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.

Christmas presents that make a difference

 

If you like me have not even started Christmas shopping yet, you could either put your head in your hands and despair about our consumerist society or do what I did last year and give someone a present that can really make their year. Just before last Christmas, my Dad came up to CAT and was amazed by the wooden pole lathes and shave horses he saw as we walked around CAT. I suggested he might like to do a course; “that would be brilliant!” he said. A few months later he came to visit again armed with his notebook, pencil and a lot of enthusiasm to take part in the Greenwood Crafts course. He had an amazing time,  learnt loads and now has his very own shave horse in the garden shed.  My only problem is this year all my family want a course at CAT for Christmas.

Which is why it’s great that CAT is offering a 10% discount up until 31st December. So if you or a loved one have ever wanted to learn how to build a coracle, make forged tools, or construct gates and fences, give horse logging a go for a day, or spend an intensive week learning the art of sustainable woodland management from experienced woodspeople, now is your chance! I myself have enrolled on the Blacksmithing course and can’t wait, here’s hoping it’s the start of a brand new career.

CAT’s short courses are a great gift idea for anyone interested in learning skills in sustainable living; this festive season, why not give someone you love the opportunity to delve further into an interest, or to take a week out from the hectic pace of life in the tranquility of mid Wales?

Participants on CAT’s short courses enjoy delicious vegetarian meals and accommodation nestled in the foothills of Snowdonia, as well as expert tuition from well-renowned tutors and CAT staff.

Below are some of the fantastic courses on offer in 2013. Book before the 31st and make the most of the 10% discount now available!

Develop your skills in woodland management and crafts

Gates, Fences and Hedges: learn how to create gates, fences and hedges. Ideal for smallholders.
Horse logging: experience a low impact method for logging woodland
Sustainable woodland management: a fantastic introduction to all aspects of managing a small wood. Learn how to add social, economic and ecological value to woodland.
Greenwood crafts: discover the basic principles of transforming greenwood into products.

Reclaim traditional skills

Coracle building: build a traditional vessel used since the Bronze Age in a weekend
Hedgerow herbalism: discover how to produce an incredible range of cosmetic and medicinal products from foraged materials
Willow basket making: spend a hands-on day learning how to weave with willow
Blacksmithing: learn how to use a low-tech, low-fuel charcoal forge and leave with the items you’ve made

Learn sustainable building skills

Strawbale building: learn this sustainable, simple and accessible building method
Make an earth oven: gain the skills to build an earth oven yourself, and secure a future supply of delicious pizza, breads and stews!

Photostory: building with straw bales

 

This week at CAT, participants on our popular course building with straw bales have been learning this fast, cheap, effective and highly sustainable building method.

While most building and insulating materials have a high level of embodied energy, straw bales provide a great alternative with the lowest embodied energy of any building method – except for rammed earth.

Furthermore, using straw bales rather than more traditional building materials doesn’t mean any compromise, as straw bales provide great insulation.

Straw bale houses are also relatively easy to construct, and fast.

 

CAT Short Courses Christmas Offer

Treat your loved ones to an inspirational Short Course this Christmas!

As well as fantastic discounts in our on-site shop, CAT is offering a 10% discount on all short courses booked between now and the 31st December at midnight. Courses at CAT cover a wide range of topics, from eco-building, ecology and sanitation to woodland and green craft courses- there is something for everybody and at all levels. Contacts us now to take advantage of this special offer courses@cat.org.uk/ 01654 704 952/ www.cat.org.uk/shortcourses

Building clay ovens

New day courses for 2012 include

–      Introduction to Compost Toilets

–      Rustic Chair Making

–      Forged Tool Making

–      Greenwood Crafts

–      Introduction to Organic Gardening

–      Introduction to Horse Logging

–      Hedgerow Herbalism

 

This offer applies to our longer courses too, please take a look at our course calendar online, or email us your address and we’ll send you a brochure. This offer is valid until midnight on the 31st December and can be redeemed on all courses in 2012. To book contact

courses@cat.org.uk/ 01654 704 952/ www.cat.org.uk/shortcourses

 

 

The joys of foraging for mushrooms

 

You don’t have to look far these day to see the evidence of the resurgence in popularity of foraging, especially for wild mushrooms. Celebrity chefs wax lyrical, identification books sell well, and mushroom identification courses such as the one happening at CAT this weekend attract many interested in learning about fungi.

The attraction is easily understood; there’s so much about the pursuit that is intrinsically likeable. It’s nice finding food for free. It’s nice finding food in the wild. It’s nice traipsing through the great outdoors and appreciating what can be found there.

Still, it’s not without its risks. The popularity surge that mushroom hunting has undergone has left some quarters concerned that novices will endanger themselves by consuming incorrectly identified fungi. Is foraging something that should be left to experienced professionals?

Jamie, one of CAT’s current Biology volunteers and a mushroom enthusiast, doesn’t think so. The fundamental thing – which is common sense, really – is that if you don’t know what it is, or if you’re not sure, don’t eat it. Keeping in mind that obvious edict, foraging for mushrooms is an accessible pastime.

In order to make a good start, Jamie recommends investing in a larger mushroom identification book, as many mushrooms foragers come across don’t feature in the the smaller guides. It’s also advisable to head out after a few days of dry weather, as the damp changes the colouration of fungi and makes them harder to spot.

Considering a little etiquette is also important. For obvious reasons, it’s not a good idea to leave an ecosystem bereft of its fungi. Some forums encourage mushroom hunters to photograph, rather than remove, a specimen they’re unsure about, while others remind foragers to tap the mushroom after picking so it releases its spores.

The mushroom season, which runs from late Summer to early Autumn, is rapidly coming to a close. This year’s mushrooms came quite early, and it’s getting harder to predict when they’ll be at their most plentiful.

Around CAT, there are still some mushrooms nestled in the hills. We’re lucky to be in such a biodiverse region, and though by no means an experienced forager myself, I spent an enjoyable morning this week spotting dewy mushrooms peeking out from clumps of grass.

As Jamie says, the appeal is similar to that of an Easter egg hunt.