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Energy Island

How far has Cornwall moved towards being self-sufficient in energy?
Waterfront Pubs in Falmouth,Cornwall, UK.

Two years ago, BuroHappold Engineering and the Eden Project hosted Energy Island, a workshop that explored whether Cornwall could become self-sufficient in energy.

Attended by around 100 interested and involved individuals and organisations from all over the county (together with national and international experts), it was clear that Cornwall already contained many pockets of inspiring activity, as well as a real passion for the transition to a sustainable energy system. The participants left enthused and keen to move Cornwall closer towards this goal.

To find out what had happened over the past two years, a follow-up workshop was held earlier this month. With many of the same individuals and organisations attending again, this was an opportunity to find out what progress has been made – and what is still needed.

Lessons for all

As people shared their stories, it became clear that many positive developments have taken place in Cornwall since 2015: Cornwall Council, for example, has framed strong energy-related targets for 2030, and Wales & West Utilities has carried out an in-depth study into how the county’s energy system works, with a view to applying the learning elsewhere.

However, Energy Island 2017’s participants identified a number of priorities for development that they believed would help accelerate Cornwall’s progress towards its goals.

These were access to consistent and long-term development and R&D funding; ensuring skilled workers can be developed and retained; changing policy relating to the energy market; integrating the approach to the whole energy system and developing a publicly shared vision for a Cornwall self-sufficient in energy.

What was particularly exciting was the sense that everything Cornwall learns could be transferrable to other communities, both rural and urban.

‘We want to understand what’s working in Cornwall, so we can learn and replicate it elsewhere – and also what’s not, so we can learn from the challenges and work to unlock them.’

Director of sustainability, BuroHappold Engineering

What’s next

Duncan Price, director of sustainability at BuroHappold, said he was ‘hopeful that Cornwall will show us how to take a systems-wide approach and find those breakthrough innovations that will accelerate our transition to a new low-carbon economy.’

To continue developing what has been started, participants agreed they would need a way to carry on collaborating, discussing their experiences and sharing their learning, potentially beyond Cornwall.

‘Through the original Energy Island we sought to help Cornwall organise its energy independence. There were already many great initiatives, and the continued pace of coordinated change since then has been inspiring. We are very happy that we have been able to continue to support this shared goal.’

CEO, BuroHappold Engineering

Why Cornwall?

Many places – particularly islands – are reliant on imported energy, leading to a flow of wealth out of the local economy, and reduced resilience. Cornwall – a peninsula, so not quite an island – is a region where this can be seen clearly.

Each year £1bn leaves the county in energy payments (nearly 15% of the region’s total economy). Rich in resources, but hit hard by the decline of its traditional industries, it currently qualifies for EU grants.

Reducing the amount of money leaving the county could help improve Cornwall’s economic prospects. If the county could produce more energy, consume less and sell the excess, it could balance supply and consumption to maximise benefits.

As Augusta Grand, head of policy at the Eden Project, explained, ‘Cornwall has incredible riches in renewable energy and ambitions to become a green peninsula. We want to work together to keep opportunities here in terms of economy, employment and environment.’

Cornwall has the potential to take a systems-wide approach, finding break-through innovations that could accelerate its transition to a low-carbon economy. It could show the rest of the UK the way.

Click here to find out more about the Energy Island project.

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