Waves, weirs and waterwheels – unleashing the power of water

How can we use and manage water in a more sustainable way? CAT volunteer and MSc student Ed Macdonald has been exploring the issues and delving into the detail of hydro power.

Born in the year of the water dragon, perhaps my interest in watercourses is to be expected. As a kid in a nearby natural sandpit I was enchanted by flow of the stream, able to bypass attempts to dam it with clay. Fast forward 20 years, I found a refreshing challenge in designing water treatment facilities for schools in the Kenyan highlands with an NGO, which led me to CAT’s Graduate School of the Environment for further training.  Continue reading “Waves, weirs and waterwheels – unleashing the power of water”

Celebrate with CAT’s architects of the future

CAT’s Architecture Professional Diploma students celebrate the end of their studies with a private view of their work and a party at CAT on 20th January.

This unique event invites industry VIPs, students, local people and friends of CAT to view the final projects of these up-and-coming architects after 18 months of intensive study. Transforming study rooms into exhibition spaces their inspirational designs and models will be available to view with the students themselves on-hand to talk guests through their visions. This will be a unique insight into the ideas of the architects of our future. Continue reading “Celebrate with CAT’s architects of the future”

Richard is using his new knowledge to campaign for practical solutions

Richard Dyer studied part time on the MSc Renewable Energy and the Built Environment course at CAT, whilst also working at Friends of the Earth. He graduated in November 2015, so I took the opportunity to speak to him about the course and his plans for the future.

Richard Dyer
Richard Dyer honding his degree certificate

Why did you decide to study at CAT?

I had been interested in green stuff for years – decades in fact! I currently work as an environmental campaigner, I work for a fantastic organisation but I did the course because I want to do something more practical. The course was recommended to me by someone in the industry – an environmental consultant.

How did you find the course?

Fantastic, really inspirational! It was a real personal journey. I love the place, the location and this building, but there was also something about the fact that you come away here for five nights at a time that means you completely live it. It is very intense: no TV and not much phone signal; you rarely leave site. Every conversation you have is connected to what we are studying. I went for a walk or a run in the hills around the site every morning before breakfast.

I am currently a campaigner for Friends of the Earth, which is what I was doing when I started the course too. I found I spent a lot of time talking about the problems but I wanted to make it much more about creating solutions. I took the course to give me the practical knowledge to be able to do that. My  science was a little rusty so I found some of that challenging – the electronics, statistics and computing. Overall it was very positive though, with great teaching and good camaraderie between the students which got me thorough those more challenging bits.

During one of the modules, The Reunion (BBC Radio 4 programme) about CAT was on the radio. Our lecturer Rob set up a radio so we could listen to the first half hour of it before our lecture started. Something that came up in that programme which I love about CAT is that it has never been afraid to try things that may not work, and to be honest about it. In a world where there is a triumph of PR and style over substance this is very refreshing.

I went home after the first week of the course totally knocked out by this place – energised by the possibilities. It has undoubtedly changed my outlook.

What do you feel your biggest achievement was on the course?

Finishing the MSc and doing well. I got my best mark ever in the dissertation; I’ve only just got the result a few weeks ago so I’m very pleased about it. I took on an ambitious, almost foolhardy!, subject for the dissertation looking at the viability of ground source heat pumps in dense terraced streets, and whether combining it with solar thermal makes it more viable. I’m looking at the possibility of publishing the results in a peer reviewed journal.

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The class of 2015

What are your plans for the future?

I don’t work in the energy side of Friends of the Earth at the moment, but I would like to move into that area. I’m looking at getting involved in a community land trust which might be interested in testing the ideas in my dissertation in real life, so that is very exciting. I’m also looking at career opportunities abroad, particularly in developing countries. My skills could also be useful for a large company looking to improve the sustainability of its building stock. The course has given me a good general skill base in renewable energy where I have the knowledge to be able to assess the viability of various schemes, and have some knowledge of all the issues. I want to find a way to put these new skills to use.

Interview: Jake’s making renewable energy work for housing associations

Jake Lock Profile

Jake Lock started studying MSc Renewable Energy and the Built Environment in 2012. He has now completed studying all the taught modules on the course and is about to embark on his dissertation. We caught up with him about how studying the course has been useful for him and the housing association he works for.

Jake is studying renewable energy
Jake Lock – Renewable Energy Student

How has studying the course been useful for your career?

I work in a housing association development team. I have been working there since before I started the course. A big part of the motivation for studying Renewable Energy and the Built Environment was that we were starting a lot of projects involving solar thermal, heat pumps, combined heat and power and biomass. Neither our team nor the contractors we were using really understood it. We were installing systems for people in fuel poverty but they didn’t understand the system and neither did we.

I’m still working in the same company now, and I have become the ‘green guru’ within the team. I feel a lot more knowledgeable, so it has been very useful.

What made you choose this course?

I liked this course because it is so hands on. There is a good bit of theory too but you also get to play with the stuff. I did an engineering foundation course prior to starting the MSc because I wanted to make sure I would be able to keep up with the engineering parts of the course.

How was the experience of the course for you?

I have really enjoyed the course. It is very hard work working full time alongside studying, but I love coming here and spending time with like minded people from a real wide variety of different backgrounds. It feels like a hideaway where we can all come and geek it up for a week.

Interview: Petra’s employed in solar and researching renewable energy for conservation

Petra is studying on the MSc Renewable Energy and the Built Environment course at CAT. After taking a break between finishing here taught modules and starting her dissertation she has been up at CAT today speaking to her tutor about a dissertation idea. It was a great opportunity for us to catch up with her about her experience of the course so far and what she has been able to do with it.

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Petra Varga – Renewable Energy Student

What is the dissertation about?

I’m looking a coral reef restoration project. For restoring coral they use submerged metal cages with an electrical current going through them at a low voltage. Over time these cages grow limestone on them, which helps establish the coral. At the moment this electric current is usually powered by diesel generators. I am looking at the potential of using marine current generators instead.

How did you get into studying renewable energy at CAT?

I trained as an Electrical Engineer in Hungary, and then worked as an automation specialist for eight years. I worked particularly on software testing in automated warehouses.

I guess I was looking for something that felt more important. I find that just working for money isn’t very motivating.

So I found the course at CAT and decided to come over and study here.

How has studying at CAT impacted on your career?

Initially I continued working in automation alongside studying, but I was looking for a new job. I used to find it was whenever I was meant to be writing an essay I would get distracted with looking for jobs instead! I wanted to find something in the renewable energy sector.

In January 2014, whilst still studying at CAT, I got a contract with a PV installation company as a project engineer. I had tried looking for a renewable energy job before starting the course and nobody was interested, so I certainly think being on the course made a difference. In the interview we had to complete some calculations, which seemed very simple after studying on the course. I didn’t find it to difficult to get into the work once I had started either.

How was your experience of studying at CAT?

I really enjoyed it. When I was doing my undergraduate degree I didn’t know what I really wanted to do. I was much more motivated with my MSc because I had a sense of purpose.

I met lots of people on the course, which was fun. I like the whole setup at CAT. When I first came for an open day it took hours to get here and I thought ‘is the drive going to be worth it?’ It definitely was. The setting here is so beautiful it is almost like being on a holiday. I always enjoy coming away here.

Interview: Colin’s taken his skills into research and development

Colin Jones studied on the Renewable Energy and the Built Environment programme at CAT from 2010 to 2014. This week he has been back helping to run a practical with current students on PV flash testing. We took the opportunity to catch up with him about his experience of the course and what he has gone on to do since graduation.

Colin Jones, Ex-Student

What first convinced you to study the Renewable Energy and the Built Environment course?

I first came to CAT is 2007 when I did a Solar Photovoltaic (PV) installers course. I met Stuart (the programme leader) who told me about this new course they were launching. I joined the following year.

I didn’t have a degree previously, but they accepted me onto the course on the basis of my previous experience. I had my own electrical engineering company and we had been working on a lot of residential solar installations since the feed in tariff was introduced.

I was particularly attracted to the practical bias of the course at CAT. I also liked the idea of the modular structure, where each module included intensive residential weeks.

How has doing the course impacted on your career?

Half way through the course I got a job with Carillion Energy working as a project manager on commercial, medium scale, PV projects. These were larger and more complex projects than I had previously been working on, and it gave me a chance to put into practice all I had learned on the PV module of the course. I’m sure I was offered the job because of being on the Renewable Energy course. I also still had my own company, so that was doing the residential installations whilst I was working on the commercial projects with Carillion Energy.

12 months ago, after completing the course, I got a new job working for Tharsus. Tharsus is an engineering company that is researching and developing new technology. My job is not just to do with renewable energy now; I look at automation and processes more generally. Having said that, we do have some work to do with renewable energy products, particularly in energy storage.

Although I am not always working directly on renewable energy systems now, the skills I learned from the MSc course are definitely still useful. In particular, the skills around data collection and processing that I learned on the course. I use these skills all the time.

Find out more about studying MSc Renewable Energy and the Built Environment

Interview: Elgan’s developing new renewable energy projects across the UK

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Elgan Roberts has been studying on the Renewable Energy and the Built Environment course part time since 2012. He is half way through writing his thesis, which seems like a good time to look back on the course and the impact it is having on his career.

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Elgan Roberts – Renewable Energy Student

What impact has studying MSc Renewable Energy and the Built Environment had on your career?

My background was in mechanical engineering. I graduated in 2002 and then worked in the agricultural industry for seven years until 2009. At that point I wanted to move back to Wales, where I am from, and I was also interested in getting into renewable energy.

I managed to get a job with a small wind installation company in Bangor doing feasibility studies and project management. I decided to do an MSc alongside working to allow me to advance in my career.

About six months after starting the course I got a new job with a bigger national company called Carter Jonas. In this company I was able to work on larger scale projects, and more of a range of projects involving hydro, solar, wind and biomass. I wouldn’t have got this job without being on the course. Working in a bigger company has allowed me to expand my career. I’m directly using the skills I gained on the course in my work

Why did you decide to do the MSc Renewable Energy and the Built Environment course at CAT?

I looked at it originally because it was at a convenient location near to Bangor. What I particularly liked about it was the good mix of face to face and distance learning. Studying through 5-night blocks meant I could do the course without missing much work, and it didn’t really impact on my employers. I came to an open day and I was really impressed with the teachers and facilities.

How was the experience of the course for you?

One of the things I have most appreciated whilst being on the course is that the small numbers of students means you get plenty of time with the lecturers to look at things in detail

I have definitely enjoyed the course, although it is hard work if you are studying alongside working full time. There are a good bunch of people on the course, and you spend all your time with them during the on site attendances. A week at a time is a good amount of time to spend with people. I’ve made some great friends who I will certainly stay in touch with.

MSc Renewable Energy and the Built Environment – More Information

Digging beneath the surface of buildings energy assessment

Toby Whiting is a student on the MSc Renewable Energy and the Built Environment course at CAT. He is studying the course alongside working as a buildings energy consultant. Here he reports on the module from October, which focuses on energy use in buildings. 

Another great week at CAT has flown by. As a domestic SAP and Code for Sustainable Homes assessor, this week has covered a lot of the areas that I’m familiar with. So was it a waste of time? No certainly not! Believe it or not, as a SAP assessor, I have never taken the calculation apart and played with it in a spreadsheet – it was always one of the things that I wanted to try but never made the time for. I’m pleased to say that this course has ‘ticked’ another box and allowed me to look at where the ‘numbers’ are drawn from and made me look at the SAP process from a new perspective.

High and low points of the week: Delivering my powerpoint in a session where students give presentations based on their essay topic; and the trip to an office designed to Passivhaus standard -I’ll let you guess which was the ‘high’ and which was the ‘low’ for me (but it wasn’t the one where I had to stand up and talk).

People can confuse and transpose terms like ‘Passivhaus’ and ‘Zero Carbon’ so it really has been good to get out and visit a building designed to consume less energy, rather than offset the carbon produced. For me nothing beats the experience of walking around a building like this.

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Canolfan Hyddgen: an office designed to Passivhaus energy standards

Working as a consultant can be difficult because I spend a lot of time researching and advising others on the most efficient or cost effective solution and the flow of information is often one way. This course reinvigorates me and allows me to mix with like-minded individuals (both students and lecturers) and exchange ideas.

I have been able to challenge my opinions over a wide range of building performance related areas and learned some fascinating things from other student presentations. I’m a part-time student and won’t be back now until January – and I’m pleased to say I’m looking forward to it!

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Using a thermal imaging camera on the module

 

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.

 

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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

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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 !

 

 

What is it like starting a new masters degree in renewable energy?

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Toby Whiting, domestic energy assessor and new student on the MSc Renewable Energy and the Built Environment course at CAT reports on his introductory week. 

Looking back on the introductory half of the first module there has been a lot to take in! Meeting lecturers and other students on the course was re-assuring and surprising; the lecturers all have good levels of knowledge and practical experience (I have paid for some courses in the past where the trainers taught from a book and didn’t know the subject), whilst the students have come from a broad range of occupations and disciplines such as finance, engineering and teaching.

So far the course has laid the ground work with lectures explaining the current energy and policy status of the UK and covered global environmental issues and equipped us with the tools to learn; access to on-line research resources and essay writing lectures to name but a few (this is essential for me as I left college 25 years ago). A lot is packed into a day, with teaching finishing at around 8pm, then time flies as we sit in the evenings and discuss the thought inspiring lectures (often intermingled with anecdotes and drinks from the bar). I’ve been impressed with the lecturer/student ratio, there is always someone to ask if I missed something in a practical session. Saturday night sees an earlier finish at 6pm (this time following a seminar with our tutor which helps to demonstrate the type of work that is expected from us) after which some of us ventured into Machynlleth to find that the pubs are good and the locals are friendly. Sunday is a short day with two lectures and a packed lunch to see us on our way. I depart for a 6 hour train journey back to Southampton and feel pleased that my fears were unfounded; I have made the right choice, now I just need to write that essay and prepare my presentation for the second part of the module… That attendance covers the physics of energy use in buildings (closely related to my work), energy efficiency and an introduction to heat pumps.

 

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The sun rises over CAT; one of the great views when the weather allows

Toby works as a consultant on domestic new-build housing, carrying out SAP (CO2) and Code for Sustainable Homes assessments along the South coast. He came to CAT because he wanted to challenge the answers that assessment tools give and he feels that a ‘hands on’ approach to investigating current technologies would be more useful.