Sustainability Stories: Jone de Roode Jauregi

Tell us about yourself and your background.

I’m half Dutch, half Spanish. I grew up between the Netherlands and the Basque Country.

I’ve just finished up a BSc in International Management. I had the opportunity to spend a year abroad in my 3rd year, during which I spent the first semester in Sao Paulo in Brazil and then did a climate diplomacy internship at the Dutch regional embassy in Costa Rica. This past year, I’ve been involved with the Climate Action Network, and since April, I’ve been working as a Climate Action Assistant within the Sustainability Team.

What does sustainability mean to you?

I would say that my interest in sustainability has gradually grown over time. It is a topic I heard a lot about in school – to the point where I just got a bit tired of it. But my interest has definitely grown since then! In terms of what it means… it’s quite a broad topic. It’s not only about environmental sustainability but also social sustainability. For me, it’s really about how we can live in a way that we respect and care for the planet as well as other people.

In what ways are you taking action on sustainability? What would you recommend for other people who want to take action on these issues?

I’ve generally focused on being low-waste and adopting a mostly plant-based diet. Another thing I’ve tried to change is how I travel. Obviously, I really like travelling, and I have travelled quite a bit. But more recently, when it’s possible, I travel by train. And yes, it takes longer, but it’s actually quite nice!

I think most of these changes are really just about getting used to them. We’re all so stuck in our habits (me included!), but if you try something just once or see someone else doing it, you realise that it’s really not that difficult. The important thing is not to get too caught up in all of it. You don’t have to be perfect; focus on what is feasible for you. For example, I say I’m mostly plant-based because when I’m home in the Basque Country, there simply aren’t as many vegan options as there are in a city like London. Reducing your impact shouldn’t be filled with obstacles – because, ultimately, we really want changes to be sustainable in the long term.

How do you think we can bring more people into the movement?

I think there’s a huge lack of listening and conversing between people with differing views these days. Bringing more people into the movement should start by having conversations. I know it’s easy to say, but I’d like to try and understand where people who don’t care about sustainability are coming from and then find some middle ground. I think that would be way more effective. You know, really trying to understand what’s important to people, and then try and integrate sustainability into that.

How have you been involved with climate action at King’s?

When I came back from my year abroad, I wanted to continue working in sustainability. So when I saw the email announcing the creation of the CAN, I immediately knew I wanted to get involved. I became part of the Community & Engagement working group and the team of student volunteers helping to coordinate the network. Overall, it’s been really great, and I’ve met many people from across King’s who are so passionate about these issues.

I then began my role as Climate Action Assistant. It’s been really nice being part of the network from the start and now seeing how King’s Climate Action Strategy is being developed. I feel like I’m really part of the process and that I can actually contribute to thinking about how all of the recommendations from the subgroups come together. While it’s not a one-off document, and there will be opportunities to add do it, we have an opportunity to include as much as we can on climate action and ensure our strategy is driven by a climate justice approach from the onset.

It also makes me realize how much there is to do. King’s is just one university, and so many of our processes need to change. Imagine this on a global scale! However, on the flip side, during my day-to-day research, I encounter the amazing work of other universities, local councils, governments and companies. A lot is happening, so it’s very exciting to be part of this work.

What is something that gives you hope that we’re moving in the right direction?

Simply seeing everything that is happening. A quick Google search on net-zero carbon or climate action will give you a long list of companies, governments, organisations, and universities engaging with these topics. Knowing that so many people are willing to change – and are changing – gives me hope!

Another thing that gives me hope and that I’d like to see more of is collaboration. During my internship, my role was to prepare materials (presentations, comms content, etc.) presenting what Costa Rica has been doing, particularly its circular economy strategy. The materials were used to present at meetings and conferences with other stakeholders and countries. It all got me thinking about the importance of collaboration. Climate change does not respect borders, so it’s crucial to think about how countries can collaborate, work together and share their findings. There’s so much potential to learn from each other and exchange insights. It would be a pity for these efforts to remain isolated within a country. It would make everything so much richer and impactful. And that’s what I really liked about the CAN. King’s could’ve just asked a consultant to help them, which probably would have been a much faster and easier process. But by bringing together a diverse group of people, all from different backgrounds, the CAN will make King’s Climate Action Strategy so much richer and more impactful.

Where are you hoping to go next?

I’d love to work in sustainable development, perhaps at an international organisation or an NGO. It sounds a bit cliché, but I want to make a difference and have a positive impact. It really doesn’t have to be world-changing – even if what I do has a positive impact on one person or one community, I would feel fulfilled.

Once I’m done with ‘work’ life, I would love to open a vegan cafe with my sister. I know it’s still work (and probably not as easy as I think it’ll be), but I’d love to have a small one, somewhere surrounded by nature.

Could you recommend a resource (book, activist, documentary…) for anybody who’d like to learn more?

I’ve just started This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein, and so far, it’s been fascinating. It addresses the system change we need to tackle climate change and gets to the root of many of the challenges we’re currently facing.

Another book I’d recommend is Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson. It’s quite extreme in the sense that if you tried to copy everything the author has changed in her life, it would probably be quite overwhelming. But at the same time, she does a good job emphasising the need to find the right balance for yourself in terms of living zero-waste. She offers some really great tricks and inspiring ideas that can simply help you begin your journey to reducing your impact.

Finally, I really admire Greta Thunberg. To be so engaged at her age is really inspiring (especially when I think back to how I was at her age!).

Thank you, Jone! The ‘Sustainability Stories’ series seeks to highlight the work and passion of individuals from across the King’s community. If you would like to get involved, get in touch with us.

What would happen if we covered the Sahara Desert with solar panels?

This guest blog comes from Mason Cole, MA Politics and Contemporary History student and Sustainability Champion Assistant (SCA), supporting the King’s Energy Team.

In last week’s blog post, we alluded to the idea of covering the Sahara Desert with solar panels. While some of you may have had this idea before, others may have spent the past week captivated and wondering why it hasn’t been done yet. Well, aside from the fact that we simply don’t need that much energy, as we mentioned last week, there are several other reasons why we won’t do it. Read on to find out.

Why is this even an idea?

The Sahara Desert is one of the most exposed places on Earth to the sun’s rays. So, the idea is that if we could gather all that energy, we could power the world. In reality, we would harvest so much more energy than we could ever possibly need. According to Forbes, solar panels covering a surface of around 335km2 would actually be enough to power the world – this would cover just 1.2% of the Sahara Desert.

What would happen?

Outside of electricity generation, this could have several consequences. First, the light colour of the Saharan sand serves the purpose of reflecting the sun’s light and heat back into the air. By covering this, we would be ensuring that more sunlight is absorbed, thus prompting a rise in ground temperature. Warmer air then rises to higher altitudes and condenses as clouds that will then fall as rain, completely transforming the desert as we know it.

Why is this an issue?

The planet works based on a series of well-balanced systems, and this could completely upset the apple cart. The Amazon Rainforest, for example, is reliant on the mineral-rich sands blown from the Sahara for nutrients. Without these, the Amazon will not receive enough nutrients to survive, and its downfall could be accelerated. Furthermore, the increased heat in the desert won’t end there. It will be transported worldwide through weather systems, resulting in less rainfall for the Amazon and more unstable weather in regions such as North America or Asia.

What’s the silver lining?

We don’t need 100% of the Sahara to be covered in solar panels. Even 20%, which is the amount that would kickstart these impacts, is not needed. Instead, a series of smaller solar farms covering 1.2% of the surface should be enough to generate enough electricity without having such extreme impacts on the environment.

But is it feasible?

It is probably not realistic to expect political cohesion and economic investment to quickly make such a concept a reality. However, if projects such as the Noor Ouarzazate Solar Complex in Morocco continue to show good results, there is no reason why a series of independent projects cannot be set up over a longer time period that could meet our energy needs.

As always, if you have any further questions or want to get involved with King’s Energy, get in touch!

Sustainability Stories: Bethan Spacey

Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.

My name is Bethan and I’m a 20-year-old English student from Wales. I’m vegan and I like fitness and dance.

What does sustainability mean to you? 

To me, sustainability means ensuring the world of my children and fighting for the future of the human race. It is not something that I take lightly, and I feel a responsibility to do what I can on a personal level to ensure this future. On a spiritual level, I also feel like people are really disconnected, so I welcome the idea of living symbiotically with nature.

How are you getting involved and taking action on sustainability and the climate crisis? How can others take action on these issues?

I eat plant-based and try to shop without plastic where possible: this looks like getting a veg box each week and buying things like nuts and grains in bulk at a zero-waste store. Activism has also played a key role in my sustainability, as it is key to notice the massive impact that only a small number of corporations have on the planet. On a university level, joining eco-conscious societies is the perfect way to introduce anyone to climate activism; I went to my first XR march with KCL XR. My advice would be to acknowledge your personal impact (your carbon footprint and way of life), whilst remembering that no one can be perfect – especially living under capitalism – and to lobby the government and big corporations.

How do you think we can bring more people around these issues? 

I think we need to get rid of perfectionism – the idea that some people cannot partake in sustainability because they insert behaviour’. Sustainability looks like different things for different people.

Where are you hoping to go next?

I would like to work in a social justice orientated NGO, like Choose Love, perhaps in a role like project management. Ideally, however, I would like to be on the front lines and conversing with the people that are affected by these issues. A particular interest of mine is the intersection between social injustice and the climate crisis, in climate refugees. So, a job working with people affected by this issue would be perfect!

Can you recommend a resource, book, inspiring individual/activist for anyone who’d like to learn more?

I’d have to recommend ‘Earthrise’. They have a lot of great resources on their Instagram account, and I have followed each of their journey’s individually – all are very inspiring people.

Thank you, Bethan! The ‘Sustainability Stories’ series seeks to highlight the work and passion of individuals from across the King’s community. If you would like to get involved, get in touch with us.

King’s Energy: The Noor Ouarzazate Solar Complex

This guest blog comes from Mason Cole, MA Politics and Contemporary History student and Sustainability Champion Assistant (SCA), supporting the King’s Energy Team.

We’ve all wondered if it’s possible to cover the Sahara Desert in giant solar panels to resolve our renewable energy issue. No doubt you will have seen utopian constructions of what this could look like. For instance, David Attenborough’s A Life on our Planet provided an example of how a future powered by renewable energy could look. But in Morocco, that future is already here, and they’ve taken that interest in Sahara solar panels seriously too. Check out this image of the world’s largest concentrated solar power project, the Noor Ouarzazate Solar Complex:

When was it built?

Construction began in May 2013. There have since been two expansion productions also commissioned, one in 2018 and one in 2019. It was funded by the Moroccan Agency for Sustainable Energy at the cost of a cool $3.9 billion, though this funding came from several investors, including the World Bank.

How does it work?

Here’s the cool part! Noor I uses Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) to produce energy. Essentially, this means that a series of mirrors divert sunlight into something that retains that energy to be used later. The unique part about Noor I is that it uses molten salt to store energy, meaning that energy collected during the day can also be released at night.

The complex has upgraded on this for Noor II and III, which can store energy for up to 8 hours. Noor II uses a slightly different technology: parabolic troughs, or concave mirrors to the rest of us, to reflect the sun’s rays. Noor III, meanwhile, has a solar tower that collects the energy reflected from the mirrors (pictured).

Finally, Noor IV, which has not yet been commissioned, will use photovoltaic panels as we know them, so we will be one step closer to finding out what will happen if we fill the world’s hottest places with solar panels.

How much energy does it produce?

Noor I alone produces 370GwH per annum, with Noor II producing 600GwH and Noor III 500GwH and combined, they cover 6,178 acres. To put that into context, global energy usage was 171,240TwH in 2019. It would seem then that Noor is just a drop in the ocean, but consider that the Sahara Desert is 2.273 billion acres. It would take 116.5 Noor’s to supply the world with renewable energy based on 2019 demand, which would require 719,674 acres of the Sahara… Now, that really is just a grain of sand.

A couple drawbacks and limitations include the need to regularly clean the solar panels (even more so because of the sandy environment), which requires large amounts of water and the challenge of transporting power over great distances and political will.

As always, if you have any further questions or want to get involved with King’s Energy, get in touch!

Sustainability Stories: Anna Peran

Hey guys! My name is Anna and I’m here to talk about my views on sustainability and my experience of it at King’s. Originally, I’m from France and moved to London in September 2018 to start my BA in Geography. I’m now graduating from King’s, and these past three years have been such a time of growth for me. There are so many things to be said, but here’s a short selection.

When I first got here, I knew as much about climate change as your average French high schooler, that is to say: not much, and not nearly enough to start caring. That said, I was already vegetarian, and had made that choice for environmental reasons, about a year prior to coming to London.

In my first semester at King’s, I took a compulsory module on the changing natural environment that ended up changing the academic and career path I had envisioned thus far. Learning about the science of climate change, its societal causes and consequences, and the intricacies in between simply became fascinating to me. The more I learnt, however, the more the lack of political action surrounding environmental issues became frustrating.

I went to an event at the beginning of the second semester, where the guest speaker was a representative of COP24 who came to discuss the decisions that had been taken in Warsaw that year. I expected a lot from this event. It was after all about the institutions that were meant to actively be solving this issue. I distinctly remember the emphasis that was put on the framework developed and agreed upon at the COP for ‘future policy-making’, introduced as perfect to tackle the ‘future realities of climate change.’ To say I was disappointed would be the least. I remember thinking to myself, what about present realities? I realised how inadequate our current institutions were to answer the environmental challenges we now face. For one, they worked on different time scales and levels of complexity. From a mainstream perspective, climate change sounds simple: too many carbon dioxide emissions cause global warming with downsides to nature and society. That simplicity is deceptive. Reducing emissions is a given, how to do so is another story. Socio-economic and political dynamics must be considered, touching upon so many other issues, and making it all the more complex. Questions asked by a worried audience that day remained unanswered.

From this point on, making sense of governance to solve our contemporary challenges, especially from an environmental perspective, became the focus of my human geography degree. One thing about me though: I am deeply passionate and simply cannot let go of the causes I care about. I get that from my mum, who always reminded me that my voice matters, by listening and using her own. When it came to climate change, the situation was and remains so pressing I could not learn about it in class without taking any action in return. My thought process was simple: who am I to complain about people not taking action with the platform they have if I myself do not use mine, however small it is. I also thought: how am I going to react when I’m 50 and teens ask me if I knew what was happening and if I did anything to prevent it? I chose to take action so that one day I could say, no matter the outcome: I did everything I could. And that’s how KCL Climate Action society started, with the help of my wonderful friend Poppy who also studies Geography.

I believed that like me, once people would get a better understanding of climate change, they would start to care, and take action. Climate change remains very abstract for many people, as a global issue that expresses itself in local ways, as a natural phenomenon that results from societal doings, as human-induced but not human-controlled. The idea behind the society was thus to provide a platform for students to take action, in a context where we often feel powerless as individuals. The two courses of action were (1) organising events to be more aware and knowledgeable when it came to the many facets and issues related to climate change, from food and energy production, to fast fashion and waste pollution; and (2) campaigning at King’s to make and see some actual changes within the institution. As founder and president, it required a lot of work, motivation and organisation to start and get the society known, among students, academics and staff members alike. It taught me more than I had hoped for and in a year, KCLCA’s community grew from a couple of people to 900 students, with guest speakers from all over the world. Seeing so many people coming together and ready to put in the work gives me hope for the future.

I must say, however, that my vision of taking action has changed between the start of KCLCA and now. When I was president last year, I poured all of my energy into the society, but things take time and sometimes the results weren’t there, because not many people showed up to events at first, and there were many small initiatives here and there from other groups but it was hard to rally everyone and join forces. Halfway through the second semester, I was exhausted and let’s be honest, a bit depressed. I was drowning under alarming news, reports, and documentaries and I felt like things were staying the same, that our species was simply running to its end. And taking so many others on its way. I looked around me, looked at London, and how everything seemed so unsustainable, everywhere. It was a very oppressive feeling, and one I still get often.

I think there is a point, for everyone that cares about the situation and tries to do something about it, where you ask yourself: what’s the point? You don’t eat meat, you buy second-hand clothes or from sustainable brands, you buy local, you cycle everywhere. You look around: nothing has changed. That’s when community matters. That’s what KCLCA is here for, and so many other groups elsewhere. You can rest, and you need to. And if no one has told you yet: you’re doing a great job. We cannot change the past, we can only do something about now and the future. But this is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. Yes, the situation is pressing, but sacrificing your health and wellbeing won’t help. And that’s true of any other situation.

I think in these moments where things get overwhelming, it’s important to focus on the present reality, on what you physically have around you rather than everything happening elsewhere. Put your phone down, try and have a chat in person with a loved one, pick up a book you like, have a nice workout, take care of yourself in whichever way you can or like. Sometimes we need to anchor ourselves for a bit in order to stay afloat. That’s what I did this year and the committee did such an amazing job. They got things done, they made the events happen, they got the campaigns going, kept our social media active. And I am so grateful for this. Sigrid, our president this year, has been fantastic. The whole team really. I wish I could have done more, but I did what was best in that moment. The society will keep on going, and that’s quite something. Because so many students are going to learn so much from it and take it to the ‘real’ world after that. I intend to do so now, as I graduate.

In short, it’s about balance and community. That’s the essence of sustainability. For ourselves, for our society and for the environment.

That is one of many things the Western world notably needs to understand from Indigenous communities at the forefront of climate action.

 

For anyone interested, easily accessible resources include:

On our relation to nature:

Readings:

Videos and Documentaries

On the natural world itself:

Documentaries

  • Our Planet (2019). Available on Netflix.
  • Chasing Coral (2017). Available on Netflix.

On the science of climate change:

 

Thank you, Anna! The ‘Sustainability Stories’ series seeks to highlight the work and passion of individuals from across the King’s community. If you would like to get involved, get in touch with us.

King’s Energy: “Big Battery” Technology

This guest blog comes from Mason Cole, MA Politics and Contemporary History student and Sustainability Champion Assistant (SCA), supporting the King’s Energy Team.

In last week’s blog post, we discussed the UK’s challenges when it comes to adopting renewable energy. One of these is combatting intermittency and increasing the efficiency of wind and solar power. The eagle-eyed among you may have spotted a potential solution: batteries. No, not the Duracell Bunny. Big batteries. Batteries for storing energy. Intrigued? Read on to discover more.

What is “big battery” technology?

Think of your phone battery. You plug it into the mains, it charges, and the charge is retained for a period of time. The theory here is very similar. Instead of having periods of over-and undersupply, renewable energy can instead be stored in large-scale battery facilities. It can then be fed back into the grid.

What are the advantages?

The main advantage of “big battery” technology is that they minimise energy wastage, making investments in renewables far more attractive. Batteries can even out the energy harvested by renewables over the year, so your household isn’t dependent on 365 days of sun. In addition, if you have one in your own home, the energy will be stored rather than returned to the grid, decreasing your reliance on the grid and reducing the stress on the grid itself. Another advantage is that even with limited capacity, battery storage can be used to power homes via the grid in emergencies or in times of power outages instead of using natural gas.

Is it available already?

Yes and no. This technology is available for home use (for those who generate their own electricity) but is not yet widely available on an industrial scale. However, that is changing. California, for example, has a 300-megawatt lithium-ion battery already up and running and another 100-megawatt battery due to become operational this year. Because of these initiatives, more funding is being allocated to developing this technology.

What about the UK?

The UK and Europe as a whole have been a little slower to become convinced by the merits of this technology, and so there are no fully operational battery storage facilities in the UK yet. However, the development of several facilities is underway. The largest of these is in Essex, on the Thames Estuary, where InterGen has gained planning permission for a 320MW site at the cost of £200m. It will also have the potential for further expansion, up to 1.3GW. This would make it ten times the size of other projects also underway in the UK and able to power over half a million homes in the event of a power outage.

So, “big battery” technology really is just big batteries. It remains to be seen just how effective they are in the long term. Still, it seems a crucial element of transitioning to renewable energy sources will be to store this energy when there is no demand for it, and batteries are currently one of the best ways to do so.

As always, if you have any further questions or want to get involved with King’s Energy, get in touch!

A Plastic Free July Q&A 

This blog comes from Bethan Spacey, Sustainability Engagement Assistant and BA English student. 

What is Plastic Free July? 

Plastic Free July is an initiative that was set up in 2011 by the Plastic Free Foundation. They aim to help people globally take action on plastic pollution by encouraging them to refuse single-use plastic and reduce general plastic consumption. The movement has inspired the participation of approximately 326 million people in 177 countries. As a campaign, Plastic Free July takes a multifaceted approach, giving tips on plastic reduction and elimination in multiple sectors, such as personal life, work, schools, events, businesses, communities and local governments. Their ethos highlights the necessity of small acts amounting to a big difference and inclusivity of people, ideas, vision and approaches.  

Plastic Free July is solution-focused. The website hosts practical tips in various areas of life to eradicate single-use plastic. You can also ‘take the challenge’ via their website, which means pledging to give Plastic Free July a go. Their website gives the option to participate for one day, one week, for all of July, or from now on.  

Why is it important? 

Reducing or eliminating your plastic consumption is more important now than ever with a burgeoning climate and ecological crisis. Current estimates approximate 8 million pieces of plastic to be entering our oceans every day. This plastic threatens diversity in endangering all marine life, causes contamination within food chains, and jeopardizes the future of our existence, with the oceans giving us 50-80% of our oxygen.  

At current rates, the world produces 381 million tonnes of plastic waste every year – a figure that is expected to double by 2034. That is more than the weight of the entire human population, which stands at roughly 316 million tonnes. This is a terrifying statistic and visual – we will soon, quite literally, be swimming in our own waste. What’s more, 50% of this plastic is single-use, and only 9% of it is recycled. We are in a cycle that we cannot sustain – that the earth cannot sustain – so our work is cut out for us.  

What can I do to reduce my plastic usage? 

To answer this, we can borrow from the Plastic Free July campaign and its sections: personal life, work, schools, events, businesses, communities and local governments. There are many ways you can reduce your plastic and many areas in your life in which you can have this objective. Sometimes, starting small with your personal life is the easiest. Here are ten tips to reduce your plastic: 

  1. Buy foods in bulk or visit zero-waste stores with refillable containers 
  2. Opt for plastic-free fruits and vegetables where possible 
  3. Take reusable crockery with keep cups, bottles, metal straws, etc. 
  4. Switch out your single-use toiletries for sustainable alternatives e.g.cotton pads, cotton buds, wet wipes, etc. 
  5. Take reusable shopping bags
  6. Check the ingredients in your gum! Many chewing gums include a type of plastic (synthetic rubber)
  7. Reuse containers, e.g. refilling shampoo bottles, keeping takeaway containers, keeping old jars to put things in, etc. 
  8. Switch out plastic kitchen items like cupcake cases, cellophane and sponges for a sustainable alternative 
  9. Check what your cosmetics packaging is made from (some brands also have schemes where you can send bottles/packaging back to be reused) 
  10. Reduce some plastic usage second-hand; get your friends and family involved. Share the knowledge!

It is also worth mentioning that we need lots of people doing this imperfectly instead of a few doing it perfectly. There is power in numbers and acknowledging the agency we have in making the world a better place is both empowering and key to creating change. 

What is King’s doing to reduce their plastic usage? 

Whilst personal behaviour and action are important, institutional change is pivotal in achieving our goal. King’s as an institution acknowledges this and is taking crucial steps to support this goal. King’s has several recycling and waste-reducing initiatives. As you may be aware, if you are reading this blog, King’s has an entire Sustainability Team dedicated to goals such as these. At King’s, we aim to recycle 70% of our waste. We achieve this in an abundance of ways. One of these ways is through our WarpIt scheme. Warp-It is an online sharing platform for used materials/goods, which can then be posted and claimed by King’s staff. Items included are IT equipment, furniture, lab materials, and plenty more.  

Another way is through addressing plastic usage in our laboratories. King’s is legally and financially obligated to implement the waste hierarchy: to reduce the university’s environmental impact, ensure legal compliance and minimise waste disposal costs. This includes all waste from labs. King’s labs are assessed through the accredited Laboratory Efficiency Assessment Framework (LEAF), and we have many Sustainability Champions working within our labs. 

In addition to this, King’s Sustainability Team organizes the Climate Action Network (King’s CAN): a notable plastic-related sub-group in this is the group focused on procurement and waste. We also have a number of Sustainability Champion Assistants working in respective departments to tackle these sustainability-related issues on a faculty level. And finally, there are many inspiring individuals across King’s involved in sustainability through students societies and groups. You can find out more about this by checking out some of our ‘Sustainability Stories’ on the blog or some of our Weekly Spotlights on Instagram. 

Click here to find out more about what King’s is doing. 

King’s Energy: The renewable energy challenge and the National Grid

This guest blog comes from Mason Cole, MA Politics and Contemporary History student and Sustainability Champion Assistant (SCA), supporting the King’s Energy Team.

We’ve given a lot of information on this blog recently about renewable energy and how commendable it is that the UK (and King’s, of course) are in the process of switching to renewable sources. However, this cannot happen overnight, and it does put considerable strain on the existing energy network as we go through the transition. So that got us thinking – how many people actually know how all this works? The answer is hopefully everyone who has read this post, so read on to find out!

How is electricity generated?

As you will probably know, energy is typically generated by producing steam. This steam then turns a turbine, which in turn powers a generator and boom we have electricity. Although there are other methods to turn those turbines (falling water, wind, etc.), steam remains by far the most popular.

How does the National Grid work?

The National Grid is a system of power lines, pipelines, interconnectors and storage facilities. Once the energy is generated, the role of the National Grid is to deliver it to homes around the UK. Within the network, many Distribution Network Operators (DNOs) distribute the electricity locally where and when needed.

What is the challenge with renewables?

Official demand for renewable energy is increasing, and it poses a monumental challenge to the National Grid. As such, not only does the Grid require regular and costly maintenance, but it is now being upgraded on a never-before-seen scale. In addition to this, the demand for energy itself is also greater than ever. Since September, this has led to the National Grid Electricity System Operator (NGESO) issuing four Electricity Margin Notices (EMNs). These are essentially warnings that there is not enough reserve energy to guarantee continued supply. To put that into context, one such notice was issued in the UK over the previous four years.

What is the solution?

Half of the problem is demand, so if we as individuals can reduce our energy demand even slightly, we will also reduce the pressure on the Grid itself. Besides this, some other technical solutions may become viable in the future, for example, battery storage. These are currently available in your home, and if you generate your own electricity (one to bear in mind for the future), they are a worthwhile investment. However, using them on a large scale is not yet feasible, though this would go some way towards having a permanent baseline. Reciprocating engine generator technology and black-start gas turbines are other technological advancements that could also support this.

In short, we all like things to be done quickly, but in the world of energy, the transition to renewables is a slow and complicated process. In the short term, we can all do our part by reducing our consumption, easing the pressure on the National Grid and making the renewable transition far smoother.

As always, if you have any further questions or want to get involved with King’s Energy, get in touch!

Sustainability Stories: Abigail Oyedele

Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.

I’m Abigail, and I have just finished my BSc in Global Health and Social Medicine.

My journey here was a bit unexpected. I originally wanted to study Medicine, and Global Health was my backup choice. Not getting into Medicine was a huge disappointment, but I realised pretty early that I was meant to be in this degree programme. I really enjoyed learning about global health and social challenges, and more generally, I was excited just thinking about the possibility of learning something new.

My journey to more practical engagement with social issues started when I joined the Civic Leadership Academy (CLA) in my second year. Before that, I had read a lot about historical issues and social inequality, but I always felt like there was nothing I could do. These problems were simply too significant for any of us to solve – it was quite a depressing view of the world! But through CLA, I heard about community organising and all the practical ways people are bringing about change in their communities. This was a pretty profound shift for me – to see that you don’t have to be passive about things. So I joined Citizens UK and founded King’s 4 Change, and my time at King’s became pretty much all about community organising.

What does sustainability mean to you?

My thinking around sustainability definitely didn’t start with the environment or climate change. Climate change was actually relatively low on the list of things I cared about because there are so many other pressing issues.

Initially, I was drawn to sustainability in the context of development, specifically the progress of lower to middle-income countries. I am interested in improving the sustainability of their institutions and services and disrupting cycles of dependency on foreign aid. My dream is for these places to have more sustainable institutions and be able to stand on their own feet and show the world that, in fact, they can provide for themselves.

This links to why I love organising. In organising, we talk a lot about agency and power – feeling that you can bring about change and act for yourself rather than depend on other people to do things for you. This is what I first think of when I think about sustainability.

Could you tell us more about King’s 4 Change?

We’re now an official society at King’s! Our aim is to train students in community organising methods and act as a bridge between them and the wider Lambeth and London Citizens alliances. We want to give students the tools to get involved in community organising on a larger scale and make a change at King’s.

One of our campaigns was called Just Transition. In the first stage, we did a lot of listening. We wanted to hear about people’s experiences of climate change and the main problems impacting their lives. When you hear about global warming, it can seem quite abstract, especially in London, where we’re not experiencing floods or extreme weather. But it is impacting us in various ways. For example, people living in poorly insulated homes waste a lot of energy, which is obviously bad for the environment, but they also spend more money on energy bills. Through the work that I’ve done around climate change, I’ve realised that the solutions and options to become more sustainable are often catered to people who are maybe quite well off. So, a big part of our Just Transition Campaign was thinking about how we can make climate action more inclusive.

The campaign we’re currently running is called Fair Energy. The aim is to combat both climate injustice and economic injustice by encouraging people to switch to cheaper, fairer and more environmentally-friendly energy providers. This is what really brought me into the environmental side of sustainability – realising that many of these issues aren’t just the big sensational ones we always hear about in the news but are actually really close to home.

We’re now working on a mental health campaign with the aim of understanding the impact of COVID-19 on students’ mental health and improving services at King’s, so stay tuned for more on that.

During your time in community organising, what has been your greatest learning?

I have learned about the power of relationships. I used to think of relationships solely in the context of my family and friends. But you can have relationships that are meaningful, effective and useful that go beyond your circle of friends. Through organising, you get to meet so many people from so many different backgrounds and find common interests with people you never expected. For example, the life of an older white, middle-class person feels so far from my lived experience. By just talking to them and getting to know them, you realise that, in fact, we do care about the same thing and we can work together. This is something I’m going to take forward because it shows you should never assume that you will have nothing in common just by looking at someone. You just have to take that first step and talk to them.

Where are you hoping to go next?

As I mentioned, I’m really interested in development. I have an offer to do a masters in Development at LSE but have deferred it for a year.  I would like to pursue development as a career, and from what I’ve learned, it is the kind of career for which you can gain experience in lots of different places. So I’m pretty open – maybe I’ll work in government or for a charity, in policy, research or consulting. Nothing I’m doing now was in my original plan – plans change, but you always end up in a good place! Development is what I’m most passionate about, so hopefully, I’ll end up there.

What gives you hope for the future?

In the same way that I fell in love with organising, when we do teaching or workshops, people are like, “Wow, this has been so great, this is the kind of thing I’ve always wanted to do”. Knowing that there are students and staff at King’s who have really enjoyed learning about organising and will take King’s 4 Change forward when I leave King’s gives me hope. As long as people want to organize and want to deal with the issues that affect their communities and not admit defeat in the face of these substantial problems, then hope is not lost.

Can you recommend a resource for people who would like to learn more?

I recently read Up from Slavery by Booker T. Washington. Washington was born into slavery in America, but emancipation happened when he was quite young, and he made it his life’s work to educate and bring up the black race in America. I found the book hugely inspiring! These days, the political divide can be full of friction and quite tense, and people aren’t very willing to listen to the other side or think through their ideas. However, I found his perspective on race relations between black and white Southerners very harmonious. He really considered the point of view, needs and thoughts of white Southern Americans. I found that really inspiring – for someone born into slavery to be so forgiving and so patient – and it very much applies to our current situation and reaffirms the importance of organising and listening.

Thank you, Abigail! The ‘Sustainability Stories’ series seeks to highlight the work and passion of individuals from across the King’s community. If you would like to get involved, get in touch with us.

King’s Energy: The Climate Change Committee 2021 Progress Report – Findings and Recommendations

This guest blog comes from Mason Cole, MA Politics and Contemporary History student and Sustainability Champion Assistant (SCA), supporting the King’s Energy Team.

Welcome back to the King’s Energy blog post! Last week the Climate Change Committee (CCC) published their 2021 Progress Report to Parliament – read on to see what they found and their recommendations for the future.

Energy Use in 2020

Global energy use fell by 4% in 2020 compared to 2019 levels, mostly accounted for by significant declines in more “advanced” economies. In addition to this welcome decline, the energy we are using has become cleaner as we are also becoming gradually less reliant on fossil fuels as an energy source. According to the report, oil use has fallen by 9% – predominantly due to less demand for oil for transport. Electricity demand also decreased, meaning coal consumption fell by 4%, while gas usage also fell by 2%. However, these figures do not tell the full story. Not only has electricity demand fell, but 29% of the electricity used derived from renewable sources – that’s a 27% increase on 2019 levels. To put that into context, that is the largest growth rate on record, and it means that the total low-carbon generation share is now 39%.

Forecast for 2021

All of that sounds great, so what’s the catch? Well, these figures have been impacted in no uncertain terms by the pandemic and, with the effects of that expected to die down (fingers crossed) over the next year, the CCC are not so optimistic for 2021. They expect energy usage to bounce back, rising 4.5% in 2021, which would bring it 0.5% above 2019 levels. Equally, CO2 emissions are expected to rise by around 5%, falling just short of 2019 levels. However, there remains significant uncertainty about these predictions as it depends on the course of the pandemic and how countries recover from it.

Future Recommendations

Among their 32 pages of recommendations, the CCC advise Parliament of the following when it comes to energy:

  • Consult on reforms to electricity pricing to remove disincentives to electrification by 2022.
  • Consider the introduction of a carbon tax aimed at curbing rising emissions from energy from waste by 2022.
  • Create a clear incentive for manufacturing facilities to switch to low-carbon energy sources by 2023.
  • Improve the collection and reporting of industrial decarbonisation data to allow for progress to be monitored more effectively, particularly on energy and resource efficiency by 2022.
  • Provide a stable long-term policy framework to support sustained energy efficiency and heat pump growth as a priority.
  • Implement improvements to the Energy Performance Certificate by 2022.
  • Improve the consumer charging experience and making smart charging accessible, appealing and cost-effective for as many electric vehicle users as possible as a priority.

So there you have it. In short, progress has been made over the past couple of years. Still, we have a duty as individuals to build back from the pandemic in a more energy-conscious way. At the same time, we are also reliant on the authorities to commit to the changes listed moving forward. Read the Climate Change Committee’s 2021 Report to Parliament here.

 

As always, if you have any further questions or want to get involved with King’s Energy, get in touch!

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