Directing Change

little cheyne court wind-turbines

“Just as the world is rushing towards clean energy, our government wants to run away …”  


Five years ago, not long before he was promoted to editor of Positive News, I was talking with Sean Dagan Wood. We were discussing whether or not the world was going to stop climate change in time. Dagan Wood felt it was do-able. He saw a global smorgasbord of green business and innovation, bubbling away beneath the surface … a parallel, and properly sustainable society … almost ready to step across to.

And this ‘parallel society’ has grown.  Committed people have worked, often beneath the radar, researching, developing and ultimately establishing the infrastructure and systems that allow us to address climate change, not as individuals, nor even individual countries, but as humanity.

UK were leaders in this change for many years. Now other countries take up the mantle and always the work continues across borders, in business and outside of business – drawing in all kinds of people,with all kinds of skills. Together we can change the world. Together we can create a brighter future for the generations that follow.

Funding for the change makers is often tight, and so they learn to work with lean budgets, making the most of not that much. Those working outside the security of big business have placed much hope in the potential for cooperatively owned renewable energy to fund R&D in other areas of green development and systems innovation. They have crafted triple bottom line business plans and burned the candle at both ends because they cared about what they were doing. Sometimes some of them had to supplement meagre income with tax credits. Paving the way is what this is about.

The voices are growing for action on climate change. Big voices, heads of churches, leaders of continents. Paris in December beckons a great and historic decision. It seems tangible. Canada votes in a new government. Mark Carney, manager of the Bank of England stands up to be counted. President Obama, Google, Apple, Unilever, The Pope and the Dalai Lama. Action on climate is in the air.  So why now, UK?  The Feed in Tariffs are under the axe, building for zero emissions is undermined and funding streams  for vital clean tech R&D have dwindled. Investor confidence in green tech may be growing in other countries, but not the UK. In this country it is as if we are swimming in a different direction. Still pouring  forlorn hopes into dirty fossil fuels and de-regulation. Its anti business say the proud political dinosaurs. Global warming? pah!

Mariana Mazzucato is Professor of Economics and Innovation at Sussex University and recently became one of a small group of progressive economic advisors to the Labour party that also includes Joseph Stiglitz and Thomas Picketty.

Mazzucato makes the point that ‘the market’ is only able to influence the rate of change not the direction of change. This is important. We have to get away from the notion that any growth is good. How can growth that causes deep, lasting and irreparable damage to essential ecosystems or human wellbeing be good?

In order to re-direct change you have to intervene. Mazzucato points to the story of Silicon Valley for inspiration. In the early years of computer technology, before we had even dreamed of I-pads, smart phones, social media and superfast broadband packages from BT, it was government investment … i.e. public investment … that made early development in Silicon Valley possible. Government bodies helped to kick start the digital revolution. And by dint of an incredible surge of human creativity and sharing of skills something amazing began to take place. It was only when the potential for success became apparent that private investors stepped in.

So this is the thing. In order to bring green technology and systems innovation through the risk stages, to the point where we have mature technologies, green infrastructure being established at a suitable rate and business models with environmental and social justice stitched in, we need public investment. In the UK subsidies still seem to go into the wrong places. Marketing strategies to sugar the pill of environmental degradation are no solution. Investment is needed to re-direct the economy. The longer we leave it, the more difficult it will be to pull back. UK don’t run away from renewables.

Written by Rachel,

This article was first published in Broad Sheep Magazine, November 2015. Broad Sheep is distributed across the region of Mid Wales and the Marches and is also published online.


In the past, wealthy Romans used powdered mouse brains for toothpaste. During the 19th Century, King Ludwig II of Bavaria spent all of his personal funds on the construction of fairy tale castles.

Sultan Ibrahim l of the Ottomans tried to force feed his fish with money. And Ivan IV, Tsar of Russia spent his spare time torturing small animals. What madness, you’d think people in power would know better, wouldn’t you?

And then this letter arrived …

Hi All,

 I’ve been amazed at crazy behaviour of this present Government. In the last few weeks the following has been announced:

1.The Zero Carbon Homes standard set out in 2006 for all new houses to be net zero carbon by 2016 has been scrapped. So we can still build the leaky energy inefficient new houses like we have been building. The homeowner’s costs will be higher as well as the GreenHouse Gas (GHG) costs.

2.The climate change levy exemption for renewable energy has been scrapped from 1st Aug 2015 – this means that the renewable energy industry now has to pay for the carbon produced by the rest of the fossil fuel industry. About £1billion per year by 2020. Significant financially and ethically.

3.New Onshore Wind has been effectively stalled due to the subsidies to encourage it being removed. The Gov. admits that this will certainly reduce the volume of our cheapest large-scale renewable energy (Onshore Wind) and so we will not meet the 2025 targets. The UK still pays £28 Billion per year in Fossil Fuel subsidies (although it was promised to phase this out from 2010)

 4.The Department for Energy and Climate change (DECC) has seen its budget cut by £70M, with staffing levels likely to be cut by 90%. Since the majority of its budget is used for trying to clear up the Sellafield nuclear mess there will not be much left for anything related to climate change.

 5.Low Emission vehicles will now be charged the same road tax as standard cars. Good for Chelsea tractors.

6.The long awaited Green Deal for households to reduce their fossil fuel energy consumption has been cancelled.

7.Meanwhile the fracking situation seems increasingly undemocratic 

 8.And the latest news is that the Solar PV feed in tariffs will be suddenly reduced (again) by 85% at the end of December, and if this happens to cause a sudden rush to install (as it has already) then they have introduced the caveat that the FITS will suddenly be ended completely in January. No exemption for any community energy projects.

 When challenged with the 20,000 job losses likely, Amber Rudd simply said ‘ Employment levels were not in their evaluations’

 All the above was actually described as ‘Totally Bonkers’ by other members of parliament.

Fortunately I’ve just returned charged up with optimism following a workshop at the Centre of Alternative Technology (CAT) on the Zero Carbon Britain model and how this links to over 120 other countries similar work. Information in this letter comes from their Autumn 2015 issue of their magazine, Clean Slate.

Best Wishes


Thanks Gordon, great letter.

Rachel Francis,

First published in Broad Sheep  Oct 2015 edition

Have you signed this petition asking DECC to urgently review the current approach to the solar feed in tariff?

TGV Hydro gain national award

Brecon Beacons based TGV Hydro has just received an Ashden Award for its work on community renewable energy.

(This news comes with thanks to Chris Blake for the press release and Ashden / Andrew Aitchison Photography for the photos)

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The hills and streams of rural Wales make an ideal location for generating sustainable electricity from hydropower. But many potential sites are too small for the big hydropower developers to touch. TGV Hydro, wholly owned by The Green Valleys CIC, is filling this gap. It’s developing microhydro projects for private and community ownership across South Wales, working closely with the local authority to create a model that could be replicated elsewhere. Local labour is used to build projects where possible, and TGV has helped a new manufacturer of hydro turbines to start up.

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With 23 schemes completed across Wales and permissions for another 20 secured, TGV Hydro has been at the forefront of developing clean electricity from mountain streams. The renewable electricity generated can be sold into the national grid, so farmers and communities can diversify their income. And as Chris, who is one of the co-founders of TGV Hydro, explained

there is scope to build low impact microhydro schemes in any upland area – there are thousands of suitable sites across the UK, taking advantage of the energy in water as it runs down hill

The Ashden Awards have been going for fifteen years now. The very first award was presented to a Rwandan organisation that had designed a clean, energy-efficient oven to help counter the country’s serious deforestation. The Award was front-page news in the country’s press and the winner was met off the plane by President Kagame of Rwanda.
Since 2001, Ashden has rewarded over 170 sustainable energy champions across the world, helping everyone from those lacking electricity, to those suffering the consequences of cities that are choked with traffic fumes and congestion. These awards go to the people who are making sustainable energy more accessible, affordable and aspirational.

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Massive congratulations to Grenville Ham, Chris Blake and all at TGV Hydro – local people who are responding to the call for more action on climate change with practical solutions that also help to sustain farming and rural ways of life.

First published in Broad Sheep Magazine

Stories for 2015

“It isn’t like a lecture: it’s like a conversation. There’s a back-and-forthness about it.” Philip Pullman.

In a story that frames the 1001 Stories of the Arabian Nights, a Sultan is incensed by the infidelity of his wife. In his jealousy, he decides to get his revenge by “taking” a virgin girl each night and then cutting off her head the next morning.

But just as the supply of virgins has been pretty much exhausted, Princess Scheherazade turns up. The thing about Scheherazade is that she is cleverer than the Sultan. She begins to tell an adventure story, set in a world of magic carpets and genies and he becomes entranced by it. Day after day he allows Scheherazade to live, always in anticipation of the next story. And so it is that, after telling all the stories of the Arabian Nights, Scheherazade survives.

Stories have been around since the beginning of time. Humans respond to  a story, whether real or imagined, in a different way to ordinary information. People connect with the medium of story. The Arabian Nights originate from the wonderful story telling tradition of desert nomads, later written into Persian manuscript, much later translated into European languages and even more recently turned into an unprecedented number of pantomimes. These rich stories are set in the Eastern countries that we now know as Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Israel, Syria, and Egypt.

People Stories
Between 2007 and 2010 I worked for an organisation called Lightfoot Enterprises, which was set up to create solutions to climate change. I helped to devise the communications tools and message architecture for a community led “Household Energy Service” (HES) that would go on to advise a large number of households on ways to reduce fossil fuel use. Part of this work was to put together a regular newsletter. The newsletter updated people on available grants – for example for better home insulation and drew attention to local services – for example solar panel fitters.
A popular addition to these newsletters became known amongst us as people stories. We invited over 1,000 people who had already engaged with HES to write about how they were rolling up their sleeves and cutting fossil fuel use. Each true story explored the realities of changing – the highs and lows of travelling the world by train; the problems encountered when choosing insulation for a leaky church roof; the joys of cycling to work on an electric bike or turning a poorly insulated ex-council house into a snug eco home with solar water heater; and a wood burner that became a best friend.
image Feb Green
By the time the 3rd quarterly newsletter was being compiled, people stories were flooding in at a rate of knots.

I left Lightfoot in 2010 to set up a small writing agency. These days I work on a wide range of communications and marketing projects within the “green sector”. In reality, this covers anything from sustainable design and new technologies, to local social enterprise and community activity.  Sometimes known as “good” business, drivers such as profit  are re-balanced by long term environmental and humanitarian considerations. This implies a need for creativity – innovation – to bring about change. The green sector is a wonderful arena to work in.

When it comes to communicating, the old one-dimensional “marketing push” to sell stuff or tell people what to do is sort of outdated really. A large part of its downfall was social media, providing everybody with a new platform for exchange. Philip Pullman’s concept of back and forthness is pretty spot on, taking elemental communication back closer to its roots, returning to us just a taste of those dark connected evenings when our ancestors exchanged stories around the fire. Or if you want me to put it into snazzy language of the Internet seers: communications is now interactive, immersive and socially connected. But perhaps it always was.

An overarching story, such as the story of Scheherazade in Arabian Nights, is known as a “frame story”. The people stories at Lightfoot were framed by the concept of a journey to low carbon living ~ understandably lots of people wanted to write about their journeys.

Modern communications is more of an exchange, less of a lecture and we can bring this ancient, human element of story into all kinds of contexts, to explore the realities of changing, of taking responsibility for the future.

Rachel Francis
Sharpening Pencils

First published in Broad Sheep Magazine Feb 2015 issue.

Zero Carbon

The WISE Centre at the Centre for Alternative Technology is sophisticated.
Forget any images you have of hair shorts, hair shirts, damp caves, this modern lecture hall/ venue near Machynlleth, constructed from hemp and lime, rammed earth and local wood, is light and airy and spacious and warm … just gorgeous actually.


The event I’m attending has been organised by Powys Transition Network and they have a full house of 125 people grappling with the coffee urns and rustling their papers. The first presentation is by Paul Allen. Paul is a bit of a legend really. Not of the hyped-up hair-styled media-darling variety but more the enduring unannounced kind. In fact if legendary status were dependent on hairstyle …
Anyway, Paul has been a driving force at CAT and also Dulas Engineering since 1988 and now the coordinator for Zero Carbon Britain. I’m kind of in awe.

We are guided through the story of energy ~ from the laying down of fossil fuels during the carboniferous period, some half a million years ago; to the “Annual Sunlight Ration” of early agricultural societies; inexorably onwards to the recent discovery of coal and oil that fuelled the industrial revolution; all sorts of wonderful and awful things; and finally climate change.

Zero Carbon Britain is CAT’s chunky piece of work for really properly addressing climate change, demonstrating that
a – its possible, and we have all the technologies required in terms of energy demand reduction and clean energy production
b- it will only happen if global decision makers and leaders accept the global cap and agree to leave the percentage of fossil fuels that scientists confirm we cant burn because it would be bonkers in the ground and under the Arctic.

After a break, up to the platform comes Alice Hooker-Stroud who is a seriously good speaker and the subject is Zero Carbon land use. This is an interesting piece of work about current land use in Britain and having asked the question “Can we improve our diet and reduce Green House Gas emissions?” Alice neatly maps out how we could, by shifting to zero carbon land use.

At the moment 65 -70 percent of land in UK is under food production, but we still rely on 42% of our food being imported. A shift to less livestock/more vegetable and cereal crops, along with a reduction in waste ~ 30 percent of UK food in 2011 went to waste, primarily for spurious marketing reasons ~ would mean that the UK could reduce the percentage of land currently producing food and actually feed everyone too. Which could free up more space for trees, peat land and rich grassland for carbon capture plus agricultural production of biomass to provide backup for renewables. In the zero carbon land use model, people would eat less overall and also more healthily. A large percentage of deaths in this country are diet related at present, so we could do with an overhaul.

This event really lifted my spirits. I can’t do justice to all the speakers in 800 words but a final mention for the presentation by George Marshall. George is a lead advisor to the Welsh Government on climate change communications and has previously worked as a senior campaigner for both the Rainforest Network and also Greenpeace US. His work on communicating climate change includes how to reach people, fight denial and build a shared vision. His final comments? We have to break the climate silence of the last couple of years and start talking about it.

Big thanks to Mike and Sally and the team for organising this event and if you want to know more about and get involved with Transition Powys, who are up to all sorts of good things with some funding from PAVO, please contact:

First published in Broad Sheep

Written by Rachel Francis, Sharpening Pencils


Passivhaus: Affordable to live in

I need to clear up a myth. A Passivhaus is not just for rich people. And actually a small, simple Passivhaus could be a perfect solution for people on really low incomes.

A building that demands as little as possible” Adam Dadeby

Passivhaus certified houses are affordable to live in. They can cut space heating energy use by 80% or 90% without sacrificing comfort or fresh air. Usually these will be new homes, but there are a few examples of people who have refurbished older housing to Passivhaus standard. This is the story of Adam Dadeby and his wife Erica, who turned an ordinary 40 year old house into a fully certified Passivhaus.


After studying at The Centre for Alternative Technology in Machynlleth, Adam and Erica decided to refurbish their existing house instead of building a new passivhaus. It was an ambitious decision, made on the grounds that it seemed more sustainable to do this than start again from scratch and that it was important to pioneer this approach. They made a start in 2009:

“Week two has been quite eventful. The old windows are out and much progress made in digging trenches for the external insulation and preparing the foundation for the new build element to the side of the house.

All (I hope) of the shortcomings of the existing building have now been exposed and this week I have found myself questioning why we are bothering to refurb and not demolishing what is left and starting again. If we had chosen to demolish it, we would have been able to do away with many hours of difficult design work. The problems of thermal bridging between the ground floor concrete slab and the structural walls would have gone away in an instant.”


For any Passivhaus build, the design choices focus on minimising energy / house fuel requirements, but this is balanced by the budget and other external constraints. In a refurb, the external constraints are greater, because the existing building isn’t designed for purpose.

For example, the original floor in Adam and Kate’s house consisted of pine boarding, felt underlay, 70mm of screed, 150mm of reinforced concrete slab and a hard-core base. To raise the floor design to Passiv standard, they considered removing the entire concrete slab to create the space needed for decent insulation. However, the added cost and risks of structural damage led to a compromise in which the concrete stayed, whilst the screed was replaced with 80mm of highest performance insulation, 20mm of wood fibre insulation and a wooden flooring with a total thickness of 17mm. This compromise worked, but it increased the finished floor height by about 20mm and a new build could have done better at less cost.

This house was only the third in the UK to be refurbished to Passivhaus standard and has made quite an impact, winning awards and attracting plenty of interest. Adam points out that, rather surprisingly, the financial odds are not yet stacked in favour of refurbishment: you can claim back the VAT on a new build but not on a refurbishment. That’s another constraint we need to bear in mind until the law can be changed.


A simpler, cheaper, but still very worthwhile option for people who are currently building or refurbishing to a higher energy performance,  might be to opt for EnerPHit or AECB Silver. This is still above and beyond minimum regulations for energy performance … a sort of Passivhaus on a budget.

Basics for energy saving

  •     Concentrate on the building itself: windows, walls, floor, roof and the junctions where they meet – “fabric first”
  •     Get the insulation right and that means nice and thick and with no gaps, because gaps let the whole insulation thing down
  •     Reduce (and test for) air leakage, make sure doors and windows are well fitted and that the manufacturers made them up to spec
  •     Eliminate cold-bridging i.e. places where poor thermal insulators such as concrete slabs or metal joists come through the insulation layers
  •     Ventilation for fresh air without the heat loss in winter

The team-P1000586

Adam Dadeby kindly helped in the preparation of this article. The build team are pictured above and their experiences during the project lead Adam and the architect on the scheme to co-write The Passivhaus Handbook. As clients, Adam and Erica wanted to try Passivhaus before committing to it. At the time there was nowhere to do this, so they offer Passivhaus bed and breakfast accommodation in their home.


Wave Power: Pelamis in Scotland

“So hope for a great sea-change 
on the far side of revenge, believe that a further shore 
is reachable from here. Believe in miracles” Seamus Heaney


In May 2013, a wave energy machine called Pelamis P2, sited north of Scotland at Billia Croo, completed an important first year test programme. Named after a type of sea snake that swims on the ocean surface, able to survive in all weather conditions, the Pelamis P2 is inspired and informed by nature. It’s made up of coupled 4m-wide steel tubes that move with the ocean surface to generate energy, whilst inside the tubes, a slick array of hydraulic cylinders, compressors and converters turn wave motion into green electricity. I met Deborah Smith of Pelamis last summer at the Green Business Awards.

How it Works

Central to the Pelamis P2 design is the articulated tube – there are five sections in total and these are linked by universal joints, which give the machine its snake-like flexibility. The machine floats at the surface of the ocean and naturally faces into the waves. As each wave passes, the sections bend and the movement is converted via hydraulic power take-off systems inside the tube. The system basically works by pumping fluid into high-pressure accumulators, to generate smooth and continuous electricity. It’s a rather simple analysis, but there is a detailed description on the Pelamis website, if you seek more info. This power is then transmitted to shore using standard subsea cables and equipment.


Surviving Harsh Conditions

Billia Croo test site is a wild spot off Orkney, subjected to the powerful forces of the North Atlantic Ocean, and enjoying one of the highest wave energy potentials in Europe. The average wave height is 2 – 3 metres, but extremes of up to 17m have been measured and this makes it a perfect place to test the Pelamis P2 with monitored exposure to increasingly large wave conditions.

The designer behind this project is an engineer called Richard Yemm, who has spent many years researching wave power. The ocean is a tough environment, and Pelamis P2 has been designed with survivability in mind, strengthened by steel, able to move with the tides or dive through bigger waves, streamlined to work with the forces of nature.

The success of Pelamis is part of a long held wisdom that we should be working with nature, and not in arrogant or economic isolation. Which is something engineers, farmers and growers, and those living/working closer to earth often grasp early on … and here they are, turning out amazing solutions in response to what is now an urgent scientific consensus on climate change and atmospheric physics.

Wave Energy and Tidal Energy

Waves are formed by winds blowing over the surface of the sea. The size of the waves will depend upon the wind speed, its duration, the distance of water over which it blows, the shape of the sea floor and local currents. Of course each wave carries kinetic energy, but the best wave resources will be in areas where strong winds have travelled long distances with minimal friction from the seabed and these waves in deeper, exposed waters generate much more energy.

Closer to home, in Swansea Bay, the attention has turned to tidal energy. Tidal streams are created by the constantly changing gravitational pull of the moon and sun. Tides never stop, with water moving first one way, then the other. Tidal technologies capture the kinetic energy of the currents flowing in and out, and because the relative positions of the sun and moon can be accurately predicted, so can the tides. This predictability will make tidal energy a particularly valuable resource.

Investing in our future

Pelamis have produced six full-scale Pelamis wave energy machines to date, including two of the latest ‘P2’ design, which were supported by E.ON and Scottish Power Renewables. The stage of improvement and development is not over, but the latest test results are looking good. This early investment in wave power is not wasted money, but an important use of money for the future … a future where sustainable technology meets nature. In the longer term, team Pelamis believe that wave power could become one of the lowest cost forms of clean renewable energy generation. And that is something worth investing in.