What is it like starting a new masters degree in renewable energy?

site

Toby Whiting, domestic energy assessor and new student on the MSc Renewable Energy and the Built Environment course at CAT reports on his introductory week. 

Looking back on the introductory half of the first module there has been a lot to take in! Meeting lecturers and other students on the course was re-assuring and surprising; the lecturers all have good levels of knowledge and practical experience (I have paid for some courses in the past where the trainers taught from a book and didn’t know the subject), whilst the students have come from a broad range of occupations and disciplines such as finance, engineering and teaching.

So far the course has laid the ground work with lectures explaining the current energy and policy status of the UK and covered global environmental issues and equipped us with the tools to learn; access to on-line research resources and essay writing lectures to name but a few (this is essential for me as I left college 25 years ago). A lot is packed into a day, with teaching finishing at around 8pm, then time flies as we sit in the evenings and discuss the thought inspiring lectures (often intermingled with anecdotes and drinks from the bar). I’ve been impressed with the lecturer/student ratio, there is always someone to ask if I missed something in a practical session. Saturday night sees an earlier finish at 6pm (this time following a seminar with our tutor which helps to demonstrate the type of work that is expected from us) after which some of us ventured into Machynlleth to find that the pubs are good and the locals are friendly. Sunday is a short day with two lectures and a packed lunch to see us on our way. I depart for a 6 hour train journey back to Southampton and feel pleased that my fears were unfounded; I have made the right choice, now I just need to write that essay and prepare my presentation for the second part of the module… That attendance covers the physics of energy use in buildings (closely related to my work), energy efficiency and an introduction to heat pumps.

 

site
The sun rises over CAT; one of the great views when the weather allows

Toby works as a consultant on domestic new-build housing, carrying out SAP (CO2) and Code for Sustainable Homes assessments along the South coast. He came to CAT because he wanted to challenge the answers that assessment tools give and he feels that a ‘hands on’ approach to investigating current technologies would be more useful.

What’s on this October half term at CAT?

Childrens summer holiday activities mid wales

Half-term highlights with an autumn theme

Throughout the October half term CAT will be running seasonally themed kids activities in the straw bale theatre ( 11am-3pm Monday to Friday). From celebrating the harvest and the coming winter to story telling, crazy inventing and our specially designed educational tours for children. For adults we will be running zero carbon Britain workshops and specialised tours of CAT. Check out the visit.cat.org.uk website for specific timings.

The restaurant will be serving warming, delicious and nutritious food, we hope you will come and join us

With over 7 acres of hands-on displays and gardens and with 40 years of experience in sustainability practice, the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) inspires thousands of visitors every year. Based in beautiful Mid Wales, the Centre overlooks the Snowdonia National Park, renowned for its stunning scenery and outdoor activities. Join us with your family, friends or come alone and explore what you can do!


This summer there are loads of special activities going on throughout the half term school holidays. There is bound to be something you love, perhaps you want to:Childrens summer holiday activities mid wales

  • Ride on our water powered cliff railway
  • Explore our 7 acre exhibition site (map)
  • Enjoy the scenic beauty and nature of Mid-Wales
  • Play our Eco games
  • Become a Crazy Inventor
  • Learn about CAT on a Guided Tour
  • Participate in Specialist Tours about renewable energy systems
  • Take part in a workshop and learn something new
  • Get to Zero on our Zero Carbon Discovery trail
  • Be part of our Living Laboratory and woodland crafts and sustainable building in action
  • Get answers to your questions with our free information service
  • Nourish yourself with mouthwateringly good food from our renowned restaurant
  • Take something home from our onsite Eco store

 


 


Only £7.65 to attend all these events!

If you buy your ticket in advance online and choose to gift aid your donation. £8.50 at the gate.

  • Free to local residents (SY20/SY19), CAT members, carers and children under 3
  • Reductions for concessions and children
  • Reductions for groups of 10+

 

|Click here for full ticket details and to buy your ticket|


Opening Times

Open 10am to 5pm 7 days a week.

 

Communicating the Cause

CAT is currently recruiting for some lovely long-term volunteers to join us here in mid-Wales. Are you looking to gain experience in woodland management, horticulture or marketing? CAT has five or six-month placements in these areas and we are recruiting in a rolling basis. If you are interested in applying then check out our volunteering website.

Yesterday we looked at the role of the Gardens Volunteer and the day before that it was the turn of the Water and Natural Resources Volunteers. Up today:

Media and Marketing Volunteer

Who better to discuss the role than Richard, a former Media & Marketing / ZCB Communications volunteer:

Richard, a former Media and Marketing volunteer

“I’ve always been interested in environmental issues and actually visited CAT back in the early nineties! I was a little shorter then though. So, having lived in London for almost seven years, I decided to move to mid-Wales and get involved as a long-term volunteer.

It proved to be an unforgettable but somewhat surreal experience…

I volunteered as media and marketing liaison for the Zero Carbon Britain (ZCB) project. My average day, if you can call any day at CAT average, involved working closely with the ZCB researchers, meeting like-minded individuals and leaving for home with my pockets stuffed full of organic vegetables – yum! I certainly wasn’t expecting to be sharing my desk-space with an overly curious robin. It’s not something that tends to happen in an office unless you’re Doctor Doolittle, Santa Claus or Batman.

Volunteering at CAT offered a great chance to be directly involved in promoting sustainable living. I learnt so much that I never expected. This is undoubtedly because of all the different disciplines that CAT is involved with. It’s a holistic hot-pot!

A great benefit for volunteers is getting involved in the short courses that CAT runs. Taking part in the sustainable woodland management course got me hooked on learning as much as I could. So much so that I still help in CAT’s woods when I can, despite working five days a week at CAT’s visitor centre.

Donating my time for the ZCB project also exposed me to so much amazing information about climate change and energy issues. The team isn’t enclosed in a stuffy research faculty but are communicating with the public on a daily basis, be it graduate students or visitors. The team take their research seriously and working in this unique environment lends the project a strong sense of community.

It is this aspect of environmentalism that gets forgotten all too often in research: community. The change towards renewable energy can benefit local communities and if the shift can also create jobs then the transition will be a lot smoother.

When you sit down – or should that be stand up – and look at the technology that already exists, it suddenly becomes clear that a completely renewable infrastructure is not just possible, but a necessity.

CAT has a unique role to play. Why not get involved yourself? I promise the robins aren’t that bad!”

Visit the volunteering website for more information about this placement.

 

This week at CAT; Radio 4 programme Any Questions

The Centre for Alternative Technology is delighted to welcome the Radio 4 program, Any Questions to its sustainable education centre WISE on the 7th of June 2013.  Any Questions, hosted by Jonathan Dimbleby was first broadcast in 1948. Every week it visits a different part of the country with a panel of 4 speakers who answer questions from the audience. The programme provides the opportunity for people to challenge politicians, policy makers, writers and thinkers.

The current panel for the evening is Ann Clwyd, Owen Paterson and Leane Wood. Ann Clwyd Roberts is a Welsh Labour Party politician who has been the Member of Parliament for Cynon Valley since 1998. Owen William Paterson is a British Conservative Party politician who has been the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs since 2012 and the Member of Parliament for North Shropshire since 1997. Leanne Wood AM, is a Welsh politician and the leader of Plaid Cymru

The quality of the questions that the audience ask is crucial to the success of the programme. The producers look for questions on the most stimulating, moral, political and social issues of the day- the issues that get people talking.  At CAT the Any Questions box will be at the reception when the public enter from 18:00 and the audience can fill in their questions then.

For more information and for free tickets please contact kim.bryan@cat.org.uk/ 01654705957

 

 

 

The Dyfi Valley

Here at CAT we’re part of the Dyfi Biosphere – an area recognised by UNESCO as being particularly environmentally conscious, whilst also encouraging sustainable economic development.

As we slowly move into spring, complete with April showers in May, it’s easy to see why this part of Wales has been recognised as being rather special. CAT is privileged to both play a part in, and be part of, the Dyfi Biosphere.

You can find out more about the Dyfi Biosphere here.

The Dyfi Valley - photo by Burhan Saeed

 

Three of a Kind: Two Missions: One School of Architecture: CAT

 

The Centre for Alternative Technology is delighted to be displaying work from three of its Professional Diploma in Architecture students at the first ever Wales Festival of Architecture.

Running six weeks long from 23rd March to 4th May, Aberystwyth Arts Centre is playing host to the to the new festival. Organisers aim to stimulate discussion about architecture, providing an opportunity to demonstrate and discuss the wide range of economic, social and environmental benefits that well-designed buildings can bring to a community. The Festival will provide a forum for architects, planners and other professionals and the public to share views and knowledge about the built environment.

The exhibition of CAT work entitled ‘Three of a kind, two missions, one school of architecture: CAT.’ is on display in the main foyer of Aberystwyth Arts Centre and features work from three of CAT’s students as well as a sample from this year’s diploma show.The exhibition showcases the innovative and dynamic forms of teaching post-graduate Architecture students that CAT uses which is unique in the UK.

The professional diploma course at CAT places an emphasis on sustainability and encourages students to explore the themes of transition and the vital role the building design plays in environmental impact. There is a huge potential within the architecture profession for environmental change and this is pivotal to the entire sustainability debate. This is a time of great debate about the future of architectural education in the UK where many want to see architecture get out of its bunker mentality; they want it to rethink the relationship between practice and education, and to embrace the challenge of  radical climate change by reconsidering the level of design intervention and thus resource use in any given situation. The Professional Diploma course at CAT is addressing these issues and is about to embark on a whole new chapter of its experimentation,” said Patrick Hannay, Tutor, Professional Diploma in Architecture.

” What is remarkable is how many students domiciled in Wales are forced to go out of Wales for their architectural education because places are limited in in the Welsh School of Architecture in Cardiff. Wales urgently needs that talent to return, and thus coming back for their post-grad learning to the very heart of Wales at Machynlleth  on such a unique learning experience, in such a fine environment, would ensure that the best of talent would remain in the service of Wales.”

The Centre for Alternative Technology has won a number of awards for its building the Wales Institute for Sustainable Education including the Dewi-Prys TomosThomas Prize and the RIBA Awardsshortlist. For the last 40 years the organisation has been at the forefront of radical ecological experimentation and building design.

The Wales Festival of Architecture will open on the 23rd of March and will be opened by Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas.The launch is a free event, starting at 6pm in the Aberystwyth Arts Centre cinema.

To arrange interviews with any students or staff of CAT please use the following contact.

  Patrick Hannay  077960 65764
  patrick.hannay@cat.org.uk

 

Cwrdd yn y Canol/Meet in the Middle

 

[Scroll down for English]

Lleoliad cynadledda cynaliadwy yng nghalon Canolbarth Cymru

Mae WISE yn ganolfan sydd wedi ennill gwobrau lawer, ac mae yma gyfleusterau modern, trawiadol, a chynaliadwy ar gyfer cynnal cynadleddau, cyfarfodydd, sesiynau hyfforddi a digwyddiadau unigol. Mae’r lleoliad yn nyffryn hardd Dulas yng nghanolbarth Cymru ac yn hawdd cyrraedd ato ar hyd y ffordd fawr ynghyd â gwasanaethau trên rheolaidd i Fachynlleth gerllaw.

Mae WISE yn cynnig profiad cynadledda unigryw, lleoliad gyda theatr ddarlithio o 200 sedd wedi’i wneud o ddaear gywasgedig. Mae nifer o stafelloedd llai ar gyfer grwpiau o wahanol faint a digwyddiadau llai. Mae WISE hefyd yn cynnig llety en suite ar gyfer hyd at 48 o bobl a gwasanaeth arlwyo hyd at 200 o bobl.

Mae WISE wedi’i leoli ar safle canolfan eco fwya blaenllaw Ewrop, sef y Ganolfan Dechnoleg Amgen sy’n defnyddio pŵer trydan adnewyddol. Mae WISE yn rhoi naws gwahanol i ddigwyddiadau.Rydyn ni ar hyn o bryd yn cynnig gostyngiad o 20% ar bob archeb tan ddiwedd Ebrill. Os gwelwch yn dda, a wnewch chi gyfeirio at yr hysbyseb hwn wrth ymateb?The WISE building

Cysylltwch â Sarah ar 01654  704973 neu e-bostiwch venue.hire@cat.org.uk
www.cat.org.uk/venuehire

Meet in the Middle
Sustainable conference venue in the heart of Mid- Wales

WISE is an award winning venue, with impressive, modern and sustainable facilities for successful conferences, meetings, training sessions and one-off events. Nestled in the stunning Dulas valley in mid-Wales and easily accessible by road, with regular rail services to nearby Machynlleth, WISE offers a unique conference experience. The venue features a 200 seat rammed earth lecture theatre and a number of smaller rooms that can cater for different size groups and smaller events. WISE also offers en suite accommodation  for up to 48 delegates  and catering facilities for up to  200  delegates.

Situtated at the site of Europe’s leading eco centre, the Centre for Alternative Technology and powered by renewable electricity,  WISE inspires events with a difference.

We are now offering a 20% discount on all bookings until the end of April. Please mention this email when responding.

Please contact Sarah on 01654  704973 or email venue.hire@cat.org.uk
www.cat.org.uk/venuehire

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.

Lewin on the biomass module

This month was the start of our first double practical module. There were two modules running in parallel this month, biomass heating and wind farms. I’d chosen biomass as it’s something I’d never studied before, and doesn’t require spending as much time on wet Welsh hilltops. (Although the worst of the snow seemed to have passed CAT by, torrential rain caused some fairly serious flooding towards the end of the week and kept us on our toes).

The week kicked off on Wednesday morning with a day learning about the various types of biomass heating system from Duncan Kerridge from Dulas engineering. On Thursday, primed with fresh knowledge, we were taken on a whistle-stop tour of some local biomass facilities. Seeing these systems in the flesh and talking to the people who use them gave us a great insight into the practicalities (and impracticalities) of wood as a heat source. The logistics of getting wood from a forest to a boiler without it getting damp, eaten by bacteria, burnt too soon, burnt too late or jammed in fragile bits of machinery are quite daunting! We also got to have a look at IBERS , Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Science where a lot of research is being done on biofuels. This includes chemical analysis of different plants, and selective breeding of species to increase the fuel yields. It’s exciting stuff, and we get to poke around some interesting machinery. We collected fuel samples for analysis and returned to CAT for dinner and table tennis.

On Friday, whilst the wind farm group were struggling up hills in the driving rain to erect a met mast, we pottered around in CAT’s cosy teaching workshops testing wood samples. Water in the fuel means lower combustion efficiency and more pollution, which means that the wood’s moisture content is key to the performance of a biomass system. By testing the wood’s moisture content and then measuring the performance of the heating system we can work out its efficiency.

In our evening seminar we discussed some of the wider issues around biomass heating. Is burning trees really a sustainable energy source? Would we be better off using the wood for building where the carbon is locked away? Lively debates ensued!

Saturday evening arrived, and after a fairly heavy week we were all ready for some R&R. This month’s social outing was a celebration of the 205th anniversary of Australia’s possibly famous Rum Rebellion, which has special significance to our group because A: it involves lots of rum and B: it happens to be on our only free evening this week. A rule of ‘no shop talk’ is strictly agreed on and instantly ignored, and there’s rum aplenty. I’m sure we solved the world’s energy problems several times that night, but come the morning no-one seemed to remember what the answer was. Back to the drawing board, I suppose…