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The Great Infrastructure Debate, 
April 2012
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The Future of Energy for the North East,
December 2011
Visions for the Future of the City
Visions for the Future of the City, 
October 2011
Sustained Engagement

The Great Debate in partnership with the Living Laboratory, new economics foundation,
North East Centre for Transformative Education and Research (NECTER),
Newcastle Institute for Research on Sustainability, Newcastle University,
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,
Newcastle University

Options     Videos     Outcome and discussion     Partners

Part of the Sustained Engagement project funded by Royal 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 most investment?

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;
Ian Forbes, 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);

Event facilitation:
Perry Walker, Caspar Hewett and Stephanie Glendinning.

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 (Jonathan Hughes)
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 manage demand
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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Ian Forbes
Dr Ian Forbes has over 23 years of experience in photovoltaics (PV) related research. 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 PV materials.

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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