Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Gormley - New Minister for Hardship?


Gormley and "Experts"
Flogging a Dead Horse?

John Gormley has yet again introduced some more proposed anti-citizen measures constructed by “Experts” - these "new" measures are aimed at "reducing Ireland's greenhouse gas". emissions.

OMG - Here we are presented with yet another THICK as in FAT - 170-pages, and THICK, as in STUPID, document from the Dublin based “Expert” think-tankers - 60 of 'em, at the Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA). I wonder how much per page this one cost us???

The "Report" suggests making life even more difficult for beleaguered motorists with fuel tax on already crazy prices and even more parking restrictions.

The new proposals include:

1. Upping the price of indispensable and essential fuels even further. It will soon be more viable to stay at home and draw the dole!!
2 Make parking even more of a nightmare by charging even more. Another reason to stay home!!!
3 Workplace parking levies and discounts to those using public transport – if there was public transport to use – where do these guys think we live?????
4 A GOOD SUGGESTION The immediate abolition of VRT and motor tax on all electric vehicles.
5 ONE OK SUGGESTION that all new buildings to be "carbon neutral" by 2020.

But What About?

Not having access to the actual "document" I don't know exactly what it does or doesn't contain, I am going on the current news headlines.

I would consider the following measures of prime importance and of immediate practical use in reducing carbon emissions and saving on imported fuel - but do they get a mention??
  • Does CFL and LED lighting get into the "expert" document?
  • Do attic insulation grants get a mention.
  • Micro-generation - grant aided and VAT free – is it in this tome?
  • Grant aided (and VAT free) installation of closed multi-fuel wood stoves and “fire fronts” do these practical measures get covered??
Experts? - give them a shovel!


Monday, September 22, 2008

Wood Stove in a Wood part 3


This Post is dedicated to
"No See Ums"
Blood Sucking Nano-Monsters

The Dreaded Midges

As I told you in the last post, the problem on the day proved to be the blood sucking Nano-Monsters which attacked in very large numbers.

However we persevered and drilled the hole for the flue, installed the flue insulating jacket, sealed against the weather (and bugs), installed the flue itself with home-made brackets, and even made a flue cap from the cats drinking bowl!!! All this was done in double quick time - we only lost a couple of pints of blood!!!!

You can clearly see the sealing and the brackets here

We badly needed to replace the lost blood and sweat, so the new stove was pressed into immediate practical use - to boil the kettle and make the tea of course.

Polly put the kettle on!

Thankfully all worked well and there was no need to call the fire service. Only problem experienced was the burn-off of the paint the stove was coated with. This took a couple of hours and needed plenty of ventilation.

Our home-made triple walled flue through the caravan wall proved itself and temperatures were moderate on the outer skin. While you would not care to leave your hand there, it stayed comparatively cool posing no danger to the wall fabric.

Heat output and Efficiency?

Heat - yes plenty of it in no time at all. From such a tiny stove there was a very good heat output, way beyond what one would expect.

Efficiency? Hard to say without specialist testing. If we had put the flue running up the inside of the caravan no doubt the efficiency would be better, but that was too difficult an option to consider.

The finished flue with smoke rising around the cat's bowl cowl. You can get a glimpse of the wood and the really lovely countryside.

Thanks to "Polly", the pioneering owner and tea maker, who allowed the whole thing to be photographed, and no thanks to the midges who left their mark for many days!!


A note on the stove since writing this piece. The firebox of the stove is obviously tiny - like the stove itself. This however is a disadvantage because the fire will not stay burning for long without being re-fuelled. In fact it needs re-fuelling, when burning wood, every 40 minutes or so. With peat or coal it will go for longer.  A larger stove on peat or coal could give heat for most of the night - but not this little baby. This little stove would keep you busy constantly. Feed me - feed me now!!


Friday, September 19, 2008

Wood Stove in a Wood part 2


Pipsqueak Stove
in a
in a

I had never attempted to install a solid fuel stove in a caravan before so I approached this job with some degree of apprehension and a good bit of careful planning.

We bought the simple plain metal Pipsqueak from Mar, as the budget was very tight and it is the cheapest one. Some of the enamel finished ones are really lovely if there is a bit of extra cash available.

Mark Lawrence of Canvas and Cast was very helpful and gave me some advice regarding how the flue should be brought through the wall of the caravan. We decided not to go through the roof as that would simply present too many technical challenges, especially with regard to weather proofing the results.

Mark suggested a piece of stainless steel flue pipe of a larger diameter and perhaps 20 – 25cm in length going through the caravan wall. The gap between the 80mm flue pipe and the larger 125mm pipe could be maintained by winding some heatproof boiler packing asbestos type “rope” around the smaller pipe. This would effectively create a piece of twin wall flue and protect the caravan wall from excess heat.

Our "wine-cooler" twin walled flue fitted in the wall.

I could not find anyone who would sell me a short length of stainless flue but the idea struck me that many kitchen items are made of stainless steel. I spied a twin walled wine cooler and when I measured it, it was just about perfect in every measurement to become the carry-though piece of twin walled flue.

The problem was cutting the ass out of the wine cooler without damaging it too much. I did this by drilling a good number of holes along the line and then using a jig saw with a hacksaw type blade fitted. Stainless steel is a bitch to drill and cut – but eventually got the job done. The results are visible in the photo above. The wine cooler is essentially a twin-walled piece of stainless steel pipe. By threading the smaller 80mm flue pipe through this and using some boiler floss / rope as an insulating spacer, we get a triple wall flue. This increases the insulation near the caravan wall and prevents dangerous levels of heat affecting the wall fabric.

The installation in the caravan on the day was a bit of a challenge in itself. The area is truly lovely and very remote. There is no mains electricity at the site so we used a petrol generator to work drills and jig saw. To complicate matters a bit, and add to our general discomfort, the day was damp and we were eaten alive by midges while doing the outside work. Needless to say we were very fast with the outside work.

The pipsqueak comes with its own little integrated hearth, but we decided it would be best for safety, in a wooden floored caravan, to fit a metal sheet underneath as an extra precaution. A large old aluminium baker’s tray proved ideal for this purpose, you can see the tray in the photo above.

I will finish this story in a further post in a few days time.


A note on the stove since writing this piece. The firebox of the stove is obviously tiny - like the stove itself. This however is a disadvantage because the fire will not stay burning for long without being re-fuelled. In fact it needs re-fuelling, when burning wood, every 40 minutes or so. With peat or coal it will go for longer.  A larger stove on peat or coal could give heat for most of the night - but not this little baby. This little stove would keep you busy constantly. Feed me - feed me now!!


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Wall (street) Falls - Oil Drops


Oil Prices Drop by almost 40%
But Heating Oil Prices aren't Dropping

If you still use oil for home heating – and 90% of you still do, think about the following.

Oil Prices have dropped 40% since June

Crude oil prices have dropped by almost 40% from the mid-summer high of $147 to the current (as I write) $91 a barrel. Yet the price of home heating oil stays unchanged at a very high €818 per 1000 litres.

The price of oil at the pumps has not come down by the appropriate amount either, but at least they have dropped somewhat.

The Power of One

Hang-on in there – DO NOT BUY YOUR WINTER HEATING OIL YET until the oil robbers (traders and corporations) adjust their prices.

If everyone refused to buy his or her heating oil right now, it would not be long till the price was corrected. Price inflation and gouging depends on people’s willingness to buy. The housing bubble was built only on this single principle. Now thankfully that bubble is starting to burst.

Have our Governments got any balls?

I would love to know who is raking in the 40% killing on the price of oil? I would also like to know why governments and international agencies are not taking action to stop speculation and gouging in what still remains an essential commodity.

The Fall of the House of Usher?

What a crooked world – the world of speculators. What a bunch of "bankers" – but it looks as if their own deceptions and bad practices are starting to catch up with them.

And the Wall Street came tumbling down – again!!


Monday, September 15, 2008

Wood Stove in a Wood


Sustainable living on a small scale
Part One of Two
(Part Two I will show the installation)

I indicated in a recent post that I would take a look at some wood burning and multi fuel stoves. Here is a first post in that line.

My good friend Brendan and I recently helped a mutual friend to purchase and install a tiny wood-burning stove in a mobile home in a small wood deep in rural County Kerry.

The required specifications for the stove were:

1. It should be a physically small wood stove to fit into a small space.
2. It should be able to burn mainly wood but other fuels too.
3. It should be capable of giving a reasonable level of heat to a moderate size mobile, and
4. It should have a moderate level of efficiency.
5. Along with all of that, it should to be very reasonably priced, as our friend was on a very tight budget.

Our friend, as I said, lives in a small wood, and hopes to provide 100% heat along with some hot water and some cooking all fuelled completely by the surrounding timbers.

The Search.

Initially, I spend quite some time scouring Ebay and Google looking for suitable small stoves. Most were physically too large, and many were way too expensive.

Luckily I happened upon a small English business called Canvas and Cast, which sells yurts and other tents plus the stoves that can be used in them. The proprietor Mark Lawrence was most helpful initially with giving a good price, and later with advice and suggestions for installing the stove.

"PipSqueak" stove photo supplied by Canvas&Cast
Photo does not show how really tiny this stove is.

The Found Stove.

The stove in question is called the “Pipsqueak”. And pipsqueak indeed it is. It is the tiniest cast iron stove I have ever seen.

Could such a tiny thing actually work and provide useful levels of heat for a small space I asked myself and others?

Mark assured me that there are a good number of these stoves in satisfactory use and the customers are happy.

Well, I took a chance and ordered this little “Pipsqueak” stove. Carriage from the UK was proving to be very expensive even for such a tiny stove and weighing only 20Kgs. But Brendan, my businessman friend stepped in with an offer to use his contract rate couriers.

Price - are you asking?

The "Pipsqueak" is available from Mark from Stg£115 - the fancy coloured enamelled ones being a bit more expensive.

Tiny Flue Pipe for a tiny Stove.

Flue pipe was proving to be another problem. Mark was very helpful and offered a good discount on his stainless steel 80mm flue, that is just 3 inches!. But again, as with the stove, shipping was going to be a large additional cost.

Eventually we sourced some very nice black enamelled pipe in Sligo and the carriage costs were very modest.

RĂ¼diger Trautmann of Solar Energy Ireland www.solarenergyireland.com came to the rescue and was very helpful. He provided some very nice heavy quality matt black enamelled 80mm flue pipe at reasonable cost, and the carriage worked out at only €11.

The contact details:

Reg. No. IE 5722437L
Knockminna, Ballymote, Co. Sligo, Ireland
T: +353 (0)71 9183219
F: +353 (0)71 9183651
Email: solarenergyireland@eircom.net
Web: www.solarenergyireland.com

Mark Lawrence
Canvas and Cast
Canada Hill
TQ12 6AF
Tel: 01626 363507


A note on the stove since writing this piece. The firebox of the stove is obviously tiny - like the stove itself. This however is a disadvantage because the fire will not stay burning for long without being re-fuelled. In fact it needs re-fuelling, when burning wood, every 40 minutes or so. With peat or coal it will go for longer.  A larger stove on peat or coal could give heat for most of the night - but not this little baby. This little stove would keep you busy constantly. Feed me - feed me now!!


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Poor Politics in Ireland


Irish Politics of the Poor

The WHO (World Health Organisation) has just recently published a study in which it says that it is "shocked" by the fact that some 17% of households in Ireland are "fuel poor". The actual words used were: "It is shocking that in an economically rich country such as the Republic of Ireland, a remarkable 17 per cent of households are fuel poor"

It defined fuel poverty as “an inability to heat one's home to an adequate temperature due to low household income and low energy efficiency”. It also said that; “fuel poverty had a negative effect on health and was "very socially patterned” (tell us something we don't know)

The report is titled, "Closing the Gap in a Generation - Health Equity through Action on the Social Determinants of Health" . It can be read or downloaded at the following link.


No Surprise or Shock here

Now that WHO report does not surprise or shock me not in the least. Why so - do I hear you asking?? It is because the “Celtic Tiger” benefited ONLY the better off and in fact widened the gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots”.

Government policies on wage rises etc. and on allowing the “run away” economy built on the sand foundation of a housing boom, has also further deepened the gap.

Oh dear - What can we do?

The band strikes up a marching tune - and the government say; - "So what to do??? Oh set up an enquiry – appoint some experts – pay out millions for a report which when ready - in two years time - will be quietly shelved – Oh Yes – that sounds about right".



Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Dear Taoiseach, Ministers Gormley and Ryan


This Winter
let the rich worry about the environment
the poor will have to concentrate
on surviving the winter

I have had a number of comments on the last post: “Winter Heating Costs – League Table” . A couple of these point out that I have not dealt with the relative efficiency of various types of burners for the various fuels when considering the relative price of fuels.

That was not the point of the immediate exercise in hand.

I have discussed the subject of burner - boiler efficiency several times on this blog. Oil burned in a condensing boiler at 92% efficiency - would beat bagged wood pellets for value. An open fire is simply a waste of fuel as two thirds of the heat goes out the chimney. A back boiler can up the efficiency to about 50%.

For most town dwellers the best value for money as we stand at this moment would be Smokeless Coal or Peat Briquettes burned in a closed stove or multi-fuel boiler with an average efficiency of 70% to 80%.

Best value of all – would be a wood burning stove or boiler if you live near a forest – it would also be 100% environmentally friendly.

Fuel Poverty is a Reality this Winter

It is easy for the better off folks to be thinking about the environment but many will suffer Fuel Poverty this winter and they will just be thinking about how can they get by.

If you depend on an open fire it would be a really good idea to aim to buy a closed stove. There are some very reasonably priced plain cast iron stoves now coming onto the market. I will take a look at some of these in a future post.

Let the Rich Look After the Environment.

If looking after the environment means; GeoThermal at €9000+ , or Wood Pellet systems at €5000+, or Solar this or that at many many thousands. It starts to sound like a bad joke and an insult to a growing number of people.

If the Irish Government are even half serious about sustainability they should start a simple attic insulation drive straight away. They could also directly import and distribute closed stoves to every home that depends on open fires. They could save money by scrapping SEI and getting rid of the growing number of "experts" who increasing are tending to soak up the money. We all know what a grand job the HSE have done for the health service and the sickening cost of running the paper shuffling monster.

Oh and of course they should get the finger out and actually do something on CFL and LED lighting.



Friday, September 05, 2008

Winter Heating Costs - League Table


Heating Costs this Winter

League Table

The basis of this little survey (and guys don't give me grief if I got the odd bit of maths wrong) is: The cost of heating 4 average modest domestic rooms for 1 day with an average power usage of 5Kw per hour, with the heating on for say 16 hours.

1. ELECTRICITY. Most expensive and the clear league topper, unless you are stoking the fire with €5 Euro notes, is Irish Electricity.

The price is a bit over 16 Euro Cent per kilo-watt-hour (one bar electric fire for 1 hour) written KhH including VAT and allowing for standing charges.

Cost of heating the 4 rooms for 24 hours: €12.80 per day

2. LPG. Bottled Propane gas works out at 14.5c per kwh

Cost of heating the 4 rooms for 24 hours: €11.60 per day

3. BULK LPG (Liquid Petroleum Gas) Bulk LPG is approximately 78 cents a litre or just under 11 cent per kwH

Cost of heating the 4 rooms for 24 hours: €8.80 per day.


4. OIL. Heating oil prices in Ireland are currently around the 84c per litre mark - which works out at is 8.5 Cent per kilo-watt-hour.

Cost of heating the 4 rooms for 24 hours: €6.80 per day.

5. NATURAL GAS. Natural Gas basic price is around 8c per kwH.

Cost of heating the 4 rooms for 24 hours: €6.40 per day.

6. WOOD PELLETS. Wood Pellets – I’m looking at the bagged cost which is averaging around 33c per kg, this translates roughly into 6.7 cent per kwh

Cost of heating the 4 rooms for 24 hours: €5.36 per day.

7. COAL. Smokeless Coal is daylight robbery at around €450 a Tonne or 5.4 cent per kwH (8,333 KwH per tone approx – (I think I have this figure in the ballpark)
Cost of heating the 4 rooms for 24 hours: €4.32 per day.


8. PEAT BRIQUETTES. Peat Briquettes are selling around €3.50 a "bale" which works out at 5.22c per kwH

Cost of heating the 4 rooms for 24 hours: €4.17 per day.


Tuesday, September 02, 2008

LED - Halogen Comparison


3-watt LED bulb on left and 20-watt Halogen spot on the right

Direct Comparison
between a
3-watt LED and a 20-watt halogen spot

One of the easiest, and IMHO the single most important way of conserving energy is to change all lighting to low wattage types of bulbs. I have addressed low wattage lighting in several posts in the past.

Up till now the only economically viable alternative to the tungsten filament was the CFL bulb. The cheap led bulbs with dozens of little LEDs were really poor quality and had a washed-out bluish tinged light not very bright and even a bit depressing. The better quality high-powered LED bulbs were available but at really high prices.

I recently bought a 3watt LED replacement bulb MR16 bulb and the cost was under €15. The colour of the light is really good and the amount of light output is reasonable.

I have included a couple of photos showing a side-by-side comparison between a standard 20-watt tungsten halogen bulb and the new 3-watt LED.

Left if the pool of light from the 20watt spot
on the right is the light from the 3watt LED

Perhaps the first thing to notice is the colour of the LED light which is close enough in tone to that of a standard bulb. The LED bulb I ordered was nominally a “warm white” I would say that is is in fact a bit cooler than 2700K more like 3500K.

The cool white LED has a very bluish light, while brighter, is very unacceptable to most of us, at least for domestic use.

The actual light output of the 3-watt LED is a good deal below that of the 20-watt halogen bulb, despite what many sellers say. I would say, at a rough guess, that the 3-watt LED is the rough equivalent of about that of a 15-watt halogen bulb.

Don't believe the hype of many of the sellers of LED bulbs - a 3-watt LED warm white bulb is no better than the equivalent of about a 15-watt halogen bulb - at best.

The LED bulb I tested works on AC or DC 12 volts. It works just fine with both conventional wound transformers and the newer electronic transformers.

I am going to try some 5-watt MR16 LED bulbs in the next few weeks and I will let you know how I get on and I will include some photos.

In the meantime, if you have some MR16 fittings and currently use 20-watt halogen spots, and would not mind a 25% or so reduction in the light, then these 3-watts LEDS would fit the bill fine.


Monday, September 01, 2008

Solar Cell Breakthrough


Nano-antennae "Solar Cells" printed on a Plastic Sheet

A Completely New Type
of Solar Cell

There have been several approaches over the years to gathering energy from the sun. Most concentrated on gathering the heat and using it to heat water etc. The direct conversion of solar energy into electricity has to date been achieved mainly by the use of photovoltaic (PV) cells. PV cell have been developing at a very fast rate with new types appearing almost by the month. Nano-technology is playing a big part in the developments of solar cells.

In the fairly recent past a completely different type of device as an alternative to solar cell has been suggested. But it has taken the development of nano-technology to begin to realise the concept.

A single nano-antenna with tunnelling diode rectifier at centre.

The basic idea is to use a series of microscopic tuned circuits that resonates at the infrared portion of the sunlight and in a highly efficient way these circuits or antennae can absorbs the infra-red radiation the power is in turn converted into direct current electricity.

I can remember lighting a neon tube without any contact with a power supply. This was done with a tuned coil and an aerial in fairly close proximity to a transmitter. Sufficient power was picked up by the coil to light the neon tube, and it all looked like a bit of magic.

With Nano-technology researchers have been able to construct microscopic tuned coils that exactly resonate with part of the suns spectrum. This allows a very high level of efficiency of conversion.

Tens of Billions of Tuned Circuits.

These tuned circuits can be printed on all sorts of cheap plastic materials. An 8 inch area would contain about 10 billion such tuned antennae.

In earlier experiments with microwaves, it was shown that a level of greater than 80% could be achieved. With the latest nano technology techniques, they have been able to construct efficient resonant circuits in the infrared spectrum. In the lab these new nano-antennae have show a theoretical efficiency of up to 92%. This work is being carried out in the Idaho National Laboratory under the auspices of the Department of Energy of the USA.

Solar Cells using nano-antennae show a massive improvement in efficiency over conventional non-concentrating PV solar cells which come in at around the 20% efficiency mark. The nano-antennae arrays would be very much cheaper to make than PV cells and can be printed onto many types of cheap plastic materials making them suitable for coating existing roofs and walls, or even covering the exteriors of cars etc.

Converting the Suns Energy in a New Way

The researchers have found that infrared rays create AC current in the nano-antenna. This is no good for any practical purposes - so the high frequency energy has to be converted into direct current. To do this it takes a diode or rectifier. However, any commercially available diodes are not much use at infrared frequencies. So the challenge was to find ways of rectifying these really high frequency waves into DC at reasonable cost. Current experiments are using a special “tunneling diode” and results are encouraging but more work needs to be done.

The output of the diode or rectifier can easily be dc-coupled together with “bus bars” so that large arrays can be linked efficiently together.

The present manifestations of these new devices incorporate a rectifying diode assembly built right into the nano-antenna itself. The term being used for this arrangement is a “rectenna” a combination of a receiving antenna and a rectifier. This concept was first demonstrated for microwave power by Raytheon in 1964.

Full commercial realization is still some time away but the lab experiments are very encouraging.

This is exciting stuff and has the feel of real science about it. It is another of those "discoveries" which I have a good gut feeling about.