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by Robert Kyriakides
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Close up view on the array of panels. Click for a closer view.
Ten years ago, in June 1992, the world’s nations sent their leaders to Rio de Janeiro where they debated the issues of how states should develop their own resources in the context of environmental concerns. They proclaimed some 27 statements that became known as the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. Three fundamental principles emerged.

Principle 2: States have... “the right to exploit their own resources ... and the responsibility to ensure that (their) activities do not cause damage to the environment of other states”.

Principle 4: “Environmental protection shall constitute an integral part of the development process”.

Principle 8: “States should reduce and eliminate unsustainable patterns of production and consumption”. The states attending Rio adopted a series of agendas in order to provide detailed guidance on the implementation of policies to put the principles into practice. Agenda 21 sets out where the states agreed to many differing environmental measures, ranging from managing fragile ecosystems, conserving biological diversity, combating deforestation, to environmentally sound management of hazardous wastes and the protection of the atmosphere.

The problems of pollution and the solutions being addressed by Agenda 21 are founded in local activities. Accordingly, Agenda 21 declared that the participation and co-operation of local authorities would be crucial. It was rightly understood that local authorities construct, operate and maintain environmental infrastructures, oversee planning processes, establish local environmental policies and building regulations. Section 28 of Agenda 21 broke new ground. Section 28 mandated all local authorities to undertake a consultative process with their populations and achieve a consensus on ‘a local Agenda 21’ for the community. The process of consultation was aimed at increasing household awareness of sustainable development issues. Local authorities were also required to assess and modify policies, laws and regulations to achieve Agenda 21 objectives.

Urban communities containing large populations of less affluent people need to address the needs of their population in environmental terms. If a family is too poor to afford heating and hot water (fuel poverty is a real issue today) they have to find a way to eliminate fuel poverty without increasing pollution or
contributing to global warming.

In Southwark, an inner London Borough with a highly sophisticated attitude towards its Agenda 21 obligations, they sought solutions that could both address fuel poverty and operate environmentally sound policies.

One part of Southwark, the Bellenden Area, is designated as a renewal area. When you visit it, you find a happy community with a real sense of neighbourhood. Roger Young, of the Bellenden Renewal Area, decided to install solar water heating and energy efficient gas heating in a block of flats. The block was chosen because its design and construction made any installation difficult and it was felt if a successful installation could be created here it could be repeated. Genersys, whose solar collectors and home energy system was chosen for the project, were confident that their products could be
successfully installed. KSC Project Management and Diamond Build undertook the installation, under Genersys’ direction.

The project brought experts from around Europe. Specialists in solar compatible condensing combination boilers, Eco-Hometec in Doncaster, supervised their installation and commissioning. An expert from Genersys’ associated company, ThermoSolar AG, spent a week in Southwark sharing his skills. The system design involved installing as an integral part of the roof of the block of flats, five sets of solar panels in arrays of three on a south facing pitch, and four sets of solar panels in arrays of two and three in an east-west combination. The building required a new roof, which was designed to incorporate nine large hot water cylinders connected together to store the solar heated water. Nine individual small solar designed combination-condensing boilers were fitted. The system was designed so that when the water in the cylinders was hot enough, it would pass through the boiler without igniting it. The condensing boilers also provided space heating for each flat.

The project was successfully completed on time but with two problems. It proved impossible to commission one boiler. The tenant’s gas meter smart card had run out and he could not afford to replenish it. In future we expect that the resident will find his energy costing one third of what it previously cost.
Another complained that the hot water, provided by solar collectors produced without burning an ounce of fossil fuel, was too hot. This was reported on a bank holiday and solved within two working days.

The Bellenden project had its roots in the grand declaration at Rio 10 years ago. By the vision of one local authority, responding to the needs and requirements of its citizens, sustainable environmentally friendly development has taken place, fulfilling the needs of poor people to live in decent conditions and will continue to fulfil their needs for many years.

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