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Smaller-scale generation can meet UK’s power need, says Andy Kerr

Originally published in Scotsman newspaper August 20th 2014.

http://www.scotsman.com/mobile/news/localised-solution-to-global-energy-issues-1-3514710

AMID the political and media frenzy about renewables in recent years, we are in danger of missing a more profound change in our energy system.

Whisper it quietly, but the old certainties of energy provision – through regulated markets dominated by the Big Six energy companies – are collapsing. This is not, as some would assert, because of an interfering government, but because the utility business model is being challenged by fast-changing developments in technology and social and business expectations.

These include rapid changes in the costs of energy technologies; the understanding that large, distant energy companies rarely provide the best solution to localised problems of energy wastage; and the critical need to address long-running UK problems of fuel poverty and delivery of secure and more sustainable forms of energy.

In the recent past, the UK has evolved a model of centralised power generation within an electricity grid that was first connected in 1938. The coal-fired stations are now over 40 years old and desperately inefficient, while the last nuclear power station was built in the 1980s. Since the liberalisation of electricity markets 25 years ago, gas-fired power stations have been the norm, along with the more recent increase in renewable sources.

Read on

Reporting back from Resilient Cites Congress – Anna Beswick, Adaptation Scotland

by Anna Beswick, Adaptation Scotland Manager
Anna manages Adaptation Scotland and works out of ECCI’s Innovation Suite. Anna works with a wide range of public and private sector organisations and communities to raise awareness of the impacts and consequences of climate change. Contact her: anna@sniffer.org.uk

At the end of May I spent a couple of days at the ICLEI resilience cities congress finding out about the latest global urban adaptation work and sharing experiences from the work that we are involved with in Scotland.

There is no better place to be immersed in all things urban climate resilience related that at the resilient cities congress. It’s a three day round the clock networking and information sharing bonanza. Whilst there I presented on our work in Glasgow and the wider city region and gained many fascinating insights into work going on elsewhere.

Among many inspiring presentations, discussions and dinner time conversations:

• Cynthia Rosenzweig, Senior Research Scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Co-Chair of the New York City Panel on Climate Change, presented on the need to look beyond city boundaries when assessing and planning for climate risks – recognising the significant influence that cities have on their surrounding regions and vice versa. She also talked about the very real challenges of establishing governance mechanisms that enable cross boundary and organisation adaptation planning and action. She advocated very strongly that cities should be looking beyond core boundaries if they are to fully understand and manage climate risks.

• Copenhagen continues to be a stand out city in terms of progress with adaptation planning and action no doubt driven in no small part by Lykke Leonardsen, Head of Climate Section, City of Copenhage. Lykke is a powerhouse of climate adaptation knowledge, enthusiasm and commitment to action. The city of Copenhagen will host theEuropean Climate Change Adaptation Conference in Feb 2015 and continues to inspire. I’ve noticed that this city has a particularly strong commitment to working and sharing information with global partners, I’ve personally benefited from phone calls with them to discuss various adaptation issues and admire their willingness and commitment to gathering and sharing knowledge.

• Also very impressed by the leadership being shown by the city of Durban in South Africa. Durban joins Glasgow in being one of the first cities selected to join the Rockefeller Foundation 100 resilient cities network. I attended a session where representatives from the city shared their experiences of taking part in a twinning cities project with the German City of Bremen – it was great to hear about the exchange of information and technology between the two cities with Durban implementing new methods for assessing water quality and benefiting from engineering advice and expertise as well as sharing valuable experiences with Bremen.

• It would be very hard to beat the enthusiasm and innovation of the City of Bolonga when it comes to gathering ideas for adaptation actions. After a long day in the main congress sessions they tempted participants to an evening drinks reception before initiating a pecha kucha style presentation session with participants invited to pitch adaptation planning ideas to a panel of judges. The winning idea won a trip to their final adaptation planning conference in Bologna! Aside from fun and innovative stakeholder engagement techniques this City is of real interest to Scotland as it faces many similar challenges around the need to retrofit and ‘climate proof’ an ancient, historic and in many cases much loved built environment. I’ll be keeping an eye on what they get up to next.

Participating in this congress was a really good opportunity to reflect on how Scotland compares with other nations in terms of adaptation planning and action. I’m confident that the work ‘we’ (i.e. everyone involved in some form of adaptation work in Scotland) are doing here is well aligned with the best of what is happening elsewhere.

 

Scots Know-how Can Be Carbon Copied

Sharing our expertise of eco-friendly systems with the world’s fast-expanding nations can be of enormous benefit, says Andy Kerr

Published in the Scotsman: http://www.scotsman.com/news/scots-know-how-can-be-carbon-copied-1-3451180

With the political and media focus on the rise of scepticism about the European project – particularly south of the Border in the form of the dramatic rise of Ukip – and of the impending Scottish independence referendum, it is easy to forget the wider “megatrends” that are reshaping the world around us. These include the extraordinary rise of emerging economies – leading to the world’s economic centre of gravity moving back to Asia – over the past 20 years; the movement of people to urban centres, in which close to half the world’s population now live; the challenges of meeting energy, water and food needs of a world population of more than 7 billion with a changing climate; and the impact of the digital revolution.

McKinsey’s, the management consultancy, notes wryly that more text messages are now sent every day than the population of the planet; that more information is created every two days now than all the information put together from 0 – 2000 AD; and that the number of global “middle class” will double to over 2 billion in the next ten years, all of whom will expect access to the energy, mobility, water and food services to which we have become accustomed.
Regardless of the outcome of the Scottish independence referendum or, indeed, any putative EU referendum in 2017, these “megatrends” will continue to shape the economic and social challenges and opportunities facing Scottish public, private and community sector organisations in the next decade.

And Scotland has many of the attributes needed to thrive in this emerging world: a skilled workforce; an effective entrepreneurial ecosystem with outstanding universities; and public support frameworks to support the development of our knowledge economy. In particular, on issues of water, food and energy, Scotland’s “know-how” in management and innovation, as well as its technical expertise, is widely acknowledged. This provides a tremendous opportunity to share our knowledge and benefit economically.

For example, in many developing parts of the world, communities rely on oil for energy generation, as well as transport. With the cost of oil persisting for many years above $100 per barrel, viable cost-effective alternatives already exist in the form of renewable generation and “smart” or energy-efficient technologies. Yet delivering the energy transformation in these countries requires engaged communities, a skilled workforce, an effective supply chain, alignment of government regulations to support the change, and financial capital. These countries and major finance institutions, such as the international development banks, are seeking the “know-how” to enable these energy transformations to be made, at scale.

This is where Scotland has huge advantages: it has both the “know-how” to support this energy transformation, and the capacity for joined-up approaches between public and private enterprises. One example is an InterAmerican Development Bank project to support capacity building of low-carbon skills and renewable energy generation across the Caribbean. The Edinburgh Centre of Carbon Innovation (ECCI) is leading a pan-Scottish partnership, including private, public and university sector partners, to provide Scottish “know-how” into this initiative. There will be opportunities for further exporting this know-how into cities and communities across Latin American countries, as they seek to transform their energy use in the coming years.

Similarly, much has been written about the emergence of China as a global power. One of the side effects of this rise has been a huge increase in the wealthy and middle-income Chinese population. Like us, they object to polluted air and water, and expensive energy. And this is forcing a rapid change in government policy: the need to ensure a better environment in which to live is becoming enshrined in their five-year government plans. In inimical Chinese style, old inefficient industry or production plant are being forced to close, to be replaced by more modern, less polluting plant. This extends to power generation, where China is the biggest single investor in renewables around the world. This year alone, China is anticipating installing over 50GW of renewables in the form of onshore wind, solar and hydropower. By way of reference, the entire Great Britain electricity grid has just over 80GW of total installed capacity, including coal, gas and nuclear plant.

Again, Scotland has much to offer. The ECCI, in partnership with public, private and university partners, is intending to set up a Low Carbon Knowledge Exchange office in Hong Kong at the end of this year. This is designed as a soft landing pad to enable Scottish companies to engage with the huge emerging markets for products and services to improve air and water quality, waste management, and provide for energy-efficient buildings within the Pearl River Delta region of China and beyond. It will provide the space and place to share knowledge between Hong Kong and Scotland and builds on a Memorandum of Understanding signed to that effect between the two respective governments last year. It will complement other knowledge exchange initiatives by universities, for example on carbon capture and storage “know-how”, elsewhere in China.

What could stop us? Scotland has all the attributes to make a positive impact around the world – and receive huge economic benefit – with its low-carbon “know how”. Regardless of the near-term political outcome, the key will be whether Scotland is entrepreneurial and confident enough to take advantage of this opportunity.

Links

ECCI Hong Kong Start Up Seminar: http://www.edinburghcentre.org/news/Hong-Kong-Start-Up-Fever

ECCI Internationalisation: http://www.edinburghcentre.org/International.html

Reflections from the Adaptation Futures Conference – Ragne Low, Project Manager, ClimateXChange

ClimateXChange’s Project Manager Ragne Low recently travelled to Fortaleza Ceará in Brazil for Adaptations Futures 2014 (http://adaptationfutures2014.ccst.inpe.br/). The conference brought together researchers, policy makers, and practitioners from developed and developing countries to share insights into the challenges and opportunities that adaptation presents, and to share strategies for decision making from the international to the local scale.

Here she reflects on some of the key themes emerging from the conference:

We are moving into a new phase in adaptation. Where the primary focus in the early days of adaptation dialogue was on ‘arresting maladaptation’ and addressing the adaptation deficit, we are now firmly in the phase of adaptation planning and informed decision making, and we are perhaps even at the early stages of a new phase: ‘transformational adaptation’.

Should we be problem-orientated or solution-oriented? There was some debate about the nuance here, and indeed it seems there is a need for both approaches. Problem-oriented means working to better understand the problem, and the key thing now is for problem-orientated research to be truly transdisciplinary and collaborative. Solution-orientation implies working together to find answers and intervention options, rather than aiming only for an ever deeper understanding of the problem.

Adaptation research is making strides in ensuring stakeholders are not viewed as ‘end users’ but as partners. Co-design and co-production are now the norm, but some argue for even greater use to be made of knowledge from practitioners, non-academic experts and communities. ‘Shared learning’ is a very commonly used term, and means involvement of stakeholders at all stages in the research, and indeed beyond the time span of specific projects, to support network building for continuing knowledge sharing.

Adaptation is absolutely not just an environmental issue and it must not be communicated as such. It is a socio-economic issue first and foremost, whilst of course also having a strong environmental component. Adaptation also needs to be communicated in terms of risk management – this is the language that resonates with decision-makers across sectors and in particular with private sector actors. Framing the climate change adaptation imperative in the context of risk management also allows climate change to be seen as a threat multiplier; and it helps us look at high-end and ‘less likely’ impacts and scenarios.

Measuring adaptation is a challenge – both at the project level and at the programme or national, strategic level. A particular challenge is how we measure outcomes. There are temporal and attributional challenges that make it very difficult to really measure the outcomes of adaptation actions.

Other issues that came up repeatedly were:

  • how do we ensure we identify the most vulnerable?;
  • community-based adaptation – what does it look like and how can we best achieve it?;
  • institutions and governance remain critical;
  • are we properly aware of what a ‘ >4 degrees world ‘ might mean, what does the risk of ‘>4 degrees’ demand of the adaptation research and practice community?;
  • how can we ensure that bottom-up approaches are widely adopted – and succeed?;
  • as well as showcasing successes, how can we best share lessons of failure?

Watch this space:

International greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise: But many pathways to reduce emissions now available

International greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise:
But many pathways to reduce emissions now available

by Andy Kerr, ECCI Executive Director

Appeared in Scotsman Opinion

There was good and bad news from Berlin at the beginning of this week. The bad news is global emissions of greenhouse gases have risen to unprecedented levels, despite Government efforts globally to reduce human impacts on the global climate. The good news is that we have an increasing number of exciting and affordable options available to reduce emissions, whilst maintaining our high standard of life.

The occasion for the news was the launch of the new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an organization set up by Governments to help review and translate the published scientific literature on climate change. Depressingly it shows that global emissions grew more quickly between 2000 and 2010 than in each of the three previous decades, to nearly 50 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year.

In this last installment of the IPCC report scientists show that rising global population and wealthier populations are driving higher greenhouse gas emissions. The message from the scientific literature is clear: without swift and strong action, climate change will lead to increasingly damaging and costly impacts on societies around the world. And the longer we delay effective action, the most costly the problem becomes.
The report is a clarion call for clear international leadership and action. It also makes clear that issues of equity, justice and fairness are increasingly important for finding solutions that all countries can agree on.
This is where we need to flip the coin and look at our options. They are considerable.

According to the report, it would be possible, using a wide array of technological measures and changes in behaviour, to minimize the impact of climate change on our global societies. However, only major institutional and technological change will offer a better than even chance of keeping the global climate within thresholds above which increasingly detrimental impacts will occur.

And there is more good news – many of the technologies we need to make this shift already exist. And they are affordable.

As always when it comes to climate change the question of how certain are we about the science and how can we possibly know about the future is quickly raised. Again the message is clear. Science is very good at telling us what can happen in future; it is very bad at predicting what will happen at a particular place and time in the future. So the issue is about understanding and managing risks: risks of doing something now that might cost a lot of money but pays off in the future, or the risk of not doing something now, which becomes hugely costly in future.

For this report, about 1200 scenarios from the scientific literature were analyzed, drawing on scenarios generated by 31 modelling teams around the world. They aimed to explore the economic, technological and institutional assumptions and implications of pathways to reduce emissions. The working group writing the report consisted of 235 authors and 38 review editors from 57 countries, and 180 experts provided additional input as contributing authors. More than 800 experts from around the world reviewed drafts of the report.

Scotland also had their representatives. Prof Pete Smith, Science Director of ClimateXChange, was a Convening Lead Author of the report. He is and will continue to be a key advisor to the Scottish Government on how to develop government policies and practice that support a low carbon economy and help develop long-term solutions.

So what should the Scottish Government – and governments around the world – do?

There is unfortunately no quick fix. We need to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere by reducing emissions from all aspects of our society – energy production and use, transport, buildings, industry, land use, and all other human activity. This will mean making changes to the way in which we produce and use energy (and land) right across everyday life, business and the way we travel.

Scotland has some of the leading targets in the world for reducing emissions. It is widely admired for its efforts at increasing the generation of renewable electricity. But we are also seeing massive efforts from countries like China, who are the biggest investors in renewable energy in the world. This year they will be building more renewable energy generation than exists in the whole of the UK.

But perhaps most importantly, using energy more productively is key. As a society, we waste vast quantities of energy. Yet with the availability of new energy technology, and availability of information, for example through smart phones, we can deliver the outcomes we seek – for warm homes and efficient mobility – with much lower energy use.

So while the challenge is massive and serious, Scottish researchers are at the forefront of providing the evidence for sound government policies to build a low carbon society. The solutions are many and have multiple benefits.

Andy Kerr
April 2014

Smart Accelerator – Creating Smarter Cities and Sustainable Communities

Smart Accelerator

by Ed Craig, ECCI Head of Enterprise and Innovation

Appeared in Scotsman Opinion

There is no absolute definition of “smart city” but it is often described throughout policy and the media as a process, or series of steps, by which cities are encouraged to become more liveable and resilient. Although the term is often generalised, spoken about and regularly aspired to, it is rarely achieved.

Whilst we have seen a revolution in information and communication technology over the last 30 years, the practicalities of applying this technology to improve outcomes of complex, overlapping social issues, such as energy and resource use and mobility, have proved much more difficult. This often reflects the challenge of bringing together multiple public and private sector stakeholders, with different language, agendas and timescales, around a common challenge. 

 Research points to the fact that cities are the key engines for economic growth, both for the cities themselves and their local regions. Many cities have significant opportunities to improve their economic, social and environmental performance to the betterment of their citizens.

There are a growing number of exemplar cities around the world, which can be emulated through exchange of ideas and the development of partnerships. However, it is also important not to over-focus on cities and lose the opportunity to create a legacy of sustainable economic development in our rural, peripheral regions and island communities. In Scotland there are numerous planned but stalled, or potential projects that can be defined as ‘smart city region’ or ‘smart island’ initiatives.

Terminology aside, it is considered a priority area internationally for regional authorities, as well as development and enterprise agencies. Significant public and private funding is available to develop and implement well-planned projects, ranging from Scottish Government and public sector initiatives to large corporations and specialist investment agencies such as the Green Investment Bank (GIB). In addition, international development agencies such as the IDB (Inter-American Development Bank) are seeking expertise and good practices to accelerate the development of up to 100 ‘smart and sustainable cities and communities’ in the Caribbean, Central and Southern America. The EU have prioritized ‘smart and sustainable cities’ funding through its prestigious ‘Horizon 2020’ funding, that provides more than €80 billion in funding to innovative projects between 2014-2020.

Accessing funding is not therefore the key barrier to progressing successful ‘smart’ projects in Scotland. Evidence suggests that successful ‘smart’ projects need to be underpinned by a clear, compelling vision, be owned by the relevant stakeholders and be specifically “citizen-centric”. The project has to be built on the hard-nosed application of good ideas (innovation) and preferably based upon existing good practice. All too often, projects do not take full advantage of the good and bad experiences and knowledge available from other international and UK-based projects that have been previously developed. ‘Smart’ project designers and partners within potential initiatives must consider not only the key outcomes, intended impacts and the financial scale to enable project funding but also the appropriate shape and size of the partnership.

It is curious that despite the key role of small and medium sized enterprises in Scotland’s sustainable economic development – enshrined in all levels of government policy – it is rare for these enterprises to be integrated into the development of ‘smart’ project partnerships or the provision of product and service solutions. The engagement of small and medium sized Scottish companies within this development process is challenging due to the complexity and time commitment required, but is essential if we wish to build effective and truly innovative projects that develop Scotland’s economy through its locally owned business base. A similar argument can be made for our ‘world class’ academic institutions, whose role as both knowledge owner and knowledge broker should be exploited more effectively. In Scotland, multiple public sector agencies and stakeholders have come together under the banner of the ‘Smart Accelerator’ initiative to support the identification, development and acceleration of these large-scale “smart” projects with the aim of improving the wellbeing of Scottish citizens as well as supporting Scotland’s transition to a low carbon economy.

These projects aim to create more resource-efficient, low carbon, “smart” city regions and islands, drawing on international good practice and integrating and drawing on the knowledge and expert know-how of Scottish companies and Universities. This partnership is led by the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation (ECCI), and funded and supported by the Scottish Government, Transport Scotland, the Cities Alliance, Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise. The partnership will assess and prioritise a list of preferred projects over the coming three months, whilst also challenging and supporting our business sector to offer new, ground-breaking ideas and projects. Emerging project proposals include the integration of data from increasingly instrumented and interconnected city region systems on energy, sustainable port infrastructure, innovative transportation fuels, mobility, and food and waste/water provision to support more effective products and services for Scottish citizens.

The partnership will then provide the necessary drive, coordination, staff and expert resources and “know how” to work with the project teams and accelerate the project proposals to the point where they are independently investable. Supported projects will have access to examples of international good practice and will work with local companies developing supporting products and services.

This initiative has been designed to overcome many of the barriers to delivering these vital but complex projects in Scotland and all those involved believe that Scotland has a significant opportunity to become a test-bed for new innovative ideas that can improve the economic, social and environmental conditions of its citizens, as well as creating strong export opportunities for its enterprise.

If you are interested in the project, would like to become involved or simply would like more information please contact Ed Craig at ed.craig@ed.ac.uk or visit our website http://www.edinburghcentre.org. Ed Craig is Head of Enterprise & Innovation, ECCI

Does Low Carbon Mean High Cost?

Does Low Carbon Mean High Cost?

by Andy Kerr, ECCI Executive Director

Appeared in Scotsman Opinion

We need to focus on the productive use of energy in households and businesses rather than the unit price of electricity or gas

Reading or listening to the national media or political debates on “green” or “low carbon” issues, the dominant narrative is that “green” is synonymous with “renewable energy”. And renewable energy is typically equated with renewable electricity, which is largely synonymous with onshore wind. And wind power is, to many eyes, synonymous with “inefficient” or “high cost” or “intrusive”. So it is difficult not to conclude that delivering green or low carbon intentions must come at a high social or economic cost.

Indeed, if intermittent onshore wind power were the only outcome of this low carbon agenda, it would come with a high economic and social cost. Yet the low carbon activities going on in business, in communities and in public policy in Scotland and around the world bear little relation to this dominant narrative. Instead, much of the focus is on how we deliver the energy services we require – heating, cooling, lighting, mobility – as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Analyses of our current energy systems demonstrate that they have developed in largely ad hoc ways, with political decisions about governance and market arrangements overlying infrastructure planned and built for the last century. Inefficiencies are built in to the system, even though more efficient approaches exist and are commercially viable now – and are used in other countries – for delivering the energy services we need. For example, we can visualise the flow of energy in the UK from production to use (using what are known as Sankey diagrams). In the UK in 2012 we produced or imported 296 million tonnes of oil equivalent (mtoe) energy; and we exported 70mtoe energy, with a further 7 mtoe used for non-energy purposes. The useful energy that we actually used in the UK equated to 156 mtoe.

In other words, 30% of the energy we produced or imported is lost through energy conversions or distribution losses. And after we receive the “useful energy” in our house, our business or our vehicles, a large percentage of this energy is lost through the poor quality fabric of buildings or unnecessary heating/cooling; or inefficient lighting; or inefficient transport systems that contribute to congestion or unnecessary journeys and more wasted time, money and energy. For example, effective metering and use of information about heat required in different rooms can reduce heating bills by 10-20%.

And modern LED lights can provide the same quality of light as most normal bulbs but at a small fraction of the energy consumption. Their drawback is that the upfront cost is higher than standard bulbs, though overall lifetime costs are much lower. This challenge of having higher upfront costs is common to many emerging “low carbon” energy services for households, businesses or communities. We can show that the overall cost to individuals or households is lower over one, two or five years, but at the point of purchase people often prefer the least cost option even if they will be better off with other options.

This challenge is magnified because of our inability to forecast energy costs with any accuracy. In 2000, the UK Government published its Energy Paper 68. This was the considered view of government and industry experts about future energy prices in the UK. To 2020, they forecast oil prices to be between $10-20/barrel; gas prices to be between 11-23pence/therm; coal prices to be between $26-42/tonne and petrol / diesel prices to be less than 75pence per litre. We now have oil prices over 5 times higher than the expected highest likely costs; gas prices 3 times higher; coal 50% higher; and petrol/diesel almost twice as expensive.

With lifetimes of technologies typically in excess of 15 – 20 years, and our inability to forecast energy costs accurately more than a year or two in advance, we need to rethink how we communicate energy issues to the wider public. Instead of focusing on what is the current cheapest option (currently gas), we need to consider what energy system will deliver the energy services we require but with the resilience to cope with unknown future energy costs. We need to think about the overall energy system rather than focus on costs of individual technologies; in this sense, supporting onshore wind power is a natural “hedge” or risk management approach to ameliorate future gas and coal price rises.

We need to focus on the productive use of energy in households and businesses rather than the unit price of electricity or gas. This will allow us to reclaim “low carbon” to its proper meaning, which is to deliver the energy services we need as individuals, businesses or communities, far more productively, and with less dependence on fossil fuels. Low carbon does not mean high cost.

Andy Kerr December 2013

Energy Matters

Energy matters…in Scotland

by Andy Kerr, ECCI Executive Director

Appeared in Scotsman Opinion

The availability of cheap, instantly accessible energy has underpinned the development of our modern society. But certainties about energy that have existed for a generation are now changing rapidly, both nationally and internationally. So we should not be surprised that energy issues, like prices, costs and technologies, are rarely out of the news. Or those views on different ways of generating and using energy are increasingly strident.

But the information provided by politicians and in the national media about the choices in front of us are too often partial and misleading, designed to reflect a particular political or commercial viewpoint.   They fail to provide a transparent debate about social costs and benefits of different forms of energy generation and use. And this matters, particularly in Scotland, where energy is a keystone economic sector.

The recent political and media storm about “green taxes” provides a classic example. Regardless of one’s views about the sense of subsidising renewable energy generation, statements arguing that “green” (renewable energy) subsidies are the primary cause of the recent increases in energy bills are simply untrue. Within a typical household electricity and gas bill, householders’ pay more to the Government through general taxation – via the 5% VAT charge – than to renewable energy support programmes. The householder pays more to support low income and elderly people to insulate their homes, through social policies such as the Energy Company Obligation (ECO), than to subsidise renewable energy generation.  Indeed, the Government takes as much tax from someone filling a single large tank of diesel or petrol in a family car as is taken from your annual electricity bill to support renewables.

In other words, the storm around “green taxes” reflects more the need for political or commercial interests to have a convenient scapegoat than on any desire for informed debate about how we should deliver an energy system that meets our future needs.

This is not to say that the existing system of socialising social and environmental costs through energy bills is sensible: it has long been known that this is a regressive form of tax, since size of energy bills does not equate well to size of householder income.  The system of putting costs on consumer bills was originally put in place under a Conservative government, to provide financial support to nuclear generators in the newly privatised industry, and extended under Labour.

But if we are to have a more transparent and honest debate about how the Government spends our money, we also need to reflect on where we spend our money. The biggest energy source we require is for heating water and space in homes. The next biggest – and, for most people, by far the most expensive – is on our mobility through the use of transport fuels. The smallest component of our energy use, and the one typically with lowest cost in any one year, is electricity. Yet, this is the form of energy that captures much of the news headlines.

Against this backdrop, radical changes are coming over the next 20 years. These are driven in part by global events, such as persistently high oil costs; others by more local issues, such as the UK’s rapid transformation from energy exporter to energy importer, and the need to upgrade energy infrastructure designed in the mid twentieth century. Scotland, like the rest of Europe, aims to wean itself off its dependence on fossil fuels over the next 35 years.

Choices about how we manage these changes are political, economic and cultural decisions for society.  All forms of energy generation and use have social, economic and environmental implications. These implications, both positive and negative, can affect communities both close to and far from the point of use, and are often hidden from the consumer. UK and Scottish Governments – of all political persuasions – have sought to balance competing interests of cost, social and environmental impact and the need to secure long-term supplies of energy or fuels.

But too often in the UK, the debate has been reduced to a technology beauty contest: whether nuclear is better than renewables; or whether fracking is the answer.  Or a blame game about energy costs. We are in danger of missing the wider and more important issue: no single technology or energy source can provide for our multifarious energy needs for mobility, heating, cooling, lighting and appliances. We need a far more open, transparent conversation about the costs and benefits of different ways of delivering our energy needs, to make an energy system fit for the 21st century. We deserve better.

Andy Kerr

Stuart Moir, ECCI PhD student shares some insights of his project…

Stuart Moir, PhD student blog entry for ECCI

What does sustainability mean to you? Sure, you’ve probably seen the Venn diagram model. You know, three overlapping circles representing environment, society and economy with sustainability residing at the centre of the diagram, where all three circles partially coincide. Perhaps you know of other sustainability models (click here for an overview). But what do they really mean?

Sustainability venn diagramWhat about the related concept of sustainable development? A more tangible notion than sustainability it nevertheless has been appropriated by many competing ideologies, from the conservative to the revolutionary! (Want to know more? OK then, click here) To be honest, it’s all very confusing.

But that’s why I‘m undertaking a PhD with the School of the Built Environment at Heriot-Watt University. To understand precisely what sustainability is and how it should be applied in the context of the built environment. And the best-in-class sustainable refurbishment of the historic former Royal High School building, to provide accommodation for ECCI and its partners, has provided me with a unique opportunity to do just this.

During the course of my investigations, I’ve been fortunate enough to have interviewed many key stakeholders involved in the ECCI building project – client representatives, prospective buildings users, members of the design and construction teams, etc. – regarding how sustainability is being implemented at High School Yards.

But how does one make sense of and organise such a complex notion as sustainability? Well, I stumbled upon a rather unique way of considering the notion. It’s a bit of a mouthful (and, at first reading anyway, a headful!). It’s called (hold on to your hats…) the Cosmonomic Idea of Reality, a pluralist ontology conceived in the last century by the Dutch philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd (see what I mean?). Although it’s a sophisticated conception, in essence Dooyeweerd’s cosmology is relatively straight-forward and actually quite intuitive.

High_School,_Infirmary_Street,_1777I used the framework underpinning this philosophy to structure my interview schedule and questions and in doing so I’ve been able to extract a rich trove of data from the completed interviews. Moreover, I have determined some consistent ‘sustainability threads’ running through the project narratives provided by each of the interviewees. For example: reducing the consumption of energy and associated emissions (both embodied and operational); an appreciation of ethics through the appropriate sourcing of materials and ‘doing the right thing’; and a commitment to innovation and social interaction.

My intention is to compare these findings with how sustainability is currently being evaluated on the building project (i.e. via a BREEAM scheme) to see if the manner in which interactions with building sustainability assessment schemes can be improved.

I’m looking forward to further fruitful engagement with ECCI in the near future.

You can read more about Stuart’s work here.

ECCI Cafe Comp – And the winner is…

VOTING IN THE ECCI CAFE COMP CLOSED 9AM WEDS MAY 15th AND THE WINNER IS…

The Knight’s Table

Suggested by: Roddy McNulty, Edinburgh

Prize draw winner: Stephen Porter

Congratulations to you both!

What’s in a name?

Back in April, ECCI launched a competition to find a name for our new Café.

We wanted the name to reflect the site’s fascinating history, the new building’s world-class green credentials or the world-changing plans ECCI has for the future.

After four weeks of collecting hundreds of fantastic entries the judges selected a shortlist of the best five, which went out to a public vote. Three weeks and hundreds of votes later, the votes were counted and the winners announced.

Congratulations to the winners

Roddy McNulty suggested the winning name, ‘The Knight’s Table’. His prizes:

Cutting the tape at our opening event, being remembered forever more by a commemorative plaque in the Café and his first 10 cups of coffee in his very own ECCI mug.

As the winner of the prize draw, Stephen Porter wins his first ten cups of coffee at the new café for free.

Meet the winners

Roddy McNulty is a qualified archaeologist who works for Recovery Action (www.recoveryaction.org), helping victims of Guatemala’s genocide in the 1980s rebury their dead with dignity. He also runs Home Tuition Scotland – Scotland’s largest home school and music tuition provider (www.hometuitionscotland.co.uk).

Roddy said: “I’m delighted to have won the ‘Name the ECCI Cafe’ competition! I found out about the competition through the amusing ECCI Knight twitter feed – “@ecciknight”. I selected the name as I am a qualified archaeologist and found out about the exciting find of the Medieval Knight at the High School Yards during work on the ECCI Centre building.

Who knows, the new Cafe might even persuade Sir Eck to raise himself from his 700 year-old slumber for a coffee.”

The name “The Knight’s Table” seemed an obvious choice to link past, present and future. Of course, all of the Knights had equal standing around King Arthur’s round table, and this provides a lesson from the past to those who have been entrusted to take important decisions on our planet’s future. Who knows, the new Cafe might even persuade Sir Eck to raise himself from his 700 year-old slumber for a coffee.”

Stephen Porter is one of this year’s Carbon Masters (and next year’s PhD students) and visited the building this year as past of ECCI’s academic outreach programme.

He said: I’m very much looking forward to the opening of the new ECCI building. Barring a requirement to be out of town, I certainly plan on being at the launch event – hopefully before the new Autumn term starts!”

Back to Spring 2013 Newsletter.

Sir Eck’s BIG REVEAL:

 

Links

The 700 year history of High School Yards: http://www.edinburghcentre.org/History.html

Green, Lean & Clean – the buildings world-class green innovations: http://www.edinburghcentre.org/What-makes-it-innovative.html

ECCI’s world changing plans for the future: http://www.edinburghcentre.org/our-vision.html