Tag Archives: power

Global Successes & British failures?

Whilst the news has been focused on the financial aspects of the G20 summit of late, there’s also been a good scattering of news on international environmental issues. There seems now to be a general acceptance that we’re rapidly approaching, if not sailing past a ‘tipping point’ that sends us towards catastrophic climate change.

Even for those who don’t believe in the cause, there are undeniably good reasons to strive for energy efficiencies, and to remove the Western dependence on Middle-East oil. On a local scale, for individual homes and businesses, there’s a clear economic gain with a very short payback period by installing insulation and low-energy lighting, or simply by planning more efficiently.

At an international level, it’s surprising to see even fairly entrenched ‘traditional fuel’ organisations announcing that they are aiming for carbon-neutrality by 2050. Given this agreement includes companies like E.On and EDF, who are heavily into coal and nuclear respectively, it’s going to be quite a stretch. If they can collectively move forward on smart grid technologies and power distribution, though, the cost savings of stable, European power prices will be much more attractive than the volatile fossil fuels markets – especially if one factors in the cost of wars for oil. I was surprised by quotation from the president of the European Wind Energy Association on the relative prices of fuel –

At current fuel prices, electricity production costs from a new wind farm, coal plant and gas station are more or less the same.

I was under the impression renewables were still a fair bit more expensive. Of course, the statement needs to be taken with a pinch of salt given the source.

Elsewhere in the world, Barack Obama has promised to sign a climate bill into US law, a significant departure from the previous administration. The bill is likely to include a US cap-and-trade system for CO2 emissions, compatible with the system already in operation in Europe. It also seems that a significant amount of Obama’s economic stimulus money is being given to green power, which is great news. Interestingly even companies such as IBM are bidding for funds, in order to invest in smart metering & distribution. We’ll just have to hope that the bill doesn’t get too watered down, and that US carbon trading is more effective than the European scheme has been so far.

Closer to home, things are a little less optimistic. It seems there’s now a chance that the third runway at Heathrow won’t get built, but this relies on the fact that BAA won’t lodge a planning application until 2012, after the next general election, and that the Conservatives are significantly ahead in the polls. They have said they will prevent the project going ahead, as compared to the encouragement from Labour. Whilst I support many of the environmental moves the Tories are making – high speed rail instead of the runway being one – there are enough skeletons in their (not so hidden) closet that I couldn’t bring myself to vote for them.

Talking of Conservative idiocy, in a supposed cost cutting measure, Boris Johnson has cut the environmental staff of the GLA from 40 to 20, reducing the climate change & energy team from 10 to 3. This seems to fly in the face of his stated goal to make London the greenest city in the world. In isolation this would be frustrating – but perhaps necessary to save money – but alongside his abandoning of the Western congestion charge and paying mere lip service to other environmental schemes, it seems we’ll have to look elsewhere for leadership on the environment.

Current Cost update

After a few weeks away, I’ve had another fiddle with the Python scripts I run to graph data from my Current Cost meter. You can see the results here.

Of note, I’ve switched from using the Google Graphs API to RRDTool. This is for two reasons – the Google graphs API just seemed a bit fiddly, even using PyGoogleChart, and rrdtool graphs just seem pretty easy to output. In addition, it means I get averaging for free and don’t have to manage the database.

I’m still using the Python I tweaked from Dale Lane, but I created an RRD based on Paul Mutton’s guidance and update it using a Python module for RRD from Corey Goldberg. Feel free to ask for a copy of the scripts.

For some reason my sqlite db update script liked to bomb out after a couple of hours, but this seems to be working fine and has been gathering data reliably for the last few days.

Of course the whole point of this isn’t just to make pretty graphs, but to try and do something about our consumption. I’m already obsessing about the graphs produced, and they’re making it easy to see when something’s left on – our ‘base load’ seems to be about 200W, so anything more than this means something’s on somewhere.

Our most obvious heavy power usage is the oven, at about 3kW, but there’s not much I can do about that other than cook more with gas  – or eat more salad! It’s generally not on for long, so not the end of the world. Interestingly, the oven seems to heat up in under 10 minutes (solid power use, followed by intermittent bursts to keep it hot). I’d always assumed this to be longer, so that’ll save some time and money!

I’m also quite conscious of the fact we sit in the living room with a few 60W lights on in the evening for quite some time. They’re on dimmer switches so I’m now hunting for dimmable CFLs. The Megaman bulbs seem to come quite highly rated, but I’m not really sure how good they are. If anyone’s readig this and has some insight, feel free to leave a comment!

My next plan with the graphs is to work on aggregating daily/weekly data to show trending totals and ignore the short-term fluctuations, so that I can see how things are improving. When I get some time at home to myself I’m going to try and work out exactly where the 200W base load is going (NAS, router and Sky are the key candidates) and see if I can get it lower.

Current Cost

My Current Cost CC128 arrived yesterday, an eagerly awaited treat after my day at Home Camp ’08.

It’s already producing surprising data – when I got up this morning, the house seemed to have an ‘ambient’ power consumption of 278 watts, which seems pretty high, but I think the boiler was whirring away at the time.

As I sit here, with some lights on and various other bits and pieces, it’s reporting 674W, or £2.26/day at this rate of consumption.

The real value of the Current Cost though is the cable for attaching to a PC, so you can capture and report on the data. Not being too much of a coder, it’s going to be a bit of an adventure – the CC just outputs chunks of XML every 6 seconds, but handily there’s tons of good work out there to ‘borrow’.

I’m hoping to produce some graphs a bit like these, or even better make the lights on Corneliuss, my Nabaztag light up according to how much we’re using!

Energy efficiency as a game

I came across a great post at ecogeek.org (hmm, that makes me sound even more nerdy than I am) today on a topic we discussed at Home Camp. It talks of encouraging people to cut home energy consumption by turning it into a game, referencing the Behaviour, Energy & Climate Change Conference.

It seems that the idea’s gaining some traction – I see more and more references to it. I really like it as a way to get consumers as a whole to talk about their energy usage, something which most people see as inherently fairly dull.

Whilst products like the Current Cost or Onzo are great for getting individual households to reduce consumption by comparing against their own historic use – or even more simply watching how much money it costs to boil a kettle – encouraging people to be competitive seems a great way forward.

As well as the encouraging news that British users will all have a smart meter by 2020, we need to make sure the data provided by these meters is standardised and easily  ‘mashable’ to allow games like this to evolve on their own. I can imagine energy providers or other organisations offering ‘free stuff’ or discounts to the winners of ‘biggest loser’ competitions if all of us can share our energy data safely and securely – though of course there’s some irony in giving out products to people who are best at cutting their energy consumption. It’d be great to see, for example, the government offering discounts on your council tax bill as a reward for consistently reducing your consumption. I suspect, though, that would be a step too far given how most councils still live in the dark ages.

So far, a very basic form of this exists – my Carbon Account posts my carbon footprint to Facebook each time I add a reading, and I can compare with friends, but this is an entirely manual process reliant on my submission of meter readings once a month. I’m sure wider availability of Wattsons, Onzos and Current Costs will get this moving – I can see me handing them out to my family and friends as Christmas presents this year.

Meanwhile, take a look at this video showing a great example of how it might all come together.

Saving Energy

For some time I’ve been taking monthly meter readings of my gas and electricity bill – I started a little over a year ago when we moved into our new house. The new house is quite a lot bigger than our old flat, so I was concerned that the bills would be a lot more… Also, I’m keen on doing my bit to become more efficient.

This graph shows 4-weekly gas & electricity readings, divided by the number of days between readings, to give an average daily reading. The most striking is our gas usage. Obviously usage declined as the weather got better, but we had a condensing combination boiler installed to replace a 20 year old conventional one at the end of May.

Following the boiler install, our gas usage dropped to basically zero – helped in part by three weeks in the summer when we had our new kitchen installed, so the only use was hot water. Since the weather’s got colder again and we’ve had the heating on, you can still see a significant difference to our gas usage.

For electricity, we’re obviously using less than we were last year. We’ve been consciously trying to be more efficient – I’ve been gradually replacing light bulbs with CFLs, and trying to turn things off when not in use. I’m hoping that getting a Current Cost meter (or hopefully an Onzo) will trigger some further change in behaviour.

I also sold my car in the summer, and instead rely on Streetcar. This is saving me a lot of money, but also is an environmental benefit to a degree. There’s the debatable benefit of reselling my car theoretically avoiding someone else buying a new one, but also the fact that it’s encouraged me to think twice before driving.

What’s next? I’ve noticed our loft insulation isn’t up to much, and there’s a big hole where our cold water tank used to be, so I’m thinking of installing some Thermafleece.

I’d really like to double glaze all our windows, but large double-glazed sash windows don’t come cheap, so I think the best I’ll manage is to install draught strips around the doors and windows.

Any additional suggestions welcome!