Community Powerdown session 4
So I wasn't feeling as enthused about this session, partially because I didn't get that excited by our reading for the week, Sustainable Energy Communites: From Recession to Renewables by Richard Douthwaite, the founder of Feasta (The Foundation for the Economics of Sustainability) and a writer I usually like, he wrote Short Circuit and the Growth Illusion among other books. The article was about how a small town in Austria, Gussing, had gone from spending enormous amounts of money buying in its energy, while its people migrated to VIenna, to becoming a major producer of sustainable energy, particularly through using the woods that surround it. It was good and they did manage to do a great deal, but I found the article overly technical rather than engaging, and while they had created a lot of jobs, many of them were also in renewables, for example the creation of a centre for renewable energy, a photovoltaics company and spinoff in restaurants and hotels through people coming to visit the renewable energy town and see how it's done. Which if everyone was doing it they wouldn't have. Sometimes it's important to create 'ordinary' jobs using new technologies rather than jobs that are only in the new economy. Anyway the discussion was more interesting, where people pointed out the importance of leadership by just a few people, mainly the local mayor, and wondered if we could have this kind of change in Ireland, where we do not really have local government, autonomy, or crucially control over budgets - if a town reduced its energy it would just be a saving for the county council, not for the locality. The facilitator pointed out how much they had first reduced their energy requirements through efficiency and reducing wastage. This is the essential first step in the Lean Energy Sequence which we went on to discuss - 1 Energy conservation, still getting the 'energy services' you want but more efficiently using half the energy you currently require. 2 Structural change - use half the energy services you need now, particularly through using the 'proximity principle' and examining distance and use of space. Combine them to reduce energy usage enormously. Only when energy requirements are down to a level that renewables can provide do you go to step 3, renewables. Rather than starting with how can renewable sources provide all our massive energy needs? Step 4 is the institutional framework, developing a system for shared energy needs, such as Tradable Energy Quotas - developed by David Fleming; Cap and Share - developed by Richard Douthwaite and having some interesting debates with David Fleming; and the Carbon Law developed by Stop Climate Chaos and Friends of the Earth. At the start of the class we introduced one another in terms of how much energy we waste at home and I was struck by how many people mentioned heating their boiler, usually a big boiler for a shower, that could take 1-2 hours to heat up, and how poor the insulation was. I remembered how that was in my old place, before moving into this eco-topia, and it made me re-appreciate a lot of things I almost take for granted, like the amazing insulation and hot water powered by solar energy, and how easy it is to conserve energy when the systems are built in. During a group session we looked at ways a community (we chose a city like Dublin) could use renewables, and the most exciting stuff we came up with was people power - things like dancefloors in clubs being powered by the kinetic energy of people dancing on them, turnstiles that commuters passed through creating energy, floor pads in stations, gyms where the machines power the TVs or other things in the gym, noticing that ellipitical trainers already power themselves and the readout screens, bicycle generators. Things that bring people together to create energy, thus as the facilitator enthusiastically put it 'building social capital. Wind turbines on skyscrapers. Anaerobic digestion of waste to create methane - although perhaps not wise to put these under buildings with a chute for rubbish from each apartment leading down - could be an explosive risk...A class participant gave a good presentation on energy literacy, which I was fairly clueless about. For example a joule is the basic unit of energy, a watt the basic unit of power. Power is the rate of energy use. A joule is needed to raise one kilograme ten centimeters. I1 watt is 1 joule per second. So a 100 watt bulb uses 100 watts per second. And a person produces approx the same amount of energy as a lighbulb. A lightbulb left on for a minute is 6000 watt. A kilowatt hour is the 1000 watts continuously for one hour. At least I understood it when he explained it, and it was very interesting, to look at a sample energy bill. Normally priced in kilowatt hours. And gas is less than a third the price of electricity apparently. It was all very interesting and learnt quite a lot and realised more of the great deal I don't know. There were no video clips as they haven't found any interesting ones, even though they're sure there must be some. And as energy is what everything is based on, it really ought to be pretty interesting.