Communities self-sufficient in waste + energy
On 12th July, the New Optimists Forum pondered and scribbled about the nuts’n'bolts of Birmingham communities harvesting what energy they need in their own backyard.
Take a look at the scribbles on this tablecloth. Click on the image, take a closer look at a bigger version.
A simple premise: instead of separating waste we chuck from the energy we consume, we put both waste and energy in the same place. Literally so.
Aston’s EBRI demonstrator reactor leads the way. That’s one of the many technologies that we can use.
Getting such new technologies used by communities in the city is another matter. But quite possibly vital if we are to keep the lights on.
To begin with, we need demonstrator communities around Birmingham. A community that has, on its doorstep, a bioenergy reactor taking their sewage and other “waste” before it reaches Minworth or a landfill site or someone else’s recycling plant. And then turning it all into carbon-negative heat and power for their homes or transport — or to sell into the grid.
Green? It’d be green, literally so too. The community could also grow biomass alongside their homes, perhaps decontaminating former industrial land. Algae too. Allotment waste, grass cuttings . . . Suddenly, a place that produces a lot of “waste”, a packaging plant, say, or a food processing factory, a big school, a hospital, becomes a desirable neighbour.
Distributed energy systems can only happen in cities and conurbations; it needs dense populations to produce the fuel, and use the energy. And cities are built where energy is:
Imagine this on a big scale here. Say, a hundred or so bioenergy reactors in Birmingham.
That would take qualitatively different planning decisions — planning of the surveyor/developer type, not planning as in yet-another-meaningless-report-type. It’s a change in local planning decisions that’s needed, though, so within our remit.
We’d have new ways to use land, and perhaps different kinds of land ownership. New legal frameworks so citizens, individuals and community groups, are equitable partners in it all.
It’d take new transmission systems, micro-grids.
It’d take lots of labour, the graft stuff, the building of infrastructures — but on a I-can-see-the-end-of-this, human scale of things not some stonking great nuclear reactor in some far-off place. So lots of employment opportunities for local people,. They’d be building something for themselves, and for the next generation . (And, therefore, we could dispense with all those carping exhortations to our young people to somehow get “skills” that no-one can identify!)
It’d create a dramatic increase in the city’s social capital; that’s something sharkish banksters wouldn’t even notice.
Capital of the investment type is needed, too, of course — along with the opportunity to give value, cash-value as well as social value, to communities.
It spells nothing less than a revolution in our lives. Nothing dramatic, mind, not overnight. No fervour, no charismatic leader, no crowds.
Small scale, community led, community owned harvesting of energy . . . Lots and lots and lots of them.