Eco-Refurbishment Course at CAT

The August bank Holiday weekend saw CAT’s annual Eco Refurbishment course, covering all the theory and practicalities of how to get your house towards performing better than many new- build properties. The course consists of classroom theory sessions and hands-on practicals, as well as tours of CAT’s own drainage, sewerage and water-conservation  installations and its renewable energy set-ups.

Tutor Nick Parsons said: “The practicals are an essential part of the course, giving students a chance to apply the knowledge they have gained in the classroom sessions to practical situations. These sessions would not be possible without the support of the companies which provide materials and reference material free of charge

A group of eager DIY-ers have been busy learning about eco-refurbishment at CAT. Over the past few days they’ve learned about ecological improvements you can make to existing buildings through practical exercises and specialised guided tours of CAT.

The developments in environmentally conscious building are coming along in leaps and bounds, but as it currently stands few people in the UK will have the opportunity to construct their own new eco-home. Refurbishing existing housing stock can make a massive contribution towards reducing our carbon footprint and lowering our wider environmental impact.

As the week draws to a close we would like to say a big thank-you to Recovery Insulation, Natural Building Technologies, and Clan Insulation  who provided materials free of charge for the practical sessions on the Eco Refurbishment course. Thanks also to Sally and Keith Hall at Green Building Press who donated copies of the Green Building Bible for the students. Nick Parsons, the course tutor, said: “it’s great to have samples of a wide range of materials – particularly insulation materials – and to be able to work with them. Students have found this particularly valuable, and we really appreciate the generosity of the suppliers”.

You can find out more about our autumn short courses on our website.

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.

The sun shines on Mynydd Gorddu Windfarm.

The sun shines on Mynydd Gorddu Windfarm.

 

A REBE trip to Myn ydd Gorddu Windfarm.
A REBE trip to Myn ydd 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.

 

IMG_9713     IMG_9722_1

 

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.

 

Myn ydd Gorddu Windfarm
Myn ydd Gorddu Windfarm

 

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.

 

IMG_9818IMG_9834REBE Students taken notes about the Mynydd Gorddu windfarm.

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.

 

the wind blows us back to

IMG_9840

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;

 

An interview with REBE student Alexandra King.
An interview with REBE student Alexandra King.

 

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 !

 

 

New Skills in 2014: Timber Frame Building

We have a host of exciting short courses taking place at CAT in 2014, and up until the end of January there’s 10% off! One of our most popular courses is Timber Frame Building, a five day course from 31st March to the the 4th April 2014. 

This course is for anyone interested in sustainable construction, timber buildings and building your own home. This course particularly welcomes participants from NGOs working in development, self-builders, construction teachers, individuals looking to re-skill and architects. Over the five days students will gain unique hands-on experience, underpinned by talks on the process of planning and building timber structures.

The tutors on the Timber Frame Building course  are all experts in the field: Pat Borer is an architect with over 35 years experience in designing and constructing green buildings; Duncan Roberts is Programme Leader of CAT’s Part II in Architecture and Geoff Stow built his own home in Lewisham and is part of the Association for Environment Conscious Building (AECB).

Timber Framers in 2013

The course attracts a wide range of people from diverse backgrounds such as Yotin, who came on the course with his neighbour last year to learn how to live off-grid. The two explained that “the lecturers are kick-ass, down to earth and informative” sharing their expertise with a “hands-on approach”.

At the end of the course participants understand timber frame design and are able initiate their own timber frame self-build projects.

For more information about the Timber Frame Building course visit our website.

On the 16th August there will be a new course closely linked to this one: Traditional Timber Frame Joints. The course will cover an overview of the tools and techniques used in marking and cutting joints in a series of hands-on workshop session.

Remember, we are offering a 10% on courses booked before the end of January. For terms and conditions please visit our website.

New Skills in 2014 – Hedgelaying and Restoration

We have a host of exciting new short courses taking place at CAT in the new year, so if you fancy learning something new in 2014 then what about the traditional art of hedgelaying? Our weekend course on Hedgelaying and Restoration will run between the 31st January and the 2nd of February 2014. Why is this skill so important?

The course involves both theoretical and practical learning onsite at CAT with Rob Goodsell. Students will learn about different types of hedges, the ecosystems found in them and the traditional tools used to create them. Rob is an experienced woodsman with a hands-on approach to learning. He is been a long-time member of the CAT staff, working in water resources and woodland management. His teachings emphasise the importance of sustaining vibrant landscapes by using sustainable methods and techniques.

Tutor Rob Goodsell

Nowadays, hedges are often ‘flailed’; the tops are cut off using large automated machinery. This technique is not very sustainable. Rob explains that “flailing breaks down the hedgerows and will not promote new growth of the plants and will negatively impact on species, such as bats, that use these corridors to navigate. Flailing looks neat but it is not good for the countryside.”

Most hedges in the UK have been maltreated for over 30 years, so bringing them back to life is vital. Learning how to construct hedges in a more traditional way promotes habitat corridors, while allowing the local flora and fauna to flourish.

Find out more about this course on our website. Until 31/01/2014 we are offering 10% off this short course. 

 

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!

10% discount on CAT’s inspiring short courses now available

 

Have you ever wanted to learn how to build a coracle, make forged tools, or construct gates and fences? Or would you like to give horse logging a go for a day, or spend an intensive week learning the art of sustainable woodland management from experienced woodspeople?

From now until the 31st of December, CAT is offering a 10% discount on some of the exciting short courses due to run next year. 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!