21 Jun 2011
Reasons to be Cheerful. Chris Bird on Transition Town Totnes’s Ashden Award
On Thursday 16th June Grand Designs TV guru, Kevin McCloud, presented the Ashden Award for Sustainable Energy and Behaviour Change to the Transition Together project run by Transition Town Totnes (TTT). The award, worth £10,000 plus support and mentoring from the Ashden Trust over the next 12 months, came just 18 months after TTT were awarded £625,000 as part of the previous government’s Low Carbon Community Challenge. This money made it possible to scale up the previous Transition Together programme and make grants available to install solar PV systems in participating households (you can read Ashden’s very thorough case study here). Here’s a short film about Transition Together (aka Transition Streets) produced by the Ashden Awards:
The local news also did an excellent piece about Transition Streets. Other Ashden Award winners, four from the UK and five from Africa and Asia, are well worth looking at if only to remind us of the stark contrast between the environmental problems and solutions we see here in Britain and those in the Third World. The other UK winners were Radian Housing Association whose investment in low carbon new homes and retrofits made them a worthy choice for this year’s Gold Prize; Midlands Wood Fuel, who provide locally sourced wood chips to power biomass boilers to replace oil and gas; the Centre for Alternative Technology which has trained thousands of people in renewable energy technologies and Severn Wye Energy Agency which has teamed up with over 30 schools to empower school students to track the carbon footprint of their schools and take action to reduce it.
International winners were Abellon Clean Energy in India, who turn crop waste into fuel pellets to replace fossil fuels; the Agha Khan Planning and Building Service in Pakistan, a project to improve health, save trees and make homes warmer by improving wood burning stoves in remote villages; Husk Power Systems which uses rice husks to power electricity production at the village scale in rural India: ToughStuffInternational, whose simple, affordable and robust solar kits are bringing electricity to rural locations in Africa and Gold Medal winners, Toyala Energy, whose fuel efficient charcoal stoves are already meeting the needs of over a million people in West Africa.
In tandem with the awards ceremony was a conference on sustainable energy with forthright speakers like Jonathan Porritt – “Why won’t the government fund a comparison between the cost effectiveness of energy efficiency and generating more power? Why all the lies suggesting nuclear power is cheaper than solar PV?” – and slightly less inspiring speakers such as Greg Barker, Minister of State for Climate Change and Stephen O’Brien, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for International Development.
UK award winners were challenged to explain what they would say to David Cameron and Chris Huhne if trapped in a lift with them for two minutes. We can imagine the relief the award winners would have felt as the lift doors finally opened. However, the prospect of Porritt in the same situation would surely see Cameron and Huhne as by far the most uncomfortable travelers! No wonder that Porritt was kept well away from the ministers who spoke. Here is a film of this event:
Not that they got off completely. Anna Ford and Kevin McCloud both challenged the government to do more by providing the legislative framework to make things happen. Among the debates was a discussion about how to increase the uptake of energy saving solutions such as the Green Deal and other grants that are already available. The success of Transition Streets in achieving just this, particularly with low income households, may hold valuable lessons about the role of community involvement as the way forward.
One last thought? When we pat ourselves on the back for installing a kilowatt or two of solar PV, which might meet 25% or less of our needs, lets spare a thought for rural people without electricity. Among the stories told at the Ashden Awards were those of people who walk many hours to charge a mobile phone or children struggling to do their homework by the light of candles or smoking kerosene lamps. Just a few watts of power, costing $10 or less, can transform the lives of these people.
If you are interested in finding out more about Transition Together/Streets or want to start up your own version of the project then please see here. Thanks to all of the Transition Together/Streets project team for their enthusiasm and dedication, and of course, to all of the households that have participated so far.
Chris Bird is author of ‘Local sustainable homes: how to make them happen in your community’ and is very active in the Transition Town Totnes Building and Housing Group and the Transition Homes initiative.