The Big Challenge: Renewing the energy for change in Sheffield

Jeana Malhi

Jeana Malhi

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“A strong sense of community is so abundant in Sheffield - as seen by the number of community groups and projects,” said Jeana Malhi, considering the existing strengths the city can draw on to boost the environment. “If the city taps into these strengths the natural boost for the environment will be aided and encouraged further.”

Jeana is a member of the team at Sheffield Renewables - the not-for-profit social enterprise, which oversees renewable energy schemes from development to operation. The group’s priorities for the year to come include delivering more solar panel schemes, bringing as much as 56kW of power.

An autumnal shot over the ladybower reservoir this week, thanks Mike Smith

An autumnal shot over the ladybower reservoir this week, thanks Mike Smith

“The first scheme is ready for installation, this will be a 26kWp scheme on the roof of vegetarian wholefoods seller Lembas in Heeley. The second scheme is towards the end of the development stage.”

Jeana’s dream would be to make Sheffield ‘the most energy-secure city in the country’.

“This would require changing behaviour and consciousness on renewable energy and increasing the awareness of community-owned renewable energy. Additionally, an important practical step would be to change the grid infrastructure due to high connection costs and insufficient grid capacity for community groups. Grid innovation is necessary to link the extra energy generation from community renewable energy projects to local energy use. Otherwise the energy generated can only be sold to large power companies, taking our money out of our local economy.”

Sheffield’s ‘strong local ties and resilience’ mean Jeana is proud to be a resident here.

“As an example, Walkley Library is run by volunteers now as members banded together and were able to keep an invaluable resource for the community.”

And she approves of the drive to rebrand Sheffield as the country’s premier ‘outdoor city’.

“This current movement publicises the ways in which Sheffield is an outdoor city, claiming the official title. We have the Peak District, with highly popular climbing facilities, reservoirs, dams, parks, cycling routes and more trees per person!

“The outdoor city movement has a good mix of easily located activities that can be accessed by a variety of people overall.

“However, I do think it may not reach all members of society though, with most of the activities needing some sort of finance - to buy or hire a bike and pay for transport, or climbing equipment.

“Also to be an outdoor city, the city should have to look after the environment through more than just managing footfall, but changing to cleaner, more secure sources of energy than fossil fuels. Investing in electric public transport to cut pollution and improve air quality is the key to success.”

Becoming a truly cycling-friendly city is ‘definitely achievable’ for Sheffield, Jeana continued.

“There is free training and bike maintenance from organisations like Pedal Ready and Dr Bike. I think the biggest obstacle is the infrastructure. The current investment in transport links do not integrate cycling and this is a key barrier.

“The number of accidents on tram tracks is a good example, with little being done to combat the issue. There are also not many well-planned cycle routes planned around the city. A way to make cycling truly a widespread option are safe routes and infrastructure for locking up bikes.”

Jeana said people were responsible for being ‘more conscientious and aware’.

“But many individuals feel they can only create a change when they are part of a more important foundation through locally-led groups or council initiatives. An effective way to change mentalities is through empowerment of individuals on issues regarding the environment - but in the wider context it is still the responsibility of the Government to enable change.”

n Visit www.sheffieldrenewables.org.uk for details.

The Big Challenge will return in the new year