Centre for Alternative Technology: Going Mainstream


When the Centre for Alternative Technology was set up in Machynlleth, Wales, over 30 years ago, the technology it was pioneering was very alternative indeed. Wind turbines, micro-hydro, solar thermal heating and greywater harvesting were seen as marginal concerns in the oil and gas boom of the 1970s. But CAT was founded on the principle of seeing a more sustainable future: now, the ‘living laboratory’ in the Powys countryside acts as an education centre for everyone from tourists, to school parties, to postgraduate students. CAT was given an Ashden Award this year for its pioneering achievements in training the low-carbon workforce of the future.

The Centre offers a range of courses, from weekend and one-day introductions to areas of sustainable building and energy to full or part-time postgraduate qualifications. There are short courses on installing renewable technologies or building projects; these help people in trades such as plumbing or building gain valuable additional skills to help people generate and conserve energy. CAT is a unique site and institution, packed with every kind of renewable and sustainable technology, and consistently attracts students of every level who are motivated to learn the skills that are needed to change the way we use and generate energy. In the past 5 years alone, CAT has had over 400 MSc students an over 2,100 people attend short courses in sustainable energy, including 370 for accreditation in the installation of renewable energy technology. In 1994 CAT and the University of East London (UEL) started the MSc Architecture: Advanced Environmental and Energy Studies. In 2000 the course moved to CAT. In 2007 of the Graduate School of the Environment was established and now offers a variety of postgraduate qualifications.  CAT courses are accessible – you do not have to have a degree to become a graduate student, but have to prove relevant interests and experience. There is flexibility for part time and distance learning. The teaching approach is both practical and theoretical. As Paul Allen, External Relations Director, says 'students want to get their hands mucky and we can get them very mucky indeed!'


The new education building, the Wales Institute for Sustainable Energy (WISE) hosts the Graduate School of the Environment  and as you might expect, is built to the highest standards of sustainability – a highlight is its rammed earth lecture theatre. WISE stands as a real testament to the beauty and flexibility of sustainable architecture and has won several architectural awards.





There are over 80 short courses on offer, from one day to one week long:

– ‘Taster days’ in renewable heating, renewable electricity, solar PV, wind power.

– More in-depth courses on solar PV, solar water heating, biomass heating, wind power,

hydro power and sustainable building.

– Installer training for solar PV, solar thermal, biomass and ground source heat pumps.

– Other courses focused on sustainable economics, environmentally friendly water supply and sanitation, ecology, organic food production and woodland management.

CAT students go on to a wide variety of work in environmental and low-carbon sectors, including renewable energy consultants, sustainable construction and architecture, renewable energy installation companies, wind farm project managers and further study and lecturing in renewable energy to pass on the knowledge.

At our annual conference, Paul Allen underlined the scale of the challenge to sustainable skills in the UK. CAT believes that we urgently need a ‘skills and employment audit’ to highlight how many trained people we will need to de-carbonise at the rate required to meet our targets. From this we can devise a skills and training policy that will begin rolling a network of CAT-type training centres, one in each county of the UK. We will need a ‘green deal army’ of trained fitters, manufacturers, and installers to retrofit 20m homes. The new Green Deal (which looks unlikely to make any progress until September now) needs a ‘Green Skills Deal’ policy that delivers both direct funding support for relevant training organisations to enable them to rapidly develop new courses, and offer them at very cost-effective rates, and, upon successful completion, an assured period of employment to enable graduates to repay their investment in the training.

Listen to Paul on how more could be done to skill up for clean energy.Centre for Alternative Technology- Could we create "a CAT in every county"? (mp3)

Why not give one a visit? CAT is also open to the general public as a visitor centre and shop.

Read the case study and watch the film here

Follow them on Twitter @centre_alt_tech