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The Centre for Alternative Technology, Wales

Posted by Richard Hammond at 11:48 on Saturday 06 December 2008

Perhaps it’s all in the name, but I’ve always had the impression that the Centre for Alternative Technology was somewhere boffins tinker with tin pots, fridges run on coconut juice and lunch would be lentil cake. So when I went to visit it in September I was surprised to find that it is much more cutting edge...


A thoroughly modern hydro-powered lift (which looks like a ski-monorail) pulled me fifty metres up from the ground floor reception to the Visitor Centre – a glass fronted building packed with all the latest books and gizmos on 21st Century living. I stepped out of the sliding glass doors into a sprawling 7-acre outdoor experiment: there were dozens of state-of-the-art exhibitions that cover just about every eco technology under the sun, from solar thermals to wind turbines and vast woodchip boilers...


The collection of clever technologies is impressive, yet the Centre is hardly an assembly of passive museum pieces - the emphasis is on a ‘look and learn’ interactive experience; the idea is that you go away realising how easy it is to go green. I saw how much electricity I could produce in one day using solar collectors, I learnt how to cut my heating bill by a quarter, and how wind energy can be harnessed to provide energy for schools, industry and just about everything else needed to power the country. One of the many thought-provoking signs read: “A wind turbine can produce up to 80 times as much energy as it takes to construct, run and dismantle. A nuclear power station produces about 15 times as much energy, while fossil fuel power stations are in single figures.”



Above: CAT is powered solely by wind, solar and hydro technology


CAT may have been labelled eccentric folly when it was founded by a small group of scientists and engineers in 1973, but nowadays it’s an internationally renowned visitor centre, research and residential centre with 90 permanent staff, with a very practical and realistic take on how green technologies can be fit for the 21st Century. 


School groups can stay onsite at a showcase ‘Ecocabin’ and to cope with rising visitor demand a new residential centre is being built (using earth and clay), where all the waste will be recycled and it will be powered by renewable energy. In fact the entire Centre is already powered solely by wind, solar and hydro technology - one of the reasons why it stood out from the crowd in its category. CAT even manages to sell surplus electricity to the national grid. That would be impressive even for a small visitor attraction, but CAT pulls in over 60,000 visitors a year. If you want to learn more about water conservation, installing solar panels at home or just about climate change in general, you can download free ‘sustainability fact sheets’ from its website. Over 180,000 people already have. Here is a place that the world is beginning to learn from.


Half price admission if you arrive by public transport. Adults: £8.40, children under 15: £4.20, under 5s: cat.org.uk; tel: +44 (0) 1654 705950.


The Centre for Alternative Technology won the 'Best Project' in the Times Green Spaces Awards.

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