Richard Dyer studied part time on the MSc Renewable Energy and the Built Environment course at CAT, whilst also working at Friends of the Earth. He graduated in November 2015, so I took the opportunity to speak to him about the course and his plans for the future.
Why did you decide to study at CAT?
I had been interested in green stuff for years – decades in fact! I currently work as an environmental campaigner, I work for a fantastic organisation but I did the course because I want to do something more practical. The course was recommended to me by someone in the industry – an environmental consultant.
How did you find the course?
Fantastic, really inspirational! It was a real personal journey. I love the place, the location and this building, but there was also something about the fact that you come away here for five nights at a time that means you completely live it. It is very intense: no TV and not much phone signal; you rarely leave site. Every conversation you have is connected to what we are studying. I went for a walk or a run in the hills around the site every morning before breakfast.
I am currently a campaigner for Friends of the Earth, which is what I was doing when I started the course too. I found I spent a lot of time talking about the problems but I wanted to make it much more about creating solutions. I took the course to give me the practical knowledge to be able to do that. My science was a little rusty so I found some of that challenging – the electronics, statistics and computing. Overall it was very positive though, with great teaching and good camaraderie between the students which got me thorough those more challenging bits.
During one of the modules, The Reunion (BBC Radio 4 programme) about CAT was on the radio. Our lecturer Rob set up a radio so we could listen to the first half hour of it before our lecture started. Something that came up in that programme which I love about CAT is that it has never been afraid to try things that may not work, and to be honest about it. In a world where there is a triumph of PR and style over substance this is very refreshing.
I went home after the first week of the course totally knocked out by this place – energised by the possibilities. It has undoubtedly changed my outlook.
What do you feel your biggest achievement was on the course?
Finishing the MSc and doing well. I got my best mark ever in the dissertation; I’ve only just got the result a few weeks ago so I’m very pleased about it. I took on an ambitious, almost foolhardy!, subject for the dissertation looking at the viability of ground source heat pumps in dense terraced streets, and whether combining it with solar thermal makes it more viable. I’m looking at the possibility of publishing the results in a peer reviewed journal.
What are your plans for the future?
I don’t work in the energy side of Friends of the Earth at the moment, but I would like to move into that area. I’m looking at getting involved in a community land trust which might be interested in testing the ideas in my dissertation in real life, so that is very exciting. I’m also looking at career opportunities abroad, particularly in developing countries. My skills could also be useful for a large company looking to improve the sustainability of its building stock. The course has given me a good general skill base in renewable energy where I have the knowledge to be able to assess the viability of various schemes, and have some knowledge of all the issues. I want to find a way to put these new skills to use.