Saturday, 28 December 2019

10 Renewable Energy and Green Songs

So its that period between Christmas and New Year where you are not sure what day it is, the diet is mostly leftovers and you are getting ready for the year to come. I spent a car journey between relatives coming up with a top ten songs related to renewable energy and green issues.

This is the list we came up with. Number ten is left empty, please feel free to suggest one in the comments. An obvious start, without need for much of an introduction. This is what we are fighting for and what we have to lose:

 1. Wonderful World.

Louis Armstrong  You can read more about it here 

The Wombles have been on message since 1968. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. They were there and that is why they get number two spot in our list.

 2. The Wombling Song

The Wombles 

With solar panels on our roof (which have now paid for themselves in both money and carbon reduction), clear skies mean free electricity to us, so this one gets position three.

 3. I Can See Clearly Now 

 Hot House Flowers


However, as a country, our reduction in the use of fossil fuels can be put down to our building of wind farms, both on and off shore. As I write this, almost 30% of our electricity is being generated by wind turbines. I'll give the fire a miss, but I'll go with the wind :-)

 4. Fantasy 

Earth Wind and Fire


Now we get to the political ones. This gets into the list for the only Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas.
I won't go on about the fact the Green Party recieved 800,000 votes in the recent election and only have one MP. (Oh wait, I did)

 5. Sweet Caroline

Neil Daimond   

This one is really just dedicated by us to one American. The one who thinks wind turbines cause cancer and climate change is a conspiracy by the Chinese.

 6. American Idiot 

Green Day


And this is our message to him :-)

 7. Science Is Real 

They Must Be Giants


Now for probably our most tentative song. There is no real excuse for this except it came to mind and was part of my childhood.

8. Green Door 

Shaking Stevens 


John Lennon only gets a look in because I think if he was still alive, he would have written a good song for this list. As it is, this is the most appropriate I could find.

 9. Cleanup Time 

John Lennon 


I don't think I'll give up my day job and become a musicologist (A real job. I've worked with some before). The number ten slot is empty for you to suggest the final track. Please feel free to leave suggestions in the comments along with the reason for your choice if it is not obvious. Thanks.
Happy Christmas and a Green New Year to you all.

 10 ?

Sunday, 24 November 2019

Threat to Solar

The current government have removed most of the incentives for installing your own renewable electricity generators and in addition have increased the tax on new installations. This goes against all of their talk of tackling climate change. Under their watch micro wind generation has all but stopped and there is a risk solar will go the same way. Each roof top solar installation saves an average of 26 tons of CO2 emissions over its lifetime and if installed on the roofs of all new homes, would make a significant impact on our countries carbon footprint.

The tax rate on domestic coal is 5% The tax rate on domestic solar has been raised to 20%

The then environment secretary, Michael Gove, agreed that there was a climate emergency, but said he did not like the idea of declaring one. Telegraph

In April this year the MCS feed in tariff ended. The feed in tariff was intended as a reducing payment that would encourage solar installations while reducing year-on-year as the price of installation dropped due to economies of scale.

Payments were set by OFGEN each year with the payment having two elements, one payment was based on generation (the total electricity produced weather used or exported to the national grid) and a second payment for the amount exported.

Due to the lack of smart metering at the time the scheme started, the amount exported was deemed to be half of that generated. The amount paid was an index linked rate set yearly by OFGEN.

You could argue that it had done its job. Solar installation prices had come down to such an extent that they could payback their initial investment within a reasonable period of time without the need for incentives.

However, solar installations of a size suitable for most homes will produce more than they require at certain times of the year. At this point, the excess generated electricity is fed into the grid.

The government failed to provide a replacement for the feed in tariff, so it is currently up to your electricity provider to set a value on the electricity you supply them.

It is planned to set a minimum rate in January, but smaller electricity providers are exempt and the rate is likely to be considerably lower than the amount we pay to receive electricity into our homes.

Secondly, until October this year, solar panels had a VAT rate of 5%. The same rate as domestic fuel like gas, oil or coal. This has now been raised to 20%. This one piece of legislation will probably put an end to solar installations in the UK

This legislation was passed on 25 June 2019, the same day the UK House of Commons passed legislation to commit the UK to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The rate increase was claimed to bring us in to line with EU rule, however this does not seem to be the case. The lower rate of VAT on solar had been discussed in 2016 and was deemed to meet EU tax rules at that point. Nothing has changed and yet here we are.

Saturday, 23 November 2019

Quick ! Solar !

I have been asked a few times recently, is it still worth getting Solar installed at home on your roof. I have gathered the data and completed the calculations, The answer still seems to be yes.

Despite the current governments lack-lustre support of micro renewable generation and the almost complete decimation of the micro wind generation market, a micro solar installation still looks like it will pay the initial outlay back within a reasonable time.

The following link will take you to a simple calculator for returns from solar installations based on average prices recorded as part of the official MCS certification process.

Based on our estimates, a 4kW installation (the average size) would cost about £7264 and pay for itself in about 10 years. The total value of savings over 25 years is an estimated £35,385 and over 26 tons of CO2.

Friday, 15 November 2019


Personal Annual Carbon Allowance

At RenSMART, we have been working to offer a set of applications to enable individuals or households to calculate, track and reduce their carbon footprint, but this is not much use if you do not know what your carbon footprint, ideally, should be.

As part of this process, we have developed the concept of a personal carbon allowance. An annual carbon allowance based on traceable scientific sources.

A personal annual carbon allowance (PACA) is the amount of carbon dioxide or equivalent gasses (CO2e) a person should aim to reduce themselves to generating in a given year.

In the case of a RenSMART PACA, we propose a voluntary allowance that people sign up to and track.
There are four steps to realising this:
  1. Calculating a baseline level. The amount you generate now.
  2. Calculating the maximum you could generate to stay within a target. We are aiming at maximum 1.5C rise in temperature by 2030.
  3. Finding changes in behaviour that would meet that target.
  4. Measuring the CO2 generated or mitigated to show whether you are on target.

Old idea, new format.

Personal carbon allowances are not a new idea. They have been floated many times before, but have not been implemented. The reasons are no doubt many, complex and varied [2].

One implementation suggestion from 2013 [1] was to take all of the CO2 generated in the UK and share it out with children taking half of an adult share. The calculations showed that sharing the CO2 emissions, generated at that time by the UK, would set each adults allowance at  4336 kgCO2 / year and each child's to 2168 kgCO2 / year. The suggestion was that the allowance would be reduced each year to meet an agreed target, with those over producing paying to offset and those under producing getting a payment.

We have chosen to go with the simplest methodology we can for calculating a PACA. Take the target global carbon emissions to attain the goal of keeping the global temperature at a safe level. Divide this by the number of humans on the planet.

Calculation of the PACA

  • 2020 target = 38.4 GtCO2e / year
  • 2020 World Population estimate 7.87 billion
  • Suggested PACA for 2020 38.4 billion / 8.87 billion = 4.892 t = 4892 kg CO2 per year = 1 PACA
You will find our sources and calculations on the PACA page.

Nudge psychology

Rather than an enforced PACA that has been suggested in the past, we would like to introduce a PACA that people can sign up to. Rather that wave a statutory stick, threatening taxation on using more than your allowance, we would like to offer a voluntary nudge.

As an example of an energy saving nudge, we have created a service called economyGREEN. It provides a 24 hour renewable energy forecast and a companion app provides advice on when to use your washing machine etc. when renewable energy generation is at its highest. You can find further details on the economyGREEN web page.

Calculating a Base Level

We intend to take the best methodologies and calculations available to calculate an individuals current CO2e footprint. We will make the methodology publicly available for scrutiny and reuse, with an agile update process taken from the software industry to constantly improve its accuracy.
This we intend to develop as an open source project, freely available for anyone to use and include in their own projects.

Making Changes

We will make a set of tools available to individuals and organisations. We will offer applications to help people to keep track of their progress towards the goals they have chosen.
Our first, very modest tool, is called economyGREEN [5] and helps people to use electricity when its carbon intensity is at its lowest (when the largest amount of it is from renewable sources)

Keeping Score

RenSMART will offer an online service to keep track, like a fitness tracker but for carbon emissions.
Again, we propose to make this software open source. Free for anyone to use or contribute to.

Changing the PACA

Our methodology will be evidence based and list the sources used. We will openly discuss the decisions made, justify them and where improvements are found, apply them.
We will update the suggested PACA every six months to keep to a target CO2 level and maximum temperature rise.





[4] :-)


Tuesday, 12 November 2019

economyGREEN app demo available

We now have a demo version of the economyGREEN web app available for you to try. Click on the image to load it in your browser. It is restricted to only one model of washing machine and only has a small selection of devices.

Alternatively use this QR code to open it on your phone:

If you like it, please pledge your support through our Kickstarter page and tell your friends and family. We don't have long until the Kickstarter campaign ends.

Sunday, 3 November 2019

And I could drive 12,000 more

Just a quick update on my electric car.
My 12,000 mile service for my Nissan Leaf has arrived.
Since getting it in February, the only problem I have had was a puncture. It is a dream to drive.
The service cost about £160 and was completed in half a day. Nissan gave it a clean and sent me a video of the service inspection.
My electricity bill has gone up a lot, but is a big saving on my old deisel bill and carbon footprint.
One other change I have made is working from home a couple of days a week. A small change that will make a big impact on my carbon footprint.

The EconomyGREEN Tag

Having developed the economyGREEN 24 hour clock, I wanted to develop a simpler way to make use of the information it provides.
I felt that if I made the information available in as simple a form as possible and available at the time when I need it, I would be able to act on it more easily and would therefore be more likely to use it in my daily life.

The economyGREEN clock gives you a 24 hour forecast of carbon intensity of electricity throughout the current day. If at 10am you plan to put on a washing load and 20% of the UKs electricity is from renewable generation, but at 11am that will rise to 30%, running your washing at 11am will be the greener choice.
Most washing machines, dishwashers and tumble dryers have an option to delay starting for a period of time. If I looked at the economyGREEN clock before I set off a washing load and set it to start when the UK grid electricity is at its greenest, I could reduce my carbon footprint.
 However, opening the economyGREEN clock web page every time I want to do some washing, use the tumble dryer or set off the dishwasher and find the greenest time to run the load is not something I am going to sustainably add to my daily routines.

Thinking about this problem reminded me of nudge psychology. The idea that you add small queues at the place where you take an action can nudge you to make a better one. To implement this, I would need to display the best time to run a washing load on the washing machine, tumble drier or dishwasher. That would be expensive and, with all the technology required, not very green.
Then I thought, how about using people's phones. Most of us carry them around with us at all times, and here is a ready made screen that could display the greenest delay time.
I experimented with bar codes, location tracking and QR codes, but the process it required me to follow was far too complicated for me to use regularly.
Then I rememberd some work I had done with NFC tags. These are small tags that you can tap your phone on and will then transfer some data that they hold to your phone. One thing they can transfer is a link to a web page.
Using a programmable NFC tag, I created a link to my web site that contains a unique identifier. 
I have created a web app that can link the identifier to your make and model of device.
When you receive a tag, you stick it on, or near your device. Tap your phone on it for the first time, and you are prompted to select your appliances make and model. You tag is now ready.
The next time you tap your phone on the tag, the device name and model is displayed, and the delay reqired for the greenest electricity given.
Using the economyGREEN forecast, information about your device make and model and the washing program you intend to run, the web app calculates the delay needed to run your load at the greenest time.

Now I want to make these tags and devices available to anyone else who wants to use economyGREEN.

I have started a Kickstarter campaign to fund the production of 1000 tags. This requires several thousand pounds in funding, but reduces the cost of the programmed tags to a reasonable amount.

Our Kickstarter page

In the future, I would like to expand economyGREEN to include other countries and to support more devices and get it included as an automated option in smart appliances.

Please do follow my progress in Kickstarter and maybe buy a few tags to try. (For yourself, friends and family)

Friday, 16 August 2019


For some time I have been investigating the idea that we could decrease the amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere due to electricity generation by changing the time we use electricity.
To make this possible, we would need a forecast of our electricity's carbon intensity* throughout the day.

With this information, we could decide to change our behaviour and run washing machines, tumble driers or storage heaters when the carbon intensity is at its lowest.

The name economyGREEN is inspired by economy7. It was introduced in the late 70s to incentivize people to use off peak electricity (during the night). economyGREEN does not offer a monetary incentive, but does enable you to use as green electricity as is possible from the UK grid.

My first step was to find a source of forecast information and after some searching, I found that a forecast of generation required, solar generation and wind generation is produced by the Balancing Mechanism Reporting Service (BMRS) RenSMART now provides a view of this forecast we also have a live view of current carbon emissions from electricity generation

The second step was to make this information easy to act on. To achieve this I have designed a 24 hour clock web app that gives a days forecast view.

Please take a look and feel free to offer constructive feedback. The idea it that you can scan around the clock and choose a time when the most of your electricity is from renewable sources. Then you can choose to run washing loads, dry clothes or switch on a slow cooker at that time.

Future enhancements that are underway are to add an automation element that will integrate with smart sockets, appliances and electric cars so the technology can take the action for you.

Another element that is nearly ready for publication, is a personal forecast for those with micro solar or wind installations. We have been trialling it for a year with good results.

* Carbon Intensity - The amount of CO2 and other green house gasses released per unit of electricity often given and grams per kilowatt hour g/kWh

Sunday, 11 August 2019

Daily Renewable Forecast

We have a released a new data page, The UK Generation Forecast. The page combines data from several sources to give a forecast of how much of the UK's electricity will be produced from wind and solar during the current day.
Using this data, it will be possible to choose the best time during the day to perform tasks like running the washing machine or tumble drier while producing the minimum CO2 emissions.

By choosing the time with the maximum percentage renewable generation, your action will have the lowest carbon intensity.

Sunday, 4 August 2019

Live UK Carbon intensity

We have just published a new service from RenSMART. You can now see a live * estimate of the carbon intensity of UK electricity generation.

* Data  is delayed by 30 minutes.

Monday, 11 March 2019

My Electric Car - The Maths

I've now sat down and done a few back-of-the-envelope calculations. I've not had anyone check them so let me know if you see any errors and I will happily discuss my assumptions and methodology.

I have tried to be conservative in my calculations and have used the latest grid electricity CO2 emissions figures for calculating the amount of CO2 emissions my driving will generate.

Headline figures:
  • My electric car is over 400% more energy efficient than my diesel car was.
  • I will have reduced my CO2 emissions from driving by over 25% per year
  • I have reduced my fuel cost by over 70% or £2,800 per year
  • If all private cars in the UK were to go electric by 2040 we would need 2 new large nuclear facilities or 16 new large wind farms at a cost of £20 - 30 billion to power them all.
  • I drive over three times further than the average UK driver in a year.
We could all start driving electric cars, but we better get some new power stations under way and quick. £20 - 30 billion is only 2.5 - 3.5 % of the annual budget.

All the calculations used can be found in my Google Docs Spreadsheet

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

And I Could Drive One Thousand Miles

Two weeks into owning an electric car (Nissan Leaf 2018) and I've driven over 1000 miles. This is not unexpected as I have an 85 mile a day commute. On the first day of owning the car, I had definite range anxiety, but now I am relaxed and enjoying the experience.

I have not had to change my driving style too much, just reducing my speed a little on the motorway to about 70 mph :-) I'm not keen on driving and always see it as a waste of my time, but the Leaf has a nice feature called Pro Pilot that keeps me a safe distance from the car in front, at a maximum speed set by me and helps to keep you within the current lane. I make use of my time listening to audio books from Audible which makes the time spent driving feel more productive.

As expected, I have seen our home electricity use rise considerably. A daily charge takes about 5 hours at 7kWh. At a cost of 14p/kWh thats a cost of about £4.90 per day or about £25 for a weekly commute. Previously I was spending about £60 per week in diesel. As a way to keep the price of the electricity as low as possible, I have signed up with Ecotricity's EV tariff. This gives a reduced overnight tariff for owners of electric vehicles similar to economy 7.

For my next step I am going to perform a more in depth analysis of the cost differences between an EV and its diesel equivalent both in cost and emissions. I just need to capture a bit more data and find some time in my busy life.

Thursday, 7 February 2019

The road ahead

RenSMART has a plan. Not a small plan, a big plan, you might even call it an adventure, and its open for the whole world to join us in.

We started out with a plan to create a Renewable Energy Market Place (Rens Mart), the world was not quite ready for this, but as part of the process of building our business we started providing information to help people make decisions on whether to install a renewable energy system, and what specification to choose.

This has proved to be a popular service over the last couple of years. Now it is time for step 2.

Step 1 has provided a model to help estimate future energy use based on estimates and models.
Step 2 is to refine this service.

Firstly, rather than model existing energy use, we plan to help you capture the actual energy use at your location before installation.

Secondly, we will help you continue to capture this information once you have a renewable energy generation system installed and combine this information to give a real time energy use and export balance.

Thirdly we will provide you with a renewable energy forecast for the day and week ahead.

All of this will be made possible through an improved version of the RenSMART model, a software product we have been refining for some time and that will be made available as open source for wider scrutiny.

As we move forward, we will blog our progress.

Gone Electric

In October 2010 I had solar panels fitted to my roof at home. Just a small installation of about 3kW peak under the Feed In Tariff, then called Clean Energy Cash Back.

At the beginning of November last year, according to my calculations, they had paid for themselves through Feed In Tariff payments, export tariff payments and the value of the electricity generated that we use ourselves.

Time for a new project. I've been looking at electric cars for a couple of years. I had several requirements that needed to be met before I could take the leap:

  • The car had to be able to complete my commute of 85 miles a day on a single charge.
  • The price had to be comparable with a mid range fossil fuel car.

The Tesla Model 3 seemed like the first car that was going to meet the requirements, so I put down a deposit and joined the queue. After six months, it seemed apparent that this car was not going to be available for some time (if ever) so I started looking at the new Nissan Leaf. In august of last year I canceled my Tesla and ordered a new Nissan Leaf. I was told it would probably take until January to arrive, and yesterday I picked it up.

My First Journey
Driving it of the forecourt of the Nissan dealership, it had almost a full charge and said about 180 miles range available. Unfortunately, I had a meeting to be at, so had to drive at motorway speeds. It appears the 180 miles range does not hold for my normal driving style. By the time I had arrived (a distance of about 40 miles) the available range had dropped to 90 miles.

In the Leaf's defence, I had had the heating on at the start of the journey, it was a cold day and I had not switched on all of the energy saving features in the car, however, without a charging point at work, I now had range anxiety. With a home journey of 45 miles and that rate of discharge, I was not sure I could make it home.

Unluckily the day I had chosen to pick up the car was also the coldest day of the year so far and the first day of snow, however, as I knew that I was on the edge of the range that the car seemed likely to make, I decided to go without heating. Still, as I made my way home the range was reducing at about double the miles I was doing.

Part of my journey home takes me on to the M4, and looking at the map of charging point, I saw that there were several provided at a service station I would be passing. I thought if I made a short stop I could top up the battery enough to get home.
I had already ready installed the Ecotricity Electric Highway app and thought this would be a painless process but no. I found the charging points easily enough, pulled in and opened the app on my phone. It hung. Just the initial splash screen. I closed it and tried again, same result. I rebooted the phone, no luck. So in the end I gave up and decided to take the chance I may run out of charge before home.

Once off the M4, I turned on all of the eco options in the car. At the lower speeds and with these options switched on, the miles started to match the range and it looked like I may make it.
By the time I was 10 miles from home with 25 miles range left, I finally felt confident enough to turn on the heating. I made it home with about 20% battery remaining.

Now a day later, how do I feel ?
I think driving is going to be different. This is not a like for like swap with my old diesel Volvo.
I will have to take more notice of my driving style and I will reserve judgement on whether the move to an EV was a good idea until I have made a few more trips and compare my electricity bill increase with the decrease in my car fuel bill.