Friday, December 19, 2008

Heating System Questions


Lots of Questions - One Answer

A readers letter, unedited and uncorrected, just as I received it, Cathy wrote:

came across your blog , am building a house and would like to know which pellet boiler system your bloggers recommend. price , usage, etc and also on solar panels. In my ideal world i would love to have a combined system but it all depending on cost (and grants)

i just went onto sei site re grants to find i fall into none of the catorgories,i am a new build,(cant apply for greener homes grant) and well the pilot home energy (dont know what thats about ... they analysing stuff) , warmer homes (not applicable), and low carbon homes (well thats putting money out i.e betting on a horse, you dont know what you gonna get till work is done) this i cant afford.

do i really need to put in oil, live in my house for a year just to rip it all out and to apply for a grant next year to be environmentally friendly.


My reply:

Hi Cathy - You really need a specialist consultant or a fair bit of research to answer your complex questions. Most bloggers are average people, just like yourself, who write letters (blogs) about things that interest them. Bloggers are not part of any sort of club or organisation, they don't get paid for the research work they do, They share that information, as is, with the world at large through their diaries - otherwise called Blogs.

You yourself could do the research needed for your system by searching on the Internet, reading up, and by ringing around - just as good as I can. I encourage you and other people who have done the bit of research, to publish their results through Blogs etc. I would be glad to hear about your research anytime and publish it in my blog for the benefit of others.

Tony McGinley

Personal Note:

I get an increasing number of letters, like the one above, asking me for very specific advice and even asking me to do research on systems etc.

I therefore feel the need to make it clear from time to time, that I am NOT a consultant, I am NOT a journalist. I do NOT get paid for my time, phone calls, travel, expenditure in doing research. I do NOT undertake any consultancy projects. I do NOT have any privileged information or special access to sources.

I would really love to occasionally hear from people who have done some research or project and who feel they have useful information to share with others.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Benekov Blues Addendum


Benekov Blues - Follow-up

I had a follow-up letter to the post on Benekov problems. It would appear that the Benekov Ling50 in question was not sold through any authorised dealer, and that it made its way in the back door from eastern Europe. That would be OK for a private individual BUT in the case of a dealer it presents many future problems for customers in the shape of parts and service.

The "kosher" distributor - Prime Energy Solutions, may have a solution for this person. Here is the letter I received from Pat Gaffney of Prime Energy Solutions with a possible offer of help.

Hi Tony,

Just to let you know the Ling 50 is not sold in Ireland and have never installed a 50 k/W boiler in a domestic house so whoever posted this comment bought this boiler through an unauthorised dealer or is located in the UK.

I would appreciate if you would correct this or remove the unattributed comment. If the customer is in need of assistance we may be able to help him if we have the serial number of the machine or know where he purchased this machine. We offer a full back up service to all our machines and are the only authorised Benekov dealers in Ireland.


Pat Gaffney,

Prime Energy Solutions
Unit 10/11,
The Nestor Complex,
Monksland Industrial Estate,
Co Roscommon.
Tel: +353 (0)90 649 0642


Gerkros Boilers


Gerkros Boilers Gone!

I was saddened to hear of the final collapse of Gerkros Boilers and the loss of 70+ jobs. I wonder if it was their expansion into woodpellet boilers that took them down? The news is that the company had cashflow problems after after their efforts at international expansion, having recently signed a deal in the US. I suspect that the pellet boiler was also soaking up money.

I personally never liked the design of the Gerkros pellet boiler, it was a bit of a monster for starters, Much too large and heavy for many installations. It also had only very limited modulation and lacked any active burn-back protection, at least in the earlier models.

The company did however offer one very good facility, it provided a commissioning visit by an engineer as part of the price of the boiler. This one fact mitigated against the rip-off chancers and offered some comfort to consumers. They also sold the boilers through regular heating suppliers and hardware outlets. This meant that the price gougers could not do their worst.

Gerkros Boilers had been in business for over 30 years and had its manufacturing base in Cashel.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

WoodPellet Boiler Problems Timely Reminder


Benekov Blues

The seemingly mindless and unthinking rush into Wood-Pellet Systems sparked off by the SEI Grant scheme has had much fallout.

I have just received a letter from yet another victim of the thoughtless way the SEI promotion was handled.


I have a BENEKOV Ling-50. It needs to be mended and I have been waiting since the beginning of October .. We are getting very cold !!! for the man to look at it .. in fact it is the man who sold it to us and installed it . He says he will come when he has time . I hope other poor fools have had better luck !!!



Wednesday, December 10, 2008 not interested in reducing coal usage

is not interested
in reducing

coal usage

In recently hassled and SEI about the idea of supporting a campaign to promote the fitting of fireplace doors. These simple and inexpensive doors would immediately reduce solid fuel usage by 50% or more, and at a very small cost in terms of money and effort.

Here is the reply I received from

Dear Tony,

Thank you for showing an interest in the Change Campaign. Your energy efficiency question related to open fires is an interesting topic.
Installing a fire front or glass doors will increase the efficiency of a fireplace. Also an adjustable throat restrictor may be a viable option. It is essential to ensure that an external air source is used to draw the oxygen supply for the fire to ensure that a high ventilation rate is not experienced and that air already warmed is not wasted.

However we would like to point out that the Change Campaign in no way advocates the use of fossil fuels. We are attempting to raise awareness about such fuels and their contribution to climate change. It is essential that Ireland’s dependence on such fossil fuel imports be changed.

That is why the Irish Government have heavily subsidised renewable space and water heating systems as they represent the greatest carbon saving with respect to investment. Information on these grants is available from Sustainable Energy Ireland at
If you have any further comments or queries please do not hesitate to contact us. Kindest Regards The Change Team

My reply:

Hi Guys,

Many thanks for your reply and for the time you have taken to address my proposition. However, I think you have missed the point somewhat.

The point of the proposed exercise is to reduce the use of fossil fuels drastically as an interim measure. The million or so (Irish) open fires this winter will burn coal etc. regardless. Would it not be a very useful effort to REDUCE that consumption by 50% or more immediately??

Two factors mitigate heavily against rapid Irish implementation of alternative and sustainable domestic heating systems. One is the very high relative cost, especially at the "Irish" prices which are well above much of the EU. Secondly, many people are reluctance to undertake the large inconvenience and household disruption involved, not to mention the risk of investing in systems like pellet boilers which are yet to prove their reliability and cost efficiency.

On the other hand, a very small inconvenience and cost would reduce the fossil load by 50% and could be easily sold to the public.

The other factor in reducing the load is to heavily promote attic insulation and CFL/LED lighting.

In summary, would it be true to say then that and the Irish Government are not interested in reducing the fossil fuel load by supporting low tech - low cost ways, as much as by pushing very expensive biomass and geothermal systems?

Tony McGinley


Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Vivace Vortex Power


Vortex to

I have written about a number of underwater generating systems in past posts. All of these systems rely on propeller or turbine technology in one form or another. Problem is that it takes a fairly fast flowing current, 5 to 6 knots or more, to turn a propeller sufficiently fast to generate electricity. Slow rivers, estuary waters, and most sea bed currents would therefore not have a fast enough current for normal turbine generation.

Vortex Power a New Approach

A completely new approach has been developed by Professor Michael Bernitsas and his international team at the University of Michigan Department of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering.

Their idea uses the power of a vortex. All currents in air or water can cause a vortex when the flow is made to deviate. A visually stunning example of this effect is the vortex caused in the wake of a jet plane. I have included a couple of photos that show the effect.

Magical image from Wikipedia shows
US Air Force plane creating vortices in flare smoke

Vortices contain powerful energy. Jet liner vortices have been know to knock small aircraft to the ground quite some time after the big plane has landed. The power of a vortex is a power to be reckoned with.

Test Rig with imaging system illuminating the vortices

It is this very vortex power that Professor Bernitsas and his team have learned to harness in a completely new way.

How is it done?

A vortex is created when a current passes over an object that distorts the flow. In the above examples it is the airflow over the aircraft’s wings that causes the air current to spin into a vortex.

Professor Bernitsas and his team have built a beautifully simple machine that creates a vortex by presenting a cylinder, or series of cylinders to the flow, and then utilises the lateral spin force of the created vortex to push the cylinder from side to side, or up and down as in the test rig shown.

The test rig with a single cylinder oscillating vertically

I believe that the idea was sparked from observing fish using the vortices created by other fish to increase the efficiency of their movement.

The New Machine.

The new machine can harness power from very slow moving currents hitherto considered of no value for energy generation. A Vivace device occupying one cubic meter of water in a 3 knot current can produce 51 watts of electricity. While they might be considered a bit bulky, these machines can produce very usable amounts of power. One place for sure that bulk does not present a problem is in the seabed. The machine can operate in very low speed currents. The test tank has a current of only 1.5 knots.

Impression of a single sea bed unit

Diagram showing an arrangement of multiple units

The team call their new device “Vivace”, an acronym for vortex-induced vibrations for aquatic clean energy.

How’s it perform?

Estimates suggest that array the size of a running track and the height of a two-story building would power 100,000 houses.

Electricity generated by VIVACE is estimated to cost approximately 5.5 US cents per kilowatt-hour. Wind turbine energy costs run at around 6.9 US cents per kW hour.

VIVACE cylinder moves at a relatively slow speed and would therefore have minimal impact on marine life and environment.


I contacted Professor Bernitsas to ask permission to quote and use photos. I was delighted to receive his reply:

Yes, Tony, you have permission and thank you for asking.

Here is the status of development. We have several models and we are building a prototype with the US Navy which we expect to be tested by the end of 2009.


Contact information:

Michael M. Bernitsas, PhD
Professor of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering
Professor of Mechanical Engineering
Director, Marine Renewable Energy Laboratory
University of Michigan
Fellow ASME, Fellow SNAME

Here are links to the university and to the development company:

May I wish the VIVACE team every success in the development and implementation phases. Hope for all our sakes that this proves an effective and reliable source of energy.