ZCBlog: Volunteering for a sustainable future!

Volunteers are extremely important to the Zero Carbon Britain project. As the research nears completion the long-term volunteers are beginning to look at how best to communicate ZCB to the people that will have to embrace a sustainable future: the public.

Two new long-term volunteers, Sarah and Megan, are working hard to support CAT and the ZCB team in both research and communications.

Sarah Everitt has been working with the ZCB team for a few weeks now. She is enthusiastic about making an important contribution to a project that has the potential to vastly benefit not only the UK environment, but the global climate too.

At the moment, now that the research is coming to a close, she is working to improve the report’s structure. Sarah is putting together a template that can improve accessibility of the new report to a wider audience. This is not such an easy task, with a scenario covering a variety of topics and  complex research data, but key to communicating ZCB to the general public.

Megan Jones joined the CAT team last week from the Isle of Anglesey, Wales, where for the last three months she has been a Residential Volunteer for the RSPB at South Stack Cliffs. She came back to Britain last autumn after finishing a BA in English at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, USA.

“Ever since I was a kid I’ve loved exploring woods and mountains (so mid-Wales is pretty perfect for me), and I’m hoping to make a career inspiring others to love nature and protect biodiversity. I’m very much looking forward to being a long-term volunteer at CAT, where I’ll be sharing CAT’s stories through social media, gaining new skills in marketing, and helping bring the new Zero Carbon Britain report to fruition.”

The Centre for Alternative Technology’s achievements over the last 40 years simply wouldn’t have been possible without the hard work, inspiration and dedication of the volunteers. With Nuria leaving at the end of February and a new volunteer starting in the coming month, ZCB’s volunteers have been invaluable to the evolution of the project.

Both Megan and Sarah are helping to co-ordinate a series of discussion papers titled ‘ZCB and…’ These will explore how the Zero Carbon Britain scenario effects wider topics beyond the team’s core research. Read more about the project here.

ZCBlog: An update on ZCB and news of decarbonisation around the globe

The Food and Diets team for ZCB hosted a discussion workshop in London on January 24th. They presented their research and opened the floor to debate, which focused on ‘Minimal-Carbon Food & Diets’.

The event took place at the Open University, Camden, and was hosted by Peter Harper and Laura Blake, both researchers for Zero Carbon Britain. The delegates included a range of respected authorities within the field of land-use and nutrition research. An important topic for discussion was livestock products. Is it possible to simply remove livestock products from the normal UK diet? Meat consumption needs to be reduced if carbon emissions from land-use are to be minimised. However,  a resulting scenario would still need a nutritionally adequate diet and meat substitutes.

Other discussion points included assessing GHG implications of diets, food related behaviors and land-use in Britain. Dietary health is a very important factor in the new ZCB report and the team are committed to presenting a responsible diet in terms of carbon emissions. ZCBlog will report on the outcomes of this fruitful debate in upcoming articles.

  • Below is a round-up of other news covering everything from clean energy to carbon budgets:

Audi hopes to use solar and wind power to make renewable methane. The car manufacturer intends to use the synthetic fuel to power new natural-gas vehicles. MIT Technology Review writes about the process here.

In the new ZCB report we will propose the technology be used to produce methane gas from renewable electricity for storing energy for times when the demand exceeds supply.

The ZCB team have been testing the scenario against a range of weather conditions, including difficult weather years such as 2010 which had cold temperatures and lower than usual wind-speeds. The initial results are from hourly modelling using ten years’ worth of weather data, which is between 2002-2011. This modelling suggests that the scenario is robust but highlights the importance of adequate storage for biogas such that surpluses can be stored over months or even years and used when required.

The work is also raising interesting questions about the extent to which occasional peaks in net demand should be met by additional back-up capacity i.e. extra power stations that are rarely used. A market approach may see such spikes avoided as the price would become too high and demand would be reduced or shifted. However, it would not be desirable for price to exacerbate fuel poverty. ZCB would achieve most off its required demand shifting with automated control of uses such as electric car charging and hot water generation.

David Cameron launched DECC’s new ‘Energy Efficiency Mission’, which is designed to promote the government’s energy efficiency policies. The Prime Minister used his speech to stress that Britain must prioritise green energy; not only to minimise the impact of climate change but to benefit the economy as well. He insisted that:

Together we can make Britain a global showcase for green innovation and energy efficiency.” Read more…

Zero Carbon Britain project agrees with this statement but a clear and politically binding framework is needed if we are to reduce the UK’s carbon emissions to the necessary levels.

Positive news from Spain! Wind farms there have broken energy records, generating more electricity than any other source in January. Read more…

New technology is being tested for British offshore wind. Forewind hopes to use ‘suction bucket’ technology to install 2,000 turbines at Dogger Bank. Watch a video explaining the technology here or read more…

More wind in Japan! Mitsubishi Corporation is taking an interest in offshore wind projects. Read about their development plans here and there’s more info about plans for windfarms at Fukushima here.

There’s more good news from America about US carbon emissions, which according to a new report are at their lowest levels since 1994. You can read the BCSE report here and here is an article summarising the findings.

Could we use geothermal to heat Britain’s homes? GT Energy thinks so because they are looking to build a plant in the northwest. Read more…

A nuclear power company has shelved plans to build new reactors in Britain. Centrica’s exit means no major UK company remains involved in plans for new nuclear reactors in the UK, but Centrica retains its 20% stake in eight existing nuclear power stations. The Guardian writes more here.

Carbon prices in Europe have fallen again. The EU’s emissions trading scheme has seen prices drop to an all time low. The Carbon Brief writes about the policy here…

 

ZCBlog: Discussing a zero carbon future

The new ZCB report will layout a scenario for an emissions free 2030 but one of the wider project aims is to raise awareness for a more carbon responsible society. Because of this, the new report will include a series of discussion papers about how ZCB relates to wider topics.

The third ZCB report will focus on a number of specific areas for a 2030 scenario. However, the team would like to discuss how ZCB could relate to other subjects. The ZCB project is looking for contributors who want to use the ZCB scenario to highlight how reducing carbon emissions will affect the UK. These discussion papers should tackle themes and issues that are outside of ZCB’s core research.

Sure, the ZCB team have researched how to eliminate carbon emissions in energy production and land-use but how will the scenario affect less quantifiable subjects. For instance, how would the ZCB scenario affect wellbeing? Could it create or diminish green spaces for recreation?

Each “ZCB and…” discussion paper should be no more than 1,000 words but preferably be between 600 and 800. If you wish to be involved then let us know! You can get in touch here.

Not sure what subject to tackle? ZCBlog will be featuring news articles next week that reflect what is happening in relation to decarbonising the UK.

ZCBlog: Communicating a positive future

 

As research progresses towards the release of a new report, the Zero Carbon Britain team are fully committed to communicating our findings.

Not only have we been communicating with our supporters, we have also appointed an artist in residence. The team are working with interested parties that are keen to promote the ZCB scenario, which will launch in the summer.

The London College of Communication visited the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales last year to learn about the ZCB project and in December 2012, Lightgeist Media was asked to document the visit. The video was made by the University of the Arts London to plan how to communicate Zero Carbon Britain to a wider audience. You can view the video below:

If you would like to work with ZCB or CAT to communicate our message of a positive future please get in touch here.

 

 

ZCBlog: How do we feed Britain and eliminate carbon emissions?

Laura Blake is Zero Carbon Britain’s food and diets researcher. Here, she looks at the main issues facing the food and diets team when proposing their scenario for a decarbonised 2030:

The ZCB scenario proposes some significant changes to land use in the UK.

However, the proposed reduction in meat consumption (particularly red meat) has raised many questions regarding livelihoods of farmers that specialise in livestock. ZCB also has to look at land suitability for other products such as food, biomass and woodland. Is it possible for livestock farmers to adapt to different industries in a scenario such as ours?

For me it also raises important questions about what we would eat. How would eating less meat affect future diets in the UK and what repercussion would this have for health?

It is generally accepted that we in the UK, and developed countries in general, are consuming higher amounts of meat than is recommended.

Current recommendations advise that individuals consume approximately 55 grams of protein per day. The UK average for 2011 was around 76g of protein per day and meat is one of the largest sources of protein in our diet. It has also been found that our diets contain too much saturated fat and meat contributes over 50% of our saturated fat intake.

Therefore, the proposed meat reductions in ZCB could have a significant health benefit for the population. A recent study on red meat, for example, found that reducing red meat consumption by just one serving per week could lower mortality risk by up to 19%.

Another study found that a reduction in livestock products could significantly reduce the risk of premature death from ischemic heart disease. Having said this however, the reductions in numbers of livestock that are required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the levels required in ZCB may mean that we are left with a significant gap in our supply of protein as well as various other micronutrients such as iron and vitamin B12.

What can be used as a replacement of meat to fill this gap?

Plant sources of protein may be much more plentiful within the ZCB scenario but plant proteins are less easily absorbed and sources of the above micronutrients are limited. Today, many vegetarians use meat alternatives such as soya products to replace nutrients found in meat, but soya cannot be grown in the UK. So what could we use instead?

The proposed changes in our diet also raise questions of palatability. Bearing in mind the current diversity of eating habits within the UK, is it really possible to provide everything necessary to supply the UK population with a healthy diet within ZCB?

Land use and diets need to be considered when discussing the elimination of carbon emissions, especially in a scenario such as ZCB. But as you can see, there are so many questions that face this line of research.

We do not know the answers yet but that is what the new ZCB report will address come the summer!

For more information on food and diets please contact me at laura.blake@cat.org.uk

ZCBlog: Artist in residence

Hello! My name is Joanna Wright and I’m the artist in residence with Zero Carbon Britain for the next year.

I’ve been inspired by CAT since my first visit, over 10 years ago, and I’d firstly like to say thanks to CAT and the ZCB team for having me, to the Arts Council of Wales, who have made this residency possible and to Oriel Davies in Newtown, for their support.

We accept the way we live today as normal, but how did we get here, and where are we going?

The team at ZCB are an amazing and dedicated group. They are in the process of building a picture of what a future Britain can look like. How we’ll live, where our power will come from, what we’ll eat, how we’ll travel, and what we can do as society to affect positive change.

Research coordinator Alice has drawn it out in this diagram, it looks easy doesn’t it?

I hope that, in a small way, the work I do during the residency can make the work of the Zero Carbon Britain team more visible to a wider audience.

As an artist and documentary filmmaker much of my recent work uses existing archive material and oral history recordings. For part of my research for this residency I have started to look at how people in the past imagined the future

Through archive we have an opportunity to gain insight and reflection into where we stand in relation to the time that the original material was produced, and perhaps, where we might go from here.

You can see some postcards by artists from 19th century France imagining what the year 2000 would look like here. There’s an early forerunner of Skype in one of the pictures.

And there’s a link here to a film clip about petroleum products from the 1950’s here. (Warning, contains slight nudity!)

If you are coming to CAT then please feel free to come and visit me, I’d love to talk to you. Work in progress and research during the residency will be updated online at the Zero Carbon Archive.

You can contact me via email at joanna.wright@cat.org.uk , or follow on twitter @joanna_martine

ZCBlog: Zero Carbon Britain 2013

 

2013 is here! Paul Allen takes a moment to assess what lies ahead and his hopes for the new year…

I have recently received an analysis from a group of my colleagues working for the International Network for Sustainable Energy who presented at the COP18 Climate summit in Doha, Qatar. The outcomes do seem to open new doors for climate action, but it is not the breakthrough that we need to keep global warming to sustainable levels (i.e. global warming not above 1.5 – 2 degrees C).

I was most relieved to hear of commitment to a second period of the Kyoto Protocol, from 2013 to 2020, and although there are clear loopholes that allow carry over of unused emissions credits from the first period, there will also strict limits to their use. There was also a call for Kyoto Protocol countries to review their emissions reduction targets by 2014 at the latest. While there are no guarantees, this decision gives a moral obligation for these countries to increase their emission reduction targets before 2020 and provides opportunities for them to do so in the climate negotiations.

A second phase of the Kyoto Protocol was agreed to cover the period 2013-2020 with reduction targets for European countries and Australia. Unfortunately the reduction targets are not ambitious, e.g. EU only committed to reduce 20% from 1990 by 2020, a target the countries almost have reached today. Another problem is that the countries with reduction targets only emit 1/7 of the global man-made greenhouse gases (if Russia joins it will be more, but still only a small part of global emissions will be included).

So as we say goodbye to 2012, we know the limited reductions committed at Doha will not lead to the reductions required for the rate of decarbonisation demanded by the science. It is therefore vital we rest and get ready to take up the cause afresh in the New Year. There is still hope for improvement as the Doha talks agreed a review of commitments by Kyoto Protocol countries, where they will propose new, hopefully more ambitious emission targets in 2014. The new targets should include much more rapid decarbonisation targets from the long industrialised countries to keep global warming below 2 degrees C.

Much more action is needed, from the countries in the Kyoto protocol, but also from major emitters outside the Kyoto Protocol, including USA, Canada, and China. We hope that during 2013, as we draw together the most recent work from a range of academics, universities, think tanks, NGOs and business and industry into the new report and launch a round of communications we hope the ZCB project will help catalyse a change in how the we think about rapid de-carbonisation, bust myths, highlight hidden benefits, break through misunderstanding, and stimulate urgently-needed economic and political debate around how we think about the future. Leaving it to the ‘powers that be’ is clearly not going to be enough!

Paul Allen

Project Co-ordinator

ZCBlog: Zero Carbon Britain 2012

As Christmas fast approaches, Paul Allen looks at the past, present and future of Zero Carbon Britain…

This time last year we were all still reeling from the paradox of the UN climate conference in Durban. After the disaster of Copenhagen, and little better in Cancun, expectation on any form of deal, and the future of the entire UN process, was not high. While governments avoided disaster in Durban, they by no means responded adequately to the mounting threat of climate change. The decisions adopted fall well short of what is needed.

This time last year a key major stumbling block was delays in agreement over the extension of the Kyoto Protocol post 2012. The final compromise allowed countries to hold their positions by agreeing to further negotiations at the next exciting instalment in Doha, Qatar. This slow progress highlights the difficulties with international climate negotiations, made very apparent from the Copenhagen conference onwards. Delegates (and even presidents) with the best intentions can only act in accordance with how people think about rapid de-carbonisation (at least in democratic states), otherwise any bold promises made at the UN negotiations won’t make it through domestic political systems.

This time last year we knew it was important to build on the previous Zero Carbon Britain reports. We wanted to develop a much more detailed positive vision to get people excited about what it could actually be like if the negotiators did what they were actually meant to do – developing a signed an agreement capable of keeping us below 2 degrees. But back in December 2011 the new research was all just a vision, we know that so much had happened in the three years since the research closed on the last edition of the ZCB2030 report that a lot needed updating, detail needed delving into, areas needed correcting and the energy model required development.

So a member’s appeal begun for a new report and we waited for your support to arrive…

The final response was amazing and very moving personally for me. So many people had valued the impact of the last report that they were committing to help us do it again. Not only individuals – trusts, universities and other charities were coming on board and offering support.

By the end of March we know we had enough to press on so the new ‘Research Co-ordinator’ position was drafted and advertised. Excitedly we short listed five likely candidates and after a gruelling couple of days, and despite some very strong candidates, we were all unanimous on selecting Alice Hooker-Stroud, for here academic rigour, co-ordination skills and meticulous attention to detail. Within a week Alice was helping us interview the rest of the team in time for research to begin in July.

At this point it also became clear that several other organisations recognised what we were trying to do and offered very practical strategic collaborations. Arts Council Wales are thinking ahead of the curve and have offered to support three residencies at CAT, the first of which was to be based in the ZCB team. Our aim was not to do the research, then hand it to an artist to interpret, but rather to embed the artist in the research team to join us in our inquiry into what a truly sustainable future would be like to live in. We were pleased to recruit Joanna Wright to the team in this new and exciting role.

One of my clear highlights of the year was September when CAT hosted an ‘Emergence Summit’ to integrate CAT’s work on Zero Carbon Britain with the arts and creative practices in a crucible of ideas and visions for exploring a sustainable vision of the future. Another exciting collaborator – Swansea’s Volcano Theatre Company, conceived the Emergence concept with the aim of linking the arts with sustainability, not just in terms of reducing the impact of each performance, but also in the concepts into which they engage. We have the technologies we need: the main challenges now are much more cultural! The five day ‘Land journey’ and three day ‘Summit’ formed an inspiring, creative, emergent space to break through the silo’s and bring together key thinkers and change makers from the sustainability and the arts sectors to explore how we can work together to ‘create the future’.

Nick Capaldi Chief Executive of Arts Council Wales summed it up well:

As I, personally, grapple with the difficult issues, I’ll be depending on the arts for those projects and initiatives that will help develop within me the imagination and intuition to begin focussing on dimensions of learning and experience that (for the moment at least) remain beyond my grasp. So I look to the artists amongst us to use their best imagination, their most inquisitive curiosity, their most forensic inquiry, to search more intensely, and to reveal more eloquently the insights that will lead me to a deeper and more rooted understanding. What I understand I can engage with. And what I can engage with I can change.”

As the year draws to a close the first gleanings from the new research clearly indicate that next year is going to be a very exciting and a very busy time both for us here at CAT, and across the wider green movement.

Paul Allen

Project Co-ordinator

 

ZCBlog: Making a meal of your christmas dinner

Christmas is just around the corner and no doubt you have already stocked up on enough food to feed an army over the festive season. Because at this time of year stuffing yourself rotten is just as important as presents and decorations! But do enough of us stop to consider the impacts of food on our environment?

The Christmas dinner is an annual tradition that can bring the whole family together for one day of the year – or in my experience, lead to some of the most memorable arguments of the last twelve months! But I am not here to discuss the pros and cons of eating together. It is the environmental impact of the food that we eat that is concerning.

Diets that are high in meat content have big consequences for your carbon footprint. The UK is made up of about 11.2 million hectares of grassland, which is primarily used for grazing livestock and of which 2.1 million are used for growing livestock feed. Many of the processes that are used to manage this agriculture are carbon intensive. There are other impacts as well. You really don’t want to fathom how much methane all that livestock produces – or how bad it must smell!

A few years back, research by Manchester University found that the carbon equivalent emissions of the UK’s total Christmas dinners was 51,000 tonnes. Much of this can be attributed to the life-cycle of the livestock. However, it would be much higher if the traditional choice of meat was not turkey!

Poultry has a lower climate impact compared to other meat choices. Lamb, farmed salmon and beef are the worst offenders because of the emissions produced from their farming.  This means you can feel less guilty about tucking into your turkey this noel.

It is not only meat that is environmentally un-friendly. Cheese production creates vast amounts of greenhouse gases. Cranberry sauce is another emissions heavy but popular food this time of year. Because much of the cranberries needed for the sauce are grown in North America, the condiment has the highest transport-related emissions of the average x-mas feast.

The great news is that with just a few small changes to the way you eat, there can be a large improvement to your environmental impact and to your health as well. For instance, cut down on the amount of red meat you eat and you will lower your cholesterol. As a rule of thumb, eating less meat and more vegetables will reduce your carbon footprint.

If you want to minimise your climate impact this Christmas, cut out meat completely and go for a vegetarian option. This is how to get a really low carbon Christmas.

Though if you do choose a prime cut of meat make sure it’s a locally farmed product. Locally sourced food will have low transport emissions and benefit your community at the same time. It’s even better if you can grow it yourself!

ZCBlog: Energy Modelling

Philip James explains the process of modelling a scenario such as Zero Carbon Britain; What are the benefits and the potential pitfalls?

There are three big topics the ZCB energy team are grappling with. These are:

1. Predicting the output of renewables, particularly offshore wind
2. What future energy demand could look like
3. How can energy storage and demand management help us match supply and demand

We hope to find the answers by modelling. And after several jaunts onto the catwalk failed to shed light, we decided to use computer modelling! This is the construction of “a computer program that attempts to simulate a real-life system”. In this case Britain’s future energy system.

To model is to simplify. We simplify time, space and complexity. The team have collected parameters such as wind speeds, solar radiation, electricity demand and temperature for every hour of the last 10 years. We use this as a basis for simulating how future energy systems would have performed under the real-life conditions we have observed in the recent past.

For example, let’s look at how we model offshore wind farms. We want to know how much energy they could supply in the future. We started by identifying around 50 regions which could be suitable for future offshore wind farms and then obtained wind speed data for each of these regions for every hour of the last 10 years through the US Space Agency NASA. Making assumptions about how many wind turbines will be installed in each of these regions now allows us to simulate future offshore wind electricity production patterns, including hourly variations.

For a time scale, on ZCB, we use an hour-by-hour level of detail. To find a value for energy demand we take Britain as a whole and use aggregate demand at that level. However, to determine heating demand we are using average temperature data from the National Grid that is weighted by population. This ensures that the temperature in more populated areas is more prominent in determining the demand.

In terms of complexity, we make many simplifications; from assumptions about how electricity demand varies, to the assumption of a “copper-plate Britain”. This means we assume that there are no restrictions on moving electricity around the country.

The question of simplification in modelling is an interesting one. It is easy to think that increased spatial and temporal resolution or complexity in modelling a system will give more accurate predictions. Therefore, the thing to be done is to launch into modelling to the highest level of complexity time will allow. However, since a model may stand or fall by the accuracy of its assumptions, then building in ever more parameters or increasing the spatial or temporal resolution does not necessarily improve our understanding of a system.

We may in fact lose sight of the fundamental importance of an assumption that was introduced very early on. We have seen this problem in the modelling of the climate system, where models are of ever greater complexity but concerns persist about their ability to predict how climate change will play out in the real world.

It can even be proposed that the ubiquitous ability to build ever more complex models is taking us dangerously away from the scientific method of asking questions, formulating hypotheses, and carefully devising experiments – be they real world or computational – in order to test the validity of those hypotheses. However, alarm bells will ring for many. This is a reductive view of how science must always proceed. Systems cannot always be investigated by reducing them to the sum of their parts. Building and observing computer models can in fact give us answers to questions we had not even fully formulated.

Two fruitful uses of modelling: Lovelock’s Daisyworld and Lorenz discovering the emergence of chaotic behaviour in his attempts to reductively model weather. They teach us about two sides to modelling. Lovelock asked a specific question:

“Can system level regulation emerge from the interaction of “selfish” entities?”

He devised a beautifully simple model to show that it could. Lorenz did not set out to discover chaotic behaviour but was sufficiently alive to the results his model produced that he did, even when the model was not conforming to his preconceived notions of the results he wanted.

From such lofty thoughts the ZCB energy team returns to its spreadsheet columns and rows: carefully devising questions, alive to unexpected results… but mainly just wondering how in the heck you model demand side management?!

Philip James is the Energy Systems Researcher for Zero Carbon Britain.

philip.james@cat.org.uk