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’.


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 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!


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)



Inverted Bowl

Had one of those sad moments when I couldn’t drag myself away from the computer after parkrun yesterday so I decided to get geeky and create a graph of my parkrun times over the last year or so, using data conveniently downloadable from my Fetch training log, to examine their rise and, at last, fall. I know I’m getting a bit of speed back since my shoulder has become less painful but nothing like a graph with a trend-line to illustrate the obvious.

Rise and Fall of parkunThe November 2012 starting point is actually when Fetch introduced parkrun as a separate category but it tallies nicely with when I first started to be aware of something wrong with my arm, though it wasn’t diagnosed as a frozen shoulder till February this year.

Spuds 2013And while I’m posting trivia here is a photo of this year’s main-crop potatoes – pleased with the yield and apparent quality for just 3 rows, it looks like there are quite a few big bakers in there as well. They should last us till Xmas at least. The weather has been much, much better this year but I think the thorough dressing of seaweed fertiliser and compost we applied has revitalised our garden plot.


Chalgrove Festival 10k 2013

There’s a definite pattern emerging with running and this blooming shoulder. Try and push out of the comfort zone and end up with a disappointing result and a sore arm – slow and easy gets much the same result without the disappointment and a slightly less sore arm. Unlike last year, when it rained a little, this years Chalgrove Festival 10k promised to be a proper Bank Holiday scorcher. So I applied a good layer of sun-cream and left myself plenty of time for the 10 mile ride there and arrived with a vague intention of finishing under the hour but not if this meant any excessive huffing and puffing.

I had no trouble passing the spare 40 minutes after I’d picked up my timing chip. The festival was already starting to build up and I went and had a look at the old cars and the huge Merlin helicopter in one field. Then a visit to the vintage and miniature engines chuffing away pumping water to nowhere or lighting electric lamps, should have taken a photo of the slightly surreal set-up with a vintage pump circulating water in and out of a bowl in which a plastic lady from a later era sitting in a deck chair cooled her feet. The strong, warm sunshine, the smell of warm oil and sound of early Beatles blasting out from the merry-go-round coming together to make a fine environment.

I ate a gel, drank half a pint of water, said hello to the IWCA contingent and a couple of other familiar faces then we were summoned to the start area. The Race Director announced that the starting gun today was in fact going to be some old canon and might be a bit loud. I avoided the warm-up gymnastics and found a quiet bit of field to get the blood flowing. I hung round near the back of the field and chatted with a bloke doing his first race and explained how the timing chip thing worked and how his published time might be a bit slower that he thought if it turned out to be gun to chip, I couldn’t remember from last year. We couldn’t really hear the announcer and the canon was not visible to us so we’d half forgotten about it. I think everyone jumped in unison when it did go off!

Chalgrove 10k Starting Canon 2013

Thanks to Chalgrove Festival for the pictures

We were off, backwards down the finish straight with the beep of the timing mat confirming it was chip to chip. I started my Garmin but just had it showing the time of day with no flashing up the mile pace etc. A view people gathered to see us off, many with ‘rather you than me’ looks – good viewing as the start/finish straight cleverly cuts right through the middle of the festival ground.

Chalgrove 10k Start 2013Out of the field, down a tatty drive with a couple of bigger potholes marked in yellow, then onto the road where I spotted Howard who looked like he’d cycled out to support someone. A few faster runners who’d been trapped at the back passed us, I gently overtook a few gone off too fasts. By the time we’d turned into the lanes before the first mile was done several red sweaty faces were making an appearance. The forecast only predicted 20 degrees C but it was more like 25 according to my weather station when I got home. After our extended winter and recent, bitter, north-easterlies we weren’t fully ready for proper sunny weather.

We continued on, a bit of descent but a very slight headwind, I resisted getting carried along when the occasional faster runner passed and held back to be sure before passing others. I was quite warm enough and was glad of a squirt from some kids water gun as we passed through Berrick Salome. An unfortunate but appropriate earworm had taken hold courtesy of Simon and Garfunkel – over 30 minutes running left and the same 6 lines before the words ran out and someone pushed the repeat button.

Slow down, you move too fast ...

Slow down, you move too fast …

Halfway and we had changed direction and were glad of the water station at Roke. I walked a couple of steps to make sure a full cup went down. Gently climbing for a mile now with a steeper bit and a false summit. Several walked, several charged up it like it wasn’t there – a few did a bit of both. I just eased off a bit, but not too much, and plodded on. A bit of sweat dripping into my eyes to remind me that a hill in the sun is always going to be taxing.

Then gently down for a good way which was welcome as I had a slightly sore foot and my arm was having a grumble. Good thing I’d not pushed my self or I might have ended up joining the ranks of run a bit – walk a bits of which there were a few complete with that ‘angry at my body for letting me down’ look. I picked up a couple of easy places but had neither urge nor energy to challenge the threesome who passed me on the finish straight. The festival was really bustling now and there was lots of cheering near the finish, this is a great race to bring your family to if you’ve got one.

Chalgrove 10k Finish 2013I handed in my chip then, after queuing a minute, realised I really didn’t need yet another running shirt however nice so went to the water. They were struggling to keep enough  full cups on the table to sate the roasting runners so I headed back to get my bottle off my bike instead managing to intercept a bottle on the way. I cheered in a few later arrivals then back on my bike for a gentle, tiring, but not unpleasant ride home. Result was 56:56 243rd of 352 – as good, maybe better, than expected.

Interesting twist back at work the next day when I wander over to the other building to see a chap who’s been there as long as me but I’ve hardly had cause to talk to. There he was wearing his Chalgrove 10k shirt – 5th over all and won his age group – well done Rob 🙂