Category Archives: solar

I’ve been making games for 20 years this year, which means the phrase ‘listen sunshine, I was making games before you woz even born’ is something I can smugly tell more and more people at GDC this year. This is definitely an achievement unlocked. However, milestones are always times for reflection, and after 20 years I am forced to reflect that my non-games ‘business goals’ are still missing an important piece.

I am someone cursed by a drive to work hard at something I know nothing about, have no skills in, and do not understand. Before you crack jokes about my games being ‘not that bad’, I’m not talking about games development, but something else entirely. For about 30 years I’ve been an environmentalist, and have long desired to do something concrete and tangible about the threat of climate change. My fantasy for a long time has been to own a wind farm (not a single turbine, I think big), and although they can be expensive (a 5MW turbine is about $5million), its not that which puts me off. What puts me off, is my complete lack of knowledge about engineering, energy production, and the entire marketplace. I would be like one of those well-meaning but completely doomed idealistic dreamers who opens a restaurant because ‘they really like food’.

Still, I got further than most. I’ve met with 2 people who ran a turbine installation company and talked about the options, although TBH it was just depressing. Despite the UK public having overwhelming support for onshore wind, the idiots in the current government pander to those who bizarrely hate it, and would rather spend TWICE the money per KWH on the most expensive white elephant in human history.

That power station will never be finished, and never generate power. it. is. doomed.

But anyway…

I’ve managed to still ‘make a difference’ as a hands-off investor in renewable energy, by investing in a whole bunch of projects through abundance. I have chunks of solar farms, wind turbines, anaerobic digesters, tidal power stations, and rooftop solar installs. The only problem with this is that it doesn’t ‘feel’ real. I cant go out there and see ‘my’ wind turbine, and for all I know, all of this would have happened without me.

What compounds this feeling of frustration is working on production line (which is all about building real tangible things efficiently), and the long tedious opera-in-waiting that is trying to get fiber optic internet for my home. I won’t bore you with the details, but even being prepared to put down £17,000 and wait a year was insufficient for engineers from BT Openreach to lay a single tiny cable to my house. Yes really. The sheer dumb, mindless incompetence of that just flattens me, and is compounded by the fact that it looks like we are going to get it now anyway for free. Incompetence squared.

The real nail-in-the-coffin is that this fiber link will be delivered on overhead cables, ie: ‘telegraph poles’ as we call them in the UK. Essentially the wooden posts that they would have used in downton abbey times. Have I mentioned that its now 2018 and this is the best that modern Britain can do? This INFURIATES ME. I have total sympathy with Elon Musk when he was stuck in traffic and said ‘I’m going to just buy a machine and start digging’. We urgently need that attitude here, and probably all over the world. It pains me massively to see how pathetic the UK policy on climate change and energy independence is. New houses get built without any solar power, solar thermal or even rain water harvesting. Its like we are stuck in the 1970s. We still dont have smart meters. I had to specifically request a water meter. Madness.

But what can I do? I’m 48, I’m not about to retrain as a civil engineer, and getting into a business you do not understand the basics of is a recipe for disaster. Thus I remain on the sidelines, doing a job that I love, and enjoy, but to be honest, I get pangs of thinking ‘shouldn’t I be doing something more socially useful’?

I read a book on ‘doing good well’, and there is definitely a serious argument in there for ‘earning to give’. In other words, do what you are good at, make money, and use that money to pay others to do what you wish you were good at. I’ve definitely made big investments in green energy, and have vague plans to build a super-eco house to retire in, with a little (maybe 100 panels) solar array next door to it. It wouldn’t make me Elon Musk, but its still something to aim for.

A worry a damn lot about climate change, and 97% of scientists are scared to death as well. if you are not, you should be. I really don’t want to contribute to the problem, so what can I do? The best figures I can find show that the average UK household emits 8.45 metric tons per year per person, so our household is emitting on average 17 tons. We have lots of home PCs, and our house is sadly not as insulated as modern ones (its as insulated as is practical), so lets round that up to 20 tons. My risk adjusted life expectancy is 87 years, so I have about 40 years to go, which very crudely puts my remaining CO2 emissions at 800 metric tons of CO2. Can I offset all that?

Current prices put the price of carbon at about 7.7 EUR per ton, so to offset all my future expected production would be about EUR 6,160. This doesn’t really sound too bad at all, and i suspect its not close to being accurate. After all, this would cost me a mere EUR 2.92 a week. If the cost of taking us to zero carbon was this cheap, we would be done by now.

Clearly the real cost of damage done by CO2 is way, way higher, and current carbon pricing is a joke. Sure enough, scientists have suggested the true cost to be more like $220 a ton, making my lifetime future emissions closer to $176,000, a much scarier figure, although thanks to my luck with the world of video games, not out of the question at all.

If I was to commit to spending 176k over 40 years ($4,400 a year) to negate my carbon output, what would be the best way to do it. I can think of various answers.

Firstly, I could simply buy carbon offsets. This is the simplest and easiest system, just send people a check, and they plant trees. in theory simple, although I would want to be EXTREMELY sure that those trees were actually planted, that they were not going to be planted otherwise, and so on.

Secondly I could invest in renewable energy that generates enough power to offset those emissions. A 500kw wind turbine generates roughly 1,800MWh per year. Apparently 1 kwh is the same as 0.14kg of CO2 currently in the UK so errr… 1,800,000kwh is effectively offsetting 252,000 kg of CO2, or roughly 252 tons. Thus I need about 3.5 years output from a 500kw wind turbine to have my household be carbon neutral. Generally speaking you expect these things to last about 25 years, so by again, crude methods, we can say that I’d need to own 14% of a 500kw wind turbine to be totally neutral. I currently own (through abundance) 7.14% of this turbine:

(technically not owned, but am entitled to income from it due to ownership of debentures etc…) Which means I’m actually half way there just with this turbine. A bunch of other investments, including solar, geothermal and tidal means I’m definitely already there…

I’m such a big fan of renewable energy that even before typing this, I was pretty sure I was carbon neutral, but starting to do the sums and look at the investments convinces me I’m massively carbon-negative, even if I fly to the US once a year, and leave my PC on all the time (which I don’t :D). Having said that, a flight from London to San Fran, business class, is about 6 tons, so not to be sneezed at, as it represents a 75% increase in my annual emissions. FWIW, the same flight economy class is 3.3 tons. If we were pricing the CO2 from flights accurately, the climate surcharge for economy flights would be about $726, and for business it would be $1,320.

Maybe if sales are good I should do my own offsetting for future flights, I never trust the airlines to really do it anyway, and reflecting the true carbon cost feels better.

Food for thought :D

 

 

Positech Energy. STAGE ONE. BWAHAHAHAHAHA

October 15, 2014 | Filed under: solar

My day dreams involve mostly chocolate and spaceships, but now and then I dream about running a big renewable energy business. I’m a big believer in such things. If You are someone who thinks climate change is made up by Al Gore as a plot to take away your guns, stop reading now.

Unfortunately, despite being very into green energy, I know sod all about engineering. I can wire a plug, and even solder a bit now and then, but my understanding of planning applications and energy management and construction processes is absolutely zero, so Positech has to be, for now, a passive investor in such things. Long term readers of my blog may know that I have a hybrid car and a little row of 10 solar panels in my driveway, and maybe also know that I’ve bought some shares in a solar farm here and there. I consider them to be good investments. I don’t know many investments that pretty much guarantee an inflation-beating return over 25 years, but energy infrastructure does. I’m willing to bet that energy prices will only go UP during that time frame.

Anyway, today marks a milestone because rather than making these investments as an individual, Positech has invested in a chunk of renewable energy as a long term (25 years) investment. I see this as a pretty good hedge against the games industry. Don’t keep all your eggs in one basket and all that.

So Positech has bought roughly 6% of this:

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It’s a crowd-funded Vestas V39 Wind Turbine, in Dorset, SW England. It’s also BIG. Wind turbine efficiency is very directly correlated with scale. Small ones suck. TBH, this one is too small really. It’s a 500Kw one, whereas the big ones are 6MW or even 8MW for experimental offshore ones. However, it kicks my 2.1kwp solar array into dust. Plus wind turbines run all night and all year. yay! It might be small by wind turbine standards, but its’ big enough to be efficient. 39 meter diameter blades. pic below shows scale better…

IMG_3021

I’m a big fan of long term investments, and spreading risk, and trying to do something about climate change. Positech could leave its money in the bank, where it could be lent out to arms companies like BAE or Oil Companies or god knows what else, or I could take control of it directly and invest it in something I consider positive, so thats what we have done.

Who knows maybe in the long term we will invest directly, and get a turbine built as a company (positech energy?) rather than this sort of investment, but that takes BIG money. I think you really need about a million pounds to do that, and ideally about five to ten million to build any of the proper sized ones. I better get back to work… :D

Various things going through my head today…

Firstly, the UK government gets to build a nuclear power station near me. That doesn’t scare me *as such*, although I’d definitely prefer it was a few hundred miles further away thanks. What pisses me off is that people are not prepared to discuss the facts, and risks. Even just RIGHT NOW on the BBC web site, there is news of new cracks in an existing reactor, and a ship carrying radioactive waste is drifting out of control. I mean…FFS, can we not even sensibly discuss the risks without being daubed as ‘anti-science’ and ignorant. I get that all the time because I’m very sceptically of nuclear power and it pisses me off. It’s possible to be informed, educated, sensible and still very wary of risks of these things thanks to the precautionary principle.

Anyway, I’m SURE that now we have guaranteed the french-owned nuclear station 30 years of a £92.50 strike price for nuclear energy we will get the same for solar generated by UK citizens right? The Feed-in-tariff is currently 6.38p/kwh for standalone solar PV. thats £63.80 guaranteed for 25 years, with no government implied insurance backing (nuclear plants are never insured), waste disposal or safety/security concerns. So….. err no.   I’m aware that solar has downsides due to indeterminacy and land-use, but rooftop solar has no land-use downside and the distributed nature of the energy source makes it more efficient due to lower power-line losses. Nukes have to be by the sea. Solar can be anywhere. Solar can be community owned, closer to the people and more democratized.

This is all in my mind as I’m looking for very-long-term investments for Positech Games. I’d ideally like to diversify a bit from games, and my dream project is a solar-farm or wind-farm. Ideally wind, but this is VERY expensive (there are huge economies of scale with turbine size, you really want 6MW turbines, which cost millions each), so more likely solar, which means buying land, which is hard to find. In both cases, planning is a nightmare because people somehow think solar panels in a field they can’t even see are somehow a problem. The thought of arguing with such people drives me nuts.

What I *could* do, what *everyone* in the UK does, is buy some cheap flats and rent them out to people who can’t afford to buy them. This is the default pension plan for middle and high income brits. I kinda hate it. I don’t want to leverage my financial position to squeeze ‘dead-money’ in rent from people on a lower income. That kinda sucks. I’d like to set up a business that generated renewable energy instead, but our politics in the uk is moving against the environment, and can I really trust a government feed-in-tariff promise anyway?

In unrelated news, getting new games to feature on showmethegames.com is like pulling teeth. A lot of indies sell only through steam. Not just only through 3rd party portals, but exclusively through one. This amazes me. I LOVE steam, but my attitude to any business is like Han Solo and Lando.

“Can you trust him?”

“No…but he is my friend…”

I don’t know who might buy valve next year, or in ten years time. Nobody does, not even Valve. Hedging your bets is good. You don’t stick your entire stock portfolio in one share, it’s too risky, however safe a bet it looks. BigFishGames started off paying devs 70% royalty as I recall. They ended up with  around 20%. Businesses can change. It seems I’m the only one who realizes this.

So these ‘indie’ devs (I can’t really call them independent), can’t be listed on SMTG because it only lists devs with a direct purchase option, and increasingly this isn’t the case. Add to that people who take the hilariously catch-22 attitude of not wanting to be on SMTG because it has relatively low-traffic.

Again..I’m trying to do the right thing…use my own money to run a site that promotes other indie devs FOR FREE. But nobody is that interested.

So maybe it’s time to close SMTG, spend the money (and any solar-investment money) on buying up a bunch of buy-to-let properties so I can squeeze young people off the property ladder in the UK even more. Apparently that is what sensible people do.

Bah.