#40 A Vision for 2040

This week’s blog post continues the theme of designing for our future, as discussed last week, with a review of an inspiring film I watched on Wednesday.

In a week which saw an announcement that the city of Sydney is now powered entirely by renewable energy and Kate Raworth discussed her work with the local government in Amsterdam to realise her theory of “Doughnut Economics” as part of a Covid-19 recovery; the film, 2040, by Australian filmmaker, Damon Gameau, really caught my attention.  The film presents an insightful view of how the world could look in 2040, using only techniques and knowledge that we have today. Hopeful as his vision is, it will of course only become reality if there is a global effort to tackle the climate issues that we have created over a relatively short period of time (approximately 250 years). It requires all the world leaders to realise how money could be better diverted for the benefit of the planet and all its inhabitants.  

Gameau began by looking at energy and the first part of his journey sees him travelling to Bangladesh, which I learned has the biggest Solar Home System in the World, using a platform called SOLshare. Access to electricity per head of population in Bangladesh is amongst the lowest in the world, with no existing distributed grid network. This provides an opportunity to build a grid from the bottom up, starting with individual homes, interconnecting homes within villages, then connecting individual villages together. With the Solar Home System, homeowners with solar panels and battery storage can purchase a box that allows them to buy and sell energy between homes. And, even if they can’t afford the solar and batteries, they can still buy the box, which allows them to buy energy when they need it. This decentralised, community energy micro-grid, interconnecting homes and villages means homes become the energy grid (or power station) for the whole country; offering many benefits for the community beyond reliable power supply – it means energy becomes democratic and far more efficient, money generated stays within the community, energy is consumed at the point of generation, communities are more resilient to increasingly extreme weather events.

The impact of localised energy generation is widespread throughout communities; for example, allowing local bazaars to operate into the evening, so improving wealth; and enabling children to study into the night, so improving their education;  all without the need to burn expensive and polluting kerosene oil, their only viable alternative.  The microgrid business model means that the value created is shared more equally with those that created it; and demonstrates that, in a future energy landscape, all homes could become part of a microgrid that helps power the economy.

It is possible for many countries to become close to running on 100% renewable energy by 2040. The point made in this film is that we have everything we need now on both a small and large scale to achieve 100% renewable status. As well as improving economies, society and the environment, this would also make us much more resilient to natural disasters, which are predicted to increase in intensity with climate change.

However, if we want to take serious steps towards achieving this, funding and support from governments are desperately needed to provide the necessary training and skills. It was suggested that the $10 million/minute currently spent on subsidising fossil fuels could perhaps be diverted to the cause!

Other concepts explored in the film included: driverless electric vehicles – to replace car ownership, reducing pollution, reducing stress and freeing up land within cities, which could be used for parklands or urban food farms; Regenerative Agriculture, to improve soil quality and its ability to sequester carbon; Marine Permaculture – simply growing more seaweed beds that can sequester carbon, provide habitats for sea life and food to replace some of the meat in our diets; and creating Environmental Dashboards within communities to connect people to their carbon and energy usage – In the city of Oberlin in Ohio, for example, a project to set up an Environmental Dashboard was designed to engage, educate, motivate and empower the community to make informed choices that conserve resources. It tested the principle that connecting people to their environment and their energy use has the potential to change behaviour. This is a similar concept to our Active Office Dashboard, which displays energy consumption and generation, alongside the carbon intensity of the energy being used.

The film was truly inspirational. By showing what is possible now and the impact even relatively small changes could make to climate change, it provided hope that it isn’t too late to make some informed choices now that will ensure a more secure, equal and resilient future for all.

Published by jorclarke

I am an Architect, currently working at SPECIFIC Innovation and Knowledge Centre, Swansea University, and studying for a Doctorate in Sustainable Built Environment (D.SBE), which is focused on developing an Active Building Design Guide.

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