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Energy: a new approach

Can the North East do for energy what Stephenson's Rocket did for transportation?

Each day, we all contribute to climate change through energy-dependent activities such as driving, heating or cooling our homes, taking flights, disposing of waste - and eating

Energy is a fundamental requirement of modern life. We rely on it to provide heat and light, to cook, communicate, move around and make things.

Producing the energy required for these activities means burning fossil fuels - oil, coal and gas. This leads to an accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, a process that slowly heats up the planet and leads to global warming. More and more people, aware of the dangers of climate change, want to take action.

Renewable energy technologies are becoming more important at a local, national and global level. Most renewable energy comes from the heat and light of the sun (wind, solar, wave, biomass). Other renewable energy comes from the gravitational pull of the moon (lunar power) and the sun on the oceans (tidal) and from the hot rocks found deep within the earth (geothermal). The primary advantage of renewable energy is that it does not produce the gases that are associated with climate change. And renewable forms of energy will not run out.

What is the North East doing for energy?

The North East has important market-leading expertise in a variety of new and renewable energy solutions. The region's wind- and sea-based energy systems are developed at Blyth's Centre for New and Renewable Energy. A variety of land-based energy systems - hydro, solar, biomass and wind microgeneration - are also being developed. Fuel cells are being developed at the Centre for Process Innovation, biomass systems at Cockle Farm, and next-generation photovoltaics at Durham University. In the public domain, a #20million project called The Watershed will be a unique renewable energy model village in a former cement works.

How Dott 07 helped

Dott 07's Low Carb Lane project (see below) sought to create user-friendly visualisations of energy use (based on a real-life case study) and make them a starting point from which to develop a practical prototype for sustainable household energy use.

The North East Energy Futures images (pages 48-51) depict what new and renewable energy technologies could look like if they were to be deployed in the North East in the coming years. In place of today's coal-fired power stations, we will see geothermal extraction rigs, biomass boilers and lunar energy in the form of micro-hydro installations that harness the power of the tides.

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Future Currents

One third of the UK's greenhouse gas emissions come from residential households11. Householders could reduce this by making their houses more efficient, generating their own energy, switching suppliers or simply switching off. But power bills are confusing, energy use is invisible and alternative installations are tedious to procure, often expensive and hard to maintain.

The RED team at the Design Council in London experienced these frustrations first-hand while living in a terraced house in London. Their Future Currents project proposed new products, services and policies to help householders save energy and reduce the C02 emissions they produce. Proposals included devices for home monitoring and regulatory schemes to rank and reward citizens for good energy behaviour.

Find out more at: www.designcouncil.info/futurecurrents/

From December 1-14, 2007, WorldChanging will be featuring articles from Dott 07 (Designs of the time 2007), a year of community projects, events and exhibitions based in North East England, explored what life in a sustainable region could be like -- and how design can help us get there.

Click here to read the introduction to the series, "Dott 07: a new industrial revolution."

A national initiative of the Design Council and the regional development agency One NorthEast, Dott 07 is the first in a 10-year programme of biennial events developed by the Design Council that will take place across the UK. The projects were small but important real-life examples of sustainable living, which will evolve and multiply in the years ahead. Several projects were delivered in partnership with Culture10, based at NewcastleGateshead Initiative. Culture10 manages North East England's world-class festival and events programme.

Dott 07 projects aim to improve five aspects of daily life: movement, health, food, school and energy. The focus of the initiative was on grassroots community projects; but there were also projects involving more than 70 schools, plus exhibitions and events in museums, galleries and rural sites. All events explore how design can improve our lives in meaningful ways.

The year culminated in a free 12-day Dott 07 Festival in Baltic Square on the banks of the River Tyne. It brought together the results of the projects and enabled all those involved to share experiences and plan what to do next. Outstanding achievements were celebrated in the Creative Community Awards. Above all, the festival was an opportunity for many more people to find out how to participate in similar projects - and thereby accelerate the region's transition to sustainability.

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