A year on from when I first interviewed the Avalon Community Energy (ACE) group, they’ve made some great progress. Their proposal for a local renewable energy park now has a site, which will have an anaerobic digester, and this weekend they launched their share offer so local people can now invest in the project. Starting with solar panels, the group will be gradually expanding and installing different renewable technologies and food production so that they compliment each other and form a resilient and diverse range of energy generation for the local area.
As part of the future plans for ACE, the group is considering aquaponics so I joined Maddy from ACE on a tour of bioaqua farm, where co-founder Antonio was generous enough to share his time and advice with us. I asked Antonio about the difference in nutrient content between hydroponics (plants in a water based system) and aquaponics where the plant nutrients in the water system come from fish which are farmed on the site.
Heeley City Farm has the varied and cute farm animals that the word ‘farm’ might conjurer in your mind, but it also has an eco home where they are demonstrating renewable energy technologies. First, a few cute animals, because what is life without a little awwwwww.
Within the demonstration home there are solar thermal water heaters, underground heat source pumps, wool insulation and light tubes. ‘Solar thermal water heaters’ is the simple beauty of using the sun to heat black pipes filled with water, saving energy without any complex technology. Underground heat source pumps work by pumping water through pipes in the ground to extract and concentrate the heat.
The more thermal mass (weight that can absorb heat) a building has, the more it will average out the temperature around it. For example, in a cave underground in England the temperature is an average of the yearly temperatures – around 10 degrees C. An earth shelter takes advantage of this by having the building partially buried in the earth or with earth mounds up the sides.
Earth shelters are just one of the types of buildings that Idp Search architects produce but as well as new builds they crucially also do retrofitting – altering an existing building to make it less wasteful. One project they have been using is called Greening the Box. You can see an example of their work which is in High Wycombe.
The greenhouse in Norwich is a café, a bookstore, a gallery, a house, a shop and an information hub. The dappled shade in the courtyard garden is provided by clever solar panels. Above the shop lives one of the original 12 students, who 20 year on, is still running the space to provide an example of positive solutions. The flat is one of Englands Superhomes, which are very energy efficient and serve as an example to help others. The Greenhouse is a particularly useful example because it is a listed building which they had to retrofit. The vast majority of the UK housing stock would need to be retrofitted to make them more sustainable, we won’t be able to build new houses, as it would release far far more carbon. There are currently more houses in the UK than we need, the difficulty is a large number of them have been bought as investments and are vacant. The centre of London is a sad example of this. So we can’t keep building on the little nature habitat land we have left to feed the ever more hungry monster of the housing market. Retrofitting is therefore a vital part of the culture change we need to be able to lower our carbon emissions. As to how we change our culture to avoid our homes being at the whim of the investment market, we’ll leave that for later… 😉
Something is wrong, and you want to make it right. You start talking to your partner or spouse, then one day your neighbours join in the conversation too. Together you arrange a film screening in the village and print out 1000 leaflets to tell your community about the public meeting. What can happen next is life changing.
Gamlingay Environmental Action Group started in this way, and once people are working together amazing things can happen. The village is located a few mile East of Bedford. It has it’s own community owned wind turbine, who’s profits go back to the village. There are 80 new allotments, and a habitat area because the group was able to successfully negotiate with a developer. Residents can get advice on green living and lowering their energy use. There is an annual bike ride and Green Day.
The village previously only had 8 allotments and there was a waiting list of around 40 people, but the new 80 allotments are now almost all taken! And if you find you need to spend a penny down on the allotment, how about this for a stylish toilet?
The other surprising thing about Gamlingay given the size of the village, is the Eco Hub. The amazing community centre is used for sports, dance, theatre, events, as a library and for computer access. The volunteers give their time to keep the centre thriving. The previous centre was badly degraded, leaking energy out and water in. In the few years since the new sustainable building was built, incorporating much of the old structure, it has become a real centre for the community, rather than just a single use venue for hire.
Located near Gamlingay is Sandy, where the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) has it’s headquarters, and part of the success of the village has been the number of people who live in the area who care about the environment. Taking that first step though, to talk to our neighbours, to reach out, is how it all begins.
Sometimes you ask and you find, other times you just have to relax and let things happen. As rain started the aptly named George and Pilgrim pub sheltered me, where by chance I met the amazing Earl at the bar. He’s been a long time member of the Green Party and has started a local energy cooperative called Avalon Community Energy (ACE Ltd). When I heard that I laughed and said “Wonderful! I’ve been looking for you all day, do you want to sit down?”
Despite a long term disability, Earl has been working with others in his community to bring about a renewable energy park. The plan which they are currently seeking funding for is to combine a number of energy generating aspects that support each other. An anaerobic digestor (converting biological waste into gas), a wind turbine, solar panels and aquaponics (cultivating fish). The beauty of the system is that the different aspects support each other. A modern battery that we are all familiar with is made of acids and toxic chemicals, but a battery is really anything that will store energy. The approach ACE want to take is to use the wind turbine to pump water into a raised reservoir to store the energy. The water an then be released through a turbine when energy is needed. The fish tanks generate nutrients from the fish poo which then flows to feed a hydroponics (growing plants in water) area. Solar panels will be on the roofs of the chicken sheds, who’s waste will feed the anaerobic digestor. It may all sound a little complicated, but then if you tried to describe a foodchain it might sound a little complicated too. In natural systems one ‘waste’ becomes something else’s food, and it is these principles that ACE is trying to emulate.
The group was fortunate to be able to seek out local expertise in finance, energy and organising. There is a lot of support available at the moment for community groups who want to set up an energy cooperative, so if you are interested in the idea find a local energy cooperative to advise you and check out the Center for Sustainable Energy.