MCFly reporter Laurence Menhinick went to a recent event organised by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, with speaker Becca Warren (CEng MCIBSE, Low Carbon and Building Energy specialist)- 15 January 2013, at Manchester Metropolitan University
Credit is due to Ms. Warren to try to convey the urgency of the problems climate change
will create for Manchester (and indeed any other urban area and mankind in general)
to an audience of 45 or so senior, serious and knowledgeable engineers who seemed
to know very little of the impending catastrophe…However, I am afraid that there was
little evidence that the audience was going to make any tangible efforts to address the
problem or indeed reduce their own impact.
But first back to the lecture – Ms. Warren laid down the realities of urban living,
explaining the stresses on the environment due to energy, transport, food, waste
disposal, water etc. At the moment low carbon building standards take into account the
fabric and services relating to a particular building, but realistically it is the inhabitants’
activities that actually drive the levels of carbon emitted.
She also painted the bleak picture of the disruptions a 1 to 2ºC increase in the global
mean temperature would cause to the planet and the increasingly alarming redesigning
of the planet a 4 to 6ºC would cause. At urban level, the impact will be exacerbated by
the urban heat effect which can increase the ambient temperature by 10 ºC, change
the air humidity and pollution concentration levels. An adaptation plan needs to take
into account building aeration, city ventilation, water management and green space
Mitigation starts with reducing the CO2 levels in the first place. As we know from the
MACF report, Manchester’s CO2 emissions are broadly spread 22% road transport,
47% industry and Commercial and 31% domestic, and we have a target to reduce these
by 41% by 2020; with various sectors such as renewable energy, building, transport,
greening the grid etc assigned a specific target. Collectively we must use less energy,
be more efficient and more specifically develop green energy, but what are the options
open to us?
In order to visualise city-wide opportunities and working schemes, Ms. Warren drew on
a series of low carbon communities she visited in Europe and some broader ideas in
– the Schleswig-Holstein region in Northern Germany which takes full advantage of its
windy weather, with about 2600 wind turbines installed on 1% of the land (and set to
double the land available to the wind turbines by 2020, becoming an important green
energy exporter). The region also boasts 10000 solar thermal and 1300 PV installations.
– the Western Harbour B001, in Malmö, Sweden- the docks have been transformed and
can be considered an excellent example of urban regeneration with an environmental
and social agenda. It comprises a large wind turbine, PV and solar thermal installations
and energy from waste including district heating.
– Flensburg, Germany. For a city without natural gas, biomass was the answer with
wood supplied from the Baltics.
– Linnau Biogas in Germany: A community biogas plant, using anaerobic digesters, this
is small scale, requiring a steady supply of feedstock, but is an adaptable solution.
All well and good to know Germany and small rich continental Europe are ahead of us,
but what can we do here in Manchester?
A number of ideas crop up:
– Develop District heating: Interestingly there is potential in Manchester to apply district
heating from the Carrington Power station (although considerable infrastructure would
be required), and MediaCity’s Tri-generation system already combines heat and power.
– Invest in geothermal energy: I think the underground thermal spring tapping project
Ms Warren mentioned is in based in Ardwick, ( but we will investigate this asap). The
potential for geothermal energy in the UK is important although costly; water under
Manchester is about 100ºC, which may be used for district heating and possibly
electricity generation if used in conjunction with a heat extractor.
– Retrofitting buildings through the Green Deal and possibly taking advantage of the
current PV feed-in-tariffs still remain good options ,although there can be important
personal capital costs to both- and pound for pound prefer to redecorate or fit a new
It is interesting to see what the general trends in the country are likely to be, and a report
relating to UK strategic planning called CLUES (Challenging Lock-in through Urban
Energy Systems) was published last year, and foresees two scenario: either a greening
of centralized energy ( service based economy, centralized energy, includes nuclear
power and substantial energy imports, high air freight ) or a stretching of the energy
spectrum ( re-localized industries, lower economic growth, multi scale energy systems,
citizen engagement in demand/supply, constrained international mobility) – although we
all know which business as usual ground-breaking approach is likely to be encouraged.
Of course, game changers could always take us by surprise: if Manchester wanted to
be a true pioneer it could embrace the Hydrogen Economy. Also a new European
–Mediterranean supergrid including Northern Africa, could be developed, pending
miraculous political agreement that is… ( and very aptly a member of the audience
commented here that there has to be a higher level of investment in technology and
knowledge exported to Africa and developing countries to bring shared development and
make up for shortfalls in Europe).
For me, what was actually missing from the presentation was a lot of, well, engineering
and figures to discuss what was feasible, needed developing or researched. The
shortcomings of the ideas put forward were not discussed, for instance:
– District heating is not very feasible with our current energy supply since we have a
centralised system with energy plants situated away from urban areas and therefore
heat loss would be too great along the way. In other words we are talking about
developing new micro or mini community plants -possibly fuelled by biogas or energy
from waste- and I think the public is not yet open to changes to our current system,
in which case urgency will precede (especially with the oncoming closures of nuclear
plants ) before communities are sufficiently equipped to take matters in their own hands
– Geothermal energy sounds good but may be just as difficult to develop in crowded
urban area: it uses drilling technology from the oil industry, increases seismic risk, is
disruptive during investigation (powerful drilling 3km deep for months anyone?), poses
problems when dissolved gases (H2S) and toxic chemicals are brought to the surface,
and can still be limited in use with time especially if the hot rocks cannot sustain water
re-heating at the speed we would be using it.
– No mention was made of the reduced solar insulation we have here up north in winter,
(due to Earth inclination and shorter day hours) which leads to poor output from solar
thermal panels and PV when most needed, ruling them out for now as a plentiful solution
Altogether I felt that the majority of the audience left thinking that this was a very
interesting talk (which it was) but not engaging on their personal involvement with either
the causes, consequences or capacity to solve the problems we are going to face. I
would have liked the lecture to include a discussion around the necessary technological
R&D and new ongoing ideas to solve our main problems the experts in the room knew of
or were developing.
Implementation of green energy in Manchester or elsewhere is difficult to visualise
without a thorough re-think of the levels energy we demand and consume on a
daily basis. Shrinking our current usage at all levels is as urgent as preparing for a
greener future, especially if we are to avoid, in the words of one of the most perceptive
attendees, the complete disappearance of our species.