Tag - 12th July 2012

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.

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#tnofood Will we need to change the law to get local energy working well for Birmingham?

Catherine Burke is a partner and Head of Energy at Freeth Cartwright.  At the New Optimists Forum she shared some thoughts on the law – if it may need to change and what else might have to change to make local energy work well in Birmingham.

What should we should do now? Or stop doing?

Plan on a citywide scale.

Be more bold about locally produced energy.

Inform and educate the public in new technologies.

Involve people in energy systems.

Expose where energy comes from and the true costs of energy costs due to transmission loss.

Get public money.

Change planning laws.

Continue reading “What should we should do now? Or stop doing?”

What would be quantitively different in Birmingham because of a distributed energy system

Whether there is such a thing as peak oil in this day an age is questionable. “I think we will end up with the same level of energy consumption will go down.” If we go for new systems for public transport systems we have an enormous effect quickly.

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What will be quantitively different in our lives in Birmingham in 2050 – table 1

Catherine Burke

Corrado di Maria

Lynsey Melville

Ian Forsyth

New Optimist Forum - discussing numbers

New Optimist Forum - discussing numbers

Thoughts from this table


  • More people in the city
  • More immigrants?
  • More things will rely on energy – we expect a higher quality iof life, so needs and wants are larger, although energy use is lower.
  • Efficiency could though lead to more energy use because we have more electrical devices
  • Local community generation might create more of a moral emphasis on saving energy.
  • When you know your energy is green you consume more!
  • Bigger split between the haves and the haves not –
  • People wont have their own boilers – will that also encourage them to use more energy, because they don’t know what’s on when.
  • Per capita demand will decrease – even though we will have more things to power
  • Fossil fuels will have to be priced out of the market – but then low carbon fuel prices will rise.
  • Possibly more public transport
  • Fewer cars
  • More highrise blocks?  Communities developing around energy systems.
  • Pricing for the grid will be very complicated – but energy supplies will be interconnected
  • At the moment limit of the size of  community is also shaped by technology – a small generator can’t economically supply energy more than 500M from the energy source.



Local energy – will it make our Birmingham in 2050 bigger and denser – or smaller and a network of villages

Two very different views tonight… if 50% of Birmingham’s energy is produced locally – in neighbourhoods, homes, inside the city… how will that change the size and nature of Birmingham?

Dr Corrado Di Maria, an economist at Birmingham University, thinks local energy generation might lead to much smaller cities – after all we won’t need them for that economy of scale….

Meanwhile Professor Andreas Hornung was thinking it might make it easier to grow mega cities…

Or for example one New Optimist argued that Northfield or Nechells might be redesigned because of energy – as a driver to regenerate outskirts of the city rather than just the city centre.   A local power plant might be a thing to cluster around.


Locally distributed energy would mean a city would look very different.

With a distributed energy system would mean greater densityfication. People with high energy use would be placed together. It could become a driver to regenerate other areas of the city as only the city centre has been subject to strong regeneration. The start of regeneration for outlying towns could be the creation of energy generation.
People have a mindset about what a power plant is. They’re thought of as dirty operations, but the kind of energy generation planst we’re talking about are not — and people should be made to feel proud about generating their own energy.

Continue reading “Locally distributed energy would mean a city would look very different.”

What is the impact of distributed energy supply?

What will be qualitatively different in our lives?

What does the city and it’s society look like in this scenario?

The combination of two effects of increased energy supply and lower energy demand is what will make the difference.

Potentially we could get the efficiency of our houses up but whether demand for energy will go down is questionable as we will have an expanded number of householder. Birmingham has a lot of brownfield land within the city with no use.

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“I think we’re possibly on the brink of a revolution”

Kate Cooper from new optimists kicks off tonight’s event with a short presentation giving some background about the New Optimists Forum.

There’s a year long scenario planning process about food futures in Birmingham. She asked scientists “what are you optimistic about?” And 80 replied and became a book launched in 2010.

“How can we get regional scientists to help us solve the really big challenges in the 21st century.”

Climate change, resource depletion, population pressures. These problems are too big, how do we begin? They happen on large scales, both time and geographically and they require disparate governments to cooperate. So it’s no surprise that we’re stuck.

Doing nothing is not an option. – Sir John Lawton.

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#TNOfood: What a distributed energy supply system could mean for Birmingham

Tonight you can follow and join an intriguing conversation via #TNOfood and/or on this blog:

Imagine it’s 2050. Imagine 50% of Birmingham’s energy supplies generated inside the city — and by a carbon-negative process fuelled by the waste we all produce.

Imagine a local community , owning their own energy supply system. What impact would it have on family life?

And what would the word “ownership” mean? How would that affect individuals? Communities? Today’s vested interests in energy supply?

The feasibility and impact of such a system — more accurately, systems — is being talked about tonight at the New Optimists Forum at Aston Business School.

At the Business School will be (from the top, left to right): geographer Dr Stefan Bouzarovski, lawyer Catherine Burke, horticulturist Simon Coles, economist Dr Corrado Di Maria, Cofely Business Manager Ian Forsyth,   the engineers behind the technology, Professor Andreas Hornung and Dr Lynsey Melville, Sandy Taylor who’s Head of Climate Change at Birmingham City Council  and economist Professor Michael Waterson.

Making the evening run smoothly is yours truly, Kate Cooper. Nick Booth and Max Woolf from Podnosh are providing social media reporting along with cameraman Jon Turner.

If you want to know a tad more about the technologies being developed at Aston University by Andreas and his colleagues, take a look at this brief video:


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