Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

My experience of having a 9.5kwh home battery in the UK for about a month

Recently, we got a 9.5kwh givenergy battery fitted in our cellar. I was very excited about it, and keen to dive into the stats, and wrote a blog post about it here.

I’ve now had it for about a month and thought it was worth typing up the inevitable impressions having got used to the thing! So here goes…

First, some context. This is in a 2.5 bedroom (attic doesn’t count really) detached house, thats very old (pre napoleonic), but has been insulated to the best of our ability. 2 people working from home, in the southwest UK. Also be aware that this was during November/December, and a pretty cold December. As I type this, there is snow everywhere…

I had some initial confusion when the battery was first set up. Day 1, they calibrate it, by basically filling it with grid energy and then discharging it, which feels horrible when you see the first thing your battery does is suck up some prime-time expensive power! Luckily this is a one off thing :D. Once that first day is out of the way, you can then choose your settings and.. to be honest then completely forget about it! My settings, because I have cheap power (75% off!) from 12.30am – 4,30am, is for the battery to fill to 96% during that time and then be in ‘eco mode’ for the rest of each day.

GivEnergy’s eco mode is basically a maximise self-consumption, minimize grid import system. So if you have solar panels, and are producing more power than you are using (fat chance for here in December), the excess gets diverted into the battery. Any power load during the day gets sourced from the battery, so you see the battery state of charge slowly trickle down through the day as its used to power the house:

On the far left is the battery filling up (purple below the line) and my car charging. Combined, the battery charge and car charger hit 9,000w! You will see a few spikes during the day which are basically kettles and coffee machines, and cooking. It looks like breakfast was a big spike load on the grid! and then later mini spikes (below 3,000w) are handled entirely by the battery, slowly draining down to about 8% by midnight. That sustained power draw from 4pm-6pm is a gaming PC and huge monitor playing battlefield V :D.

The thing is… once you have watched these charts a few times, you kind of get the hang of it, and then never really need to look at them, or go near the battery ever again. Its just a magic box somewhere in your house that cuts your energy bill by 75%. The only tweak I have made is that now its even colder, and we are cooking more and for longer, I’ve adjusted it to fill to 96% instead of my original 90%, because we need a bit more energy each day (and if I can possibly avoid any prime-time energy consumption…I will!).

So this is all very well, but what have I learned that might be relevant for people who are considering installing a battery?

Firstly, you really need to get the size of the battery right. I kind of lucked-out a bit, and ended up with the perfect size, but nearly didn’t. At one point, we were going to get an 8.2kwh battery, then a 9.5kwh, then maybe 2x 9.5kwh ones, and even had a board installed on the cellar wall to support a 2nd one, but we ended up with a single 9.5kwh which feels right. Obviously, when you think about it, all you need to do is check your energy bill for how many kwh you use on average each day… and thats the size of the battery you want!

Its a bit more complex if you have solar, because if you have a decent solar array, there may be days where you are generating more than your daily usage, and want to store some in case its cloudy/raining the next day, to maximise your usage. Remember, the goal is to NEVER export any energy to the grid, because they pay you a pittance. So there are circumstances where you might need to oversize things…

For example, if your daily usage is 10kwh, but your solar array in June/July regularly produces 20kwh, then you will be using 10kwh, and sticking 10kwh in the battery for tomorrow. If you dips in solar power are fairly sparse, you will be often faced with surplus solar power and a full battery. IF you have an electric car too, and are bothered enough to trickle-charge it with the excess, then you can of course do this. There are setups and systems that can automate this BTW, that involve cables running to the EV charger from your battery/inverter, but I found it to be prohibitively complex, especially with our EV charger about 100ft from the fuse box.

I reckon for the vast majority of people, whether you have solar or not, you probably should stick to a simple format of just buying a battery that can hold 100-150% of your average daily usage. Its not like you can precisely pick a size anyway, as our options were basically 8.2kwh or 9.5kwh or some multiple.

Something that IS worth paying attention to is the inverter. You need an inverter coupled with your battery, or batteries. Its the thing that converts the stored power (DC) back to AC so the house appliances can use it. We have a first generation GivEnergy inverter, that runs at 3kw, and the ones run at 5kw. If at all possible get the higher output one. Get the highest output inverter you can. Why is this?

Its important to understand the difference between kw (kilowatts, thousands of watts) and kwh (kilowatt hours). The first is a measurement of power as in, the amount of oomph that is running down a cable to a thing, and the second is a measurement of stored energy, ie: the amount of oomph multiplied by how many hours you can provide it, before you run out. Or think of kw as your salary and kwh as your savings :D,

In my case, we have a 9.5kwh battery, fed by a 3kwh inverter. That means that even if the battery is FULL, if I plug in some theoretical device that wants to draw power at 9,000 watts… the battery can only squeeze out 3,000. The rest will get imported from the grid. Why does this matter? It matters because British homes have kettles! and also sometimes electric heaters! In an ideal world your day to day current draw will never exceed the power of your inverter. Every time it does, you will draw the excess from the grid.

With something like charging an EV, you need to just admit defeat. Most EV chargers at home are about 7kw, and you are not going to power your home AND an EV charger with a simple domestic battery and inverter. You need to schedule any EV charging for off peak anyway. The real culprits for going over 3kw are stuff like a kettle, a power-shower, or multiple induction hobs going at once. You might think 3,000 watts is a lot, but boil the kettle and fry some bacon while someone is in the shower and you zip right over that, no problem.

So… I’d suggest a 5kw or better inverter, and probably a 9.5kwh battery, or if you use slightly more energy than me, maybe a 13.5kwh Tesla powerwall. If you have a 4 bedroom house and power-hungry kids, and can afford it, maybe you have a good case for getting 2 9.5kwh givenergy’s or 2 powerwalls, especially if you also have solar.

So there ya go. I’m a total home-battery geek, and look at my stats every day, but if you arent that into it, but just want cheap electricity, then you can just go for it, set it up once, and then never look at it again! Ours is in the cellar and I only even see it if I go down to the cellar to get something out of the freezer :D. Batteries come with apps that will soon ping you if there is an error, so you can comfortably just ignore them.

I worked out on the basis of our first month that payback time for us was 5.7 years. That will fall a LOT in march when our fixed price tariff comes to an end, and fall AGAIN in summer when we get the advantage of saving up our surplus solar power during the day. (At the moment the only financial benefit for us is to buy cheap power overnight and use it during the day). I think in the long run the payback time for us will be maybe 3-3.5 years. Thats crazy good.

PLUS! We did it as a retrofit to existing solar. Right now the govt charges zero VAT on new solar, and batteries can be included, so if you can get solar+battery right now, its an even better deal. I highly recommend it!

I finally have a home battery!

At long last, its finally installed and actually working, and after a very long and very tedious process that I will not bore you with (much) my house now has a 9.5kwh home battery connected up and working in the cellar. Its actually powering everything in my house right now, and is super cool.

This has been a long process because just when I started to ask a company to install one, UK electricity prices went absolutely insane, and everyone and their dog suddenly wanted a home battery installation. Getting a Tesla powerwall would have meant possibly an even longer wait, and to be honest, they were quite pricey compared with what I eventually chose (a Givenergy 9.5kwh one), but even when I found an installer, and agreed to have a battery installed, there were endless delays. Initially I was going to have a 9.5kwh (latest model) battery, then it became obvious they were hugely delayed, so opted for a single 8.4kwh one, then at the very last minute it turned out a 9.5kwh one was available, and as this was the latest tech, that allowed 100% depth of discharge and unlimited cycles (basically you can fully fill/empty the battery whenever you like without affecting the warranty), so we went with that.

Getting people to come around and install the battery was one thing. Getting it actually finished was another. The installation has been a real pain, but TBH that seems to be mostly down to huge demand and chaos among all the companies doing this sort of thing right now. We had the battery installed, but dormant for about 4 weeks until a vital missing component showed up (a wifi dongle that allowed it to talk to my home network, and thus back home to the battery management system run by the battery company).

Now its all installed, it all feels like it sort of went ok though, because my ideal scenario was to put it in our cellar, which is damp, and dark and empty, and thus the perfect location. Why take up room in the house with a great big metal box when you are almost never going to have to physically go see it? I had worried that the installers would be negative about anything ‘non-standard’, but were happy to run the power cable from our kitchen fuse box outside the house, along a wall, then down through a hole into the cellar and the battery. I’m very happy with where it is:

When it was installed I asked them to set up a double size wooden board on the wall and allow space for a second similar size battery if I wanted to add another one at some stage. In practice, I doubt this will happen. The picture shows the battery (at the bottom) and above it is the inverter. Basically an inverter converts DC to AC or vice versa. This battery is ‘AC-coupled’ which means its on the ‘house’ side of the setup, and is wired in to the fusebox pretty much like anything else. It needs the inverter to convert that AC power so it can be stored in, or sucked out of the battery itself. On the plus side, if I got a 2nd battery, I don’t need another inverter, as you can just daisy-chain em. The red switch is an emergency cut-off.

Back upstairs in fusebox land, you end up with an extra widget called an EM115 that takes up one fuse slot. Its a fancy management thing that seems to be required to check everything works:

Connected to this widget is something called a CT clamp. This is a thing that wraps around a cable and tries to detect the power load going through it, and the direction of it. I already have one, used by my car charger in the garage, to ensure the charger never overloads the house grid connection. This new one is connected to the EM115 and the battery so the battery can tell whats happening with my grid connection:

This information is important because the battery uses it to do cool stuff. For example, you can say to the battery ‘Try to never export power to the grid!’, and then on a day where the solar power is high, and your consumption low, the CT clamp tells the battery that we seem to have a negative power flow (exporting to the grid) of X watts, and it therefore tells the battery to soak up X watts of power to balance it out and ensure any ‘surplus’ solar is kept in my house and not given for free to the evil energy supplier!

Whether or not this is what you want your battery to do is dependent on your circumstances. We got our solar panels 12 years ago on an early ‘feed-in-tariff‘. This means that we get credited a nice amount of money for each kwh of power our solar generates, regardless what happens to it, and we get a ‘deemed export’ of 50% of that. This means if our panels generate 10kwh, we get paid 10xFIT plus an extra 5xExportTariff. The actual export tariff is super low, so it wouldn’t be a good deal anyway, but as our tariff doesn’t measure the actual real export, we are kinda gaming the system a bit there by trying not to do any :D

For people with newer solar panels, they may actually have an export meter, and genuinely be paid per kwh they export. So why would you not do this? Because the very very best rates you get to export are insulting. I’ve seen a high of £0.07/kwh which is an insult considering that companies SELL you the same power for £0.24/kwh… Thus even if you do have an export meter, it makes more sense to keep that power in your home and use it later rather than sell it, then buy it back at a huge loss…

For people with normal jobs this is even more acute. In the UK summer your home solar will generate tons of power while you are out at work, which it sells for £0.07 for you to buy back in the evening to run your home at a huge loss. Sod that!

But enough about the economics! lets look at the real reason anybody gets a home battery – fun charts to look at:

This is one of the many views you get from the givenergy website. It also has app for your phone, obviously. This is my first day with the battery, and I screwed a lot of stuff up which I will explain. As part of its first-run ‘calibration’, the battery gets filled to 100% from the grid. Thus it was at about 80% full around midnight. I had then stupidly told it to fill to 100% between 00.30 and 4.00AM which is when my electricity is 75% off. It did this (see the top purple line going up to 100%) by importing that power from the grid. Thats the red section below the base line on the left, and the purple is it filling the battery

The red is a bit higher than the purple (well…below…) because I also needed *some* power to run the house even overnight.

I had screwed up twice because I’d told the battery to only discharge from 4.00am onwards, so between about 1.30-4am you can see those red downward spikes showing me importing power to deal with our energy demand (green upwards). Then from about 4am onwards, that disappears and we are running entirely from the battery since then (including now). Thus the battery level is slowly running down (top purple line).

The UX of the app is not amazing, hence my screwups, but I think I’m getting the hang of it now. You can see on the RHS of the chart some downwards purple and some upwards yellow. Yellow is the output of our solar panels, and for a period there it exceeded our energy usage, so the excess was dumped back into the battery. Working as intended!

You also get real time data like this:

This sort of thing can drive someone insane, because very often the numbers do not match up exactly, and you start to wonder if everything is broken. It isn’t, but you have to get your head around two concepts:

Firstly, the accuracy is not perfect. We do not have an export meter, so we are relying on some pretty rough measurements of power flows being detected by a loosely attached metal clamp on a cable. Thus you have to allow for a bit of a fuzz factor.

Secondly, the battery response is not instant, but has a slight lag. This is REALLY important, and can cause confusion. For example, say you are consuming 200w of power, and the battery is happily supplying 200w from power you saved up earlier. All is good. Then suddenly you switch a 2,000w kettle on. That power HAS to come immediately, and the battery is not set to do it, so for a few seconds, the extra 2,000w comes from the grid. The clamp detects this, tells the battery, and the battery ramps up to output 2,200w instead. Kettle finishes boiling, but the battery is still at 2,200w. The excess automatically flows to the grid. The clamp then detects that, the battery is told, and ramps down to 200w again.

That all sounds ok, but what it means is we briefly imported 2,000w from the grid, and then later briefly exported 2,000w as well. In the grand scheme of energy flows, its a minor deviation, but that is why there is not a perfectly flat line between 4am and now, with zero grid import or export. The import/export is VERY low compared to normal, but it still does happen.

If you have a smart meter in-home-display you will already be fairly familiar with this. In theory your TV will use maybe 200w for example, but you only need a helicopter to explode in an action movie, with a big loudspeaker-driving bang, followed by a loudspeaker-minimal silence, to see that the per-second power draw of almost everything is very, very variable.

I guess this is early home battery technology. Maybe eventually this sort of thing will be somehow perfect with sub-second response times. Maybe thats really hard on some components and electrically tricky. I don’t know, I’m just some guy with a battery in his cellar.


You *can* wire a battery to be a backup situation if your home loses power due to a cut. We did not do this. Initially I had been told this could be done. I was then told that it can only be done for certain circuits in the house. I was THEN told it means adding yet another fusebox, at which point I bailed. Our kitchen already looks like a nuclear power control room.

One of the undiscussed issues with home battery as backup power is that the actual output RATE from a battery is quite low, in this case 3KW. 3KW is a lot, until you have a router, 3 wireless boosters, a TV, streaming stick, home theater unit and a subwoofer plugged in… and then turn the kettle on. Basically you run out of headroom, and things will start cutting out. Home batteries are great, and can provide a lot of power, but the big old electricity grid can deliver 100 amps at 230v and thats a lot of juice. If you want to be able to power everything, including kettle + electric cooker and also charge a car and do everything else all at once, you need some serious big-ass inverter, and frankly, powercuts here are rare enough that I decided to just not care.

I will do (inevitably) another post in a week or so, when I have long term data, and the energy bills to prove it. I’m still in the exciting early days of trying to find an excuse to go get something out of the freezer (also in cellar) as an excuse to gawp at my battery…

For those curious, the total installed cost was £5600 plus vat @20% £6720.

Why you SHOULD get a smart meter

In the UK, we are in the middle of a smart meter rollout. Basically energy firms keep pestering their customers to get a smart meter. The government is encouraging this. Many people I know are very negative and grumpy about this, probably because they are, in general, cynical about government initiatives, and have a hostility towards electricity companies. Plus there is a ton of silly conspiracy theory bullshit to select from.

Getting a smart meter is involved because you need some space around your existing meter to install it. This means for people like me whose meter was crammed into a box, you have to do a staggering amount of work to make a (free) smart meter install possible. I did it anyway. This blog will explain why.

Firstly…what is a smart meter? Its basically an electricity meter that connects via the phone network to a wide-area-network and can report your electricity usage in half hour segments remotely. This means nobody has to come to your house and ‘read’ the meter. Its also digital (at last) instead of an old fashioned 1950s style monstrosity with a spinning disk and analog readouts… Smart meters are fitted for free by your electricity company. My install was way more involved than that for tedious reasons, not least because I have a solar panel array and also an electric car charger. Thus my setup now looks this complex:

Top left is a fusebox (consumer unit in modern-speak), top right another fusebox (for the solar panels). Middle left is the solar panel generation meter for calculating my feed-in-tariff from the government, the white box to the right is the smart meter, and to the right of that is the black box with the main power fuse for the house. MOST people’s houses have far less complex electrics than this!

Why does the government want us all to have smart reasons? Well there are two reasons. One is talked about, another is fiendishly complex, and you have to do a lot of reading about energy markets and the national grid and talk to solar farm installers to work it out. Lets start with the first reason.

Smart meters make you save energy

This is the official reason we all need one. It sounds like it must be nonsense, but its actually super-true. I’m someone who is OBSESSED with efficiency and knows a lot about energy efficiency, and the smart meter effect even works on me. You get a remote gadget like a tiny tablet that shows you your current energy usage, and how much you have spent so far today. You can also get an app for your phone, which is tons better and displays pretty graphs and goes into a lot more detail, but ignoring that for now the in-home-display unit is actually quite cool.

Why do smart meters come with an In-Home Display? | Blog | Bulb

The display even has a tiny, not-oft-seen icon that lights up to show you when you are exporting power back to the electricity grid, should you be fortunate enough to have solar panels and generating more than you are using. This is an immediate sign that you should charge some laptops or phones or put the dishwasher on :D

Cynically, you might think that just ‘knowing’ how much power you use will achieve nothing, but it really does. We can see the massive spike when we put on an electric heater, and an even bigger spike if I plug in my electric car. If you look at the more fine-grained data on the smartphone app, you can see every time you boiled a kettle. Just seeing the massive difference between using one appliance versus another makes you think. And energy prices having shot up means those numbers are about to get way bigger.

So this reason is all about social engineering. Show people WHEN they are spending most of the electricity and they will make smarter decisions. Dishwashers running half empty are a waste of energy. Leaving an electric heater on when you are not in that room is a big waste of money. As people realize this, they will adapt their lives in subtle ways that reduce their energy consumption.

This is the main reason given, but its only part of the puzzle

Demand shifting and protecting the grid

Almost all western countries electricity grids are the same. There are a few super-huge power stations, normally in coastal areas, or remote areas, then a big fat network of pylons carrying the power to local substations, which then run cables to each house. I missed a few steps there, but generally that is the layout. Also most grids are OLD. population density is higher since the grids were built out, but the layout has remained the same. Until recently its kind of worked ok. Before I explain why its not working so well now, here are some technical details.

The UK electricity grid runs at a certain frequency. Its *roughly* 50 HZ. In fact, there are real-time-websites that let you see the current frequency of the grid. Right now it is 49.965HZ. This is really important. Its important because a lot of electrical equipment, especially really expensive electrical equipment, will absolutely freak out and fail/catch fire/explode if its much above or below that frequency. The frequency depends on the balance of supply and demand.

What that means is, that some organization (in the UK its national grid plc) has to keep turning power plants on and off again, to ensure that supply matches demand closely enough that the energy grid frequency remains within a narrow band. If they are going to fail to achieve that, they have to take drastic action, like closing entire sections of the grid off, in other words a power cut. This is a VERY big deal, so its to be avoided at all costs. How do they manage this?

Its generally not been too bad, because demand for energy is pretty predictable. The national grid checks weather reports, to see what temperatures will be (to determine the need for heaters or fans/air conditioning), predicts that supply, and then schedules power station output to match it. This sounds easy, and it is…for certain types of power. Britain gets about 15% of its power from nuclear, which always runs flat-out, which means the flexibility has to come from other sources. In our case, thats gas-fired power stations, which can be turned on and off fairly quickly.

This has been happening for decades and everything has been fine. What makes it work even in cases of extreme demand is that we also have cables connecting us to France, and other countries that let us export power (rare) or import it (more common). However its starting to get tricky, really tricky, its starting to get unmanageable.

Renewable energy has entered the chat

Renewable energy is awesome. I’m a true believer, I’m even building a solar farm. But it brings challenges. Renewable energy is cheap, and environmentally awesome, but its variable. Some days its cloudy. Some days its windy. This introduces instability into the grid, meaning its MUCH more likely that we sometimes have way too much energy, and other times we have way too little. This can be accounted for and managed…but its introducing huge complexity.

FWIW, the national grid has put in place LOTS of ways to manage this. They all have exciting names and acronyms like ‘Fast Frequency Response’ and ‘Load Shedding’ and ‘Peak Shaving’. Its a whole super-involved ecosystem of trying to manage, in real-time, to keep that demand equal to supply while handling multiple different energy types, and demand spikes, and free-market energy trading systems.

You might think that electricity has just gone up 50% in the UK and that this is a big deal. Haha. You know nothing Jon Snow. Lets look at the real charts behind the headlines, that nobody outside the industry even looks at:

BTW, if you are on a long term fixed price energy tariff, you are paying the equivalent of about 50-60 on that chart. So…. looking forward to a potential trebling of energy prices? maybe even a quadrupling? But although this chart should alarm politicians, its not the one that alarms people trying to balance our grid with renewables. here are some more fun charts:

Electricity is traded in half hour chunks. No idea why, so 48 on the X axis is one day. You can see that the electricity price on the wholesale free market in the Uk yesterday ranged from £-50 to £229.90 per megawatt hour, in a single day. This is NOT at all unusual. This chart is an outcome of some desperate attempts to match demand to supply. Talking of supply:

This is what they are trying to balance. Nuclear is 100% inflexible, and must run all of the time (for economic reasons). Wind and Solar do their thing, and then we try and balance the rest by exporting/importing using the interconnectors. The thing is… we still cant do it, so we need to change the demand as well as the supply, or the whole house of cards will collapse…

Demand Management

If supply is an absolute random number generator, you need to change demand, otherwise we are in trouble. The grid already has systems in place to do this in both directions. You can be paid a regular flat fee by the grid, to agree that if they REALLY need to, they can turn off your electricity. This is for big factories and aluminum smelting plants, which draw huge power. If what you do is super-time-critical, this is unattractive, but for some industries its perfect. Thats load-shedding.

Another method is to create a market for energy storage. This is a real thing. The solar farm I am building will also have a 500kwh battery. Thats like 7 or 8 electric cars. The options available to you when you have battery storage are myriad, and very complex. This is where peak shaving and firm-frequency response come in. Peak-shaving is basically a way of smoothing out a sine wave by storing energy when you have too much, and releasing that energy back when you have too little. Some solar farms or other renewable systems can do this. Its especially helpful for solar farms because typical solar output looks like this over a day:

Thats my solar output yesterday. The thing is…if you scale this up we have a huge huge problem. The problem is this: The electricity grid cannot cope.

Remember my earlier description. The grid is old, and designed for a small number of big phat power stations. Incredibly high power and capacity cables run from sites like Sizewell nuclear power station to big cities like London and Birmingham. This works fine. But the cables that go out to all the smaller towns and the rural locations with wind farms and solar farms? These cables suck. They have no capacity to add further generation. They are ‘constrained’ in energy-industry-speak. Upgrading these cables costs a FORTUNE, and I know that, because I’m making a bank transfer today of £50k as a down-payment on an upgrade to some cables for my solar farm. Even if you are happy to pay, in many cases the grid upgrades are just catastrophically hard to do, and slow to do, and we don’t have time for that. We NEED to add renewable energy faster than we can upgrade the grid.

Save the grid!

In a situation where you cannot upgrade the grid, you are left staring at that solar chart thinking “hmmm…if only this was more predictable…”. Like this:

This is peak shaving. Take off the peaks and fill in the troughs. Its still not a flat supply, but its capped at a much lower level than the natural peak. If that natural peak would overload the grid, then we can still connect our big solar farm, but we use peak shaving to put less of a ceiling on our grid output. Plus the grid loves us…because they get a way less ‘spiky’ energy supply to contend with.

To make it clear: when the chart is red, we are sending some of our power to the battery. When its green, we are draining the battery.

Thats peak shaving. Firm-frequency response is different. Thats when the grid pays you, as a battery owner, to reserve usage of your batteries, with no-warning, if they suddenly need to dump power in it, or to whip that power back if they suddenly need it back. This happens on a VERY short timescale (think seconds or less). This is how they can keep that frequency where it should be.

How does this make me want a smart meter?

What I’m describing there is how renewable energy companies can make money, and how the energy industry is coping with renewables. But this also can affect us. To put it bluntly: we are not, and can not build enough batteries to keep up with the demand for frequency response issues for quite a while. For the foreseeable future, we will need to expand the size of the economy that we can do demand-management on. That means that individual home owners need to get in on the action.

Right now, my electricity company charge me £0.24 per kwh of power. If I want it now, its £0.24. If I want it at 3AM, it £0.24, so I frankly don’t care when I use power I KNOW I have to use.

Luckily I have 3 weapons at my disposal that will allow me, as a smug smart meter owner, to ‘haggle’ with the energy company. I own a dishwasher, a washing machine and… *drumroll* an electric car. I NEED the dishes washed today, the clothes washed today and the car charged over the next 12 hours, but I dont REALLY care the exact time any of this happened. So make me an offer…

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I don’t plug my car in every day, it doesn’t need it, but if I knew that I might get an offer of power for £0.01 /kwh at 4am tomorrow, I’ll fill my car up to the max. That suits me fine, and it suits the desperately-balancing grid even finer. Its a huge win-win, and smooths out some of those crazy price spikes. This sort of thing is ONLY possible with smart meters.

I’m about to swap to a different tariff, for EV owners, that gives me nighttime power at 75% off. This suits me perfectly, I’ll schedule the car charging and other stuff to run during those off peak hours. Excellent. Good for me, and good for the grid. And yes…EV owners are a minority for now, but a rapidly growing one. A big EV has an 85-100kwh battery, which represents a HUGE chunk of your electricity consumption. If everyone ends up with an EV, and we can all have the charging times auto-negotiated with the grid, thats a big win.

Notice that this is NOT ‘vehicle-to-grid’, where your car acts as a grid-connected battery. Thats a different, and interesting issues, but we don’t even need that. What we need is just to have ‘smart’ usage of electricity. We need to do localized peak-shaving in our communities so that the draw from each community is smoothed out and manageable.

The need for this is even greater when you consider rooftop solar. In an ideal world, if I’m on holiday but its sunny, my solar panels can charge my neighbors EV or run their dishwasher, without that energy ever needing to leave this village and put a strain on the main trunk-roads of the grid. It CANNOT put a strain on the grid, because the grid is already creaking like crazy.

Climate change is driving us to have more electric cars AND more renewable energy, meaning we demand more from the grid, just as it becomes more unstable. Smart meters HAVE to be rolled out to everyone ASAP, and I decided to get ahead of the chaos and the crush by getting mine early. If you live in the UK you WILL end up with a smart meter, and it will likely save you money. There is no real reason to avoid getting to the front of the queue before the queue explodes in size. It took me 3 months to get mine. Electricity prices have risen dramatically since I applied…

CO2 Policies in Democracy 4

I’m starting to fine tune some of the values in the simulation so that they reflect a better approximation of real world choices in 2020, as well as keeping the game fun to play, and taking into account some new policy options that we have introduced. A runthrough of all the current options in my policies list that affect CO2 emissions DIRECTLY gives me this:

This is in NO WAY the extent of the CO2 sim, because its also affected indirectly. For example we now model veganism/vegetarianism and its impact on emissions, and you can indirectly affect them by policies that encourage less meat consumption, which happens (again indirectly)( through tougher food standards and food labeling and certain dilemmas and events.
Also a lot of emissions come from Cars and Planes, and we have taxes and other systems such as bus and train subsidies that allow you to affect the take-up of those forms of transport, as well as the conversion from fossil fuel vehicles to electric..

HOWEVER! That does not mean I should just throw my hands up in despair and go ‘its too complex!’. I need to keep checking values to ensure they make at least some rational sense right? :D So what do I need to change here…

Obviously the carbon tax is WAY too good. It has negative impacts too, in that it damages the economy and upsets capitalists at the extremes, but not nearly enough for a policy that brings in so much cash. At the extreme end it brings in more than twice as much as inheritance tax at its extremes. Something I REALLY should model is one of the paradoxes of taxes like these…

A carbon tax is an externality tax. Its basically punishing people for doing something bad thats not otherwise reflected in the market. If such taxes do their job… people do less of that thing. if people do less of that thing… the tax REVENUE goes DOWN. In other words, as we put the tax up, the revenue should rise and then plateau and then fall…

Luckily thats easy! because we support all sorts of equation types in the game, Currently the game has a multiplier on the income from the carbon tax like so:


Which is rubbish, because if we reduce emissions to zero, the tax should clearly be zero too. We need to change that to be a straight linear multiplier instead. Also I think we need some extra negatives for that tax. It effectively acts as an energy tax (annoys everyone) a car tax (annoys motorists…scaled by the electric car transition…) and a flight tax (annoys wealthy and reduces tourism).

Looking at the other end of things, Carbon Capture & Storage is ludicrously ineffective yet expensive. Is there a reason for this? Well it is VERY fast acting, unlike many of the others (which makes sense, as it ACTIVELY takes carbon out of the atmosphere, instead of hoping one day people buy less polluting cars…), but even so… I may have to bump up its usefulness and tweak the cost down a bit…

Other noticeable ones are new car subsidies having minuscule effect and huge cost. It reduces our emission by 4% at best. Cars contribution to emissions is roughly 12% of the total (data here). Assuming that the new car subsidies at their peak involve maybe 50% of cars being replaced, that should affect 6% of emissions…so new cars being more efficient really is a drop in ocean. Yikes.

Meanwhile in the real world about 50% of CO2 is from the energy sector, yet my renewable energy subsidies only reduce emissions at maximum by 15%, whereas pollution controls are 19%. That seems backwards at best, but maybe pollution controls needs a major reduction in effectiveness. After all, its just ‘controls’ without specifying more, so that might limit emissions, but certainly not stop them entirely. Its likely focused on particulates and even water/ground pollution too…

Also mandatory micro-generation looks a little generous. As effective as centralized subsidies? I doubt it. Even if EVERYONE starts to retrofit houses with solar panels, that still doesn’t cover winter/night-time generation, and in terms of bang-for-your bucks, Hydro and Wind (esp offshore huge farms) are likely to be more cost effective.

Also I reckon eco home regulations is under-effective. It will take a LONG time to take effect, but as someone who RIGHT NOW is getting new windows fitted (see below my thermal camera image showing the new (Blue) and old (yellow!) and can feel the difference… I think that this should be a more effective overall and per-dollar policy.


Lots more to tweak!

My non games idea

I’d like to set up a company one day which solved an inefficiency in the market for consumer services.

Right now, in the UK and most countries individual consumers enter into deals with utility suppliers to provide them with Electricity, maybe gas, water, and telephony / internet access. This involves setting up an account, deciding on a username/password, some bank details, picking a ‘plan’ and so on. We are widely told that the range of deals available means we should shop around and change our providers often. In practice few people do this. (I do, but I’m…different). What bugs me is not that few people do shop around, but that the process is so clunky and manual.

Now I’m not talking about ‘making switching easier’. thats lame, and unambitious. I’m talking about making it automated. Not on a year-to-year basis, but on a second by second basis. Think less like a form-filling bureaucrat, and more like a high frequency trader.


When I switch on my PC, and it draws current from the mains, I want there to be a super-fast auction, right then, in the exact same way banner-adverts are traded, where my AI agent that represents me haggles on the energy market to get me the extra power for the next few seconds. And I want it to keep haggling all the time I’m drawing power. I also want my taps (faucets to some of you) to do the same thing, and I want my telephone, broadband, everything to work the same way.

Of course, this works WAY better when we can defer demand. A smart fridge can, for example put in a  request for power to its compressor *some time in the next five minutes*, but not care exactly when. As a result, it should get a darned good deal. On the other hand, a hairdryer needs power RIGHT NOW, and at the other end of the spectrum, my fancy-pants electric car can charge *at some point in the next eight hours*. I don’t care when.

This would make for a huge boost in energy efficiency. The demand curve of UK power would flatten out substantially, meaning less need for overcapacity to handle ‘spikes’. It used to be the case that the definition of a UK power spike was either the adverts at the end of the TV show ‘coronation street’ or the end of the queens speech on Christmas day. Why? Because thats when about 10 million Brits switched on a 240volt 2,000 watt electric kettle. I’m not kidding. Apparently after the ‘who shot Phil Mitchell’ episode of EastEnders, power surged by 2.6 GW. As I type this, demand is 32GW in total.


Anyway…what annoys me is not that we do not have this system in place (I understand it involves huge infrastructure investment and new appliances), but that we do not seem to be making ANY steps in that direction whatsoever. I have a big energy-guzzling car, which would be perfectly suited to negotiating a time to draw current with the power company, and yet there is, AFAIK, NO provider in the UK that even has a prototype for such a system. Why?

Sadly I expect this will never happen, and what we will end up is local co-operatives handling power management themselves. if I had a Tesla powerwall, I could save any excess from my solar panels, and either use it to charge my car, or to sell into a village-linked system to a neighbour. I suspect local systems like this, with a fraction of the potential savings are going to become commonplace before any of the big players in UK infrastructure take a step in this direction.