Zero Carbon Britain: Rethinking the Future launches tomorrow!

Only a few more hours go until the launch of our new report Zero Carbon Britain: Rethinking the Future…

We need to open debate around a decarbonised society – what would this mean? What would we be eating? Where would we be living? How would we be getting around? We’d love to hear some of your thoughts and suggestions on the idea of a zero carbon Britain. You can reply in the comments, or message us on Twitter or leave a comment on Facebook.

From tomorrow morning the new website will go live and Zero Carbon Britain – Rethinking the Future will be available to download.

 

ZCB: four days from the launch…

There is a growing sense of anticipation and excitement amongst everyone here at CAT as the launch of our new report Zero Carbon Britain – Rethinking the Future is now only a few days away. The most recent climate science calls for reducing greenhouse emissions at a much faster rate than anything currently on offer from the mainstream – a challenge for our society and our democracy, every bit as much as it is for our technology.

The new report builds upon the groundwork laid by the Zero Carbon Britain project over the last years, incorporating the very latest developments in science and technology, answering key questions in two areas: Can we ‘keep the lights on’ in an energy system with such variable supply and demand? Can we feed ourselves well on a low carbon diet?

We’ll be launching the report at the All Party Parliamentary Climate Change Group in Westminster next Tuesday. Keep up to date with our progress on the blog, on Facebook and on Twitter.

 

Bridging the Gap Between Today and the Zero Carbon Britain of the Future

Next week, on the 16th July, the Centre for Alternative Technology will be launching its third Zero Carbon Britain (ZCB) report. Since the last ZCB report was published in 2010, the economic situation has worsened, international negotiations on climate change have stalled, and yet the evidence from the climate science is more pressing than ever.

The new report – Zero Carbon Britain: Rethinking the Future, gives us the detailed research needed to fully answer some of the key questions that arose in response to the previous 2010 report. What ZCB proposes is a major transformation of the UK’s energy and land systems; after a year’s dedicated research it has been shown that by integrating a smart approach to food production, diet, buildings, transport, energy and land-use, the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced to net zero; using only currently available technology and without significant impacts on quality of life.

One of the issues ZCB addresses is the ‘physics-politics gap’. The report notes that “physical problems have physical solutions […] However, if we analyse these physical requirements and work out a physically credible plan based on our scientific knowledge of the situation, we find it does not fit comfortably into the frame of normal politics and economics. On the other hand, if we work out a plan that does fit the politics, we find it does not meet the physical requirements. In fact, a huge gulf between what is physically demanded by science and what is seen as politically possible is revealed.

Zero Carbon Britain […] sets out a physically realistic scenario – laying foundations on the ‘right’ side of the physics-politics gap.”

The Physics-Politics Gap

The report will be launched on the 16th July. It will be available to buy through the CAT shop and it will also be free to download from the ZCB site. For more updates follow us on Twitter or find us on Facebook.

ZCBlog: Winds of Change

 

Electricity production from wind power in the UK has increased dramatically over the last few years, as this graph shows.

Plotted using National Grid data, it shows the proportion of UK electricity that is produced by wind turbines, from early 2009 to March 2013. The daily values appear chaotic as wind power output fluctuates between windy and calm days. But the 90 day rolling average shows a clear upwards trend, and this is at least partially due to the completion of a few very large offshore wind farms: September 2012 saw the completion of the Greater Gabbard wind farm off the coast of Suffolk with a 504 MW maximum output. It was the world’s largest wind farm – but only until early April 2013, when the last one of 175  turbines at the London Array (Phase I) offshore wind farm in the Thames Estuary was connected, bringing that wind farm to the top of the global league table with 630 MW.

Research carried out by CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain research team (to be published later this year) shows that offshore wind power has the potential to be the ‘work horse’ of a renewably powered future energy scenario, producing nearly half of our energy. So these recent developments are certainly steps in the right direction!

ZCBlog: Educating for a zero carbon future

This week on ZCBlog Sarah Everitt, a long-term volunteer at CAT, describes her work linking between different parts of the CAT team: Education, and Zero Carbon Britain.

Within the first week or so of settling in to the Zero Carbon Britain team I was finding out all about the progress of the research, the schedule for the report and the communications strategy and aims. Having a parent who works in education support I expressed an interest in how we would enthuse young people about ZCB and spread the message through schools.  It then became apparent that a gap existed between the researchers who produce the ZCB report and the Education department who inform young visitors and schools about the work that CAT does.  Therefore, it was suggested that it would be useful to have someone who could provide a link between the two departments, and I was glad to be appointed the responsibility.

The benefits of creating such a link were obvious, in that Education could tell me what they want or need from ZCB to best convey what ZCB is all about – whether it be to better understand what the scenario portrays and advocates, the science behind it, possible resources and ways to communicate the scenario, or specific information needed to put together accurate and informative ZCB activities.

From the beginning of this project, it’s been clear to me that CAT’s Education team has a lot of enthusiasm and curiosity about ZCB and its importance to society.  Deirdre, Ann and Christine have all been working at CAT for over ten years and are lovely people to work with.  They already give presentations and a workshop on ZCB, and have a great deal of insight into the key details they would like to put across, their target audience and how their audience may question things.

In the workshop, several types of activities are based around a giant map of Britain.  The students can interact with the map and use it to present what they would do towards a ZCB and where.  Looking at these existing materials, we compiled a long list of requests for scientific notes, updated information, clearer graphs and diagrams and updated resources.  There were also a few questions about the ZCB scenario that they had received from audiences, which I could then enquire about with the appropriate ZCB researcher.

They were very happy to have someone to whom they can direct their questions, and who has more time to help tweak technical and visual details of presentations and resources.

So far I have enjoyed adding notes to their presentations and adding new slides, and as the report is finalised I will continue to update their ZCB presentations.  I have found it really interesting to see all the work and enthusiasm that goes into producing the Educational material.  Also, in the process I have learnt a lot more about climate science and policy, and the ins and outs of the ZCB scenario.

For example, I have learnt about how the build up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can be explained as the carbon ‘bathtub’ effect.  It is like a tub filling with water, where more water flows from the faucet than the drain can take away. And, as the global temperature increases, the size of the drain decreases as current stores of carbon either cannot take in enough to match the rate of emissions or the stores themselves begin to degrade and release carbon.  This perpetuates the cycle and increases the rate of temperature change. The ‘bathtub’ effect essentially explains the runaway rate of increase in atmospheric CO2 concentrations – and with humans pumping vast quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere, the current CO2 level is higher than it’s been in at least 800,000 years (NRC, 2010*).

I am looking forward to creating and updating some engaging resources and activity sheets to complement Education’s existing resources and presentations.  An example of a type of resource used is maps of wind speed and water depth off UK coasts, with a brief info sheet explaining offshore wind turbines. Using this, high school pupils are asked where they would place offshore wind turbines and how many.  This gives an idea of the research behind the scenario.  I will create a more accessible map key and put together a more up to date and visually appealing info sheet.

It is great that in the future there will be more opportunities to create educational resources alongside the updated report.  I hope that there can always be a person there from ZCB whom can give time to work together with education, and provide them with ZCB information and resource material.  An idea for a future resource could be a snazzy, child friendly, information and activity pack provided alongside a presentation or workshop.  Pupils could then take home the ZCB vision of the future and perhaps act on or ponder it, or perhaps even just leave in a drawer and rediscover it a few years later – a spark of curiosity reignited. Some will want to find out more about what is happening towards ZCB now, or maybe discuss ZCB with their parents and decide on some things they can do together as a family to help achieve a zero carbon Britain.

I would like to help develop a workshop package that could be sent out to schools, including a whole host of activity ideas and resources that the school could base a non-curriculum day around (perhaps even a ‘A ZCB Future’ day).  In this way ZCB could be communicated more widely across the UK, even to schools that haven’t yet heard of or visited CAT.  There is great potential for creating this from what education already work with.  I look forward to discussing it further with them, and hopefully to begin creating the package alongside CAT’s enthusiastic Education team.

 

Are you a student, teacher or someone else interested in learning more about CAT’s educational resources on Zero Carbon Britain – or in helping to develop new resources? Contact Sarah at sarah.everitt@cat.org.uk with your questions!

 

*National Research Council (USA) (2010), Advancing the Science of Climate Change. Panel on Advancing the Science of Climate Change.

ZCBlog: Catalysing the shift we need

As we press ahead with our new Zero Carbon Britain research, we are all motivated by the clear evidence that our climate and energy challenges have not gone away, and in many ways they are getting worse. AT ZCB we are keen to explore new drivers that can help Britain rise to that challenge – and one of the most interesting areas of work is in the development of Tradable Energy Quotas, or ‘TEQs‘ for short. In line with this, the new Zero Carbon Britain report will include a section suggesting and evaluating policies such as TEQs, cap and share, emissions trading schemes and carbon taxes that might be used to achieve a zero carbon future.

Currently, our Government has over one hundred policies that impact on emissions. Yet it has produced, in the words of Parliament’s own Environmental Audit Committee, “a confusing framework that cannot be said to promote effective action on climate change.”

We desperately need a clear, focused framework for reducing emissions in the kindest, fairest way possible. This is what TEQs offer – to unleash grassroots invention and collaboration, to make energy use a visible in people’s lives and to generate a common purpose in addressing these challenges.

“If I weren’t working at CAT I’d go and work with Shaun [Chamberlain]”, says ZCB’s Paul Allen, “he’s doing really inspirational things with TEQs and The Lean Economy Connection”.

The TEQs Board is currently looking for two interns to help research how TEQs can help deliver a radical change in UK energy policy. They describe their work as “a way to address social injustice, climate change and fuel depletion that is politically achievable” – check out the description below to learn more!

 

TEQ Internships

We are currently seeking two interns to help move TEQs forward towards implementing a radical change in UK energy policy.  Although we cannot offer payment for this at the moment, there may be the possibility the role could progress in the future.

TEQs (Tradable Energy Quotas) is an electronic energy rationing system designed to be implemented at the national scale. There are two main reasons why TEQs are needed:

1) Climate change: to guarantee achieving national carbon reduction targets.

2) Energy supply: to maintain a fair distribution of fuel and electricity during shortages.

Currently, the UK government has over one hundred policies that impact on emissions levels yet it has produced, in the words of Parliament’s own Environmental Audit Committee, “a confusing framework that cannot be said to promote effective action on climate change.”  Accordingly, nobody currently expects us to meet those legally binding Climate Change Act emissions targets.

We desperately need a clear, focused framework for reducing emissions in the kindest, fairest way possible, and this is what TEQs provides for a nation – a context created to unleash grassroots invention and collaboration across sectors; a context designed to make energy use a real, visible thing in people’s lives; and a context built with the express purpose of generating that elusive thing, common purpose, in addressing our key collective challenges.

At the heart of the TEQs scheme are two things:

1)    The need to respect the non-negotiable limits set by the physical realities of climate change and fuel depletion.

2)    A recognition that if our society is to thrive within any sufficiently tight cap on emissions, it needs to dramatically change its relationship with energy, and that this change can only be driven from the bottom-up.

The principle underpinning TEQs was put perfectly by the late David Fleming, the founder of TEQs:

“Large scale problems do not require large-scale solutions – they require small-scale solutions within a large-scale framework.”

While it is tempting to think of a tightening global cap on emissions as a solution in itself, such a cap is worthless without on-the-ground solutions at the local and individual level – and TEQs facilitates this action in a way that is meaningful to everyone.

TEQs have won supporters from all the main political parties. The UK government funded a pre-feasibility study into the scheme (2008) and 2011 saw an All-Party Parliamentary report in support of TEQs, with extensive international media coverage.  After fifteen years of political and academic study of the scheme, the intellectual argument had been won.

However we now need a campaign to put climate and energy front-and-centre again in the public and political consciousness, and to press for the answer to one simple question:  Given that implementing TEQs simply guarantees that the legally-binding targets set by the Climate Change Act are achieved, are we, or are we not, going to respect climate science and UK law?

If you are interested in applying for an internship, or discussing further details on what the role might involve, please contact Shaun Chamberlin at shaun@teqs.net

 

ZCBlog: the Energiewende

As we write up the research for our third ZCB report on how Britain can decarbonise, it’s interesting to look around at what’s being suggested in other decarbonisation strategies. Germany, for instance, stands out for its ambitious Energiewende (‘energy transition’) that combines a phasing out of nuclear and coal power with a huge increase in renewables to achieve an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. (If you get CAT’s Clean Slate, you’ll have seen the article on Energiewende in our Spring 2013 edition.)

So far this plan has had dramatic results. For instance, in ten years Germany’s renewable electricity jumped from 6% to 25% of its total share, and about 50% of capacity is community owned.

So what lessons does this offer for the UK? Two weeks ago PRASEG, the Parliamentary Renewable and Sustainable Energy Group, held a seminar to discuss just that.

“This is the most amazing, in both senses of the word, challenge that they’re engaged in,” said the seminar’s Chair, Tom Heap, a main presenter on Radio 4’s environmental documentary series Costing the Earth. “Whether you think it’s fantastic or somewhat flawed, it’s of great benefit for us in the UK because it’s like a live, pilot experiment. We can see how they’re getting on, and hopefully learn from the strengths and weaknesses of what they’re doing.”

ZCB’s Energy Modeller Tobi Kellner agrees: “The issues brought up in this debate are absolutely spot-on, and very similar to many of the debates we have in the ZCB energy research team. Germany is currently a few years ahead of the UK on the trajectory towards a future powered by 100% renewable energy, and in many ways their Energiewende is similar to the kind of political push that we’d like to see in this country.

From a socio-political perspective, perhaps the most interesting aspect the speakers touch on is how it happened that in Germany support for this transition spans right across the political spectrum, including German industry and conservative parties. From a technical perspective, it’s great that the speakers don’t leave out the significant challenges involved with a transition from fossil fuels to renewables. This includes the question of how variability can be balanced, and on the changing role of coal, gas and nuclear power stations in the energy system.”

PRASEG has shared recordings of this seminar on their website, and we’ve embedded them below for ease of access. Enjoy!

  • An introduction by Tom Heap (3min)

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  • Rainer Baake, Germany’s State Secretary at the Federal Environment Ministry from 1998 to 2005 and current Director of the think tank Agora Energiewende (20min)

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  • R Andreas Kraemer, Director and CEO of Ecologic Institute in Berlin, Spokesperson of Germany’s ecological research network Ecornet and Coordinator of the British-German Environment Forum (16min)

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  • Dr Alan Whitehead MP, Labour MP for Southampton Test, member of the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee and PRASEG Chair (17min)

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  • A Q&A session (1hr)

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ZCBlog: reflections on an Ecobuild seminar

If you attended Ecobuild last week (CAT’s review to follow), you know there were almost too many intriguing conferences and seminars to choose from. We didn’t manage to make it to ‘Is this the end of the road for zero carbon?’ but if anyone else did we’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. (Our answer is a definite “Not if we can help it!”)

We did manage to get to the final conference of Ecobuild, though, and it was well worth the wait. In ‘Encouraging sustainability through art,’ psychologist Oliver James, The Idler founder Tom Hodgkinson, and artists Sophie Molins and Clare Patey discussed how art can help us overcome our addition to consumerism and work for a healthier planet. Of course, this fits right in with ZCB’s artist in residence project. In this week’s ZCBlog, we’ll talk about some of their arguments and projects we found most exciting.

Coming to terms with climate change

Host Oliver James got things off to a provocative start by calling Britain a society of “credit-fuelled consumer junkies,” but went on to describe how today’s climate challenge is for all of us to accept the facts, and then to tolerate the distress these facts cause us. He then outlined three psychological coping mechanisms, the first of which is denial: climate change isn’t happening, or if it is humans aren’t causing it. The second is maladaptive response, a category most of us fall into: to accept climate change but blunt the feelings of fear, grief, anger, panic and so on with a range of arguments. These include:

  • We’ll fix it through technology, like geoengineering
  • Live in the present, and ignore the scary future
  • Diversionary tactics, i.e. small behavioural changes (“if I recycle then I’m doing my bit”)
  • Blame shifting (“the US and China are the real culprits”)
  • Indifference
  • Unrealistic optimism

The third response, and the only one that leads to effective action, is adaptive coping: to accept climate change, go through the process of mourning, and transition to practical problem solving. The best way to encourage others to cope adaptively, James concludes, is to walk them through their fears gently, and ease them into considering new values.

Stop climate change by doing nothing

One of these new values might be idleness. Tom Hodgkinson spoke about how doing nothing – and thus travelling less, buying less, using less technology, etc. – can mean fewer carbon emissions. At the same time, he argued, we get our good ideas and do our creative thinking when we are at rest.  Setting aside time for this could be crucial to planning for sustainability.

He also offered the idea of permaculture as a model of the ideal lifestyle. Permaculture is an intelligent system that requires less input from the humans running it: minimum effort for maximum output. As we try to reduce energy use, we might turn to ecological solutions like permaculture to guide our thinking.

Is art the answer?

As we craft solutions to carbon emission reduction, should we turn to art to convert people to a particular way ofthinking? Sophie Molins is Art Co-ordinator at Artists Project Earth (APE), a non-profit that uses popular music to raise funds for climate change and social justice causes. Musicians in other countries make remixes of popular songs by artists as diverse as Eminem and Mumford & Sons, and profits from these tracks have funded over 330 projects to date.

While APE tries to raise awareness of our moral and spiritual obligations to stop climate change, Clare Patey’s site-specific work emphasises social engagement and bringing people together – and she is adamant that art should not be didactic. She helped design the Carbon Ration Book,

and organises Feast on the Bridge in London every year to get people involved in the process of food production, consumption and disposal. Another piece she created laid out all the food an average British person would eat in their lifetime, from the thousands of milk bottles drunk to the sheep eaten. Rather than presenting a finish product for people to view, Patey shows the huge transformative power of including people in the creative process.

Overall this conference touched on a whole host of issues about how we limit our emissions and respond to a changing climate. Should we create art, or seek therapy – or just sit at home and play cards? Perhaps we can do all three. Above all, this last conference at Ecobuild was an inspiring glimpse into the way creativity can turn even the of biggest challenges into an opportunity.

 

For your Zero Carbon news, check out the Spring 2013 ZCB Newsletter!

ZCBlog: Tips for community energy schemes

Last week the chief executive of Ofgem warned that Britain will come “dangerously” close to power shortages within two years. Community energy schemes are a great way to guarantee energy security and ease the strain on our energy system.

Some groups have responded to Ofgem’s power warnings by calling for more nuclear or shale gas, or for an end to ‘green taxes’. However, only by living more economically within our resources can we hope to protect our communities, environment and climate.

By reducing the energy demand of Britain’s communities we can all protect against fuel poverty. Community renewable energy (CRE) projects can enable anyone to reduce both their carbon emissions and their energy bills!

There are other benefits as well. A successful CRE project can bolster local resilience and build a sense of empowerment. Community schemes can create jobs and training as well as boost local economic development.

Community renewable energy projects are not easy to set up, but if done properly the long-term rewards are well worth it. Here’s some tips to get you started:

  1. Have patience! CRE projects need dedication because they will take a long time. The odds are someone in your community will oppose the plans, legal and governance regulations can also take their toll, but if you are passionate and can show the benefits then you will convince others.
  2. Make sure the location fits your vision. There’s potential for community energy schemes everywhere, but make sure it’s the right renewable energy. Solar PV is great in sunny urban environments, while wind is at its best at rural and coastal areas. Hydroelectric has massive potential, but finding the right circumstances is key to success. Check here for listing of MCS companies that can act as consultants. And don’t forget that district heating schemes can be a viable alternative when CRE projects aren’t feasible.
  3. Check your connection to the grid. Electricity grid connections are the responsibility of the local Distribution Network Operator (DNO). It’s a good idea to make contact with the DNO long before you formally request connection because this can ease the process and let’s you know what the. You also have to decide if you are going to export your power back to the grid or sell the excess power to adjacent properties, which will require a Power Purchasing Agreement.
  4. Make sure you do your homework. A feasibility study of your CRE project will determine if it is realistic, and help you plan your way. These studies are technical documents designed to take the project beyond the early planning stages and outline a proposal that can be used for funding. You can then take this vision to bodies like the Environment Agency and local councils.
  5. Cultivate a great relationship with your contractors. You will need to appoint a project manager to deliver the construction, installation and testing of the scheme. There’s no substitute for first-hand experience so pick someone knowledgeable that can oversee the building stage and resist the urge to have a large group micro-mange the project.
  6. This is just the tip of the iceberg! But there is loads of information out there to help you get started, such as the Rough Guide to Community Energy and the Community Energy Hub from DECC. CAT runs a range of introductory courses to renewable energy and has a free information service here. The Guardian blog also has a great article chronicling a hydro-electric project near Lancaster.

ZCB suggests implementing small scale Solar PV projects because they are quicker than most to install and start running. The feed-in tariffs may not be as financially beneficial as they once were, but photovoltaics still offer a practical and quick way to produce energy. The majority of roof-top PV systems do not need planning permission, and 2kW should be sufficient to provide about 40% an average home’s total requirements.

Co-operatives and local authorities can also play their part by providing larger renewable energy projects. Once again, Zero Carbon Britain calls for solar PV as the short-term solution because any large-scale power plants will not be ready by the end of this decade.

Tomorrow, the Sustainable Architecture blog will highlight how the building industry should also play a big part in how Britain can power down for rapid decarbonisation.

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!