How can we work together to power our community beyond cheap oil?

Report of Energy Open Space meeting held on Saturday 13th February 2010

Over 30 people attended a public meeting organised by Transition Shipston on Saturday 13th February 2010 to discuss "How can we power Shipston beyond cheap oil?".
They heard presentations from
• Rachel Jones from Act on Energy about the importance of insulation and energy saving behaviour in reducing energy demand for energy and the help available for those who would looking at ways to change
• Paul Taylor, the Green Electrician, who outlined options for using solar photo-voltaic panels to generate electricity, as well as describing how he had made changes to his own home to reduce its need for energy, most of which was now met from renewable sources
• Bob Smith from Sterland and Elgar, who explained how changes to heating systems, including uses of biomass, could make energy use more sustainable
• Bernard Perkins from energy consultancy Encraft, who discussed mapping local areas to find opportunities for renewable energy – for example, identifying the sites of old water mills as potential opportunities for hydro-electric power.

The meeting then identified three topics for further discussion in small groups. The following sections set out the notes made by these three discussion groups.
Involving communities
The group identified a number of ideas for ways to involve communities and provide them with information and help with energy. It recognised that more work would be needed to develop ideas and take them forward.
1. Leaflet – do you want to save money? Come along. Emphasise that advice is non-commercial.
2. Approach has to be "trendy" – recognised as up to date
3. Where possible, take advantage of other publicity such as TV advertising
4. Engaging with school kids through schools (and other activities outside school, such as guides, youth club etc). Motivate them to take an interest in energy. Kids take ideas back to their parents, but might also be useful to approach parents as well, perhaps through a questionnaire?
5. What can the Town Council or Parish Council do? Could they buy energy meters (like the Owl meter) that could be lent to the public? Could they support exhibitions offering practical solutions that local people could visit? Could they sign up to the European-wide Covenant of Mayors (where local government bodies agree to support energy initiatives)?
6. Could an energy co-op be set up: for example, helping meet interest in products such as solar panels by bulk buying to bring down costs?
7. How could local businesses be encouraged to sell energy saving products?
8. Should a network of local Energy Champions be set up? These could talk to local groups as well as taking up invitations to visit people's homes to advise on energy options, the grants available etc?

Making more of solar PV technology
The group discussed how more use could be made of solar photo-voltaic panels – especially now the new feed-in tariff offered attractive terms for investment. Ideas put forward were as follows.
1. Housing associations which own and manage social housing locally might be able to bulk buy renewable technologies for widespread installation on their properties.
2. Community projects – for example, installing solar panels on a village hall or other community building – might offer opportunities for larger roofs – and bigger installations! Installations can be carried out sensitively on some listed buildings, such as churches.
3. Individual householders may be interested and willing to invest – but unaware of the new feed-in tariff and the return it offers on investment. Publicity to raise awareness might help increase the number of domestic installations?
4. With grant and subsidy schemes changing, it is important to plan ahead to identify the best ways to encourage local investment.

Energy from waste
The group began by discussing the amount of waste produced today and how to reduce it. Education, especially for young people, was identified as the best way forward.
The group then went on to discuss what waste is available for turning into energy through the process of anaerobic digestion – a natural process where bacteria "digest" certain types of waste, producing methane and carbon dioxide and leaving a soil improver (like compost) as the final product.
Sewage, farm slurries, and food waste were identified as possible sources of material for anaerobic digestion. The gas produced can be used to power transport, to feed into the national gas grid, or to burn to generate electricity and heat. Different types and sizes of anaerobic digester are commercially available, and the viability of a proposed plant will depend on its size, the waste used to feed it and how the gas produced can be used. For example, small-scale plants operate on farms locally, while in different parts of the country, large-scale plants dealing with food waste have proved commercially viable.
The group then discussed other ways in which waste might be turned into energy: for example, using algae to produce a petrol substitute.
The group concluded that of the various ideas it had discussed, the question of the viability of anaerobic digestion for Shipston should be investigated.

Next steps
Transition Shipston's Energy Group will meet to discuss the different ideas put forward by the meeting and to decide which might be priorities for further investigation.
The Energy Group will next meet on Wednesday 24th February at the Black Horse, Station Road, Shipston. The meeting will start at 7.30 pm, and anyone interested in sustainable energy for Shipston and surrounding communities is welcome to attend.

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