Podcast: social perceptions of wind power

On this week’s podcast we learn about the social side of wind power, and particularly the strength of local opposition and NIMBYism (‘not in my backyard’), from a graduate of CAT’s MSc Architecture: Advanced Environmental and Energy Studies course. Ruth Chapman now works in wind power development for renewable energy company Dulas, but for her MSc thesis she investigated social responses in Wales to wind turbines based on attachment to place, a sense of fairness, and other values. She also uses excerpts from interviews to illustrate how her research reveals the complex challenges and tensions that will determine whether we meet governmental renewable energy targets, and whether we go on to achieve a zero carbon future.

 

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Discovering Joanna Macy: the Work that Reconnects

 

On the 6th of April, facilitators Jenny Smith and Jenni Horsfall from the Shift Bristol Practical Sustainability training are running a one day workshop in Joanna Macy‘s work, the Work that Reconnects, at the Centre for Alternative Technology. Below, Jenny explains Joanna Macy’s ideas, and discusses how it has helped activists the world over.

I discovered Joanna Macy through her book ‘World as Self, World as Lover.’ The title alone impacted me viscerally and the subsequent experiences of reading it and later training with her profoundly influenced my understanding of how life affects many of us in this industrial growth society.

Joanna Macy is an American elder in her eighties who has been involved in anti-nuclear protesting for five decades, among other things. In the seventies she recognised that many environmental activists were burning out through not having the means and support to process the strong emotions of rage, overwhelm and despair that they were regularly feeling.

In response to this she devised an experiential process called The Work that Reconnects which has supported thousands of environmental and social activists through a four stage spiral to come together to both share their experiences and support each other in the journey towards a more life sustaining existence.

The spiral starts with gratitude for what we love about life, a revolutionary act in itself given the culture of not having or being enough that most of us have grown up in. It then moves to a space of honouring pain for the world which again is a rare and counter cultural experience in our world of stiff upper lip and business as usual. In the turning point from honouring pain to the third stage of ‘seeing with new eyes’ the depths of despair or fires of fury are clearly re-framed as evidence of innate connection with all of life. Drawing from the science of Systems Theory, Mahayana Buddhism and Deep Ecology Joanna illustrates that our experience of pain for the world springs from our inter-connectedness with all beings, from which also arises our powers to act on their behalf.The final stage is integration and forward visioning of how to take this work back out into life once the workshop is over.

My personal experience of activism has been in the field of working with marginalised groups of people in areas of addiction, street sex work and self harm and other areas of mental health. I understand the risks of burnout when the odds are stacked against what you are working for and when the majority of the world do not seem aware or particularly interested in what seems blatantly clear to you. The Work that Reconnects is essential inner work for activists, because without attending to our inner experiences both emotionally and spiritually it is very hard to be of any significant affect in the long term. The one day course on 6th April is both an introduction for anyone new to the work or a refresher for anyone already familiar.


Find out more about the workshop here, or contact Jenny directly at surrendertopeace@hotmail.com

 

Cwrdd yn y Canol/Meet in the Middle

 

[Scroll down for English]

Lleoliad cynadledda cynaliadwy yng nghalon Canolbarth Cymru

Mae WISE yn ganolfan sydd wedi ennill gwobrau lawer, ac mae yma gyfleusterau modern, trawiadol, a chynaliadwy ar gyfer cynnal cynadleddau, cyfarfodydd, sesiynau hyfforddi a digwyddiadau unigol. Mae’r lleoliad yn nyffryn hardd Dulas yng nghanolbarth Cymru ac yn hawdd cyrraedd ato ar hyd y ffordd fawr ynghyd â gwasanaethau trên rheolaidd i Fachynlleth gerllaw.

Mae WISE yn cynnig profiad cynadledda unigryw, lleoliad gyda theatr ddarlithio o 200 sedd wedi’i wneud o ddaear gywasgedig. Mae nifer o stafelloedd llai ar gyfer grwpiau o wahanol faint a digwyddiadau llai. Mae WISE hefyd yn cynnig llety en suite ar gyfer hyd at 48 o bobl a gwasanaeth arlwyo hyd at 200 o bobl.

Mae WISE wedi’i leoli ar safle canolfan eco fwya blaenllaw Ewrop, sef y Ganolfan Dechnoleg Amgen sy’n defnyddio pŵer trydan adnewyddol. Mae WISE yn rhoi naws gwahanol i ddigwyddiadau.Rydyn ni ar hyn o bryd yn cynnig gostyngiad o 20% ar bob archeb tan ddiwedd Ebrill. Os gwelwch yn dda, a wnewch chi gyfeirio at yr hysbyseb hwn wrth ymateb?The WISE building

Cysylltwch â Sarah ar 01654  704973 neu e-bostiwch venue.hire@cat.org.uk
www.cat.org.uk/venuehire

Meet in the Middle
Sustainable conference venue in the heart of Mid- Wales

WISE is an award winning venue, with impressive, modern and sustainable facilities for successful conferences, meetings, training sessions and one-off events. Nestled in the stunning Dulas valley in mid-Wales and easily accessible by road, with regular rail services to nearby Machynlleth, WISE offers a unique conference experience. The venue features a 200 seat rammed earth lecture theatre and a number of smaller rooms that can cater for different size groups and smaller events. WISE also offers en suite accommodation  for up to 48 delegates  and catering facilities for up to  200  delegates.

Situtated at the site of Europe’s leading eco centre, the Centre for Alternative Technology and powered by renewable electricity,  WISE inspires events with a difference.

We are now offering a 20% discount on all bookings until the end of April. Please mention this email when responding.

Please contact Sarah on 01654  704973 or email venue.hire@cat.org.uk
www.cat.org.uk/venuehire

Sail away in a traditional Welsh coracle

A new 2 day course at CAT from the 6th-7th of April will enable participants to build their very own coracle, the course covers everything from weaving the willow structure to applying the outer waterproof layer and exploring the role of the coracle in Welsh society.  Ideal for anyone who wants to learn how to make a coracle and does not require previous knowledge of working with willow.
Since pre Roman times, the Coracle has been used by humans for fishing and transporting humans and goods. Coracles can be found throughout the world, from the India, Vietnam and Tibet, to Norway, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, where they can be seen in use in three west Wales river, The Teifi, The Towy and The Taf.

An important aspect to the Welsh Coracle is that it can be carried on by just one person, hence the Welsh saying . ‘Llwyth dyn ei gorwgl’ — the load of a man is his coracle.

In Wales there are several different types of coracle, tailored to the river condition and its intended use. Oval in shape, the structure is made of a framework of split and interwoven willow rods, tied with willow bark. The outer layer was originally an animal skin such as horse hide, with a thin layer of tar to make it fully water proof – today replaced by tarred calico or canvas or simply fibreglass.

Each coracle is unique in design, The Teifi coracle, for instance, is flat bottomed, as it is designed to negotiate shallow rapids, common on the river in the summer, while the Carmarthen coracle is rounder and deeper, because it is used in tidal waters on the Tywi, where there are no rapids. Teifi coracles use no nails, relying on the interweaving of the lats for structural coherence, whilst the Carmarthen ones use copper nails and no interweaving.

Coracles are effective fishing vehicles as they hardly disturb the water or the fish and can easily be manoeuvred with one arm whilst the other tends the fishing net. The coracle is propelled by means of a broad-bladed paddle used towards the front of the coracle,pulling the boat forward, with the paddler facing in the direction of travel.



For press enquiries and photos please contact kim.bryan@cat.org.uk/ 01654 705 957

For further information on the coracle making course at CAT please contact courses@cat.org.uk 01654 704 952 or look at our webpage

Podcast: what policies do we need to encourage eco-renovation?

Energy use has been in the news recently, from Ofgem’s warning that Britain will come “dangerously” close to power shortages within two years, to the public outrage in response to Centrica reported that British Gas profits increased 11% after a hike in prices a few months ago.

Following on from our most recent sustainable architecture post, this week’s podcast describes current refurbishment policies in the UK, in particular the Green Deal. Tina Fawcett, Senior Researcher at the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford, explains why we need policy if we’re going to refurbish Britain’s buildings – and what new policies might be effective and feasible.

 

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Sustainable Architecture Blog: Building a solution to rising energy bills

Last week the chief executive of Ofgem warned that Britain will come “dangerously” close to power shortages within two years. Swift action is needed to protect our communities against fuel poverty and improve energy security. Sustainable buildings hold the key.

Alistair Buchanan, chief executive of Ofgem, believes that reforms to the UK’s electricity supply will not be quick enough to replace power plants that are on the way out. But what if Britain simply reduced the energy demand of our homes?

Sustainable architects and builders are best placed to do this. Cost-effective energy efficiency measures could reduce the energy demand of Britain’s buildings, therefore lowering the UK’s baseload electricity. Sustainable retrofitting and new builds are one of the quickest ways to achieve this.

Natural building materials that are affordable and sustainable such as local timber should be used in all new builds, whilst other materials can be used to eco-renovate homes.

Researchers and architecture students studying at the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) have shown that hemp is a sustainable alternative to synthetic insulation. Hemp shiv render is proven to not suffer from moisture ingress so would be perfect as a natural insulator. There is no reason why this insulation could not be used on a wide scale.

Zero Carbon Britain (ZCB) is a rapid decarbonisation scenario from CAT that demonstrates how the UK can power down energy demand by retrofitting the housing stock.

We are in a transitional period. Sustainable new builds will become increasingly cheaper as energy efficient social housing becomes the standard. All we need now is widespread retrofit policies that make eco-renovation affordable, without adding debts to properties, and a universal approach to sustainability that prioritises the use of natural materials.

This all adds up to an obvious solution for rising energy bills. Why build more power plants if we can easily cut demand?

CAT has 40 years of experience in sustainable building and is recognised as a leader in research and training for low-impact construction. The MSc Architecture: Advanced Environmental and Energy Studies offers postgraduate study with an holistic approach to sustainability and energy use in design, architecture and building.

 

ZCBlog: Can climate change be funny?

At Zero Carbon Britain the researchers are wrapping up their research, crunching all their data to see how the ZCB scenario will change, and gearing up to write it all down (to seriously mix our metaphors). Which brings us to a big question: how do we talk about climate change? It’s a hugely complicated problem that can be hard to understand – and if you do understand it, it can be even scarier than it is complex. From the right angle, of course, this scariness can be funny.

Some people are really knowledgeable about climate change and work really hard to stop it or reduce their daily carbon footprint. Others ignore it, don’t believe in it, or wish they could do something about it – if only they had the time, or it wasn’t so difficult. And there are those who have become disillusioned because not enough is being done by government, or other people. How can one person’s actions make a difference when the problem is planet-sized? As Comedian Sean Lock said of climate change and recycling, “I feel like I’ve turned up at an earthquake with a dustpan and brush!”

So how do we convince people to take climate change seriously, and to think creatively about solutions, without being completely depressing?

This advert from the Norwegian organisation Miljøagentene, helping kids become ‘Eco Agents’ to strive for a positive future, shows one way to find the humorous side to having a sense of responsibility.

In contrast, this video, the five scariest things about climate change, shows that you can talk about these enormous problems in an upbeat way – and perhaps learn something new into the bargain!

Have you come across any funny or inspiring videos or pictures about climate change? Share them with us here!

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.

An Introduction to Biomass

After a brief sidestep into the realm of policy with last week’s Green Deal post, we turn our focus back to renewable technology. This week we are looking at biomass.


Overview

Biomass is biological matter composed of living, or recently living organisms, which can be burned or broken down by anaerobic digestion to produce energy. Examples of biomass include wood, straw, animal waste, agricultural by-products and energy crops like oilseed rape. Domestic biomass boilers usually burn logs or wood pellets, so this post will be focusing mainly on wood biomass.

Historically, heating homes with wood was the norm. Today, the practice is popular in mainland Europe and the USA. Many houses in the UK have a fireplace, although heating an entire house using biomass is less common. With the introduction of the Renewable Heat Incentive (see the policy section below) the popularity of biomass as a potentially cheap and sustainable way of heating the home is expected to increase.

So how sustainable is biomass? Burning wood or straw releases carbon stored in the plant matter over the course of its lifetime. When fossil fuels are burned, they release carbon absorbed over millions of years. The carbon released by burning biomass is converted into new plant material by photosynthesis, negating the release of the stored carbon. However, it is important to note that wood biomass is only sustainable if the forests it comes from are properly managed. There is a limit on the land area available to grow these fuels, meaning that in the future biomass will be one of several renewable energy sources used to heat our homes.

 

The Upside

• Biomass is much more environmentally friendly than using coal, oil or gas. Heating the average home using a wood pellet boiler rather than oil would release 10 times less carbon dioxide (CO2) every year.

• Burning logs or wood pellets is generally cheaper than using oil or electricity. If you can harvest your own wood then it will be even more cost efficient. The Energy Saving Trust estimates that replacing an electric heating system with a biomass one can save roughly £630 per year, with a CO2 saving of 7.5 tonnes per year.

• Biomass energy sources are renewable, but we must make sure that they are sustainably managed.

• There are several different types of biomass, so you can choose which one best suits your situation.

• It is possible to use biomass from local sources. This minimises carbon emissions from transportation, and also supports the local economy. Search for local wood fuel suppliers using Log Pile.

• It is easy to store wood pellets in your home, even if you live in a small house. To see an example of a wood pellet stove being used to heat a home, watch this video.

CAT's wood pellet boiler with automated feeder. To the right are our two log boilers.

The Downside

• Installing a biomass system can mean high initial costs. A simple log stove can cost around £500, with an automated wood pellet boiler costing up to £15,000.

• Biomass is a low-carbon technology, but it is not carbon neutral. The harvesting, processing and transportation of materials all contributes to CO2 emissions. Wood pellets require more processing than logs, but they have a lower moisture content so they burn more efficiently.

• It is cheaper to order fuel in bulk, but storing large amounts of  logs can be difficult in smaller homes.

Policy

The 2008 Climate Change Act is a legally binding agreement that the UK will reduce its net carbon emissions by 80% by 2050, compared to emissions in 1990. Government policies like the Green Deal and the Energy Company Obligation are all aimed at reducing the UK’s carbon output and encouraging people to embrace less carbon-positive fuel sources.

The Government’s latest scheme is the Renewable Heat Incentive. This will operate on a system similar to the Feed-in Tariffs for wind and solar energy, with householders who take up the scheme being paid for heating their homes using renewable energy. The domestic RHI has yet to be launched in the UK, although the non-domestic scheme has been in place since November 2011. The domestic RHI is expected to be launched this summer. More information can be found on the Government website.

Preceding the launch of the RHI is the RHIPP scheme (Renewable Heat Incentive Premium Payments), giving householders money towards upgrading their heating systems.

A look inside one of CAT's log burners

And did you know…

Over the past year CAT has been building a biomass teaching facility, which has just opened. Approved by HETAS – the regulatory body for biomass installers – CAT now offers Biomass for Installers (HETAS H005). Intended for experienced plumbers and engineers who want to expand into the renewable heating market, Biomass for Installers will enable those in the plumbing and heating sector to move in to the renewable energy field.

In Ofgem’s last quarterly report of 2012 it was noted that 90% of installations done as part of the non-domestic RHI were for biomass boilers. With the imminent roll-out of the domestic RHI, the number of skilled biomass installers required can only increase.

 

More information on biomass can be found on CAT’s info page.

Podcast: environmental values and visions for the future

How should we value the environment, and how does that effect how we behave? This week’s podcast excerpts from a talk by Media Officer Kim Bryan to students on CAT’s MSC Architecture: Advanced Environmental and Energy Studies course. Kim includes personal anecdotes and global examples to shed light on philosophies from free market environmentalism to deep ecology and eco-socialism.

 

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