‘Sustainable energy Oscars’ reward innovation from Barnsley to Bangladesh

A Tanzanian brick-firing stove run on rice husks and Britain's biggest biomass scheme heating Yorkshire council flats were among the winners of this year's Ashden awards - the 'Oscars of Sustainable Energy.'

The cream of the UK’s green movement gathered at the Royal Geographical Society for the presentation ceremony on Thursday night, to be welcomed by Prince Charles via video link, followed by Conservative leader David Cameron who presented the awards.

In the UK, first prizes went to Barnsley council for replacing traditional Yorkshire coal with waste wood for heating public buildings, a Gloucestershire energy efficiency project helping pensioners stay warm and cut carbon emissions, and two renewables-powered primary schools where pupils learn about sustainable energy through first hand experience.

Barnsley’s Biomass Heating from Waste scheme took the first prize for renewable energy generation for its “pioneering work in demonstrating that wood is a practical and cost effective fuel for 21st century towns and cities.”

By installing wood chip boilers run on sawmill and forestry waste across its public buildings, the council has cut CO2 emissions by 3000 tonnes a year, or 40%, and hopes to increase the saving to 60% by 2010.

Among the international winners was the Mwanza rural housing programme in Tanzania, whose method of firing bricks for house-building using vegetable waste such as rice and coffee husks prevents deforestation by saving around 1.5m tonnes of wood over five years.

The project was rewarded for “using sustainable fuel sources to create profitable new businesses and provide decent housing while at the same time protecting the local environment.”

Presenting the awards, David Cameron said: “It is a real privilege to be able to reward people who are making a difference on the ground. The people and projects we are celebrating today are pioneers in a global quest to save us from the consequences of our own actions.”

Perhaps bringing everyone down to earth somewhat, former Chief Scientific Advisor to the Government, Lord May, pointed out that the clean energies presented at the awards still only produce around 3% of the earth’s total energy.

“Let’s not forget that today globally 80% of the energy that humanity uses comes from burning fossil fuels and putting CO2 in the atmosphere, 10% from biomass, much of it also not sustainable, 7% from nuclear… Only 3% from things like wind turbines and hydro and other genuine renewables,” he said.

“Previous generations have faced problems like this in small settings. The Easter island faced it as they cut the last tree, and we have to ask ourselves what did they say as they cut the last tree? Did they say ‘it’s trees not jobs?’ Did they say ‘let’s have more research?'” he asked.

Goska Romanowicz

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