On Wednesday, we joined Buro Happold in Bath to explore some of their work in renewable energy, and how island thinking can promote creativity in a context which is not quite an island – the peninsula of Cornwall.

Many places are reliant on imported energy, which leads to a flow of wealth out of the local economy as well as reduced resilience –  the concept of an ‘energy island’ is a key tool for shifting to a globally sustainable energy system, by galvanising local action and ensuring resilient systems for infrastructure and production and as an example of an ‘island’ connected to the ‘mainland’, the learning from the Cornwall context can be transferred both to mainland situations and to true islands.

Gavin Thompson, Partner at Buro Happold, started the event by giving some context to the Cornwall Energy Island project, explaining it was self-funded with longstanding Buro Happold partner, the Eden Project. Cornwall is one of the poorer UK economies, but with high potential for renewable energies & a strong local identity. Cornwall is also a fragile, export-dependant economy and an energy importer, but rich with potential in renewables.

Gavin asked the audience how the UK was going to transition to a less carbon intensive energy infrastructure in line with the climate change act, and discussed whether a ‘clockwork’ (top down) or ‘patchwork’ (bottom up) transitional energy strategy was more likely or feasible over the next 35 years in the UK. We also discussed whether this ‘citizen-centric’ approach to engineering systems to benefit Cornwall through thorough stakeholder engagement could be scary for engineers.

The second speaker was Ben Smallwood, Associate in Sustainability and Physics. Ben walked us through the initial two-day conference held in 2015, what has happened since & the recent follow up workshop. Through the initial presentations, thoroughly researched activities and games and discussion, all held with investors, local government, community groups and energy businesses, a vision to halve energy costs and double associated jobs was formulated with seven key actions;

The follow up workshop, held in July 2017, identified that a lot had changed in the two years since the initial conference including devlolved powers, ambitious energy targets from Cornwall Council and a number of innovative pilots projects. What’s been learnt through the Cornwall Energy Island? Structured events can be a powerful catalyst in a messy ecosystem but there needs to be regular follow up and engagement to maintain best momentum.

See the event slides here, with links to additional documents

The event finished with an in-depth discussion on this project, it’s replicability, further lessons as well as more focus on how storage, distribution and grid reinforcement will affect our future energy landscape. Low Carbon South West would like to thank Gavin, Ben and all at Buro Happold for hosting as well as providing such an engaging morning’s discussion.

Author: Matt Tudge