Energy and Tango?

A blogpost from Silvina Zublena, Environmental Engineer from Buenos Aires, Argentina

tangoIn my recent visit to Durham University I attended the Energy, Society and Practices Intensive course, which was organized by Durham´s Energy Institute. Surprisingly, after the final lecture was over I could only think about one thing and that’s TANGO!

TANGO is a partner type of dance, very typical in Argentina, the country where I come from. In order to dance tango, two dancers have to synchronize their movements in a close embrace to move from point A to point B.

This certainly reminded me of Energy Practices and the Social Contexts and how, just like TANGO dancers, these two should be articulated together towards a better understanding of energy use and consequently allowing to find solutions for energy-related issues.

The thread that united all the dissertations within the program was the need to link these two worlds, for there is no energy project that can be reliable, sustainable or successful by only paying attention to the technical and financial aspects of it, rather than also including the culture, habits, location or even the geography of the society that is going to embrace it.

We learnt through the course that this argument could be as applicable to a small scale program such as a rural biogas digester in Nepal as to a large scale energy grid transition to wind in the European Union.

I would definitely like to participate in more courses like this coming forward, not only to be able to hear such a wonderful selection of lecturers on the most diverse Energy related analysis but also to share experiences and inputs with other fellow students coming from all sorts of backgrounds, just like I did this time. What a wonderful and nourishing experience it has been!

One final thought: Energy Use and Sustainability; Social practices and Resource use; Engineers and Anthropologists. I certainly think these would be some interesting dancing partners worth to watch in the near future. After all, it takes 2 to TANGO!

Day trip to the Offshore Catapult, Blyth

Wednesday saw us make a journey up to Blyth, a coastal town not far north of Newcastle. Found where the River Blyth meets the North sea Blyth grew rapidly in the 19th and early 20th century; by the early 20th century Blyth boasted one of the largest shipbuilding yards on the North East coast, with five dry docks and four building slipways. The economic prosperity of Blyth was also much aided by a thriving local coal industry, and to a lesser extent salt industry – all meriting Blyth worthy of a visit, but on this occasion, we were visiting for a much different purpose…

Blyth is now home to the ‘Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult’ of which we were kindly given a tour.
blyth-sign

The 20 acre site is a hotbed for R&D and testing of offshore renewable energy technologies, in particular offshore wind, although to a lesser extent tidal and wave energy technologies as well. Sadly pictures were not allowed and so we can only attempt to describe the scale of the facilities with words – simply enormous! As the sign above suggests the site is home to a 100m blade test facility; which shakes, twists and torments the biggest wind turbine blades in the world to their limits, to make sure they are performing to designed operational parameters and are fit for deployment…

hull-the-blade-with-credit

A 75m Siemens offshore wind turbine blade on display in Hull this week; no co-incidence in being in Hull town centre; Siemens is investing £160 million in a blade manufacturing plant in the town, thought to bring with it 1,000 jobs (Read more).

As well as blade testing the Catapult also has a 15MW nacelle test facility under development, which as the name suggests will be able to test the next generation of the biggest nacelles in the world – this means being able not just to drive 15MW of power through the test nacelle but also vary the application of this massive load; to simulate unequal loading that can be felt by turbine nacelles by gusty and turbulent winds and apply it at a slight angle; to test the resilience of the unit to the limit and make sure it will survive and operate as intended in the tough conditions of an offshore wind farm.

vesta-8mw-nacelle-on-ship

An 8MW Vesta V164 being loaded onto a ship – the unit weighs over 400 tonnes and will be mounted at a height of about 120m above sea level.

size-of-biggest-wind-turbine-today

Adding context; the size of today’s largest wind turbines…

Following our site tour we loaded back up into the bus for a look a closer look around Blythe, including a top-notch fish and chips lunch on the beach, in the sun too! Can’t complain…

blyth-beach-shot

Thank you Catapult for your time and for the fascinating tour of your facility.

A mid week reflection on teaching week 2 by Mike Westrom

I’m writing a mid-week reflection on our intensive teaching week for the Energy Practices module.  What struck me is a realization of how energy practices penetrate almost every aspect of our lives.  Dr. Sandra Bell lectured us on Practice Theory and Dr. Simone Abram followed up with a lecture on Actor Network Theory.  Both of these frameworks illuminate the way in which practices pertaining to energy use associate with an essentially unlimited amount of different actors.  If there is one lesson to glean from both of these presentations it is that most actors, to include human and non-human beings, are connected in unexpected ways.  These perspectives provide the scholar a vocabulary for explaining these associations.  We were asked to think of an energy practice such as turning off the lights when leaving the house.  At first glance this practice may seem like simply a matter of individual choice.  However, upon examination, it is clear that many actors play distinct roles in this practice.  For instance, some cultures highly value entering a ‘warmly’ lite home.  Some people, especially those who live alone, feel a sense of comfort when entering a house with lights.  Additionally, lights provide a sense of security for some when they are away from the house as a means to ward off predators.  For people with limited mobility, the low placement of switches may be too much of a hassle.  From a different perspective, cheap electricity (or electricity perceived as clean from low-carbon sources) lower the incentive to switch off the light when leaving the house.  It is clear from this small list of factors that the practice of turning on or switching off lights is not only a matter of individual choice or a product of structure, but a practice positioned within a web or interrelated actors.