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Archive for the ‘Clean Energy’ Category

The Winter Commeth

Peter Scargill in Lake Negratin

I don’t know about you but I HATE winters. We’ve spent the summer here in Galera and even when it’s raining the temperature rarely falls below 23c and is usually 10c higher. It’s been a great summer but reality sets in and the weather is starting to show cracks – there’s been the odd cloud and last night there was some rain. It won’t be long before the days are fine but the evenings too cool to stay outside at midnight – perhaps another month – meanwhile back in Northern England it’s probably that way already.

We’re planning an extension in Spain so I can work without messing the house up – meanwhile in the UK we’re moving – not 100% sure WHERE thanks to a slight screw-up at the sale and purchase end but no doubt within a couple of weeks we’ll be planning the new house and my workshop (within fairly close range of Wark I suspect). Here in Spain I want to use solar power and it’s looking good – I have a pilot setup with battery, solar panel and solar controller, enough to light up an office without any problem – I don’t think the same setup will work in the UK where we have maybe 10th of the sunlight! There are some GREAT new E14 LED candle lights out now and I plan to make extensive use of these in future, abandoning the rather coarse-looking compact fluorescents as I think their day has come and gone.

However it all makes for excellent winter planning – and scouring Ebay for suitable products to do the job. Andalucia in winter isn’t a great deal warmer than Northumberland and often cooler at night but at least the sun stays out most of the time! Meanwhile for any techies looking in – I’ve just finished a pretty good solar powered cricket generator – code and info here. http://scargill.wordpress.com/2013/08/28/digistump-cricket-generator/

Project Production Line

It’s been a quiet weekend up to now, got my grandson over, last night we had WAY too much to drink with friends so I’ve been hiding away in my office with the soldering iron to recover. The Internet Thermostat is sitting testing 24/7 – I’m determined to leave it for a couple of weeks to make sure it is reliable before actually using it to control heating!

tmpB2BCSo, having grasped the basics I’m now 90% through my next project. The board you see to your right is an 8-relay controller, capable of switching 8 devices (lights, heaters etc etc) at up to 2Kw each. You see the relay panel at the bottom, microprocessor on the left and Ethernet controller on the right. The primary control is via the Internet, from, say, my iPhone but I’ve added infra-red remote control (the little green thing top left) and tomorrow depending on the weather I plan to add short range radio control also. The idea being that this would be controllable by short range radio but also that the power of the board could be extended to a further up to 8 relays (or more) for those hard to wire places… depending on the reliability of the radio (I know it works as I had a test rig up with two of them chatting to each other – but I don’t yet know how reliable the radio is.

That’s my next job…

Solar Panels–worth it or not?

All that effort for £70 a year?

Back in October 2010, a company visited my home village of Wark  in Northumberland, offering free solar panels for anyone who wanted them – while offering to sell said panels for those who were keen to pay and take advantage of the “generous feed-in tariffs”. By solar panels I mean photovoltaic panels, the ones that generate electricity, not the ones that heat up water.

I was originally very cynical but decided to “give it a go”. I missed the original meeting at the town hall where the benefits were discussed but called up the company who then came to visit me. The plan was to fit panels to our flat roof here in Wark but also to our more standard roof up in nearby Bellingham.  Both are south-facing and therefore able to make best use of the sun. We opted for the free version. We received paperwork suggesting that we could make a saving of around £220 a year.

To explain, when the companies fit free panels to your home, they make money not only on solar power you use, but also solar power you don’t, via the frankly ludicrous “feed-in tariff”. The government used to give grants for buying solar panels but in 2010 changed that to one in which they pay you for all the solar electricity you produce – whether you use it yourself or “feed it back into the grid”.

This quickly became big business – but it was always entirely artificial – making money for those who provide these systems for free – or for those who buy them outright, NOT because it is green or in any way an alternative to other forms of power, but because of the taxpayer-funded highly-inflated feed-in tariff described above… so when you’re told that someone has “gone green” – they can be as inefficient as they like – and you, the taxpayer, are paying them an economically unsustainable amount per kilowatt that they generate – even if they use it for their own purposes – how stupid is that?

After much conversation and receiving brochures of suitable panels, the company finally admitted that the flat roof on our house in WARK was a non-starter which left us with the property in Bellingham. We signed up for the panels but then heard nothing for months. I rang up and was told that due to changes in funding, for the pitched roof in Bellingham we’d have to re-do the paperwork.

I then read this which is suitable for a UK audience (and has been updated January 2017, the grant situation in the UK having recently gone downhill)…

http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/utilities/free-solar-panels

American audiences might find this one more interesting – https://understandsolar.com/much-can-solar-save-time/

It would appear from the former that if you take the free option you could be looking at savings of around £70 a year, a figure significantly LESS than was originally suggested to us… the company on the other hand stood at the time to make £1,030 a year, no doubt less today. Assuming the panels last £25 years (that is a big assumption) and the tariff lasts that long, that’s not a bad rate of return on their investment – which according to Money Saving Expert is typically around £12,000.   That profit is coming presumably from the tax-payer. George Monbiot of the Guardian called the whole thing a rip-off – read his blog here. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/mar/01/solar-panel-feed-in-tariff

And what happens if you sell your house? Best check the fine print on that one…. would potential buyers of your home be wary of getting involved with a house where the roof is leased out? What if your roof gets damaged underneath the panels? Who pays for repairs and refitting panels?

The government says the feed-in tariff payments will run for 25 years – but then this is a government so broke it is reducing public sector pensions after it’s predecessor took every cent they could out of businesses and still left us in the lurch. What if tomorrow there is a major breakthrough in solar or wave power, dwarfing current efficiencies and finally making a practical alternative to coal and oil and reducing the cost of electricity– does anyone believe that a broke government will keep to that 25-year commitment for the older technologies – and trust me – as things stand in the UK the government is not going to have a lot of spending money in the next decade.

So, £70 a year real saving on the one hand and “earn up to £1,500 a year tax-free” thanks to publicly-funded payments on the other (http://solardirectsavings-px.rtrk.co.uk/?utm_source=Reach%2BLocal&utm_medium=PPC&utm_campaign=Reach%2BLocal)

How green is this? Doesn’t seem very green to me.  How else could you save £70 a year?

Well, it’s been suggested that unplugging your mobile chargers could save you money – personally I think (I KNOW) that is rubbish. I went out and bought an inline meter to check electricity use – not one of those units which tells you how many kilowatts you’re using (though they are great) but one you put between the wall socket and an individual appliance. The amount of electricity used by modern “switched” chargers is insignificant. The amount used by your SKY box on the other hand, in my case is 23 watts and not much less on standby – that is all day, every day.

Let’s look at that, 23w, 24/7 totals 200kw/h a year. At 15p a kw/h that’s £30+ a year.  It does not therefore take too much thinking about to realise where you can start to make savings. Put the Sky unit on a timer 9check the power consumption of the timer) so that it is OFF during times you’re unlikely to be making recordings or watching TV – which for some of us is 75% of the day.

Let’s take lighting – I recall some time ago listening to two women in Tescos supermarket as they were looking at the lighting section and one, rather horrifyingly ignorantly said “Oh, we don’t use those in our house” referring to compact fluorescent lighting… well, at the time I did and today (2017) I’ve moved on and use LED lighting. High power incandescent lamps have been taken off the shelves and rightly so – if it were up to me I would ban ALL of them – especially the new “trendy” filament lamps as there are LED equivalents which are just as authentic looking. I’m working under powerful, warm LED lighting right now and it is wonderful. I have 3 LED spots, using 3w each  and replacing what would have been at least 20w halogens though I suspect the output is half way between the 20w and 50w halogens. Compact  fluorescents were cheap a while ago (subsidised) but are no longer so and simply are past their time. For now LED is the future and if you can avoid getting ripped off on purchase cost (which means don’t buy them at B&Q) they will repay the investment quickly.

So the saving by converting to low-current LED lighting and perhaps putting that Sky box on a timer could match the total savings you make with a complex and risky solar panel installation – and you can still opt for solar panels in the future when they make them a lot more efficient – or as is likely to happen ultimately, a large second hand market appears?

So what of solar hot water? Isn’t that a better bet? According to the energy savings trust you’re looking at anticipated savings of between £50 and £85 a year… a mere drop in the ocean.  http://www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/Generate-your-own-energy/Solar-water-heating

Venter on DNA and the Sea

This is a video of Craig Venter back in 2007 discussing the progress they were making with artificial life – and how this might be adapted to various uses – i.e. ultimately replacing the petrochemical industries and other gob-smackingly outstanding ideas….   towards the end I was amused when he referred to the 18 months they took out for ethical policy studies… in which they delayed their studies in 1999, in which he says…"every major religion participated in this… it was a very strange study because the various religious leaders were using their scriptures as law books and they couldn’t find anything in them prohibiting making life… so it must be ok"….

Weird – on the one hand you have a guy talking matter-of-fact about stuff that anyone who’s NOT watched him most likely thinks is distant future sci-fi… and on the other hand what kind of crazy state is science in where it has (at least in the US, I hope to Betsy not in the UK) to go talking to religious leaders  for their approval – I thought they only did that in the dark ages!!

Anyway, thankfully none of this has stopped progress and they’re now so far advanced, you can’t help thinking that any day soon we’re going to hear something major – like an alternative to oil, cures for major diseases… it might be just Venter’s style but listening to what they’ve already achieved makes one proud to be around in the early 21st century. WELL impressed….. and his latest video wherein they’ve put together the first artificial working life complete with embedded website address in the DNA – well….mind-blowing…

Here are both videos – I suggest if you’re interested watching them in order…. the TED videos are just SO much better than watching pap on TV as they don’t have to cater for the lowest-common denominator – yet still usually manage to keep the talks surprisingly understandable to the lay-person.

 

Finally a Decent Fuel Cell?

When I watched this I was thinking “total con artist” until I saw the customers… this actually looks like it might be real!??!?