What better time to spend the first weekend of March away from Manchester than in the lush green welcoming Dyfi Valley of Wales. A group of 18 students and members of the Manchester chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) set forth for a splendid journey to the Centre of Alternative Technology (CAT) near Machynlleth, Wales from 4th-6th March.
CAT uses on-site energy from wind turbines, micro-hydro power plants, solar PV and solar heating. Its facility centre provides workshops and courses on renewable energy and other key areas. The demonstration of renewable schemes and the available low-carbon biomass, low power LED lighting and on-site renewable resources make you feel both excited and ‘seeing’ them for yourself.
Living in CAT’s eco-cabins, the wonderful twin-bedded small rooms and the environmentally friendly facility centre was an amazing experience for me. Engineers from diverse backgrounds fired logs in stove to monitor their heating and electricity usage in the smart eco-cabins. We cooked our own meals and made breakfast, surviving on food supplies that we brought with ourselves as the nearest market was a drive away from the isolated beauty of CAT. Eco toiletries were the only means to use in the bathrooms to avoid damage to the reed bed of drainage at CAT. We coped well with our limited number of 10-minute showers that we saw as dropping each time we looked at the analog meter in our cabin. Sharing and caring come off as a great blessing in a home with near strangers ready to become friends and have fun away from the monotonous university routine. Chess, cards, and jigsaw puzzles were a long lost memory that this trip brought back to my life, or perhaps to most of us.
We spent our time descending down to the lake and the reception or hiking on the hills up to the reservoir and the two turbines, which our guide cheerfully called as Nora and Vicky, named after two staff members of CAT who had put in a lot of efforts to help the centre from developing to this far.
The scared and shy sheep and the cooing robins were a fine company apart from a few visitors and enthusiasts at the centre. The weather was all so lovely to permit a smooth climb up the summit and have our packed lunch of sandwiches, crisps and fruits in the shade of a few trees in the woods.
The Saturday afternoon was spent on a practical activity of taking power output and efficiency of a demo micro-hydro turbine. A short fun activity though, but it was truly a nice learning experience for all. With our kind guide, Rod Edwards we performed this science activity out in the open in two teams. Hot coffee and tea were always welcoming whenever we came back to our cabins for rest from a lovely walk along the narrow, winding paths or a strenuous climb uphill.
We said farewell to CAT on Sunday afternoon and hit the town for a final comfy tea, hot chocolate, coffee and Welsh snacks before our train and mini-van decanted us back to Manchester.