Category Archives: People power

Germany’s people-powered energy and American micro-grids

isr-3jpg

Source (2013): https://ilsr.org/germanys-63000-megawatts-renewable-energy-locally-owned/

A 2015 National Geographic article with the most remarkable photographs: Germany Could Be a Model for How We’ll Get Power in the Future … led to the ISLR article written earlier this month.

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ISLR) informs readers that its mission is to provide innovative strategies, working models and timely information to support environmentally sound and equitable community development. To this end, ILSR works with citizens, activists, policymakers and entrepreneurs to design systems, policies and enterprises that meet local or regional needs; to maximize human, material, natural and financial resources; and to ensure that the benefits of these systems and resources accrue to all local citizens.

isr-2

Instead of expanding or connecting to the national energy grid, some companies, municipalities, and individuals are creating miniature grids of their own that can operate independently – “microgrids” – providing options for groups that want lower energy bills, more control over where their energy comes from, or a level of reliability that the grid cannot provide.

The costs are high and they are economically viable for only a limited set of situations. As Karlee Weinmann, ISLR Energy Democracy Initiative Research Associate pointed out, however, the cost of new technology invariably falls as it is adopted: “The cost of materials, installation, and maintenance for the components that make up a microgrid are going down, so the value proposition for a microgrid increases in turn. The general viability of microgrid projects is also reinforced through replication, like anything else, so the more that various stakeholders test the technology, prove its value, and improve upon it, the easier it is to justify buying in . . . As we see it, the future of the grid will be far more decentralized than the system we have now. Rather than paying a far off utility for electricity, which in many cases comes from problematic, dirty sources, customers’ money can stay closer to home.”

isr-1

Hurricane Sandy, which cut power to 8.5 million people, one million of whom went without power for a week, was cited by the ILSR report Mighty Microgrids as one of the key motivators of regional investment in microgrids. While up to 60% of backup diesel generators failed in medical centers and other essential facilities, Princeton University’s 20 MW microgrid kept the campus operational in island mode for three days while a connection to the grid was being restored.…

Regulations governing interconnection processes can also hinder microgrid adoption, particularly because these regulations vary from state to state. Opposition from utility companies is often a factor that makes the regulatory environment hostile or resistant to positive change. In an ideal world, a national standard would be adopted.

Richardson concludes: “Perhaps in the future, microgrids will be a common feature of communities . . . connected by the larger grid and selling electricity to each other as necessary. For now, they represent a useful tool for businesses and communities that need reliability that the grid can’t offer or that can leverage scale to reduce energy costs”.

 

 

 

Residents in one of Britain’s formerly most run-down areas now run a housing association, their library and swimming pool

The BBC noted in 2010 that during the 1970s and 1980s, the post-war Castle Vale estate, dominated by tower blocks, became known for poverty and crime. Residents in Castle Vale established a housing association with power and responsibility given to local people. The housing association has helped to lower crime levels, demolish and rebuild 2,275 houses and address health and unemployment concerns.

The area underwent a 12-year regeneration in the 1990s, with 32 of the 34 tower blocks demolished, new homes built and a new retail area created. Read more here. http://old.mycommunity.org.uk/stories/castle-vale-community-housing-association-working-with-stockland-green-opportunities/

castlevale-housing

Now the Castle Vale estate in Birmingham is pioneering a new way of running services that councils can no longer afford, due to government cuts. Ray Goodwin, chief executive of the tenants and residents’ alliance, said: “People came together and said this is taking away our community and we are not prepared to accept that.” Read the BBC’s update published on Wednesday 23rd November here.

castle-vale-poolLocal residents’ groups have taken over the swimming pool and the library which were in danger of being closed. Read on here. A resident posted on Facebook: “You keep doing articles in the Tyburn Mail about the swimming pool on castle vale saying how it’s been saved by the community and for the community. I think you need to do an article about its lack of opening times. Half term and it’s only open for a few hours in the week for the public and what about the residents of Castle Vale who work and want to use it when they finish. Guess what it’s shut.” He needs to volunteer to help as 40 others are doing.

castlevale-libraryThe library employs one member of staff and about 40 volunteers look after the library and pool. Volunteer Amanda Cutler was behind a 6,500-signature to save it. She said: “One of the lifeguards came to me one day and said it was closing down. I said it’s not happening and I got a petition together myself. Luckily, we’ve done it, so we’re really pleased.“ Later, facing further cuts, in 2014 the residents pulled together to save their library from closure. A cinema and theatre for the community are also planned. Read on here.

They are now being asked to show other local communities how they can rescue council services threatened by cuts.

 

 

 

Innovation, resilience and co-operation in war-torn Syria

In 2010 it was reported that the Syrian Ministry of Higher Education had launched programmes on renewable energy to be studied at the faculties of electrical, mechanic and technical engineering and in the institutes and postgraduate programs. Research and training energy centers had been established in Damascus, Aleppo, Tishreen and al-Baath universities.

However the progress of these programmes have been adversely affected by four years of air strikes, street battles and sieges.

damascus          Above: a street without electricity in Douma, northeast of Damascus

Now, though the widespread infrastructure damage in the areas around the capital Damascus means that thousands of Syrians have no more than a few hours of power a day, a resourceful, resilient spirit is enabling many survivors to cope with only a few hours of power a day by modifying their way of life and innovating.

Almost all Syrians have switched to using longer lasting LED lights which are cheaper than candles and can be powered with a car battery. In the war affected areas, people go to bed early and most now wash their clothes by hand, having sold machines and refrigerators.

Some are also finding ways to make their own power, using solar panels, fuel made from plastic bags and even bicycle-powered batteries. 

syrian solar panelsIn southern Syria, many shops sell solar power panels for $20-$200 and some are used in shelters at a refugee camp in Aleppo. Omar al-Golani, a media activist in the town of Kwdana, said that even the poorest will try to borrow money to buy them, or sell their food rations. In May, Rami al-Sayyed told the Financial Times that he and many of his neighbours started generating electricity by pedalling bicycles about three years ago. He would pedal his bike for two hours every day to charge his laptop.

A few Syrians are also using wind energy, reports Khaled Issa, from Idlib. They buy fans, or make their own, and place them on the roof.

Most Syrians save fuel for farming equipment, generators that power shops and hospitals, or machines used to dig victims out of bomb sites. Since late 2013, in the besieged suburbs around Damascus, people have collected and burnt plastic bags and the cooled liquid plastic produced can be made into a substitute for diesel or kerosene.

Rami al-Sayyed points out that the shortages have brought about moments of community spirit. Some of his neighbours came together to put up a bicycle and take turns to pedal in order to watch new TV programmes released during Ramadan.

 

 

Re-branded: DECC, the Department for Extreme Climate Change

The walls of the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) were whitewashed on the first day of the Paris climate conference in November of last year ‘to expose the department’s hypocrisy’ and black paint was used to rebrand it the ‘Department for Extreme Climate Change’.

decc on trial2

Today news came via an Ekklesia link, that on Tuesday, 31st of May, the five activists, members of the Climate Change Action Group, were ordered to pay £340 each at Hammersmith Magistrates Court. The defendants, who represented themselves, did not dispute their presence at the scene or the actions attributed to them, but argued that they had a ‘lawful excuse’ under section 5 of the Criminal Damage Act.

DECC was not fined.

amber ruddTheir letter, which was handed in to Energy Secretary Amber Rudd (left), made many powerful points, all of which may be read here. In a preamble, they declared: 

“Climate change is not one in a number of issues to be addressed. A stable climate is a fundamental need on which the maintenance of our civilisation and the earth’s abundant life relies. There will be no economy, health or security to speak of on the planet towards which we are currently heading”.

Edited extract from list of actions June-Sept 2015

In 2009 G20 countries, including the UK, pledged to phase out ‘inefficient’ fossil fuel subsidies. But on the 19 March 2015: George Osborne announces £1 billion worth of subsidies for North Sea Oil, on top of a whole series of previous measures, including support for further exploration:

16 June: The European Union says the UK is set to miss its EU target of generating 15 per cent of its energy (not just electricity) by renewable methods, despite being set one of the lowest targets of all EU countries.

17 June: On the evening of the Big Climate Lobby on the 17th June, when thousands met with their MPs to ask them to put climate as a priority, you announced the first of your ‘cut-the-green-crap’ policies, that new onshore wind farms (the cheapest form of renewable energy) will be excluded from a subsidy scheme from 1 April 2016, a year earlier than planned.

25 June: The UK says it will sell off up to 70% of its Green Bank, set up to lend money to risky green schemes such as wind farms that couldn’t raise cash elsewhere. The sell-off means it may no longer focus on risky green schemes, and most of the profits will not go to taxpayers. By contrast, a similar US scheme is set to make $5 billion profit for taxpayers on $30 billion-worth of loans. Companies it helped include Tesla Motors, which paid back its loan early.

30 June: The Committee on Climate Change warns that the UK is not on course to meet targets after 2020. Its recommendations include taking action to encourage long-term investment in low-carbon energy, such as by extending existing short-term schemes to a 10-year timescale.

ruth jarmanRuth Jarman, one of the five members of the Christian Climate Action demonstration, who are deeply concerned about climate change and its impact on God’s creation, the lives of people now the world over, and future generations, said:

“We do not agree with today’s judgement. The point of the law is to maintain justice, stability and order. Climate change threatens all these things so fundamentally that the law should be used to defend those who are trying to stop climate change, not those who are creating it. We think DECC should have been in the dock, not us. The department speaks fine words, but with its actions scuppers any possibility of global action to tackle climate change.”

Michael Northcott, Professor of Ethics at the University of Edinburgh reminds us that without such acts in the history of the United Kingdom, the vote would not have been conferred on non-land owning citizens, nor on women and slavery, or forced child labour in our factories would not have ended:

“The actions of these protestors were a non-violent and peaceable way to expose the hypocrisy of current UK government energy policies. The UK has the potential still to lead the world towards the new sustainable energy economy that the climate crisis calls for and this type of action is essential to the democratic process in the UK.”

 

Harlaw hydro is now generating clean energy

In an earlier post it was reported that Ribble Valley members of Transition Town Clitheroe aimed to develop greater community resilience to cope with reduced future availability of fossil fuels and to adapt to climate change. They floated a community share offer in 2013 to raise money to generate community-owned clean energy on the River Calder.

harlaw reservoir 2

 

 

 

 

The Scottish Farmer has now added news of another hydro project based at the Harlaw reservoir (above), outside Balerno, near Edinburgh, first mentioned on this site in 2013. The organisers found an upgrade of the existing micro-hydro scheme at Harlaw Reservoir a positive experience and are keen to share the benefits of such an investment, particularly as part of a community project.

The project aimed to provide an independent green energy source and income for the local community. Chairman and director of the community group, Martin Petty recalls that a village trust had been established to help the community and the hydro project was proposed. After a consultation, a co-op which offered shares in the project was set up. A feasibility study in 2010 confirmed that it was a practical and profitable proposition and after four years of planning, meetings and obtaining approvals, the group were in a position to build the project in July, 2014. Work started in September, 2014, and was completed in August, 2015, with the formal opening by the Minister for Business, Energy and Tourism, Fergus Ewing, taking place on September 1, 2015.

Harlaw Hydro Ltd is now known as a bona fide co-operative society (BENCOM) and it is registered under the Industrial and Provident Societies Act 1965, rather than as a company under the Companies Act. The society has seven directors and 250 shareholders, who together raised nearly £400,000.The profits generated by selling power to the grid will be used to sustain the scheme in the first place, pay the shareholders a dividend, and then benefit the local community.

harlaw pump house

The 95kW system will take water from the dam’s penstocks (reservoir dam outflows), returning flow to the dam discharge channel prior to it, forming Bavelaw Burn. A new turbine house (above) is located to the north east of the discharge channel, at the foot of the reservoir dam, immediately south of the disused building.The scheme will generate approximately 260,000kWh of green electricity per year – enough for approximately 100 average houses – saving 129 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.

The project was the first in Scotland of its type and Mr Petty feels it has set an example to other communities: “Communities across Scotland have been energised by this project, and they’ve come to us as a point of advice, and now a number of others are doing the same as us. It’s great to see, and it’s great to be that point of contact.”

Commenting on the project, Mr Petty added: “We were lucky to have a great group of people on the engineer team, which was luckily made up of men who are all, or have been, engineers. The team included a mechanical, charted civil and electrical engineers, as well as a geologist and an architect, all of whom worked on a voluntary basis, so we were really lucky with that.”

Interesting article about pumped storage systems in Scotland: http://www.scotsrenewables.com/blog/distributionandstorage/pumped-storage-hydro-in-scotland/

 

 

Portpatrick Harbour

portpatrick harbour

Portpatrick Harbour: news relating to this site’s three foci: the environment, heritage and beneficial innovation

In July 2015, the Portpatrick Harbour Community Benefit Society became the first “Community Benefit Society” in Scotland, registering with the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and obtaining full charitable status.This was achieved with the support and guidance of Community Share Scotland, Cooperatives UK, Social Investment Scotland and Third Sector Dumfries & Galloway.

Portpatrick’s name is derived from a legend which relates that the Patron Saint of Ireland crossed the 21-mile channel in a single stride.

Between 1770, when the first proper harbour was built by John Smeaton and 1830, the harbour served as the main route for mail, passengers and cattle to Ireland, and was the terminus of a military road built across Galloway from Dumfries to secure the area in 1765. Fishing became an important feature of harbour life and, during the 1950s, the “ring netters” of the Clyde fleet would land huge catches of herring from around the Isle of Man and the North Channel. Portpatrick still has a small fleet of fishing boats. Below: its sea ‘wall’.

portpatrick sea wall

Anca Voinea in the Co-operative News, reports that the Portpatrick Harbour Community Benefit Society is launching a share offer to bring Portpatrick harbour into community ownership. The scheme aims to raise £75,000 to regenerate the harbour.

The society’s management team has eight committee members, three of whom have varied professional management experience, with four who hold professional marine qualifications.

Over the past few months, Community Shares Scotland has been working with the Portpatrick Harbour team on this offer which will allow local people to buy community shares. The Community shares offer will open on 5th September.

The power of a growing youth climate movement

UN NGLS header

Alison Williams of UNGA-Link sent this link to a 10 minute address at a High Level General Assembly Event on 29th June. She wrote: “You may find this young man quite inspiring; I did 🙂

A search revealed a good account by Stephanie Spear on the Ecowatch website which gave the background: “On 29 June 2015, President of the UN General Assembly, Mr. Sam K. Kutesa, hosted the High-level Event on Climate Change at UN Headquarters. Leaders from government, civil society and the private sector presented many climate action initiatives to provide political momentum toward an ambitious climate change agreement at COP21 in Paris in December”.

Five months before the COP 21 UN Climate talks in Paris, fifteen-year-old indigenous climate activist Xiuhtezcatl Roske-Martinez and actor and environmental advocate Robert Redford met yesterday after they had addressed the United Nations to encourage global action on climate change.

un aztec redfordun650[1]Photo credit: Vanessa Black

Xiuhtezcatl is the youth director of a non profit organization Earth Guardians. He was raised in the Aztec tradition and has been an active campaigner since the age of six. Now 15, he was selected to speak in an open, transparent and participatory process at the Opening Ceremony from among 200 applicants through a process facilitated by the UN Non-Governmental Liaison Service.

Martinez called on delegates to “dream big”, saying, “It’s time to look to the skies for the solutions we need, because the future of energy is not down a hole.”

The young activist asked the delegates to imagine what could be accomplished if fossil fuel and nuclear subsides were reinvested into renewable energy. The International Monetary Fund estimates global fossil fuel subsidies are close to $10 million every minute.

“The solutions are here, and they are bringing with them millions of jobs and economic opportunity,” he said.

un earth action aztec

Xiutezcatl emphasized the power of a growing youth climate movement:

“Everywhere young people are rising up and taking action to solve the issues that will be left to our generation … Over 400,000 people marched in through the streets of New York City in the world’s greatest climate march. More than 220 institutions have divested from fossil fuels with the help of student-led movements and the number continues to grow. Youth are suing their state and federal governments across the United States, demanding action on climate change from our elected officials. We are flooding the streets and now we are flooding the courts to get the world to see there is a movement on the rise and we are at the forefront, fighting for the solutions we need.”

Despite the challenging circumstances Xiuhtezcatl urged optimism, calling on delegates to stand with youth leaders. “In the light of a collapsing world, what better time to be alive than now, because our generation gets to change the course of history,” he said. “Humans have created the greatest problem we face today, but the greater the challenge the higher we will rise to meet it. We need you to be a climate leader—not to stand up for us, but to stand with us.”

As his speech concluded, Xiuhtezcatl asked, “Who will rise with me now for mine and future generations to inherit a healthy just and sustainable planet?” Many of the delegates briefly and symbolically rose from their seats in support.

Watch both speeches on the Ecowatch website: http://ecowatch.com/2015/06/30/xiuhtezcatl-robert-redford/2/