The Sun is Still Shining

It’s about 6 years since we had our solar panels fitted so to get an overview I’ve used the monthly readings to compile a couple of graphs to see how they’re performing. You can click the graph to view a bigger version.

Firstly generation in kilowatt hours by month shows how the peak summer months generate about 6 times the power of the dullest winter months.

I’m surprised how consistent the monthly output is year to year. Leaving aside the exceptionally wet summer of 2012 which coincided with one of our inverters failing, a halving of output I failed to spot for several months, the degree of consistency gives the impression that sunshine per month, or season, averages out quite well year on year despite it often feeling like a particularly wet, or sunny, time when we are living through it!

Next yearly total against predicted total which seems to show that we met, or exceeded, predictions all years except that best forgotten 2012. Doing the sums it seems that the 2012 shortfall has almost been made good by the several years we have exceeded predictions, we are about 70 kWh short. We can expect efficiency to diminish a little over the years so I guess generating slightly over predictions is to be expected these early years.

Financially we are about where we should be having received back about half the sum we paid for the panels as Feed-in Tariff payments. A similar PV system would cost about half what we paid now which goes to show how well the FiT worked as a way to make solar popular enough for efficiencies in manufacturing and fitting to bring the price down.

Solar and wind are fantastic resources but now we urgently need affordable, efficient and sustainable ways to store the huge amounts of energy generated at peak so we can smooth out the big seasonal and hourly variations rather than be reliant on coal and gas as back-up generation. Fortunately firms like Tesla are ploughing resources into developing viable battery type local storage systems. We also need large scale grid systems though and there is little sign of our government investing meaningful sums in researching new large scale storage or even duplicating existing methods such the pumped water system that has been in use for 30 years at ‘Electric Mountain’.

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Visit to the Lakes

So it’s been a year and a day since I posted anything on here and I’ve got these photos from a most enjoyable visit to Grasmere in the Lake District this week so where better to stick ’em!

Jane being as vegan as I nowadays we wanted to have a short break somewhere offering a choice of eating options and the Lake District, while still not fully recovered from the winter deluge, sounded well worth a visit.

We stayed for 3 nights at Lancrigg Vegetarian Country Hotel which proved to be a lovely place set in it’s own bit of woodland, mostly planted with interesting specimens about 150 years ago and now comfortably damp and mossy.

In Ambleside there seems to be several related meat-free dining places with connections to the cinema Zefferellis – we had a fine vegan pizza in their busy, modern but friendly Pizzeria. The puddings were good too.

We also visited Greens in Grasmere on a couple of occasions, once for lunch and again for tea and cakes. They offered several decent vegan choices including cupcakes!

Somewhere between the eating we managed to squeeze in a few walks, nothing too challenging as Jane has only just got over a long bout of flu. My favourite was the trek up from Lancrigg to Easdale Tarn.

New Bridge (for sheep)

New Bridge (for sheep)

We stayed at Lancrigg Veggie/Vegan Hotel

We stayed at Lancrigg Veggie/Vegan Hotel

Fine view from our window at Lancrigg

Fine view from our window at Lancrigg

Waterfall

Waterfall on the way up to Easedale Tarn

Halfway up

Halfway up to Easedale Tarn

Sour Milk Gill waterfall

Waterfall on Sour Milk Gill

Jane refueling at Easedale Tarn

Selfie with Jane refuelling at Easedale Tarn

Easedale Tarn

Easedale Tarn

Easedale Tarn 2

Easedale Tarn

Another waterfall

Another waterfall

Grasmere bums

Grasmere Swan Bums

That sign really shouldn't be needed!

That sign really shouldn’t be needed!

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Pembrokeshire Puffins & Seals

We spent the last week of April in Pembrokeshire. Jane had fancied a visit there and found a vegan B&B that did evening meals which she had booked a while ago. I wasn’t much looking forward to the 4 hour drive but we made the decision to have a proper mid-way break in Cardiff rather than just wing it which in retrospect was a great idea.

So I let the TomTom navigate us to Cafe Atma in Cardiff which offered some great – tasty and wholesome – vegan food including a good choice of cakes. Suitably stuffed Jane took over and drove us to The Gables B&B in Roch, about a mile away from Newgale Sands. Susie and her vegan dogs and cat* made us really welcome at The Gables and it was a change for me never having to double check if I could eat something, from the scones on arrival to the lovely diners she made us and the cooked breakfast – everything was vegan. Also not too expensive. Highly recommended!

Maybe the real reason Jane had wanted to go to Pembrokshire was to visit Skomer Island with a hope of seeing puffins. With a limit of 250 visitors allowed a day, and the single landing point meaning conditions didn’t always allow the boat to sail, getting there wasn’t a certainty. We were in luck though and at 11am Monday were boarding the Dale Princess then on our way.

The Dale PrincessThe boat trip was fun and took about 15 minutes then up a long stairway to a greeting area where a Welsh Wildlife Trust warden gave us the low down and in particular asked us to stick to the paths as the whole island is riddled with burrows many of which contained nesting birds including the nocturnal Manx Shearwaters – about 300,000 breeding pairs apparently. We couldn’t expect to see any in day time excepting the macabre pairs of bodiless wings scattered about the island, leftovers from when the Greater Black-backed Gulls had a few for supper.

We walked up the old farmhouse which now serves as a visitor centre, attempts at farming having ceased in the 1950’s. Then we set off in the opposite direction to the others so we could have our picnic lunch looking out over the Mew Stone which is a rock out to sea at the south of Skomer. The rock ledges of Mew Stone was occupied with lots of birds that we decided were Guillemot, we’d been told a pair of Chough had been seen earlier but we didn’t spot their distinctive red beaks and legs.

On to The Wick, a steep cliffed feature like someone had cut a thin slice of cake out the island, and there were puffins everywhere. We’d been alone for much of the time so far but loads of people were puffin watching, the birds themselves didn’t seem much fussed though a volunteer told me they could get a bit stressed having to walk across the path to get to their burrows.

Puffin9 Puffins1 Puffin2It was a fine sunny day so I managed to get some good photos despite having to rely on the autofocus as varifocals and cameras don’t mix. We also had a pair of Fulmars snuggling up high on a cliff ledge pointed out to us as well as more Guillimot and some Razorbills lower down on the cliff. It was a while before we tore ourselves away and continued round Skomer’s perimeter.

Skomer had been used for farming rabbits since the 14th century and there were still lots about, mostly your standard issue grey bunny but we also saw several black ones.

Black BunnyI had suggested we travelled to Skomer on the 11am boat instead of the 10am as the first boat back was supposed to be 3:30pm and I had visions of us getting cold and bored on a wet and windy island. In fact the opposite was true and we had to keep an eye on the time to make sure we were waiting for our boat 30 minutes before it’s 4:00pm sailing – it had been pointed out to us at the start that there was no later boat and ‘it was already rather crowded at the hostel’ (some visitors and researchers spend the night there).

A 2nd visit to the old farmhouse to use their compost loos and buy some water then back to the top of the landing stairs where we were entertained by more puffins, seals – in particular a young one that came over to our side of the bay and, on our descent to the Dale Princess for boarding, a close look at some Razorbills who hang out near the steps.

Seal3 Seals1Razorbill1Puffins3Puffins4* Life for Celine, an elegant and friendly black cat – healthy at 15 years on her vegan diet – could have been terribly different. Celine started life at Hill Grove Farm where cats were bred for vivisection until it closed, mostly down to the efforts of activists, in 1999.

Controversial cat farm closes (BBC)

Save The Hillgrove Cats Campaign (YouTube)

 

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Sunny Days are Here Again!

We’ve been having a rather fine summer this year – day after day of hot and sunny eventually followed by a couple of downpours just when it was getting too much. I’d much rather have a bit of a heatwave than a repetition of last year’s deluge. So I thought it’d be interesting to compile the last year and a half’s solar photovoltaic generation figures into a graph and see how we were doing after last year’s lack of sunshine and further loss of generation when I didn’t notice one of the inverters was bust. (Click on the graph for full size.)

PV Chart Jan 2012 - July 2013What does this tell us? Well as we know last year was rubbish – well ahead of predictions for February and March 2012, then they forecast a drought if I remember correctly and the rest of the year it rained and generation was down around 30%. So far this year we are well on target and even exceeding predictions by 50kWh for July giving us a chance to make up a bit of the approximate 500kWh we lost to weather and faulty inverter last year. So I reckon all is well with the PV set-up – let’s just hope the sun keeps giving ๐Ÿ™‚

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Do Check That Inverter Is Working!

Jane had to take Lala to be put down shortly before Xmas. We were very sad to lose her – I probably spent more time in her company than anyone else’s over the last year – but she was suffering brief periods of what looked like great discomfort and it was time to say goodbye. She spend much of her last few days trying to get comfy on a chair, she couldn’t curl up any more, or toasting herself by the gas fire ๐Ÿ™

Lala Chair Dec 2012Anyway I decided to put her big, pink, covered, litter tray up in the attic which was my first trip up there for many a month. While I was there I decided to take a look at our solar inverters and saw the red fault light was displaying on one. I’d like to say I was surprised but to be honest I’d been suspicious of our low generation readings for a couple of months and had just been too lazy to check. It has been such a miserable summer of rain, rain and rain that I hadn’t been that surprised to see our readings drop – all the same I’d been justifying poor readings to myself by thinking that despite the sun being out for a change it was at the wrong angle for the arrays and that sort of thing. I do have a power monitor rigged up to the solar AC output via a current transformer so can tell roughly what it’s generating at any particular time.

The inverters have a 10 year guarantee so I emailed Solar PVE who got right back with the suggestion I try power cycling the system. It’s important to turn it all off in the right order, AC isolator first then the DC isolators. I was also asked to give it 10 minutes for the capacitors to discharge before restarting. The fault light was still on after this so, this being just before Xmas, Solar PVE offered either to get someone out after the holidays or, if I felt I could install it myself, they could send me a replacement next day delivery. I went and had a quick look, 4 mounting screws and 3 plug-in connectors, and said I’d do it myself.

InvertersGood to their word a new inverter was sent by fast courier and it took me less than 30 minutes to install – plus the same again to negotiate the unreadable Japanese menus using the manual to set the menu and read-out language to English. The AC output was noticeably higher straight away despite it being a cloudy December day and at midday the first sunny day I saw it was generating 1500W for the first time in ages. I was left kicking myself for not checking and dealing with it earlier.

So the total generation for 2012 was down to 1548 kWh compared to about 2230 kWh for 2011, much of this down to the most wet and dismal year on record but I suspect a couple of hundred kilo-Watt hours lost due to me being too lazy to check the inverters when I first suspected a problem back in September. On the bright side the amount of electric we consumed from the grid was 1311 kWh (this obviously doesn’t include energy we’ve generated and used directly) so we are still generating much more than we are buying.

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