Tuesday, November 29, 2005

As the sun sinks...

I return to my blog after a week spent in southern Portugal. The occasion was to celebtrate my father's 75th birthday which fortunately co-incided with a bout of my winter depression.

The Algarve region,on account of its southerly lattitude, gets 2 extra hours of daylight per day at this time of year, and last Thursday the temperature was in the low 20s. Here in Blighty, the sun has almost sunk below the horizon at 3:50pm.

Despite rain and electrical storms last weekend, the week soon improved, and my father and I spent most afternoons walking the hills and coastline of the Algarve. Dad celebrated his birthday by swimming in the Atlantic!

I returned to Gatwick on Friday night to find the temperature 20 degrees colder and southern Britain hit by snow storms and freezing fog.

To make matters worse, I find that my utility company has increased gas and electricity prices by 15% in my absence. I am now paying nearly £3 per day to keep warm and the lights burning - it is obviously time to commence with my home heat and power generation scheme.

Here I am on the Algarve coastal footpath having walked from Armacon to Benagil and back.

The sea temperature is still about 17 deg C, and the night-time temperature seldom drops below 15 C at this time of year.

The Algarve has tremendous attractions to the Northern European at this time of year. Warm climate, sunshine, extra 2 hours daylight, fertile soils with crops in full growing season. Economically you can live easily for about £20 per day, with food, wine and beer ( & fags) not subject to the crippling levels of taxation we "enjoy" in the UK.

For those who want to experience the Algarve out of season, try Flightline or www.flymonarch.com where return tickets cost as little as 39 Euros.

Roll on retirement, I know where I'm headed!

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Economic Reality

The weather recently has been poor, and so stuck indoors at my desk, I decided to catch up on some web research.

Monday began by looking into the cost of heating oil in the UK. I found that on the Tankerfillers website that they would deliver 1000 litres of domestic heating oil to my door for £355.

I then checked with Tesco, I can buy 1000 litres of rapeseed oil for £416, albeit 3 litres at a time! That's not a lot of price difference, and the price of heating oil can only rise as the colder weather continues.

With rising fossil fuel prices it is now becoming economically viable to burn vegetable oil, corn or wheat, as well as firewood as renewable heating fuels.

The problem is how to convert veg oil or corn into something that can be readily burned to provide home heating.

In my case I have a 55 year old Lister engine to run on veg oil and provide heat and power. The photo shows me demonstrating the Lister generator running on veg oil at Kew last April.

For others there is the pellet burning stoves, that are now becoming available. In Minnesota last February, I saw these burning maize, in preference to wood pellets.

For the DIY enthusiast, there is the Babington Burner. A simple type of oil burner that can use waste vegetable oil direct from the chipshop or pub/restaraunt.

Back to the economics of home heat and power generation.

Last year I paid my electricity and gas company £648 and used 20,000 kWh of gas and 3800 units of electricity.

Can I do better than this and run my house entirely off renewables, for the same money. I think it will be a close race - so I am prepared to accept the challenge.

Well now that I have started my new electricity diet, I will only need 2500 units of electricity during 2005/2006.

In order to generate this, I will need to spend £520 on vegetable oil, or 1250 litres. As well as all my electricity requirements, this would also provide up to 7500kWh of heat.

I then have £128 left from my budget to spend on seasoned hardwood firewood to supplement my heating.

Checking local suppliers, suggested that I would pay about 90 pounds for a Transit van load (apparently a standard measure?) This is estimated at 2 tonnes, but further research will be needed to confirm this.

So assume the local logging industry in Surrey is a bit overpriced, I can assume about a tonne.

The heating value of firewood is 4kWh/kg and so we would get through about 10kg per night.

My tonne of logs would last about 3 months, and help offset 4000kWh or about 70 pounds worth of gas.

So even if you are forced to buy your firewood fuel at top prices, and used NEW vegetable oil to run the generator, you can still give the thieving utilities a run for their money.

Let the renewable home heating challenge commence!