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Centre for Integrated Energy Research

Green Man Festival

Muddy boots, leaking tents, and a homemade power station firing ping-pong balls at delighted festival goers as the heavens opened somewhere deep in the Welsh Black Mountains - this was public engagement at its most extreme!

It all started very sedately around a warm and dry meeting table where PhD students from the Doctoral Training Centre in Low Carbon Technologies at the University of Leeds as well as representatives from the University of Bristol and University College London learned of RCUK’s plan to fund an ambitious public engagement project with the theme of Energy at the Green Man music festival in Wales.

This unleashed a flurry of activity as the PhD researchers brainstormed ideas ranging from radioactive bananas to solar powered car racing, all with one aim in mind, to get people thinking and talking about where our future energy supplies will come from.

With a well established area for the fusion of science, art and nature, known as Einstein’s Garden, the Green Man Festival was ideally suited to the project, dubbed the Energy Factory. The overall concept was to give festival goers, many of them families with children, an experience of a range of low carbon energy technologies through games and fun activities.

The students manned six separate energy satellites, (solar, wind, nuclear, carbon capture, hydrogen and microbial fuel cells), all linked together by a central hub where after completing all the activities, festival goers could vote on thought provoking questions such as, ‘Which technology should be prioritised?’, and ‘Which would you prefer in your back yard?’.

The concept worked brilliantly, with hordes of excited children and adults alike, making their way around the satellites to collect their hand stamps, proof that they had taken part in the activity. Some even took great effort to memorise the facts they had learned just in case the stamps washed off in the continuous heavy rain. After completing the Energy Factory activities and casting their votes, they were rewarded with their very own Energy rosette. Of course, you cannot please everyone all of the time, as was demonstrated by the four year old girl dressed in a green fairy suit who burst into tears when she was told that she had already had her turn with the nuclear waste grabbers and she would have to give them to someone else.

For all those involved in the Energy Factory it was both a huge effort and a huge reward. To communicate the essence of one’s research in fun and imaginative ways to children and adults simultaneously is not an easy task. However, the well-used voting board was evidence enough that the engagement and debate it generates is worth the effort.