ESO in conversation: Emma Arnold, WeSET

22 September 2021

We’ve collaborated with WeSET to create new materials to support schools as they educate the next generation about climate change, net zero and Energy Superhub Oxford (ESO). Emma Arnold, Education Officer at WeSET, tells us more about their involvement in ESO, the importance of the community and what she hopes to see in the future.

What does WeSET do and what does your job involve?

WeSET (The Westmill Sustainable Energy Trust) is the charitable arm of Westmill Wind and Westmill Solar, which are located on the Wiltshire/Oxfordshire border.  Our focus is education, talking to people about renewable energy, the site at Westmill and the benefits of community ownership.  Our strength lies in the dedication, experience, vision, and expertise of volunteers on whom we rely. There are many and diverse skills amongst the Trustees, Advisors, Officers, Supporters and Guides. As Education Officer, my role is to design and promote our education pack (a range of free, off the shelf lesson packs aimed at KS2/early KS3, for teachers, tutors, or home schoolers), to design and deliver activities and projects and collaborate with other community energy groups to promote renewable energy and sustainability, and hopefully engage, inspire and empower children and young people.

How can community energy projects help us accelerate net zero?

At the most fundamental level, they increase our access to renewable energy, however community energy projects are about much more than that. They get people involved, prompting discussion and debate, and offering opportunities for education.  They give members of the community an opportunity to engage at various levels and invest (financially possibly, but also emotionally) in the project and its success.  I believe that once involved in a renewable energy project, you start to re-evaluate your own energy use and take positive action which might be anything from changing to a green energy tariff, to replacing incandescent light bulbs with low energy alternatives, to fitting solar panels on your home. Investing in something sustainable can make you more aware of living sustainably.

What are you working on right now?

We are running tours and creative workshops with the hope of starting conversations about what people are hoping the COP26 climate conference in November will achieve. One of the workshops, which we are running in collaboration with the ‘Moths To A Flame’ project, involves up-cycling HDPE milk bottles to make moths which will be decorated and displayed and then sent to Glasgow (via Electric Vehicle) for display (alongside around 20,000 other moths!) in the botanic gardens during the conference. We are also encouraging people to record and send ‘whispers of hope’ for the conference, which will be played as part of the installation. Fun fact: a group of moths is called a whisper!

What role do schools and universities play in tackling the climate crisis?

A big one! Every time I go into a school or meet a school group through my work at Westmill I am amazed by how much children and young people already know about issues surrounding climate change.  I am also in awe of their enthusiasm and willingness to engage, question, discuss and offer their own ideas about these issues.  It is a cliché to say that children are the future and, whilst true, I do worry that too many children today feel that they have been left with this problem to resolve so education should be a partnership.  Educators need to support and inspire but also, to act themselves, it has to be ‘do as I do’, we are in this together!

What challenges do they face?

I worry that, if we approach it the wrong way then the challenges they face will seem too big to tackle.  Schools and Universities are busy places and (having been a teacher), I know that it can be difficult to get visits, externally led projects etc into the timetable.  This is why we are trying to promote our free materials, they come with lesson plans, worksheets and a delivery guide so are ready to go!  It is also why, at the moment, we are focussing on KS2/3 where the timetable may be more flexible prior to GCSE, A-Level etc.

How are WeSET and Energy Superhub Oxford (ESO) working together?

This is a really exciting collaboration for us, we are working with ESO to create educational materials, specifically case studies for use in local schools.  It is an exciting prospect for schools too, KS3 and KS4 Geographers in Oxford and the surrounding area will have the opportunity to explore a landmark project as it happens in their local area.

Preview of some of the new ESO educational resources aimed at KS3/4

Why is this work important?

It is important because, to my mind, learning is always enhanced by seeing what you have learnt in ‘theory’, in action.  In this case it also involves new technologies at the very beginning of their rollout and there is as yet nowhere else they can see and find out about all three elements (the Hybrid Battery, the EV charging network and Ground Source Heat Pump installation in social housing) in one place. We are often hearing about ‘green jobs’ and ESO also gives students an opportunity to explore what these might be and whether they may be for them.

What is the most exciting thing about Energy Superhub Oxford?

The fact that it is happening now.  It is action and infrastructure and that is what we need if we are going to succeed in achieving net zero. I am especially excited about the battery as I often get asked about storing excess energy generated by renewables, and the battery gives my answer a new and positive dimension!

What impact do you hope the project will have in Oxford and further afield?

I hope that it will give people peace of mind when moving to electric vehicles. I also hope it will inspire us to get out of our cars and make use of electric public transport as well.  I hope that it will give people increased confidence in the reliability and availability of renewable energy and that it will serve as an example of what can be done.  Most of all I hope that similar projects are introduced across the UK.

Do you have any messages for global leaders at COP26? What outcomes are you hoping for?

I hope the emphasis is on actions rather than words.  We all too often hear the right things being said, however I don’t think there is enough urgency.  Targets may be set and that is a start but, pointless unless plans are implemented, and funding is found to meet the targets.  I would also like to see much more solidarity. Climate change is a whole world issue and countries must support each other.  It should never be about the richest countries competing as to who has the best and most imminent target dates, we are all in this together and positive action will benefit us all.


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