The Barcelona Connection

Barcelona is a city of visions …


 of football stars and fashion … of ancient sculpture and modern art … of streets winding down to the Mediterranean Sea. It’s a good place to talk aspiration and design with Chris Reitz, a key figure in the story of Riversimple.

Chris is a member of the Porsche family. He studied at the Art Center College of Design in Vevey, Switzerland – a college that has a reputation for producing top quality car designers. Chris has headed up design teams at Alfa Romeo and Fiat. He now lives and works out of Barcelona and is design artist for the Riversimple Rasa.

Q: What brought you to Riversimple?

I love cars. I grew up with people who live and work everyday in this world. I am inspired by creating something courageous – ahead of the curve.

Q: How do you even begin to design a car?

Design is many disciplines – it’s not just about shape and surfaces – it is about what is needed and who is it for. Let’s talk about our car, the Riversimple Rasa. We start with a very radical business idea to design a hydrogen fuel cell car that is super light and super strong – and so we have to ask, how will we express this in the design – and who will it be for – who is the customer?

This is exciting for the artist. For a startup business there is no existing brand – no Nissan, no Lotus, no story to define how we write the first marks on the page. We are designing something completely fresh.

A group of us at Riversimple worked together to shape the idea – this included Hugo (Spowers), Fiona (Clancy) and Richard (Coltart). We asked ‘What will people expect of a hydrogen fuel cell car?’ And ‘What will motivate them to choose this new technology?’

If an actor plays a boxer in a movie – the actor has to understand how this person boxes in order to play the part well. So we began by imagining the different kind of people who might be Riversimple customers – what are their lifestyles and their everyday needs – what will make this car a good decision for them?

Q: What do you think early adopters most wish this car to be?

Early adopters are very open in their mind – they like to have their finger on the pulse, they look for a car with style. Not so long ago, the Prius became a statement for famous sports personalities and actors – this is not superficial: enthusiasts for clever, sustainable, technical, environmental and economical solutions are an important influence.
In appearance this car must reflect elegance without compromising safety. For example, the shoulder of the car is wider than the cabin and this gives us stability and also fluidity.

Another fundamental element is sustainability. A good aerodynamic design will allow the wind to slip past the car in motion, refining the vehicle performance and efficiency. So we have low overall height, with space for the wind to flow underneath as well. The spats over the rear wheels of the Rasa reduce turbulence to a minimum. Each design element minimises resistance and becomes a fluid part of the whole.

Finally, safety. Safety will be synonymous with all vehicles in the Riversimple family. The carbon fibre framework takes the form of a single carbon fibre monocoque originating from racing car design. Racing cars must be super strong and super light and very protective to the driver. Likewise, Riversimple cars.


The butterfly doors are very eye catching – are they more about style than substance?

It has been our intention to design an honest car every step pf the way – to inspire people, reassure them, take them with us on the Riversimple journey. The butterfly doors are eye-catching but the design element has purpose. We have a car that is low in height and this is very aerodynamic, but if we use standard doors for the Rasa, we will have a problem with the ability to get in and out of the car easily. The butterfly doors open out of the roof and so they create space for people to get in and out easily and elegantly

RIVERSIMPLE RASA - FRONT WITH BUTTERFLY DOORS OPEN - HIGH RESThe Rasa style says ‘this is the future’ but without trying to be flamboyant. We don’t want a style that will simply create a stir and then go out of fashion. We have long term plans and other vehicles in the pipeline, so the look and feel must encompass an element of timelessness.

Over the course of the public trials, we will be adding further refinements to the car. We have some special and amazing design features to add. The production version of the Rasa is going to be very exciting.

Help fund the public trials by investing in Riversimple  here.


We Farmers


“We farmers … what a high position we once held in this country. We and our profession have been the central theme of many poets … agriculture was considered the noblest of professions as the world was dependent on the farmer and his plough … but what is our status now?” T. ANAND RAJ, farmer.


Farmers work with systems that are linked with place and season. The knowledge of local farmers is unique to a particular environment and continually revised through accumulated experience. From the dawn of agriculture this knowledge has passed and evolved, from generation to generation. Local farmers everywhere have knowledge about the climate, vegetation, animals and soils that repeatedly, in the absence of external pressures, results in multi-dimensional land use and production strategies which enable food self-sufficiency for the community.



“In Maharashtra this year, the Godavari river in Nashik went dry. There is no water in Ramkund … in the town of Latur water scarcity is so severe that the district collector has imposed Section 144 and taken over 150 wells and tubewells near the city … Water is being supplied by tankers after a water train brings water all the way from Kota. While the drinking water emergency will be addressed … what of the farmers?”

Most of Maharashtra is plateau formed by lava millions of years ago. The major rivers and tributaries have carved river valleys across these plateau, but these rivers dry up during drought conditions. Inland the vast farming area is semi arid with scorching hot summer from March onwards broken briefly and violently by monsoon in early June. The character of the monsoon, with its short spells of rainy weather and long dry breaks, results in floods, but especially in droughts and these are getting more extreme with climate change. This is the farming struggle in Maharashtra.



“Farmers are struggling to repay even small loans of a few thousand rupees. Every time the creditor comes, we are put to shame… He shames our families and snatches our belongings. Unable to bear such insults, thousands of my people have committed suicide.”


Maharashtra is experiencing a convergence of crises – on the one hand climate change is leading to prolonged episodes of intense heat leading to drought – on another there is no financial cushion for simple farming families if the crops fail and so the debt collectors move in. Farmers in Maharashtra are advised to borrow money and grow cash crops with a better return such as sugar cane and GM cotton, but there is reason to believe that these crops are less resistant to drought and quickly soak up precious water reserves, whereas the old staples such as Jowar (sorghum) have supported food and livelihood income for many generations.

When the crops fail there is no way to pay back loans. In the last 20 years, nearly 300,000 of India’s farmers have ended their lives by drinking pesticides or by hanging themselves. Maharashtra state is the worst affected.



Farming in Britain is very different to India – but it is still about that same conflict between the weather, the times, the market, the cost of things, natural law and  policy. It is waking up in the morning and deciding, having studied the forecast for weeks, to cut the grass. It is praying that it wont rain. It is praying that it will rain.

And, as in Maharashtra, when things go wrong – really wrong – farming is hell. When Foot and Mouth Disease struck in Britain, not so long ago, a kind of madness descended. Carefully nurtured breeding stock was lost, on a vast scale. Generations of work disappeared. Animals starved, unable to be moved for fear of contamination and the farmer who threatened the Ministry vets with a shot gun? This story is still told in many a local pub.

This is why I am excited to be talking to a fellow writer from London, who first told me about the situation for  farmers in Maharashtra right now. Her family originate from the farming communities of Maharashtra, just as my children were born to a farming community in Devon.

An idea is to go out there and hear from the farming families first hand, and, as writers, tell the stories. I’ll let you know what happens.

Rachel Francis

First published in Broadsheep Magazine.

Shaking up the Car Industry


Screenshot 2016-04-08 16.05.38In February Riversimple Movement Ltd launched a ground- breaking fuel cell prototype, the Rasa, from a small workshop in the hills of Wales.  News travelled swiftly, starting with an article in the Financial Times, spreading to Sky News, BBC News, a host of media outlets and into Europe, then around the world.

This blog post was written by Rachel Francis on behalf of Riversimple Movement Ltd,  for ‘Circular Economy News’ in association with RESOURCE.


At a time when the unremitting issues of resource depletion and climate change are converging … at a time when a meaningful response to these crises is the subject of much debate but not enough action … at a time when it is not good enough for corporations or governing bodies to sit upon their hands … or their money … there exists an opportunity.

Resource depletion and climate change are the issues that will define the 21st Century.  A space has opened up for smart, credible and sustainable new businesses to pioneer and produce the solutions. This is the coal face for genuine 21st Century innovation – the place where we strive for, grapple with, create, design and fight for the businesses, services and products that are really needed and the solutions that could, one day, be commensurate with the size of the problem.


Screenshot 2016-04-08 16.34.25The Riversimple Rasa is built around a hydrogen fuel cell that powers the car via four motors, one in each wheel.  Kinetic energy from braking is recaptured and stored in a bank of super capacitors. Riversimple software manages a precise and highly efficient network energy system that controls the flow of energy, and will redistribute energy from braking to provide maximum acceleration.

It is the network energy system, coupled with a super-strong, super-light framework made from carbon composites, that is allowing us to achieve a step change in energy efficiency. Early tests measure fuel use at an amazing 250mpg (equivalent) in tests, cutting carbon emissions to c.40g CO2/km (Well-to-Wheel).  Riversimple Rasa cruises at 60, with acceleration of 0-60mph in 10 seconds. Tank capacity is 1.5kg of hydrogen, giving a 300 mile range and the Rasa can be refuelled in 3 minutes.



It has caused quite a sensation in the media – the Rasa is not, nor will it ever be, for sale. We believe that if you want to get serious about the future, then the protection, not the squandering, of valuable resources is a must.  Our solution is to replace car sales with sale of service in the business model. This simple idea solves a number of problems.  Firstly, we make it possible to take Rasa to market at an affordable cost, even when up against the behemoths of the industry. Secondly we make it desirable, from a business point of view,  to design a car built to last using top quality components. Thirdly we leave behind (at last!) the unsustainable practice of “designing for obsolescence.” Instead the Rasa car will be available on subscription as a complete and cost-transparent service.

For our customers this offers further advantages:

  • Affordable – priced to be competitive with total cost of ownership of a mid-sized hatchback
  • Hassle Free – Customers will pay a monthly direct debit to cover all costs: maintenance, repairs, insurance, software upgrades and fuel based on a mileage allowance.

We are working collaboratively with partners across the value chain to strengthen the commercial proposition for long-lasting components, through this same “sale of service” model.


We know that sales of cars that run on clean fuels are growing rapidly.  We know that the automotive industry has to change to survive.  And we know that it has to stop wasting valuable resources. We have prepared the way for low risk entry into the market, with a car that is fit for the future.  Now we are opening our doors to new investors, who would like to join Riversimple in the systematic pursuit of sustainable personal transport.


You can find out more about Riversimple and the launch of a new share offer at



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?

Deep Heat

This summer I travelled to Andalucía. I arrived in a heat wave, early and intense even by Spanish standards. It was 41 degrees by the time I reached Seville on 10th July and the walls and pavements were still radiating heat at 11.oo at night. The mountains beyond Seville were fresher, but the heat was taking its toll upon local crops.

2015-07-11 17.39.11

Europe by Train

Popular opinion says the easiest way to get to Spain from UK is to fly. But I wanted to travel from Knighton to Seville by train. I was going to do some writing, and it was climate related. I had come across a new company called Loco2 that sets out “to make booking trains across Europe as easy as booking a flight.”

The small team at Loco 2 have put together some clever software that simplifies booking trains in and across Europe and they now work with many of the big train companies including Renfe in Spain, SNCF in France and Eurostar. You can plan your journey and order the whole thing online, with print-at-home tickets for many routes. Loco 2 have also developed a tool that tells you the carbon dioxide savings you can make by taking the train in comparison to flying the same route.

Air travel is still the fastest growing contributor to climate change. The huge increase in aircraft pollution is mostly because of the growth in air traffic since the sixties, but Eurostar recently commissioned independent research to assess the CO2 per passenger produced by a London-Paris Eurostar journey compared to a London-Paris flight.  They found that taking the train to Paris instead of flying cuts CO2 emissions per passenger by 90 percent.

Changing Landscape

Despite all the dire warnings about hold-ups at Calais, the only real problem was the London tube strike. I walked from Euston and just managed to catch my train from St Pancras International to Paris. 

The next morning it was the high-speed TGV to Barcelona. This is a long journey, but from the upper deck the views, especially along the coast, are fantastic.

2015-07-09 18.51.51 2015-07-10 10.13.18

The changeover at Barcelona was a bit rushed and in future I would plan to stay at more destinations along the way.

Another thing it helps to know:  Spanish trains are on time. They are also very sociable with friendly, lively bars.

And something I will never forget:getting off the air-conditioned train at Madrid to walk into a wall of heat. There is no preparing yourself for the 25-degree temperature change between Wales and Southern Spain.

From Madrid to Seville takes just over 2 hours in an AVE train. The scenery along my route had steadily transformed from lush in Mid Wales – through the patchwork crops of central France and vineyards to the South – and finally into sun baked mountains, scorched earth, magnificent solar arrays and lunar landscapes between Madrid and Seville. I was picked up by car and taken by Sam to Finca Buenvino. Time to get writing.


Turning Point

By the time I left Spain, temperatures were peaking at 48 degrees. This extreme heat is unimaginable until you experience it. In Spain the weather is getting hotter, in Wales – mostly wetter. This December is the Paris climate summit. I hope UK will follow Obama’s lead and commit to real action towards clean technology and leaving fossil fuels in the ground. I’m not saying we don’t benefit from some deep heat from time to time – but there are limits – and – the world has reached them.


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