Sustainability in Action – Thinking Globally, Acting Locally

Local projects across the UK are demonstrating the effectiveness of innovation in renewable energy and sustainability

October 19th 2016

‘Think global, act local’ is a slogan that has been taken up by the green movement as encapsulating the need to develop local initiatives in order to tackle the dual challenge of climate change and of protecting the planet’s resources for future generations. Local initiatives can include a range of activities that encompass personal and social behaviour, such as what we buy, what we eat, and how we travel. In this article we look at a number of local initiatives that may be small-scale in nature, but demonstrate “big ideas” in their ambition to develop alternative sources of energy.

Wind and Solar: the Isle of Muck

The Isle of Muck is a small island off the coast of Scotland, neighbouring the Isle of Eigg and lying south of the Isle of Skye. At two miles long and a mile wide, the Isle of Muck is tiny in comparison with its neighbours. It has one sheep farm, one hotel, and about 40 inhabitants. Until the spring of 2013, the island was dependent for its power on diesel generators, the fuel for which was shipped from the mainland. Electricity was rationed, with power only available from 8am until 11am and from 5pm until midnight.

All of this changed when the islanders were successful in obtaining a grant of £978,840 from the Big Lottery Fund to build a source of renewable energy that could power the entire island. Their plans were based on a similar scheme on the neighbouring Isle of Eigg, which was designed by the renewable energy company Wind & Sun. The islanders contracted the same company to design and build the plant on the Isle of Muck. The scheme uses wind turbines from the UK manufacturer Evance Wind (now Britwind), alongside solar panels and a backup diesel generator. The wind and solar system now provides 24hr electricity.

John Balson from Evance Wind was on the island to supervise the installation of the last wind turbine and to show the islanders how to maintain the equipment. On the system’s effectiveness, he said: “I’m pleased to say once we put the turbines and the solar panels in at the beginning of March, the generator has only been on for a short period on one occasion when there was very little wind and no sun.” The story was reported in a news item and a video by the Telegraph in June 2013.

Evance Wind subsequently entered administration in May 2014, just when the development of a design for a new innovative horizontal-axis windmill was 90% complete. However, the renewable energy company Ecotricity stepped in to rescue the company and Evance Wind, under the new name of Britwind, continues to manufacture small windmills for its target market. The company specialises in small windmills that provide on-site wind power for small and medium-sized enterprises and a variety of properties such as schools, community centres, sport centres, farms and other landholdings. Its R9000 windmill is the most popular small windmill in the UK market. [1]

Water: Ludlow Hydro

For the inhabitants of a remote island, far removed from the National Grid, necessity – rather than global thinking – may be the “mother of invention.” But in Ludlow, a small market town in Shropshire, this is not the case. Ludlow has a long tradition of local initiatives that encompass the ‘think global, act local’ philosophy, such as farmers’ markets, cycle to work schemes, and renewable energy schemes. Many of these initiatives are coordinated by Ludlow 21, an organisation that takes its name from Agenda 21, the action plan for sustainable development adopted by the United Nations in 1992.

One such initiative is the Ludlow Hydro Co-operative, who this year launched a scheme using the power of water to generate enough electricity to supply about 40 households. The power comes from the natural flow of the River Teme as it passes the Horseshoe Weir at Ludford, and the scheme uses an Archimedes screw which allows fish to pass through safely. Local MP Philip Dunne attended the launch to switch on the scheme. He said it had been a huge achievement to introduce a twenty-first century energy generation scheme to the River Teme without spoiling the aspect of the Horseshoe Weir, as “the weir is one of the most sensitive heritage assets within the historic town of Ludlow.”

“As a member of the co-operative myself,” he said, “I was very pleased to switch on Ludlow’s latest renewable energy scheme, not least because I have for some time called for more energy to be harnessed from our local rivers. The UK renewable energy market has developed markedly over the past decade, with renewable electricity capacity in the UK trebling since 2010. Renewable schemes like Ludlow Hydro, with the consent and support of the local community, will play an increasingly important role in delivering energy in the UK as older, less clean sources of electricity come offline.”

“Our aspiration is sustainable mobility”

The River Teme features again in another story of innovation with regard to sustainability, in this case a car that makes carbon emissions a thing of the past. The car designer Riversimple established an office in Ludlow some years ago, overlooking the river. It also has a design centre in Barcelona and an R&D centre in Llandrindod Wells in Powys. The company says its purpose is “to pursue, systematically, the elimination of the environmental impact of personal transport.” To this end, it has manufactured a car powered by a hydrogen fuel cell. The prototype is called the Rasa, named after the Latin tabula rasa, meaning ‘a blank slate’:

“We began with a hydrogen fuel cell, a manifesto for sustainable design and a blank sheet of paper. Every aspect of the Rasa has been created and interrogated for simplicity, efficiency, lightness, strength, affordability, safety and sustainability… This first car is a two seater ‘network electric’ car, powered by a hydrogen fuel cell. The engineering prototype has clocked over 60mph and has been weaving neatly through the traffic in London, as well as gliding down the country lanes of Powys.”

The Rasa has a range of 300 miles, refuels in a few minutes and has no cost premium compared with a conventional car. As for how the technology works, the company says: “The hydrogen passes through a ‘proton exchange membrane’ in the fuel cell where it combines with oxygen to form water and electricity. The electricity then flows to the motors in each wheel. These motors are small, lightweight and give the car four-wheel drive. When the car brakes, the kinetic energy which is normally lost in the form of heat is captured as electricity. As the car slows, this electricity floods into a bank of super-capacitors at the front of the car. Unlike a battery, these super-capacitors can take a huge charge very quickly, but they don’t store a lot of energy. The energy they take in is sent back to the motors again and provides the energy to accelerate. The reason we are calling it a ‘network electric’ car is that the energy is networked around the car. It can flow in any direction on any path apart from back into the fuel cell.”

Riversimple says its aspiration is “sustainable mobility” and has set a target to go into production towards the end of 2018, rolling out the car across the UK town by town, in tandem with hydrogen refuelling stations. “Further Riversimple vehicles will follow as the infrastructure matures,” the company says: “The next step is to build a series of Rasa cars for the public to test and refine in a twelve-month trial.”

The twelve-month trial is due to start in 2017, thanks to a partnership with Monmouthshire County Council. The company will supply 20 hand-built hydrogen cell cars to residents in the county for them to test. The trial marks the first phase of a longer-term plan to develop a community of users around a single hydrogen refuelling station. As part of this initiative, a self-service, mobile refuelling point is planned for a council car park at Monmouth or Abergavenny.

Riversimple brought their car to Parliament in July to explain their long-term plans to MPs, including Ludlow MP Philip Dunne. Riversimple founder Hugo Spowers said the MPs were overwhelmingly supportive of both the company’s ethos and its radical business approach, which involves crowd-funding and investment from the general public. “The UK government has recognised the potential of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles,” he said, “and has already implemented forward-thinking projects that are promoting this cleaner alternative.”

The Government plans to make nearly every vehicle in the country zero-emission by 2050 and in May the Department of Transport launched a £2 million fund to encourage more businesses to switch to hydrogen-fuelled vehicles. The scheme allows local authorities, health trusts, police forces, fire brigades and private companies to bid for funding to add hydrogen-powered vehicles to their fleets. The fund builds on a previous commitment of £5 million in 2014 to the ‘Hydrogen for Transport Advancement Programme’ for twelve hydrogen refuelling stations. Announcing the scheme on the 10th of May, the Government said: “Today, Transport Minister Andrew Jones opened the second of these stations at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington. All 12 stations are expected to be open by the end of the year, which is a significant step towards a national network.”

Meanwhile, on the roads…

On a related note, an innovative scheme has been installed in another small market town in Shropshire, which is designed to prevent traffic incidents that occur when two large vehicles, such as buses, coaches, or heavy goods vehicles, are travelling in opposite directions and find themselves meeting at a narrow stretch of road. This has been causing problems on a particular road in Much Wenlock, with large vehicles being forced to manoeuvre to pass each other, either by mounting the pavement or by forcing all vehicles to reverse.

In a news item, Shropshire Council explains how the problem has been resolved by installing an automated detection system in the road surface. The detection equipment will determine if two large vehicles are likely to meet at the narrow point. If so, one set of traffic signals will change to red to stop one direction of traffic and allow the other, including the large vehicle, to pass through without meeting opposing traffic. Additional detection equipment in the road surface will determine when the large vehicle has passed through the narrow point; the traffic signals will then change to green to allow the opposing traffic to continue. The traffic signals will only stop traffic when it is predicted that both large vehicles are due to meet at the narrow point. At all other times the two-way traffic will not be impeded.

Shropshire Council says, using sample traffic data, an incident involving large vehicles is expected to occur four or five times within peak morning and afternoon periods, and less frequently at other times, but this will vary depending on the time of year and what vehicles are using the road at the time.

The scheme was designed for Shropshire Council by Mouchel Consulting and constructed by Dynniq UK, and the traffic signals were switched on in September following a period of testing. Such a scheme would be an obvious benefit to other market towns in the county and elsewhere, such as Ludlow, where large vehicle incidents in the past have caused damage to historic buildings. It remains to be seen however whether exporting the system to a different location would be as simple as it sounds.


[1] When the takeover was announced in November 2014, Ecotricity said it had a small vertical-axis turbine at a similar stage of development to the Evance model, and the two new windmill designs were going through the final accreditation under the Microgeneration Certification Scheme before being launched onto the market under the Britwind label. Ecotricity founder Dale Vince said of the new company: “Britwind will design and manufacture 100% British windmills that are some of the most innovative in the world – they will bring big wind performance to small wind.” The two new designs, which were planned for delivery in 2015, are Ecotricity’s V6, a vertical-axis 6kW windmill known as the Urbine, and Evance Wind’s H15, a, horizontal-axis 15kW windmill which, according to Ecotricity, will cut the cost of producing electricity by about 40% compared to the R9000.


Photograph: Sunset over the Isle of Muck © Copyright Keith Duncan and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. The photograph was taken from Fascadale on the Ardnamurchan peninsula. The islanders obtain their power from a wind and solar system that provides 24hr electricity.