Heat policy and advice – The future we need now

As noted in the first and the second post, and seen from recent news, heating our homes is a financial and social challenge for many. It is wrapped up in notions of fairness or lack of it, comfort and family, as well as the impact on the environment. Having moved from wood and coal to natural gas, heating our homes using gas boilers is still a major source of direct carbon dioxide emissions which in 2019 stood at 85 million tonnes, that’s 17% of total UK greenhouse gasses emissions. At 3.7 MtCO2e, the Residential Buildings sector accounted for 10% of Welsh emissions in 2019. Given how leaky and old houses are in Wales and the rest of the UK, it is no surprise we continuously feel cold while energy bills keep going up.

Decarbonisation of heat, that is removal of gas as its main fuel, is, therefore, one of the most important climate actions we can take. The UK Committee for Climate Changes noted that between now and 2050, emissions from residential buildings need to fall to zero at a rate of 3.4% per year based on current emission levels. But, as authors of The pathway to net-zero heating in the UK 2021 brief (UK Energy Research Centre) observed, the current pace of decarbonisation (largely due to efficiency programmes and regulation in the period 2002-2012), would get us to zero emissions from buildings in 235 years and fall far short of meeting the 2050 target.

Source: The pathway to net zero heating in the UK 2021 brief

Since the publication of the brief, there has been little progress in the UK with regards to decabonisation of heat. This month, the House of Commons Committee has issued a report setting out the considerable challenges that lie ahead in the transition to decarbonised domestic heating and makes recommendations about the steps which need to be taken for the Government to meet its own targets for the decarbonisation of domestic heating. It is one of those punchy reports full of data and evidence highlighting the slow and inadequate response of the UK central government in enabling decarbonisation. At the same time, the report offers hope and a fresh perspective on the matter of heat because it focuses on all aspects of heat discussed in this series.

On the eve of the report, Darren Jones, Chair of BEIS aptly noted that

As the Government decides on financial help for customers with the cost of their energy bills, they must also come forward with a replacement for the Green Homes Grant. Action is needed to improve insulation and energy efficiency in our homes and to step up the pace in delivering low carbon heating systems, at a lower cost to households than today. Ministers can’t simply leave this to the market – Government should tackle the cost of heating our homes in the round and bring forward joined-up policies that address these issues together. Decarbonising heat in our homes will require engineers who know how to install low carbon heating systems in every community across the country. The Government should work with industry and trade unions to support a low carbon heating apprenticeship programme and ensure existing workers get access to re-skilling courses that will support their transition to the new green jobs of the future.”

Although decarbonisation of heat is undoubtedly a complex process, the past developments (see the second post about the move from town to natural gas) tell us that socio-technological transitions can be made possible when multiple actors are fully mobilised. However, unlike earlier, the current transition is said to cost too much for taxpayers, the industry, and the government to muster. Does that mean that heat policy has hit the dead end? We do not think so. There is still hope to avoid multiple catastrophes if attention is paid to the physical, human, and environmental aspects of heat, as ignoring them will only derail any progress.

One important caveat though is that no geographical area is the same and so policies and national scenarios need to reflect that. For example, as part of the Zero2050 South Wales project, UKERC researchers worked with National Grid to investigate possible pathways for decarbonising heat in cities in South Wales, and noted that the share of different low carbon technologies under the same decarbonisation scenario is different for each city due to variations in housing stock and their characteristics in terms of the number of houses located in heat dense areas of the cities, and space availability of buildings.

What we have learned

Is it just about the technology? Is It about our habits? Feelings?  What can be done?

Here at Cynnal Cymru we recognise that technology alone really cannot solve all of the problems. It will solves some, but not all. We advocate that to reduce emissions and respond to climate change, policymakers need to engage businesses and communities to do their bit because knowledge and technology alone, however well delivered, does not shift behaviour. Knowledge and information campaigns work only if they are in tandem with initiatives that really engage the people most affected and allow them to see the changes that need to happen (for example in retrofitted ‘show homes’). In order to succeed, target audiences also need to trust those who are giving these messages and be able to see the benefits in making changes to their lives or their businesses. We also agree with the key message from commentators on this topic: first, insulation, then roll out of low carbon alternatives, while enabling (not just informing) the change in behaviour. Perhaps later other technologies can come in to support the decarbonisation. It is not one or the other, but rather more of many

This is why in our training, consultancy, and facilitation work we focus on actions, in particular, the steps organisations can take to enable others to do their bit. We also connect people with experts in their field, like the Active Building Centre, and point to information that can help.

Coming back to the question of what we can do about it

If you can afford insulation, do it immediately. The longer you leave it, the more heat you waste.  his might be easiest when thinking of renovating a house that you just bought or as part of a bigger home improvement project – but even if you find yourself in different circumstances, the benefits of action will outweigh the inconvenience.

If you cannot afford insulation you might be eligible for an ECO grant or localised grants. More information is available through Warm Wales.

If you are renting and you have no agency over insulation, check EPC standard for your home first because if it is low, you may ask your landlord to take new measures, or talk to council. Given that the report by the House of Commons Committee on decarbonisation of heat calls on Ministers to set out what measures are being considered to assist tenants who rent their homes in managing the transition to low carbon heating with their landlords, you may hopefully see changes in policy.

If you are working in the social housing sector, do not rely only on the provision of information to tenants to reduce energy consumption. Tenants need to be listened to, their concerns answered, and live examples of what’s possible through retrofit are needed in the community. If engaging your tenants in these conversations is challenging, consider reading the latest account by a journalist whose childhood was dominated by poverty, damp clothes, and stigma.

If you are a business and you are struggling paying bills, check the guidance by OFGEM as to what can be done immediately, but also use this challenge as an opportunity to plan your decarbonisation strategy.

If you would like to have a say about the Welsh Government’s proposals for the next iteration of the Warm Homes Programme, go to the cosultation page or attend workshops by National Energy Action (NEA) Cymru.

In closing we want to state our view: Nobody should feel cold and stigmatised for living in a leaky home and future generations should not be the ones fixing up the problem of heat. It is up to the current generation to fix this issue by calling on governments to deliver on their policies while doing all that’s in their power to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

To switch on the heating, or not? – a surprisingly complex question

On cold, wet and windy days a bike ride to work seems impossible. Damp shoes and clothes seem too much to contend with and wrapping up in a blanket on a Zoom call seems too unprofessional. Whether in the office or at home, the temptation to reach for the electric heater grows as the gas prices are rising and central heating under-performs. “To switch on the heating, or not” is the question that many people across the Northern hemisphere are asking themselves.

Here at Cynnal Cymru we recognise these challenges as we too battle between the need for comfort and the feeling of warmth versus our knowledge about climate change. We know from the 6th Carbon budget by the UK Climate Change Committee (CCC), that direct building CO₂ emissions were 85 MtCO₂ in 2019, which account for 17% of total UK GHG emission. This was mostly from our homes (77%), followed by commercial buildings (14%) and public buildings (9%). The reason behind these figures is simple – it is our demand for hot water and heating. 74% of this demand in buildings is met by natural gas, and 10% by petroleum, with smaller amounts of other fuels such as coal and biomass.

To reduce total emissions, the ways in which we heat and use our buildings must be addressed. Recommendations from the CCC include changing behaviour (use less, lower the temperature), increasing building efficiency (insulation), and introducing low carbon heat (air source or ground heat pumps, hydrogen, low carbon district heating etc). The topic of heat then sits at the core of what we at Cynnal Cymru care about, not just professionally but personally too.

Over the last few months, we took part in an unintentional social experiment, because the building we are located in was undergoing a renovation of its central heating. We wore our thickest jumpers, we made many hot drinks, and despite all efforts, eventually, we turned to the electric heaters knowing perfectly well their economic and environmental cost.

This lack of heat got us talking about comfort, habits, energy, renewables, ways to keep warm, and insulation. We knew well that to reduce carbon emissions and to protect future generations, we need to do our bit around heat –which, in reality, may well mean getting used to feeling colder while waiting for a zero-carbon alternative to arrive. But how might this impact on those other fundamental human feelings and needs – for warmth, security and comfort? And what does this mean for the changes that we need to make as a society?

To delve deeper into these questions – and to explore the challenges and opportunities that Wales faces for warm homes and decarbonisation – Dr Karolina Rucinska, our Sustainability Advisor, set out on a research journey that will be shared over the coming weeks. We start with the basics – what is heat?

Heat is moving

If you are grumbling about how cold your house is despite having the radiators on, it is because heat, if it can escape, will always do so. However hard you try, the hot stuff will eventually become cold because the world we live in is governed by the uncompromising laws of thermodynamics. ‘Heat in motion’, Chris Woodford explains in Atoms under the floorboards (2016, Bloomsbury Publishing), ‘is another way to describe thermodynamics, which explains things like how cars waste energy, why power stations need such stupendous cooling towers, why cows have damp noses and dogs dangle out their tongues – and even why Arctic musk oxen spend so much time standing still in the snow.’

While the first law is concerned with energy loss, the second law of thermodynamics is concerned with the movement of heat, always from hot to cold and never the other way round. So, cold stuff is simply the lack of heat, while heat is stuff that always wants to go where there is less of it. Sounds weird, but effectively this is what is happening in our homes. Heat moves around and is, as it were, always on the go, so to make your home cosy, you are effectively trying to heat up every atom in everything that is inside. This takes huge effort and of course energy. If you are using different heaters that store heat and give it away at different rates, then you might wait hours if not days to feel cosy, while all that heat continues to slosh around and move.

This physical side of heat points to one thing: if you want to keep your house cosy, you must insulate it. Without insulation, heat will always escape regardless of how you warm it up. Before you look up low carbon alternatives to your boiler, invest in insulation.

If only it was that easy….

The UK has some of the oldest and most leaky housing stock in Europe. According to the Independent review on decarbonising Welsh homes, 32% of the Welsh housing stock was built before 1919, when there were no construction standards in terms of thermal performance. Research by the Cardiff University School of Architecture showed that the average energy performance (EPC) rating of the Welsh housing stock is a ‘D’ rating*, which raises the incidences of fuel poverty. 43% of people living in private rented accommodation are living in houses built before 1919.

The Guardian reports that, nine in 10 households rely on gas boilers, and lots of gas boilers need lots of gas: UK households consume more of it than almost all of their European peers, at around twice the EU average. With the price of gas going up and energy companies going down, heating leaky homes feels wasteful if they continue to be not insulated well enough to counter that physical side of heat. Between 2012 and 2019 the number of home insulation installations actually dropped by 95%. National Energy Action (NEA), the national fuel poverty charity, has noted that at that rate it would take nearly a century to properly insulate all of the current fuel-poor homes in the country. The statistics are eye-opening indeed. They are clearly telling policy makers and businesses that to significantly reduce carbon emissions from buildings by 2050, actions have to be taken now. But there is something about heat that speaks not to reason and data, but to feeling, an embodied feeling.

Heat is us

Like houses, our bodies too are governed by thermodynamics. Heat escapes our bodies and even after vigorous exercise, we eventually cool down. We give away heat, which we feel immediately, and we want to do something about it, immediately. But we cannot wait years and decades until housing stock is less leaky. We can put on the warmest jumpers to almost insulate our bodies as we would with our houses, but nothing will stop us from eventually feeling cold again. At some point we will need to, despite all that we know about the costs of gas and leaky houses, warm ourselves up. We are all taking temporary and readily available solutions simply because it is cold.

The problem though is that the embodied feeling is not experienced, which in turn perhaps influences our motivation and ability to act, for ourselves and others. Illness, age, cardiovascular system, place, and even norms, as research suggests, dictate how our bodies experience heat or lack thereof. If you have had a disagreement with your family or co-workers about the “right” temperature settings, then you will know what I am talking about.

Heat is suddenly a societal thing. It unites us as well as divides us. How one experiences heat or the lack of it, and what one does about it, also reveals something, unknowingly, about us. Which is why, heating our homes or not, it is about us too. It is a personal, deeply private and emotional thing. As researchers, Erin Roberts and Karen Henwood, from Cardiff University observed, heating is not just about thermal performance of a house, but about thermal comfort. It evokes the feeling of belonging, of feeling safe, of feeling looked after. It brings up the good memories of being with a family and sadly, bad memories of coming home after school with radiators off because parents, often despite being in work, cannot afford high energy bills. Heating can then become, unfairly, a social stigma and a social divide.

Heat is incredibly complex then, as it touches on our most intimate and most sacred parts of our lives, lives which, just like our housing stock, are governed by laws of thermodynamics. Our attention to these laws and insights, or lack of it, will influence future heating actions and policy.

Over the coming weeks, we will be sharing a series of articles to explore the challenges and opportunities it poses for equality, decarbonisation and social transformation.

*Properties are given an energy-efficiency grade between A and G, with A being the best – i.e., most energy-efficient – and G being the worst.

Person with a mug staring into a window

When switching the heating on is still not an option for many

In 2019, 13.4% of households in the UK, that’s 3.8 million households, were classed as fuel poor. In Wales, households that spend more than 10% of their income on energy, would be referred to as fuel poor. The three main drivers behind fuel poverty are low incomes, the low energy efficiency of homes, and high energy prices. However, the picture is far more complex and challenging to analyse because, as research by Groves et al. suggests, fuel poverty is to with households being caught in between numerous disabling conditions. For example, households, where older people or people with disabilities live, may need to spend significantly more on space heating or on powering assistive technologies. Constraints on adaptability can also be because of the material fabric of homes. A lack of adequate insulation or of double glazing can significantly reduce the efficiency of heating systems, for instance. But constraints on households’ choices can also come from external conditions. These are often social in nature, such as the relationships between tenants and private landlords, or the use by utility companies of prepayment meters and higher tariffs for consumers on low incomes.   

Fuel poverty is not just about the inability to keep warm, but rather being unable to make a difference, which is the real issue here. People feel not just cold physically but they feel stigmatised. Heating and energy bills bring on anxiety, rather than comfort and cosiness. Providing households with information to reduce energy consumption are least likely to make an impact, this is because there are too many disabling conditions and therefore too much anxiety associated with this topic. 

To change one’s behaviour, there must be plenty of enabling conditions for the desired change to happen along with progressive policies. More on this point, in the third part of the All about heat series.  

Heat is environment  

Fur, wool, houses, wood and coal burners, warm food, and eventually central or district heating – these are the artifacts or, if you like, evidence of humans trying to stay warm. It is our history really – an epic effort to feel warm enough, to see while it is dark, and to put machines and cars into motion.   

In a brilliantly titled, Energies: An Illustrated Guide to the Biosphere and Civilization (1999, MIT Press), Vaclav Smil takes the reader on a journey through natural resources showing how they were used, what impact they had on the growth of cities, and environment. For example, pre-industrial civilisation depended on wood, straw, charcoal as raw materials to build houses and as material for smelting.  Here is how Smil described the scale of that demand. 

 “A large Wooden Age city in a colder climate (in Northern Europe or in North China) would have consumed at least 20–30 W/m2 of its built-up area, mainly for heating and cooking, and also for manufactures ranging from blacksmithing to firing of tiles. Consequently, the power density of sustainable forest growth in temperate climates was commonly equal to less than one and rarely more than 2 percent of the power density of urban energy consumption—and the cities required nearby areas anywhere between fifty to two hundred times their size to satisfy their thermal energy needs”. 

Throughout the centuries, the demand for the smelting of iron created many deforested landscapes. England’s early adoption of coke, Smil argued, is easy to understand: A single early eighteenth-century furnace consumed annually a circle of forest with a radius of about four kilometers.  He went on to say that, “if American ironmakers had not switched to coke after 1870, by 1900 they would have consumed annually enough forest to fill a square whose side would be the distance between Boston and Philadelphia”. 

But earlier centuries pale in comparison to the impact of coal and oil. The impact is to do not only with the emissions and pollution coming directly from the processes of extraction and burning, but it is also to do with the emission coming from all of the new sectors of industry and economy powered by the energy generated by coal, oil, and gas.

Domestic life has been transformed by gas and electricity, and it is really difficult to undo that transformation. As noted earlier, wearing lots of layers for long periods of time is not comfortable for us humans.  And yet, the idea of switching the heating and gas cooker on is relatively recent. No household would be able to do so, if the infrastructure was not built, or appropriate appliances were designed. In fact, in the 1960s the UK underwent an incredible project to convert appliances from town gas (manufactured gas from coal and oil) to natural gas (gas extracted from seabed and ground) and to fully establish it as a go-to solution for heating. The project involved converting 13.5 million domestic and 650 thousand commercial and industrial consumers and took 10 years to complete. Special training schools were established to train staff (engineers, installers, sellers, admin) to make the transition happen. It required incredible coordination, planning, and establishment of numerous organisations. The Office of the Budget Responsibility reports that moving 13 million properties to natural gas involved the 12 regional gas boards, parts of the industry (to make new appliances or the parts necessary to convert existing ones), contractors (to enter people’s homes and carry out the conversions), public relations (to sell the idea) and the public (to embrace it). The Government took a central coordinating role, with time nationalised Gas Council giving the state direct control of the required investment. It was not an easy project and as Stathis Arapostathis, Peter J.G. Pearson, and Timothy J. Foxon noted,  the conditions to change to different types of heating and regulatory regimes were enabled. So, to switch to low carbon heating alternatives or lower energy consumption, the processes must also be done such they enable everyone to do their bit. But, as the Office goes on to say, the costs of transitioning to net zero heat (heat pumps and hydrogen) are far greater than before.

In the next and the last post in this series, Dr Karolina Rucinska will turn to the role of policy in dealing with fuel poverty and decarbonisation before summing it all.

Low Carbon Engineering – A Look Into The Future

As a teacher or trainer, one hopes to inspire students but it is often the case when working in adult education, that the teacher is inspired as much (if not more) by the students as they are by you.

Such was the case when I delivered Carbon Literacy training to a group of post-graduate researchers in Cardiff University’s School of Engineering.

The students were either holders of a doctorate or on their way to receiving one and several of them were lecturers. So, I was a little daunted by the challenge of designing a training programme for them that would respect their level of knowledge and intellectual ability. The more a group of adults know however, the less the teacher or trainer needs to do in terms of knowledge transfer. The students bring the knowledge, and the trainer has to facilitate the sharing of that knowledge.

So I set the group a task of developing a mini lecture on the question, “Can we engineer our way out of the climate crisis?” Colleagues within the group had a wide degree of specialist knowledge covering topics such as; electricity grids, low carbon gas, low emission vehicles, psychology, waste management, and carbon reduction management. They worked in four teams to design an answer to the question and present their response.

Two of the teams addressed the issue at a high level, identifying the need for social, economic and cultural changes while the other two looked at specific engineering solutions. Here is a summary of what I learned from them.

Firstly, let us start with specific engineering solutions.

There are a range of geo-engineering options available – (See image above courtesy of Lahiru Jayasuriya and Riccardo Maddalena). These include ocean fertilisation to boost plankton growth, ground level reflectors to replace albedo lost when ice melts, cloud seeding and at the extreme end – orbiting reflectors to send solar thermal radiation back into space before it reaches Earth. These are known as “direct interventions.”

“Indirect interventions” include carbon capture-storage, smart grids and renewable energy sources coupled with hydrogen as an energy vector and storage medium.

An innovation that may prove to be very important is to create ammonia (NH3) by electrolysing water using power generated by renewable sources such as wind and solar. Ammonia is a colourless gas which can be chilled and compressed into a liquid. It is used as a fertiliser but is also a waste product in many industrial processes. Ammonia can act as a carrier of hydrogen or be used directly as a fuel but in the latter case, it produces high levels of nitrous oxides which are greenhouse gasses. Engineers are researching ways to decouple ammonia use from such emissions. Existing gas turbines would also need to be converted in order to use ammonia as a fuel.

Another exciting area of research is “smart local energy systems”. In these, energy is produced and supplied from a variety of disaggregated point sources rather than from a few large generators such as nuclear, coal or gas power stations. The gas and electricity supply grids work together, mediated by SMART technology. In this scenario, small local producers of energy can trade with peers, waste heat is no longer wasted, and things that use energy can moderate their demand in line with price and supply fluctuations. Consumers of energy are no longer passive recipients but become an important element by, for example, choosing when and how they require and use energy. A smart grid would be a major cultural shift but it is already being widely discussed and elements of it piloted.

Carbon capture and storage could reduce current emissions by 12% by stripping the carbon dioxide from industrial exhausts and storing it under ground. Coal, a high carbon substance, adsorbs carbon dioxide molecules onto its surface. The coal still sitting in the seams of the south Wales coalfield is particularly reactive in this respect – CO2 sticks readily to Welsh coal! This means that south Wales could be an important area for carbon storage. The alternative approach is to pump the gas into the voids left by oil and natural gas extraction but storage in coal seams is more stable.

These are just some examples of engineering solutions to the climate crisis but are they enough on their own?

The answer is a clear no.

To begin with, there are and will be a variety of interests that resist changes no matter how effective the engineering solutions can be. Engineers today must engage not only with clients but with politicians and the general public. They have to be able to advocate their science and particular technical solutions in a political and cultural context in order to build alliances that will overcome vested interests and irrational resistance but at the same time, the engineering solution itself will have to respect cultural and social concerns and be flexible enough to deal with these. Engineers, like other scientists, have to embrace interdisciplinary working practices. The education of engineers has to anticipate this by encouraging independent thinking and integrated design. The problem is that much of engineering research is funded by industry to achieve a very specific outcome strongly tied to economic efficiency and functionality.

The group agreed that the days when engineering could simply bolt something on are over. End of pipe solutions are no longer sufficient for the degree of challenge we face. We need to change the amount and the way we consume resources and engineers, like designers, have to be part of the process right from the beginning. I have become aware myself of the shift in thinking that has occurred in civil engineering over the last thirty years, proving that change can happen.

If the young men and women I met through this Carbon Literacy course are typical of their profession then I am heartened that we can change our world for the better. They can clearly explain their research interests with passion but also articulate the relevance of their research in a social, cultural and economic context. Much of their research takes place within the FLEXIS programme – a £24 million research initiative that is directed to developing energy systems, building on the research success of Welsh universities, to provide solutions of global relevance.

If you would like to know more about specific technologies mentioned above or engage with the FLEXIS programme then please contact Karolina Rucinska FLEXIS Project Development officer or visit the FLEXIS website. 

If you would like to read what FLEXIS thought about the Carbon Literacy training you can do so here.

Further information on specific technologies can be requested via Karolina as follows;

Ammonia as a fuel – Syed Mashruk, Gas Turbine Research Centre

Smart grids – Dr. Muditha Abeysekera, Lecturer in multi-vector energy systems

Carbon Capture and storage in South Wales Coalfield – Dr Renato Zagorscak, Geoenvironmental Research Centre

This workshop was sponsored by the Early Career Researchers Fund from the School of Engineering, Cardiff University. Find more information about research at Cardiff School of Engineering.

Sustainable Academy Awards 2019 shortlist announced


We are delighted to announce the shortlist for the 2019 Sustainable Academy Awards – celebrating sustainability excellence, innovation and leadership from across Wales. 24 finalists across eight categories have been chosen by our expert judging panel to go through to the public vote.

The Awards recognise the amazing people, projects and initiatives that are contributing towards the seven National Well-being Goals and the five Ways of Working described in the Well-being Future Generations Act.

Our judging panel included Rhodri Thomas, Cynnal Cymru; Rhys Jones, Renewable UK; Angharad Davies on behalf of EDF Energy; Nia Lloyd, Keep Wales Tidy; Ruth Marks, WCVA; David Brown ARUP and Petranka Maleva, Future Generations Commissioners Office.

The judges were particularly looking for projects and initiatives that clearly delivered on the principles of the Well-being of Future Generations Act as well as looking for examples that captured the imagination by going above and beyond.

Public Vote is now open!

Now it is over to you the public to help decide who will be this years winners. The public vote will count towards 60% of the overall score and the winners will be announced at an awards ceremony at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff on Thursday 28 November.

We hope you will be inspired by by our 24 finalists and please take the time to vote for your favourites in each category.

You can vote for your favourites until Wednesday 06 November.


Outstanding Renewable Energy – Sponsored by Welsh Government

  • BCB International Ltd – FIREDRAGON as a sustainable Ethanol based solid fuel
  • Innogy – Mynydd y Gwair Wind Farm
  • Egni Coop – Community owned solar

Outstanding Social Enterprise

  • Credu Charity Ltd – SeaQuest Coastal Science and Education Programme
  • Greenstream Flooring
  • RCMA Social Enterprise – Real Food! Real Life!

Sustainable Business

  • The Digital Pattern Library – accessible, sustainable fashion for all
  • Dyfi Distillery – Bringing gin production close to home
  • Oseng-Rees reflection – artisan interiors and architectural installations

Sustainable Community – Sponsored EDF

  • Sustainable Community at Cardiff Met University
  • Under the Bridge – Milford Youth Matters
  • Recycle4charity – Pembrokeshire Care, Share and Give

Sustainable Education or Training

  • Black Mountains Land Use Partnership – Mountain and Moorland Ambassadors
  • Severn Wye Energy Agency – Our Future’s People
  • Size of Wales & WCIA – MockCOP

Sustainable Procurement or Supply Chain – Sponsored ARUP

  • ARIA Bridal – Designing in sustainability from the start
  • Aberystwyth University – BEACON More taste, less salt, healthier lives
  • WRAP Cymru – Public Sector Sustainable Procurement Project

Sustainable Venue or Space – Sponsored by CECA Wales

  • Newydd Housing Association / Eggseeds -The Solar Powered Bench
  • LINC Cymru – Growing Green Spaces
  • SPECIFIC, Swansea University / BIPVco – Active Buildings

Sustainability Champion

  • Rachel Roberts
  • Meleri Davies
  • Paul Allen


Will ultra-low emission vehicles be part of your business?

[:en]Simple answer – yes – if they aren’t already. Welsh businesses should be aware that there is significant pressure on local and national government to do something about air quality. Add to this the slow but inevitable rise in costs of oil and the rapidly reducing costs of electric and you have a business dilemma – when to jump from the sinking fossil fuel ship onto…. what? Hydrogen powered? All electric? Some sort of hybrid?

It’s tricky which is why we are gathering people for a conversation on Car Futures Wales on the 15th February at 17.00 in the Arup Offices Cardiff Bay. BBC Broadcaster Mark Goodier was one of the first people in the UK to drive an electric car and is a keen advocate of the technology. He will be in conversation with Tim Armitage, Arup’s project director of Autodrive, the UK’s first on-road trial of connected and autonomous vehicles.

Mark works with Drive Electric who are the leading provider of electric lease vehicles. Some experts argue that car ownership, as well as they technology that powers them, is set to change in a big way. The pricing mechanisms that may arise in response to congested roads and poor air quality might mean that owning a depreciating lump of metal just doesn’t make sense any more. The car, like the home video, will be claimed by the “service not product” business model.

Tim Armitage will argue that an additional factor in bringing about change will be the advent of driverless technology. Here the service even includes the act of driving. You want to get from A to B in a fast comfortable (and relatively safe) way right? Well do you need to drive then if AI on wheels can do it for you?

Of course there will be some people who just love that physical connection between, senses-mind-hands-road and for them there will always be models available with steering wheels and accelerator pedals. They may even give you a fake Maserati roar.

But for a serious business person looking at margins, predicting trends and future markets, then the reality of ultra-low emission and autonomous vehicles has to be faced.

Join Cynnal Cymru and the experts in conversation on the 15th Feb at Car Futures Wales.[:]

Future CAR:DIFF | exploring a ‘citizen-centric’ approach to sustainable transport

[:en]Following on from our Future CAR:DIFF event held last week, Dr Katie Beverley, Senior Research Officer at PDR, summarises and reflects on the presentations, Q&A and discussions, a number of key themes emerged, as discussed below.

I was delighted to be invited to attend and summarise Cynnal Cymru’s most recent event in a series that is exploring the future of the car, and more generally, sustainable mobility.  Participants were asked to consider the role that electric vehicles could play in reducing the carbon emissions associated with personal transport in Cardiff, prompted by presentations from expert speakers on a wide range of mobility-related issues.

Key theme 1: A move towards more sustainable mobility is not only about protecting the environment

Councillor Huw Thomas, the leader of Cardiff City Council set the scene with eye-opening statistics about the city.  He reminded us that Cardiff is one of the fastest-growing cities in the UK; this growth, whilst welcome, has put unprecedented pressure on the city’s infrastructure.  90,000 people commute into Cardiff, and 80% of those journeys are made by car.  The resulting congestion has a bigger economic impact on business than in any other UK city – the average commuter spends 32 hours a year in traffic around Cardiff.  There are significant health impacts associated with the high levels of vehicle emissions; Cardiff has some of the highest levels of nitrogen dioxides in the UK, and air pollution is now a more pressing public health concern than alcoholism or obesity in the city.  This issue was also addressed by Mark Barry, Professor of Practice in Connectivity at Cardiff University, who pointed out that, alongside air quality issues, driving is relatively dangerous – there were 6,853 road accident casualties in Wales in 2016, including 103 fatalities.  Further, the health and well-being impacts associated with vehicle use fall disproportionately on the more disadvantaged parts of the community.


Talybont Energy – one of many examples of electric mobility for rural communities | Paul Niewenhaus | The Electric Vehicle Centre of Excellence (EVCE) at Cardiff University

But it is not all doom and gloom.  Paul Niewenhaus, Co-Director of the Electric Vehicle Centre of Excellence at Cardiff University, and John McCarthy, Leader of Intelligent Mobility at Arup, were both at pains to point out that a well-planned mobility strategy can deliver multiple benefits.  In his presentation, Paul highlighted that delocalised production of electricity from renewable energy can open up electric mobility for rural communities, and provided examples of grass roots organisations in the Brecons exploring just that.  Meanwhile, John talked more broadly about ACES – Autonomous, Collective, Electric and Shared – mobility solutions which can benefits in terms of social justice (addressing inclusivity, public health and inequality), together with economic benefits associated with the higher level skills needed to support mobility as a service.  In addition, the breakout group identified individual health benefits associated with active travel, as well as the broader benefits identified by Huw Thomas in reducing road traffic; 8% of commutes are conducted by cycle and walking is becoming an increasing part of city mobility, with 70 million trips per year made on foot.


Key theme 2:  Electric vehicles cannot be considered in isolation: a systems approach is crucial

Huw Thomas spoke of Cardiff City Council’s ambition of a ‘50/50 modal shift’, in which half of all journeys will be made by public transport and 50% by car.  Personal electric vehicles are not accessible for all; initial costs and access to home refuelling are major challenges. Any mobility solution for Cardiff must be integrated, taking into account housing, infrastructure and business networks, and equitable, meeting the needs of all residents. This view was supported by Alan Hendry, Director of Sustainability at Jacobs, who presented examples of best practice in sustainable mobility from around the UK.  Common to most was a strong alignment with other local policy objectives (e.g. health, well-being, social justice, air quality).  Mark Barry highlighted the challenges to providing integrated mobility in Cardiff, describing public transport in Cardiff as ‘fragmented’, and arguing that people are not currently incentivised to use it.  The need to involve multiple parties in developing a mobility plan was stressed by Alan Hendry, who emphasised the importance of public/private partnerships, and John McCarthy, who talked of a mobility ecosystem, explaining ‘no one company can solve all these problems’.


Issues regarding the integration of electric vehicles into existing systems were also raised, particularly charging.  The problem of when to charge a vehicle was discussed by Anthony Simpson of Reading University.  Currently, charging tends to occur at peak grid times; smart charging is the Economy 7 of the electric vehicle world, drawing down charge at times of low drain on the national grid, helping to address predictions of grid overload as the number of electric vehicles grows.  Meanwhile, Paul Niewenhaus briefly discussed an alternative approach to balancing out supply and demand in the grid, explaining that excess supply of renewable energy could be used to produce hydrogen through electrolysis and subsequently fuel cars. The issue of where to charge was also tackled: Huw Thomas described on-going investigations into providing public charging in terraced housing areas and Mark Severn, UK Sales Manager for Chargemaster, described Polar, the UK’s biggest public charging network, linking together over 5,000 public charging points.  Mark Barry, however, questioned the need for thousands of charging points – could other models such as battery stations (as opposed to petrol stations) work, and be easier to implement?

The breakout group discussed whether charging concern was a barrier to adoption of electric vehicles.  Amongst the group, range anxiety was agreed to be a ‘real thing’, with electric vehicle users describing the different strategies they employ when undertaking long journeys (planning ahead versus hiring an internal combustion car!) and actions that could encourage people to use electric cars for their commute (free charging on site, rapid charging points, free parking as an incentive).

Finally, Paul Niewenhaus sounded a cautionary note, and one that is extremely important in considering the systemic development of a sustainable mobility strategy that includes electric vehicles.  Whilst the electrification of vehicles decreases carbon dioxide emissions at the tailpipe, the embedded carbon dioxide within the vehicles is increased.  A failure to recognise the cradle-to-grave impacts (social, environmental and economic) can lead to burden-shifting to other points in the life cycle and negative unintended consequences.  Therefore, sustainable systems design must always take a life cycle approach.


Key theme 3: The role of the public sector is crucial in promoting sustainable mobility


Alan Hendry presents some of the ‘Mega Trends’ happening globally including France’s move towards only making fully electric or hybrid cars from 2019 | Via the Guardian

Alan Hendry’s presentation identified common factors amongst UK towns and cities exhibiting good practice in sustainable mobility.  Political ambition was identified as a key enabler, with the majority positioning sustainable mobility as a major strand in council policy and sought funding to facilitate it.  Alignment with other policy objectives also enhanced the effectiveness of cross-department working in the public sector.  Paul Niewenhaus described the electric vehicle market as an ‘incentive-driven market’ and discussed the situation in Norway, where a range of incentives had been offered by the public sector to overcome market failure (such as free charging, no sales tax and no congestion charge) and were now being streamlined in the light of increased market traction.  He highlighted the importance of funding from the public sector to support research into effective strategies for promoting the uptake of sustainable transport.  Meanwhile, Huw Thomas spoke of Cardiff City Council’s desire to lead by example, perhaps through adopting electric vehicles as part of the council’s fleet.


Key theme 4: Understanding and empathising with users is central to designing an effective sustainable mobility system

“Truth is, I thought it mattered.  I thought that music mattered.  But does it b******s! Not compared to how people matter..”

DannyOrmondroyd (Pete Postlethwaite), Brassed Off (1996)

A sustainable mobility strategy stands and falls on its uptake.  Taking into account that there are multiple different futures envisaged, and multiple different players involved, any strategy must be designed taking into account the needs of all users.  John McCarthy described ACES strategies as ‘part of a moving jigsaw – although the pieces are the same, they fit together differently everywhere’.  He argued that, in order to fit the pieces in a particular configuration for a given situation, understanding user needs is fundamental, advocating a ‘citizen-centric’ approach to systems design.

Mark Barry described trends in mobility behaviour that indicate that we may be ‘on the edge of a disruptive change’.  Car ownership has been falling since the 1990s, with rail journeys doubling in the same time.  Active travel is becoming more popular amongst people and there is a gradual culture change away from ownership.  Driverless vehicles are developing rapidly and, Mark suggested, will be commonplace in ten years.  Mark presented a radical vision for a future Cardiff where the city is not designed (as now) to accommodate many cars being used infrequently, but fewer cars working harder.  In his vision, Cardiff would become a greener city with safe spaces and people would move around using high-volume mass transit, with autonomous vehicles providing ‘last mile’ solutions in urban environments.  In my experience, this kind of a future is not necessarily obvious to its potential users; we need to find effective ways to present, compare, and communicate multiple positive radical changes if we are to empower citizens to achieve the most appropriate one for them. Further, consultation approaches need to be designed to encourage participation from citizens with different physical and cognitive abilities to ensure that solutions are truly democratic.


Mark Barry, Professor of Practice in Connectivity at Cardiff University highlights the sheer number of cars in every street ‘that spend most of their time doing absolutely nothing!’

Sustainable mobility requires users to engage with new forms of business.  Mark Barry, Paul Niewenhaus and John McCarthy all discussed the concepts of mobility as a service, business models in which transport needs are met through services, rather than vehicle ownership, but it is crucial to understand how these can be designed to meet the latent, intangible needs of users, as well as the explicit, tangible need for mobility.  Mark Barry described the hedonic values currently associated with cars; pleasure, identity, esteem.  The sense of owning a car and having autonomy in transport decision-making can be important to users, and these factors must be taken into account when designing an integrated vision for future transport.  Mark Severn of Chargemaster described the responsive business strategies of the company; systems are designed to fit as closely with the normal behaviour of customers, so as to ‘nudge’ more sustainable behaviour.

The issue of behaviour change was addressed in the breakout group, where we discussed triggers that had prompted positive and negative changes in mobility behaviour.  (It should be taken into account that the group was self-selecting as being predisposed to sustainable travel, through their very attendance at the workshop, and any findings should be treated accordingly).  The consensus amongst this group was that small changes can promote big changes in behaviour.  The ‘bike-to-work’ scheme was identified as a direct incentive to adopt active travel that had knock-on effects for two participants – reconsidering one part of their personal mobility ‘jigsaw’ led them to pay more attention to other pieces – one participant dubbed it ‘mindful travel’.  Amongst participants, it was also noted that changes in routine associated with transport were not necessarily bad.  The active travellers plan ahead for longer journey times and weather conditions, and commuting has become a leisure activity that replaces or supplements other forms of exercise.  Similar planning for change was seen for users of electric vehicles, particularly for long journeys.  However, when active or public transport plans impacted on other people (for example, spouses and children), they were more likely to be dispensed with.  In the case of commuters, company policies could have a negative effect on sustainable travel (one participant explained inflexible working hours meant that active and public transport were precluded for them, owing to childcare demands).  This further underlined the importance of taking a systems approach to the development of travel policy.


Get Involved

This event is the second in a series of events looking at transport issues from the perspective of the car and the challenges and opportunities in reducing congestion, improving air quality and becoming a less car-dependent society. This event was always intended as a starting point and catalyst for future discussions and our ambition is to develop this theme with a wider audience based on some of the outcomes from this event. You can also read more about the thinking behind this topic from Rhodri Thomas, Principal Consultant at Cynnal Cymru.

Future CAR:DIFF | Where are electric cars driving to?

If you are interested in speaking, sponsoring or general getting involved in the discussion please get in contact.[:]

A Smart Energy Future for Rural Areas

[:en]New paper from Smart Energy GB examines how smart technology is energising rural community energy projects across Great Britain

Smart technology is helping rural communities harness renewable energy and benefit from energy that is cheaper, more efficient and more secure, according to a new report from Smart Energy GB and Arad Research. A smart energy future for rural areas explores some of the most successful examples of community energy projects in rural areas across Britain, looking at the future opportunities to build upon these as Britain’s smart meter rollout continues.

Smart meters, which are being offered to every home in Great Britain by energy suppliers, take automatic meter readings and provide a rich source of data on times and levels of energy use.

The report explores examples of projects using smart energy, data, and technology to manage the supply and demand of electricity. These include Cyd-ynni: Ynni Lleol in Bethesda, a project that uses power from local hydro-electric generation combined with smart meter data to provide local residents with cheaper electricity from a renewable source. Savings of between 10 and 30 percent on energy bills are forecast for the 90 households taking part in the project.

The paper shows the potential for smart meters to play an essential role in increasing the efficiency and security of local energy supplies.

Sacha Deshmukh, Chief Executive of Smart Energy GB, said:

“In some rural and remote communities, the impact of smart technology has been transformational in maintaining a delicate balance between energy supply and demand. In others, smart technology is playing a key role in potentially altering the balance between renewable and fossil fuel generation.

“In addition to these benefits, the overwhelmingly positive feedback from the rural community energy projects explored in our paper is a strong indication that smart meters, alongside other smart technology, will be an essential tool in securing a stable energy system for the future.”


Hefin Thomas, Director at Arad Research said:

“This research shows how rural communities are using smart technology to overcome challenges they face in harnessing renewable energy assets for the benefit of local people. The findings show that smart technology is a key part of innovative approaches to help rural communities benefit from local renewable generation, increasing efficiency and stability while also helping reduce costs.”

A smart energy future for rural areas is the latest in a series of reports exploring the transformative potential role of smart meter data in diverse areas of our lives.

Download the report: A Smart Energy Future for Rural Areas 



About Smart Energy GB

Smart Energy GB is the voice of the smart meter rollout. It’s our task to help everyone in Great Britain understand smart meters, the national rollout and how to use their new meters to get their gas and electricity under control. Our national campaign is reaching all households and microbusinesses in England, Scotland and Wales. For more information visit our website


About smart meters and the rollout

Smart meters replace the traditional meters we currently have in our homes. They enable accurate bills, near real time information on energy use in pounds and pence, and greater control over the way we buy and use energy. The smart meter rollout is an essential technology upgrade, unprecedented in its scale, to improve Great Britain’s energy infrastructure.

Almost 7 million smart meters have already been installed in homes and microbusinesses, and between now and 2020 every household in England, Scotland and Wales will be offered one at no additional cost. Contact your energy supplier today about installing your smart meter.[:]

A Smart Energy Future for Rural Areas

[:en]New paper from Smart Energy GB examines how smart technology is energising rural community energy projects across Great Britain

Smart technology is helping rural communities harness renewable energy and benefit from energy that is cheaper, more efficient and more secure, according to a new report from Smart Energy GB and Arad Research. A smart energy future for rural areas explores some of the most successful examples of community energy projects in rural areas across Britain, looking at the future opportunities to build upon these as Britain’s smart meter rollout continues.

Smart meters, which are being offered to every home in Great Britain by energy suppliers, take automatic meter readings and provide a rich source of data on times and levels of energy use.

The report explores examples of projects using smart energy, data, and technology to manage the supply and demand of electricity. These include Cyd-ynni: Ynni Lleol in Bethesda, a project that uses power from local hydro-electric generation combined with smart meter data to provide local residents with cheaper electricity from a renewable source. Savings of between 10 and 30 percent on energy bills are forecast for the 90 households taking part in the project.

The paper shows the potential for smart meters to play an essential role in increasing the efficiency and security of local energy supplies.

Sacha Deshmukh, Chief Executive of Smart Energy GB, said:

“In some rural and remote communities, the impact of smart technology has been transformational in maintaining a delicate balance between energy supply and demand. In others, smart technology is playing a key role in potentially altering the balance between renewable and fossil fuel generation.

“In addition to these benefits, the overwhelmingly positive feedback from the rural community energy projects explored in our paper is a strong indication that smart meters, alongside other smart technology, will be an essential tool in securing a stable energy system for the future.”


Hefin Thomas, Director at Arad Research said:

“This research shows how rural communities are using smart technology to overcome challenges they face in harnessing renewable energy assets for the benefit of local people. The findings show that smart technology is a key part of innovative approaches to help rural communities benefit from local renewable generation, increasing efficiency and stability while also helping reduce costs.

A smart energy future for rural areas is the latest in a series of reports exploring the transformative potential role of smart meter data in diverse areas of our lives.

A Smart Energy Future for Rural Areas can be downloaded here.[:]

Innovation Shorts | How the Principality Stadium is Working Towards Being “off the grid”

[:en]The Principality Stadium is Wales’ major international sports and events venue and is the home of the Welsh Rugby Union. With a capacity of 74,500 and an average of 1.3 million visitors a year, the stadium hosts sports, music and conference events and also offers a range of catering services.

The Principality Stadium is the first venue in the UK to achieve the British Standard Sustainable Management Systems for Events, being recognised for its efforts to minimise its carbon impact, reuse material resources, reduce waste and increase recycling. The Stadium began its sustainable venture in 2010 and gained its certification within the first 12 months.

The stadium provided a workshop session with their main suppliers to gather information and gain technical knowledge in resource efficiency – including any initiatives to reduce waste and generate savings. The workshops identified areas where both the stadium and suppliers could achieve these goals through returning, reducing and reusing packaging. By working with their supply chain, the stadium directed 71.52 tonnes of waste from landfill and a consequent reduction of 28.5 tonnes of CO2 emissions.

The stadium has also implemented innovative design on its pitch, switching to a unique palletised pitched system which is capable of harvesting and reusing rainwater collected below the grass beds. The root zone and 40mm rye grass turf is redistributed for use at rugby clubs through Wales.

The stadium currently recycles around 98% of its waste, food waste is composted and 100% of energy procured is from renewables.

Additional design elements include infra red controls fitted in the urinals to prevents unnecessary flushing, meters to monitor energy and water consumption, new LED lighting and lighting controls and alternative methods of water heating to allow boilers to be shut down in summer. These measure have seen savings of 60.8 tonnes of CO2 made from reduced raw materials use, water and energy use.

Currently all their energy comes from renewable sources however they are currently looking in to putting solar PV on their roof working closely with the Low Carbon Research Institute on sourcing the technology and the logistics of fitting the panels to produce all its own energy and become entirely self-sufficient and “off the grid”. This would make the Principality Stadium, the first stadium in the world to do this.

For more information visit the Principality Stadium website.[:]

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