Category Archives: solar

Solar Update

August 14, 2018 | Filed under: solar

Since I got a new inverter, I have far better logging of the power output of my solar panels, even on my phone :D

I have a pretty small, 2.1kwp (10 panel) ground mount array in my driveway. Its partially shaded at certain points of the day and year, far from ideal. Nevertheless it looks like we are producing about 44% of our August energy consumption from our solar panels.

Thats better than it sounds, because our electrical consumption is relatively high due to

a) Working from home

b) Having an induction hob electric cooker and

c) Having an electric car that charges from home.

We use about 514kwh of energy in August, our peak is about 800 which is January, and probably due to some electric heating in certain rooms, and more hot food I guess.   If we had a new house, with better insulation (this one is insulated as much as it can be given its structure), and larger rooftop solar with zero shading, I reckon we could probably hit 100% renewable in the summer months. Why new-build homes are not mandated to include solar panels is a mystery to me. Its just such an obvious thing to do.

An open letter to my liberal friends

July 09, 2018 | Filed under: solar

I have friends all over the political spectrum. Some of my friends have other of my friends on blocklists. I’ve seen the most antagonistic yelling between people I know on twitter many a time. I recently sat and chatted to an older friend who said stuff that would make my more liberal friends spontaneously combust (they meant well…attitudes change over the generations). When I was young (teenage) i was VERY left wing. Now…I describe myself as a liberal capitalist environmentalist. I feel I can criticize and support positions from all over the spectrum. I don’t feel a need to pick a ‘team’.

So… Theres something I often feel like yelling at my more liberal, left-wing, right-on socially conscious buddies, but I never do it to their face because…I’m actually a fairly agreeable non-conflict person most of the time in real life. So here goes..

FOR FUCKS SAKE STOP FLYING.

Now for the nuance…

If you read my blog you will know I’m a pretty passionate environmentalist, a big fan of electric cars and solar power (and wind power). I invest in a lot of green tech, and I try to be as green as I can in the way I live. This is not without its struggles. On the one hand..I am not a vegetarian…on the other hand, I have no kids, and I drive an electric car. I added it all up once and I’m definitely carbon negative. I’m offset up to my eyeballs, so I shouldn’t feel bad about my own impact on the environment. I recycle, I have LED lightbulbs everywhere, yada yada.

The thing is, a lot of my liberal buddies who also recycle, who also have LED lightbulbs, who also think renewable energy is a good idea, and also say they care passionately about the problem of climate change turn into absolute hypocrites the nanosecond there is an excuse to jump in a plane. Not only do they all fly places without giving it a second thought, they seem actively CONFUSED when you point out that regular plane trips are pretty much the most environmentally catastrophic thing you can do. To put it bluntly, you can wear vegan shoes, only ever eat avocados, and contribute $5 a month to greenpeace all you like, but if you make unnecessary plane trips you undo that good work about a billion times over.

Some stats: (source: https://www.carbonfootprint.com/calculator.aspx and others)

  • A return flight, economy class, from London to San Francisco: 1.38 tonnes of CO2
  • 10,000 miles in a 1.5 liter car: 2.61 tonnes of CO2
  • Eating a cheeseburger every day for a year: 1.58 tonnes of CO2
  • Using aircon all year round:  1.44 tonnes of CO2.

Now obviously you may use more aircon, or less aircon, and you may eat lots, or very few cheeseburger, and you maybe drive a bit less or a bit more, but what people seem to forget is that every time you do a transatlantic flight, that’s the equivalent of 365 cheeseburgers. Your vegan car seats and fondness for avocado go straight out the window if you take just a single transatlantic trip. Instinctively, people are aware that flying is ‘bad for the environment’, but the true scale of it is never acknowledged. The next time you book a flight, realize that climate-change wise, what you are doing is effectively whacking the aircon to max, or stuffing down daily burgers for a whole year.

Now..I’m not exactly untouchable here, as I fly across the Atlantic myself, although I try very hard to absolutely minimize it. I have gone to GDC each year for the last few years, and gone on holiday in south America (and soon will go on holiday to Canada). I do fly a LOT less than most people in my position. I’d never fly domestically in the UK (hey..we have cars and trains!) or France, Germany, Belgium etc. We can drive anywhere in Europe. If I go to GDC I will not fly to any other trade show. I’ve never been to PAX or DICE or to Gamescom. I go to EGX, Rezzed and the PC Gamer weekender sometimes (all drivable). Thats more than enough.

And where possible, if  I can combine one of those biz trips with a holiday, I’ll try and ‘get the most’ from my flight. When I went to Detroit to visit a car factory, it was on the way home from GDC, for example. (with a pit stop in new york to see a friend).

So I’m not saying *do not fly* as much as I’m saying ‘for fucks sake, only fly when there is no other option’ along with ‘think about the consequences a bit more’. I’m lucky enough to be in the position that I could fly to the Caribbean once or twice a year for a weeks chilling out. I LOVE the Caribbean, and the ONLY reason I dont do it is because of CO2 emissions. Those two schools we built/are building in Cameroon? I’ll never see them. never. I can’t justify the flight. I understand why people who dont believe in climate change fly everywhere. What I dont understand is why people who claim to understand it, be concerned about it, and keen to do something to prevent it, think that they can ignore it when they want to jump on a plane.

You really cant.

 

 

 

 

 

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:

14711216160_b16ec05afe_z

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