Howard Johns standing outside

In the Green Room with Howard Johns

Dec 29, 2017 - 4min read



In the Green Room we talk to leading figures in sustainable technology to find out how environmental issues shape their lives and behaviour, and how they envision technology will change the world for the better.

This week, we spoke to energy revolutionary and solar entrepreneur, Howard Johns – a man with over two decades of experience in solar, renewable and community energy. After completing a degree in energy technology and the environment in the early 1990s, Howard became a protester, about energy and climate change, trying to stop, among other things, the digging of an open-cast coal mine and being evicted from a tree in the process.

 

In his spare time, Howard goes by his alter ego DJH, an eco DJ who has played for over 20 years at clubs, parties, forests and mountaintops. A lover of outdoor parties with his trusty solar sound system, his uplifting mixes span the genres of reggae, funk, Afrobeats, Latin, pop, house…all the way to dubstep. 

“I built a solar sound-system about 20 years ago, so I’ve always had that and put on parties in the woods. It’s in its third or fourth iteration now.”

My tech hero is…

Well, I’m not much of a techy person, so someone I see as more of a social pioneer hero is Hermann Scheer. He died a few years ago but he was a member of parliament in Germany and he pushed through the laws around renewable energy in the early 1990s. He had a vision for the energy transformation that’s going on around the world, way ahead of others, and was in a position to do something about it. He pulled together a coalition of green and socialist ideas that all the incumbents were fighting, and created the global solar industry in the process. 

The next technology that has the opportunity to transform society…

Is solar. Its costs have plummeted so it’s become the cheapest form of energy in most places in the world. In many ways, it’s less about innovation and more about deployment. We have all the technology we need right now to solve the problems – the next challenge is deploying it. I predict what we’ll see is the continued fall of the cost of solar and the continued adoption of it, especially in countries like China.

“It’s a passive house … it doesn’t require heating – it’s heated by the body temperatures and equipment in the home.”

The most sustainable room in my house is…

I’ve just rebuilt a house, by taking an 1860s end-of-terrace Victorian brick house completely apart, and putting it back together again. I haven’t quite finished yet, but I’ve gutted it and lined it with wood-fibre insulation, so it’s a breathable, super-insulated house now – with triple glazing. The whole thing is pretty eco-friendly as I’ve put a massive solar thermal ring on the roof, making heat which is then pumped down into the floor, and I will add solar electric as well to it.

There’s a movement called Old Homes, Super Homes and I essentially followed their lead to create a passive house – one which is designed to not require heating, so it’s heated by the body temperatures and equipment in the home. I’ve added an extension as well, and that is built to passive house standards, and I’ve tried to get the rest of the house to a similar level so that it requires minimal or no heating.

My favourite sustainable company…

Is Tesla. By make something that’s ostensibly green desirable, that’s the key. Also, Jeremy Leggett and Solarcentury have done a great job over the years of holding up the banner for renewable energy. IKEA have also done well to bring the idea of greener living to people’s consciousness, so there are some good brands out there at the moment. Not many people know, but Google uses 100% renewable energy for electricity, they use a monster amount for their data centres so it’s pretty impressive!

 

The first time I became aware of environmental issues was…

I was originally meant to do architecture at university, but I didn’t get the grades as I wasn’t very invested in it. After talking to my sister about what to do next, I realised what I really was interested in was the environment. In 1993 I studied climate change in great detail, and it was shocking – sadly a lot of the things that were just theory back then are now actually happening. I did a lot of protesting after university and my early awakening, and people thought I was a complete loony, but I eventually trained as an electrician and a plumber so I could work out how to build solar systems to try and do something to help. 

My guilty, unsustainable bad habit is…

Meat eating. Though I only eat meat that’s from this really nice local biodynamic farm so that’s debatable. I was a vegetarian for 18 years, but having children changed my mind – having to feed them meant cooking meat again. But it’s not as unsustainable as people think, if you do it right.

 

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