CAT’s Paul Allen joined the International Network For Sustainable Energy (INFORSE) in Denmark to share the latest Zero Carbon Britain research on a global platform. The 25th anniversary meeting brings together organisations from across the world to explore the transition to sustainable energy, community power and the development of new initiatives and projects.
Holly Owen, environmental artist, came to live at the Centre for Alternative Technology seven months ago as our artist in residence. Holly’s time here has been inspiring, not just for her artistic practise, but for all the staff that have been a part of her continuing journey into low impact art.
“Playing with materials bound to the earth lifts us out of the commonplace and into a world re-imagined. Art has the ability to re-enchant our consciousness with the world when the facts and figures of climate change leave us numb.”
Holly Owen, 2016
Holly’s art and climate change journey started eight years ago, when she began to explore natural, low impact materials and processes in her artistic practice.
Experimenting with golden-yellow Dartmoor beeswax, Holly began to unravel the ecological mysteries surrounding the decline of the honeybee during her residency at Buckfast Abbey. This was the first step in an ongoing journey, exploring local and global environmental issues that affect humanity in both subtle and devastating ways.
“In the first week of my residency at the Centre for Alternative Technology, I realised how surface level my knowledge was about global climate change. This was going to be a sharp learning curve from the ground up.
Thankfully my residency was connected with CAT’s education department, so alongside many groups of school kids I spent my first few months eagerly absorbing the wealth of knowledge that this enthusiastic team have to share,” said Holly.
Holly joined CAT in the summer of 2015, in months before COP21 in Paris. It was then that she realised the significance of the timing of her residency.
“Two years prior to my CAT journey I began working with digital artist Kristina Pulejkova on a multi-media project entitled Switching Heads-sound mapping the Arctic.
The project took us to a community deep within the Arctic Circle where we worked alongside local people to collect the sights, sounds and stories from one of the most endangered environments on earth.
We were invited to take the resulting film to the art and culture festival ArtCOP21 that ran in conjunction with COP21 in Paris.
As our anticipation of this important global event grew, so did the atmosphere at CAT. Embracing the opportunity to delve into the political world that CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain programme resides in, and encouraged by the active work of groups such as Reclaim the Power, Kristina and I hurtled towards COP21 fully fuelled with knowledge and a sense of people power.
I feel proud and humbled to have had the opportunity to play an active role in the events surrounding COP21, made even more poignant by the timing of my connection to CAT.”
Inspired by this life changing foray into international climate talks and activism, Holly’s piece Switching Heads (Llwyngwern slate) looks out through the withered leaves of the sparse winter beds of CAT’s central polytunnel. A life-sized head, formed from slither-thin shards of CAT quarry slate, blends organically into its surroundings.
In April, Holly will be making a welcome return to CAT, with fellow artist Kristina to record a second film for their on-going series Switching Heads – sound mapping the […] – exploring climate change through the voices of people who live and work in places of environmental significance.
Their current films – and the adventures they had making them – can be seen here.
Holly’s piece Allotment uses the Fibonacci sequence to showcase seeds collected from CAT head gardener Roger McLennan’s historic seed bank. Using a pattern that appears regularly in natural forms – think sunflower seed heads, trees branches, an artichoke flower, an unfurling fern – this piece shows the seeds oscillating out from the center of a disc painted in Llwyngwern slate pigment.
Allotment spans a UK food-growing year challenging food production, food miles and waste and encouraging locally grown, organic, seasonal produce that can give extra enjoyment to the food we eat and share.
explores CAT through the infinite colours, tones and textures under our feet. Thirty two different postcard sized swatches were painted with mud pigments map the site, each accompanied by an individual story of discovery. It is a snapshot of Holly’s seven months at CAT, her journey and the re-enchantment of finding beauty in the mundane and overlooked.
Accompanying this work, stories from CAT’s passionate, skilled and creative community are shared, demonstrating why CAT is so important to them. These stories create a colourful, unique and positive patchwork of individual journeys that collectively form a community like no other.
As this phase of Holly’s work comes to a close, and she is set to embark on another adventure curating art for a festival in the Severn valley, Holly reflects.
“The months that I have spent living and working in this reclaimed Welsh slate quarry amongst the ancient history, the realised dreams and the shared futures has focused my creativity in ways unimagined. As my art and climate change journey continues, it has been enriched with a deeper focus for an alternative way of life, imagined through the arts and made possible by all of us.”
Thank you for helping us here at CAT appreciate what we have under our feet, Holly. We are looking forward to sharing a Welsh Spring with you when you return.
CAT Education Officer, Ann MacGarry, reflects on her recent experience of teaching a group of 17 year olds from Italy.
I recently had a very satisfying week teaching a lovely group of 15 seventeen year olds from Italy who came as part of a European project. They were both easy going and really interested in the activities.
I’d done a bit of research into energy potential in Italy and renewable energy use across Europe so they had some appropriate data to use, particularly when it came to doing the Zero Carbon Futures session. I’d got hold of a map of Italy and they populated it with skilful modelling with plasticine and intelligent use of the models I have collected over the years. There was a tidal stream device between Sicily and the mainland, geothermal by Mount Vesuvius, solar systems in various places and wind farms in the appropriate windy areas. There were also more trees and the only vehicles were a bike, bus, train, tractors and emergency vehicles. They also had local foods in the appropriate places. This was really interesting as I’m sure that if you asked a group of seventeen year olds from Britain to locate local foods on a map of Britain, they’d be scratching their heads.
This reflects both what has happened to traditional foods in Britain and also our knowledge of it.
They also explored the impact of the stuff we buy through using our Where’s the Impact? cards, used the new version of Energy Trumps to learn all about energy sources, did our Water footprint activity, collaborated to see how to reduce carbon footprints with The Green House and put huge enthusiasm into designing and building wind turbine models. We also managed to fit in a walk up the hill to the reservoir, quarry and wind turbines and they were the only group I have ever seen do our Hooded Adventure with no-one cheating by peeping.
The sun shines on Mynydd Gorddu Windfarm.
Yesterday the REBE (Renewable Energy and the Built Environment) students were taken to visit Mynydd Gorddu Wind Farm located near Tal-y-bont, Ceredigion, West Wales and given a tour by the site manager. As a media volunteer I get to document all the interesting excursions students make, and so I thanked the weather gods for a sunny day, pulled on my long johns and packed my camera. After bumpy ride down narrow roads on the local coach, we arrived and were greeted by the sites operational manager, a sharp man in his forties. With the sun on our backs, we huddled round like penguins as he explain how this wind farm, which has been successfully running for nearly 20 years was started.
Developed initially by Trydan Gwynt Cyfyngedig in 1997 – a company owned by a local family, Dr Dafydd Huws and Mrs Rhian Huws, npower renewables was involved in the early stages but in 1993 ceased to be involved with the project. Beaufort wind Limited are listed as the owner now, RWE Innogy as the operator. Dr Dafydd Huws had been inspired by the turbines at CAT and later through visits to Denmark where the technology has been developed further. In 1997 however, npower renewables agreed to assume responsibility for the financing and construction of the wind farm. Trydan Gwynt Cyfyngedig became a co-operative venture between npower renewables, now called RWE Innogy and the Huws family company, Amgen, the welsh for “positive change”. Dr Huws and his company Amgen continue to have, a leading role in the development of the wind farm and its operation.
By all accounts this wind farm was remarkably successful, with a good track record of fulfilling its potential, but like all machines they do need maintenance.It was interesting to hear direct from the horses mouth what its like to manage a site such as this, what kind of decisions you have to make when lightening strikes and melts the conductors. Calling crane companies and having to pay them double so they can come lift off the hub and propellers the next day, and get the turbine back in action as quick as possible. These kind of quick financial calculations, mixed in with practical monitoring and maintenance are all part of a days work for a wind farm operational site manager.
The site was awarded European grant of £1.3m to trial four different types of turbine but today there stands 19 turbines, with two different diameters, as the planning authorities weren’t so happy with the idea of too many different machines scattered across the hills. The planners also ensured that the sub-station, where the electricity is sent into the grid and where the turbines are monitored (with P.C’s STILL running from 1995, a little fact to amaze the techo- heads) is built in a true vernacular style, with stone walls, wooden doors and iron detailing.
If you are interested in the performance of these medium sized wind turbines then you may be interested in the following; 7 of the turbines are each rated at 600 kilo Watts with a hub height of 34 metres and a rotor diameter of 43m. The other 12 are rated at 500kW each with a hub height of 35m and rotor diameter of 41m. The rotors on both turbine sizes turn at an approximate speed of 30 revolutions per minute (rpm), driving a gearbox within the nacelle which is in turn connected to a generator. The turbines start to generate electricity automatically when the wind speed reaches around 11 miles per hour (mph), and achieve maximum output at around 33 mph. They shut down when the wind speed exceeds 56 mph, which is rare. The farm has a combined maximum output of 10.2 megawatts.
I have no pretentions of being an engineer, and so many of these technical details the REBE students were avidly scribbling down passed me by and I tuned into the gentle sound of the blades swooshing above me in the cold winter wind and their majestic white silhouettes cutting into the crisp blue sky, a symbol to me of beauty and hope. I was also noticing the red kites sailing high in the sky, the fresh strong blast of cold wind whipping around my ears and noticed a suprising birds nest above one of the windmills doors at the base.
I am interested in the politics and people behind these endeavours and was intrigued to hear how carefully Dr Dafydd Huws tried to maximize the returns to the community by ensuring the windfarm infrastructure spread across more than one owners land. There is a fund, “Cronfa Eleri” that’s administered by Amgen, who have set up the Cronfra Eleri Advisory Committee, ensuring that people who understand the needs of the community decide how the money is spent to provide the widest community benefit. The fund yields about £10,00 a year and in 2011 the fund helped buy a new heating system for a community centre in Ysgoldy Bethlehem, Llandre, a new shed for the local Talybont nursery, the re-wiring and renovation of the local church in Bontgoch, and towards a new tennis court in conjunction with the Playingfield Society Rhydypennau.
As we wandered back to the coach, we waved good-bye to the beautiful bullocks, (the wind farm was fully integrated with the traditional farming practices of the area, with sheep and cows grazing beneath the turbines) and all looked forward to a delicious lunch awaiting us at CAT. The electricity from the farm traced our steps, passing along a cables supported by wooden poles from Bow street to Machynlleth, carrying clean electricity to the local electricity grid network for use in local homes, schools and businesses. All in all it had been a very successful trip, but lets see what Alexandra King, a REBE student who came too had to say;
Who are you and what do you do when your not studying at CAT?
“I’m Alexandra King. I live and work in Bath. My husband is a consulting engineer, I work with him, mainly as a support at the moment, but hope that after finishing this course, I will be more involved in the engineering design.”
Why did you decide to study at CAT?
“CAT is the obvious choice – to my knowledge it is the best place in the country to study renewables. Why? For a long time now I was a mecologist by choice. I believe in sustainable lifestyle. We’ve installed PVs on our roof as soon as we had a chance. Renewable energy is clean and available everywhere, even in the most remote locations. It will not run out anytime soon, unlike fossil fuels. And if we start making changes now, by the time we do run out of coal and gas, we should have good enough infrastructure to keep us going. I don’t know if we could slow down the climate change, but there is always hope.”
What did you learn from the trip to the windfarm?
“I’ve always liked wind turbines, and this visit just reinforced this affection. They are so elegant and not at all noisy. The footprint of a turbine is very small. I love the possibility of the double use of land (cattle or crops), turbines scale easily, the construction time is relatively short, unfortunately so is the lifespan of a wind farm. But I am sure we can overcome this in the future.
One more thing, I’ve visited several wind farms and yet to see a single dead bird, yet, driving home a few days ago, saw 8 corpses on the motorway… one of them was a badger, I think, but still.”
How do you find the teaching on the course, and is there anything you would change about your student experience with CAT?
“I love CAT, wouldn’t change a thing. Except I wish I’d started earlier, like several years ago, but never mind now. I think this course is well balanced; it will give me a broad understanding of principles and technologies that will be very useful in my future work.”
Many thanks Alexandra !
Education for sustainable energy – free teacher training
28 October 2014 at the Centre for Alternative Technology (with an option to stay overnight 27th to 29th).
“Excellent day! Lots of ideas to take away” Ysgol Tywyn June 20th 2014
Get activity ideas for bringing global issues into the classroom on a free one day course. Aimed at teachers and trainees at secondary level, the course focuses on energy and sustainable futures. It is mainly delivered through interactive activities, backed up with well researched information.
The one-day course is free and includes lunch and supper, thanks to support from the European Greenet project. To book your place email Deirdre Raffan: education @cat .org.uk. This can be extended for an additional half day on the 29th (see below).
Free course content
“Nice setting, knowledgeable staff, good ideas for activities” Teacher from Wales June 20th 2014
- Energy and Climate Change activities
- Practical workshops on teaching renewable energy
- Visioning a Zero Carbon Future
- Using resources developed by CAT
- Lunch, refreshments and supper
“A very enjoyable day with good useful ideas” Shrewsbury Sixth form college June 20th 2014
Subsidised overnight B+B accommodation is available before and after the training (27th and 28th October) at the rate of £20 per night including breakfast. Accommodation is in our Eco Cabins. You could also bring a friend, they can explore CAT and the area and just pay for their accommodation.
An extension to the course is available the following morning (Wednesday 29th October) for £30. In this additional time you will explore:
- Food and land use
- Environmental Building
STEM teachers in Welsh secondary schools may be able to get a bursary – please contact us.
Education @cat .org.uk
By Helen Kennedy, who just got back from CAT’s postgraduate open weekend where she came to find out about our new MSc Sustainability and Adaptation course.
Having 22 years’ teaching experience, and not liking the way things have been going for some years, I decided to try somehow to make a difference both to my life and possibly the lives of many others by taking more practical skills and thinking back into the classroom. But how to do it? Budgets are tight and present government educational climate wrong to try to do it from the inside, so, having long been interested in the world of renewable energy, sustainable building methods and permaculture design, I have decided to get trained up and qualified, and try to deliver what I feel is crucial stuff back into the world of primary and secondary education from the outside.
And so I began to look into the possibilities. It didn’t take long to realize that the courses available at CAT offer something you cannot get anywhere else, in terms of the wealth of knowledge concentrated there, the immersive environment, the “what you see around you everywhere reflects what you learn” whole ethos of the site itself, the great reputation of CAT and its long-standing history. I visited CAT as an enthusiastic 7 year old, and remember the revolutionary half-flushing toilets and hand-made wind turbine. From tiny acorns, as the saying goes.
I arrived on Saturday morning feeling excited but rather apprehensive about the weekend, and as the funicular carriage heaved me up the steep slope, it was difficult not to feel seven again, with my weekend’s belongings stuffed in a bag and a thousand questions stuffed in my head.
The gathering of people in front of the WISE building reflected the sheer diversity of those interested and driven to make whatever differences they can to tackle the environmental changes happening to the world, and to learn more about it, or to pass on their expertise, and I was immediately made to feel welcome, and taken on an impromptu tour of some of the work undertaken by students during a week of trying out different wall building and rendering techniques, including home-made lime putty, pizza ovens and a potential sauna. CAT students obviously know how to have fun 😉
The weekend formally began with an introduction to CAT from Tim Coleridge, followed by a lecture about climate change and adaptation delivered at lightning speed by Ranyl Rhydwen, who could get his message across to a sack of spuds, so lively is his style and passionate is his conviction. Catching our breath (!) we were whisked off on tours of some of the AEES [course to be replaced by Sustainability and Adaptation in September] students’ projects, and very industrious stuff it is too. From investigations into the properties of different mixes of hemp shives and lime, to exterior render experiments, some even including flour in the mix, and various different building projects underway, it was all very interesting. Brain overload was avoided by discussing also the social side of things; the starlit sauna up the steep slope behind the WISE building, or a, dare I say it, drinking den down the Magical Mole Hole!
Following a well-earned break, an exemplification of course modules and a Q&A session we went off to find our rooms. The first thing to hit me was the aroma of wood oil, and then the sliding door onto the decking area with daisies and a PV array, courtesy of this year’s REBE students. I could have stayed in there for the rest of the evening, except for the promise of pizza baked in a clay oven, a cool cider, some great company and an unexpected stomp up the slope to see the site from the wind turbines and to get eaten alive by midges as the sun sank behind some lenticular clouds.
A peaceful sleep, a renewable shower and a vegetarian CAT-special breakfast later, we were all gathered to listen to Tobi Kellner’s Zero Carbon Britain lecture. This was possibly one of the most powerful 40 minutes I have ever experienced, and one with a hugely positive message. I have since returning home, downloaded the pdf file of this lecture with its brilliantly clear and user-friendly info-graphics.
I had to leave early, to see if my wild-camping partner and dog had made it to Aberdovey in the heat of the weekend (which they had), but my head was left buzzing with all the activities and messages I had seen and heard, and the fabulous folk I met, and hope to meet again, as a student. Fingers crossed.
The Centre for Alternative Technology & the Architecture Students Network (ASN) presents Lines Drawn, an exciting event on the future of architectural education. The conference will start off at 12 noon on Saturday the 15th and end 2 pm 16th of March 2014. It promises to be a memorable occasion and is set in the stunning WISE building at CAT.
The debate will center around changes to the architectural education system in line with a new EU directive. It will discuss whether part 1, 2 and 3 should be dramatically shortened or completely scrapped, what emphasis and titles there should be on professional practice and what the new EU directive might mean for architectural education in the UK.
CAT is already an innovator in architectural education. The professional diploma in architecture run at CAT lasts for a continuous 18 months, saving six months on the traditional part II course. It also contains an emphasis on practical experience, alongside academic content.
RIBA has estimated that it takes about a decade for an architect to be be fully registered and is often laborious putting a great deal of people off. Former RIBA president. Jack Pringle said “drastic change” is needed adding that its ”crazy, it can’t take that long to go into one of the poorest-paid professions.”
The event will take place in the WISE building, a unique structure using timber frame, rammed earth and hemp and lime in an environmentally conscious design showcasing cutting-edge green building techniques. Book asap to be guaranteed a space.
We had a great visit from the Steiner Academy in Hereford today.
With a strong focus on teaching for sustainability, the school practices what it preaches by generating its own electricity on-site using photovoltaic panels. They also have a wood chip boiler for under-floor heating in the classrooms. Core to the school’s ethos is bringing nature into the classroom, supporting creativity in students and promoting respect.
During a tour of the CAT site by Ann, a member of our Education Team, the students interacted with our on-site displays. The students, who are currently doing their GCSEs, said that ‘they enjoyed the site very much’ and the willow sculptures on-site reminded them of their own school. Some students said they found ‘the mole hole a little bit scary’ but thought it was ‘very creative and artistic’.
Visit our Education Centre to find out more about what CAT can offer to school groups.
This week has been a busy one as two separate groups of CAT students have been getting creative and building unique structures. The annual build week for our Professional Diploma in Architecture students is almost coming to an end, whilst 150 miles away a team of CAT students are participating in the Roots Architecture Workshop (RAW) at WOMAD.
The CAT team at RAW built one of the main evening venues – the Speakeasy. By day the venue hosts talks and lectures on sustainable architecture, and at night it is transformed into a music and entertainment venue. The structure was designed and built by a selection of CAT students and alumni. Their aim was to showcase best design and practice in sustainable architecture taught at CAT, delivering a structure which is simple, practical, innovative, fun to look at, and intriguing to engage with.
Meanwhile at CAT, the Prof Dip students faced a challenge of their own: design and build a unique structure that will be part of the visitor circuit for years to come. Last month the students were given a brief and a budget and told to come up with different designs. The students voted amongst themselves and decided on a a timber frame outdoor classroom for school groups. The building will have lots of storage for bags, space for thirty children and also the potential to be used as a social area in the evenings.
More information about RAW4 at WOMAD can be found here.
If you’d like to know more about our architecture courses then head to the GSE website.
There will be a video of the summer build up on the website in the next few weeks.
In March Oscar visited the Centre for Alternative Technology with his school. He wrote an article about his experiences at the Centre on his blog, and he has kindly given us permission to reproduce it here.
From the 8th – 11th March 2013 I was lucky enough to join a group of my school friends on a visit to the Centre for Alternative Technology, Wales. In brief; it was a truly inspiring trip and I was able to talk to some really interesting people who work at the centre. The centre is built on an old slate waste tip from a slate quarry that used to be in action close by.
According to our guide, the centre was founded in 1974 and it aims to experiment with different environmentally friendly ways to produce electrical energy. As soon as you pull up in the, less eco-friendly, car you notice the most obvious ways they are producing electricity. The photo above was taken from underneath a roof of solar panels. The amazing design allows light into the sheltered area, yet is covered in solar panel tiles.
Another aspect of the centre is all the wind turbines – however retro some of them were (see picture on above). It was an insight to be able to stand next to one blade off a modern wind turbine. They a huge! Although, in my opinion, that is not a bad thing. I think the modern wind turbines look futuristic and do not ruin the landscape – they enhance it. Imagine if there were wind turbines in London! How different our opinions of them would be. There is the debate that they are a danger to bats. This is due to the blades spinning at a speed that the bat’s sensors do not pick up and they, sadly, will fly into the blades. I’m sure there must be a way to stop this.
Not only is the centre truly educational – it is a place of enjoyment. I will never forget being in the mole tunnel. The darkness allows you to find your way around without the need of sight – much like a mole. There are small lights which help you see due to health and safety, however, these lights are small and do not let you see that much in front of you. The tunnel leads you to a small room that has enlarged plastic bugs behind glass windows – it is as if you are looking through a huge magnifying glass at the bugs. The whole experience is made even more interactive by Megan the Mole talking to you as you stroll around. As you leave the tunnel you must take a moment to stroke Megan the Mole’s nose… it may only be a pretend mole, but it is incredibly soft.
The wind turbine workshop is one of those memories I will never forget. Our tour guide ran the workshop and the aim was to make the wind turbine (small scale model of course) that generated the most electricity when placed in front of a fan. Before the workshop we had been briefed on wind turbines and shown some full size ones (well from a distance away). I tried to make a very… well…erm… a different unique design out of a recycled plastic cup. Well that didn’t work, but our team did have one of the best designs in the end. Not that I am competitive 😉
Now the memory I definitely will not forget is the sensory walk. That was one of my favourite moments on the trip. Sadly, I couldn’t find anyone who took a photo of me doing it, so you’ll just have to imagine it. We were in a woodland and the trees were connected by a rope. Each participant was given a helmet and blindfold to put on and we were led to the rope. The aim was to complete a sort of obstacle course whilst feeling our way around – there were people dotted around the course to help us if we lost the guide rope. I had heard that at some point we had to crawl through a tunnel so as soon as the rope fell onto the floor I assumed we would have to crawl. If memory serves right – I believe I army crawled most of the course and halfway around there was a river. I had heard people step into it and get wet so I knew it was approaching. I used my hands to feel the ground and I noticed a change of texture – it was sand. I felt a bit further out and touched water so I stayed clear of it. In the end I did army crawl through part of the river fully with a few friends – because we felt like it. I won’t say much else about it, because if you do go to CAT on a school trip I do not want to ruin the sensory walk. I’ll just repeat – it was amazing and so much fun.
And that was that. We left on the Sunday to everyone’s great sadness. My time at the Centre had been full of surprises, excitement and most of all, enjoyment. Thank you for all the experiences CAT. I hope to visit again and I recommend anyone checks it out – especially schools. This is the perfect school trip and the students will learn so much – I know, because I learnt so much.