“It is particularly ironic that the battle to save the world's remaining healthy ecosystems will be won or lost not in tropical forests or coral reefs that are threatened but on the streets of the most unnatural landscapes on the planet.”- Worldwatch Institute. 2007

Monday, 13 September 2010

Low Carbon Communities

First off – when I’m talking about community I’m referring to a geographically distinct region, something with definable borders. This will contain a community of people and these will also be part of many more communities, physical and virtual, within and without their region based on demographics and interests but here and now when I say community I mean a place.

By low-carbon I mean responsible for less carbon emissions than ermm… the same place would’ve been otherwise, without the measures taken, whatever they are. We talk about carbon savings in terms of CO2 (carbon dioxide) but it could be any greenhouse gas that we’re not pumping into the atmosphere. I’d like to put a figure, even a percentage band, on ‘low’ but I’m shy of even saying ‘significantly less’. The Tri-gen at Media City for example is predicted to save around 20,000 tons of CO2 per year, and this is without doubt a Good Thing. But I’m not convinced that it justifies the amount of glass on the buildings (lots of glass=high heat gains in summer/high heat losses in winter=lots more energy required for cooling and heating respectively). Some would argue that it is justified, that without beautiful structures our cities would be ugly and unpleasant places and that glass technology has come so far that covering a building in glass is alright (and I would argue with them). But on this trip I’m going to be looking at the things which have saved carbon emissions whether they are the use of renewable energy or measures to avoid using the energy in the first place and try not to get too hung up about the architecture.

Carbon is a better metric of sustainability than just energy use because it forces us to consider where the energy comes from. So Australia has an average CO2 emission per head of more than double the UK (18.95 to our 8.72 tonnes per year) principally because of coal use. Also because energy efficiency measures are almost always cheaper to implement than renewable energy generation these will still be addressed first and foremost, however you’re calculating the cost.

It’s not infallible however - Las Vegas is very low carbon as its electricity supply comes from the Hoover Dam. But presumably the farmers downstream of the dam suffering with drought aren’t impressed by that. A less clear-cut example is Iceland which is mostly powered by geothermal energy (from the earth’s core as opposed to ground source which is solar energy stored in the ground) and where building standards are quite low and energy use high. But because the energy is low carbon, and could not reasonably be exported (unless we develop a hydrogen economy perhaps) then perhaps the usage is justified.

Energy usage can be reduced by three methods, summarized by the phrase ‘Be Mean, Be Lean, Be Green’ which means we need to first stop using energy we don’t need to use, then to use the energy we do use as efficiently as possible and finally, when we’ve done the first two, generate the energy we do still need in a sustainable manner, i.e. one that doesn’t screw the planet up for the next generations.

Tomorrow I go to Artefact – an eco-centre near the northern coast of Germany to have a look at what they’ve done. Also they’ll be showing me round some local solutions over the next couple of days including a biogas CHP. Also through Artefact I am meeting Emoeke and Helge at Flensburg University who have arranged some visits in Flensburg for me.

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