Welcome to Brockenhurst College, winners of the western region ReDesign Challenge. Below they describe a future scenario where businesses and homes engage democratically in the use and production of power from renewable sources. Coupled with this would be a drive for energy efficiency to lower demand and save money. But there is a dilemma here. What if the savings made by producing some of our own power locally are directed back in to a linear system? What if the money is used to buy more stuff made from declining natural resources and delivered and disposed of using the last viable oil reserves? What needs to happen to make the brave plans put forward by the Brockenhurst team come to fruition in a fully circular economy?
Fossil fuels and oil are running out. Supplied by ever more volatile sources that are set to become unaffordable, we need to build energy resilience into our local communities – improving self sufficiency in a way which is not damaging to our environment.
Our Redesign Challenge proposes the remodelling of our communities at every level to be energy generating sources which may one day power our homes, schools and lives, whilst using the energy we can create as efficiently as possible – civilisations’ biggest challenge yet… an Energy Democracy?
Our team has looked at the viability of achieving 100% energy independence in our communities. Britain is run from 97% fossil fuel energy – only 2.2% comes from renewable sources yet in Sweden they manage a figure of 44%! We propose that by 2050, the UK could become powered completely by renewable sources, and this can most effectively be done by energy localisation. Will it work?
Despite the huge potential for businesses to thrive in the circular economy, they are one of the main culprits of excessive energy consumption. In a localised community, the national grid would act as a conduit – businesses would have their own way of producing the energy they used, which in times of excessive production could be shared to needy sources.
The use of photovoltaic cells, wind turbines and other renewable sources of energy not only cut costs long term for a business, but can also cut their carbon footprint. For example, in our closest city, Southampton, hot brine from the geothermal well provides 18% of the total district heating mix; not totally sustainable, but a sure step in the right direction.
Other solutions include the installation of ‘Green Roofs’ on buildings with both environmental and financial benefits. These are roofs covered in vegetation, planted over a waterproof membrane. Green roofs:
Transportation plays a huge part in most businesses, either distributing products or the commuting of employees. Self-sustainability can be achieved further with the use of electric cars (or scooters) that can be charged during the night with relatively small distances being travelled to and from work.
Producing your own energy is a tough challenge, and one way to make it easier is to use the energy you’ve created as efficiently as possible. Although spoilt for choice, here are some of the methods we suggest would be most effective in contributing to successful energy conservation in small (and large) businesses. These solutions would be sure to save money, and perhaps government legislation could even play a part in how much energy businesses are able to use outside their working hours.
‘Name and shame’: compulsory since 2009, ‘Display Energy Certificates’ must be in clear view in all public buildings, showing their annual CO2 emissions and energy efficiency rating. Organisations ‘cut back’ to avoid public humiliation in the transition to a Circular Economy.
For energy efficiency at home, you have to pay attention to the little things. Most of us can’t live without a fridge, washing machine, or dishwasher; in our 21st century lives, these appliances are necessities. However, when it comes to replacing them, you can choose the most energy efficient appliances available – the same goes for lighting. Every time you leave a room, turn off the lights! Also, when watching TV or DVDs, don’t just use the remote, walk those few steps to the wall and pull the plug. It’s surprising how much that little standby button burns!
So, how to improve efficiency?
Rooftop solar panels on homes in Vauban, Germany © young-germany.de
Looking at the stats, we clearly need to invest in more than just efficiency. North Sea oil is set to last only until 2030 – world oil supplies will be dry in the next 70 years and there’s a growing need to change the way we produce our energy. It’s not fair to leave our mess for future generations, is it?
Can it be done? Well as it turns out, the switch is surprisingly simple.
Looking at the figures, it’s obvious what we should all be doing – why don’t we? We refuse to be old fashioned in respect to our media and lifestyle innovation, why is it acceptable when it comes to energy? It’s our mess, we’re the adults of the next fifty years – we need to start the change.
This picture shows the Eastgate Building in Harare, Zimbabwe. Designed by the architect Mick Pearce, it is just one example of sustainable architecture that uses less than 10% of the energy of a conventional building by copying the successful strategies of indigenous natural systems. The building – the country’s largest commercial and shopping complex – uses the same heating and cooling principles as a local termite mound. The key here is that the architect has reduced the need for fossil fuels by planning for heating, cooling, water systems and lighting all at the same time. The need for additional energy from outside has been reduced by optimsisng the whole sytem.
© Yewenyi / David Brazier
For more details go to http://inhabitat.com/building-modelled-on-termites-eastgate-centre-in-zimbabwe/
Undoubtedly energy efficiency measures are important as societies move towards a solar powered circular economy. But often the cost of adding on new technologies to old structures and systems can be expensive and with minimal gain. The best rewards come from thinking big – or maybe thinking small!