Sunday, September 23, 2007

Renewable Enegy Workshop Comes On Line

This year I have been building a new workshop that will give me much needed space to work on my various projects but also acts as home for my renewable energy developments.

It replaces the old engine shed that I used for a couple of years, and it puts all my technical equipment under one roof - with the solar water heating panels on top.

On Friday, with the Lister generator in place and plumbed up with cooling, batteries and inverter, all was ready to start up the generator on vegetable oil and make real heat and power for using in the house.

The generator was started around 1pm and run for about 3.5 hours. During that time it heated a full tank of hot water, ran a 1700W electric storage heater to warm my office throughout Friday afternoon and evening, and powered the two PCs and other equipment in the office. During this time it used about 4 litres of waste vegetable oil.

The office has been running all weekend from the battery powered inverter and already it has started to show a 25% reduction in the amount of electricity that I use from the grid daily.

As my experience and confidence grows, I will run the engine for longer periods and use it to power more of the household appliances, in particular the dishwasher and the washing machine which are otherwise quite heavy power users.

The next step is to complete the changes to the pipework which will allow the heat from the engine to contribute directly to my central heating system, which will make more efficient use of the waste heat generated by the engine and also start to reduce the amount of gas I use for home heating.

Learning to Fly - but I ain't got wings

One of the things I wanted to do before my 40th birthday, was to have an introductory flying lesson in a light aircraft.

Well I missed my mark by a couple of years, but on Wednesday 10th September I realised my ambition and took a half hour trial flight in a Cessna 152.

Fortunately we have an aerodrome in Redhill about 2 miles from home, and Harvard Aviation runs a flying school from out of an old WW2 mess-hut.

They have a fleet of four or five Cessna 152 single engined, two seaters that they use for most of their flight training.

These planes were built about 25 years ago, and inside have the feeling of an old British sports car, noisy, flimsy and very cramped, sitting with shoulders touching in the narrow cockpit.

After a brief introduction to the controls, and a few pre-flight checks, we set off across the grass towards the airstrip. After getting clearance from the tower, we trundled across to the end of the strip and took off to the west. After performing a 180 degree turn over Redhill and gaining 1500 ft, the pilot handed me the controls and had me keep it straight and level for the next ten minutes or so.

This was my first time ever in a light aircraft, and I found the controls so light and responsive, that it took all my concentration to remain focussed on the distant level horizon and correct the minor movements of the aircraft.

Our flight took us to the east following the Redhill to Dover railway line, although I had no time for sight-seeing. As we approached Edenbridge, about 12 miles to the east of Redhill, I was instructed to climb to 2000 ft and implement a long sweeping turn, to bring us back on course for the short flight back home.

The return hop was a lot less stressful, as I had managed to relax and get used to the demand of the control column. We began our gradual descent with the airfield in view. At about 500 feet up and little more than a half mile to go, my pilot took over and brought us down with a comfortable landing.

At the end of the flight I got a certificate tosy that I had had 30 minutes airtime and this could go towards the minimum of 45 hours needed in the UK for a private pilot's licence.

Flying is an exhilarating experience and I am glad that I had the opportunity to try.

The introductory flight costs about £90, and if you want to do a short course of five 1 hour lessons, its about £595.

The Cessna 152 is fitted with a 110hp engine, and has a top speed of about 104 knots.

The fuel tanks hold just under 100 litres of fuel which gives a useful range of about 350 miles. The fuel consumption is around 20 miles per gallon - which is better than some cars on the road.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Engine Shed Moves

Mid August is a time for reflection on what you have achieved in the year so far, and to focus the mind on what needs to be done before the Autumn arrives.

Saturday 18th was the 7th anniversary of us living here in suburban Redhill in our 102 year old house, and for the first time in those 7 years, I had finally got myself organised and was ready to move my equipment into the new workshop.

Saturday afternoon was wet, but it presented the opportunity for us to work indoors in the new engine shed and workshop, have a tidy up and generally get things ready for moving the heavy engine gensets into position.

The new shed is approximately 200 square feet, ship-lapped on the outside, then a layer of exterior plywood, up to 3"of Kingspan insulation and then lined with OSB (oriented strand board). This type of construction is fairly simple, uses relatively cheap materials and gives a high degree of insulation to make a comfortable building.

On Saturday afternoon, Adam and I finished the insulation panels on the inside of the engine shed ceiling, and cleared a lot of space so that the engines could be re-sited. The old Lister engine in the picture had been in the garden shed for nearly 2 years, and when we disassembled the rotten old garden shed, it remained in place on the old shed concrete base. Now it was just in the way - right in the middle of the new workshop floor - so finally had to be moved toa better location.

On Sunday, Adam (left) and I shifted the Lister gen-set from its old position in what had been the old engine shed to its new position on the much larger engine shed.

Here we see one of the 4 foot wide insulated wallpanels removed from the back of the workshop, and the engine & genset being lifted through the gap into the new engine shed. Lifting the weight of the engine with the engine crane we were able to manoeuvre the engine baseplate on metal rollers and get it into position.

Also visible is the new work 8' bench, which Tim assembled from scrap roof timbers that we found in a neighbour's skip. These lengths of heavy timber, formed the roof of a 120 year old house, and made ideal heavy duty runners for the workbench.

The bottom shelf of the workbench is also used to store the bank of 36 sealed lead acid batteries which power my inverter system. The battery bank can be recharged directly from the Lister genset, and will provide about 1 day's worth of back-up power, before the generator has to be run again.

The engine shed will contain my two generators, a wood fired boiler and a large insulated tank that acts as a thermal store.

Beyond the engine shed floor is a storage area for firewood and the vegetable oil for the engines.

The workshop is 11' x 10' and the engine shed with woodstore is 9' x 10'.

It might as well rain until September...

The UK weather has been very poor this summer.

July was incredibly wet with serious flooding across the UK at the beginning and end of the month. A boating rally that I visit in Henley on Thames each year was abandoned early because of the risk of flooding.

The meteorologists say that the jet stream winds failed to make their usual diversion north in the mid-Atlantic, and so all the low pressure systems have been arriving in the UK - blown in from the west.

The weather did however pick up in early August, and I managed to get some more work done outside, helped by my friend Tim - this time to the new patio decking, put down in front of the new workshop.

Tim came across from central Southern Ireland, and reported that it had rained there for 56 days. We were lucky that we had fine weather for our construction work.

The solar water heating panel has now been installed on the workshop roof, and is contributing on sunny days.

The workshop has been fitted out with a new workbench and space for my homebrew-power battery and inverter equipment. The Lister veg-oil powered generator has been moved into its new position in the engine shed - behind the workshop.

The decked area provides somewhere to sit out in the evening, away from computers and televisions, and we now have a wood fired chiminea, which acts as a focal point and some welcome warmth on these chilly August evenings. We burn offcuts of scrap wood that were left over from the shed and decking.

Last weekend, with the help of my nephew Adam, I completed the insulation of the workshop and the engine shed. Not only does this make it warm in winter and cooler in the summer, but the plasterboard backed insulation in the engine shed helps to absorb the engine noise.

The aim is to have the veg-oil generator set re-installed by the beginning of September.

There will be plenty of time to work on this during the Bank-Holiday weekend at the end of this week.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

June's Busting Out All Over!

At last, after the dreadful cold, wet weather at the end of May, early June has provided us with 3 days of sunshine so far. The rain gave the garden a much needed watering, and now plant life is really starting to pick-up the pace.

Temperatures are in the low to mid 20's, and the garden is buzzing with life. With the recent rain, the grass is growing rapidly and needs cutting each week.

Our garden is a long, narrow strip of level ground about 20 feet wide and 180 feet long. It is broken up into distinct areas, with a 50 foot lawn, greenhouse and various sheds.

The topsoil is reasonably fertile for the first 12" or so, with heavy claggy clay lying beneath this. The garden has been cultivated for the last 100 years, since our house was built, with lots of ashes and composted kitchen and garden waste used to return the goodness into the soil.

Whilst we have in the past dug vegetable beds, we have chosen this year to go for easy maintenance grow-bags, planters and tubs.

This year we have decided to grow a few vegetables and have already tasted our first home grown cucumber (photo). These mini cucumbers are amazing, growing at a rate of about half an inch per day.

We have marrow, courgettes, cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes all planted in grow-bags or troughs. Further down the garden our potato plants, sown in early May are now flourishing, and should provide us with a few tasty potatoes in July and August.

For the next 3 or 4 months, living should be easy. Our solar panel provides sufficient hot water for our daily needs, and there is no need to heat the house.

Whilst we are under no illusion that it would be possible to feed ourselves from our little allotment sized plot, nothing can be so good as the experience of growing a few vegetables, nurturing them and tasting fresh garden produce with the summer salads.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The New Workshop and Engine Shed

I have been making the most of the better weather in early March to press ahead with a very much needed new workshop and engine shed.

Here is a front view of the new shed. It faces southwest so that it catches the afternoon sunshine.

The shed is 9m from the house and makes use of the concrete base from the old shed.

This base has been very much extended now 6m x 3m and incorporates an isolated area to mount the two engines for my household combined heat and power system.

The workshop is heavily insulated so that it is a comfortable workplace all year round. Behind the workshop is the engine shed area which houses the two engines (main and back-up) their generators and all the other ancillary equipment such as the thermal heatstore and the wood burning boiler system.

As well as containing the vegetable oil fuelled generators, the shed will have my solar water heater fixed to the front roof for maximum sunshine.

A pair of insulated hot water pipes buried in a trench connect the systems in the shed back to the household heating system.

With the engine running during the day and the wood fired boiler taking over at night, the renewable energy systems in the shed will be able to provide complete heat and power for my house.

The whole project can be found on my webpage