Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Tales from the Engine Shed

Today I have reached a milestone achievement with my waste vegetable oil generator system.

The 2nd hand emergency lighting unit that I hauled back from Wales last December is now working as a 5kW pure sine wave inverter.

That's it on the right of the photo - about the size of a single wardrobe. Two inverters units rest side by side and the bottom two shelves contain the eight 100Ah batteries.

I tried earlier in the year to get the inverter to run, but without success, solely becausse I was not giving it enough voltage. It has a special circuit that doesn't activate until it sees about 118V dc and then it springs into life. This is designed so that it won't work unless the batteries are in a good state of charge.

Likewise the inverter senses when the batteries get too low, and cuts the inverter power. This prevents the the inverter from completely flattening the battery.

The inverter is now running and producing up to 5kW of power, but the key thing is that it produces a pure sine wave at precisely 50Hz and 237V, which is essential for running modern equipment such as PCs and believe it or not, washing machines!

I now have to learn how to use the inverter to efficiently power my house. Clearly I don't need the full 5kW all the time, and at the dead of night, the house uses only about 100W keeping the fridge and freezer running.

The key to efficient use, will to run the Lister at different speeds, depending on how much demand for power is put onto the inverter. When more power is demanded, an electromagnetic solenoid will open the fuel rack to allow more power from the engine.

When idling, the engine produces about 600W of power, which is more than enough to run the house during the day, and if a heavy load is turned on, such as a kettle, the batteries take up the load for the time it takes to boil the kettle, and the engine returns to idle. In this way of working, it uses just less than half a litre of waste vegetable oil per hour, so a gallon will last about ten hours, or a complete daytime run.

Another new addition to the engine is an exhaust gas heat exchanger. A friend made this out of stainless steel for me to test. It is basically a water cooling jacket around the hot exhaust pipe, which extracts the wasted heat and uses it to heat up the domestic hot water. It will produce a full tank of hot water in just 2 hours of running.

So I am all set to take my first tentative steps to off-grid living, in the heart of Suburbia.
This weekend I expect to have completed the wiring and the change-over switch which will allow me to disconnect from the grid and over to the Lister generator.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Autumn Almanac

Once again we return to the transitional time of year between summer and autumn. After a hot, dry summer, the rain returned in August and has brought renewed vigour to the garden.

The grass is green again, and putting on a final spurt of growth before the colder weather and shorter days.

In the garden, there are fruits abundant, with apples, rosehips and blackberries all at their best. Unusually, my two Elder trees have failed completely to produce a single bunch of berries.

This is the time of year when we really ought to be thinking about the forthcoming colder weather, but with morning indoor temperatures still in the low 20's, here's hoping that we can keep the heating off for at least another few weeks. When the temperature of the living room reaches 17 C, that will be my cue to start the heating.

The last 12 months has been a period of re-assessment. Whilst I must admit that I have not achieved half of the things I set out to do, I must admit that I have a clearer understanding of how I can move towards the sustainable lifestyle that I seek.

In the early summer, I re-read, George Orwell's "The Road to Wigan Pier". This is a bleak description of life in the northern industrial towns during the mid-1930s. It is an examination of the poverty and deprivation that these areas faced in the years between the wars. Orwell visits the households of unemployed miners, and clearly accounts for the squalour and malnutrition that existed in Britain within living memory. Whilst modern life may not be perfect, without a shadow of a doubt, we've never had it so good.

Another formative read this summer, was Jim Howard Kunstler's "The Long Emergency", as reviewed in an earlier post. Again an apocalyptic narrative of what is likely to befall the western world as fossil fuels become scarce.

In preparation for the coming winter, Elaine and I are investing in a wood burning stove with back-boiler.


Whilst this is likely to cost the best part of £2000 when professionally installed, mainly because of the cost of having a twin-skin stainless steel liner fitted in the flue, we are confident that it is going to offset about £400 of natural gas per year, and with a family friend able to keep us supplied with logs, we believe that we are looking at a payback of around 5 years.

The key advantage of the woodstove is that is will provide a significant boost to the heating of the living room area, where Elaine likes to spent the winter evenings reading. The radiant glow from the stove and the higher room temperatures will make for cosy evenings. Fortunately this property was built with a substantial fireplace in every room, and it will be an easy job to recommission the cavernous hearth of the living room.

Woodstoves, although more efficient than open fireplaces, are not as efficient as gas boilers in transferring the heat from the burning wood into the water. As a consequence, a lot more wood has to be burned to get reasonable output from the back-boiler, and this might lead to excessive temperatures in the room containing the stove. However, Elaine likes a comfortably warm room, so I don't consider this a major problem - provided that I can keep sawing as fast as she's stoking!

The Ice Man Cometh?

The energy meter that I fitted to my fridge and freezer a year ago shows a consumption of 569 kWh in the last year - a little more than 1.55kWh per day, or 19.2% of my total consumption.

I reckonned that this was a little high, so I watched the energy meter a while and noticed that the freezer was taking a continuous 50W, instead of cycling on and off.

I suspected that it was time for a defrost, so that the cooling coils can work more efficiently. A couple of hours spent with some hot water in baking trays soon had the freezer completely ice free!

At the same time I turned down the freezer thermostat from 5 to 4, as clearly the freezer had been running very cold.

The strategy worked and the fridge/freezer daily consumption has halved, resulting in an overall 10% saving in my electricity consumption.

It's now a year since I started my "E-Plan" electricity diet, there have been some successes, some failures, and plenty of room left for improvement.

My Excel Spreadsheet, of meter readings tells me that I have used 2954 kWh of electricity in the last 365 days, which is an average of 8.1 units per day.

The main problem has been remembering to turn off devices at the end of the day, particularly those with clocks, such as the microwave, which over the course of a year will use about 27 kWh - keeping its clock running!

Also the TV in the bedroom is always on standby drawing 3.5W - another 30kWh per year.

One of my pastimes is listening to the radio whilst I work. There is always something intelligent to listen to on BBC Radio 4, and it helps pass the time, whilst working alone from home. This morning I discovered that my mini-HiFi had a standby current of 6W, and only 7W whilst playing the radio - perhaps its time to re-instate my solar/clockwork radio.

One other revelation was that the power supply for my solar panel circulation pump, that comes on for 8 hours per day on a timeswitch, was using 25W doing nothing and 28W when pumping. I have now replaced it with a plug-in supply that uses just 7W whilst pumping. This will save at least another 52kWh per year.

My workroom/Office is central to everything I do, and has it's own power budget. Some time ago I speculated on the "200W Office", and this is something that I have tried to adhere to. As the Office is powered for nearly 18 hours per day, it is essential to keep the parasitic loads to a minimum. Typically it runs at around 175W, during the day and 200W when I need extra lighting.

One shocking fact, is that when I do turn off the PC at the end of the day, the Office is still drawing 20W of power keeping things on standby. This situation must be remedied and I am going to fit a master switch to the office, allowing everything to be turned off overnight.

Having totalled up all of the parasitic loads, i.e. things that consume power yet do nothing useful, I found that they were consuming 206 kWh of electricity per year - exactly 7% of my annual electricity consumption. To put that into perspective, that's enough electricity to heat my hot water for 30 days.

Having completed a year of the diet, I am eager to make further improvements, and see if I can get my consumption down to just 7.5kWh per day, by remembering to habitually turn off the unwanted devices.

Watch this space.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

This Ole House

Yesterday, August 18th, 2006 was the 6th anniversary of Elaine and I moving to our house in Suburbia.

This house was typical of those built at that time in the expanding towns. This ariel photograph from the 1930s shows the surrounding area - our house arrowed in red.

The house was built in 1905, at a time when Britain was fuelled by coal, and powered by steam. This is reflected in the design of the house, where each room was intended to be heated by an open fireplace, burning coal.

In the kitchen was a range which provided fairly primitive cooking facilities, and possibly a small oven. In 1905, having a kitchen, in a separate extension to the main living room would have been the height of modernity. Thirty years earlier there would have been no kitchen and all food preparation and cooking would have been done in the back parlour.

In 1905, the only water supply was from a single cold tap in the kitchen, usually set over a Belfast sink. The water pipe also went to the cistern that flushed the outside toilet, and also to the large galvanised water tank in the attic.

There is no evidence to suggest that the house had hot water, when first built. Water would have to be heated in a kettle over the stove. A hot water supply was added later, using a cast iron back-boiler, that was placed behind the grate of the fireplace in the living room. Copper pipes, chased into the plaster, carried hot water upwards to a tank in a cupboard in the first floor bedroom. The system ran using the principle of thermosyphoning, where the lighter hot water rose up into the top of the tank, displaced by the cooler water that descended to the boiler from the bottom of the tank. The system was simple, as no circulation pump was needed - ideal for the 1920s when there was no electricity, but of dubious efficiency. How much coal would be needed to properly heat the 25 gallon tank?

Life was fairly straightforward in the early years of the 20th century. Redhill was a thriving railway town, within 30 minutes commute of the centre of London. The town was full of shops and traders of all nature, and only a half mile walk away. Shopping would have been done several times a week, based on the fact that before refrigerators, food would not remain fresh, and before car ownership, there was a limit to what could be carried back from the town centre. Most traders would deliver larger items by horse and cart, in particular the coalman, weekly with sacks of coal. Bakers, fishmongers and milkmen often sold their provisions from horsedrawn delivery carts in the outer lying areas of the town, effectively capturing more custom from those that could not get into town, such as the elderly or mothers with young children.

In the 1880's, the road was laid out, on a former orchard. Plots were allocated, of roughly a tenth of an acre, most being 20 feet wide and 250 feet long. The tenth acre plot allowed plenty of garden for growing vegetables, keeping chickens and the like. It is rumoured that a long gone neighbour once kept pigs in a sty at the bottomofthe garden.

Judging from the mix of house styles in the street, and the dates on some of the houses, the road was developed by several builders over a period of about 30 years.

The house is solidly built from traditional materials, and much of the builder's skill is evident on what they could achieve with just 4 or 5 basic materials; brick, slate, mortar, timber and glass.

Built at a time when coal was cheap, there was no real need to have a good level of insulation, and so the outside walls are a 9" solid brick construction. The slate roof was laid without an underfelt and so the attic space was cold and draughty in winter and unbearably hot in summer.

Over the last 100 years, about 4 families have lived in this house, with each successive owner making improvements, to suit changes in taste or fashion, and to improve comfort. My intention is to improve the property in such a way that reduces its energy requirements, lowers its carbon footprint, and allows life to continue according to a Sustainable Roadmap.

The construction of the house is not ideal for energy reduction, but as it was built with a very low standard of insulation, large improvements could be made. The attic rafters space can be insulated with a modern insulation board that will considerably reduce the heatloss through the roof.

The 9" solid brick walls are not particularly good from a heat loss point of view, but the thermal mass of the internal walls and chimneys, is good at retaining heat over long periods and this helps to stabilise the room temperature.

Last year, an efficient natural gas heating boiler was installed, and this has reduced the gas consumption from 20050 kWh to just 16400 kWh in this last year.

Solar water heating has allowed us to turn off the gas water heating for the whole of the summer, and so daily gas consumption has averaged just 1.5 kWh per day - all of which is attributable to cooking.

Electricity consumption is also much reduced, from 3812 kWh last year to just 2915 kWh this year. This is as the result of turning off unused appliances such as TV and video, fitting low energy light bulbs and making sparing use efficient use of low energy washing machine, dishwasher and kettle, all of which heat water by electricity. The 3kW immersion heater that once heated the hot water tank, and used a lot of electricity throughout summer 2004 is now very seldom used.

A shower has also been installed, that has reduced our daily water usage considerably, using just 20 litres of water at 38 degrees C, compared to a bath which was typically 135 litres. It's even better when you realise that the shower has been entirely heated by solar energy.

Now that I have minimised the existing fossil fuel consumption of the house, the next stage is to install renewable fuel systems, that will further reduce the fossil fuel footprint of the house and yet maintain a comfortable and rewarding lifestyle.

Over the next few posts, I hope to discuss my Sustainable Roadmap, and the implications it will have on life in Suburbia.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The Long Emergency

The Long Emergency is the term given to a series of converging catastrophic events identified by author and analyst James Howard Kunstler.

His book, written in early 2005, describes the world events brought about during the age of cheap oil, and the likely consequences for all of us, as we now move inexorably into an era where oil is no longer cheap.

Kunstler examines world history over the period of the last 200 years, and identifies the processes and events that brought about a world economy fuelled by and entirely reliant on continuing supplies of fossil fuels.

World oil production is in terminal decline. Natural gas reserves have already peaked and yet we are all still "sleepwalking into the future" - a future without oil.

Kunstler focusses mainly on the suburban American lifestyle and the effects that a forthcoming oil shortage will have on it, but for anyone reading this book in the western world, the outcome is likely to be the same.

Depressing, fatalistic and apocalyptic, Kunstler's examination of the modern oil dependant lifestyle, reveals the truth about the route we took to get to this situation, and points out that the options for our exit strategy are extremely limited.

The Long Emergency was a gripping read. I can recommend it to anyone who wants to awaken from a century of sonambulism.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Summer Time - And the Livin's Easy!

It' now a year since we built the extension onto the house and made several improvements to the downstairs.

Our living room is not only brighter, with the addition of two extra windows, but the extra insulation used in the new extension has made it cooler in summer, and less draughty in winter.

The new high-efficiency condensing gas boiler has saved over 3500 units of gas in the last year, which at today's prices is worth over £100.

The solar water heating panel is providing us with sufficient hot water for our summertime needs, which means that the boiler is not used for hot water for June, July and August.

The new shower has been very popular and it has not only reduced our water consumption, compared to the bath, but one can feel particularly smug when the water was heated only by the solar panel.

The "electricity diet" has been running since last September,and we have managed to keep our average consumption down to just 8 kWh per day.

We have found that even with sensible use of the dishwaster and washing machine, that our daily power consumption seldom exceeds 10kWh.

July has been particularly hot, so my best investment was a cheap electric fan, which makes the workroom comfortable even on the hottest of afternoons. It uses only 40W making it very economical to run, and a direct localised cooling breeze is far more effective, than having to install costly air-conditioning equipment. At under £15 - it was a bargain!

However it is easy to get complacent during the hot summer months, and forget that within only 8 weeks or so, it will be time to put the heating on again.

This autumn should see the start of my renewable fuelled heat and power system, which has not been needed in the summer months.

In addition, our new woodstove and boiler will be installed in September, ready for the chilly Winter nights.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Hotter Than July

Today is July 1st and it is expected to be the hottest day so far this year.

At 3pm I measured the temperature in the shade of my apple tree at 30 degrees C.

The solar panel is working well with an outlet temperature of 66.5 C, already having got my water tank up to a pleasant 40C - ideal for free, solar heated showers. It will probably reach 45 degrees by the time the sun passes by the panel.

The solar panel receives head on sunshine from about 3pm, at round about the same time that Elaine decides that it could well be warm enough to sit outside!

Personally, I prefer the shade of the apple tree, and often sit there in the early evening, to wind down after peering into a computer screen for 8 or 10 hours.

Start it Up!

I have been busy fitting a starter motor to my veg oil fuelled Lister generator. I had managed to acquire a powerful 6kW dc permanent magnet motor some time ago, and it was just a case of making a suitable bracket and belt driving it to the Lister.

The motor is coupled by pulleys and belts to the alternator shaft, and runs at 1200rpm when the alternator is doing the correct 1500rpm speed for 50Hz ac electicity.

The photo opposite is taken from above showing the twobelt drives linking engine to alternator and alternator to starter motor.

Last night I powered the starter for the first time,using 12V to begin with and then working up to 36V supplied from 3 large leisure batteries.

The starter works well, and certainly beats cranking by hand.

This type of motor also works very well as a generator, because it is permanently connected to the engine via the belts, and when the engine is turning the alternator at 1500rpm, the starter makes 134V dc, which can be fed straight back into the battery bank of my rather big, 5kW inverter.

The much appreciated sunshine for the last few weeks has allowed us to get our hot water almost entirely from the Navitron solar water heating panel. On dull days I start the Lister engine up for an hour, and the electricity generated goes straight to the immersion heater in the hot water cylinder, via a direct cable.

We have not used any gas for water heating for the last month. At this time last year our old gas boiler was using 6kWh a day just burning the pilot light. Now we only use gas for cooking, and average 1.5 units per day.

With the hot summer weather, it is difficult to remain focussed on the aims of producing a self-built renewable heat and power system capable of supplying all my winter needs.

The engine is now running reliably on waste vegetable oil, and the new starter makes it so much easier to crank it over.

The hombrew power system is rapidly starting to outgrow my humble 8 x 6 shed, so I am planning a simple extension made from exterior plywood on a timber frame.

So much to do, time to get cracking!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Waste Vegetable Oil for Dummies - Part 3

Well they said it was "Just Three Steps to Heaven", and here is the third installment in my own personal journey into using waste vegetable oil for powering my home in Suburban Surrey.

Regular readers will remember how I spent the tail end of last year minimising my fuel bills. It must be the Scottish blood in me that I inherited from my mum. My electricity savings are about 20% and my gas consumption is down by 50% since 2000, when I moved to this house.

To be successful with renewable fuels you have to work at your religion, be it, either sawing or chopping firewood, or collecting and filtering waste vegetable oil, these ideas only work out if we work at them.

The engine installation is far from complete, and it lacks the final plumbing system that will effectively tie it into the hot water and heating systems of the house. Today I made a start on providing the engine with its own hot water storage cylinder see photo- which is also shared with my solar panel. When either the panel heats up, or the engine is started and is up to running temperature, the circulation pump switches on and starts to heat up my domestic hot water. It has the added bonus that the solar panel can be used to pre-heat the engine block, making it easier to start directly on waste vegetable oil.

Over the next few months I will complete the installation in readiness for the winter season. Anyone in the south east of England wanting to find out more about this system can contact me at ken.boak@gmail.com

Waste Vegetable Oil for Dummies - Part 2

Here's the filter barrel that Tim and I made at the weekend. It took about an hour and within no time at all was filtering the oil to the standard required to run a diesel engine.

Today is Midsummer's Day - and there is no better time to start thinking about your renewable home heating project for the next heating season.

Within 90 days, it will be time to turn on the central heating system again, and now you have the option of continuing to pay the utilities for over priced, non-sustainable fossil fuels, OR break free from those shackles, and generate your own heat and power entirely from waste vegetable oil. A lot of UK householders are going to get a big shock when they see their utility bills next January!

My own renewable heat and power installation received a boost this week when Tim came over from Ireland and gave me a crash course in waste veg oil filtering.

Waste veg oil is rather unpleasant stuff, but a whole lot nicer than petrol or diesel. Once you get into a routine of collecting oil from pubs and restaraunts - religiously every week (so as not to piss off the owner or chef), and keeping your filter barrel topped up on a daily basis - just 5 minutes per day, then the rest is child's play.

Today was a rather dull day and the solar water heater doesn't perform too well when it's cloudy -so I rigged up a cable direct from the Lister alternator to my 3kW immersion heater in the hot water tank, and ran the Lister for a couple of hours on filtered waste vegetale oil - courtesy of my local pub.

It soon became apparent that the alternator had power to spare, so the dishwasher was plugged into a 30 foot extension cable and this was then plugged into the Lister alternator.

I am now in the process of installing a 20 gallon hot water / cooling tank, adjacent to the Lister, so that it has plenty of coolant capacity, and it can heat my domestic hot water from its coolant via a copper coil in the local coolant tank.

It should be remembered that a typical diesel engine converts on third of its fuel energy into mechanical power and the other two thirds appear as waste heat via the exhaust and coolant circuit. If it's heat that you are after - then there is no better way of converting waste vegetable oil into heat than using a slow speed diesel engine. No worries about Turk or Babington burners in this household!

If you want to follow this route, you need to pass a simple test: Just stick your forearm up to the shoulder into a barrel of rancid veg-oil gloop to tighten a leaking drain tap. If you can cope with that - then you are en route for sustainable free fuel forever!

We hope to have some of this technology on display later this summer at the Great Dorset Steam Fair.

Waste Vegetable Oil - For Dummies - Part 1

On Saturday evening, fellow renewable fuel enthusiast, Tim from Tang arrived for the weekend, and we set about getting me properly set up for filtering waste vegetable oil.

Tim had driven the 400 miles or so from Athlone in central southern Ireland, in his veg oil fuelled Mitsubishi jeep (left), and I had offered him all the veg oil he needed to get home - provided that we could filter it.

Using a plastic 208 litre drum with a 250mm hole cut in the top with a jig-saw, Tim made a filter bag support from an old plastic flower pot with it's base removed, and a plywood cover to hold the filter bag in place.

We then fitted a oil draining tap about 8" up from the bottom of the barrel, and a water draining tap at the very bottom.

Now for the fun bit! I already had 10 cans of waste veg oil that had been collected last year from a local pub, and had been settling for a year. Tim up-ended these into the filter barrel until the point where the whiteish looking animal fat just started to appear at the mouth of the can - you don't want that in the mix, so it was time to stop pouring.

We poured about 80 litres of WVO into the tank, and then emptied it via the drain tap into 3 empty cans. We then poured these back into the top of the filter for a second pass through the now wetted filter bag.

The following morning we extracted about 70 litres of perfectly filtered veg oil, 20 litres of which, Tim poured straight into the tank of his Mitsubishi jeep (photo above). The rest I kept in the filter tank for the Lister engine generator.

Thanks to Tim Dawson-Stanley for all his help and enthusiasm over the last few days. He specialises in the supply of vegetable oil fuelled combined heat and power systems and vegetable oil conversions for vehicles in southern Ireland. Tim can be contacted at timfromtang@gmail.com

The Lister has been running for several hours for the last two days on the filtered waste vegetable oil - straight from the filter barrel - there will be an update in a later post.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Thought for the Day

If each of Britain's 25 million households, saved a unit of electricity per day by fitting one low energy bulb and by turning off an idle TV or video, then we could close one of the older coal fired power stations.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

May to September

Tomorrow is May 1st, or the ancient Pagan Festival of Beltane, which in my book is the day I officially try to turn off the central heating.

We now have 5 months of relatively warm weather to look forward to, before we have to prepare again for the colder weather.

It is difficult to think about the cold nights, when you are cutting the lawn, wearing a T-shirt and shorts, but now is the time to start planning your renewable energy systems.

Solar Water Heating:

Now available as a low cost kit from Navitron in Wales ( www.navitron.org ) Expect to pay about £400 for the 20 tube panel, £70 to £130 for a controller, £35 for a pump and if you need it, £300 for a large 200 litre, twin coil storage tank. These systems are soon to be featured on BBC2's "It's Not Easy Being Green" shown on Tuesday nights at 8:30pm.

Wood Fired Central Heating.

Some very economical Stoves are now appearing as imports from China, and fitted with backboilers. Don't wait until October before you think about it, ask for a quote now, and most installers will be glad to do you an out of season special. Try Sussex Woodstoves in Horsham.
A stove might cost you between £400 and £800, but remember that you need a flue liner (about £80 per metre) and these days John Prescott's office is more or less insistent on a professional installation, which could be up to £1000 on top, and a 68 page guidline on how to install - I do wish he'd keep his fat fishy fingers out of everyone else's business. So budget about £2000 for a top job, then recoup this back over the next 5 to 10 years with very much reduced gas bills.

Low Energy Light Bulbs.

I have finally made ammends, and replaced the double dimmer switch in the living room with a simple dual gang switch. I can now go and fit low energy bulbs into the main ceiling lamp and the wall lights. The ceiling light is normally on for 6 to 8 hours per day so we now are going to save about 0.5kWh per day on our lighting bill. All the main supermarkets have low energy bulbs on special offer. They start saving after just 300 hours of usage.

Little Stack of Horrors.

Yes I am referring to my TV and VCR stack that has been drawing 20W in idle for the last 5 years! I finally identified the chief culprit - a Freeview box made by Thomson. This box can be switched from active mode - a green LED, to standby mode - a red LED, yet it makes no difference to the 8W power consumption! What on Earth were our Gallic chums thinking of when they designed that feature?? The box is now switched off when not in use.

So with a few simple measures I can now save a whole kWh per day in the living room, with no loss of comfort or convenience, and this extra kWh can be used to justify running our "one luxury item" the Bosch dishwasher!

Picture courtesy of "The Wicker Man" a cult spooky film with weird May Day happenings on a remote Scottish Isle.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

DIY Vegetarian Electricity

The day has finally arrived!

Following a few test runs, my Lister engine and generator was now ready to be run on vegetable oil.

The whole point of this project is to make heat and power from renewable fuels, and to reduce my consumption of fossil fuels. The Lister engine is an ideal way of converting waste vegetable oil into a viable domestic energy source.

I managed to pick up a scrap exhaust pipe from the skip at my local exhaust centre, and that was fitted in a somewhat temporary fashion - but worked very well in taking the majority of the noise out of the exhaust note.

A coil of microbore copper tubing was wound around the hot exhaust pipe - where it emerges from the cylinder head, and this was connected up between the fuel tank and fuel filter. The 16 turns of tubing acts as a fuel pre-heater and it warms up the vegetable oil sufficiently for it to flow like diesel. The Lister doesn't care what fuel it runs on, but I do!

Once heated up, the Lister runs normally on the warmed vegetable oil, without missing a beat. A temporary water cooling tank has been rigged up on the right handside of the engine. Eventually this will be replaced with a heat exchanger that will provide hot water an contribute to the central heating system - thus allowing me to burn less gas next winter.

The output from the alternator will be connected to a battery bank and inverter system that will supply power to the house.

This allows the engine to be run efficiently at full power for about 5 hours per day, using just about a gallon of waste vegetable oil, and recharging the battery bank. The engine is capable of generating 3kW of electricity - enough to power a kettle, but most of the time, my house only needs about 1/20th of this. Charging the batteries during morning and the early part of the afternoon, when houshold usage is low, will then allow us to run off inverted battery power for the remainder of the day.

The key to most renewable systems is the ability to store energy from times of plenty, and then trickle it out at the rate at which you need it. I suppose the same can be said for solar heating systems and rain water collection - it's just a case of storage, whereas grid systems lead you to believe that you can take as much as you want, whenever you want and it will always be available.

There are still several tasks to perform on this project. Firstly I need to build a new shed around the engine. I hope to use straw bale construction for this. The straw bales will not only attenuate a lot of the general engine noise, but will also offer good heat insulation from the elements.

Straw bales are readily available, quick to build with renewable resource and can be constructed without using excessive amounts of other building materials - such as cement and concrete blocks. The outside of the shed will be clad in shiplap boards - so that it looks like any other garden shed.

This building will house the whole of my renewable energy system, engine, inverter, batteries and veg oil filtering tanks. On the roof will be my solar water heater, which can also be used for pre-heating veg oil or warming the engine on cold but bright mornings.

Connected to the house by just two heating pipes and a power cable, the whole system can be isolated, when not in use, and the house returned to conventional heat and power if needed.

This is pioneering stuff, widely forgotten since the advent of grid power in the 1950s, and not everybody appreciates the long term benefits of no longer being wholly reliant on grid power.

Recently, the friend of a neighbour, came around to see the engine. Now in his 70's, he told me how his uncle had a Lister engine like my one, back in the 30s, and how, as a young boy, he was allowed to start it. He then explained how in the 1950s, he built a bungalow on a plot of land, and ran a homemade generator set, until eventually the house was connected to the grid. He told me he used the radiator from an Austin 7, mounted on his inside kitchen wall, to warm the house from the engine heat - remember this was before central heating was cheap and commonplace. It just goes to show what goes around, comes around!

Saturday, April 22, 2006

E-Plan Diet Update

It's been about 210 days since I started my electricity diet, and there has been some successes and some failures.

We have managed to reduce our electricity consumption from 8.9 units per day (average) to 8.24 units, but we have found it difficult to stick religiously to turning off the TV/video stack when not in use. Left on idle, the TV stack can consume about 0.5kWh per day - doing nothing!

The fridge and freezer have used an average of 64 watts - considered an essential, but the TV stack has used an average of 34W, or 173kWh over the 212 days.

I have also had a laptop screen fail on me in January- so I am now forced to use the laptop with a more power hungry CRT monitor, and the computer is on sometimes for up to 18 hours a day.

Our main living room light is still an incandescent - this is because we use a dimmer switch, and having blown up a low energy bulb in a matter of days running it on the dimmer switch, (DON'T DO IT) we reverted to the 100W dimmed incandescent. I am however going to replace the dimmer with a dual light switch, and so have the option of having one lamp or three, in order to get the right level of illumination. 3 CFL bulbs switched on is still less that the incandescent.

We also have a rather wasteful pair of 4 bulb spot light units in the kitchen/utility room. I would like to replace these with CFL bulbs if I can find the correct miniature screw-in fitting. For the mean-time we turn these lights on when needed, and then straight off.

In the course of the last 200 days, we have managed to get a better feel for our consumption pattern, and also identified the main culprits of consumption. It is undoubtedly the low wattage devices being left on for considerable periods of time that use the power.

For example, the TV uses the same energy in the 18 hours of not being watched, that it uses in 6 hours of viewing! Turning it completely off for those unnecessary 18 hours, will half its annual consumption and save you 5% off your typical electricity bill.

Other improvements would be plumbing the dishwasher feed into the hot water -rather than the cold. The dishwasher accounts for about 12.5% of our daily consumption, and most of that is because it has to heat the water to 65 C from cold. We generally have a surplus of hot water, heated efficiently by our gas boiler, so it seems foolish to use wasteful electric heating for the 40 litres that the dishwaster uses.

The gas consumption has however been more of a success story.

The heating from October 1st to April 21st is down from 17809kWh last year to 15367 kWh this year.

This is a saving of 13.7% or nearly £75 off the gas bill!

Whilst we cannot live without domestic energy, I still believe that there is room for improvement, and certain trade-offs could be applied.

For example if we turn off the TV stack religiously every night, and convert the living room lights to CFL, the saving we make will go to power one of our kitchen luxuries - the dishwasher!

Friday, April 21, 2006

Bin Day, (Done That, Got the T-Shirt).

Reduce, Reuse and Recycle - This is the underlying message of sustainable living.

Reduce your consumption of energy, water, materials, packaging etc, in an attempt to produce less waste.

Reuse items as much as possible rather than throwing them straight into the rubbish bin.

Recycle packaging materials, bottles, cans, newspaper card etc.

In our humble 2 person household we try to do this as much as possible. All vegetable and kitchen scraps, teabags etc are put into a small bin and then go into the compost heap.

Bottles and cans are taken to the local bottle bank, and paper and card etc is put out into the council provided recycling box once a week.

As a consequence of this, we only create about one half of a black bin-liner of household waste per week, and the majority of this is plastic food packaging, which is either difficult to recycle, or the council do not provide the means to recycle it.

The irony of this situation is that there is a high percentage of non-biodegradable, oil-rich plastics in every bag of rubbish - including the bag itself, and this is the very stuff that is being dumped into landfill.

If we go back 50 years to before the age of plastic packaging, foodstuffs would be sold in paper and card wrappings, with meat and cheese etc sold in greaseproof wraps. Groceries would be sold in brown paper bags and larger items in cardboard boxes. Almost 100% of the packaging materials could be re-cycled, were bio-degradable but because of the high percentage of open coal fires in the UK, most waste was burnt on the fire, so that the only waste product was ashes from the grate.

Whilst I am in no way recommending a return to the DIY incineration of packaging materials - especially because of the high plastic content, perhaps the supermarkets should re-examine their packaging policies, and offer foodstuffs in bio-degradable natural packaging materials. If they are not prepared to do this, then perhaps we should vote with our feet.

It is said that approximately one third of the cost of our supermarket foods consists of the non-edible packaging materials.

Part of the problem with re-cycling is that it only works if there is a market for the material that you are recycling.

One notorious example was when the directors of a council-contracted waste disposal firm working in Kent and Essex, decided that the most cost effective way of recycling some of the South East's mountain of waste was to ship it, several container loads at a time, to bogus addresses in the Far East - adopting an out of sight, out of mind strategy.

I do rather hope that criminal proceedings are brought upon the directors of that organisation, but I fear that because our local councils are sub-contracting out waste disposal to the cheapest operators, this practice is common place.

As oil prices rise, then the cost of plastic packaging is also going to rise. If oil becomes scarce in the next 50 years, then alternatives will need to be found for packaging materials, and it may become viable to recycle and reuse waste plastic. We may even end up excavating 50 year old landfill sites, in an attempt to extract the plastic-rich material. The irony of this, is that many of these landfill sites will have some of John Prescott's 100,000 new home built on them - but judging by the poor standards of this latest wave of house building, very few are likely to be standing in 2050!

So what can we do now to reduce packaging waste going to landfill?
Avoid buying foodstuffs in plastic wrappers?
Buy food in bulk from a cash & carry, so the percentage of food to wrapping is much higher.
Buy foods from traditional shops - greengrocers, butchers and bakers. These shops are more likely to be sympathetic to your viewpoints on plastic packaging.
Have vegetables delivered in a cardboard veg-box, to avoid half a dozen plastic bags.
Reuse your plastic carrier bags several times for carrying shopping home.

With sufficient numbers of people taking a pro-active stand on plastic packaging, the supermarkets could be forced to rethink their strategies.

However I suspect that however well intended our recycling efforts are, we will never stop the tide of household items that end up in landfill - TVs, computers, printers, ink jet cartridges, VCRs, child car-seats, the mountain of modern day waste is growing daily.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Shed Power II

The few days off over Easter allowed me to make some serious progress with my veg-oil fuelled generator set.

My friend Paul and I cleared out the old shed of all the junk and set up the Lister generator alongside the large cabinet that contains the 5kW inverter and battery bank.

Tonight, in fading light, I got the fixing holes drilled in the concrete shed base, to hold down the otherwise lively Lister-gen. I purchased 10mm expanding anchor bolts and a 16mm concrete drilling bit especially for the job - but it still took a lot of time and effort to drill the 4 holes in the concrete.

I have now had the engine running and making real electricity - and boy is it loud with that un-silenced exhaust. I need to make up an exhaust, or recycle an old car silencer.

The poor shed is somewhat falling apart - it is nearly 50 years old. I propose building a new concrete foundation around the existing floor slab, and making a base for straw bale acoustic and thermally clad walls.

Other outstanding jobs include the vegetable oil fuel heater, the cooling system and connnecting up the batteries and inverter to the output of the generator.

More pictures on my website www.powercubes.com/listers.html

Sunday, April 16, 2006

We got Juice!

Finally after several weeks of development, the Lister powered generator produced it's first power.

That's not the alternator smoking!

It's just steam from the merrily boiling kettle in the bottom righthand corner of the photo, ready for a nice cup of tea.

I had been waiting for the pulleys and belts from Beeline in Milton Keynes, and I picked these up yesterday.

The toothed belt drive allows the alternator to run in synchronisation with the engine and provides the necessary 2.5:1 step up ratio needed to make the alternator run at 1500rpm and produce 50Hz ac.

The engine and alternator are bolted down onto an old fabricated steel baseplate, which was bought very cheaply on ebay. With a lick of dark green paint (B&Q) it will look like new!

I have turned both the engine and the alternator through 90 degrees on the base (compared to the original Lister Startomatic configuration), so that the shafts face each other and this makes for a compact belt drive.

The cast iron slotted rails were salvaged from the same Startomatic unit, and with a little re-drilling of the baseplate and threading to accept some chunky M12 bolts, it makes the perfect adjustable sliding mount for the new Chinese 3kW alternator. The alternator is slid to one side of the base and this tightens the drive belt to the correct tension before it is bolted in place.

I have arranged a temporary water cooling tank - although this one is not really big enough for continuous running - but OK for a couple of hours. I also needed to make the veg-oil pre-heating coil around the hot exhaust and sort out the fuel changeover solenoid valve - to allow easy swap over from diesel to vegetable oil, when the engine has started and up to temperature.

So what has this little project cost?

Engine - 6hp 1950 Lister CS slow speed diesel engine £250 Ebay
Steel baseplate (+ engine for spares) £78 Ebay
Engine Spares (valves, guides springs etc) £80 Marine Engine Services Uxbridge
3kW Chinese alternator £245 Volvox Engineering Ltd
Pulleys, belt and taper bushes £83 Beeline, Milton Keynes
Time and Ingenuity Priceless!

So for a fraction under £750 you can have a totally bomb-proof generator set, that can run on waste vegetable oil, produce all your electricity needs from renewable fuel and the waste heat from the engine will provide a major contribution to heating your home.

If it breaks, you can fix it using simple tools and cheap spare parts. This engine is already 56 years old and still going strong. It would be interesting to see a modern generator set in 56 years time!

This engine uses one litre of waste vegetable oil per hour whilst running a 2kW load such as a kettle.

This project exemplifies the three key maxims of sustainable living:

Reduce, Re-cycle and Re-use

I reduced my electricity consumption so that I can easily meet my needs from a generator running on renewable fuel.

I recycled the old Lister engine and the steel baseplate.

I am re- using waste vegetable oil that otherwise would be dumped as waste.

More pictures of the alternator, drive and generator set are on my webpage - follow www.powercubes.com/listers.html

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Gas Up Again!

Gas prices have been in the news for the last few months. Wholesale gas prices have risen sharply, as a result of them being unfairly pegged to the price of oil, and by underhand practices on the part of European and Russian operators. We are at the end of a very long supply pipeline that stretches all the way to Uzebekistan, with each nation taking their cut as the gas passes through. As a result, our domestic suppliers have almost all been forced to put up their prices accordingly.

Some companies have devised cunning schemes to mask the true price of their gas from the consumers, and British Gas and Powergen have come up with "price freezing" tarrifs, that are solely intended to extract extra cash up front from the gullible.

Utilities that are offerng both gas and electric have realised that they can make far more profit by selling the electricity rather than the gas alone - and so you will see the dual fuel tarrifs that put the profit bias on the electricity in order to offset the loss that they are making on the gas.

If you are still paying your bills quarterly, then you are paying a hefty premium for the priviledge - definitely time to switch to monthly direct debit and spread the cost over the whole year.

So in a nutshell, all domestic energy prices going up, and you are lucky to have got to April without being further stung by the massive price hikes that they have planned for later in the year. You ain't seen nothing yet!

I check the Energy Helpline site, http://www.energyhelpline.com/mhl/news.aspx?tiid=131&p=1 to see how domestic energy prices are rising.

Last week, Scottish and Southern announced a 9% to 16% rise on their domestic tariffs, with effect from 1st May.

This will take my annual bills up from £714, to £796, almost a 12% rise, or £82 per year.

With the £82 that Southern want to charge me, I could go out and buy 200 litres of new vegetable oil from Tescos and with the Lister generator set, use this to supplement by gas and electricity bills next winter.

200 litres of veg oil will provide 450 units of electricity, enough for 6 weeks consumption - worth £36 (at 8p/KWh) and 1200kWh of heat worth £36 (at 3p kWh)

So as you can see, the gap between homebrew heat and power, and paying the robbing utilities is starting to close rapidly.

Monday, April 10, 2006

My Butt Overfloweth!

Monday 7am - woke to bright sunshine, and clear skies, despite last night's snow. A friend in Yorkshire tipped me off at about 11pm that it was snowing up there, and within an hour the flakes were falling in Surrey.

At 9:30pm I had ventured out to check up on the level in the rainwater butt, and to my amazement it was full to the level of the overflow, having been half full just 3 hours earlier. I quickly brought over the first of the blue plastic barrels and connected the overflow pipe to this.

This morning I went to check the level, and once again, I was gob-smacked to see that it had filled the 208 litre barrel in less than 10 hours. So in under 12 hours I had collected over 350 litres of rain water from only half of my roof area.

I now need to get the 12V pump working so that I can transfer it from the collection barrel into some more permanent storage barrels.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Here Comes the Rain Again

Rain closed play at about 6pm in Redhill on Sunday night. Initally retreating to the shed and then finally indoors, I abandonned the improvised rainwater collection system that both Messrs. Heath and Robinson would have been proud of, and left it to get on with collecting rainwater - as nature intended.

By 7:30pm it was coming down in a persistent drizzle, the sort that makes you either long for a hat, or better still, leaves you wishing you were less folically challenged!

With measuring jug and the second hand of my trusty 5 Euro watch, I measured a litre of fresh rainwater every 45 seconds, or in real terms, 17.5 gallons per hour!

Realising that my little tank was going to be full within minutes, I quickly rigged up a diverter to the main water butt - seen as the white pipe in the picture above. The 208 litre blue plastic barrel waits in readiness, and there are another 3 of those lurking nearby.

The black down pipe only carries the water from the rear roof and extension. The front roof rainwater still goes into the sluice and then into the sewer - not for long though.

I remember as a very small boy, playing with the rainwater that spewed from a downpipe on the new house that dad was building for us in the late 60's, filling up buckets and containers I found on the building site, as fast as I could find them - give me a child at seven and I will show you the man! I also had a small obsession with the diesel cement mixer he had on site, funny how things never change?

Water shortage? Not here there ain't!

Green Light on EcoStreet for a Green Revolution

The BBC is asking the public for their green ideas and inventions for simple things that we can all do to reduce domestic energy consumption and household waste.

Also with the new "Being Green" series on Tuesday nights, is the BBC giving a green light on a green revolution? Or have Tony and Michael been having private words in the BBC board room?


This week the magazine looks at a vacuum flask kettle that keeps water hot for longer between boiling.

Perhaps a better solution might be to invest in a modern efficient kettle, that allows you to boil a minimum of just 1 mugfull of water at a time.

When we upgraded our kettle last October, we found it difficult to find a modern one that had a very low minimum water level - fine if you wanted one with flashing blue LEDS, the latest fashion in kitchen appliances. The best we could find at Comet, was this Morphy Richards, that has a 500ml minimum. That's about 2 teacups or for comparison a typical coffee mug is 300ml.

So unfortunately if you want your own brew, you are already obliged to add 67% more water than you actually need, and that uses 67% more energy than you need.

So how much energy does a kettle use for a typical brew up?

I used half a litre of cold tap water and plugged mine into my low cost Lidl's energy meter and turned it on. It used a maximum of 2862W when first switched on and settled down to 2800W for 80 seconds. It then continued to boil for another 7 seconds before the automatic cut off turned it off.

Energy = power x time = 2800 x 87 = 243600 J

This is 0.067 kWh or the same that a 100W light bulb would use in 40 minutes.

Had the kettle allowed me to boil just the 300ml I needed and switch off instantly on boiling, I would have used just 55% of the electricity - or the same 100W lightbulb for 22.4 minutes - quite a saving.

Now to check out the toaster - tea and toast anyone?

Thanks to Tracy Stokes and her EcoStreet Blog for leading me to this info.


Why can't we all live in EcoStreet?

We'll I am sure we can, but first we will have to start brewing a new batch of Community Spirit, that the successive governments of the last 27 years have effectively distilled out of us.

(Yes Margaret, I do mean you, you might be a dotty old bat now, but I remember what you and your psychotic henchmen did to the miners, UK industry and students in the early 1980s).

"Wouldn't it be nice to get on with me neighbours... but they've made it very clear, they got no room for savers..."

My apologies to the Small Faces, for the minor lyrical adjustments.

As a footnote to the kettle boiling experiments, I tried again this morning with only 300ml (1 mug) of water. It was boiling within 40 seconds - thus reducing the energy usage from yesterday by a factor of two! You have to stand over it whilst doing this and be ready to manually switch it off - because the automatic switch off may not be reliable with such low water levels. This may invalidate you kettle guarantee, and don't come running to me when you have reduced your kettle (and household) to a charred, smoking mass.

And who says a watched pot never boils?

Less water than the Sudan?

The media has coined a phrase over the last couple of weeks, that per head of population, the South East of England has less water than the Sudan.

I accept that this may well be the case, with Prescott's misguided policy of cramming as many people into the one corner of the country where there are limited water supplies.

It doesn't help that most of the water supply network in the south east is over 100 years old and domestic supplies are often through very leaky lead pipes.

I contacted my water company last summer concerned with low pressure and poor flow, and they came and dug up the road to look for leaks. I share my supply with 3 other houses, and its all through only a half inch lead pipe. Needless to say they found two pinhole leaks in the first 6 feet of pipe, where it branched off the main. So as the pipe is 60 feet long before it enters my house, there could easily loads more leaks!

As I am just one of about 100 houses in my road, built in the late 1880s to 1920s , there must be thousands of feet of 100 year old lead piping, all in very poor condition. Think of the total volume of water seeping out into the ground per day - yet it's only the spectacular big leaks that the water companies seem to bother about, whilst 30% of their supplies is leaking through pinholes!

I propose we subject the water company managers to Chinese water torture, and make them accountable for every drop of water that THEY waste. With moderm area metering, they know exactly how much they put into the main, and how much we consume - so clearly the rest is leaking away. Not surprising that the front gardens of Surrey never seem to need watering - the water company does that for free!

Perhaps I will call them up and ask to be put on a compulsory meter. They can dig the road up again, put me on a separate metered supply, and at least update some of their worn out infrastructure - such a shame that it might interfere with the Shareholder's profits. But if they don't have much water to sell in the first place, they won't be making much profit this year!

To help remedy the situation I have decided to sort out my grey water and rain water storage systems in an effort to reduce my water consumption.

Whilst not on a meter, I believe that it is important to realise how much water we use in a typical day. A few tests and measurements came up with the following figures:

Bath 125 litres
Shower (not a power shower) 3 litres per minute - so perhaps 15 litres per shower
Dishwasher 49 litres
Washing machine 40 litres
Toilet flush (No. 2) 10 litres
Cooking 10 litres
Misc (handwashing, teeth cleaning etc) 10 litres

So in a typical day, you could easily get through 250 to 300 litres and that's before you start spraying the stuff onto your car and garden. For households with children, these figures will increase significantly.

So if we deduct 50 to 100 litres for toilet flushing, potentially we are pouring away at least 200 litres per day of perfectly good water that could be recycled for loo flushing, and garden watering. A 200 litre grey water storage tank, will hold a whole day's waste and provide ample water for flushing the loo. So with this system in place, it could mean water savings of up to 35%, and give me all the water I need for watering the new vegetable patch.

The problem with waste water is that it generally disappears down a plug hole, through a pipe and emerges outside the property in an awkward place to get at it. Once down the plughole - we generally forget about it completely, and care little for where it goes - just so long as long as it goes! (Nobody likes a blocked sink, drain or loo - except my father in law, who as a retired plumber, looks at them as an occupational challenge and sets off like a ferret down a rabbit hole!)

It should be remembered that the water companies in the UK not only supply us with about 3000 m3 of pure drinking water per year, but they also remove about the same volume of grey water and sewage, a task that not many of us would like to volunteer for!

There are also the problems of plumbing up a toilet so that it can use grey water - fine if you can place the greywater tank above it, an upstairs tank used for example, to flush a downstairs loo.

Fortunately all of the grey water from my kitchen and bathroom ends up in the same sluice (photo above), and so it would be relatively easy to put a storage and filtering tank there, where the existing rain water butt is located.

The waste pipes emerge through the wall at about 12" above ground level, so it's going to be more of a coffin sized trough rather than a conventional tank. I'm thinking that a single sheet of steel or aluminium (8 x 4 feet) could be folded up into a substantial trough, about 6 x 2 x 1 feet - holding 340 litres. Perhaps farm suppliers might have something of a similar shape - for a livestock watering trough, complete with ball valve? As the ball rises, it flicks a microswitch and starts an electric pump, to pump the water up to a storage tank in the loft or upstairs bathroom.

However, as this area is going to become the patio, the tank could be clad in decking and made to serve as a permanent bench seat. Great for sipping your morning breakfast coffee on a sun drenched patio.

It's a good idea to let the natural force of gravity do much of the hard work, and letting the water filter through a strainer and then settle in a storage tank for a full day will help clean up the grey swill.

It might also be good policy to use less agressive detergents, particularly in the washing machine and dishwasher, if the water is going to be used for plant watering. Any strained out hair and food waste can always be put onto the compost heap.

Pumping the filtered water to a higher tank, might cause a few problems. I have considered using a solar powered pump that can shift about 12 litres per hour. A small pump like that will run happily off a 15W solar panel.

That's enough water for about 1 toilet flush per hour. And speaking of solar, we have had 4 good days of sunshine, and my solar panel has already heated up to 60C and contributing to the hot water tank at 9am these last few mornings.

As well as recycling the grey water, I will also re-jig the guttering on my house and extension, so that what rain we receive this year will be collected in a large water butt. I have some 208 litre plastic barrels that will be pressed into service for this.

An update will be supplied, when the system begins to take a more physical shape. Off now to the farm suppliers to look at polypropylene drinking troughs.

Catch some sun and collect some rain.....

Friday, April 07, 2006

Alternators and Alternatives

Tuesday started bright, sunny and frosty and at 8am I had picked up a Luton van from Leatherhead and was heading along the M25 at 15mph in the general direction of Southampton.

The prime reason for this mission was that 3 pallet loads of Chinese alternators had just arrived, and at least one of them had my name on it - metaphorically speaking.

The first task was to rendevue with Mark Walker of Volvox Engineering at the Fleet Services on the M3, as he had the necessary paperwork to release the consignment from the shipping agent's warehouse.

By 11am we had 18 large plywood cases in the back of the van and were northbound back up the M3 with a full load of 3kW, 5kW and 7.5kW alternators.

The photo shows the 3kW alternator alongside my 6hp Lister engine, ready to have the two shafts coupled together with a toothed belt and pulleys. An 80 tooth pulley on the engine will drive a 32 tooth pulley on the alternator, so when the engine is doing 600rpm, the alternator is turning at the necessary 1500rpm to make 50Hz mains electricity.

Before this can happen, I have to make a small alteration to the old Startomatic baseplate to allow it to take the new alternator on sliding rails, allowing the belt tension to be adjusted.

The alternators have an iron cored rotor, wound with an electromagnet field coil. Around the outside of the rotor are the 4 pole stator windings that produce the 230V ac.

When the engine spins the rotor up to speed, the residual magnetism retained in the soft iron core, causes a current to be generated in a special winding in the stator that is used to generate about 50 volts to excite the rotor. A rectifier turns this 50V ac into dc and feeds it back through slip rings into the rotor winding, strengthening the residual magnetism and producing more power.

The clever bit about these alternators is that they use an automatic voltage regulator (AVR) that controls the rotor field current and helps to keep the voltage output of the alternator within reasonably tight limits, even though the speed of the engine may change when you add or remove large electrical loads.

The second photo shows the "doghouse" on top ofthe alternator that contains the rectifier, AVR, voltmeter and a whole host of interesting Chinese style electrics, designed so that you can get both 230V and 115V from this alternator. You can also just see the sliprings on the end of the rotor shaft.

So we are close approaching the time that we will have vegetable oil power, produced from this very simple but very rugged home generator system.

Meanwhile the solar water panel has been earning its keep. There is hot water at 60 C coming from it at 9.00am on sunny mornings until 4 in the afternoon.

Monday, April 03, 2006

It Ain't Easy Being Green!

This is a popular misconception, created by the media. Being green is very easy, it's all about reducing consumption and minimising waste.

Increasingly it's about taking a standpoint against the global corporations that are trashing our planet, our country and our neighboourhood. Watch out Sainsbury's, McDonalds and BP, we will soon be parting company.

It's also the title of a new TV series (almost) - Tuesday BBC2, featuring Cmdr. Dick Strawbridge and his family. Having sold up in Worcestershire and moved down to a rambling farmhouse in Cornwall, they set about a new green lifestyle.

Whilst the programme is good entertainment value, with a few important messages and a likeable, lively presenter, it did have a fair budget behind it, and not everyone can rustle up £535,000 for a listed Cornish farmhouse property and then have £50K available to re-roof it. Nor does everyone have access to a small army of student volunteers as a workforce. *

Suitably inspired by programme 1, and with the pleasure of the first Daffodills emerging around the apple tree, I thought I would give some thought to what could be done with a more average property in Suburbia - mine in fact.

First a quick survey of what resources are available:

1 A good sized back garden, 65m long by 6m wide, with good black fertile soil.
2. A collection of sheds, with a few machine tools, equipment and garden implements.
3. DIY Plumbing and guttering - easily modified to capture and store rainwater and greywater.
4. A 100 square metre semi-detached house facing south west with 65 m2 of roof area
4. Not only a fertile garden but a fertile imagination and the drive to make things happen.
5. An engineering background, good tinkering skills and a few good mates.

Time to come up with a plan, it's early April now, and I need to get cracking.

1. Get rid of all unnecessary rubbish, better allocation of storage space
2. Install rainwater catchment system
3. Install greywater storage system
4. Prepare vegetable plots - get planting
5. Permanent site for solar heating panel
6. Veg-oil engine and alternator installation
7. Battery bank, inverter and back up power system

The bulk of my fossil fuel energy use is over for another six months, the days are getting longer and it is time to tap into the natural resources to get the best out of them. Perhaps its easy to overlook the natural resources when you are living in the middle of an urban environment.

Not being blessed with the multitude of stone built outhouses of Dick Strawbridge and family, I have to make better use of the 3 sheds and greenhouse. These have become dumping grounds for unwanted household possessions, to its time to have a clearout and regain some square footage. The advantage of the sheds is that they can be south facing, to make the best use of solar gain, and useful roof space to put the solar water heating and small pV array.

Reducing fossil fuel use for next winter and water consumption are high up on the list of priorities, and also making better use of the 390 square metres of back garden space, for growing a few vegetables, and housing various renewable energy products.

The rubbish heap at the bottom of the garden has been mostly cleared, the biomass rubbish burned and the ashes scattered to improve the quality of the top soil. This area has had the compost heaps located there for the last 5 years so has good rich soil. It also receieves the most hours of sunshine as it is not overshadowed by the hour. This will shortly be rotorvated to provide 60 m2 of new vegetable beds.

The small greenhouse, also towards the north end of the garden is needing a few panes replaced but very soon will be ready for planting tomatoes, peppers and other useful crops.

Other projects include a rainwater capture system. I have aquired some 208 litre plastic barrels, and these will make ideal storage butts for rainwater and grey water. Renewing some of the roof guttering will allow all of the run off from the roof to be diverted to a water catchment and filtration tank. The rainwater can be used for toilet flushing and garden watering, and I have a convenient spare room on the first floor, about to be converted into a 2nd bathroom, where the rainwater capture tank can be located. As this room has an open fireplace with a 208mm square steel beam supporting the chimney breast, I can afford another 250kg of rainwater tank over this beam.

With more hosepipe bans being announced this morning by local water companies, in the south east, saving water is going to be a priority this year.

Grey water from the kitchen and bathroom can also be collected, and whilst these rooms are on the ground floor, there is a 1m fall down the length of the garden, which will allow the grey water to fill a tank next to the vegetable plot and lawn and be used for watering purposes.

Domestic energy consumption and bills have been driven down this last 6 months. We are now almost out of the heating season, down from 90kWh per day to about 40kWh. A new method of keeping the living space at 17 C during the day, and turning up to 19 C for a few hours in the evening has made a major reduction to the gas consumption. October to March inclusive is down from 16597kWh last year to this 14488 kWh this heating season. This 13% saving of gas, 2109kWh, is worth about £60 off the gas bill.

Equally, electricity usage for the same period is down from 2020kWh last year to 1492 units this year, a 26% saving amounting to £42 off the electricity bill.

So, a £100 saving on the utility bills in just 6 months. The e-plan diet certainly seems to be working!

By the middle of March, the solar water heating panel was beginning to make a significant contribution to the domestic hot water, as the hours of sunshine per day, incident on the panel slowly increased. It is now time to get a more permanent and reliable installation.

Not only that, but the garden seems to be flourishing from the extra sunshine and the first of the long awaited rain showers.

* Any students in the North East Surrey/Redhill area? - I may have something of interest for your Easter break. ken.boak@gmail.com

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Brew your Own Power!

It's been a couple of months since my last entry, but perhaps this is because I have been busy working on my DIY, vegetable oil fuelled home heat and power system, and lending a hand to others engaged in similar works.

Having rebuilt the valve gear on my 1950 Lister CS engine and got it running again in February, it has now been partly installed in my shed and awaiting the arrival of the 5kW alternator from China.

Here the Lister engine weighing 330kg is being craned onto the old steel baseplate that will hold it and the alternator together as a complete generator assembly. We had to take the side off the shed to get it in!

Mark Walker at Volvox Engineering has been very helpful in sourcing alternators, engines and spare parts for this project.

In the meantime I made a visit up to Leeds, to see a similar installation by friend and homebrew power Guru, Andy Mahoney. We worked on it for a couple of days together and made a new exhaust heat exchanger, to capture some of the waste heat from the exhaust gases and contribute to Andy's central heating system.


This weekend I hope to be casting the large concrete block that is required to hold these engines down. The alternator has arrived at Southampton from China, after 3 weeks at sea, so I hope to have that installed by the end of next week.

These original Lister CS diesel engines will burn waste vegetable oil with very little modification. All that is required is to heat the oil using a copper tube wound around the hot exhaust. This pre-heater coil, warms the oil to about 80 C, at which point it begins to flow with the consistency of normal diesel fuel.

TheLister single cylinder slow speed diesels are a rugged source of dependable power, and the 6hp engine can generate approximately 3kW of elecricity, and 6kW of waste heat, that can be used for water heating and central heating.

A litre of waste vegetable oil will produce about 2.25 units of electricity, and 5kWh of heat, which is about half a tank of hot water, and that's worth 33p at today's electricity and gas prices.

My engine was bought from ebay last year for about £250. The rest of the equipment will cost approximately £1000. I am looking to have a 5 year pay-back on this, and then I will be effectively free from the spiraling costs of natural gas and electricity in the UK.

As well as producing my own heat and power, I have also worked hard to minimise the household electricity and gas bills. So far the figures for the last six months suggest a 13% decrease in gas usage and a 26% reduction in electricity consumption.

My methods have also been applied elsewhere, in helping to reduce my father in law's electricity bill from almost £220 per quarter to £120 per quarter. This was fairly simple, just an immersion time switch and lagging jacket on the hot water cylinder and a little education about turning things off. The sad thing is that he had been accepting £800 per year electricity bills as normal, for the last 4 or 5 years.

You can never act soon enough to make savings on your utility bills, especially now that we are to be fleeced again by the electricity and gas companies.