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Social Research on Off-Grid Solar conference

ucyow3c23 December 2015

pencil-icon Written by Iwona Bisaga (PhD student at UCL Urban Sustainability and Resilience)

Off-grid solar

Image: SolarAid

The Social Research on Off-Grid Solar (SROGS) conference took place at UCL on 9 and 10 December. It was jointly organised by Declan Murray (School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh) and I.

This two-day event saw speakers and attendees from a diverse range of disciplines get together to discuss a variety of themes around off-grid solar solutions for energy access in Sub-Saharan Africa, South-East Asia and Latin America. Presenters included academics, PhD students, private sector representatives, policy makers, practitioners, physicists and engineers, which provided a solid overview of the sector and the challenges it is (and has been) facing since it came to prominence in the 1990s.

The series of presentations and breakout group discussions focused on existing business models and technology designs, linking them to the user experience and the ways in which users and customers are included in (or excluded from) those processes, and how that could be changed to better reflect their needs and aspirations throughout the whole value chain: from product design to after-sales services and dealing with solar waste.

Socio-economic impacts and what they mean for the users, including women and marginalised communities as particularly vulnerable groups, were given a lot of attention, though it quickly became clear that there still remains a lot to be done in order to fully understand what actual impacts off-grid solar has on users, and how exactly it is utilised within households.

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The divestment debate: should UCL sell up?

ucyow3c8 April 2015

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Written by Brigid Marriott, Faculty Communications Officer, UCL Laws

As calls for fossil fuel divestment grow, universities across the world are being forced to consider the management of their endowments. Stanford, Glasgow and Sydney universities have already begun the process of full or partial divestment from fossil fuels.

Oxford has decided to defer its decision on the issue, while Harvard is preparing to fight a lawsuit – brought by its own students – to try to force the university to drop its direct investments in coal, oil and gas companies.

Fiddlers Ferry power station

Fiddlers Ferry power station, Cheshire (credit: Alan Godfrey)

On Tuesday 24 March, the Guardian newspaper published a letter from UN Climate Chief Christiana Figueres to her alma mater, Swarthmore College, calling on the college’s administration to decarbonise its investment portfolio.

That same evening, six experts from across UCL gathered to debate whether the institution should do the same and sell off its £21 million investment in fossil fuel companies.

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Steven Chu – challenges and opportunities of climate change

Oli Usher1 April 2014

I’m sure Malcom Gladwell has something to say about Steven Chu. He is improbably successful in two totally different fields, and part of me wonders how he ever found the time to do it.

Steven Chu

Steven Chu. Photo: US Department of Energy

No sleep, perhaps?

Part-way through a stellar academic career in physics (including a Nobel Prize before he hit 50), Chu took a leave of absence.

In his four-year sabbatical, instead of sailing around the world or learning the violin like normal people might, he went to work for Barack Obama, serving as his Secretary of Energy until 2013, before heading back to a post at Stanford University when he was done.

In London to examine a physics PhD – Chu’s expertise is in laser cooling – he dropped by to offer a public lecture (Harrie Massey Lecture Theatre, 19 March) to a packed auditorium at UCL.

The topic: the challenges and opportunities of climate change – a subject he grappled with in his time in public office.

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The planet won’t be habitable in five years if we see five degree warming

news editor21 February 2013

pencil-iconWritten by Helen Fry, Research Assistant, UCL Institute for Global Health

1“The planet won’t be habitable in five years if we see a five degree increase in average temperatures,” warned Professor Sir John Beddington at the opening of UCL’s Global Food Security Symposium.

Sir John, the Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor, outlined two critical global challenges: a population that will increase to 9 billion by 2043, and temperature changes that leave us at an ever higher risk of extreme weather events, such as floods and droughts.

These issues exist on top of current food, water and energy insecurity: hundreds of millions go hungry, lack access to safe water and do not have enough electricity.

Will countries stop emitting carbon? Sir John doesn’t think so. Fuels such as shale oil and gas in the United States have too significant an impact on their economy. Instead, apologising for his negative outlook on the prospects of climate change, he turned to solutions in addressing food security, identifying climate smart technology and sustainable agriculture as two important tools.

Sir John’s talk was followed by a panel debate with Professor Mark Maslin (UCL Geography), Dr Sidip Mitra (Jawaharlal Nehru University, India) and Professor Richard Kock (Royal Veterinary College). Highlights included Professor Maslin describing Gross Domestic Product as an “awful measure of a country” and Professor Kock warning that vegetarianism as the solution to climate change is “fraught with false premise”.

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