Introducing… Euan, our new student blogger

 

For the next few months Euan will be taking us to the heart of  the Professional Diploma course in Architecture: Advanced Environmental and Energy studies course he is studying at CAT. After each module he’ll write a post letting us know about the highs and lows.

You can read the work of our previous student bloggers here. We’ll also be introducing student bloggers for our other masters courses, Renewable Energy and the Built Environment and Advanced Environmental and Energy Studies.

After completing my Part One qualification at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow,  I was lucky enough towork in a variety of roles relating to sustainability in architecture. My year out began at a small rural architecture practice in Argyll where I developed a interest in community development, land ownership and sustainable building techniques. This placement led to me becoming involved with a charity in North Glasgow concerned with bettering facilities in a neglected part of the city. I moved back to Glasgow to become more closely involved with this ambitious project and assisted in designing and building a small community space intended to increase community engagement in the area. After my role finished, I ended the year working as a volunteer co-ordinator in Uganda, where I assisted running school building projects for the University of Leeds’ ‘Raise and Give’ program.

At each of these placements I was told by different people about the Centre for Alternative Technology and the Professional Diploma course. After attending the open days I made the decision to study for my part two on the professional diploma course as it seemed to have the staff and the expertise to direct my study towards sustainable architecture.

I have been impressed by CAT in my first few months and I have learned a great deal already during the modules. The staff are very supportive in the periods in between modules and will help with the projects when you’re back home as well as on site. The year group is small enough to get to know everyone very well. We all keep in touch during the study weeks in between modules, share ideas and resources and help each other out. Each time I’ve been to CAT we’ve all had a great time and it feels like we haven’t been away. So far it has been great!

Fabulous and functional green Christmas gifts from CAT

 

If you got to choose your three favourite Christmas gifts from the CAT shop, what would they be? Staff members at CAT like Rosie have been pondering this question – this week, we hear from Adam Tyler, one of our Engineers…

Flipping through CAT’s Winter Catalogue, Adam points to the Powerbuzz Magnets as an easy first choice – he got a chance to play with them in the shop, he says, and they make a cool noise when you toss them in the air. A great stocking filler.

Moving on from the quirky to the eminently practical, Adam’s second choice is the snazzy Frontier Camping Stove. “Well my job involves burning stuff, anyway, so I guess I’m a bit of a pyromaniac,” he says with a grin, “plus I’ve got a van so I could keep the stove in there just as well for when I go camping”.

As his third gift Adam contemplates the Makedo Find and Make Elephant Kit, but eventually settles on the Thunderbird Fuel Cell Kit. “As it says in the catalogue, it’s ingeniously designed for children, and I’m obviously a big child at heart – plus it’s got cool colours”. More seriously speaking, the fact that the fuel cell is powered by salt water is an engaging way to showcase alternative energy.

 

For presents useful and entertaining for young and old, CAT’s online and onsite shop is clearly a good first port of call in the build up to Christmas.

CAT Awarded for a ‘Fantastic Creation’

The Wales Insitute for Sustainable Education at the Centre for Alternative Technology in Machynlleth was delighted to be awarded the Dewi- Prys Thomas prize for what the judges called a ‘fantastic creation’. The triennial Dewi-Prys Thomas Prize is Wales’s prestigious award that recognizes the importance of good design to the quality of life, identity and regeneration of Wales, previous winners include the Sennedd. Continue reading “CAT Awarded for a ‘Fantastic Creation’”

All I want for Christmas

 

Presents from CAT at Christmas make a perfect gift for friends and family. From our range of incredible and inspiring courses to quirky gadgets and solar powered robots there really is something for everyone. In the weeks building up to Christmas, staff members members choose their top 3 Christmas gifts available from CAT, this week Rosie Strickland, Marketing and Events Officer…

Continue reading “All I want for Christmas”

A statement in response to the announced Energy Bill

On Thursday 29th of November, The Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is expected to publish the new Energy Bill. It should be a step towards a sustainable future for Britain but the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) believes this energy bill represents an opportunity missed.

1. Decarbonisation Targets

DECC have delayed the all important decision on decarbonisation targets. Without steadfast targets to decarbonise the power sector by 2030 the UK cannot hope to reach the level of reduced emissions agreed for 2050. David Kennedy, the CCC chief executive, said:

It is important to set [a 2030] target because investors need a signal of the direction of travel beyond 2020, without that we will not get investment now that we need. There is a high degree of policy uncertainty at the moment and that needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.”

2. Grid Upgrades and Investment

Whilst 7.6 billion a year will go to fund low carbon energies, DECC also confirmed that UK energy bills will rise. Government funding of low carbon electricity was citied as the primary reason but Britain’s ageing energy grid needs investment regardless. Whether the energy mix is gas, nuclear or renewable many parts of the grid need upgrading and investment. Furthermore, renewables are a front-loaded investment. You pay more initially but your expenses are comparatively low. Tobi Kellner, energy modeller for Zero Carbon Britain, said:

The high proportion of cost in fossil fuel energy systems is from the price of the fuel itself while the overriding cost of clean energy is upfront capital. Expenses for renewable technologies are largely for manufacturing and skilled engineering work. This is all work that can be done in the UK by British firms. Therefore all the money spent stays in the country, except for the raw materials we cannot produce domestically, and creates jobs. The costs for constructing a renewable infrastructure over the next decade may look exorbitant compared to the current model but this is an upfront investment that will benefit the economy for years to come. Reliance on dwindling fossil fuels cannot continue.”

3. A Clear Message is Needed

To avert a global temperature rise of more than 2 degrees, the UK must reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2030. CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain report shows that a carbon neutral UK is possible by 2030.

It is imperative we take action now to avert climate change. But by pushing the date for an agreed target back to 2016, which is after the next national election, decarbonisation becomes an election issue. Instead of delaying, Britain needs strong leadership to show clear direction and tackle this grave threat head-on. As a long industrialised nation the UK must lead by example and should be doing more than the minimum required to meet its targets. We must pioneer a shift toward renewable resources, which we can continue to rely on in centuries to come – unlike rapidly dwindling fossil fuels.

ZCBlog: A round-up of last week’s wind news with added gas!

Oh boy, was last week a blustery time for the future of British energy! Wind is a free resource and the sheer abundance of it across the UK during the past seven days highlights how important renewables can be for future energy strategies.

Over 9% of the UK’s electricity was generated by wind turbines on the 19th , 20th and 22nd of November. However, the total amount would have been higher because this value does not take into account turbines connected to local grids. On the morning of 22nd November, energy generated from wind-farms was more than gas. Indeed, wind power on that morning contributed over 4GW to the national grid, which is equivalent to four nuclear power stations.

This percentage of the UK’s daily electricity demand equates to around 90 GWh. That is as much as you get from burning 30,000 tonnes of coal, which would produce 90,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide because coal is pretty much pure carbon. When burning it, carbon atoms are combined with two oxygen to make a CO2 molecule. One carbon dioxide molecule has the atomic mass of 3.7 carbon molecules. Therefore by burning 1kg of coal you produce more than 3kg of CO2.

Wind is already making a valuable contribution to our energy supply. The growth rate is impressive. There is now over 6 Gigawatts of capacity compared with 2 Gigawatts in 2007. However, to create the type of low carbon energy system described in CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain 2030 report, we will need to see continued rapid deployment of onshore and offshore wind. And further changes to our energy system will be required, such as storage so that wind power can continue to supply ever greater quantities of clean energy.

Sceptics often claim that wind farms are not nearly as carbon efficient because wind needs to be backed up by burning fossil fuels. They argue that when the wind is blowing, gas turbines will have to be switched to a lower efficiency that negates any carbon savings. Combined cycle gas turbines (CCGT) are one of the most efficient gas-fired turbines in use. In a recent study, Loughborough University researched how different operation profiles influence the energy efficiency of a modern 800MW CCGT. The results show that when the turbine output modulates between 400MW and 800MW then the carbon footprint of the gas turbine per unit of electricity produced is only increased slightly compared to optimal constant operation at full 800MW capacity. This illustrates that when the wind blows harder and wind turbines produce more electricity we can reduce the amount of gas we use in turbines without having to pay a significant penalty in terms of turbine efficiency.

The evidence suggests that when we have more wind power we burn less gas and emit less CO2. The truth is that for every megawatt hour of wind generated energy, gas-powered electricity is reduced by the same amount. But how would the variable nature of wind fare during times of high demand if it became a primary resource? Well, current work by the ZCB team suggests that even with offshore wind farms spread all around the UK there will be times when almost no power is produced, and sometimes this will happen at times of high energy demand. On the other hand, it is worth noting that the UK is Europe’s windiest country so a lot of the time energy production from wind will exceed demand.

The ZCB team are busy researching methods of storing this excess energy chemically in the form of hydrogen or methane. Electrolysis can be used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, using renewable electricity. The benefit of this is simple. It produces an energy store that can be re-used when demand requires it. Unfortunately, hydrogen is more difficult to store and handle than the natural gas (mostly methane) our gas grid uses today. The good news is that there are chemical processes to produce ‘synthetic’ methane gas from hydrogen and CO2. Methane produced in this way could be a great substitute for natural gas, which is a fossil fuel, and could be used as fuel for backup gas power stations to keep the lights on when the wind doesn’t blow. The Department of Energy and Climate Change(DECC) certainly seem to think this solution has potential as they have just awarded ITM Power a research grant to investigate this exact process. ZCB are very excited by the possibilities of synthetic methane. You can read more here.

And to end on a bit of extra good news – A major wind turbine manufacturer is now planning to open a factory in Scotland. The country is the windiest in the UK and politicians there have previously spoken out in defence of wind-farms. This deal is expected to create 750 jobs so let us hope this bolsters more interest in British wind power and aids further job creation within the renewable energy sector.

 

Climate change: It’s even worse than we thought

On Monday November 26th the international climate talks open in Doha,  an article published in the New Scientist this week carried the startling headline, Climate Change: It’s even worse than we thought. Climate change is happening faster and quicker than expected. Artic sea ice was not expected to melt to the end of the century but current trends indicate it could happen a lot quicker than that, the loss of sea ice means sea level rises. Weather events are more unpredicatable than imagined, with superstorm Sandy topping the bill after a year of heatwaves, droughts, floods and blizzards. The world is heading for an average 3-5 deg C temperature rise this century barring urgent action.

A faster response to climate change is necessary and possible,Doha must make sure the response is accelerated.” UN climate chief Christiana Figueres

Continue reading “Climate change: It’s even worse than we thought”

A WISE use for Local Charities

The Centre for Alternative Technology is offering local charities the opportunity to use meeting rooms at its educational and conference centre, the Wales Institute for Sustainable Education (WISE), for free. If you work or volunteer for a charity in the SY20 area and are looking for a special place to hold meetings, then the WISE building could be the place for you. Situated in the stunning Dulas valley in mid-Wales, WISE has impressive facilities that can deliver successful conferences, meetings, training sessions or one-off events.

“ The WISE building is a tremendous resource, with its state of the art  facilities and outstanding sustainability credentials, CAT would like to be able to share that with the many organisations in our local area who are doing important work” Kim Bryan, CAT spokesperson.

The WISE building opened in 2012 and has won several national awards for its ecological credentials. Based at CAT’s site near Machynlleth, the building hosts several meeting rooms, workshop space and a 200 seater lecture theatre. En-suite accommodation and catering can also be arranged for delegates.The offer is open to all charities in the SY20 area, six times per year and is available for meeting rooms only. Please contact Sarah at  venue.hire@cat.org.uk or on 01654 704973 for reservations and more information.

Empowering communities to take action – Renew Wales comes to CAT for training

CAT is excited to be hosting the first training course for coordinators of Renew Wales in the WISE conference centre today and tomorrow.

Renew Wales is a Big Lottery funded project aiming to empower community groups throughout Wales to take action addressing the challenge of climate change. The two-year project is led by the Development Trusts Association, and CAT is a key project partner.

The project activities are targeted at groups like rugby clubs, Women’s Institutes, youth organisations and housing associations, and will include developing community renewable energy resources, starting local food clubs, making sustainable use of land and buildings, establishing community owned enterprises and engaging schools and business in climate change action.

Initiated in June 2012 the project has recently employed a network of coordinators from across Wales. Their role will be to identify and support community groups in their area who are interested in taking action relating to climate change, including those who haven’t taken action before.

The coordinators being trained at CAT today and tomorrow will be involved in linking community groups to ‘peer practitioners’ – people like those in the community group who have learned valuable lessons by going through a similar process – and also with ‘technical mentors’, who can offer more specialised help. They will help communities take action, but just as importantly, help increase each group’s level of knowledge and skill. The success of Renew Wales will lie in creating an ever-expanding pool of people who can support others like them in taking action for a more sustainable future.

Paul Allen, CAT’s External Relations Officer, commented: ‘We are delighted to be part of the Renew Wales project because its whole ethos fits so well with our mission of inspiring, informing and enabling people to make change in their communities. The project has the potential for really significant impact in Wales, and to act as an inspiration further afield.’

Renew Wales’ website – www.renewwales.org.uk – will be live in the near future. In the meantime, for more information about Renew Wales, please contact Robert Proctor on 02920 190260, or by email at robertproctor@renewwales.org.uk.

ZCBlog: A response to John Hayes’ comments on wind power

CAT disagrees with John Hayes’ recent comments on the development of wind power in the UK.

As a long industrialised nation, the UK should be doing more than the minimum required to meet its targets. We should be pioneering a shift toward renewable resources, which we can continue to rely on in centuries to come – unlike rapidly dwindling fossil fuels. Wind – which the UK has an enviable abundance of – remains an integral part of that shift.

The Centre for Alternative Technology’s Zero Carbon Britain report shows how we can harvest a substantial share of our energy from wind power. The proposed use of on-shore wind power is much smaller to that of off-shore wind but we do believe that the benefits of on-shore wind farms has yet to yield their maximum potential. Wind power is an established energy source with a proven track record, the UK has significant wind power resources and therefore it should be cornerstone of our energy policy.

We believe that the next stage in the development of on-shore wind should be to increase local benefits by developing structures for increased local investment, to enable developments to share a much higher proportion of the returns with local communities.