Power to the people – energising communities!

The world is facing the existential threat of climate change. We are in the midst of a climate emergency that has been, and continues to be, propagated by human activity such as burning of fossil fuels and deforestation. 

Well documented evidence shows us that, since the industrial revolution, the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and gas has led to rising levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

Now, more than ever, we are moving towards an energy revolution. People across the world are calling out for change. School children are striking and people from all walks of life are demonstrating in the streets. Greta Thunberg is not alone in this fight, from the UK to Kenya to Bangladesh, people are demanding that we do more and that we hold our leaders accountable. 


As was highlighted at the COP26 climate conference in November 2021, more people realise that if we do not act on climate change now, we face the risk of increasing temperatures, extreme weather events and devastating social effects.

A significant amount of energy use in the UK can be attributed to buildings. Those of us in the built environment profession have a major role to play in a just energy transition.”
Lorna Kiamba, Assistant Professor in Environmental Design and Architecture

In the UK, energy use in buildings is responsible for approximately 50% of our primary energy consumption and 30% of our greenhouse gas emissions. Whereas some steps have been taken in the right direction there is still more to be done. For example, although Britain has replaced a significant share of coal-powered energy with renewable sources such as wind and solar, our largest power source remains to be natural gas which is a carbon omitting fossil fuel. How is this energy used in our buildings? Well, primarily we use energy in our building to deliver comfortable environments. People hate to be uncomfortable! Of this energy use in our buildings, space heating accounts for the majority of our energy consumption - a significant amount of which is derived from natural gas. All things considered, it is clear that any realistic (or affordable) energy development strategy has to be led by energy efficiency in our buildings. Therefore the real task for us is to provide comfort in our buildings at a lower energy and environmental cost.

Lorna Kiamba, Assistant Professor in Environmental Design and Architecture, is conducting  research that aims to underpin a sustainable approach to the design of our buildings and cities, by integrating people, processes, and places, in order to address global warming and climate change. This involves addressing the architectural and urban implications of environmental issues ranging from energy use to occupant comfort. Recent data indicates that approximately 75% of UK homes fail to meet long-term energy efficiency targets. This means that the majority of households are spending more on energy bills and pumping out more carbon emissions into our atmosphere than is necessary. Additionally, a deficit in policy drivers to improve the quality of our housing stock is not helping address the situation. The consensus amongst many is that existing policies and their impact must be scaled up.

Nottingham is committed towards becoming carbon neutral by 2028. Lorna’s research initiatives, and involvement in steering groups such as the recently formed Carbon Reduction Advisory Forum of Nottingham City Homes, provide opportunities to actively feed into this transformation by demonstrating various aspects of energy efficiency in building design.

Traditionally, energy has been generated from fossil fuels at large power stations and transmitted across long distances to enable us to use it in our buildings. Moving forward, the phasing out of fossil fuels is dependent on the adoption of renewable energy sources that are generated closer to our buildings. This shift towards a decentralised and mixed energy system can increase security of supply, reduce transmission losses and lower carbon emissions.

In Nottingham, academics and researchers worked with a community based in the Meadows to show that using electrical energy storage within a residential community could reduce the energy costs for consumers while lowering carbon emissions. For a just transition, we incorporated public participation to help residents engage with energy matters by harnessing local natural resources to build social capital, creating revenue to address community needs and combat fuel poverty.
Community Energy Meadows Nottingham

This and other research continues to show that a transition to a clean energy system is within our reach. By embracing renewables, building better quality housing, upgrading existing stock and putting people at the centre of this transformation we can drive this forward. In the aftermath of COP26, we face a choice between recovering the carbon-intensive global economy that has set us on the path towards environmental breakdown, or accelerating the transition towards a future that prioritises the health of people and planet.

Contact Lorna Kiamba for more information.

Further reading

Tapping the potential for energy storage in community energy initiatives (read abstract)
Kiamba, Lorna; Rodrigues, Lucélia Taranto; Marsh, Julian

Community energy schemes: the role of public participation and engagement (read abstract)
Kiamba, Lorna; Rodrigues, Lucélia Taranto; Marsh, Julian

Just Transition: Pathways to Socially Inclusive Decarbonisation
COP26 Universities Network Briefing October 2020


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