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

Solar update, and motivations

Regular readers of this blog might know that one of my long term goals is to get solar power hooked up at my house, a task massively complicated by it being a listed building, and the planning authority being bureaucratic gits. Anyway… we finally have the planning notice nailed to our fence awaiting neighbours comments (there won’t be any, nobody even walks past our house), so the wheels are in motion. I know some people are trendily anti-green-energy, so I thought I’d lay out my motivation:

1) Energy prices.

Clicky here: to get unbiased figures, and you will discover that from 2005, UK domestic electricity prices have risen by 55% since 2005. Yup, that’s 55%. In 6 years. Assuming my panels last at least 12 years, they will preside over another (v roughly) doubling of electricity costs. We aren’t building new coal or new nuclear in the UK, and the severn barrage has been turned down, so I don’t see supply rising in those 12 years. Meanwhile the population rises and people keep buying domestic gadgets that drain power, plus people buying plug in hybrids soon will only add to the demand. Plus a greener future government could levy a tax on energy that raises prices even more. I expect the price to have tripled by 2020, personally.

2) Feed-In-Tariff.

It’s VERY generous, and some people resent this, but it’s there for a reason. It’s to make solar panels a no-brainer for the home-owner and kick-start our market. There is literally no good reason other than aesthetic to not stick them on your roof if you have a south-facing one. You are literally burning money with it sat in a savings account, on the roof, the returns are higher :D It says a lot about how behind Germany we are that even with such a high incentive, people are not doing this.

3) Geekiness / Green-ness

I’m a fully fledged Geek AND I’m a committed tree-hugger, so it’s no surprise that I want some cool geeky tech. I reckon if nothing else, the panels will 100% power everything in my home office, meaning positech can claim to be a carbon neutral game developer. bwahahaha! Plus, I like the idea that occasionally the energy company has to pay ME money.

We should know in roughly a months time if we get the go-ahead. The company to install them has been chosen, the site selected, the money (£10k) set aside at last. It’s only some jobsworth in the local council who could stop me, and if they turn it down, we will appeal. I’m a stubborn bastard, if I have to drive to London and personally harass the energy secretary to overturn it (they have that power) I will do so. Expect a ton of geeky photos and details and stats and analysis of the things if I ever get them installed. Once I’ve recovered from my celebration hangover obviously…

I don’t ‘get’ the ipad

Not long ago I actually left the house and went shopping. Obviously I didn’t actually buy anything, but I did end up in an apple store, for the first time ever, fondling an ipad. I used to be an apple hardware engineer, so I have no hatred of them, but I haven’t ever owned anything more than an ipod. Anyway…

I just don’t get it.

I can see that it’s a geek fantasy to have a ‘padd’ from star trek as a geek toy, I can imagine all sorts of cool commercial uses for it, I bet a lot of admin staff in airports or warehouses or any sort of travel hub or whatever, have a legit use for something like the ipad. In other words, places where you are stood up and consulting notes now and then.

But at home… no.

Basically if me and my better half are surfing the net, or wanted to look at photos or whatever, then My default position is to stick my feet up on a pouffe, slouch like a student on the sofa, and park a laptop on my legs/belly. This works perfectly. The keyboard acts as the base, and the screen is constantly adjustable to get the perfect viewing angle.

With an ipad, I’d have to hold the stupid thing, or grab a cushion to prop it up, or some other silliness. I also find it much easier to control whats on the screen with keys or a touchpad, so I can still…you know…SEE the screen as I do it. The first dozen times you zoom in by splodging your hands on the screen is cool, but isn’t this just the silly tom cruise interweb interface again? (I admit it is cool to turn pages this way though).

Seriously…who reads like this? (img from

I also don’t think the ipad is especially thin, or lightweight, compared to a fairly high-range lightweight laptop. Obviously, I didn’t buy one, I also think it’s hilariously pricey for what it is. So tell me, what am I missing? Am I just lazier than everyone else? am I just tragically uncool? Or after a month of fiddling with your ipad do you wish it was the same form factor as a netbook?

Solar Update

I’ve been working for hours on the campaign, so this is my break:

I emailed the solar company yesterday and finally said yes. That is the end result of a long torturous period of talking to different companies about potential installations, and looking at a total of 4 different roof locations, before eventually sadly concluding that they would have to be ground mounted.

What I’ve said yes to is an array of 10 PV  panels, in 2 groups of 5, in a portrait orientation, so as to minimise the width of the array, as the shading from the trees and the house take place at each end at the start and end of the day, thus minimzing overall shading. This means the array is likely to be about 5 meters by 3 meters in size, and means there is less room for parking, which is fine because this is the money I’d otherwise have bought a newer car with anyway :D

The panels themselves will be schuco MPE 215 (215watt) modules. The inverter will be a sunny boy, with a remote monitoring system called a sunny beam. If I can find out how to code a blog page widget to show current solar output, I will :D.

The installers (no doubt optimistic) estimate is for it to generate 2.15kwp which is 1,792KWH per year. Thats £740.19 in feed in tariff and a saving of roughly £268.33 per year. Thats a total of £1,009.02 per year on an investment of roughly £11k. Thats a ROI of  9.1%, or ‘much better than any bank account’. Now you see why I’m doing it :D If the power generated was 50% lower, it’s *still* a good investment…

HOWEVER. All this assumes that I get a) Listed Building consent and b) Planning permission. I am optimistic, but planning people can be very prickly. Quite *why* anyone could object to them is beyond me as you can only see the site from physically in our garden, plus they don’t even touch the house. I’m still nervous about getting an answer though.

I’ve wanted solar panels for about 10 years now, but I won’t believe it’s really happening until I have them working. The plus side to all this is the proposed site is right outside my office window, which is kinda cool.

Now back to debugging…

More Eco Stuff

For those who don’t know, I moved into an OLD house (approx 1750), and am trying to improve its energy efficiency. The house was laughably inefficient and leaky when we moved in, and its better now, albeit incredibly bad by modern standards. Being a ‘listed’ building, I can’t have double glazing, and the house is built before cavity walls were invented.

Anyway, one of the long term plans has been solar panels, and many many weeks and months of debate later, I’m slowly edging closer. A structural engineer told us (for £200) that he has  ‘no idea’ whether the kitchen roof can handle the weight of solar panels. So that was just fab.

A better person than me recently found a company that seems to be the world experts in making lightweight steel roof tiles that have integrated solar panels. How cool is that? And where in the world are they? About 10 miles away. How double cool is that? I’ll be speaking to their solar guy on monday.

In unrelated news, I bought an ‘ecofan’. It’s one of those clever little propeller fans that sits on top of a wood burning stove, and uses the rising heat from the stove as its own power source, then gently blows the warm air around the room, reducing the amount of wood you need to burn. Is it worth it? I dunno. It’e been warm ever since, so the fan sits there, unused, braced for it’s first night, full of exciting promise.

One of the things we changed was to get new radiators fitted. We now have the old fashioned big tubular things, like they used to have in British schools. They are pretty cool. We swapped some badly placed ones for longer, shallower ones, so that they don’t just throw all their heat out of the windows. We also got a cast iron radiator. Have you ever tried to lift a cast iron radiator? They weigh more than a star destroyer. It took four of us, together shuffling it a foot at a time. That thing holds more water than a thousand olympic sized swimming pools, and when you turn it off, the house stays toastry warm for six months. It looks incredibly steampunk. If there were radiators in captain nemos office, they would be that one. It has etched patterns and allsorts.

If I ever actually get working solar panels installed in this house, I may have to have a celebration cheap games sale or something.

I’ll have news monday. News of a silly experiment.

Solar shenanigans part I

I’m aiming, at some point, to get some solar panels installed on my house. This may sound like some middle class hippy luxury, but nay! it is not so. The last UK government spent 12 years ignoring the environment and hoping it would go away, then flipped out and introduced a feed-in-tariff that makes micro-generation a no-brainer. 41.3p per unit of generated power, whether you use it or not. It only costs 11p to actually buy power at peak time, so I assume the civil servant responsible was just drunk. There again, they don’t tend to care how they spend our money.

Basically, even if you are Karl Rove, or the chairman of Exxon and think Climate Change is a fairy story, you would still be insane if you had a south facing roof and you didn’t install solar panels on it. Even if you had to borrow the money, it can make financial sense (because the payback is likely to be higher than the loan interest). As it happens, I am a big fan of renewable energy and have lusted after the idea of solar PV for probably 10 years now. Anyway… I *do* have a south facing roof, so it should be a no brainer right?

Firstly, I live in a ‘listed building‘ which means I have to bake cakes and make tea for the local planning consent officer (who is younger than me! FFS!) and beg and grovel for permission to do this. Secondly, The south facing roof is great, but its made out of corrugated metal (really!) and we aren’t sure it would support the weight. Cue structural survey for £200. Bah…

Thirdly, we have a rather huge, and impressive oak tree in the garden. A garden that slopes south and upwards, so that the tip of the tree just shades part of the potential panels. For boring reasons, even minor shading on solar is an efficiency disaster. We *do* have 4 (I counted them) other locations where the panels could go, as there is a garage, blah blah. And after 3 days of taking photos every 2 hours (when there was some sun…) and lots of staring at them, I concluded that only 1 of them is really a viable site (metal roof ville). So I’m finally at the point where I’ve booked a strcutural survey to turn up and check the roof.

If the guy tells me it won’t support the panels, I’m going to stab him with my D’k-tagh and invoke the vengeance of kahless on the world…

(I’m playtesting the campaign game. It has ship maintenance costs in now, and is getting more and more stable.)