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Updated Tuesday 15th June 2010

From COP15: Professor of Renewable Energy, Godfrey Boyle, talks about the courses he is developing for The Open University, as well as the work he has carried out in the field of renewable energy.

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Interviewer: What are you working on at the moment?

Well at the Open University I’m working on two courses. We’re remaking our very successful undergraduate course called Energy for a Sustainable Future which has got increasing numbers of students over the years, up to six hundred now, which is very nice. And I’m also working with a university in India on producing two similar but not quite identical parallel courses, postgraduate courses in renewable energy with the aid of a British Council grant that we recently got. That’s in collaboration with the Energy & Resources Institute in Delhi in India. That’s a very exciting project. They’ve already got their course up and running, both distance learning courses. Because one of the key constraints on the development of renewable energy over the next decade or so is the sheer lack of skilled people to do the work; there are a lot of people around but we need many, many more, and this is just our attempt to do our bit to try and increase the number of skilled people in the field. So that’s mainly what I’m doing at the moment.

I’ve been at the OU actually for a very long time and we’ve done a lot of work in testing innovative prototypes of wind and solar equipment and so on, and I’ve also done some energy systems modelling showing how energy efficiency could be improved and how renewables could make a big contribution to the energy supplies of, in the past I’ve worked on cities like Barcelona we did a project in the EU about that. But more interestingly I’m considering working on a model of the UK’s energy system using some software developed here in Denmark called Energy Plan, which allows you to take hourly data of the output of wind farms and shows how you can integrate wind and solar and other renewables with combined heat and power in an energy system that delivers all of the nation’s energy from renewables, and they’ve already done some work on that area both for Denmark and for other countries like Ireland. And I’m quite keen to do some work on that, and I’m just looking into it now. And having done a fair bit of that work in the past I think I could do it fairly quickly although I may live to regret that rather rash statement in that things always seem to take longer than you think. But that’s my current thinking anyway. Partly inspired by being here and seeing the wonderful things that Denmark’s done over the years and comparing them unfortunately rather unfavourably with Britain and the relative lack of activity in Britain until very recently.

Interviewer: What do you anticipate working on over the next 1, 5 or 10 years?

Yeah. Well I mean we’re working on these renewables courses particularly because the other great benefit of working on our renewables courses at the OU is that we co-publish our textbooks with Oxford University Press, and that means that they get read by people all over the place. They’ve been very, very successful; they’ve been adopted all over the world. So not only do we teach our own students in very large numbers but also we manage to get the word out too, in fact the renewables books sold twenty-five thousand copies which is remarkable. And also we put stuff up on the web as part of OpenLearn and SocialLearn later and now of course Creative Climate and even on iTunes, we’ve got stuff on iTunes too. So I’m hoping to continue with that sort of research and teaching dissemination work as much as possible. I also am quite keen to help someone I know do a small wind farm in a farm in Devon. That’s a more of a personal project. So that’s in a nutshell, that’s a glimpse of what I might be doing over the next few years.

Interviewer: Optimist or pessimist?

Well in fact I am optimistic. I’m a bit of a congenital optimist anyway. I mean I can get pessimistic at times but I think that particularly, I mean do you mean about the climate or about renewable energy? About the climate, I mean it does seem to be very touch and go whether we really could get to two degrees and 450 parts per million carbon dioxide concentrations by the middle of the century. Although I think it’s certainly possible, technologically and scientifically possible. It’s whether we’re prepared to mobilise the sheer effort of material and skilled people and so on to do it in that time. And I suppose the best example is World War Two, we were able to build three hundred thousand aircraft and vast numbers of tanks in less than five years and, you know, people said it was impossible at that time and of course they did it. So if we were to mobilise resources, and we have far more sophisticated production systems now than we did then, we could do it. It’s whether there’s a political will to do it and also whether there’s the financial acumen or the financial resources to do it. And the, on finances there is loads of money in the world, although there are interesting new proposals to mobilise special drawing rights which are sort of funny money that the International Monetary Fund can mobilise and has done in fact for the banks recently to rescue them, and so why shouldn’t we use it to rescue the planet? So there are some very, very clever schemes being proposed here this week to mobilise very large sums of money indeed I mean hundreds of billions to put into renewable energy over the world. But I’m very optimistic about renewable energy. About the climate it’s sort of whether we’ll get to two degrees is I really don’t know. I’m fifty-fifty on that.

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