Contextual; Paying the Price for Affordable Energy

Modern life demands energy, as a culture, we have been irresponsible with our usage of fossil fuels for swift technological advancements.

Words by TOM MORTIMER

A core fundamental of British society for many years has been fossil fuels, it inspired the first industrial revolution in 1760. We are now embarking on the fourth industrial revolution the age where connectivity is key. Governments are exploring options to eliminate our obsession with fossil fuels but who does this effect?

Reality

Rural areas consume more fossil fuels compared to urban areas, this is due to energy-hungry homes, longer travel distance and a reliance on older technology (Arbabi, H. and Mayfield, M. 2016). NEA research shows that rural homes are 5 years behind energy efficiency compared to urban advancements and in the process pay 55% more (Nea.org, 2018). This backed up from a focus group shown by figure 1, it displays how bills are amplified for rural residents and that in affect is making them change aspects of their lifestyle.

Figure 1 (Survey made up of 87 people)

Perception

So how come urban areas benefit and rural areas suffer? Rural areas are key to renewable energy creation, in 2017 wind power was 11.5% of the UK’s power source (Windeurope.org, 2017). Consequently, this led to a decrease in carbon emission by 6% (Carbon Brief, 2017). Renewable sources yielded 29.8% of the UK’s total energy output in 2017 an improvement of 5.2% from 2016 (GOV.uk, 2018). Country areas are still unable to prosper even though they are creating majority of the clean energy. OECD argues that renewable resources should be kept within areas of creation to develop surrounding communities, reduce carbon emission and reduce bills due to clean energy usage. Instead of the energy being sent to the national grid first and processed within the urban environment (Oecd.org, 2018). Could sub renewable energy grids work?

Benefiting from renewable energy is only part of the issue there is also a change needed amongst individuals. Interviewing a few people has highlighted a few concerns. Michael based in rural Suffolk doesn’t believe he will be able to survive without fossil fuels describing that aspects like central heating and transport won’t work as well with renewable energy. Neville also had a similar view with concerns about powering his garage, which is currently powered by a generator. Rural folk aren’t against renewable energy they just don’t believe they will work as well as fossil fuels. Their uncertain that the switch will benefit them. I believe rural areas in the next 20 years could become examples of how to live clean. By encouraging local production, connected community, and sustainable energy source.

Findhorn

A prime example of renewable innovation is Findhorn Ecovillage found in Scotland. Starting in 1982 the village has strived to be an example to other rural areas. Its energy programme should be admired with four turbines which supply 100% of the villages energy as well as solar panels which benefit individual residents. Each house must pass criteria to be sustainable with double glazing, insulation and fluorescent bulbs. They have eliminated the use of coal by having a harvestable forest which produces 26 tons of firewood per year, they also use propane instead of oil. Findhorn shows a way of living which is sustainable without extra work on a day to day bases. It encourages a change in mindset which should be adopted by other rural areas (Ecovillagefindhorn, 2017).

Figure 2 (Wind Turbine graphic)

Dartmoor

Another approach is adopting new technology like a Dartmoor housing development did in 2017. Each house was designed to pass Passivhaus standards. These standards started in Europe to design energy efficient homes for the future. They aim to achieve thermal comfort by post heating or post cooling fresh air flow, with a plethora of smart design decisions to increase housing energy efficiency (Passivhaustrust.org, 2018).  Passivhaus reduces heating space by 75% which will significantly decrease energy consumption (Acre.org, 2017). The integration of new technology will improve the energy efficiency of living, it has a higher initial cost, but energy bills will decrease over time.

Change

Rural areas are about to embark on a transition phase where fossil fuels become less available. As product designers, we must look at opportunities to increase energy efficiency. Not only in the development but also in the usage of products. We should educate the rural public and create products to enable a clean-living style. As discovered by Findhorn this doesn’t have to be large scale, it can be as simple as changing a light bulb. We are now at the precipice of change, where many members of society have identified energy as a problem. Even with the ongoing improvements, we must look at alternatives to create a stable energy future. Instead of increasing clean energy production we should find ways to decrease consumption. This is where designers should step in. Understanding that a product can no longer just be designed but must also be optimized for energy usage throughout its life cycle. We must educate to change the mentality still associated with renewable energy by society. With a focus on creating innovative products that enable users to carry on with a normal way of life whilst utilizing renewable energy will be key to convincing rural areas to make the switch.

Figure 3 (Alton Water, Suffolk)

REFERENCES

Acre.org (2017). Rural collation 2017 report. [online] Available at: http://acre.org.uk/cms/resources/rural-coalition-statement-2017-low-res.pdf [Accessed 29 Oct. 2018].

Arbabi, H. and Mayfield, M. (2016). Urban and Rural—Population and Energy Consumption Dynamics in Local Authorities within England and Wales. Buildings, 6(3), p.34.

GOV.uk (2018). [online] Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/743579/Electricity.pdf [Accessed 29 Oct. 2018].

Carbon Brief. (2017). Analysis: UK carbon emissions in 2017 fell to levels last seen in 1890 | Carbon Brief.

[online]

Available at: https://www.carbonbrief.org/analysis-uk-carbon-emissions-in-2017-fell-to-levels-last-seen-in-1890 [Accessed 29 Oct. 2018].

Davis, M. (1998). Rural household energy consumption. Energy Policy, 26(3), pp.207-217.

Ecovillagefindhorn (2017). Renewable Energies. [online] Available at: https://www.ecovillagefindhorn.com/index.php/renewable [Accessed 29 Oct. 2018].

Nea.org (2018). Bridging the gap.

[online]

Available at: https://www.nea.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Bridging-the-Gap-NEA.pdf [Accessed 29 Oct. 2018].

Oecd.org (2018). Renewable energy Development. [online] Available at: https://www.oecd.org/regional/regional-policy/Renewable-rural-energy-summary.pdf [Accessed 29 Oct. 2018].

Passivhaustrust.org (2018). Home.

[online]

Available at: http://www.passivhaustrust.org.uk/ [Accessed 29 Oct. 2018].

Princescountrysidefund.org (2018). Recharging rural. [online] Available at: http://www.princescountrysidefund.org.uk/downloads/research/recruiting-rural-full-report-final.pdf [Accessed 29 Oct. 2018].

Windeurope.org (2017). Wind in power 2017. [online] Available at: https://windeurope.org/wp-content/uploads/files/about-wind/statistics/WindEurope-Annual-Statistics-2017.pdf [Accessed 29 Oct. 2018].