We are Energy!

Guest blog post from  Global Justice Now ( formerly the World Development Movement) who have recently published Rays of Hope, a booklet about energy alternatives. 

“As the UK is edging closer to blackouts and millions are struggling to pay the extortionate fuel bills from the Big Six energy companies, small energy co-ops are showing how we can build a sustainable and affordable energy future. From Scotland to Spain communities are taking back control of their energy to provide renewable energy and create local jobs.”

In Scotland, some communities have benefited from land reform legislation to take control of the land and renewable energy resources in their area. This has particularly been the case on some of the Scottish islands, many of which had single landowners who lived away from their estates, or were under state control.IMG_9818

 Increasingly, these communities have taken back control of the land, and then used their renewable energy resources for the first time to generate an income for the wider community trust which now owns and runs their estate.Community Energy Scotland, an organisation with its roots in one of Scotland’s regional development agencies, has led the community energy movement in Scotland resulting in numerous community-owned wind and hydro schemes across the country.

 Examples include South Uist (Storas Uibhist) and the Isla of Gigha. Gigha is a small island which had suffered from a succession of remote private landlords.  Many islanders had poor housing and no security of tenure under these landlords. In 2002 the land was bought out by the community, which then repaid in full the loans raised for this purchase. In 2005 they commissioned three small wind turbines which have produced a steady income which has been used to upgrade the housing stock. In 2012 they built a fourth wind turbine. This adds to the green energy that is in islanders’ control and uses a valuable resource to support local businesses.

 An important aspect of the Gigha turbines is the confidence they have added to the community. Because Gigha was the first place to have a community-owned windfarm, the island has benefited greatly from interest from other communities in the scheme. The turbines themselves are also a physical statement that the island is in community control and positive about a sustainable future.One clear sign of this is the fact that the island’s population has now risen from less than 100, ten years ago, to over 150 now. 

 A similar project by Storas Uibhist, the community trust which now runs the island of South Uist has three larger turbines. Elsewhere in Scotland, other community trusts are leasing land from the National Forest estate for hydro schemes where the community is the developer, owner and the full beneficiary of the project.

 Co-operatives can also function on a larger scale. For example, Costa Rica has four large rural energy co-operatives that are run by the communities that they serve and function alongside the state energy company. They have played an important role in increasing energy access using the bills paid by consumers to develop local electricity grids or extensions to connect households onto the national grid. The co-operatives do not have to rely on government subsidies and use some of the funds generated for projects like education programmes. Access to electricity in Costa Rica now stands at 98 per cent nationally.

Community Energy Co-operative in Barcelona

 In total, these four co-operatives account for 15 per cent of the electricity distribution in the country and provide around 40 per cent of service in rural areas. Initially established in the 1960s, since the 1980s they have also been involved in electricity generation, running two small-scale hydro-electric plants. The co-operatives have regular public meetings where decisions are made about pricing and leadership.

 In Spain, Som Energia(‘We are Energy’ in Catalan) co-operative was set up in 2011 in response to the high bills of the large energy companies, the largest two of which account for 80 per cent of the Spanish energy market, and the lack of green energy options. Four years after being established, it has set up eight solar roof installations and a biogas plant, and is in the process of building Spain’s first community wind turbine. It has 16,000 members who purchase electricity from the co-operative.

 In the wake of the Indignados protests against austerity following the financial crisis, many people have joined Som Energia, welcoming an opportunity to invest their savings in a project which create social value, rather than leaving it in the care of corrupt bankers.

 The co-operative is trying to make it as accessible as possible for those on low incomes to join, and its membership fee of €100 is relatively low compared to similar projects. While Som Energia does not receive the state subsidy that the big energy companies do to enable them to offer lower prices to poor consumers, it aims to offer some kind of social tariff financed from its profits. 

It has also pioneered democratic inclusion, offering a high level of transparency through publishing information on its website and having a structure based on local working groups which decide on their own priorities, whether training to members, increasing energy generation or making links with other organisations. Its annual general assembly takes place via the internet with trial runs available beforehand to ensure that those who are less familiar with online technology are able to participate.

As well as producing energy, Som Energia also aims to act as a platform for social and environmental campaigning, supporting existing organisations and providing space for discussion and making the links between the different issues people are facing. It is campaigning hard against reforms by the Spanish government which look set to protect the interests of the big energy companies while making life more difficult for small producers like Som Energia.

This is an excerpt from Rays of Hope, a booklet about energy alternatives. 

Zero Carbon Britain Short Course Scholarship

CAT is offering a funded placement for grass roots campaigners to join us on our next Zero Carbon Britain (ZCB) course. Join us at CAT on 6-8th February for an empowering and inspiring weekend looking at this ground-breaking research. ZCB offers a robust, evidence-based scenario that explores ways we can deliver a climate positive future, whilst also maintaining a modern lifestyle. The course also covers how ZCB can be successfully used as a powerful tool to inspire positive action, stimulate debate and build consensus in our communities and places of work. The course is ideal for Change Makers working in Local Green Groups, Transition Towns, FOE groups, CAT members, students and activists etc
To enter please send us no more than 300 words (posted to the CAT Facebook or email courses@cat.org.uk) about why you should get a funded place what you will do with the knowledge you get from the course.

Deadline is 5pm GMT 29th January.
The winner will be judged by a panel of CAT staff and announced on 30th January on our Facebook page.
By entering you accept that CAT will post your name to the CAT Facebook page should you win.
Travel to CAT is not included but vegetarian wholefood full board and onsite accommodation at CAT is included.

Apply today! and please share around your networks- many thanks

We need to fight for energy justice

Global Justice Now (formerly the World Development Movement) have just launched a new report called Rays of Hope – Clean and democratically controlled energy for everyone’. This is an extract from the new report by Christine Haigh, Climate and energy campaigner with Global Justice Now.

Our current energy system is deeply unjust. More than 1.3 billion people living without access electricity – many of them living in countries like Nigeria that exports huge amounts of energy to the global north. Communities across the world are experiencing the disastrous effects of fossil fuel extraction such as land grabbing by coal mines, oil spills and water polluted by fracking.

We urgently need a more just energy system. But what does energy justice look like?

Corporate control of energy has failed to ensure that everyone can access the energy that they need. It is also keeping us locked in destructive ways of producing energy, so it’s clear that fairer, more democratic alternatives are needed. There is no one-size fits all solution to meeting people’s energy needs in a sustainable way and in different places people are using different terms to describe their vision for a more just energy system. But there are a number of common threads.

No one disputes that energy should be provided in a way that gives everyone enough to meet their basic needs. In some parts of the world, this means public investment to provide a physical link for everyone to access electricity grids – something that has been achieved in countries like Costa Rica and Uruguay.

It also means ensuring that everyone can afford the energy that is available. In many places this is done through pricing systems which mean that the poor pay less. For example, in Cuba, the government provides enough energy for people’s basic needs at a very low price, with prices increasing steeply above this level, and the cost of power to run luxuries like air conditioning costing over 50 times that of the basic allocation.

It also requires that the rights of workers in the energy system are respected, and the production process does not cause destruction to other communities. Campaigns by trade unions and climate change campaigners in the UK and elsewhere have highlighted how a million good quality jobs could be created by investment in shifting to a green economy. Globally, the International Trade Union Confederation has estimated that 48 million new green jobs could be created over five years with enough investment.

There is growing consensus that control of energy should lie in the hands of those who produce and use energy, whether this is through public ownership or co-operative structures. In many parts of the world, people are experimenting with different ways of giving people a direct say in the decisions that are made about energy production and use. For example, Spanish energy co-operative Som Energia has pioneered ways of using the internet for decision-making, taking care not to exclude elderly members and those with less experience.

These democratic approaches are also taking care to move towards operating in a way that respects environmental limits: using renewable technologies or planning a phased transition away from destructive fossil fuels.

In Denmark, thanks to government support and tax incentives, wind power provides one-fifth of the country’s energy and three-quarters of the country’s turbines are owned by co-operatives. This model has inspired a similar approach in Germany, where over half of the renewable energy capacity is now owned by individuals or farms, much of it through co-operatives, rather than big energy companies. As a result there is far more support for renewable energy: 90 per cent of Danes support wind power as their favoured source of energy.


Rays of HopI


In Uruguay, the government has adopted an ambitious plan to transition away from fossil fuels and anticipates becoming an exporter of energy to neighbouring Argentina and Brazil.

One advantage of renewable technologies for communities that invest in them is that once the initial costs of buying the solar panels or wind turbine have been covered, the running costs are very low. In many projects, this has enabled the revenues from selling the power produced to be put to other uses. For example, in Zschadrass in Germany, the money generated is used to help cover the costs of running the local kindergarten and pay for free school meals and an annual holiday camp for local children.

The path to renewable, democratically controlled, accessible energy can be long. But if we work together we create an energy system that works for people rather than for profit. At Global Justice Now (formerly the World Development Movement) we work with people across the world to take back control of our energy system. You can read more about the campaign and how you can get involved on our website.

This is an extract from the pamphlet ‘Rays of Hope – Clean and democratically controlled energy for everyone’ 

Bursary fund for Welsh schools in STEM subjects

Great opportunity for subsidised  visits for KS 3, 4 and 5 STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) groups in Wales

STEM school trip funding



 Schools from North Wales

Until July 2015 schools from North Wales can book a STEM visit to CAT with a bursary towards travel, tuition and entry. Priority will be given to schools in Communities first areas. This bursary may be repeated Sept 2015- July 2016. Funded by Thomas Howell’s Education Fund for North Wales

This offer is on a first come first served basis. Do get in touch as soon as possible.

Gabrielle Ashton 01654705983 education@cat.org.uk


Taster Open Days at the Graduate School of the Environment

Come along to one of our taster open days to find out more about the environmental masters courses on offer at the Centre for Alternative Technology’s Graduate School of the Environment. You must pre-book, but these open days offer a great chance to get a flavour of the practical, innovative courses we offer and find out if one might be right for you.

Upcoming open day dates

Wednesday 11th February

Wednesday 11th March

Wednesday 15th April

Open Day Programme

11:00 – 4:30 (free and includes lunch),

Wednesday taster days take place during the masters in sustainability and adaptation modules each month and give you the chance to come along to CAT meet some existing students, speak to lecturers and decide which environmental masters degree at CAT is most suitable for you.

  • Have a tour of the Centre, including accommodation and teaching facilities
  • Meet current students
  • Meet tutors on the courses
  • Experience a taster lecture

Students interested in Renewable Energy and the Built Environment can also visit on these open days. You will be able to meet a tutor from your course, see the facilities and get your questions answered.

Optional overnight stay

The open day is free but there is an option to stay overnight until Thursday morning. The overnight stay is offered at the subsidised rate of £25 including accommodation in a shared student room, dinner and breakfast. This is a great chance to have a more relaxed time at the centre and experience a few more lectures or practical sessions, and hear from other students.


To book a place please email Kit Jones gsmo@cat.org.uk now, or at least one week before the open day.

Ecosystems, sewage and the fun side of sustainable architecture

Architecture studentsTasha Aitken is studying for a Professional Diploma in Architecture at CAT’s Graduate School of the Environment. Here she reports of a module in which saw students getting knee deep in poo, learning about ecological sanitation (with less involved options for the those of a more delicate disposition!), ecosystem services, Gaia theory and water and waste management. The module was held jointly with students from the masters degree in sustainability and adaptation.


I think many of my fellow students would agree with me that returning to CAT for the November module, our third of 18 for the Professional Diploma course, was like returning home. Everyone dribbled in at various times throughout the evening and each time, everyone gathered round to greet the new arrivals.

I think many of my fellow students would also agree that the pace had really been cranked up as October turned to November. Ready to greet us on Monday and Tuesday mornings respectively were our first assessed presentation and submission deadlines for a 3,000 word essay and 1250 word practical. So, with the brief intermissions to welcome course-mates we hadn’t seen for weeks, most of us were beavering away at the finishing touches to our written work and starting (!) our presentations for the following morning.

The presentation topic was unspecified, but the length was strictly 10 minutes, really getting us to think about content, flow and conciseness of delivery. As a result, the day was a brief snapshot into the other three-quarters of each-others’ lives outside of CAT-week. Topics ranged from building out of found materials in an eco-village and involvement in community projects to the principles of teaching Forest School. Even those, including myself, who presented on an aspect of their Ceinws Sustainable Rural Affordable Housing Project were putting across a chosen interest personal to them. It was a brilliant enlightenment to the expanse of knowledge and experience we have as a collective.

After a day of presentations, Tuesday saw us revert back to a more normal schedule of lectures. This month’s module has been “Ecosystem Services, Land-Use and Water and Waste Management”: a mouthful to say and an even bigger plateful of really practical information taking us back to the basics of resource use. As ProfDips, we didn’t attend the entire lecture series but still managed to cover topics such as: Contaminated Land, Ecological Sanitation, Flooding and Urban Design, Food Security, Ecosystems Services, and Resource Management. To pick out a single issue to tell you about is tricky, but perhaps one most relevant to CAT philosophy is the idea of the Meta-Industrial Era. The Resource Management lecture by Peter Harper talked about the transitions made from Pre-Industrial to Early Industrial and to the Mature Industrial Era, our current position, increasingly abandoning low impact natural materials in favour of high performance, high impact technologies. Discussion related to the modern day relevance of natural pre-industrial materials, where it was suggested that the “Meta-Industrial Age” involves using low energy materials wherever possible, but adding ‘industrial vitamins’, such as internet, electricity and high-quality glazing, allowing expected standards of living to continue.

Meta-Industrial materials
Material Impacts in Successive Inudstrial Ages (Harper P. 2014 Resources and Resource Management; powerpoint presentation at CAT, 11.11.2014)


On Thursday, Brian Moss, the noted ecologist sandwiched dinner with two lectures, and whose stimulating content was centred around, firstly, the idea of natural selection and the debate between co-operative and selfish evolution: pack behaviour versus the protective female instinct. His point was that we are an invasive species and to overcome our selfish nature – self-promotion and self-indulgence – would be to allow the Earth to survive. The second part was really about what the human species’ place in the world is: Is our work to restore the planet unnatural? If we are part of nature, can anything we do be unnatural? And finally, explaining that “the spirit level” may be a Silver Bullet for the Earth. Moss pointed out that the feudal system gave few an enormous sphere of influence with potential to ruin the Earth , whilst the pre-feudal clans and tribes were unable to make such an impact and would take themselves out upon acting unsustainably, therefore removing the problem.

Possibly the most exciting part of the week for everyone was Practical Day, and the prospect of getting knee deep in poo during Louise’s sanitation option! However, you will have to ask someone else about that as I chose to walk around Machynlleth and observe existing and potential ecosystem services, in other words, the ways in which nature can provide for us, e.g. trees giving shade or plants as a food source.

Ecosystem services plants
Ecosystem services outside the coop (author’s photograph)

And on to the Friday night social, in the absence of Tim, Tom Barker took up the mantle and introduced the theme of Moodle, our online information service that had been causing a few hiccups recently. Poems with as many oodle-rhyming words as possible were read out in Irish accents and with guitar accompaniments and people stamped their user-numbers on their foreheads. Oh, and there was an entirely unrelated acro-yoga session, the pinnacle of which was our human pyramid!

Human Engineering (author’s photograph)

Come to our Professional Diploma in Architecture end of year exhibition on Friday 16th January

Get a deep understanding of what achieving Zero Carbon Britain means

Dates have been announced for short courses on Zero Carbon Britain in 2015. Following a successful course this year with 15 participants from diverse environmental projects and grassroots campaigns, we will be running two courses during 2015.

The first is a weekend course running from Friday 6th to Sunday 8th February

The second course takes two nights during the week: Wednesday 2nd to Friday 4th September. 

The courses offer an in-depth introduction to CAT’s latest Zero Carbon Britain research, a robust, evidence-based scenario that explores ways we can deliver a climate positive future whilst also maintaining a modern lifestyle.

A member discussing Zero Carbon Britain

The course also covers how Zero Carbon Britain can be successfully used as a powerful tool for groups and individuals to inspire positive action, stimulate debate and build consensus in their communities and places of work.

The course is aimed at Local Green Groups, Transition Towns, FOE groups, CAT members, activists and anyone with an interest in positive sustainable futures

Participants will leave with:-

• Overview of the key environmental challenges

• Long term perspective on relationship between human beings and energy

• Detailed introduction to the ZCB scenario and how it meets climate challenges

• Detailed session on energy modelling and land-use/diets

• How ZCB can offer an national perspective to local action

• Suggestions on how ZCB has been used as a tool for local groups

• Training on how to use/present ZCB.

Click here for more details and to book onto the course.

The main tutor will be Paul Allen, who leads the Zero Carbon Britain Project
Kara presenting at the members conference


New Carbon Accounting Tool Released

Aubrey Meyer developer of the framework known as Contraction and Convergence launched a new carbon accounting tool at the Centre for Alternative Technology.

The new educational resource, CBAT (short for the Carbon Budget Accounting Tool) brings to life a process of ‘Contraction and Convergence’ which helps the user explore the potential of global climate deals that are do-able safe and fair, ending up with roughly equal global rights per capita to emit.

The CBAT tool helps  understand this process by inter-actively modelling the rates of change of net greenhouse gas emissions. CBAT is aimed at everybody (experts and students alike ) to help  decide what needs to happen in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Developer Aubrey Meyer says that, “the purpose of CBAT is ‘educational’ with an emphasis on improving the understanding of what is needed for us to really achieve the UN goal of avoiding really dangerous climate change.”

Aubrey Meyer celebrates the launch of his new carbon budget accounting tool with CAT staff, students and trustee’s

CBAT has a broad base of support that includes United Nations secretary Ban Ki Moon, Caroline Lucas, Rowan Williams, Jonathon Porritt, Tony Juniper and many more.

The Centre for Alternative Technology in Machynlleth is the UK’s leading environmental educational charity. Set up in 1975 to inform, inspire and enable practical solutions for sustainable living. CBAT was launched during the Politics and Economy module of CAT’s new masters in Sustainability and Adaptation.

Tom Barker, senior lecturer at CAT said “It is an honour for CAT to have CBAT launched here. It will be a very effective tool in the fight against climate change and a brilliant opportunity for our students to get to grips with a new program to better understand climate accounting.”



Top 5 courses for christmas presents

Looking for a different kind of gift for the person who has everything or wants nothing?

Fire their enthusiasm with a course they won’t have seen before.

Here are our top Christmas present picks for 2014 from our huge range of short courses:

Introduction to Horse Logging

1. Be a Horselogger for a day 28-Feb or 1 March / £70

Build an Earth Oven

2. Build a pizza Earth Oven 28-Mar or 2nd May  – £60

Rustic Furniture Making

3. Rustic Furniture Making 04-Apr  / £60

Make a Wind Chime or Xylophone

4. Make a Wind chime or Xylophone 02-May  / £60

Make a Bird Table

5. Make a bird table 06-Jun  / £60

Book online for specific courses or order a Gift Certificate. This is just a taster of the courses available at CAT. See the full calendar for more ideas.

In a hurry? We can email you the Gift Certificate on request.