On the 25th of May 2011 I attended the kick-off meeting of the Cambridgeshire Renewables Infrastructure Framework.
Despite attending the four hour event and reading the project’s website I wasn’t really in a position to offer a succinct summary of what the “CRIF” is or will be. I have now though found a page on the Cambridgeshire Horizons website which does go some way to explaining, it states:
The Cambridgeshire Renewables Infrastructure Framework (CRIF) will examine the potential opportunities to generate renewable energy in Cambridgeshire. It will map where energy is used in the county and where it could be generated using renewables such as solar panels, wind turbines, and biomass combined heat and power plants. This information will be used to plan and deliver investment in renewable energy, providing the pathway to a future of low carbon energy.
The kick off event was put on by staff from Cambridgeshire Horizons, which has had its public funding cut and is now winding down. What’s motivating Horizon’s staff to do this in the dying throws of their organisation’s life isn’t clear; perhaps they’re hoping to set up something which will outlive Horizons and keep a swathe of public sector middle management and consultancy type jobs in existence, perhaps they’ve decided this is the best way of burning their remaining time and money.
Most of the event focused on local energy generation; the aim of those involved in CRIF appeared from the event to be to try and promote more local energy generation from renewable sources in Cambridgeshire; things like district heating schemes / combined heat an power plants and encouraging people to put photovoltaic (PV) panels on their roofs. CRIF has been described on the project’s blog as a “conversation” on the subject of maximising the renewable energy generating potential of Cambridgeshire.
Prior to the event I tweeted some thoughts:
- @RTaylorUK: Pre #crifcambs thought: Aren't energy security & keeping the lights on generally something best tackled at a national level? – Wednesday May 25 2011
- @RTaylorUK: Pre #crifcambs thought: Fragmentation of national grid risks inequalities in energy prices. Risk of those on new eco estates paying more?- Wednesday May 25 2011
- @RTaylorUK: Pre #crifcambs thought: Quotes like “100% energy efficient homes” just make me think you can’t break the laws of physics -> are nonsense – Wednesday May 25 2011
- @RTaylorUK: Pre #crifcambs thought: Pumping water to keep the fens dry is a huge electricity use in this area – Wednesday May 25 2011
Alex Plant, Chief Executive of Cambridgeshire Horizons, was the first speaker at the event.
Mr Plant stated that energy prices would rise as demand increased following population growth and following the depletion of its own gas the UK becomes dependent on imported gas from every further away, from countries for whom the UK may not be their preferred market. He said securing the future of our energy supply and trying to reduce the amount energy bills would rise were some of the aims of CRIF. I fully agree with those two aims and think the UK’s energy policy should be focused on them, but I was not convinced about what he went on to say. He spoke about jobs in energy generation and said combined heat and power resulted in jobs for more people than wind power, the implication being that its a good thing to employ more people in energy generation and we should consider which options create the most jobs.
I’ve written before about my opposition to this stance, my view is that one of civilisation’s major achievements has been releasing us from having to spend so much time working to obtain our food and energy. I strongly support encouraging “green jobs” but I think we should be focusing on developing and exporting renewable energy, energy efficiency, and new energy generation technologies. I think its through technological innovation that Cambridgeshire can have greatest impact on the word. As a county we’re only a tiny energy user, and will only ever be a tiny energy generator on a global scale, but Cambridge, and its environs, is a world class science and technology hub.
At least Mr Plant wants to keep the cost of household heating, lighting and hot water down, in contrast to Cambridge’s MP Julian Huppert who stood on a platform of seeking to hike gas and electricity bills. I disagree with Alex Plant again though on the implication he made, that a higher proportion of the county’s energy needs being generated from renewable sources would automatically result in reduced costs to individuals and businesses. I think one of the big risks of things like CHP plants serving a handful of homes; or energy generation serving a particular new-build estate is that people then become tied to a monopoly energy supplier, and have responsibility for maintenance of infrastructure. This could lead to unpredictable costs and reduce the ability to switch to the cheapest energy provider.
Mr Plant said that 1/3 of the investment in CRIF would be from energy generators and suppliers; something which sounds impressive if he has secured it; though total budget for the project wasn’t mentioned and no names of such commercial sponsors were mentioned, as I’d have expected them to be if they existed.
The introduction from Mr Plant drew attention to the statistic that the UK currently produces about 3% of its energy from renewable resources (~-% of its heating energy) and the government has committed to making this 20% by 2020. Closing this gap is something CRIF clearly wants to play a part in. He said that one of the other aims of CRIF was to “de-risk inward investment to Cambridgeshire”, this was interpreted by his staff, as referring only to encouraging renewable energy companies to invest in the region, and not a broader aim to create a county with a particularly resilient energy infrastructure which would, in a world where the lights staying on isn’t a given, would attract companies to the area.
Mr Plant observed it might not be a great idea to replace productive farm land with solar panels to generate electricity.
Another point made by Mr Plant was that he considers there has been a “market failure” in the area of promoting energy generation from renewable resources; hence justifying the need for the intervention of the CRIF.
Environmental consultancy company Camco Ltd is one of the first winners from the CRIF project. They have been given a contract to investigate the energy demand in the region and the opportunities for generation from renewables and also constraints. I suspect much of this may well be achieved by digging out some of the information buried deep on the Cambridgeshire County Council, and other public bodies’ websites.
When pushed on exactly what they would be doing it was elucidated that one thing they won’t be doing is a “landscape character/capacity study” looking at what renewable resources are available in the area and what their potential contribution could be to energy requirements if they were exploited. (details of the tender Camco won have been published by Cambridgeshire Horizons)
Those running the CRIF say they are keen to talk to people. They spoke of “hub in the pub” events, attending existing public meetings, and involving “green groups” throughout the county in their project. There are apparently a number of groups like the Dry Draton Green Group” throughout the county. The event was told engagement would be “digital led”, the project’s website says the “conversation” will take place on the citizenscape.net platform.
Particularly following group sessions educating people about our energy sources and how we use it was highlighted as important area. (I agree with this, education is key to all the challenges facing society, from reinvigorating the economy to health and everything else). The “market failure” was blamed on the lack of consumer demand and that in turn blamed on the lack of consumer understanding. The challenge for green campaigners was described as stopping sounding like scaremongering / propaganda.
Cambridgeshire County Councillor John Renyolds (Girton, Conservative) spoke to say that the problem with getting “code 6″ (a “zero carbon” standard ) new home in the county was developers. He said the public need to say “we want code 6 homes” and then developers will build them. Members of the CRIF team stated that those who are teenagers now will be those looking to build the homes currently planned for the growth of Cambridge and new builds in the rest of the county, it was suggested that they need the education (and that councillors need to stop using jargon like “code 6″ in public meetings!).
I don’t agree with this argument at all, I see it as simply Cllr Renyolds trying to pass the buck. If he and other councillors think the standards ought be followed he and his councillor colleagues should be standing up to the developers and demanding them. Cllr Renyolds doesn’t appear to have noticed that demand for housing massively exceeds supply in Cambridge and the surrounding area and so factors such as how much carbon dioxide was generated during the construction of a property isn’t going to be high up the list of considerations for those looking to find somewhere to live. In respect of the 100% energy efficient homes, that can only be achieved with dedicated energy generation, and I don’t think that’s the right route to follow, I think the national grid provides resilience and allows easier introduction of new generation technologies which can then supply the whole population and not just the new homes.
Ken from Village Energy
One of the highlights of the event was the discussion session with Ken from Village Energy .net who has been working trying to help people in Histon and Imptington get photovoltaic cells on their roofs and benefit from the government’s “Feed in Tariffs” scheme. The CRIF team tried to sell what he had done as being driven by online engagement through the Histon and Impington Courrier website but he said that was a small part of the work, and he had spoken in person to many hundreds of people including all of those who had installed PV panels in the villages. His piece of advice was to set a clear target – his is 500 roofs in Histon and Impington with PV panels on them by December 2012, he said such targets inspire people.
The question of: will people start nicking PV panels off roofs? was raised, and answer given was that there is currently no market as you can’t get feed in tariffs for 2nd hand panels (though as @SciPolTech on Twitter pointed out they still have an inherent value!)
Ken reported that so far those who’ve put PV panels on their properties tend to be in their forties with money to spare, looking for a way to get a better return on their savings than an ISA. He said ideas such as “rent a roof” and loans to enable people who can’t afford the outright outlay to invest in panels were yet to materialise in practice in Histon and Impington. (So what we’ve got so far is another government project which helps the rich get richer, albeit by demonstrating the application of a technology the government wants to promote)
An attendee described her “pre-start-up” idea to create an online brokerage putting those who want to invest in PV but don’t have a roof in touch with those with a roof but without the spare cash.
- The question: “Are there going to be targets in the CRIF?” was raised and left unanswered. The question what is the CRIF going to be presumably needing to be addressed first.
- Transition Cambridge has 1000 people on its mailing list. (This makes it one of three Cambridge centred groups I’m aware of with such reach, the others being the Cambridge Cycling Campaign and Cambridge Past Present and Future).
- Following a request from an attendee who had visited and been inspired by the OpenTech conference a commitment to opendata was given by the CRIF team. We can expect all raw data generated by contractors to be published on the project’s website, raw data behind graphs used for presentations, and links to or copies of published work referenced in the project’s work.
- No commitments for CRIF to be open about its finances and spending, or to voluntarily comply with the Freedom of Information Act were given. Though a statement on the CitizenScape website now states: “The project is being supported by Climate Change Skills Funding from Climate East and Improvement East”.
- There were two clergy in uniform present. One was @BpDT the bishop of Huntington who along with me and a purple dragon fairy live-tweeted the event. The clergy offered up the suggestion that the 500 church owned roofs in the county could host PV panels and thought this might help particularly as they are iconic buildings. They clarified that they were not pledging their buildings to the cause, just raising a possibility.
- A logo competition for CRIF was held during the event, this attracted little, if any, interest
- Free, excellent quality, bite sized cakes were provided free to attendees. I had a caramel slice with a good 1/2 centimetre of solid white chocolate on top; and a chocolate cake with both solid and gooey chocolate bits inside.
- It was reported that Cambridge University had refused permission for the event to be streamed live over its network (they’re notably terrible at supporting local public events); but the whole event can now be viewed online. A number of interviews carried out on the day are available on the project’s YouTube page.
- South Cambridgeshire had been identified, in research commissioned by the CRIF project, as one of the places in the country where there is greatest online discussion of renewable energy. I suggested on twitter this was due to the number of “stop the windfarm” campaigns in the area, to be told by the CRIF team there is also discussion of PV installation too – and that the data and the conclusions will be published.
I’m left wondering if the CRIF project matters; and if it’s something I ought to keep an eye on and take an interest in. The questions I want answered are what’s its budget (in terms of taxpayers’ money), and what does it hope to achieve? If it’s going to be spending a lot of public money then clearly its worth engaging with, if there’s a chance what it’s doing might be adopted by and might become the policy of councils in the area then perhaps it is important to get involved at this early stage before the question in-front of councillors becomes simply to support it or not and it becomes harder to debate points of detail.
A further CRIF event is to be scheduled for early July to which elected representatives are to be invited (only two turned up to the kick-off event), the results of the work by the Camco consultants will be presented at that event.