Solar panel update

After a few false starts and complications (nothing is ever simple with this house…) the panel has now been running for a few days.

Nothing is quite perfect – the panel is in shade in the afternoon because of a tree, and doesn’t get the earliest sun anyway. The last few days have been very mixed in terms of weather. The end of September is clearly not the best time to get sun.

And yet every day so far, the panel has got solar gain. Not much, admittedly: four and five degrees a day – but that’s still taking a bit of gas out of the equation. Hopefully we’ll get more in strong sun.

Before I went away from the weekend, I toggled something in the controller that now makes it display how many watts of heat it’s gaining, and keep a running total. During Saturday and Sunday, it thinks it got 19kWh of heat out of the sun. I think that’s roughly equivalent to 80p worth of gas.

I paid extra to have a top range controller I can use across my computer network. So I can have a program on my computer that tells me what the panel is doing – here’s it’s current readout:


On the right-hand side S1 (sensor 1) is the temperature at the panel (which is actually double the current air temperature outside). S2 is – as the diagram shows – at the bottom of the tank; S3 at the top. It’s at 62deg at the moment because after sunset, the gas comes on to get it to the right temp for showering in the morning. On the left side, the black spot represents a green LED that comes on when the pump is turning, and the pump triangle in the diagram also turns.

It does all this both on the program on my PC and on the digital read-out of the controller. If you’re the sort of person who checks what the temperature is several times a day, or who taps a barometer when passing, a little readout like this is grist to the mill. I find myself making detours to the airing cupboard to see how hot my water is now.

The reason it needs these temperature readings is that the controller turns the pump on whenever there’s an appreciable difference between the temperature at the panel and the temperature at the hot water tank.

Although the controller is pretty cool, there doesn’t seem to be a way of getting at the data without the fancy graphics. I was hoping there was going to be a platform independent doodad that just let me read the temperatures and keep a record, and make calculations separately. In my mind, I had Automator on the Mac keeping records at quarterly intervals, and creating a web page to say how much solar gain I was getting at any given point. Maybe it could even be linked in to Skype so that my solar panel could send a text message when it turns on…


Not only

Not only does Stephen Fry have a blog, but he also chose to go for a WordPress installation.  Good for him.  I haven’t actually read it bcause I’m not particularly sober, and he seems to like to write quite long pieces – not blog posts, but blessays.

I’m sitting in a pub in Oxford that’s also a hotel – a place I found on so that I could go to the gay bellringing tour in Oxford.  Somehow it feels that Fry would approve.

I’m on my third pint, so I can’t guarantee that anything I write now will make any sense in the cold light of day.

The first pint cost £2.50.  The second, of the same ale – London Pride – cost £2.70. I was a bit concerned and told the barguy it had gone up by twenty pence in $respectable_time_for_one_pint. When I went back for my third he told me it cost £2.90, which I thought was highly amusing.

The first two pints have been spent reading an abandoned copy of the Daily Mail.  It’s still vile.  Even when drinking on an empty stomach (because I’ve arrived too late for food and seem to be in a part of Oxford that doesn’t have late nite stores.)

Good grief, is that really the time?  I have to be at Carfax Tower by the crack of dawn tomorrow.

Telephone canvassing nightmare

I’m presently writing this as a way of avoiding making phone calls on behalf of an excellent candidate who wants to stand for the Lib Dems for the European Parliament at the next lot of elections.

Although I’m certain the candidate will be great, I’m not keen on speaking to people on the phone at the best of times, and phoning strangers, even strange Lib Dems, gives me the heebie jeebies.

Putting that to one side, and doing my duty, I’m phoning around, but fidgeting while I do it.

During the most recent call, to a keen sounding chap in the Derby area, I was standing up with my hand in my back trouser pocket, when my fingers squished something squidgy that really shouldn’t have been there.

Seamlessly continuing my spiel (“… yes, born and bred in the region…”) I bring my finger into the light to see what it was.

I’m mildly arachnophobic at the best of times, so I wasn’t best pleased to see it was the still wriggling remains of a small brown spider that I’d accidentally crushed. Urgh. This is the reward I get for being green and line-drying my washing.

Shaking the damp legs off my finger, I still managed to close the call without letting on to the guy there was anything amiss.

The things we find ourselves doing for the party.

Ming’s jokes

Now I have got around to reading Ming’s speech, after spending Thursday on a boat.

Apart from its other plus points… it’s got some jolly good jokes in it, too.

The line about Dave Cameron – “he’ll turn if you want him to, the laddie’s made for turning” was good.

Calling Boris Johnson “the blondest suicide note in history” is definitely funny. Worthy of a googlebomb and much wider attention.

Missing Ming two years running

I skived off the last day of Conference on Thursday, much like I did last September, if not last March. Still, it seems that the speech has generally been well received, by bloggers and pundits alike.

Instead of going into the Conference hall, I took advantage of being on the South coast already to go and see my little brother, who has just bought a boat which is presently moored in Southampton.

And it’s a very nice boat indeed. I’m quite keen on the idea of sailing out to sea in it (there have been suggestions of popping over the channel to France, or to the Channel Islands, but I’m holding out for Biarritz…)

He will hate me for this, but there was an element of the layout inside that reminded me of, ahem, a caravan. Something about the compactness, the dual bed/couches everywhere, the fact that everything needs to be tied down and away in lockers. There were elements of the boat that were infinitely more impressive than the caravans I’ve been on recently:

  • the boat sleeps 11 (although there’s barely any space to get away from the other 10 if you needed to).
  • It had two toilets heads – more than my house!
  • The oven has a thingy which means it stays level when the boat is pitching and doodahing around in high seas.
  • There was much more specialist language in describing a boat than there is in a caravan – fore, aft, port, starboard, stern, bow, fo’csle, etc, etc, etc. Much of this I have instantly forgotten after having it explained.

The yacht (technically, I think I remember him explaining, a ketch, and not in the Lady Bracknell sense) is ready to go to sea, but bro is working hard at improving it – making sure all his stuff is stowed and there’s enough food aboard; adding in hi-tech stuff that makes life sweeter, like a telly, and toilets you don’t need to be 5 miles out to flush.

Do you know who Richard Cory was?

Tonight, whilst veh, veh drunk, I was introduced to some poor unfortunate whose surname, according to his conference badge, was Cory, and dredging up my Simon and Garfunkel memory, I asked him if he knew Richard Cory.

He had a vague recollection but the fine gentleman I was with, who claimed to own a “Best of” Simon and Garfunkel CD, had no idea idea who Richard Cory was either.

This led to me quizzing the next 20 or so people who came to the bar I was standing near – “Do you know who Richard Cory was?  He owned one half of this whole town?”

No-one knew, but several people had convincing goes at trying to persuade us that they knew everyone who owned one half of any old town.

Finally, one sharp young man whose badge proclaimed him to be Julian Tisi, looked at me askance and hummed a tune and said, “Isn’t it a song?”

Full marks to young Tisi.

It is a song, by Simon and Garfunkel, which I misremembered as being on Wednesday Morning, 3am, when in fact it’s actually the 7th song on Sounds of Silence, and one of two songs about suicide on the one record.

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Hi-tech woes

I am treating myself to a dead swanky hotel this year in Brighton, not anything I think I shall be able to afford again any time soon.

One of the reasons was to make sure I had proper internet access from my room, cutting out the necessity to haul my laptop into the conference centre, through endless security bag checks, to use the free wireless connection in the bar.

Unfortunately, this afternoon when I sat down to use it I found things weren’t quite so straightforward.  An hour later, it transpires that the room was recarpeted immediately before it was my room, and the hotel’s technical guy suspects the carpeters have nailed through the wire connecting the laptop cable.

Ho hum, it works now, thanks to some sort of weird cludge plugging the laptop into the back of the telly, and moving the desk around a bit.  That does mean that now if I lift my eyes from the screen just a little bit, I have the gorgeous view over the sea instead.  Which might not be all that conducive to doing the work I have to get through whilst I’m down here to supplement conference.

Now, all I need is some batteries for my voice recorder, and I might be ready to make some podcasts.  But my keen colleagues on Lib Dem Voice have gone one better this year and have been making video vox pops – all available at  Editing videos and adding titles is something I must add to my skill set – the last time I did that sort of thing it was on a broadcast-quality CCTV rig at the Three Choirs.  So, I know how to do vision mixing live and with no sound, but have no idea how to use a computer to edit VT with sound.

Energy performance

The Energy Savings Trust website has a questionnaire thingy that lets you work out how energy efficient your home is.  At the end of the questionnaire it comes out with one of those tables that are starting to crop up on everything.

I went through the questionnaire twice, once for the house when we moved in, and once taking into account the changes we have made.


Quite bizarrely, the best I could hope for changed from B to C in the second run through.  I shall have to have another play with it later and work out what I changed.

Now, the one remaining thing to do, as far as the EST is concerned, is to insulate my solid walls.

One of these labels has just appeared on a noticeboard in the Council House.  That building was built about 10 years before my house, and somehow manages to have greater energy efficiency.

Solar panel progress – in pictures

So, work has begun on the solar panel.

This is Tuesday:

Roof access

The company turned up, and spent an hour looking at the roof. Access is really tricky. There’s a car-port preventing them putting a ladder straight up to the south-facing roof. Eventually, they decide the easiest way, short of entirely removing the car port then replacing it, is to go up into the attic, out through the sky-light and clamber over the roof to the panel.

Solar panel - incomplete

By the end of the second day, they have fitted the top part and some of the tubes. Because they only have access to the top of the panel, and not the bottom from a ladder of platform, it’s slow progress.

Evacuated solar tubes

Here’s what the tubes look like close up.

Evacuated solar tubes

They’re longer than I am tall – but once they’re up on the roof, they don’t look nearly so big.

Solar panel

The panel was completed by the end of Thursday – but so far it’s not connected to anything inside! Work continues next week – replacing the hot water tank, moving the header tank, plumbing in a new shower, connecting the controls, lagging the pipes.

Here’s a picture of the new tank – with a wheelie bin in the background for size comparison pictures.

hot water tank

And here’s a picture taken through the hole in the top where the immersion heater goes. I love this picture. You can clearly see both coils – a larger one around the middle which will be connected to the ordinary boiler, and a smaller one with fins around the bottom, which will be connected to the solar panel.

inside hot water tank