Tag Archives: environment

What’s behind a scary number?

A recent BBC article is entitled “Electric cars: Best and worst places to charge your car”.

Extract:

The government has published new league tables showing which regions of the UK have the most charging points for drivers of electric vehicles. The most per 100,000 people are in London, followed by Scotland, while Yorkshire is the worst by that measure.
Outside London, Orkney and Milton Keynes have the most. But Barrow-in-Furness and Scilly each have none.

There’s a nice map showing the current state of play.

A bit later, though, the article starts to introduce some rather worrying numbers:

The government wants the UK to have net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Scottish Power estimates that in order to achieve this, the UK needs to have 25 million charging points for electric vehicles – the equivalent of installing 4,000 a day – and 23 million electric heat pumps to replace domestic gas boilers.

Mmm.

This is a topic of great interest to me, and the underlying data is useful, but the article is somewhat flawed almost from the start. The first thing to notice is that it never distinguishes between public and private charging points. In fact, if you look at the source, the league table is talking about public charging points, where Scottish Power are talking about public and private ones.

Nonetheless, it is indeed a lot of charging points, though the article’s second error is in ascribing the figure of 4000 installations per day to car chargers: in fact the numbers are about 2000 each for chargers and for heat pumps.

Then they hammer home the size of the challenge with this:

And all at a cost of nearly £300bn.

Wow! Another big and scary number. How on earth are we ever going to do this?

But let’s think about it for a moment…

Many numbers are not quite so scary when you consider them rationally and in context.

25 million is approaching the current number of households in the UK, and, yes, if we don’t have petrol vehicles, most people will probably want to charge their cars at home. That’s also why the heat-pump number is on a similar scale.

But remember, we’re talking about a target which is 30 years away.

According to this article, the UK installed 1.7 million new boilers in 2018! This makes sense, if you think about it: how many households are there, and how long does a boiler last? If that rate continued, then between now and 2050, 51 million new boilers would have been installed anyway.

Switching to heat pumps may be slightly more involved, but it sounds a bit more plausible now. And installing charging points only needs to happen at half the rate of central heating boiler replacement!

But that, of course, does not make for such enticing journalism.

Wait, though – what about that enormous £300-billion cost?

Well, there are about 70 million people in the UK, and that cost will be spread over 30 years. So that’s £142 per person per year, or about 39p per person per day.

Would you pay that for a carbon-neutral future? I would!

Let’s get on with it!

Hot at the top

This is a lovely idea – the Mixergy hot water tank.

A standard UK hot water tank heats the water from the bottom, either using electricity or water heated by a gas boiler. This means that when you want to heat up your water, you need to heat the whole thing.

Mixergy, instead, put the heating at the top, so you can warm up smaller amounts of water, and then make intelligent use of pumps to circulate it as required if you need to heat larger amounts of water. Not only is this more energy-efficient, but it means you get hot water again more quickly after you’ve used it up.

There’s a more detailed discussion on a recent episode of Fully Charged.

The great moral dilemma of the age

In the case of doubt over a particular item, is it a greater sin to recycle that which we ought not to recycle, or to leave unrecycled that which we ought to recycle?

All I want is a room somewhere, far away from the cold night air…

The very pretty Nest thermostat has justifiably attracted a certain amount of attention recently. But it has a few failings, too:

  • It’s expensive – someone quipped that the Apple-inspired design comes with Apple-inspired prices
  • It’s a single point of temperature measurement, and what most houses need is multiple thermostats, or at least sensors
  • It isn’t available in the UK and wouldn’t work with most UK heating systems anyway,

So, it’s not for me. But I am keen to upgrade my heating controls: we have pretty substantial fuel bills even for our small and fairly well-insulated house.

So I’m after recommendations. Here’s my ideal system:

  • You could set the temperature you want in each room, and control the times of day at which you want it. Or, even better, it would learn the pattern for each room. (And not get too confused by daylight savings time changes)
  • We have radiators in each room, so it would need to manage the radiator valves. (i.e. replace the TRVs)
  • The temperature sensors would not necessarily be on the radiator valves, but could be elsewhere in the room.
  • The timing of the boiler ignition would be based on the combined needs of the house, and not on the temperature of a particular thermostat in the hall, or of the time programmed into a separate heating controller.
  • Ideally, it could be programmed through a wife-friendly app or web interface.

Anyone know of anything that satisfies a significant number of these?  I don’t expect to get them all. But I also don’t want to spend a lot of money and time on a system which does some of them, only to discover that another would have been a better choice.
 
Oh, and I’d rather not have to do any major plumbing…

Any suggestions welcome!

Having the plastic to go paperless

Micro-SIM adapterKeen though I am to reduce the amount of paper in my life, I am still hesitant about switching all of my utility bills to electronic form because they are often useful, in the UK, as proof of your residential address.

Mobile phone bills, however, tend to be excluded, and since almost every gadget I buy comes with a SIM, I now have quite a few of these! But there’s a different problem when it comes to switching many of these to paperless billing, as illustrated just now by my iPad contract with Vodafone. How do you do it?

Well, you go to Vodafone’s site, and register for an online account. The first thing you need to do is enter your phone number. What is the phone number of my iPhone? Fortunately I had a recent bill handy, so I could look it up, never having needed it for anything other than this before.

Then you hit a second problem. They send you a text message with a security code in it, which you need to enter into the web site. Except, as they well know, this is an iPad, on a special iPad-only contract, and it sadly has no way of reading text messages. (Nor does my Mifi. Nor my 3G dongle, at least with a Mac.) Mmm….

OK, well, SMS messages are sent to the number identified by the SIM, not the device, so I can take the SIM out of the iPad and put it in a phone. (As a matter of course, I always have all my devices unlocked whenever I possibly can, just to make this sort of thing possible.)

Then you hit the third problem. My whopping great iPad has a micro-SIM, while my decidedly smaller iPhone has a regular sized SIM. Fortunately, you can buy adapters which convert one to the other. (If you need to go the other way, you can do so with a pair of scissors, or with a special cutter.)

So the process becomes: move SIM from non-SMS-receiving device to receiving device, having previously unlocked the latter if they’re on different networks, and making use of cutters or adapters as required, then register on first device’s network website, noting and entering any codes that may be texted to you, then restore everything to its previous state afterwards. In the States, where there’s a reasonable chance that your different devices wouldn’t have compatible radio circuitry, it would be even worse.

One feels that this might be a bit of an oversight on the part of the service providers…

Often is his gold complexion dimmed…

Zetalux 7W light bulbA package arrived today; a small but heavy one, containing my first LED lightbulbs. No, not the little ones that go in torches, but big ones designed to replace the 240v tungsten bulbs in my ceiling light fixtures. Michael had found a good UK supplier, and I wanted to experiment with what I’m sure will be the way we all light our homes five to ten years from now.

As I’ve written before, I don’t really like the CFL (compact fluorescent lamp) bulbs that have been the only real low-energy option in the past. You know, the ones that look like some sort of lower intestine curled up where the bulb should be? Firstly, they’re a nasty colour, though much improved now. Secondly, they take a while to warm up to full brightness. Thirdly, they may use less power but they contain nasty chemicals which leads some people to question how environmentally friendly they are overall, and lastly, you can’t use them with dimmer switches, which rules them out for about half of the rooms in my house. Not just dimmers, either, some other electronic switches (like electronic timers) also don’t work. I’ve put a couple of these bulbs in, and I’ve sort of become used to them, but it’s really a case of how much I’m willing to sacrifice for my moral obligations, rather than something I do with joy.

LED-based bulbs, on the other hand, use even less power, are probably more environmentally friendly to manufacture, supposedly last for somewhere between twenty and forty years, and are available in dimmable form. It was time to try them, so I ordered three different ones, even though they cost £25-£35 each. So, after a quick try, what’s the verdict?

Well, the good news is that the brightness is really quite impressive. Anything over about 4W is a viable replacement for a 50-60W bulb, so, yes, they use about 10% of the power of a conventional bulb, and about half that of a CFL. These are also well-made, as they should be for that price. In five years’ time, when we’re buying cheap LED bulbs for a few quid, we’ll be amazed at the robust construction techniques used today. They hit full brightness immediately and the dimmable one worked nicely with my dimmers. All good so far.

However, I’m not sure that any of them will find a permanent home in my light fixtures yet.

Firstly, they’re too white. They don’t have the bluey-green tint of some CFLs, but they are still very white. This may be something I’ll get used to over time, but if you’re thinking of buying any, be aware that those labelled ‘warm white’ are still not nearly as warm as a tungsten bulb. They’re fine if you’re keen to simulate daylight in your sub-basement, but not if you’re after that cozy, welcome-you-home-on-a-cold-winter’s-night look. Particularly if you mix LEDs and traditional bulbs in the same room, you’ll notice the difference. Fortunately, manufacturers and suppliers are starting to publish the colour temperatures – don’t trust anything described as ‘warm’ if its temperature is over 2800K, and even 2800K leaves something to be desired.

But that’s not the main issue. The main issue is that, while a glowing filament emits light in all directions, LEDs are very directional. They therefore make good spotlights, which is why LED bulbs have chiefly been sold with GU10 connectors, as used by the little spotlights that have been embedded in everyone’s ceilings in recent years. There, I can imagine they work well, and are worthwhile because, charming as those lights are, they’re not a very efficient way to light a room. When my existing GU10 bulbs give up the ghost, I’ll replace them with LEDs. But most of my house has light fixtures – some of them antique – which make it rather obvious if only the top half of the bulb is emitting light and most of that light goes in one direction. The very unexciting paper globe shade above me, which I’ve been planning to replace for about 7 years, if fitted with an LED, does a very good job of lighting the floor in the middle of my small study but leaves the periphery in shadow. The main glass fitting in the centre of the dining room has two bulbs, side by side, mounted horizontally. With LED bulbs, this lights up the walls but not, to any great degree, the table. It looks very strange.

Until this is sorted, I’d need two or three times as many lights in every room to get reasonable coverage, which undoes some of the benefits. CFLs are better, but I can’t use those because of my dimmer switches. And the 7W bulb pictured above, which was intended to go in an Ikea R80 spotlight fitting at about eye-level on the kitchen wall, is a good, bright bulb but I can’t use it because it’s the wrong shape: the dome of the bulb extends beyond the lampshade and so is dazzling. Ironically, the one good spotlight-based experiment fails because the bulb sends light in directions I don’t want it to go!

So, my advice is, if you’re willing to pay a lot, these bulbs are starting to become quite good. But unless you’re planning to use them as ceiling-recessed spots, you may need to budget for new light fittings as well. Still, look on the, ahem, bright side. At least the fittings may cost you less than your lightbulbs!

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser