The Great Debate in partnership with the Living Laboratory,
new economics foundation,
North East Centre for Transformative
Education and Research (NECTER),
Institute for Research on Sustainability,
Northumbria University and
Durham University present
The Future of Energy for the North East
6:30 - 8:30pm, Monday 12 December 2011
Room 1.11, Drummond Building,
Part of the
Sustained Engagement project funded by
Academy of Engineering.
How will the North East of England meet its energy needs in thirty years time?
What mix of energy sources should we be aiming to use in thirty years' time?
Should the region be a net exporter of energy?
Should we shift to community generation? Reduce our reliance on imported energy?
Phase out nuclear and/or gas powered electricity generation?
Reduce demand through dynamic pricing? Which renewable technologies should get the
The choice of source for
supplying our energy requirements is one with so many options it can seem almost
impossible to make, yet decisions need to be taken decades in advance if we are
to meet our energy needs.
We have to make intelligent estimates of what demand is likely to be,
which means taking into consideration possible demographic changes and
changes in useage. Then we have to decide which forms of energy we
want to invest in order to meet demand. In this event a group of engineers
each presented their thoughts on these questions and then discussed and adapted
their ideas in conversation with a public audience.
Taiwo Alaje, Newcastle University;
Northumbria Photovoltaics Applications Centre,
University of Northumbria;
Robert Fox, National Renewable Energy Centre (Narec);
Jonathan Hughes, National Renewable Energy Centre (Narec);
Tianxiang Jiang, University of Northumbria;
Sally Poxon, National Renewable Energy Centre (Narec);
Caspar Hewett and
The event used the
Crowd Wise process designed by new economics foundation
to seek a consensus:
Beginning with the open question above, participants (engineers and audience)
were invited to work together to create and refine possible answers.
This is a collaborative process, where answers can be merged, split or refined
by anyone, in order to create the most interesting, wide ranging and appealing
range of possibilities.
Then each participant was asked to rank each option from favourite to least favourite.
Votes were counted to establish which option had the broadest support.
The options presented were:
A Reduce reliance on imported gas through increases in community generation
B Increase investment in wind industry and phase out nuclear power (Sally Poxon)
C Demand management – improve electricity network reliability and
extend battery life for electric vehicles (Tianxiang Jiang)
D Reduce generating capacity by leveling out supply (Robert Fox)
E Maximise the contribution and benefits of solar energy (Ian Forbes)
F Use ethanol produced from waste plant material to generate electricity (Taiwo Alaje)
Click here for videos of the presentations
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Outcome and discussion
The final options were:
A + F + C: Reduce reliance on imported gas through
increases in community generation, use ethanol produced from waste
plant material to generate electricity and imanage demand
B + D + C: Increase investment in wind industry, phase out
nuclear power, reduce generating capacity by leveling out supply and
E + C: Maximise the contribution and benefits of solar energy and manage demand
Interpretation and discussion:
First it is worth noting that all three of the final options incorporated
the original option C “Demand management – improve electricity network
reliability and extend battery life for electric vehicles”, although,
while it was clear that most of the participants favoured managing energy
demand, it was not explicit how much emphasis was placed on each of the
proposed methods for achieving it (efficiency, reduced wastage and dynamic
pricing) nor the importance placed on the electric vehicle element of the
option. The problem of where the additional energy for charging electric
vehicles was seen as problematic by some participants, but others thought
it would and should be dealt with as electric vehicles were an important
part of the story and should be included in the energy mix.
The option that ranked highest at the end of the event was merged option
A + F + C.
The main emphasis of this option was a combination of reduced demand
through various types of demand management, increases in community
generation and a specific shift to the use of ethanol produced from waste
plant material to generate electricity. The original element of reduced
reliance on imported gas followed from this, but did not appear to be as
central to the revised option as it was in the original option A.
The second highest ranking was associated with merged option B + D + C.
Here the emphasis was on levelling out electricity supply and demand,
combined with a heavy investment in the wind industry. This was perceived
to have multiple benefits for the region, in particular local generation
and the growth of local industry, producing and maintaining wind turbines.
The smarter electricity grid was an important element of this option as
two-way flow of electricity at the small and large scale would make it
viable. Similarly storage was an important element of this option.
It was not clear how committed the merged group were to eliminating
nuclear power from the mix, although this was part of the original option B.
Finally, the lowest ranked of the final three options (although it was
very close to option B + D + C) was merged option E + C.
This option sought to maximise the contribution and benefits of solar
energy again combined with a demand management strategy. While this option
did not rank as highly as the others, it was also apparent that increased
use of solar was a popular strategy with those favouring the other options,
so an overall mix decided by this audience would definitely have included
solar heavily – in particular, in option A + F + C solar would be an
important element of energy (heating and electricity) generated locally
(i.e. community generation).
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Dr Ian Forbes has over 23 years of experience in photovoltaics (PV)
He began his research career with a PhD concerned with radiation resistant
space cells, based on Indium Phosphide. During his career he has worked on
various projects concerned with monitoring of PV systems, thermophotovoltaics
and environmental impact assessment of PV processing. His role includes
supervision of PhD students and acting as Operations Manager of the
PV Cell Test Facility. He is currently responsible for the main thin film
PV research at
Northumbria Photovoltaics Applications Centre
(NPAC) at Northumbria University. This continues the Centre’s long history of work
in this field which dates back to the 1980’s. He has developed NPAC’s
thin-film research and capability over the last ten years through projects
including its partnership in the EPSRC funded SUPERGEN consortium,
“Photovoltaic’s for the Twenty First Century” (PV-21) focussed on thin-film
This research leads the UK’s thin-film activity and aims to increase
the sustainability of inorganic PV materials. The work primarily concerns
materials related to copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS or CIS) -
the material that has yielded conversion efficiencies of over 20% in
laboratories in Germany and the USA. The research at NPAC involves
investigating other members of this materials family, in which gallium
and indium are replaced with lower cost, higher abundance, materials
such as aluminium or zinc and tin. NPAC produces complete devices and
acts as a centre for device finishing for other PV-21 partners. The work
has demonstrated photoactive materials based on four new materials and
these are currently being incorporated into devices, including, in 2009,
the highest performing Cu2ZnSnSe4 based device.
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