life to one of the original buildings from the sites days as a working quarry”

People’s Postcode Lottery is Britain’s charity lottery. Players play with their postcodes to win cash prizes while raising money for good causes. As a charity lottery, £2 from every monthly lottery ticket goes towards charities and community initiatives across England, Scotland and Wales, including People’s Postcode Trust. People’s Postcode Lottery believes in supporting local communities so the money raised by players in each country, stays in that country.

To find out more about applying for People’s Postcode Trust funding and the projects which the Trust supports visit www.postcodetrust.org.uk .

If you’d like to be in with a chance to win cash prizes while supporting great local charities, sign up for People’s Postcode Lottery at www.postcodelottery.com, or call 0808 10-9-8-7-6-5.



What are they doing now? We catch up with CAT students…


As part of a new series of blogs we will be talking to some of our ex students about what they’re doing now. This week Magnus Murray tells us about how his MSc in Architecture and Advanced, Environmental and Energy studies brought a new dimension to his humanitarian and international development work.

I was part of the 2006 – 2008 AEES course, full time at  CAT, it was great and I learned so much. Since then I returned to my former world of humanitarian aid and international development.  I was recruited by the British Government’s Department for International Development soon after the devastating floods of 2010 in Pakistan, to act as an advisor on shelter and water-sanitation projects.

Very soon I realised how few people in donors, NGOs and local Government were familiar with the issues we had become so fluent with: climate change, environmental design and renewable energy.  The entire country is a like a really inefficient oil boiler! In cities people heat water with gas despite the vast solar potential, in rural areas cooking is still done with wood using the most inefficient and smokey fires.  So much to do – and I quickly recognised how the time at CAT had filled my quiver with new tools and concepts  and my address book was now  full of very smart and techie people! Now we are into our third flood response in so many years, and we are supporting over 45,000 families  rebuild their homes using lime based technology and people’s own vernacular designs, at about one fifth the cost of other, conventional construction.

This is great value for money and so much more appropriate for the communities but it requires loads of hands on training in the affected villages.  We’re also trying to introduce ways to manage sewage from camps and communities using constructed wetlands or reed-bed technology, at low cost, to avoid the current practice of allowing sewage to run into the local waterways and pollute drinking water sources.

Lastly, I managed to persuade the humanitarian community here that solar PV and LEDs on 12v rock (make sense) and we should promote them – especially for people living in temporary settlements after they’ve had to leave their homes during the floods. Surrounded by water and wild animals, especially snakes seeking refuge from the waters, people are so unprotected at night.  We have now distributed over 100,000 solar lights, costing around 5 pounds each, saving people over $10m overall, allowing over 600,000 people to see a little better at night.  I like that.  And it’s great that CAT and the AEES got me to see the world with a new green, solar powered lens.

Update on CAT plc

For clarification, the services and activities provided by CAT Charity Ltd, i.e. Graduate School of the Environment, School visit services, Eco Cabins, Research and Visitor Centre along with the support services are unaffected by the recent announcement made by the Directors of CAT Plc.

The overall activities of the Centre for Alternative Technology are split between two legally separate and independently managed companies.

a.      CAT Plc, a company which provides the trading services of the Centre is governed by a Board of Directors; and

b.      CAT Charity Ltd, an educational and sustainable development charity, committed to informing, inspiring and enabling practical solutions for sustainable living is governed by a separate and independent     Board of Trustees.

CAT Plc directors, having taken appropriate financial and legal advice on the future viability of the company have recently provided their shareholders with updated information on the company’s position. It was concluded, being unable to obtain an alternative solution, and to benefit CAT as a whole, that a proposal be submitted to the Trustees of CAT Charity Ltd for their consideration.

CAT Charity Ltd having received a formal proposal from the Directors of CAT Plc has at its Board meeting on the 24th January taken a decision to undertake a financial due diligence process on all activities undertaken by CAT Plc. Following that process, the CAT Charity Ltd Board will consider which of the CAT Plc’s activities would be inappropriate to be absorbed within the Charity, with a decision on the outcome expected to be announced in the near future.


Woody Wednesdays at CAT

If you live locally and fancy getting out in to the great outdoors then come and join our woody wednesdays at CAT’s Coed Gwern Woodland.

Meeting Point – Just outside Pantperthog hall at 9:30am every Wednesday

Join the CAT woodland team for a day of working in the beautiful Coed Gwern Woodland.
A great opportunity to:
· Learn traditional woodland skills and management techniques
· Meet new and interesting people
· Get back to nature – enjoy working with the sound of birdsong in your ears and sun (or rain!) on your face
· Learn about our local wildlife and habits and the simple measure we can do to protect it
· Get invaluable skills and experience to help with future employment
· Tone up after Christmas whilst avoiding the Gym!
· Have Fun!

Tea, Coffee and biscuits will be provided. Please bring packed lunch.
If you are interested in coming along please drop us an email or give us a call.
Email: adam.thorogood@cat.org.uk
Phone: 01654 705 970

Inspiring new video about the CAT Graduate School for the Environment

A short film directed and edited by Dylan Byrne exploring the MSc in Renewable Energy and Built Environment at the Centre for Alternative Technology. With interviews from students and tutors including Hugh Piggot, guest lecturer and  wind energy specialist. Dylan Byrne is a student at CAT Graduate School for the Environment and a film maker. Further information about his work can be found here.

Music for the film has been provided with thanks, from Ember




Podcast: what will the next 40 years of the environmental movement bring?

Two weeks ago students on our MSc Architecture: Advanced Environmental and Energy Studies course came to CAT for the annual politics module. This time, the module featured discussions on everything from green economics to behaviour change, and we’ll be presenting some of these lectures as podcasts in the coming weeks.

At the end of the week, students got a chance to put their questions to an expert panel featuring CAT’s media officer Kim Bryan, CAT’s external relations officer and Zero Carbon Britain director Paul Allen and Green Party Councillor Andrew Cooper. This podcast is an excerpt from the end of the discussion, as the panel debate the main achievements of the environmental movement’s 40-year history, and consider what the next 40 years will bring. The first speaker is Paul, followed by Kim and then Paul. The adjudicator is Adrian Ramsay.

Previous podcasts

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Lewin on the biomass module

This month was the start of our first double practical module. There were two modules running in parallel this month, biomass heating and wind farms. I’d chosen biomass as it’s something I’d never studied before, and doesn’t require spending as much time on wet Welsh hilltops. (Although the worst of the snow seemed to have passed CAT by, torrential rain caused some fairly serious flooding towards the end of the week and kept us on our toes).

The week kicked off on Wednesday morning with a day learning about the various types of biomass heating system from Duncan Kerridge from Dulas engineering. On Thursday, primed with fresh knowledge, we were taken on a whistle-stop tour of some local biomass facilities. Seeing these systems in the flesh and talking to the people who use them gave us a great insight into the practicalities (and impracticalities) of wood as a heat source. The logistics of getting wood from a forest to a boiler without it getting damp, eaten by bacteria, burnt too soon, burnt too late or jammed in fragile bits of machinery are quite daunting! We also got to have a look at IBERS , Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Science where a lot of research is being done on biofuels. This includes chemical analysis of different plants, and selective breeding of species to increase the fuel yields. It’s exciting stuff, and we get to poke around some interesting machinery. We collected fuel samples for analysis and returned to CAT for dinner and table tennis.

On Friday, whilst the wind farm group were struggling up hills in the driving rain to erect a met mast, we pottered around in CAT’s cosy teaching workshops testing wood samples. Water in the fuel means lower combustion efficiency and more pollution, which means that the wood’s moisture content is key to the performance of a biomass system. By testing the wood’s moisture content and then measuring the performance of the heating system we can work out its efficiency.

In our evening seminar we discussed some of the wider issues around biomass heating. Is burning trees really a sustainable energy source? Would we be better off using the wood for building where the carbon is locked away? Lively debates ensued!

Saturday evening arrived, and after a fairly heavy week we were all ready for some R&R. This month’s social outing was a celebration of the 205th anniversary of Australia’s possibly famous Rum Rebellion, which has special significance to our group because A: it involves lots of rum and B: it happens to be on our only free evening this week. A rule of ‘no shop talk’ is strictly agreed on and instantly ignored, and there’s rum aplenty. I’m sure we solved the world’s energy problems several times that night, but come the morning no-one seemed to remember what the answer was. Back to the drawing board, I suppose…