Energy insights atop Mount Diablo, California

Student Mike Westrom finds new perspectives in the Bay Area of California:

Mike enjoys the view at Mount Diabolo

After finishing my MSc in Energy & Society Programme at Durham, I decided to stop by the Bay Area of California to visit some family before returning to my hometown in Chicago. We drove up to the top of Mount Diablo to take in its breathtaking views. I saw something on the top of that mountain that I wouldn’t have seen a year before. The surrounding energy infrastructure, usually hidden away and unnoticed, was—for me—in the foreground of this stunning view. My camera lens was not wide enough, nor am I a skilled enough photographer, to capture all three sites in one picture, so I’ve included two. In the first, you see the remains of a mineral extraction site.

a mineral extraction site in the Bay Area of California

This sits to the left of a gas power plant on the water (in the second photo), which sits directly across a huge wind farm that appears to be on an island or peninsula. Wow. Can you imagine a better combination of structures that would annoy liberals and conservatives, alike? While the lefties shake their head at the skeletons of our resource and fossil fuel intensive lifestyles, those to the right scuff at those noisy, ugly, money sucking wind turbines. All this disappointment in one view! Aside from these emotionally charged interpretations of which types of infrastructures destroy the landscape, lead to economic development, and resemble American values and which don’t, some very important questions arise from this vantage point. For me, these questions are about control, something way beyond what I can see on top of Mount Diablo.

a gas power plant is dwarfed by the turbine array seen from Mount Diablo

However, we can use this holistic view to start to formulate the sort of questions we need to ask when thinking about how energy arrangements reflect and engender different forms of control. The Park Ranger told me that back in the day, people used the vantage point on Mount Diablo to survey that area of California. Today, standing on that same mountain, connections become a bit clearer when you zoom out of neighborhoods, expressways, and wind farms and follow the electric wires that link these places, organizations, policies, resources, and ideas together. Studying this kind of stuff at Durham for the past year gives me a starting point, at least. For instance, let’s stop using the word, ‘they’. ‘They put up those wind turbines, they use gas to power that plant, and they closed the extraction site awhile back’… In each case, ‘they’ are very different collections of people, at different levels, with very different interests. We should start out, instead, by asking ‘who?’. Who owns these different sites and under what arrangements? Do organizations lease land, from whom, and what does that empower owners and government organizations to do? Why were these particular sites selected? Why, on the outskirts of one of the most expensive areas in the US, is there a wind farm? From this view, I wonder how these infrastructures are connected, if at all? Most importantly, I learned from my MSc program that answering these questions is not an easy task and takes a lot of time and digging. At the very least, I’ve learned to see energy infrastructures not as merely technical pursuits or symbols for political values, but mechanisms of political control that enable different people to exert different forms of influence tied to sources of energy provision.

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Deadline for scholarships extended to July 15 2017

DONG Energy are offering a number of scholarships for outstanding UK students who will be starting the MSc Energy and Society or MSc New and Renewable Energy courses in October 2017. The scholarships will have a value of up to £6,000.

This is a unique opportunity as these scholarships are only available to UK students who wish to study on these courses at Durham University.

The deadline for DONG scholarship applications is 15th July 2017. Find out more at https://www.durham.ac.uk/dei/funding/dongenergybursaries/

Funding to join exciting new European project – PEOPLE-centred development approaches

A new EU Erasmus+ project will bring an opportunity for four Masters students to join students and energy academics from Slovenia, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic (Czechia) to work on people-centered development. The project is embedded into the compulsory Field Study module for the MSc Energy and Society course; the selected students will take this module as a 30 credit module. They will be awarded mobility funding to work in collaboration with a UK company, Kemuri Ltd to help develop user friendly elements within the company’s current products and services.

Apply now to the MSc Energy and Society course to join this exciting new initiative! Find out more at PEOPLE project funding.

A research report from Orkney

This summer, Michael Westrom traveled to beautiful Orkney, Scotland for five weeks to study the local experience of governance that accompanies the transition to decentralized community renewable energy. Orkney is a collection of islands north of the mainland of Scotland that generates over 100% of its electricity from renewable sources, most of which comes from community-owned wind turbines. Mike’s findings will be written up for his MSc dissertation.

Here he tells us more about what he found:

For three of the five weeks, I lived on the small island of Shapinsay, home to about 300 residents. The Shapinsay Development Trust (SDT) is a community charity group that owns and manages a 900 kW wind turbine (see photos below of the turbine and SDT). Aside from earning revenue by exporting the electricity on to the grid, the SDT is a part of a 10 million Euro funded project to convert some of the electricity that would otherwise be curtailed (due to grid restraints) into a hydrogen fuel. Orkney Islands Council (OIC) has agreed to purchase the fuel to power a fleet of council vehicles, to heat the Shapinsay primary school, and eventually to power ferries, adding more revenue to the community.

I studied how both the revenue from the wind turbine benefits scheme and the partial ownership over the production and distribution over hydrogen fuel has empowered the SDT charity and changed local governance. Now the SDT charity, headed by a small group of residents, has a new and strong influence over island policy, provisioning of social resources, and even transport relative to the local council government, as related to their control over the renewable energy facility.

 

EAGA grants now offered

http://www.eagacharitabletrust.org/grants-offered

Eaga Charitable Trust invites applications for its postgraduate bursary awards. These encourage graduate students to research and write dissertations related to the causes and impacts of, and solutions to, fuel poverty issues in the EU. The subject of research needs to demonstrate direct relevance and application to UK fuel poverty policy.
Current master’s students and those with a confirmed place on a master’s course during the next academic year are eligible to apply as are PhD students in the second or third year of study. All applicants should be based in the EU.
A maximum of three bursaries worth £2,000 are available.

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!

Bursaries announced…

We are announcing a new round of bursaries for the 2017/18 entry to the MSc Energy and Society. Please see details on the anthropology department website postgraduate pages – scroll to the bottom of this page for further information:

https://www.dur.ac.uk/anthropology/postgraduatestudy/taughtprogrammes/mscenergyandsociety/

Where are they now? An occasional series on MSc graduates. 1. Luke Garrett

Luke was one of the first students to join the MSc Energy and Society. Here, he tells us a little about his subsequent career at NEA:

Class of 2013

Class of 2013

“I joined National Energy Action, the UK’s leading fuel poverty charity, as a Research Assistant two months after finishing the MSc Energy and Society course in 2014.

My dissertation focused on how microgeneration technologies (solar photovoltaics and air source heat pumps) might be used in the social housing sector to help alleviate fuel poverty. The research was a great focal point for me to refer to throughout my interview for the position at NEA.

Initially, I was involved with projects such as the evaluation of the npower Fuel Bank™ – which involves giving food bank service users a fuel voucher for their prepayment meter when they receive a food parcel. I was also involved in a socio-technical appraisal of multi-storey buildings in Newcastle in order to identify how these structures might be made more sustainable, and improve the quality of life for residents as a result.

In July 2016 I was promoted to Research and Policy Officer here at NEA, and my first lead project is the evaluation of a National Grid Gas Network pilot scheme which aims to ensure vulnerable households are reconnected to their gas supply (following the disconnection of a condemned gas appliance) as quickly as possible. This project is still in the early stages and evaluation is yet to start.”