BIG Solar V5As we all know, energy production and consumption are key issues facing the UK as it seeks to decarbonise. Here in the Moorlands, production opportunities seem limited, due to current planning restrictions, but there is still scope for both domestic and community electricity generation via solar installations and also to reduce carbon emissions via retrofit and insulation in our houses. Above all, there is a pressing need for information on the many and complex issues involved.

The Energy Fair we had planned for early February has had to be postponed due to Covid but we now plan to run it on Sunday 3rd April 2022, 10:00 till 16:00 at the Foxlowe Arts Centre, Leek. In addition to a range of stalls covering relevant materials, we have invited specialist speakers to present on the three main themes:

1. Community Energy Production
2. House Insulation and Retrofit possibilities
3. Personal/Domestic Energy Production and Use

We’re also planning a range of hands-on activities for children and like-minded adults to comple-ment the ‘heavy’ stuff.

All being well, the thermal imaging camera that we had booked for the February event will be available on the new date but in any event we will still be able display thermal images of Moorlands buildings with different levels and types of insulation to help us decide on the ideal insulation for our own homes. The camera will be in the Moorlands from Fri 28th January till Tuesday 8th February, so do let us know if you would like images taken of your house. You can contact us via This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The absence of the feed-in tariff has led to a marked reduction of roof top solar installations on domestic building and the collapse of the "Green Deal" has delayed the time that Staffordshire Moorlands will become net zero. However, community solar energy is achievable in the Moorlands; it just requires local authorities, businesses, residents, etc. to be committed to taking advantage of the help that is available from cooperatives such as Big Solar. They are working to help communities get to net zero. An extract from their website is shown here.

"The Big Solar Co-op exists to make it possible for people to get solar built anywhere in the UK. Our work is led by volunteers, who we support in lots of different ways.

If you have a potential solar site to report, please tell us about it.

If you want to get solar rooftops built in your area ASAP, we can train you up to find potential sites, assess them and approach the owners.

If you are part of an existing community group there are several ways in which we can work together to get more solar built in your area."

The majority of council owned buildings in the Moorlands have been surveyed already but industrial sites and care homes have not. If you know the owners or tenants of buildings with large roofs, please put them in touch with the Big Solar Coop.

Picture credit: Carla Sam (https://carlasam.com). .

powerhouse2The good news is that there are many community groups throughout the country who are working to install community renewable energy to benefit both the local community and future generations. The nearest one to Leek is the hydro project at Havannah Weir, near Congleton, that’s operated by an Archimedes Screw turbine that feeds power to the grid, plus the local Siemens factory, and was instigated by Congleton Sustainability. They were fortunate that they got some funding from the feed-in tariff before the government abolished it in favour of large grants to the fossil fuel and nuclear industry for very expensive Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) and nuclear power stations. As a result, small community developments are only economically viable if they can sell their electricity to a large daytime user, such as a factory, school or nursing home. You can find out more at the Congleton Hydro Project and see a video of Archie, their Archimedes Screw being installed. Here's the latest image of Archie up and running. Thanks to Paul Hopewell for providing it.

Archie 1Despite the absence of hydro possibilities here, Staffordshire Moorlands could still work towards becoming self-sufficient in energy if all buildings were upgraded to a high standard of insulation. At present there are insufficient trained craftsmen to do the job and we hope that the County Council will make training and incentives two of their main priorities. To become truly self-sufficient, we also need both wind and solar power at community scale, which unfortunately is largely prevented by the current local plan. To achieve our carbon pledges, it is vitally important that ALL levels of government, from parish upwards, collaborate fully with the many civil organisations and businesses who are actively working to build renewable energy schemes and retrofit our stock of buildings. Only by doing so, will we reach net Zero Carbon by 2050.

With this in mind, Moorlands Climate Action is organising an Energy Fair for April 2022, when we plan to have experts on retrofitting existing buildings and renewable energy to answer your questions, along with other displays and presentations. We are looking for local contacts, so if you have any who may be interested, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

Passivhaus thermogram gedaemmt ungedaemmtOne of the cheapest ways to reduce the energy we use domestically is to have efficient insulation in all houses and it’s astonishing that the Government has not upgraded building regulations for new houses to a much higher standard. In addition, a major barrier to retrofitting older properties is the lack of trained contractors; the withdrawal of the Green Deal means many owners and contractors who would have taken action independently have been discouraged from pursuing energy efficiency. The Government should be training everyone in the construction industry about the importance of good airtightness and insulation. However, unless sufficient funds and grants (not loans) are available, the country will continue to build substandard houses and fail to insulate in a policy of misguided penny pinching, as high quality insulation is what saves money and minimises carbon emissions.

The good news is that lots of people want to take action and become more informed and many of our members are paving the way. To help with this, we plan to run an Energy Fair for April, 2022 to showcase what is possible in terms of insulation, solar, heat pumps and wind power. Before the event we’ll be inviting local firms who can help make the Moorlands sustainable, so if you have any contacts with firms who can help please let us know.
As we expect this to be a weekend event and exhibitors coming from a distance might like to sample some of Leek’s wonderful pubs, offers of accommodation for Saturday night would be very welcome. Since we hope to have plenty of volunteers to make this a substantial event, Saturday night could prove to be a convivial and synergistic event that’s supremely enjoyable for all.

One of the displays we plan to have at the fair is a set of thermal images to show the effectiveness of good insulation in minimising heat loss. With this in mind, we’ve booked a thermal camera for a fortnight, starting on Fri 28th January, so that MCA members can get thermal images of their houses to include in the display or just for their own information. Do let me know if you would like to take part in this.
Photo Credit: Passivhaus Institut, Passivhaus thermogram gedaemmt ungedaemmt, CC BY-SA 3.0. The image compares the heat loss for a traditional building (to the left) with that for a building insulated to PassiveHouse standards.

We’re aware that some of our members have already made great strides towards making their homes carbon-neutral and one that we already know about, Vince Cooper, will be showcasing what he's done in the run-up to The Great Big Green Weekend. But we’re sure there are plenty of others and we’d love to hear from you if you are one. I’m still struggling to retrofit my own rather elderly house and it would be great for us all to share our knowledge and experience. There will be more information about the fair in the next newsletter but if you‘d like to volunteer to help or get in touch for any other reason, please e-mail me via This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Solar Farm
You may have seen that a planning application has been made recently for a small solar farm near Bagnall and Cheddleton. MCA and several of our members have submitted comments in support of this, as it’s one of the few viable options for renewable energy installations in the Moorlands. However it’s disappointing that some Parish councillors feel their role is to prevent renewable energy schemes rather than to make positive proposals that might contribute to a carbon-neutral parish. It’s possible they mistakenly believe that the Government, Staffordshire County Council or SMDC are doing something about the Climate Emergency but, as we know, there is little sign of Action yet. Fortunately there are some councillors who support the solar farm, to their credit, and we applaud them for doing so.

Nigel Williams
August 2021

District heatingThis image has been created during "DensityDesign Integrated Course Final Synthesis Studio" at Polytechnic University of Milan, organized by DensityDesign Research Lab in 2016. Image is released under CC-BY-SA licence. Attribution goes to "Laura Toffetti, DensityDesign Research Lab"., District heating, CC BY-SA 4.0
 

On the 10th July 2019, SMDC  declared a Climate Emergency, stating that they would  ‘Start working with partners, across the district and region, towards making the Staffordshire Moorlands carbon neutral by 2030; taking into account emissions from both production and consumption'..

To achieve net zero by 2030 is a difficult task but not impossible if we make a rapid start. Immediate investigation of some of the possibilities promoted in the Government’s 10 Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution would have been an obvious early step. However, the collapse of their Green Deal scheme for energy saving grants, which was poorly advertised, and the withdrawal of the feed–in-tariff for solar have caused many to lose their jobs fitting solar panels to residential properties. This is a disaster, as many training positions have disappeared, depriving the country of a trained workforce. The stop/start nature of incentives to make homes climate-friendly is not a good way to create the confidence in the construction industry that the government actually needs if it is going to achieve net zero carbon by 2050, let alone SMDC achieving it in 2030.

One of the cheapest ways for urban areas to achieve net zero is via community initiatives, such as community-funded solar projects on council property. However, there is as yet no evidence that such community schemes will happen in the near future in the Moorlands or that SMDC is showing any interest in supporting them.

Many countries in Europe are now building communities that are carbon neutral, yet the cancellation of building regulations in England has allowed continued construction of substandard homes in terms of energy efficiency.  The tragedy is that starting with a clean slate makes planning and designing for optimal energy use much simpler in such developments.  Retrofitting to the existing housing stock is much more challenging but nevertheless essential.

Looking to the future, we need to ensure that existing urban areas become carbon neutral as soon as possible. One way of doing this is to provide every building with a centralised heat pump. As an example in Leek, buildings to the north of Stockwell Street, (St Edward’s Church, Moorlands House, Foxlowe Arts Centre, Buxton and Leek College and a few others) could band together to utilise solar power from Brough Park Leisure Centre’s roof to supply partly warmed water from the culverted stream to their individual heat pumps. The addition of inter-seasonal storage of heat collected from the Leisure Centre car park would add to the efficiency of the scheme.

It would be surprising if similar schemes in Biddulph and Cheadle could not also be investigated, if necessary using community boreholes in the absence of a ready source of water near the scheme. Other communities, such as villages and parishes near a body of water such as a river or canal, might also benefit from similar schemes, especially if most of the buildings have been brought up to a high insulation standard.

MCA suggests that SMDC could facilitate this by applying for funds that would allow initial investigation of such developments to help produce a firm business case. And the sooner the better, as we all know the climate won’t wait. It’s 2 years since the declaration was declared and what have we achieved so far?

PassivHaus principlesWe clearly need sufficient housing in the Moorlands and under a Climate Emergency any new housing should be built to high standards in terms of insulation and energy use. The Staffordshire Moorlands District Plan suggests we must create 320 new houses every year. However, it does not stipulate that these should be fully carbon-neutral over their lifetime. It is clearly wrong to allow developers to build houses that will cost the residents more in the long run but also indirectly other ratepayers, who will have to bear the cost of future mitigation such as flooding.

The construction industry is very conservative and change takes a long time. This could be helped by government and council working together to train workers in the modern techniques of Passive House design and build. This programme would have to be reinforced by building regulations suitable for the 21st century. There are of course countless houses already built which will need a retrofit to make them fit for the future. MCA’s Energy group is working to bring both professional advice and the benefit of individual experiences to Moorlands householders.

Brough Park Leisure Centre Roof with captionStaffordshire Moorlands is in a privileged position vis-à-vis renewable energy. since it has the potential to produce a lot more energy than its residents need and is thus well positioned to bring a fresh source of income to the community. Sadly these renewable resources are being blocked by outdated planning policy.

Outside England, the rest of the UK has seriously embraced small-scale community renewable energy projects, with local groups forming cooperatives to produce their own energy locally. However the Government’s withdrawal of the feed-in-tariff in favour of subsidising ‘carbon capture and storage’ has made most new community projects financially unviable, unless they can sell daytime power to local users. Usually this requires an agreement with a significantly-sized local company or small business park. For most individual small businesses it’s a non-starter. However, coming to the rescue is the not-for-profit company Big Solar Co-op, which can help local businesses with large south-facing roofs and can finance, install and maintain solar panels in exchange for a power purchase agreement. Local citizens can then be encouraged to invest in the Big Solar Co-op as part of their personal commitment to lowering their carbon footprint, should they choose to do so; for example if frustrated by the unsuitability of their own roofs.