Alternative technology

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Alternative technology
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Alternative technologies serve to replace existing, environmentally harmful and capital- and energy-intensive technologies with sustainable technologies that behave non-violently toward people and nature. In particular, the focus is on reducing the use of limited resources such as capital, energy and materials and on designing the technology in an environmentally friendly way[1].

Historical background of the alternative technology

The term "alternative technology" became established particularly within the 1970s in the context of the Alternative Technology Movement and the founding of the Centre for Alternative Technology. The Alternative Technology Movement pursued the goal of promoting technologies that corresponded to its vision of an environmentally harmonious, socially sociable and economically stable society. Two distinct forms of activism emerged. One part of the Alternative Technology Movement encapsulated itself from society and built autonomous houses, practiced organic farming, and used renewable energy, while the other part formed intentional communities and promoted projects to create alternative technologies in politics, joined labor unions, and participated in political lobbying to make society more sustainable[2].

The Centre for Alternative Technology, or CAT, was founded in 1973 in Machynlleth, United Kingdom, by Gerard Morgan-Grenville[3]. Several volunteers built a place inside a slate quarry, through which it is possible to demonstrate to the outside world that it is possible to live ecologically, using renewable energy and following a sustainable lifestyle. In the beginning, about 20 employees lived there and were supplied with electricity from renewable energy sources [4]. Over time, the center for alternative technology has evolved from a visitor center to a charity that provides sustainable education and conducts research on alternative technologies such as photovoltaics, solar thermal, air-source heat pumps, wind turbines and biomass combined heat and power[5].

Types of alternative technologies

The above-mentioned alternative technologies used by the Centre for Alternative Technology as renewable energy for the operation of the residential community are discussed in more detail below. In particular, the technologies offer alternatives to fossil fuels such as natural gas, oil, and coal, which are the dominant energy resources used worldwide to generate energy[6].

Solar energy is energy generated by the sun. Sunlight is a free energy source that is freely available and can be used worldwide to generate energy. It is not a scarce resource, as the energy from sunlight can meet the world's energy needs 10,000 times more than is needed. Sunlight can be converted into heat or electricity in different ways[7]. In the following, two methods of generating energy with the help of the sun will be discussed in more detail[8]:

  1. Solar thermal is a process that focuses on sunlight. Here the thermal energy of the sun is used and the sunlight is converted into heat. This makes it possible to heat water economically and efficiently. This process is used especially for residential buildings, swimming pools and in the food and chemical industries.
  2. Photovoltaics is a process that converts sunlight directly into electricity. This means, for example, that a pocket calculator with built-in PV technology can be powered by electricity generated by sunlight. In addition, larger solar stations can supply several million homes with electricity.

Air-source heat pumps use the ambient air to generate heat. Air is a freely available resource and can therefore be ideally used to generate heat. The air-source heat pump extracts heat from the outside air and converts it into heating energy, for example[9]. The installation of the air-source heat pump is simple and inexpensive, and therefore represents an alternative technology for heat generation[10].

Wind turbines also represent a sustainable alternative technology for energy generation. Here, energy is generated with the help of wind turbines and the natural resource of wind. The wind is also a freely available resource that offers a cost-free and environmentally friendly alternative to fossil fuels. The use of wind turbines reduces atmospheric emissions caused by greenhouse gases and particulate matter[11].

Biomass combined heat and power is a process in which organic waste or specially grown plants are burned instead of fossil fuels. The combustion process generates heat and electricity. Since this process burns organic waste that has already been produced or uses plants that subsequently grow back, thereby absorbing carbon dioxide, it is a sustainable alternative to conventional fossil fuels[12].

Due to climate change and the harmful effects of fossil fuel combustion on the environment, alternative technologies will continue to play an important role in sustainable energy production in the future[13].


  1. McRobie, G., Williams, R. A. (1982), pg. 1-7
  2. Smith, A. (2004), pg. 1-2
  3. Anderson, J. (2012), pg. 215
  4. Smith, A. (2004), pg. 11
  5. Anderson, J. (2012), pg. 215
  6. Jieb, Y. A., Hossain, E. (2022), pg. 1
  7. Jieb, Y. A., Hossain, E. (2022), pg. 1
  8. Jieb, Y. A., Hossain, E. (2022), pg. 1-4
  9. Wu, R. (2009), pg. 16
  10. Bertsch, S. S., Groll, E. A. (2008), pg. 1283
  11. National Research Council (2007), pg. 1-4
  12. Prag, P. (2012), pg. 52-53
  13. Jieb, Y. A., Hossain, E. (2022), pg. 1


Author: Andrea Adkins