The balance of power

Richard Edwards offers a renewable energy solution which can reconnect local consumers with their local landscape.

In his recent click on wales article, David Clubb suggested that the failure to increase the capacity of the electricity grid in Mid Wales would not only deny Wales the opportunity to reach its renewable energy targets but would also fail future generations and create grid poverty.  Without this investment, and the subsequent increase in energy from more onshore wind-farms, David fears this will “further disadvantage rural dwellers, and could lead to communities becoming increasingly dependent on unaffordable ways of heating and transport”.  


Earlier this year the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned governments that they must make “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” in order to slow climate-breakdown.  


That warning from the IPCC will pose massive challenges in Wales because our government, like most others across the globe, believes that continual economic growth to generate financial wealth will ensure stability and prosperity.  While policies are evolving to become more inclusive and businesses are being encouraged to make progress in lowering their carbon-footprint, the overriding ambition is still focused on growth potential.


Wales is a relatively small nation with a small population and it has an alternative wealth of natural resources.  I believe that our natural capital could become the driver that enables us to develop a new, more sustainable, socially-inclusive and caring economy, placing it in a very strong position to challenge that failing capitalist mantra.



Microgrid Stabiliser



5kWh Micro-generation unit


I work within an international cohort of climate relief engineers, change-economists, planners and land-use experts who design micro-scaled generating technologies for rapid deployment in disaster zones (post hurricane, war-zones, etc) and for “developing” countries seeking to build sustainable energy supply economies. We work with national governments, agencies of government, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency – US Dept of Homeland (FEMA), and international aid agencies, including the UN (United Nations International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (UN FAO)) and the International Red Cross.  


In the 10 years that this cohort has existed we have yet to design a technology that generates more than 25kWh of power.  Our approach has been based on the need to provide heat and power for individuals living in remote areas and small groups of people living in towns and villages (we’ve lots of these in Wales).  


Unlike wind-turbines and solar panels, these technologies produce both heat and power constantly for at least 340 days a year (8160 hrs) from several forms of biomass and human-waste streams.  Energy production and supply is stable, simple to control and cheap to distribute through low voltage cables.


These generating units are backed-up with batteries and micro-grid stabilising technologies, which support the development of very efficient localised energy economies. The units are container-based allowing deployment into most locations; and with a bit of paint or some wood cladding they become acceptable within the countryside, villages, town centre and city fringe landscapes.


If our system breaks it can usually be repaired within a couple of hours and fewer than 20 properties would suffer outage during that fix-period.  When the current grid network in Wales fails, particularly during periods of heavy snow or high winds, hundreds of properties can be cut-off from power for days.  


We are all guilty of supporting a simplistic and somewhat lazy approach to combating climate breakdown: replace all fossil-based energy production with renewable technologies and the planet will begin to repair itself.  In our mad-dash for renewables we are ignoring the fact that energy companies are not in business to reduce the cost of heat and power to the individual. The fact that wind power is the cheapest method of generating renewable power means little to 23% of the population in Wales living in fuel-poverty!


The most efficient way to generate energy is to do it as close as possible to where it is being used.  This all but eliminates heat loss via distribution of power and reduces CO2 emissions that occur from large-grid delivery.  If we can build a network of small, localised micro-grids then we gain from being able to develop localised fuel supply chains, which reconnect local consumers with their local landscape.  When local consumers create a demand for land-based crops to provide that energy then agriculture changes and improved land-economies come to the fore.  


If we can build this economy around the need to generate renewable energy more effectively, via more progressive systems of land management, then perhaps we can develop a model that considers all aspects of society. Those issues that we have so far failed to challenge in Wales include fuel-poverty, life-poverty, affordable low-impact homes, rural employment, rural migration and agriculture. I would also suggest that we must all increase our effort to deliver the ambitions of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and our own Well-being and Future Generations Act: our actions here can be unprecedented.  


I believe that the development of a new land-based economy in Wales can become the driver to resolve the demands of the IPCC.  The production of energy must be based around sustainable feedstock sources that are capable of accumulating massive volumes of CO2, and the most beneficial way to achieve this is to sink it in to soil via the roots of plants (including trees).  I support David Clubb’s ambition, but I think we can avoid many of his concerns by adopting a more progressive approach to energy production and distribution.


All articles published on Click on Wales are subject to IWA’s disclaimer.


Richard Edwards is a land economist specialising in the management of native broadleaved woodland.

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