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 ( ) 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

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

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, 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.